I rebounded from a winless week to go 3-0, and now stand 32-11 for the season. My point totals could use some work, but I had the margins of victory in the ballpark with LSU by 17 (24) and Georgia by 7 (14), while Wisconsin just kept piling points on in a bigger rout than even I anticipated. For more of my random, incoherent thoughts feel free to follow me on Twitter @ActuallyGregCox because I will be spouting all sorts of nonsense on college football Saturdays this season.
Virginia Tech (11-1) @ Clemson (9-3)
As the "Worldwide Leader" keeps reminding us this is a season of rematches. Two will decide conference championships this week, and in a month, another will decide the "national championship". Of the three, this is the least intriguing. Everyone has forgotten about the Hokies, which is what happens when you play in the mostly awful ACC and schedule Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall outside of conference play.
The Tigers come in having just lost two road games by a combined 71-26. Their defense has been getting shredded and, quite frankly, has not been very good other than the first meeting with Virginia Tech - a 23-3 victory. The wear and tear of a long season has gotten to them, and while I think it will be close, the BCS gets the team with the shiny record: Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 24
Wisconsin (10-2) @ Michigan State (10-2)
Two plays at the end are all that separates this Wisconsin team from being a win away from a spot in the BCS title game. The schedule outside of the B1G was really bad, but they have blown away five conference foes and rolled up bunches of points along the way. Had they won at Ohio State, they still might be in position to make a case for a seat in the final two by avenging their other loss, but scheduling UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota is not the way to go about it.
On the other side, the Spartans are totally disrespected here. They come in as big underdogs and, well, won the first game right? Their slate outside of conference was equally bad other than Notre Dame, and they lost that one 31-13. This is a good team, but looking at the first meeting, they did most of their damage in the second quarter. Their 23-0 run was fueled by a safety and blocked punt for a touchdown which put them in position to win the game on the desperation pass. This time the Badgers don't let it come to that: Wisconsin 33, Michigan State 24
Oklahoma (9-2) @ Oklahoma State (10-1)
If not for the events of Week 12, this would be a game with serious BCS title game implications. Technically, it still is because the Cowboys want to state their case and erase any memories of their slip in OT at Iowa State. I would relish Mike Gundy giving his "we're undefeated in regulation" speech to reporters, especially if he included video of Les Miles doing the same just a few years ago.
First, he has to get by the Sooners, who would love to spoil the party and secure a BCS bid as Big XII champs. Into the season, I had Oklahoma atop my rankings because I felt its path to perfection was the mostly likely. Then the conference turned out to be much deeper than I expected. Ironically, one of their losses came against one of the two teams (Texas Tech) not eligible for a bowl game. I see no reason these teams do anything other than going up and down the field. Losing Ryan Broyles and being on the road sways me towards the Cowboys: Oklahoma State 42, Oklahoma 38
Arkansas (10-1) @ LSU (11-0)
This feels so anticlimactic to me. A battle of teams in the top 3 should have more intrigue instead of people just hoping the underdog wins to screw things up. Their focus has been on the death of young tight end Garrett Uekman, and they will certainly be playing with heavy hearts, but it will take more than inspiration to win a game like this on the road.
No one is going to throw the ball all over the yard against LSU. Once that is established, forget it. Turnovers will flow and it will get out of hand. A 4-1 turnover deficit undid a much better offense (Oregon) against this defense. I see the same happening here: LSU 27, Arkansas 10
Georgia (9-2) @ Georgia Tech (8-3)
The Bulldogs have won all three of their true road games this season and need to stay focused in advance of next week's SEC Championship Game. They must be tired of hearing about how they are good, but not great. Losing games like this will keep that stigma around their neck.
This is one of the great rivalries in college football, and very unpredictable. The Bulldogs have been surprisingly good on defense since allowing 80 points in their first two games. Seven times they have limited an opponent to no more than 16 points. On the flip side, the Yellow Jackets are leaking, having allowed at least 24 points on seven occasions. I'll take defense and a quarterback: Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 21
Penn State (9-2) @ Wisconsin (9-2)
The Leaders division comes down to this. The loser of this game is just another follower apparently. Coming back home is a plus for the Badgers, who have gotten their defense straightened out against lesser competition. Now they face an inept offense.
The Nittany Lions are lucky to be in this position. They beat Indiana 16-10 for crying out loud. Eastern Michigan and Indiana State are the only teams they have beaten by more than 10 points all season. It is time for them to fall apart and I can see it happening here on the road: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 12
Nebraska (8-2) @ Michigan (8-2)
Technically, this is an elimination game for both teams in the race for the Legends division, but the Cornhuskers are the only team with a realistic shot at catching the Spartans. That doesn't mean the Wolverines will come out flat in the Big House. Amazingly, they can still win 10 games under Brady Hoke, and given the state of a couple other teams in the B1G, things are looking pretty good for the future.
All I see here is defense, but somehow the slippery quarterbacks are going to make a few plays. I will go with the upset because I don't think Michigan has shown they can win a big game this season: Nebraska 24, Michigan 21
USC (8-2) @ Oregon (9-1)
If the Ducks walk onto the field and expect to roll, they could be in big trouble. The Trojans have some receivers who can catch, and their offense can put up scores to hang with Oregon's explosive offense. All season everyone is saying "this is their bowl game" when the USC plays, and in this case it is their Pac-12 Championship Game. They might have represented the South division if not for being on probation.
