Friday, September 25, 2009

The College Football Blog: Thoughts After Week 3

Keeping an Eye on BCS Busters

Going into last weekend it looked to be a very safe bet that there would be a team from a non-BCS conference once again crashing the party and getting to one of the 5 BCS bowl games. I think there’s still a good chance that it happens again but it’s not nearly as likely as it was before BYU went out and got molested by Florida State at home last Saturday. Consider that BYU had already beaten Oklahoma at a neutral site. Their 4 toughest Mountain West games would all come at home (vs. Colorado State, Air Force, Utah, and TCU), where they had won 18 consecutive. The 4 road games left on their schedule would be against weak opponents that the Cougars have dominated. Their only other non-conference game would be at home against Utah State, who the Cougs have beaten 9 straight times. BYU was more than a touchdown favorite against FSU but they got ambushed and never really made it a game, falling 54-28 in a stunning defeat. I’m telling you, at the start of the night, BYU had a realistic shot at playing for the BCS National Title. By the end of the night, the best case scenario was a 5th straight trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. That’s how quickly things can change for teams outside of the 6 major conferences.

So BYU is out of the hunt for a BCS game. Utah has won 2 BCS bowl games in the last 5 years but they’re out of it as well. The Utes had their 15 game win streak come to an end with a loss at Oregon last Saturday, 31-24. The only other Mountain West team with a realistic chance is TCU, but the Horned Frogs could be out of it by the end of the week, as they are underdogs on the road against Clemson. Even if they get past Clemson this week, they have road trips to Air Force and BYU, plus a home game against Utah in November. On the other hand, if TCU did run the table you’d have to think they’d be a near shoe-in for a BCS game.

While TCU is still in the hunt, now that BYU is done it’s unlikely that any MWC team will make a BCS bowl this year. But for those folks rooting for the non-BCS conferences to crash the party, there was a backup plan if the Cougars fell. That’s where Boise State comes in. The Broncos have already defeated Oregon this year and they just survived their toughest WAC game last Friday night, beating Fresno State on the road 51-34. Boise State has 10 games left on the schedule and they will be double digit favorites in at least 9 of those games. The only possible exception is a game on the road against Tulsa on October 14th which is a Wednesday night. But they’ll have plenty of time to prepare for that game. They should roll at Bowling Green this weekend and the following week they have UC-Davis of the FCS at home, essentially a scrimmage. They’ll then have 11 days off before the trip to Tulsa. And it’s not like they’ll be preparing to take Omaha Beach. Tulsa has been one of the best Conference USA teams over the last 4 years, particularly at home, but they lost 45-0 to Oklahoma last Saturday. So Boise State has a great chance to go undefeated. If they get to 6-0 they are a near lock to finish undefeated and that would make them a near lock to reach a BCS Bowl.

There are 2 “sleepers” left in the BCS Buster race and they’re both from Conference USA: Houston and Southern Miss. I’m not sure that an undefeated C-USA team would get to a BCS bowl but I’d say they would have a better than 50-50 shot. Only one of these two teams can finish undefeated because they face each other on the final day of October. Houston has the more realistic shot, as they’ve already pulled off one of the most impressive wins of the season, winning by 10 points on the road against Oklahoma State. This week they are coming off of a bye and are facing Texas Tech at home. Should they win this week they will get serious national attention for as long as they stay undefeated. A road trip to SEC foe Mississippi State on October 10th will be a test. They host Southern Miss and even if they win that game they’ll have to get up for a road game at Tulsa the next week. If they get through the season at 12-0 they’ll still have to win the C-USA title game but at least that would provide them with another opportunity to impress voters.

Southern Miss has a tougher road to hoe (or is it “row to hoe”?). They barley got by UVA at home last week and it seems probable that they will suffer their first loss of the season this week at Kansas. If they were to win this weekend they would show up on the radar screen and would likely be 5-0 for a road trip to Louisville in week 6. There is a chance that their game against Houston on October 31st will be a battle of undefeated teams but they will be on the road. Their final two games are not going to be easy; at home against Tulsa and then at East Carolina. If they get through the regular season undefeated they would still have to survive the conference championship game.

