Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Week 5 College Football Picks: The Calm Before the Storm

This Saturday's slate is, well, it's not pretty. There's not a single matchup of ranked teams. ESPN Gameday eschewed history at the Yale Bowl for an uninspiring SEC matchup between one team that just lost to Indiana and one that barely beat Vanderbilt. Even the ABC primetime game offers little, as Notre Dame travels to MetLife Stadium to pummel Syracuse.

ole miss alabama
Of course, this is college football so we shouldn't be surprised when there are multiple upsets, close calls and a Hail Mary near 2 a.m. on the East Coast.

Oh wait. That just happened.

There is always one weekend, usually in late September or early October, where the college football world seems to stay put. Last year, I had the pleasure (?) of attending UConn/Michigan. It was the ABC primetime game on another day that featured zero ranked matchups. It happens.

Thankfully, it appears our patience will be rewarded because October 4 is shaping up to be one of the best Saturdays in recent memory. There are currently six Top 25 matchups looming, including three from the SEC West, a huge game in the Big Ten and a Stanford/Notre Dame showdown that could have huge playoff implications. That's only the tip of the iceberg -- you know it's a good day when LSU/Auburn could be the sixth most intriguing game.

Alas, that's next week. My only question is: will ESPN come up with a cool nickname? I've always been partial to Separation Saturday, the legendary Saturday in early 2006 that features a slew of ranked matchups. Come on ESPN, step up the plate!

By the way, even though I said all that, I've really buried the lede -- I do think something big will happen on Saturday. You have to keep reading...

Overall Record: 21-25
Best Bet: 2-2
Upset Special: 3-1

I went 6-5 last week for my first winning weekend of the year, thanks to an awesome late cover by Virginia. Thank you Cavaliers! We have officially reached the toughest part of the college season to handicap. This is the time of the year when the light bulb goes on for young players and new coachers that had previously underperformed. It's trouble.

OKLAHOMA STATE (-13.5) over Texas Tech
Am I the only one who is starting to think Oklahoma State was severely underappreciated going into the season? People were treating them like a cupcake going into the opener versus Florida State, but this is a team that played in the Cotton Bowl last year and went into the final regular season game of the year controlling its BCS destiny. That one loss to Oklahoma seemed to erase everything that had happened for the previous 11 games.

I love Oklahoma State at home to make a pretty resounding statement that they will again challenge Oklahoma and Baylor for the Big 12 title. As for Texas Tech, they lost their defensive coordinator under weird circumstances and got curb stomped by Arkansas last time out. I felt last year that Texas Tech was an average team that couldn't beat good ones. I have seen nothing so far to change that opinion.

brett hundley hurt
Ucla (+5) over ARIZONA STATE
If I were doing this for real monies, I would not pick this game. But I am not, so I will. Arizona State definitely won't have its starting quarterback. Jim Mora is playing games about the status of Brett Hundley, which is probably a smokescreen. It feels like he won't play.

UCLA played a whole game without Hundley against a motivated, if not great, Texas team and pulled out a tough, hard-fought victory. You really can't put a price on a performance like that. Arizona State hasn't played anyone yet and goes into its biggest game without their QB. I know the line is a total guess but this feels like a pick 'em to me, so I’m taking the points.

GEORGIA (-17) over Tennessee
This line feels too high, right? It exists to bait you into taking Tennessee, which is exactly what I did when the Volunteers played Oklahoma and I paid for it when a late INT return ruined the cover.

My simple rule when taking any underdog, no matter the spread, is imagining a scenario where the underdog wins. There is no way in hell that Georgia is losing this game. Mike Bobo will run Todd Gurley 35 times if he has to. Georgia seemed mad as hell last week against Troy and I think that continues. Georgia knows they Clemson’d away the South Carolina game and it won't happen again.

Maryland (+5) over INDIANA
This line is a complete and total overreaction to an aberration. Even stranger, the line opened up at Indiana -2.5 and has jumped to what you see here as I write this. I know that Indiana just pulled off a huge win but they lost to Bowling Green the week before. And if you watched any amount of the Indiana/Missouri game, you would know that Missouri put forth a D- effort. Credit to Indiana for taking advantage but they were the inferior team.

Maryland provided me a nice win last weekend with an easy cover at Syracuse and my gut tells me they are a better team than Indiana. I can't get the image of Bowling Green scoring at will against the Hoosiers out of my mind. It may be a shootout but Maryland will win.