Matt Barkley is going to do his thing, like he has all season. Draftniks are certainly going to compare his performance with Andrew Luck's subpar showing last week. It will be tougher on him being at Autzen Stadium, and, quite frankly, even at their best going to the state of Oregon has not been kind to this team. As much as I want to see an exciting, high scoring thriller, this is not going to be a classic. The home team will get a lead and keep it at double digits: Oregon 48, USC 34
Oklahoma (8-1) @ Baylor (6-3)
The Sooners are back, but without Ryan Broyles. They have to come ready to play on the road instead of looking ahead to Bedlam. Robert Griffin III has cooled off after a blistering start to the season, but he is still very dangerous. Landry Jones is a totally different quarterback obviously, and has better athletes around him.
No one really plays defense in the Big XII, so you pretty much go with the better offense and roll. Oklahoma has had time to adjust without Broyles, and while it does limit what they can do, I don't think it matters too much this week. There will be points: Oklahoma 49, Baylor 31
I figured on two of the games being high scoring and they were, but didn't realize the SEC would go bigger than the Pac-12 (72-51) which was the opposite of my total points predictions on the wins for Arkansas (55) and Oregon (85). Then there was the game of the century which played out like the game of the cent, as in a penny should have been the price of a ticket. I love defense, but it was a little much for me to watch those quarterbacks struggle. I blew the pick though and at 2-1 I now stand 27-7 straight up.
Virginia Tech (8-1) @ Georgia Tech (7-2)
The ACC wishes it could be like the SEC. Instead of both teams getting a full two weeks to prepare for the "game of the century" these teams have been off since October 29 and prepare for the "game of Thursday" to decide the Coastal division. Lighten up ACC it's just a little joke.
What's not a joke is the dominance by the Hokies in this conference. They were humiliated by Clemson a month ago and this is their chance, in primetime, to prove they are truly back. A couple of scares since the Tigers probably woke them up. The Yellow Jackets want to crash the party and made up for their consecutive stumbles by stunning Clemson when last seen on a football field.
However, I don't think they can take their offense to this defense without a fight being put up. In a close game, defense, quarterback play and home field are the things I lean on most. That's not much help predicting an outcome like this so I will go with the experience: Virginia Tech 19, Georgia Tech 17
Nebraska (7-2) @ Penn State (8-1)
Joe Paterno is out, and rightfully so. I was quite stunned to hear he would retire "at the end of the season" and prefer to leave it at that. As for this game his team can't help being distracted. They are also overrated and have been all season. The defense has saved them time after time.
Now they go up against a defense capable of matching blows with them and an offense able to pull out a few big plays to put them behind. Once the advantage shifts they are in big trouble, and this could even turn into a rout: Nebraska 21, Penn State 13
Oregon (8-1) @ Stanford (9-0)
If you love offense, this is the perfect antidote to last week's "game of the century". The Cardinal lost stud receiver Chris Owusu and also tight end Zach Ertz, so they come in shorthanded. However, with Andrew Luck at the controls it should not be too much of a problem. Last year, he took it to this defense early and staked his team to a 21-3 lead on the road. Then the roof fell in.
This time he won't have the crazy Autzen crowd to worry about, which should help his focus as he tries to effectively seal up the Heisman under the lights. As much as this pick makes me nervous, I can't bail on them now. I think they can get a little physical with the Ducks and steal this one at the gun: Stanford 35, Oregon 34
South Carolina (7-1) @ Arkansas (7-1)
This is the huge SEC clash of the week right? Two Top-10 teams? It has to be hard on the participants in this one knowing that by the end of the first quarter everyone is going to be watching the game being played under the lights in Tuscaloosa. The best they can hope for is an early blowout so viewers can turn back in by the fourth quarter.
The Razorbacks can't play a lick of defense and have been in consecutive struggles on the road against inferior conference foes as a result. Their biggest issue is stopping the run and if Marcus Lattimore was playing, I would be rolling with the visitors. He isn't, and in a high-scoring affair I have to lean on the home-field advantage. I think this is going to be an exciting game and might be more watchable than the defensive struggle on the other channel: Arkansas 31, South Carolina 24
LSU (8-0) @ Alabama (8-0)
Even if the hype machine was allowed to sponge a bit out of control, I like the fact that both teams are coming off an open week to get ready for this one. There will be no excuses not to play well. By now it should be clear which team I think is going to win, it's just a matter of explaining why and by how much.
For me, the defensive front seven for the Tide is superior. Mixing in their fans pumping them adrenaline makes it an even bigger advantage. I also like Alabama's offense more, and it's not just because Trent Richardson is there to break long runs. Nick Saban has compiled a better team than Les Miles and all they need to do is execute and protect the football. I actually don't think it will be close, or very much fun to watch: Alabama 27, LSU 17
Oregon (7-1) @ Washington (6-2)
Picking this game might seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but the Huskies have the potential to make this very interesting in their stadium under the lights. First of all, next week is the trip to Stanford which everyone is assuming decides the Pac-12 North division title. It might not be that simple if the Ducks stumble here.
