Thursday, September 5, 2013

Week 2 College Football Picks: Is the ACC Actually Good?

Picks to Date: 7-4
Best Bet: 0-1
Upset Special: 1-0


In 2005, the ACC expanded to 12 teams. The league was feeling pretty confident about itself. From coaches to players to media to commissioner John Swofford, the refrain was that the addition of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College (which was not terrible then) would push the conference past the SEC. For one year, it didn't seem too far-fetched. An undefeated Auburn team in 2004 couldn't even make the title game, thanks to a down year for the SEC. Miami and Virginia Tech were top 5 teams in November. Things were looking up.

Then the world fell apart. A 4-loss Florida State team beat Virginia Tech in the first ACC championship game. Top 10 Miami got drilled by LSU in the Peach Bowl and began a tailspin it's still trying to climb out of. Virginia Tech began its annual tradition of being good, but never great. The hits kept coming. The yearly summer hype. The bad nonconference losses. The Clemsoning. The lack of a national title contender. The Orange Bowl drubbings. The mockery over adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The indignation from some over the addition of Notre Dame, which serves little purpose for the ACC but keeps the Irish's independent cash cow going.

However, the end may be near for the ACC's Decade of Frustration. On opening weekend, both Florida State and Clemson looked like legit, honest to goodness National Title contenders. The jokes about Clemsoning and NC State upsets aside, the conference has two power teams for the first time since...well, 2005. The season is young, but things are looking up.

At least at the top. The middle of the league, the depth other power conferences have, does not appear there. North Carolina was not in the same league as South Carolina. Syracuse lost to Penn State. Pittsburgh is the same 6-6 Big East team they have always been. Virginia Tech is still trying to complete a pass against Alabama.

The ACC's best hope for another quality, Top 20 team is Miami. And we will find out very soon if the Hurricanes are finally ready to reclaim their spot among the nation's elite and raise the conference's profile with them...

Florida (-3) over MIAMI
Sorry, they are not. Florida smothered a very good offensive Toledo team last weekend, to the point that Toledo seemed scared to do anything offensively except try to avoid being decapitated. Miami has more offensive weapons in Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris but Florida was able to neutralize better offenses last year and will continued to do so this year. The Gators still lack a true identity on offense but I don't think it matters. They can win games 17-10 every week if they have to and Will Muschamp will be a-okay with that.

It doesn't help Miami that the Gators have been thoroughly disrespected the first week of the season. From expert, high-profile analysts like me....and Kirk Herbstreit...predicting a Toledo victory to hype about seemingly every other ranked SEC teams, I get the feeling the Gators have something to prove Saturday. That defense doesn't need any extra motivation.

Cincinnati (-8) over ILLINOIS *Best Bet*
I'll write the same thing I wrote to explain last week's Cincinnati pick. Illinois is terrible. Cincinnati is not. Need I say more? The only thing odd here is the line as Vegas is begging you to take Cincy with it. Don't be a sucker. Take the Bearcats. Cash a winning ticket.

South Florida (+23) over MICHIGAN STATE
USF had by far the worst loss of week 1, which warms my heart as a UConn fan that our debacle against Towson didn't gain that distinction. By losing by 5 touchdowns to McNeese State, it sent this line soaring -- it opened at Michigan State by 16 and jumped 7 points in 2 days. SUCKER LINE!

Look, USF may be terrible. They may go 1-11. They are not losing to Michigan State by 4 touchdowns. Why? For one, USF will be highly motivated after last week's embarrassment and they will not turn the ball over as much, which let last week's game get out of hand. Secondly, Michigan State can't score 24 points. Period, end of story. The offense is putrid. Even if they thoroughly dominate every single second of the game, the biggest winning margin would be 21-0.

OHIO STATE (-28) over San Diego State
Talk about a bad combination for San Diego State. They lose their opener to an FCS team. They go on the road to face #3 Ohio State. Notice the #3? Yep, Ohio State fell a spot with a "lackluster" destruction of Buffalo. I loved watching ESPN analysts aghast that the Buckeyes gave up 20 points to Buffalo - ignoring that one touchdown was the result of an all-World play from all-World LB and future NFLer Khalil Mack.

You think Urban Meyer may have let his team know about that this week? Ohio State is in statement-making mode before heading out to the West Coast for a primetime showdown with Cal. That means San Diego State is about to visit the woodshed. This will not be pretty. I'd bet Ohio State is up by 35, at least, by halftime.

GEORGIA (-3) over South Carolina
The Bulldogs were my preseason pick for the National Championship, so I pretty much have to pick them, right? They don't get the Best Bet distinction this week though. Why do I believe in Georgia? Because its offense is really, really good. For all the flack Aaron Murray is getting this week, the Bulldogs put up 35 points on the road against a top 10 team. They scored enough to win.

