Week 3 College Football Picks: Perception Leading Reality by 28

College football determines its champion based on perception. It is the sport’s single greatest flaw.

In the BCS era, this perception bias was counter-balanced by the computer rankings. The human polls acted as what we believed to be true based on our eyes, while the computer numbers spit out what was believed to be true based on wins, losses and strength of schedule. It wasn’t perfect but since the great fiasco of 2008, the BCS produced five straight championship games void of much controversy.

oregon wins
In the playoff era, that has all gone to hell. Specifically, the committee has already eschewed any strength of schedule metrics – this is actually true – for the dreaded “eye test” in determining whether a team has played a tough schedule or not.

After two weeks, the Big Ten has apparently already been eliminated from playoff consideration. Now the Big Ten may continue to prove unworthy as the season progresses but to say they are out after just two weeks doesn’t just border on the absurd, it is certifiably insane. As Jim Delany astutely pointed out, last September, no one was discussing Auburn as a potential title contender when they lost to LSU. Who had Notre Dame pegged for an undefeated season through two weeks of 2012?

The playoff talk is suffocating the season because preconceived notions from a year ago are affecting the way we look at this year. On ESPNU this week, Mark Schlabach said the ACC is a better conference than the Big Ten because, “They won their BCS bowls last year.” Seriously, what the hell does Clemson with Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins winning the Orange Bowl have to do with this year?

Look at the fantastic performances put forth by Georgia and Texas A&M. Well, what if Clemson and South Carolina fall to 7-5 seasons, do those wins still hold up? What if Oklahoma State or West Virginia end up as 10-win teams, doesn’t that reflect well on the “struggles” of Florida State and Alabama?

Let’s take the Big Ten example – why is Michigan State somehow removed from consideration? If they go 12-1 with their only loss being a road game at Oregon, don’t we fall back into the same BCS trap where playing tough nonconference games aren’t rewarded?

Here’s my ultimate point: it’s way, way, way too early to be projecting a four-team playoff after two games. Even six games are not enough. Maybe we can try to watch these teams play before making broad assumptions?

Overall Record: 10-12
Best Bet: 0-2
Upset Special: 2-0

Some truly disturbing trends are emerging, as my Best Bet has been pathetic two weeks in a row just as we started last year. Likewise, my record each week was 5-6 with a loss in my final pick of Saturday night when my favorite (LSU, Oregon State) didn't cover by two points. Let's turn this around, ok?

Houston (+18.5) over BYU
I am always wary of the team that gets too much hype too early in the season. So far, BYU has looked really good in destroying a potentially terrible UConn team and a potentially terrible Texas team. This is not to take anything away from BYU but there has been a ton of undefeated talk surrounding the Cougars this week. That’s never a good thing.

Houston was bandied about in the preseason as a possible AAC title contender and laid an absolute egg against a UTSA team they did not take seriously. I don't think they have the horses to win this game but an overconfident BYU team will allow them to stay in it longer than they should, leading to a nice cover.

MARYLAND (-3.5) over West Virginia
Maryland was minus-5 in the turnover margin against USF on Saturday and still won, the first team to do so in three years. That's really damn impressive. I said in the preseason that Maryland was sitting on a huge season and nothing has changed. If anything, I'm encouraged because if they can avoid turnovers, they can probably beat any team in the Big Ten, save Michigan State.

maryalnd usfAs for West Virginia, I'm not buying it. The performance against Alabama was far less impressive than the score indicated, with a kickoff return playing a huge part and Alabama committing too many turnovers.

The spread is off by a few points  – Maryland should probably be a touchdown favorite, so I'm taking this and running.

East Carolina (+11) over VIRGINIA TECH
East Carolina is kicking themselves for blowing a wonderful opportunity to knock off South Carolina with a duo of absolutely atrocious turnovers. That was a game they should have won and they know it. Thankfully for them, they get another shot at a big-time opponent.

As for Virginia Tech, I was less impressed with their victory than others were. Ohio State's offense without Braxton Miller is basically nothing and Virginia Tech was able to blitz at will all night long. They can't get away with that against East Carolina. As with BYU, it's tough to see Virginia Tech coming back with another A+ effort and they would need that to dispose of ECU by two touchdowns.

UCONN (+16) over Boise State
Yeah, this is a total homer pick. But I picked UConn to win this game in August and I am likely the only UConn fan who is encouraged by the first two weeks. Boise State is what I thought they would be, which is a decent but not great Mountain West team. They have to make a second cross-country trip east for a game that kicks off at what will feel like 10 a.m. to the Broncos. UConn's defense is for real even if their offense is putrid, which is my way of saying 16 points is a lot.