Even an undefeated MAC or SBC team would have little to no chance at a BCS bowl. It’s a moot point now because there are no teams from the MAC or the SBC still without a loss. The independent service academy teams (Navy and Army) have both already lost this season and have no shot at a BCS bowl. Notre Dame is essentially a BCS conference team because of the tie-ins they have. If the Irish win out they will likely get to a BCS bowl game and they might even get in with 2 losses. But they will most likely lose to USC and they could also easily lose to Washington, BC, Navy, Connecticut, at Pitt or at Stanford. Hell, I’d love to see them lose against Purdue on Saturday.

Updating the Season Résumé Rankings

It’s still a little early for the Season Résumé rankings to mean all that much but it should get interesting pretty soon. With that said, here’s my Season Résumé Top 10 after week 3.

1. Florida 3-0 (1st)
2. Alabama 3-0 (2nd)
3. Texas 3-0 (10th)
4. Boise State 3-0 (5th)
5. Cal 3-0 (6th)
6. Cincinnati 3-0 (7th)
7. LSU 3-0 (NR)
8. Auburn 3-0 (NR)
9. Michigan 3-0 (8th)
10. Penn State 3-0 (NR)

I’m still having to rely some on preseason expectations since we’re only 3 weeks into the year but things are starting to take shape. With their 54-28 loss to FSU at home, BYU went flying out of the top 10 after being 3rd the week before. Previously #4 USC also disappeared from the top 10 following their loss at Washington. I had to move last week’s #9 team Houston out because they were idle. Auburn and LSU beat teams from BCS conferences and that got them into the top 10. Penn State hasn’t played anybody but they’ve won easily each week and they get some help from preseason expectations.

The number of undefeated teams is steadily shrinking. Many more undefeated teams could fall this Saturday. I don’t know if this year has been all that different from any other season but it amazes me that there are just 4 games between undefeated teams this Saturday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The NFL Blog: 2009 Week 3 Betting Lines

Last Week: Vs. Spread (6-10); Straight Up (8-8)
Season: Vs. Spread (16-16); Straight Up (21-11)

Week 2 Review: As I feared, things evened out after my great opening week, as I was below .500 ATS and only 8-8 straight up. Hopefully that’s as bad as I’ll do picking winners this year. Surely I’ll have a worse record ATS at some point but you gotta at least be over .500 straight up.

Week 3 Preview: I’d like to think that a rebound week is coming up or even a decent week to go along with the one great week and one bad week. But to be honest I’ve got no clue. I feel like you could go either way in almost every game this week. And that’s not a good feeling to have when you’re picking against the spread.

Sunday’s Early Games

Cleveland (+13) @ Baltimore
Pick: Ravens cover.
Comment: If I had to pick the team least likely to lose in week 3 it would be Baltimore. The Ravens are now 14-4 ATS in their last 18 regular season games, including 6-1 ATS as a home favorite. They’ve won 5 of 6 against the Browns at home. The Ravens have put up point totals of 38 and 31 in their first two games. That’s great news. What’s distressing is that they’ve allowed point totals of 24 and 26 in their first two games. Last season the Ravens only allowed 24 points or more in 4 of 16 regular season games. But none of that really matters because it’s the Browns who are coming to town. The “New” Browns have lost by 14 and 21 in their first two games this season, scoring just 6 points against Denver last week. The “Old” Browns should crush the Mangenius and Brady “Now I’m Done” Quinn by at least 2 TD’s.

New York Giants (-6.5) @ Tampa Bay
Pick: Giants cover.
Comment: While the Giants are arguably the best team in the NFL right now, they are banged up heading into this one. The Bucs have lost by 13 points in each of their games so far this season, including in week 1 against the Cowboys, who the Giants bested on the road in week 2. Tampa Bay has enjoyed a great home field advantage but a lot of that had to do with the team that was in place for so many years. The Giants are 7-2-1 in the regular season as road favorites since the start of 2007. I’ll take the G-Men to win by at least a TD.