There is at least a possibility for an upset as long as Chris Polk is making plays for Washington. If Jon Gruden was calling the game, he would throw out a lot of complimentary "this guy" comments about him. The key to shocking the world will be turnovers and controlling the ball with long drives. I think it turns out to be a close game and a thrilling finish would not surprise me one bit. The Ducks avoid that with a clinching score at the end: Oregon 48, Washington 37
Week 9 College Football Picks
Published Oct. 29, 2011
By Greg Cox
Michigan State (6-1) @ Nebraska (6-1)
After getting their helmets handed to them right off the bat, the Cornhuskers have settled in a bit as Big Ten members. Now they have to stand up and be counted. This is bigger than any game on the schedule because it determines their fate in the Legends division.
Nebraska�s whole game is to run the ball and play defense, but the latter part of that hasn't worked out so well. Plus, the Spartans can stand up against the run. William Gholston is back from suspension and ready to punch someone else out. I am probably going to regret this, but I will take the road kill here, which ends any hope of the newcomers winning the conference's first title game. They are going to be deflated after last week, hopefully not too much: Michigan State 31, Nebraska 27
Oklahoma (6-1) @ Kansas State (7-0)
The Sooners choked. It's that simple. Their title game dreams are probably dashed. It's funny because every year people hope for this "disaster scenario" with all of these teams going unbeaten to blow up the BCS. It never really works out unless you count TCU. Next up on the cut list: the Wildcats.
I love the Bill Snyder dream-season story and as a fan I hope it continues with a big win here. I just don't see it. They are going to give up a bunch of yards through the air and have a really tough time keeping up score for score with their offense. I know this team has put up 35-plus four times, but things tighten up in big games. The Big XII title is on the line here for the visitors, whereas Kansas State can actually afford to lose this and still bounce back. I'm calling a rout: Oklahoma 41, Kansas State 24
Stanford (7-0) @ USC (6-1)
The irony here is that a few people on the other side of the Mississippi might finally give the Cardinal respect if they win this game. It is in primetime against a ranked opponent on the road after all right? I just don't think it is that big of a deal other than the Trojans being, well, the Trojans.
In this game, Shayne Skov will finally be missed for the Stanford defense if it comes down to harassing Matt Barkley. All NFL scout eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks obviously. I find it downright hilarious that people are asking Lane Kiffin how he is going to stop Andrew Luck. His answer should be "Gee, uh, I don't know. You should ask my dad."
Robert Woods is awesome. The Cardinal will have to contain him. This should be a shootout and the visitors have a pretty good offense as I hear. Stanford�s defense will likely be able to slow down the suddenly vibrant USC running game as well. Best quarterback wins? I actually think so. This will be the game of the day: Stanford 38, USC 31
Week 7 College Football Picks
Published Oct. 14, 2011
By Greg Cox
Every week during the college football season I will offer a few picks for entertainment purposes only. Obviously, I watch a lot of college football because I have to scout the players entering the NFL Draft. It will be fun to predict some game outcomes along the way. These picks have nothing to do with the point spread. So far my season record is 20-5. Also of note, I will be breaking down only games between two good teams. It's more interesting that way.
For more of my random, incoherent thoughts feel free to follow me on Twitter @ActuallyGregCox because I will be spouting all sorts of nonsense on college football Saturdays this season.
Michigan (6-0) at Michigan State (4-1)
Could defense tell the story here? The Spartans have gotten it done on that side of the ball, but against suspect competition. Here comes Denard Robinson with a lofty national ranking, ready to put the "little" back in little brother. The Wolverines are vastly improved on defense as well. Michigan also has the edge in the common opponent category, having beaten Notre Dame a week before the Irish whipped Michigan State.
If the Spartans had a little more running game, I would feel good about them protecting their home turf. The visitors are motivated by a losing streak against a team they are used to dominating and enter as underdogs, even though they are ranked higher in the polls. The Wolverines are mad, but the home team is rested off an open week.
When these teams hook up, points flow, and turnovers are going to be vital. Robinson is going to have his struggles passing the football. Kirk Cousins has to put up or shut up at this point. His moment is right now. After a lot of thinking and coin flipping, I think he helps them pull this out in dramatic fashion: Michigan State 27, Michigan 24
Oklahoma State (6-0) at Texas (4-1)
It was kind of fun for the Longhorns to be relevant again, but last week was a wake up call. This week is Round 2 and they can quickly get buried in the deep Big XII. The Cowboys are one of four teams controlling their own BCS destiny. This is basically a trap game for Oklahoma State. Their offense has been unstoppable other than the first half at Texas A&M. The Cowboys' defense doesn't need to do much and they haven't.
Texas is 13-0 under Mack Brown in the game following the Red River Shootout and I suppose that means something. It gives me a bit of pause, assuming they will be emotionally spent after getting their horns handed to them. I am going to predict it anyway. This Oklahoma State offense has it working and I don't see a team with two young quarterbacks outscoring them: Oklahoma State 34, Texas 24
Arizona State (5-1) at Oregon (4-1)
This is a rare big game in the Pac-12 which is why ESPN GameDay will be on the scene. Can the Ducks absorb the loss of LaMichael James? They have team speed, but he has provided a ton of offense (983 total yards) already. Someone has to pick up the slack.
