Last week, it was Alabama who had their final tough challenger before conference championship week. We all know how that turned out. This week, it's Oregon's turn to face a stiff challenger, as the Stanford Cardinal travels to the Autzen Zoo. A Stanford win would turn the entire college football world upside down; not only would it push Notre Dame into the national title game, it would effectively cut Oregon out of the national title picture altogether. Stanford would take over the Pac 12 North leader spot. Oregon would go from the national title to not even having a chance to play for the conference title.
Last week wasn't our best outing, as we failed to finish below .500 for one of the few times all season. But as the old man said: when the horse kicks you off, you can't do anything but get back on it.
Overall Record: 59-50
Picks after the jump, and we remind you: these picks are entirely for entertainment purposes only.
We make this pick with the slight trepidation that comes any time you pick a team to beat an opponent they haven't managed to best in three straight attempts. And it isn't like Iowa was always better either: last year's game in particular stands out because of how much better Michigan was and how many different ways they tried to lose that game. Iowa was one of the earliest signs that the Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine (h/t to MGOBlog) was being prepared by Typhoid Mary.
This year, Denard will probably not see the field. Devin Gardner has given the offense the steady hand it has needed, and the results have spoke for themselves: Michigan has scored at least five touchdowns in its last two games with Gardner at the helm. The bigger reason to take Michigan, however, is how utterly wretched the Iowa offense is. They've been Greg Davis'd into oblivion. Iowa's quarterback is averaging 5.83 yards A COMPLETION.
That's earth shatteringly wretched. People like to make fun of "dink and dunk" pro style offenses, but Holy Moses. There's horizontal passing, and there's whatever the heck Iowa thinks they're doing. Their passing game would suffice as a robust rushing attack on a title contender. Greg Davis might have succeeded at not just getting himself fired after one season, but also taking head coach Kirk Ferentz (and his bloated buy out) with him.
NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (+6.5) at Michigan State Spartans [ESPN2]
Northwestern has been their typical Pat Fitzgerald-selves this season. They've beaten the teams they should have (Syracuse, Indiana, Purdue, Boston College, Minnesota), lost close to the teams with much better talent (Nebraska, Michigan), lost one toss up game (Penn State) and won two others (Vanderbilt, Iowa). They never have much skill talent, but they try to make up for it with inventive spread offense play calling and a willingness to roll the dice.
Michigan State, on the other hand, has been a poor man's Notre Dame without any of the close game success. State's defense hasn't been quite as dominant as the Irish's, but their offense has been an anchor dragging the whole team down. Yet, they're defense has managed to give them a chance to be 9-1, and instead they are 5-5.
We still think the Spartans are a pretty good team all things considered. However, their biggest margin of victory in a Big 10 game is a paltry four points. And that was against a hapless Indiana defense that just gave up 100000 yards rushing to Wisconsin. If they couldn't put up points on Indiana, we don't see much hope of them doing it to Northwestern.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TROJANS (-3.5) at UCLA Bruins [FOX]
The Bruins have been much improved this year under first year head coach Jim L. Mora. Mora has bought a pro style intensity (read as UNPLEASANTNESS) to the formerly undisciplined Bruins, and they've been a popular pick to beat the Trojans this weekend.
The problem here is that UCLA has exactly one victory over a ranked opponent (Nebraska). For the most part, the Bruins have just beaten up on a lot of sorry Pac 12 (or worse) team. And at the end of the day, that glaring 43-17 loss to Cal and their dead coach walking is hard to overlook.
It's a cross town game in the cavernous Rose Bowl, so there really shouldn't be much of a home field advantage for the Bruins. If they can beat the Trojans, I'll gladly give them credit. But I don't see it.
WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS (+24.5) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish [NBC]
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us thrice, and well, you just make us look stupid. Notre Dame is 3-6 against the spread when favored. They just do not play enough offense to cover large spreads (unless they're playing Miami or Navy). Considering that Wake Forest is a significantly better team, both talent wise and coaching wise, than the Boston College team Notre Dame played last week, it is very difficult to imagine them scoring enough points to cover this.
That isn't to say we expect this to be all that close. We expect Notre Dame to be up 17-0 or 17-3 by the third quarter, and a two touchdown lead is a pretty sizeable one with their caliber of defense (and Wake's caliber of offense). Still, given the ten games we have seen from Notre Dame so far, it would be a bit of a shock to see them manage to cover this.
