This weekend’s football picks

Looking to bounce back after last weekend

The first step is acceptance. Last week was bad. 1-4 in NCAA games, with 3 blowout losses. 2-3 in the NFL and lucky to get the Atlanta victory. It’s going to happen early in the season, but would like to limit the damage. So, this week trying to get back on track. Consulted with more people on these, dug a little deeper on research and re-examined some of my gut feelings on teams. I’m excited for the slate of games this week and think the picks will get better results. Follow or fade, but enjoy the weekend. Best of luck!

 

NCAA:
Minnesota -13 v. Maryland
Third string quarterback on the road against a team I like. Row the boat.

Washington -27 @ Oregon St.
I was down on Washington, but clearly put too much stock in their first half of the year against an improved Rutgers team. Jake Browning and co. have looked strong since then and were effective against a pretty good Colorado defense. Add that to the fact Oregon State is awful and I’m okay laying all the points.

Alabama -27.5 v. Ole Miss
Ole Miss is a program in a deep mess and they have some key injuries to their offensive weapons. They already lost to Cal by double digits and Bama is better than Cal (hot take). Alabama looked as good as ever last week and I think the Tide keep the dominance rolling. It’s a big spread, but Alabama covers another one.

Clemson -7.5 @ Virginia Tech
If anything, I would stay away from this game, because I can’t take the Hokies. Not only because of the Louisville pick a couple of weeks ago, but because the Tigers have looked to good to feel good going against. Tech’s defense is better than Louisville and they can move the ball, but I think Clemson rises to the challenge in Lane Stadium and pulls away.

Cal +14 @ Oregon
I think this is a shootout and Cal will at least get the cover. The Golden Bears hung tough against USC and the Ducks fell to Arizona State, so I struggle to see Oregon blow this one open even in Eugene.

Last Week: 1-4
Season: 8-7-1

NFL:
Ravens+3 v. Steelers
The Ravens are a much better team at home and I think their debacle in London was an anomaly. The Steelers struggle on the road and have looked sluggish in general. These games are always close and I lean Ravens outright so I’ll take the points.

Texans+2 v. Titans
Texans offense looked much better in New England and I think Tennessee benefited from a Seahawks defense worn down by off the field distractions, as they just faded in the second half. The Titans were locked in a close one with Jacksonville until turnovers helped them pull away. If the Texans can hold on to the ball, I like Houston at home

Patriots -9 v. Panthers
This a clash of strength on strength and weakness on weakness. The Pats’ offense and the Panthers defense should be fun to watch, but the other side will be two struggling units. I have faith in Brady to win his match up and I think Belichick figures out how to do enough on the defensive side of the ball. When picks are struggling, seems smart to lean on Brady and Belichick.

Buccaneers -3 vs. Giants
I’m scared of a desperate Giants team that seemed to put together something of an offense late against the Eagles. I’m not scared that Tampa Bay is as bad as they looked last week. The Vikings are a good team and the Bucs were dealing with the travel and emotional roller coaster that has been associated with Irma. The defense is still banged up, but another week should help the staff figure out better fixes. I think the line should be higher so like getting it at -3 and I think the Giants fall to 0-4.

49ers +7 @ Arizona
The 49ers look ready to get in the win column and Arizona has looked lost. The Cardinals looked a little better against Dallas, but I don’t think Palmer is as big advantage over Hoyer as the names make it sound. Shanahan should have San Francisco moving the ball and even if Arians’ squad claws out a win, I like the Niners to cover.

Last Week: 2-3
Season: 4-5-1

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Podcast: Power 5 Conference Landscape

Analyzing the top teams and potential surprises for each major conference

Ryan and I dive into each of college football’s power conferences to talk who we think will win, but also the top challengers we see. Also discussed: Different conferences’ playoff chances, early picks we like and conference quality. Subscribe on iTunes!

Football Weekend Recap: What I thought I knew

Several teams reshaped my expectations

Much of the football weekend was not about football (Some of my early thoughts are on Twitter, but more to come on that in a podcast later this week), but the on-the field entertainment was as high as its been over a Saturday and Sunday as it’s been in a while. Apart from close games, much of the thrill came from teams defying or surpassing our expectations. Just when I think I have a read on the season, I’m reminded how little I know for certain. Let’s look at eight things I thought heading into the weekend and how they held up.