I like Arizona State, but not this much. Brock Osweiler needs to play a perfect game for them to keep up with the frenetic pace of Oregon's offense, assuming LMJ's absence is absorbed. The Sun Devils can score in spurts. They will be feisty in this one. Think of them as a more competent version of the California Golden Bears.
The Ducks have had a couple extra days to rest and prepare for life after James. They will work it out on offense, and, while I can see them trailing in the middle quarters, down the stretch, I look for them to put this one away with ease: Oregon 41, Arizona State 31
Week 6 College Football Picks
Ohio State (3-2) at Nebraska (4-1)
Remember when the Buckeyes were good? It was painful watching them play last week against Michigan State. At least the defense stood up. Wait, check that, the offense came and put up a late touchdown to avoid the shutout. Clutch! They are still waiting for running back Dan Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey to walk through that door, but the whole improper benefits thing has been extended by their athletic director Gene Smith.
If Ohio State is going to avoid their worst start since 2004, it will require another strong defensive effort and maybe a little scoring on that side of the ball as well. Nebraska is smarting from a crushing loss at Wisconsin in their Big Ten conference debut. They came out firing in that one, marching for touchdowns on both of their possessions in the first quarter. Then the roof caved in as the Badgers outscored them 38-10 the rest of the way.
All I can see is defense here. Taylor Martinez is erratic. I think the Buckeyes can contain him for the most part. This could be a lot closer than people think, if they can keep him from running wild. The guy has only passed for over 180 yards twice in his last 17 games. He is not going to run over them either. Get ready for a lot of punting and a possible upset. There is nothing for the visitors to lose at this point: Nebraska 20, Ohio State 14
Oklahoma (4-0) versus Texas (4-0)
We interrupt your regularly scheduled "the SEC is all that matters in the BCS title game race" to bring you a pretty big game in the Big XII. No one respects the Longhorns, and it is probably justified at this point. Winning the Red River Shootout, yes, I'm calling it that, would change their perception dramatically. Looking over their schedule only one game, an ugly 17-16 win over BYU, did not end in a blowout. Has all of their confidence returned following a losing 2010 campaign?
The Sooners don't care about any of that. They just want to keep winning and finish in the BCS�s top two. If a bitter rival is in the way, so be it. Perhaps an indicator of how focused the team is on this one will be if stud linebacker Travis Lewis chooses to don the No. 12 uniform of the late Austin Box himself. I think he does and the kind of cool little brother thing with Case McCoy and Jaxon Shipley playing catch comes to a bit of a halt: Oklahoma 31, Texas 17
Florida (4-1) at LSU (5-0)
Kind of bad timing for starting quarterback John Brantley to be hurt, eh? The Gators are in a world of trouble without him. On the other side of the field, his opposite number Jordan Jefferson is likely to be a bigger factor because the criminal charges against him have been reduced. I think the reason was something like "we got a shot to win the SEC!," but I can't be sure. Oh, I kid. Relax Bayou Bengals, it's a joke.
It is a shame Florida will be hamstrung in this one because, as we saw a bit last week their wicked fast backfield can't run past a great defense. Meanwhile LSU's loaded backfield is capable of steamrolling just about any team in the country. They are going to win the rushing battle easily here. Jarrett Lee's days of keeping the other team in the game appear to be behind him, much to the chagrin of everyone wanting to see dramatic finishes so Les Miles can come out on top even while making crazy decisions. It's a whitewash: LSU 31, Florida 9
Week 5 College Football Picks
Alabama (4-0) at Florida (4-0)
In my College Football Top 25 it might seem like I am disrespecting the SEC, but I just want to see more action before I worry too much about the top 5 or 10. This is the first of three conference-title-game previews. It is funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Six times, these teams have met for the SEC championship. If the Gators lose this one in the Swamp, it is going to be tough for them to rebound and win next week at LSU. Getting swept pretty much takes them out of SEC division title contention. The pressure is firmly on them.
Alabama has no worries in this environment. They are comfortable in big games in tough environments. Usually home field is a huge advantage, but I don't see it too much here. Florida is reliant on their running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps breaking big plays. The problem for them is that Alabama's back seven is flat out the best in the nation. It will be tough for them to get past a secondary with multiple NFL prospects for long touchdowns.
On the other side, the Crimson Tide offense is also leaning on the running gem. The Gators are going to stack up the line and try to put it on quarterback A.J. McCarron. In classics like this, it is all about limiting what the opponent does best. I see Alabama being better at doing that. Honestly, I don't know how these teams are going to score very much. I see a gritty defensive struggle and what is likely the best team in the nation coming out on top: Alabama 22, Florida 16
Clemson (4-0) at Virginia Tech (4-0)
It is fun to watch the Tigers. They let it all hang out. Their mission here is to go from a team everyone expects to break out to a team that actually does. It was somewhat a signature win beating last year's BCS champion Auburn, but clearly that team is a shell of its 2010 form. Then last week, they survived Florida State, who was playing without E.J. Manuel. The one thing we know about the Hokies is that they will come to play in conference games. Their defense is going to make it very difficult on Tajh Boyd in his first collegiate road start.