Ucf (+10) over Missouri
Are you noticing a pattern? I'm picking four AAC teams that are double-digit underdogs this weekend. It feels like too many points across the board and this is another example. Look, Missouri won the Cotton Bowl last year and could be really, really good. But UCF, now that they appear to have found a quarterback, could be really, really good too.

The week one loss to Penn State has been stewing with the Knights for two weeks now and this is a huge showcase game for them. If UCF wants to win the AAC and return to a major New Year's Day bowl, they have to win this game. I don't know if they will but it feels like a one-possession game.

VIRGINIA (+6.5) over Louisville
I don't know what to make of either of these teams. Louisville looked awesome in beating Miami, but you feel like Miami is not good this year. Virginia looked impressive in keeping pace with UCLA, but you saw Memphis do the same thing a week later. What to do, what to do....

Virginia was a winner for me against UCLA so I'm going to take the points. There appears to be momentum building around the UVA program.

N.C. State (-2) over USF
Remember what I wrote above about Maryland? Well, it's the complete opposite for USF. If you are plus-five in the turnover margin, at home, you have to win the game. If you can't win, and I don't care who you're playing against, you suck. I'm sorry.

N.C. State hasn't exactly inspired confidence either so far in the season but I have to pick against USF. I have to out of principle.

Georgia (-5) over SOUTH CAROLINA
If I was doing this for real monies, I would stay 18 miles away from this game. But Georgia was my preseason pick for SEC champion so I'm going to ride with them. The South Carolina defense looks hideous so far and Todd Gurley looks like the Heisman Trophy winner.

Crazy factoid about this game: in the preseason, South Carolina was a five-point favorite in Vegas. So there are a few people out there holding "Georgia +5" tickets that are likely kicking themselves for not dumping their life savings on this one.

Illinois (+13) over WASHINGTON *Upset Special*
Sometimes, the ugliest wins can belie something beautiful. Last week, Illinois came back against Western Kentucky to win 42-34 behind 456 yards passing from new QB Wes Lunt, the Oklahoma State transfer. To many, this appeared to be another sign of Big Ten incompetence. But Western Kentucky was 8-4 last year under Bobby Petrino and opened their season by absolutely throttling Bowling Green. What I'm saying is...that is a good win!

wes lunt illinois
As for Washington, everyone kind of assumed they'd be good with Chris Petersen at the helm but they have been life and death against both Hawaii and FCS Eastern Washington. Those are not good wins.

By the way, Wes Lunt could be the most important transfer of the season and completely changes the outlook for Illinois. It is quite possible that they have the second best quarterback in the Big Ten, behind only Christian Hackenberg from Penn State.

If Illinois wins the Big Ten West, you heard it here first.

UL-Lafayette (+27) over OLE MISS
Last week, UL-Lafayette was the biggest loser in Vegas, as they lost 48-20 to Louisiana Tech as a 16-point favorite. After the game, coach Mark Hudspeth put the players off-limits and essentially said that their lives would be hell all week to get ready for this game. The poor performance inflated the line.

Ole Miss won an easy decision against Vanderbilt but, like the opener against Boise State, they sputtered early before getting it going. They simply cannot keep doing that or it's going to bite them in the ass.

Also, ESPN Gameday is confirmed to make its first trip to Oxford for the Alabama game if they stay undefeated, which is a gigantic red flag that something is going to screw that up.

Ucla (-7.5) over Texas
I don't understand either of these teams right now. Texas cannot possibly be that bad, right? UCLA's offense was atrocious in week one but the defense was lights out. Last week against Memphis, they completely flipped the script and they gave up nearly 500 yards. Seriously, what the hell is going on?

Like the Georgia game, I would advise you to not put real money on this game. But this is for fun and I like to pick the big games, so I'm going with the opinion that Texas really is that bad.

Tennessee (+20.5) over OKLAHOMA
Man, I said during my preseason Bold Predictions that Tennessee beating Oklahoma was going to be the biggest upset of the season. I sort of have to pick the Volunteers, no?

Nebraska (-10) over FRESNO STATE *Best Bet*
Easy money. Yeah, I'm confident on this one. Fresno State is, how you say, hot garbage. They lost their first two games to USC and Utah by a combined 111-40. Ouch! How the hell is this spread only 10 points?

Oh yeah, Nebraska needed a miraculous touchdown in the final minute to escape against McNeese State. Well here's some food for thought -- McNeese State is a Top 10 FCS team and would likely wipe the floor with Fresno State.

Nebraska is better than last week indicated but the poor performance is keeping this spread like 14 points from where it should be. Seriously, Fresno just gave up 59 to Utah!!

It really stinks to know that everything I just wrote, based on the first two weeks, amounts to nothing more than a jinx. Sigh.

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  1. Illinois?? LOL dude

  2. You had to be freaking out when BYU went up 23-0.


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