Oklahoma State’s offense can’t be stopped
TCU showed you may not be able to shut the Cowboys down, but you can contain them enough to get a win–even in Stillwater. The Pokes still racked up just under 500 yards, but they were only on the field for 21 minutes and were out-rushed by 140 yards, while averaging just 3.3 yards per rush. The meek effort on the ground (by their standards) combined with 4 turnovers was their undoing. Turn them over and hold their running game down and Oklahoma State is beatable.

Weird things happen in Iowa City
This one proved true. Penn State broke Hawkeye hearts on the last play of the game, but Kinnick Stadium still provided the drama akin to what it has seen in the past.

The SEC East is hapless
This one got complicated. Vanderbilt got spanked by Alabama, Kentucky found a way to lose to a less than impressive Florida squad. Tennessee and South Carolina edged out wins against sub par competition and Missouri was embarrassed by Auburn. However, Georgia dominated Mississippi State and looks like maybe the only SEC team that can challenge for Alabama’s throne. The division as a whole may be in trouble, but Georgia may be enough to flip the script.

It’s hard to come back after a hurricane-induced layoff
Tested across the collegiate and professional ranks, the results were mixed. Florida State looked lost, but NC State is a tough match up and the Seminoles were starting a new quarterback. Miami let Toledo hang around, but pulled away while UCF blitzed Maryland to the tune of an easy 38-10 victory. In the NFL, The Buccaneers and Dolphins looked good in their first game back, but it’s possible the crazy travel schedule and emotional roller coaster took its toll as both teams laid an egg this past Sunday. It will take more games to properly contextualize the hurricane’s layoff, but one can’t help but root for all these teams as they represent embattled areas of the nation.

Thursday games are a dud
My distaste for Thursday games has been documented. Yet, last week’s expected dud between the Rams and 49ers yielded a thrilling 41-39 contest featuring plenty of offense, an onside kick recovery and interested viewers. We’ll see if this was the anomaly it seems to be or the start of a run of entertaining Thursday contests.

Roethlisberger struggles on the road
The loss to the Bears may have more to do with an underrated Chicago defense holding down the Steelers rushing attack, but Big Ben’s road struggles did rear their ugly head.

The Raiders are Super Bowl contenders
Pump the brakes. Maybe Washington is better than expected and this was a West Coast team playing in the East. Still, this was a night game so body clocks shouldn’t enter the equation and Derek Carr had his worst game in a long time–held under 120 yards and tossing two interceptions. This team may not even be the best in its division. It will be fighting for second place next weekend at Mile High.

The Jets won’t win a game
So maybe no one truly expected 0-16, but it seemed shockingly possible. That was until the Jets controlled the game against the Dolphins and looked convincing in a 20-6 win. Time will tell, if they can duplicate the effort or how much a win over the Dolphins means, but a win has got to feel good for Todd Bowles and co.

College Football Picks

Best bets and other thoughts

I broke down the big games of the week on the pod, but wanted to post my best bets after combing through those games and many more. As for the big games I’m not picking, here are my final quick takes:

Alabama -19 @ Vandy
I like the Commodores this season, but think Alabama shows its head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. Vandy will rally in the next few weeks, but ‘Bama covers here.

TCU @ Oklahoma State -14
I think the Cowboys are top-5 caliber, but 14 is a lot of points against an offense like the Horned Frogs’. I think the Cowboys cover, but garbage time scares me.

Penn State -13 @ Iowa
Penn State’s offense is a lot better than anything the Hawkeyes can offer in all 3 phases. I’m staying away because weird things happen in Iowa City, but the Nittany Lions should cover.

Best Bets:

NC State +13
Tough spot for Florida State breaking in a new QB after three weeks off. They may win, but it will be close

Maryland -4
Maryland’s offense has looked potent through three weeks and UCF is another team that could struggle after an Irma-forced layoff. This should be a shootout, but the Terps pull away at home.

Wake Forest -5.5
Wake Forest has been as explosive as any team in the nation (against less than formidable foes, but still). Appalachian State is a name that scares bettors, but this team won’t hang with a Demon Deacons squad that may be a player in the ACC title race.