I love seeing new teams break through. It is quite boring to watch Virginia Tech dominate the ACC. Unfortunately, they do it because they are well coached in doing the little things right. Beamer Ball isn't a Hollywood motion picture starring Harrison Ford, but maybe it should be. The Hokies are going to turn up the defense a notch in this one, probably turn in a momentum-changing play on special teams and then grind this one out: Virginia Tech 28, Clemson 23
Nebraska (4-0) at Wisconsin (4-0)
What a way for the Cornhuskers to join the B1G: a battle between top-10 teams. The Badgers are up to their usual antics, sweeping past lesser opponents early in the season. This is a massive step up in competition. Russell Wilson has thus far feasted on defenses that didn't have a chance. Now he goes up against a unit with some playmakers. At least he has the home crowd on his side, even with Nebraska bringing a ton of fans to Camp Randall.
It's not that I don't like the Cornhuskers, but Taylor Martinez is too unpredictable for my taste. He could melt down at any moment. I like the Badgers to muscle up and win this game on the offensive line. Nick Toon might be locked up by Alfonzo Dennard, if he is healthy enough, but there are other offensive options. The points should flow in this one, so I will roll with the better offense: Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 27
Week 4 College Football Picks
Published Sept. 23, 2011
North Carolina (3-0) at Georgia Tech (3-0)
In my Top 25 I have the Tar Heels No. 18 and the Yellow Jackets unranked. Clearly voters are not impressed by North Carolina scraping past Rutgers and Virginia at home the past two Saturdays while Georgia Tech has slaughtered helpless opponents while piling up an impressive 175 points scored. Speaking of wild stats, the Yellow Jackets have stung opponents to the tune of 472.7 rushing yards per game. Now they go up against a defense allowing just 76.7. I don't think those numbers mean anything, but it is fun to throw them out there.
What I do care about is a sophomore quarterback making his first collegiate road start against a team feeling confident with a national ranking. Bryn Renner has been really accurate (81.4 percent) when he isn't throwing interceptions (4 in just 70 attempts). I don't trust him to protect the football in this spot and against a team ready to win the time of possession battle, that gives the home team an edge in the field position battle as well.
Will the stars on North Carolina's defense come out to play? They might need to dominate if this team wants to score the road upset. I'm not going to bank on that. Instead I look for the home team to strike early and then ride this out in a less interesting fashion than this score indicates: Georgia Tech 27, North Carolina 23
San Diego State (3-0) at Michigan (3-0)
This game should be getting more attention, and I don't just mean because Michigan head coach Brady Hoke faces his former team. The quarterbacks should provide plenty of excitement in this tilt between undefeated teams. Denard Robinson is up to his usual tricks splitting his production between running (50 carries) and passing (55 attempts) for 865 yards and 8 touchdowns for the Wolverines. Ryan Lindley had his best game of the young season last week against an improved Washington State. He lets Ronnie Hillman carry the ball and that works out just fine.
The Big House should be rocking and, since neither defense is dominant, it could be a real show. I love an underdog, and in this case I anticipate big plays from Michigan and a steady offense from San Diego State. Familiarity with his former players and home field give Hoke's Wolverines a distinct advantage. The Aztecs are not used to playing in environments like this. If they fall behind early it could get ugly. I think they run Hillman enough to prevent that from happening, but won't be able to win the game: Michigan 34, San Diego State 28
LSU (3-0) at West Virginia (3-0)
As much as I liked the Tigers entering the season, I figured their schedule would be too much of a grind to survive. They are proving me wrong. This team looks like they snack on nails at halftime while they watch their head coach eat grass. Calling the defense nasty might be an understatement, and this little road trip is not troublesome given their big game experience and extra days of rest having played a Thursday night game last week.
Relatively speaking, I like the Mountaineers. Other than choking away a lead last week at Maryland, their defense has also played well. I expect a similar game as last year's defensive struggle was won by LSU 20-14 when the teams combined for just 407 total yards. Geno Smith was the more effective quarterback in that one, but the difference was Patrick Peterson's punt return touchdown in the second quarter. He plays for the Arizona Cardinals now, so if they need a play, someone else needs to make it.
Depending on who you listen to this might be a future SEC battle. Perhaps West Virginia can prove they are worthy of inclusion as member No. 14 with a win here. It will take a strong effort from Smith passing the football. He has been terrific thus far, but against defenses far inferior to what LSU will show up with. Get ready for a lot of drama which means the Mad Hatter is in his element: LSU 23, West Virginia 19
Arkansas (3-0) at Alabama (3-0)
How good are the Crimson Tide this season? They are just warming up and will fire up the afterburners here, as conference play begins with a key game in the West division race. Last season was a thriller with the Razorbacks building a 20-7 lead only to let it slip away. Both quarterbacks are gone to the NFL, and interestingly enough Greg McElroy (Jets) and Ryan Mallett (Patriots) are playing for AFC East rivals. They combined for 5 interceptions last time around, also a battle between 3-0 teams.
