Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Week 4 College Football Picks: Is Clemsoning Still a Thing?

Picks to Date: 22-11
Best Bet: 1-2
Upset Special: 3-0

One week after The Game of the Century of the Year of The Week and the endless hype around Johnny Football, this week’s schedule provides little. Okay, it provides nothing. How do you know it’s bad? ABC has a split-national telecast for its 8 p.m. primetime spot. One game features the dumpster fire that is Texas. The other features something even worse…UConn*.

*Yes, somehow, UConn is being shown on ABC in primetime because Michigan comes to town. Any hot seat ranking that has Mack Brown listed above Paul Pasqualoni is wrong. Coach Gramps will be fired, just as I said he should’ve have been last year. The players hate the coach. The fans hate the coach. The only group that doesn’t hate him is the media. But the media hated Jim Calhoun and Randy Edsall, so they can go…moving on…

Sometimes, these perceived slow weeks on the schedule provide for a surprisingly entertaining Saturday full of upsets and close finishes. This week, however, is not one of those weeks. On Saturday, only 2 ranked teams play on the road. Michigan, which gets to beat up on UConn, and Arizona State, which travels to #5 Stanford.

In fact, only 6 ranked teams (not including Arizona State & Stanford) play a team from another BCS conference. And one of those teams is SMU. In short, it is a putrid slate of games.

So much so that ESPN College Gameday will be in North Dakota and the most interesting game could take place Thursday night. Or it’ll be another blowout.

clemsoning
Clemsoning is a thing. Or it used to be a thing. And it may again be a thing. That’s why Thursday night’s game for Clemson at North Carolina State is so intriguing. The last time NC State played at home, they needed a last-minute field goal to put away Richmond. The last time Clemson played an FBS team, they were beating fellow Top 10 team Georgia in a thriller.

On paper, this is not a game. This is not even in the vicinity of a game. The #3 team in the country should beat this NC State team 10 times out of 10. Except it was just last year that a #3 team in the country visited NC State…and lost.

When people describe Clemsoning, this is the exact scenario they discuss – losing a road game to a terribly mediocre team like NC State. It’s a fascinating spot for Dabo Swinney, Tajh Boyd and Clemson to find themselves in. They are #3. They are a legit national title contender. Boyd is a legit Heisman Trophy contender. Yet there is a significant portion of the college football world that will tune in Thursday expecting them to fall flat on their face.

Clemson (-14) over NORTH CAROLINA STATE
They are not falling on their faces. At least not this week. When you look at their schedule for this year, it becomes pretty obvious that Clemsoning happens either at Maryland, the week after Florida State, or their next Thursday night game, a home game against Georgia Tech. North Carolina State is just not good.

Boise State (+3) over FRESNO STATE
My, oh my, have people leapt off the Boise State bandwagon. I had predicted, since July, that Washington was going to beat Boise State in the opener. There was just way too much working against Boise in that game, from the new stadium, to the pressure on Washington, to the new offense Boise was trying to install. It may have been the first time Boise State had played one of their annual tough openers where there was more pressure on the other team.

Looking at this game, the pressure is now squarely on Fresno State. Thanks to their thrilling opening weekend win over Rutgers, they are a fringe Top 25 team. An undefeated season will almost undoubtedly get them into a BCS bowl in the last year of the BCS buster as they are, along with Northern Illinois, the only 2 possibilities. It’s a home game. There’s a changing of the guard feel in the air. It’s the only game on Friday night. It’s a big stage.

What’s that? A big stage? Boise time! If you think I’m going against Chris Peterson on a Friday night, you’re crazy. Has Boise State ever lost on a weeknight?

GEORGIA TECH (-6.5) over North Carolina
Sometimes, you make picks based on facts and prior results. Sometimes, you don’t. Look, we don’t know how good either team is. Georgia Tech beat up on a couple of patsies. North Carolina was no match for South Carolina and beat up a terrible team. This is the litmus test for both.
So why am I picking Georgia Tech? Home game. Triple option. 68 points. Paul Johnson. Duke is decent.

LOUISVILLE (-41.5) over Fiu
Holy crap! This may be the worst possible game you can make between two FBS teams. FIU is beyond bad. They got just destroyed by Bethune-Cookman. They hired Ron Turner for reasons no one has been yet to decipher. They may lose to high school teams. Louisville is a finely-tuned machine at this point and looking to drop a sick number – maybe 70? 80? – to get people’s attention and make them forget about a sloppy first half against Kentucky.

More important for Louisville at this point is the emergence of UCF and Rutgers needing to beat Arkansas (I didn’t pick that game because I have no idea) this weekend. UCF, as I wrote last week, is now poised to be Louisville’s biggest opponent. Their game is a Friday night primetime game on ESPN so it could be a big one. If you’re a Louisville fan, ignore your team for two weeks, buy all the UCF gear you can find, learn the fight song (I assume they have one) and root like crazy that they beat South Carolina next Saturday.