Green Bay (-6.5) @ St. Louis
Pick: Packers cover.
Comment: Well at least the Packers should have no trouble coming into this game overconfident. What happened to them? They were riding high after the primetime win over the Bears and then they lose to the Bungals at home. The Pack was only 2-6 on the road last year but the Rams have lost 9 of 10 at home and 20 of 22 overall. Green Bay should rebound and beat the awful Lams by at least a TD.

Kansas City (+9.5) @ Philadelphia
Pick: Eagles cover.
Comment: This line is off the boards but it opened at 9.5. We don’t know whether or not D-Mac will play for Philly but I doubt it at this point. Brian Westbrook and Desean Jackson are also banged up for the Eagles. But the Chiefs are the Chiefs. KC has lost 25 of their last 27 games, including 12 of 13 on the road. I’ll take whatever Eagles show up to win by double digits.

Atlanta (+4) @ New England
Pick: Patriots cover.
Comment: This is a big game for both teams. The Patriots are looking vulnerable and you wonder what the confidence level is like in that locker room right now. There are all those new faces on defense. The offensive line is struggling. The running game is struggling. Brady has been shaky and rusty and very human. Now the Falcons are coming to town looking for a statement win. I mean, if the Falcons win this game, two things happen: you start talking about the Falcons as Super Bowl contenders and you start wondering if the Patriots will miss the playoffs for a second straight year. As a pessimistic Falcons fan I’m probably being influenced somewhere in my mind but I have to think that the Patriots get it together and respond this week. I think it’ll be a good game but I’d bet on New England winning by a TD.

San Francisco (+7) @ Minnesota
Pick: Vikings win but Niners beat the spread.
Comment: Hmmm…no respect for the Niners. A full TD underdog against the Vikes in the dome. It’ll be interesting to see how Brett Favre plays in his first home game for Minnesota. It’ll also be interesting to see how the Niners play away from the west coast. I think Minnesota will win to stay unbeaten but I think the Niners will keep it within a TD.

Jacksonville (+3.5) @ Houston
Pick: Texans cover.
Comment: What’s happened to the Jaguars? They’ve lost 10 of their last 12 games overall. They’ve lost 5 of 6 in Houston where the Texans are tough to beat. Houston rebounded from a disastrous opening week loss at home to the Jets by beating the Titans in Tennessee last week. Which Texans team will show up this week? I’m thinking the Texans win fairly easily, as they’ve covered in each of their last 3 home games against the Jags.

Washington (-6.5) @ Detroit
Pick: Redskins cover.
Comment: The Redskins seem to have difficulty taking care of business against weak opponents. They’re just 7-13-2 ATS in the last 22 games they’ve been favored in. Last season they lost as a 13 point favorite at home against the Rams; won by 3 at home as a 7.5 point favorite against Cleveland; and lost as a 6.5 point favorite at home against the Bengals. In 2007, the Skins won by 2 at home as an 8 point favorite over the Cards and lost to the Bills at home as a 6 point favorite. Last week they were favored by 10 against the Rams at home and won just 9-7. Oh yeah, and they also can’t seem to score. They’ve lost 4 in a row on the road. They were 7.5 point favorites against the Lions in Detroit last year and barely covered, winning by 8. I think the Lions could put a scare into them. But the Lions are the Lions. They’ve now lost 19 in a row going back to the final game of the 2007 season. They’ve lost 25 of their last 26 games. Actually, it might do the Skins some good to get out of Washington, while the Lions can’t be getting much of a home field edge right now in D-Town. I’ll take the Skins by a TD or so.