A key running back will also be missing on each side. Alabama's Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is already gaining yards for the Saints. Arkansas's Knile Davis is out for the season due to injury. Then there is that wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end D.J. Williams are gone, just to throw a receiving element to this theme. Of all the key players gone, Mallett is the biggest. He threatened this defense and was undone by turning it over.
Tyler Wilson is going to be in over his head playing on the road against this defense. Yes, Alabama has an unsettled quarterback situation. But they can just run the ball and play defense to rout most teams in the country. This will be a statement game from a team that doesn't really have anything to prove to anyone: Alabama 30, Arkansas 10
Oklahoma State (3-0) at Texas A&M (2-0)
Let's do this. Lost in all the realignment talk is the fact that the existing Big XII is a combined 23-2 this season. The winner of this one is in the best position to challenge Oklahoma for the conference title. Last year's game was a mess. The Aggies ceded the turnover battle 5-3 thanks to four interceptions by Jerrod Johnson and lost 38-35 despite outgunning the Cowboys by 204 yards. This time around, Ryan Tannehill is at the controls and the result will be very different.
Mind you, Oklahoma State has Brandon Weeden and a dominant wide receiver in Justin Blackmon. They can score with anyone, even after losing Dana Holgerson to West Virginia. Texas A&M has more stars in running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller. Have you ever watched people trying to stop a car rolling down a hill? That's what these defenses will look like. I don't expect a repeat of the turnovers, which means just as many points as, or more than, last year. Kyle Field and an extra week of rest give the Aggies just enough of an edge to fight through this one: Texas A&M 44, Oklahoma State 33
Washington (2-0) at Nebraska (2-0)
Husk Bowl III? The Huskies and Cornhuskers battle for the third time in two seasons. In the two meetings last year, Washington's output was consistent (21, 19) but Nebraska's was not (56, 7). Clearly quarterback Taylor Martinez's health had a lot to do with that. His opposite number, Jake Locker, has gone pro along with cornerback Prince Amukamara, who helped stifle him in both games.
This is about respect for the visiting Huskies. They are paced offensively by running back Chris Polk, but the defense is shaky having allowed 59 points in two weeks to Eastern Washington and Hawaii - at home no less. The Cornhuskers had their issues with Fresno State last week. I think some of that has to do with the huge expectations in their first season as members of the Big Ten. This team is heavily reliant on Martinez, and when the defense is not a shutdown unit he has to be playing at a high level.
Do I smell upset? Nah, I don't think Washington is ready for a return to relevance. After making some noise in the first half, they will let it slip away: Nebraska 31, Washington 20
Tennessee (2-0) at Florida (2-0)
Remember when this game was huge? Now the power in the SEC has shifted to the West division. I have a feeling people might feel at least a little differently when this game is over. The Volunteers seem to have a quarterback in Tyler Bray. He has torn up Montana and Cincinnati. On the other side, John Brantley is off to a slow start although they haven't needed him to be great, destroying Florida Atlantic and UAB by a combined 80-3.
I'm looking for Brantley to show a lot better in this game. His speedy backfield of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps is going to be problematic as always. The concern I have here for the Gators is overconfidence, crazy as that sounds. They might be prematurely believing their press clippings. Right now this is a good, not great team. The Volunteers on the other hand, could bite them.
The key to an upset is what it always is, limiting turnovers and running the ball. Explosive plays are going to be too much for the visitors to overcome though. Still, it's nice to have both of these teams playing well again: Florida 26, Tennessee 17
Washington State (2-0) at San Diego State (2-0)
The Cougars have already matched their win total from 2010 and this is probably the only chance I will have to talk about them. Or is it? They whipped Idaho State and UNLV by a combined 123-28, but now have to hit the road for three games in a row over four weeks. Relatively speaking this is an important stretch, even if conference play is likely to swallow this team whole.
When it comes to the Aztecs I am firmly on a limb with them as a serious contender in the Mountain West Conference. Unfortunately, Ryan Lindley has not adjusted well to the loss of top wide receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. Through two weeks, only Colin Lockett has over 100 yards receiving total. Ronnie Hillman has done most of the damage with 304 rushing yards. However, Army really took it to this team for most of the game last week. If not for a long touchdown early and a 3-0 turnover deficit, the Black Knights likely would�ve routed them.
Would it be wrong for me to pick the upset here? I am feeling like it, but since I have the home team ranked, I need to stick behind them until they no longer deserve it. The Aztecs win a high scoring duel: San Diego State 35, Washington State 31
Arizona State (2-0) at Illinois (2-0)
We know nothing about the Fighting Illini at this point. They have crushed two garbage teams, Arkansas State and South Dakota State, by a combined 89-18. Last week, the Sun Devils won an emotional OT thriller against Missouri on Friday night. At least we have seen them under pressure.
If there is one factor I can't ignore, it is Ron Zook. Picking his team to do anything positive is really, really tough for me to do. Flipping a coin is definitely an option, that way I can blame the quarter if I'm wrong. I will roll with the quarterback here and Brock Osweiler does just enough: Arizona State 28, Illinois 25
Oklahoma (2-0) at Florida State (2-0)
This game is kind of a big deal. Being on record with the Sooners as my top team before the season, it is obvious how I feel about them. The Seminoles are tough enough to give them fits though. Last time it was all about big plays and that in Norman, no one messes with Oklahoma. The change of venue is huge.