Also, do not call them Central Florida. They really don’t like it. I know an alum. Trust me. It really ticks them off. Wait until game week to do that.

West Virginia (+6.5) over Maryland
An interesting neutral site game in Baltimore for a very under the radar rivalry that hit its peak about a decade ago, when Maryland was good and West Virginia was getting really, really good. I watched Maryland in person last week as they destroyed lowly UConn and I came away…unimpressed. Maryland has some really, really good players. Stefon Diggs is on the shortlist of best wide receivers in the country, up there with Sammy Watkins and Marqise Lee. C.J. Brown is an excellent dual threat quarterback.

But there was just something off about Maryland’s performance. They had too many turnovers. The play-calling was – a Randy Edsall staple – too conservative. The defense gave up way too many yards to a UConn offense that had trouble scoring against Towson. All in all, the performance was underwhelming. Now, West Virginia hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire but they know their season hinges on this game – I fear Maryland’s players, with their first taste of success under Edsall, may have read too many press clippings this week.

NOTRE DAME (-6.5) over Michigan State *Best Bet*
Michigan State is quite possibly the worst offensive team in a BCS conference, including UConn. They couldn’t score against South Florida. McNeese State put up half-a-hundred on USF. Michigan State couldn’t score against Western Michigan. Nicholls State was able to score against Western Michigan.

sad michigan state fan
To recap, Michigan State’s 2 FBS opponents are a combined 0-6 and have gone 0-2 against FCS schools.  I bring this up because Michigan State is RANKED in the Coaches’ Poll. UCF just beat Penn State in Happy Valley. Texas Tech just beat TCU. Auburn just beat Mississippi State. All three of those teams are undefeated and have a win that is miles better than anything Michigan State has done. It’s reason #1,530,284 why the Coaches Poll is a joke.

So, yeah, that was a lot of bitching and moaning. Long story short, Michigan State is a borderline bowl team. Notre Dame will go between 8-4 and 10-2. The game is in South Bend. The only angle you could take is that Notre Dame would be looking ahead to next week’s game against Oklahoma. But after sleepwalking against Purdue for 3 quarters, they’ll show up. This game will be over at halftime.

USC (-6) over Utah State
“If only USC had beat Washington State,” the Utah State coaching staff is thinking this week. Then, USC would be 3-0, ranked and feeling like they didn’t need to improve. Instead, the loss set a fire under their ass and they finally looked like the team I thought they would be against Boston College. Don’t forget, USC has the talent to compete with just about anyone in the country – they just don’t have the depth. And their defense is looking like one of the top units nationally, which is bad news for my man Chuckie Keeton.

The recent results have also messed up the spread. Utah State looks good. But they are still a one-man team that couldn’t beat Utah. They should be getting more than a touchdown on the road against USC.

Auburn (+17.5) over LSU
I am picking Auburn based solely on the fact I think they cover late like Vanderbilt did against South Carolina last Saturday night. I think it’s in the ESPN/SEC contract that the Saturday primetime game has to be interesting going into the fourth quarter. LSU wins by two touchdowns – after Auburn scores a garbage TD in the last minute to cover. And if that isn’t having faith in you pick, what is?

Michigan (-17.5) over UCONN
The UConn should be fired. He should have been fired last year. Because Michigan almost lost to Akron, they will show up in force on Saturday. That’s bad news for what is shaping up to be the worst UConn team – BY FAR – since it moved into Rentschler Field in 2003. Which is appropriate, since the odds of their being more Michigan fans at the game than UConn fans is very high. Ugh, this is depressing. Even more depressing is that for the second straight week, I’m driving 6 hours to watch the game.

Thankfully, we always win the tailgate.

TEXAS (-3.5) over Kansas State
You know why Mack Brown is a great coach and would make a great Senator? His spin after the latest debacle against Ole Miss was beautiful. He immediately focused on the Big 12. He laid it out for his players. All will be forgiven and forgotten if we win this conference and play in the Fiesta Bowl. And he’s right!

Will Texas win the Big 12? Based on the evidence so far, absolutely not. But in the course of a press conference, Mack Brown extended the carrot to his team. They will win this game. Also, Kansas State is not as good as Ole Miss or BYU. So that helps.

Utah (+7) over BYU *Upset Special*
Man, it was very hard to find an Upset Special this week. For those unfamiliar, my Upset Special is a team that is a touchdown-underdog or more who I think will win outright.  With so many ranked teams playing cupcakes, and so many mediocre teams playing each other, it was really hard to find one. I landed on Utah because, well, I don’t know about BYU.

Is BYU the team that could barely get a first down against Virginia? Or is BYU the team that could barely crack the 500-yard rushing mark against Texas? I think it’s more the former – the night against Texas starting good and then spiraled out of control. Utah appears to have an explosive offense and have already played two exceptionally tight games, a win over Utah State and an overtime loss to Oregon State. They are battle-tested. I think BYU comes back down to Earth.

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