Tennessee (+1) @ New York Jets
Pick: Titans pull off the upset.
Comment: I may not be looking at this completely objectively because I do have a strong dislike for Rex Ryan and I’m already dog tired of hearing about the Jets and their fat, loud-mouthed coach. But I also have trouble seeing the Titans go 0-3. I think they’ll pull out a hard fought win to save their season before it gets completely derailed.

New Orleans (-6) @ Buffalo
Pick: Saints cover.
Comment: This might be the toughest came for me to call in week 3. The Saints have scored at will and won easily in each of their first two games. The Bills should also be 2-0. The Bills will have the home edge and that should help them. But I think the Saints will pull away in the 4th quarter.

Sunday’s Late Games

Chicago (-1) @ Seattle
Pick: Seahawks pull off the upset.
Comment: This is a tough one because Matt Hasselbeck’s status is up in the air. Also, Seattle’s home field advantage is one of the best in the NFL. The Bears have lost 9 of 12 on the road. If Hasselbeck doesn’t play then I don’t think Seattle will win but I think he’ll tough it out and lead the Seahawks to a victory.

Denver (-1) @ Oakland
Pick: Broncos cover.
Comment: The Broncos really need to take advantage of the situation they are in and get out to a 3-0 start. They always seem to start out on the right foot. This is their 3rd straight season opening up 2-0 and a win on Sunday will give them a 2nd straight 3-0 start. The Broncos have won 5 of 6 at the Black Hole, including a 41-14 win opening night of last season. I like Denver to pull out a close, low scoring game.

Miami (+6) @ San Diego
Pick: Chargers win but Dolphins beat the spread.
Comment: Big, big game for the Miami Dolphins. They are staring 0-3 in the face. They are on the road and coming off a tough loss. San Diego is also looking to rebound but the pressure is not on them so much because of the division they play in. The Dolphins really have to find a way to win this one. I don’t think they will win but I think it’ll be very close.

Pittsburgh (-4) @ Cincinnati
Pick: Steelers cover.
Comment: I know the Steelers have some question marks but they aren’t going to lose to the Bengals. They’ve won 8 straight in Cinci. I like the Steelers to win a heated and dirty affair by double digits.

Sunday Night’s Game

Indianapolis (+1) @ Arizona
Pick: Colts pull off the upset.
Comment: For some reason I just don’t think the Cardinals will be at their best in this one. I think Manning will lead the Colts on another late drive to win in primetime on the road.

Monday Night’s Game

Carolina (+9) @ Dallas
Pick: Cowboys win but Panthers beat the spread.
Comment: This is a huge spread. The Cowboys could very possibly be without Marion Barber. If Jake Delhomme takes care of the ball the way he did in Atlanta last week the Panthers should hang in this game. Carolina will be desperate to avoid falling to 0-3. I don’t see the Boys running away with this game. Dallas should get their first win at the 8th Wonder of the World or whatever it’s called but the Panthers should keep it in single digits.

The NFL Blog: 2009 Week 2 Power Rankings

Power Rankings After Week 2

1. New York Giants 2-0 (2nd)
2. Pittsburgh 1-1 (1st)
3. New Orleans 2-0 (14th)
4. Baltimore 2-0 (13th)
5. Minnesota 2-0 (6th)
6. Indianapolis 2-0 (8th)
7. Atlanta 2-0 (9th)
8. New York Jets 2-0 (17th)
9. Philadelphia 1-1 (4th)
10. San Diego 1-1 (5th)
11. Dallas 1-1 (11th)
12. San Francisco 2-0 (18th)
13. Arizona 1-1 (15th)
14. Houston 1-1 (16th)
15. Tennessee 0-2 (7th)
16. Chicago 1-1 (25th)
17. Buffalo 1-1 (19th)
18. Miami 0-2 (22nd)
19. New England 1-1 (3rd)
20. Washington 1-1 (10th)
21. Carolina 0-2 (21st)
22. Seattle 1-1 (20th)
23. Cincinnati 1-1 (26th)
24. Denver 2-0 (27th)
25. Green Bay 1-1 (12th)
26. Oakland 1-1 (24th)
27. Jacksonville 0-2 (23rd)
28. Kansas City 0-2 (30th)
29. Tampa Bay 0-2 (29th)
30. St. Louis 0-2 (32nd)
31. Cleveland 0-2 (28th)
32. Detroit 0-2 (31st)