Mississippi St +4.5
I have not seen enough from Georgia to think they can move the ball if Mississippi State shuts down the run. I like Nick Fitzgerald much more than Jake Fromm and think Mississippi State wins this battle of the bulldogs

Colorado +11.5
I can’t shake how rough the Huskies looked against Rutgers and Colorado has looked formidable in their first 3 games. In Boulder, I think the Buffaloes push the Huskies and even if they lose it will be a one-possession game

Last Week: 3-2
Season: 7-2-1

 

 

College Football Surprises

The good and the bad I didn’t see coming

USC 27-24 in double overtime. It was an ugly game for about 55 minutes. There was a wild end to the first half with a pick-six and a check-down turned Hail Mary and a crazy end to regulation with Texas going ahead only for Darnold to easily drive the Trojans down the field for the tying field goal. USC survived after stripping Texas at the goal line and it was just a magical game. Nostalgia, tradition, rough edges, dramatic moments–this game was everything we love good and bad about college football. And very few saw it coming.

Not many thought the 2006 Rose Bowl rematch would be close and surprises are what make the sport great. There are several this season. Not every surprise is a positive one, but they are what keep us tuning in on Saturdays.

Good Surprises:
Clemson
We knew they would be good, but I don’t think we expected to see a team so close to–if not exceeding–the level of last year’s championship squad. The defense is dominant and if Kelly Bryant is as good as he looks it could be trouble for everyone else.

Vanderbilt
You could see the Kansas State win coming, but the Commodores look like a threat in the SEC East, Continue reading “College Football Surprises”

Power 5 Sleepers

Week 3 Picks included

Earlier this week, I noted the strength of each conference at the top. Each one has a team well set up for the playoff race and most have more than one. Looking at each conference, you can identify the 2 or 3 favorites:

SEC: Alabama, LSU, Georgia
ACC: Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech
Pac-12: USC, Washington, UCLA
Big 12: Oklahoma, Oklahoma St.
Big Ten: Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio St.

Thats not an exhaustive list of favorites, but its a pretty good idea of which teams we expect to hear from at the end of the season. Yet, each conference has a team that, through two weeks, looks like it might be able to unexpectedly get into that conversation. These sleeper teams are ones I see with shots to get to their conference championship games, which will have them in the New Year’s six discussion–if not more.

SEC: Vanderbilt
Derek Mason has improved the Commodores record every year since he took the helm in 2014, getting Vandy to a bowl last season. This year, led by a stout defense and QB Kyle Shurmur (the Vikings’ offensive coordinator’s son), they look ready to make some noise. They already put the clamps on a good Middle Tennessee State team and crushed an FCS foe like they should. It’s tough sledding to have Alabama, @Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks, but the SEC slate is always difficult. The SEC East is wide open and if they can pull an upset and get to 9-3 they have a shot to get to Atlanta.

This week: I love Vanderbilt +4 against Kansas State. K-State is a tough matchup for anybody, but the game is in Nashville and Vanderbilt is ready to get a big win heading into their Bama game next week. Continue reading “Power 5 Sleepers”

Week 2: Playoff and Hesiman race

Big games are helping paint the early season picture

Week 2 came through in its big games for the most part. Oklahoma controlling Ohio State in Columbus was the only major surprise, but it helps crystallize the early season pecking order. Nothing is decided in the first couple of weeks, but teams have made their statements, while others (Notre Dame) have missed out on early opportunities to vault up the rankings. Unpredictability defines college football and the things we don’t see coming will be the things we love. Yet, there is a definite hierarchy emerging for the top award available to a team and an individual in college football. I want to look at the top of the playoff race going conference by conference before diving into the Heisman contenders, both QBs and non-QBs.

Playoff Race:
1. Alabama (SEC)
2. Clemson (ACC)
3. USC (PAC-12)
4. Oklahoma (Big 12)
5. Penn State (Big Ten)

That is a pretty easy top-5 to make. You can quibble with the order–the AP poll would–but nearly everyone would have these 5 teams. Clemson is the defending champion. Oklahoma and USC had two great wins on Saturday. Penn State has looked like their form from last season was no fluke and Alabama is Nick Saban’s Alabama. This race will come down to which team can tackle their conference’s challenges, so let’s look at what each faces. Continue reading “Week 2: Playoff and Hesiman race”