E.J. Manuel is another factor. He is leading Florida State into a new era. Just as bitter rival Miami fades into oblivion, it's like the time machine has flashed back 20 years for them back to the 1990's. Their defense has playmakers capable of neutralizing the talented Sooner offense.
Emotions are going to be high for the home team, and overturning a 47-17 loss from last season is not impossible, just ask Baylor. An extra week of rest is huge for the visitors. They will be well prepared and sweat this one out in dramatic fashion: Oklahoma 34, Florida State 28
Week 2 College Football Picks
Published Sept. 9, 2011
Arizona (1-0) at Oklahoma State (1-0)
Anyone who looks at this game and expects a replay of the Alamo Bowl is not paying attention. In that one the Wildcats fell behind early and simply turned it over too much to be competitive. Justin Blackmon had a nice game, but didn't dominate. A huge chunk of his 117 yards receiving came on an early score that covered 71 yards. Kendall Hunter was not much of a factor, and is now backing up Frank Gore with the 49ers.
The key for an upset bid is Arizona quarterback Nick Foles. His offensive line is totally rebuilt. After throwing 3 interceptions last time, this time he has to deal with a raucous Thursday night crowd in Stillwater. If he wants to be a top pick in the NFL draft, this is a showcase for scouts to see him in adverse conditions. I'm not sold on his ability to shine in this spot.
I look for a ton of offense and turnovers on both sides in the rematch. Brandon Weeden of course has his own NFL aspirations, but is less hyped at this point. Both quarterbacks have elite prospects for wide receiver at their disposal. Home field is the difference for me, that and the untested line for Arizona. This should be an exciting shootout, but I don't really expect the outcome to be in doubt when the fourth quarter starts. Of note, this might be a future "Pac-16" preview right?: Oklahoma State 40, Arizona 29
Missouri (1-0) at Arizona State (1-0)
The winner of this game is going to earn some respect. I don't know how well deserved it will be. The Sun Devils are going with their spiffy all-black uniforms and the ridiculous "blackout". Shouldn't it be enough to just dominate on the field? They need to win this game, and the Pac-12 could use a big win. Speaking of which, how interesting is it that the Tigers are one of the teams caught on a sinking ship called the Big XII while the power teams are expected to join the "Pac-16".
I don't think the players really care about any of this. Missouri just hopes to generate enough offense to stay competitive in what amounts to a trap game I suppose, considering they are on the road midweek as a ranked team. Arizona State is better. Yes, they have some injuries to deal with. They also have a devastating linebacker in Vontaze Burflict leading them against a quarterback not ready for primetime. I don't expect a pretty game: Arizona State 27, Missouri 17
Alabama (1-0) at Penn State (1-0)
I don't buy any of this nonsense about this game being closer than last year. I love getting big time programs together outside of conference play, but the Crimson Tide are in a totally different category right now. The Nittany Lions play defense, which in the Big Ten gets them by. Unfortunately, they are going up against a team loaded with NFL prospects on their defense.
The only way this game gets interesting is if Alabama has quarterback issues and turnovers. I thought that might happen with another SEC team (LSU) last week and we saw how that turned out. I don't know if this is a 24-3 game again or a resounding rout, but it would flat out stun me to see Penn State stay in this game deep into the third quarter. Their defense will get worn out sooner than later because their offense is going to have a rough time getting a first down: Alabama 23, Penn State 9
South Carolina (1-0) at Georgia (0-1)
The Bulldogs are the only team included in my picks this week coming off a loss. It is going to be panic time for head coach Mark Richt if they lose again. Get ready to push the button. The Gamecocks have Marcus Lattimore to compensate for their uneasy quarterback situation with the unpredictable Stephen Garcia. He is going to hammer away between the hedges and keep those chains moving.
I like Aaron Murray in the long term and hope his home crowd helps elevate his play. Unfortunately for him he just absorbed a tough loss to a very good team (Boise State) on a national stage and has no time to recover for a key game in the SEC East race. South Carolina should grind this one out over a bruised opponent. I would not be picking this game without a gun to my head though. It should be interesting: South Carolina 28, Georgia 24
BYU (1-0) at Texas (1-0)
It seems like all of these games I am picking are impacted by conference realignment, which makes sense because so many teams are impacted. Will the Cougars join a rebuilt Big XII? Are the Longhorns going to what might be eventually called the Pac-16? As it stands, BYU started a little iffy as an independent by scrapping past Ole Miss 14-13 on the road. A trip to Austin is going to be a bigger challenge and most of their soft games are later in the season. Speaking of which, an upset here definitely puts them in the top 25.
Jake Heaps is kind of a tease at this point. He did get the touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to draw his team closer, but needed a defensive score to pull the game out. It's not like Garrett Gilbert lit up Rice either, going just 13/23 for 239 yards and 1 touchdown. At least they dominated an inferior opponent. This feels like a defensive game to me relatively speaking.