-Previous week’s ranking in parenthesis;

Explanation: Yeah, so as good as I felt about my power rankings after 1 week, I feel as conflicted about my rankings after week number 2. Too much noise. Too many strands to keep in ol’ Duder’s head. Too many injuries. Too many “hollow” victories. Too many “positive” losses. Say hello to parity in week 2.

There was a new #1 team atop my rankings this week. The Giants moved up a spot from 2nd to 1st after their Sunday night win in Dallas. The Steelers fell out of the top spot down to 2nd after their loss in Chicago thanks in large part to missed field goals by kicker Jeff Reed. But the Steelers actually appear to be vulnerable without Troy Polamalu and with little run game to speak of.

I attempted to keep from drastically moving teams up and down my rankings but inevitably failed to refrain from doing so. There was no real way around it. New Orleans made the biggest jump in my rankings this week, vaulting 11 spots from 14th to 3rd. They have been an offensive juggernaut (as usual) during the first 2 weeks but we still don’t know if their defense is much better this season. Their first victory was at home against the Lions—possibly the single easiest matchup an NFL team could have at this point—and their last victory was in Philly but came against a banged up Eagles team led by Kevin Kolb. I just don’t know how good the Saints really are yet but who else was I going to put at #3?

I really didn’t know about moving Baltimore 9 spots up from 13th to 4th, but again, who else could I put in front of them? Their first win was at home against Kansas City, and the fact that it was close for most of the game was not a good sign in my opinion. But last week they went to San Diego and beat the Chargers which is without question a quality victory.

I don’t particularly love the Vikings or the Colts either. The Vikings haven’t played anybody yet. They have won both games on the road, but will the Brown and Lions combine for more than 4 wins? The Colts could easily be 0-2.

I was also loath to move the Jets to the front of my power rankings this quickly but I didn’t have much choice. The Jets climbed 9 spots in my rankings this week from 17th to 8th. They are 2-0 with decisive wins at Houston and against the Patriots. I mean you can’t deny how impressive their start has been. But I’m just a little leery of the Rex Ryan hype. I mean if their coach was some non-descript, skinny guy named Mike James I don’t think there would be anywhere near the attention paid to their quick start.

Another team making a large jump in my rankings this week was San Fran, who beat the Seahawks handedly to improve to 2-0. I don’t know how good the Niners really are but I’m pulling for Samurai Mike. I didn’t at all mind moving the Niners up the board 6 spots from 18th to 12th. But I had just the opposite feeling moving Mike Singletary’s former team up the board. There was no escaping it, however, as the victory by Jay Cutler’s Bears over the Steelers forced me to move them 9 spots up from 25th to 16th.

Although they lost at home to fall to 0-2, I ended up moving the Dolphins up 4 spots from 22nd to 18th. I wanted to believe that they would drop right back to below mediocrity this year but it sure doesn’t seem like they have any plans to do so. They took it to the Colts last week and were a Ted Ginn catch away from knocking them off.

The Bengals had the most stunning win of week 2 in my opinion, knocking off the Packers on the road. They could easily be 2-0 and I still have them ranked 1 spot higher than the 2-0 Broncos. I moved both the Bengals and Broncos up 3 spots this week to #23 and #24 respectively.

Of course there were just as many teams dropping in my power rankings this week. The Eagles and Chargers were 4th and 5th respectively in my power rankings after week 1, but I dropped both teams 5 spots down to 9th and 10th respectively after injury marred home losses in week 2. I had to move the Titans way down this week even though I still think they are a good team. The Titans got knocked off at home by the Texans to fall to 0-2 and they don’t look anything like the team they were last season. I moved Tennessee down 8 spots from 7th to 15th in this week’s rankings.