Ole Miss Rebels at LSU TIGERS (-18.5) [CBS]
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has done a tremendous job rejuvenating a moribund Rebel program that looked utterly worthless a year ago as former coach Houston Nutt was finishing up a particularly depressing final season. Ole Miss has quickly joined the rest of the SEC's vast middle of teams far underneath the six premier programs in the conference.
The problem is that LSU is most assuredly one of those premier SEC programs. They're just a better program across the board in every way imaginable. LSU is some dicey coaching moves against Alabama and a little bit of luck against Florida away from being undefeated. Ole Miss just ain't anywhere near good enough to be a factor in a game against this level of SEC competition, especially on the road..
North Carolina State Wolfpack at CLEMSON TIGERS (-17.5) [ABC]
Current NC State coach Tom O'Brien is facing rumors of his impending doom after North Carolina Tar Heels ended NC State's five-year winning streak, and after blow out losses to lowly Virginia and barely functioning Tennessee. Many people in Raleigh seem to think Tom has taken the Pack as far as he can, and that his inability to recruit top flight talent has led the program to a seven-to-nine win ceiling.
While O'Brien has already managed his now yearly upset over a team that the Pack had no business beating (Florida State, natch), this has not done much to assuage feelings that he just can't get NC State to ACC contender status. One can't help but think that many folks have held their tongue on O'Brien given his success in The Only Game That Matters for UNC and NCSU football fans, and now that he's finally lost a game to the boys in baby blue, it has become time to air those grievances.
Clemson is not the kind of opponent you want to face in these circumstances. The game is in Death Valley, and the Tigers are looking for revenge after being the victims of the Tom O'Trap last season. This is going to get ugly early. NC State had great difficulty defending UNC's version of the no huddle spread, and the Tar Heels are nowhere near as fast across the board as Clemson is. And as we mentioned, the Tigers have a point to prove.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (+3.5) at Wisconsin Badgers [ESPN2]
This line seems like a pretty drastic over reaction to Wisconsin's 500+ yard rushing performance last week against Indiana. First of all, that was Indiana. Lord knows that the Hoosiers have gotten spanked before by a variety of teams, both good and mediocre. We don't know when we started giving a team credit for beating the tar out of Indiana in football.
And after all, Wisconsin's TREMENDOUS OFFENSE managed 13 whole points the game before against Michigan State. Regardless of home field advantage, it's absolutely insane for them to be favored over an unbeaten Ohio State team that's just world's ahead of the rest of the conference offensively.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (-11.5) at Baylor Bears [ESPN]
Kansas State gets another all-offense-no-defense Big 12 opponent for Snyder's boys to chew up and spit out. Kansas State is the number one team in America because they can throw a monkey wrench into almost any offense, no matter how excellent it is, while taking bad defenses apart piece by piece. Baylor has been allowing over 40 points per game on defense. Colin Klein is going to pad some Heisman stats this weekend.
STANFORD CARDINAL (+21.5) at Oregon Ducks [ABC]
This game could easily be close all the way into the fourth quarter before Oregon scores four touchdowns to suddenly make it 56-28. Oregon has covered a lot of big spreads this season, and they beat last year's Andrew Luck-quarterbacked squad by 23.
But, given how many injuries Oregon suffered last week, and given how fiesty and physical Stanford's defense is, we have a hard time believing Oregon can do THAT to Stanford again this season. Oregon's defense has been severely overrated all year as they feasted on one chump after another, and that was before the injury bug started biting. Stanford is built to muscle up on Oregon's finesse defense and shorten the game with their ball control offense.
Oregon wins, but they don't cover.
Late Night Games
ARIZONA WILDCATS (Pick ‘em) at Utah Utes [ESPNU]
Late night Pac 12 action at its finest. Utah has a tremendous defense with an offense has struggled to move the ball. Arizona has moved the ball up and down the field with ease (although they have at time struggled to punch it in), but their defense has been an open sore.
Arizona is a surprise six win team that started the year with low expectations and is fantastically happy with their new head coach Rich Rodriguez. Utah is struggling through a 4-6 season with a head coach that is having to rely on wins over arch rival BYU to keep the natives from starting to openly pine for coaching change following two curious offensive coordinator hires in two years.
So basically, this game between two mediocre Pac 12 teams with a combined 10-10 record will decide once and for all whether defense or offense is best. Yep, the soul of football is on the line and we're taking Rich Rod and offense.
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