NC STATE (+19.5) over Florida State *Upset Special*
Did I mention something big is going to happen? You heard it here first -- #1 Florida State is going down at their own personal house of horrors in Raleigh.

For all the talk of Jameis Winston, there are way more red flags than him. And it starts with the defense, which got exposed by Oklahoma State in the opener and put up little resistance against a freshman QB last week. Yeah, Clemson Clemson'd real hard but they should have won last week by multiple scores. They were a superior team at the line of scrimmage, which surprised me and which they were not even close to a year ago.

Meanwhile, Florida State seems off. Maybe it's the Winston thing. Maybe it's the National Title hangover. Maybe it's the shock of playing a real schedule after getting 11 cupcakes and Clemson a year ago. Maybe they're already looking ahead to the Notre Dame game, which has the potential to be one of the biggest home games in school history.

Whatever the reason, I hate the look of Florida State right now. They think they've escaped the tricky part with the Clemson victory and are going to severely underestimate a pesky NC State team.

Arkansas (+8.5) over Texas A&M
I'm going to go against Texas A&M one more time before I believe. I hated them in the preseason and they proceeded to make me look like an idiot. They've played two cupcakes since. What will they do when a smash mouth team shows up?

Arkansas will not make the same mistake South Carolina and Steve Spurrier made in the opener, by abandoning the running game and playing into Kevin Sumlin's hand. This may be a high-scoring game but it won't be a shootout. I was high on Arkansas to start the season, but their defense wasn’t ready to go 60 against Auburn. I'm betting they are now.

david shaw conservative
Stanford (-7.5) over WASHINGTON *Best Bet*
David Shaw is the scariest coach to back. His conservative playcalling is a drain on the Cardinal and has posed significant problems. We should have known this when he lost the 2012 Fiesta Bowl by playing for field goals with Andrew Luck as his quarterback. He lost to USC twice by ultra-conservative playcalling. Their lack of urgency late in games last year cost them the Rose Bowl and nearly allowed Oregon to pull off a miracle comeback. David Shaw has to loosen up and let his talented players play.

That being said, it won't matter Saturday. Washington has given me exactly zero reason to believe they are on Stanford's level. A one-point win over Hawaii? Losing 14-0 at half to Georgia State? Giving up 52 points to Eastern Washington? Chris Petersen is a great coach but this is a rebuilding, restructuring year for the Huskies.

Cincinnati (+15) over OHIO STATE
This is where I remind you Ohio State was my preseason national title pick before Braxton Miller got hurt. I didn't think Miller was that big of a factor but, as has been proven many times before, I was very, very wrong. The loss to Virginia Tech looks worse by the second.

As for Cincinnati, Gunner Kiel has been a revelation so far at quarterback and the players will be treating this like their Super Bowl. I don't think the coaches, fans or players have been too happy that East Carolina has been the AAC poster child through September. Cincinnati wants to play in the Peach Bowl too dammit!

The Bearcats don't get my "Upset Special" nod because of the defensive concerns, but they should go toe-to-toe with Ohio State.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-5) over Missouri
South Carolina's win over Vanderbilt was ripped by Steve Spurrier but that was the ol' ball coach doing what he does best. The game wasn't that close at all, though the score was thanks to two Vanderbilt kickoff returns.

Missouri, on the other hand, embarrassed itself and lost at home to the 11th-best Big Ten team. They were probably looking ahead but a team needs to be able to look ahead and beat Indiana. They didn't. They are about to get rocked by the Gamecocks.

Duke (+7) over MIAMI
Miami is done. Al Golden is done. The talent level just isn't there. It's probably unfair since the NCAA killed their recruiting due to their botched investigation and years of inaction, but we live in unfair times. Duke getting a touchdown here is a gift from the gambling Gods.

Notre Dame (-12) over Syracuse
I believe Notre Dame will make the first college football playoff. And teams that make the playoff will beat a team like Syracuse by two touchdowns. Syracuse is not good. They just got smoted at home by Maryland. Notre Dame is miles ahead of the Orange right now.

The only thing that gives me pause is Notre Dame will clearly be looking ahead. They sleepwalked through the Purdue game and could very likely do the same here. They play Stanford next week. Most everyone thought Notre Dame had a 90+ percent chance of starting 4-0. They know that. Brian Kelly knows that. The real season starts in October. Still, a Top 10 team with championship aspirations takes care of business.

This is not the 2012 Notre Dame team, which needs miracles and one-score wins every week. This team is better. At least, I think it is.

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