So I am putting my faith in the Georgia defense rising to the challenge and making amends for last week. And while South Carolina still has Clowney and a good defense, the offense did little to impress against North Carolina. They had an opportunity to put the game away in the first quarter but couldn't apply the finishing blow and let the Tar Heels hang around too long. Georgia is an order of magnitude better than UNC. South Carolina is not ready.

Navy (+12.5) over INDIANA *Upset Special*
This line completely baffles me in every possible way. Indiana destroyed Indiana State in Week 1. So? Navy is a bowl team that plays a style that gives opponents fits. Even more so, it will give Indiana fits as they gave up 35 points to Indiana State. I have absolutely no idea why this line is so high, unless Navy is trotting out 22 freshmen as starters and I'm not aware of it. Navy is going to win this game. Indiana is still Indiana until they prove me otherwise. Just seeing this line makes me think the Hoosiers will be a little overconfident.

BYU (+7.5) over Texas
No team blew its opening game worse than BYU. If it weren't for the Herculean efforts of Anthony Harris, Virginia loses to BYU by two scores. BYU was much the better team in an odd, rain-delayed affair but could not score. If this sounds like BYU 2012, it should because it was almost like a repeat of a year ago. I can only imagine the motivation of the Cougars flying out of the tunnel Saturday night for its home opener against a name-brand program for Texas.

As for the Longhorns, I think we're going to see another repeat of underachieving. The team was LOSING to New Mexico State late in the second quater so don't let the lopsided final fool you. The Longhorns are, for whatever reason, just not that good. They may be a fringe Top 25 team, but so is BYU. While Mack Brown spent most of his week defending his decision to not recruit Jameis Winston, it conveniently obscured the fact that Texas is in big trouble this weekend. They are losing this game and it will not be pretty in Austin, with a trip from suddenly formidable Ole Miss on the way.

OKLAHOMA (-21) over West Virginia
Yikes, what happened to West Virginia? Last year at this time, Geno Smith was the Heisman frontrunner and the Mountaineers were a top 10, National TItle contender. In week 1, West Virginia was lucky to squeak past a William & Mary team that was 2-9 last year. What gives? Whatever it is, it's not getting solved by taking a trip to Norman to face an angry Oklahoma team.

Why is Oklahoma angry? I think the offseason rubbed Bob Stoops and the whole team the wrong way. Oklahoma State is the preseason favorite. Texas is supposedly resurgent. Baylor is the sexy darkhorse pick. Oklahoma, on the other hand, was regularly chided for having subpar talent and predicted to have a very un-Oklahoma year, with many picking ULM to upset them last week. That didn't happen. Granted, one game is a very small sample size but Oklahoma is out to prove that they reload, not rebuild. I wouldn't want to be the Mountaineers on Saturday.

Notre Dame (+4) over MICHIGAN
Before the 2012 season, everyone said Notre Dame would be better in 2013. Then, the Irish went 12-0, got routed by Alabama and now everyone thinks Notre Dame is middling again. Huh? I don't know if the 2013 Irish will get all the breaks last year's team did, but there is little doubt that the talent level is better than last year. It's amazing how, with the exception of the running backs, Tyler Eifert and Manti T'eo, young Notre Dame was in 2012. So many key pieces, especially on defense, are back, older and better. The wide receivers looked a million times better against Temple - and yes, I know, it was Temple - than they did at any point in 2012.

As for Tommy Rees, turnovers will always be the story. If Notre Dame and Rees had avoided turnovers in 2011, they would not have lost to USF...or Michigan...or Florida State and would've had a 11-2 season, instead of 8-5. Brian Kelly has the program humming and Michigan is in for a rude awakening on Saturday night. While Michigan has an impressive final score against an overmatched Central Michigan team, they haven't beaten a highly ranked opponent since...hmm, Notre Dame in 2011? Michigan is a top 25 team. Notre Dame is a top 10 team.

USC (-15) over Washington State
Look, I said USC is going to be back this year to its previous standards. The game against Hawaii last week gave no indication that is possible. But I'm going to ride it out one more week with a line that is about 7 points too look. Yes, Washington State put up a good fight against Auburn but does anyone think Auburn is any better than 6-6 this year?

The USC offense is still a mess. It may be a mess all year. But its defense appears to already be light years ahead of last year's dumpster fire. USC still has more talent on the field than the opponent almost every single snap. That is more pronounced this week. USC will win easy.

San Jose State (+26.5) over STANFORD
Last year, San Jose State almost beat Stanford. The quarterback is back. The coach is not. For one game, that's okay. Stanford will win, but it won't be by 4 touchdowns. The fact it is also Stanford's opener will likely cause some first-game jitters and minor miscues in the first half that will prevent the Cardinal from opening up the can of whoop ass they would if they played in, say, week 8. SJ State was a Top 25 team last year and will put up a fight. It won't matter in their W/L column.....but it will for mine. Take the points!

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