Although the Redskins earned their first win of the season in week 2, I actually lowered them 10 spots in my rankings from 10th to 20th, as their win came by just 2 points over the Rams at home. That’s as bad as a loss for me. And the Redskins look lost.

The team I was most disappointed with in week 2 was Green Bay, who somehow got upset at home by the Bengals. I dropped the Packers 13 spots in my rankings from 12th to 25th.

Then there are the Patriots. After seeing them play the last 2 weeks I’m convinced that there’s something very, very not right with that team. They should be 0-2, plain and simple. They’ve been pushed around on defense and harassed and hampered on offense. New England was my top team going into the season and I kept them near the top after week 1, but after their loss to the Jets last week I couldn’t ignore the obvious anymore. They have some problems right now. The Pats took the biggest tumble in my week 2 power rankings, sinking 16 spots from #3 to #19.

There was a shake up at the bottom of the rankings as well. Though they lost at home to the Raiders to fall to 0-2, I bumped the Chiefs up a couple of spots from 30th to 28th, as they have been competitive both weeks. The Rams lost just 9-7 to the Skins on the road and that caused me to move them out of last. I moved them up a couple of spots from 32nd to 30th. Cleveland has been absolutely dreadful in their first 2 appearances and I moved them down from 28th to 31st. Brining up the very bottom spot this week are the Detroit Lions. They’ve been beaten by 14 points or more in each of their first 2 games and they’ve now lost 19 games in a row. They moved down a spot from 31st to 32nd in this week’s rankings.

The College Football Blog: 2009 Week 4 Betting Lines

Last Week: Vs. Spread (3-7); Moneyline Upsets (1-1)
Season: Vs. Spread (13-17); Moneyline Upsets (3-3)

Week 3 Review: After 5-5 records in the first 2 weeks of the season, something had to give, and as you’d expect, I gave way to a losing record against the spread. My worst pick by far was BYU covering -7.5 against FSU, as they lost by 26 points (54-28). My moneyline upset pick of Kent State over Iowa State didn’t go too well either, as they lost 34-14.

Week 4 Preview: There aren’t that many good games this weekend. What’s more, the best matchups are not the games that I feel good about betting on. I’ve got zero confidence going into this week.


Game 1: Mississippi (-3) @ South Carolina
Pick: Mississippi covers
Comment: Well, if the Rebels are at all deserving of their high ranking early in this season they will cover this spread in Columbia. It’s unclear how much history plays into this one because Ole Miss has reached a level they haven’t seen in many years, while the Ol’ Ball Coach has rarely been able to work the kind of magic for South Carolina that he did for many years at Florida. The Rebels have won 7 straight games going back to last season, but the Gamecocks have won 6 of their last 8 at home and last season they defeated Ole Miss in Oxford, 31-24. The Rebels are the better team so they should win it by more than a field goal. But it will be their first true test of the season.