BYU scored a huge upset over Oklahoma when the Sooners were much more highly regarded than these Longhorns. Texas also struggled at home last year. I get a knot in my stomach over this one, but I'm rolling with the home team to play like a team dictating the future of the college football landscape: Texas 30, BYU 20
Utah at USC
This is going to be a good one. The Utes come in trying to earn respect as they begin Pac-12 conference play for the first time. Believe me, they are not even thinking about next week's Holy War at rival BYU. The Trojans should feel some pressure to dominate the new kids even if they are ineligible to compete in the first ever conference title game. If last week's performance was any indication though, they have some work to do before impacting this case too much.
Other than Matt Barkley setting records throwing to Robert Woods, USC almost choked away a home game against Minnesota. Utah coasted past Montana State without proving much of anything. I would be petrified of the visitors if I was Lane Kiffin, but he is more concerned about ridiculous two-point plays after touchdowns in the first quarter and inane post-game comments. I think the Trojans get their running game going with Marc Tyler returning from his "TMZ" suspension and squeeze this one out: USC 27, Utah 24
Week 1 College Football Picks
Published Sept. 3, 2011
TCU at Baylor
There is nothing like a Friday night showdown between old SWC rivals to help kick off the college football season. A little old school is just what college football needs given all of the realignment. Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest games of the season for TCU. They should be favored comfortably in every game until what should amount to the MWC title game at Boise State on November 12.
As the Horned Frogs start their final season as BCS outsiders they face their only "Big Six" opponent and it would be a mistake to overlook the revenge-minded Bears. Last year's game at Fort Worth was a 45-10 rout, but departed quarterback Andy Dalton was a razor sharp 21-of-23 for 267 yards. Meanwhile his opposite number Robert Griffin was not allowed to do much running the football.
Sophomore Casey Pachall takes over for Dalton at quarterback and is playing behind an offensive line with just one returning starter and without key wide receivers. There is no question TCU will rely heavily on their stable of running backs and always stout defense. Linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock hold the key to this game because if they can prevent Griffin from delivering long runs, it will take the onus off the TCU offense.
Baylor would love to make this a high-scoring affair decided by the quarterbacks. Their defense was routinely shredded last season in the Big XII. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will install a new scheme, but this unit is suspect. Griffin is a freak athlete capable of taking his team on his back in certain situations. Unfortunately TCU's defense will not allow him to showcase his full arsenal. They will make him one dimensional. On offense I expect the Horned Frogs to be extremely conservative and grind out the rematch: TCU 28, Baylor 20
Oregon at LSU
Suspensions have marred what should have been a dream pairing at Cowboys Stadium. Star cornerback Cliff Harris will be out for Oregon and LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson is also relegated to street clothes, among others. The Ducks failed in their last attempt to derail a SEC juggernaut, losing on a late field goal to Auburn in the BCS "national championship" game. A win here would be a tremendous start for the expanded Pac-12 in the respect department.
It won't be easy for Oregon to pick up their high-octane offense from last season given some offensive line turnover; not to mention a stifling LSU defense. This feels like it could be very similar to the Auburn game. The only difference is that Jarrett Lee is a pick six waiting to happen. He will have Les Miles eating grass by the end of the first quarter. By the end of the game, no one knows what the Mad Hatter will be up to. If this game is close it is hard to go against him.
However, LSU is relatively suspect at linebacker. Oregon's dynamic offensive attack can exploit this weakness. If the Tigers start giving up points, their offense is in trouble. Talent at wide receiver is never a problem for them, but someone to deliver the football is another story. Lee is a train wreck. His opposite number Darron Thomas had only nine interceptions last year compared to Lee's 16 when he was the regular starter in 2008. It is always a numbers game against Oregon in terms of possessions. I see the turnovers going their way, and short fields leading to easy field goals. Les Miles had some choice words for the Pac-10 a few years ago. Maybe he will think the Pac-12 is tough after this one: Oregon 23, LSU 17
Boise State at Georgia
The Broncos would love to upend an SEC opponent and earn more respect in their quest to earn a spot in the BCS title game. Their move to the MWC does very little to quiet critics of their weak schedule in the long term because TCU exits for the Big East next year, while Utah (Pac-12) and BYU (Independent) are already gone. It would seem like this game has a lot of meaning, but in reality the Bulldogs are simply a contender in the SEC. Beating them will be viewed as a "nice" win with the only other road block to perfection being a home tilt with TCU in November.
From Georgia's perspective, they would love to send Boise State back to Idaho in a potato sack. Quarterback Aaron Murray has to feel disrespected with most of the attention on Kellen Moore. The problem for Moore is losing his two favorite targets with Titus Young and Austin Pettis now in the NFL. It will take some time for the offense to hit on all cylinders, but an experienced offensive line and veteran quarterback help quite a bit.
Georgia always underachieves and Murray is still young. Obviously the Georgia Dome gives them a home field advantage, but the visiting Broncos will not be intimidated. Wide receiver A.J. Green is gone. leaving tight end Orson Charles as the top receiving threat. I don't see this offense keeping up. Eventually I like Georgia to blossom and compete in the SEC. Right now Boise State loves games like this. They are always prepared for their "Super Bowl" and this is no exception. I like them to win this one comfortably thanks to a solid defensive effort: Boise State 24, Georgia 14