Game 2: South Florida (+14.5) @ Florida State
Pick: South Florida beats the spread
Comment: Just like with Miami, Penn State, Nebraska, and other powers of the past, people are always quick to pronounce the Seminoles “back.” After their impressive romp of BYU in Provo, Florida State is a huge favorite at home over instate “rival” South Florida. But there’s plenty of reason to be cautious. Last season the Noles opened up by wasting two FCS foes by a combined score of 115-7 and then lost their 3rd game at home to Wake Forest, 12-3. This year they lost the season opener to Miami, 38-34, at home. Then in week 2 they hosted Jacksonville State and got all that they could handle. This was no turnover fueled fluke, although they did turn the ball over 3 times. But Jacksonville State led in time of possession, tied the Noles with 15 first downs, and they were only out-gained 402-310. The Seminoles fell behind early, as Jax St. scored a TD but missed the extra point to go up 6-0. The Seminoles scored to take the lead 7-6 but Jacksonville State led 9-7 at the half. It was still 9-7 late in the game (and I mean late in the game). Jax State had already had a field goal blocked and they had a 2nd and 1 at the FSU 32 with time running out in the 4th but they ended up getting stopped on 3 straight plays. FSU still trailed by 2 when they got the ball back after a punt at their own 43 with only 2:51 to go. They managed to get into the end zone to take the lead with just 30 seconds remaining. FSU missed the extra point and Jax State had the ball at their own 43 with time left for a score but on the first play of the drive FSU got a sack and returned a fumble for a TD to put the game away. But the 19-9 score was one of the most misleading finals you will ever see. So yes, their huge win over BYU was great but they are not the Noles of old. South Florida has thus far played 3 patsies and has cruised to 3 easy wins. They are led by senior QB Matt Grothe and senior DE George Selvie. They are dangerous. They are 25-6 in their last 31 games in the state of Florida. FSU is just 6-9 in their last 15 home games against teams from BCS conferences. This is the first ever meeting between the two schools. I think this spread is way too big. USF will stay within 2 TD’s.

Game 3: Cal (-5.5) @ Oregon
Pick: Cal covers
Comment: Oregon is one of the toughest places to play in the Pac-10. The Ducks are 40-13 at home since the start of the 2001 season. Cal has struggled on the road, going just 4-10 in their last 14 road contests. However, this is a great Cal team and Oregon is way down this year. Plus, Cal has won 3 straight over Oregon and 4 of the last 5, including a win in their last trip to Eugene in 2007. Their only loss to Oregon in the last 5 came at Eugene in overtime in 2005. I like the Bears to win by a TD.

Game 4: Miami (-3) @ Virginia Tech
Pick: Miami covers
Comment: The Canes come in sky high off of wins over FSU and Georgia Tech. The Hokies are coming off of a miraculous win at home over Nebraska. They look very shaky right now. The Canes look anything but shaky. That could be a trap. And Miami has struggled on the road lately. They are just 6-11 in their last 17 road games and only 4-10 in their last 14 road games outside the state of Florida. VT has been dominant at Lane Stadium, going 54-9 at home since the start of the 01 season. They’ve won 10 straight at home and 14 of 15. They’ve won 4 of 6 against Miami but lost last year on the road, 16-14. Miami beat VT at Lane Stadium in 2005, winning a battle of top 5 teams, 27-7. I think Miami is the better team so I’m going with the Canes to win a close one.

Game 5: TCU (+3) @ Clemson
Pick: Clemson covers
Comment: Last year Utah went undefeated but in my opinion they were the 2nd best team in the Mountain West behind TCU. However, only 10 of the 22 starters on last year’s Horned Frog team remain. They won at UVA by 16 in their first game of the season but let’s be honest, that’s not saying much. This will be their 2nd trip to the east coast in 3 weeks. Clemson is 15-1 in their last 16 home games against non-ACC schools but we don’t know that much about this year’s Tigers squad yet. Fluky plays and poor officiating kept them from winning at GT in week 2 but they rebounded last week by waxing BC at home. I think Clemson will hold off TCU in a very competitive game.

Game 6: Fresno State (+16.5) @ Cincinnati
Pick: Fresno State beats the spread
Comment: The Bearcats are 17-3 in their last 20 home games. The Bulldogs are 7-7 in their last 14 road games against BCS teams with 4 of those losses coming by a total of 9 points. One thing to worry about is whether Fresno State will have the energy to get up for another big game as the underdog, having not been rewarded for their great efforts on the road against Wisconsin and at home against Boise State in the last couple of weeks. Last season Fresno opened the season with a 17 point win at Rutgers and a few weeks later they won at UCLA. I don’t see them getting embarrassed in this one and it’s a huge spread. The Bulldogs aren’t going to sneak up on Cinci but I think they can stay within 2 scores.

Game 7: Pittsburgh (+1) @ North Carolina State
Pick: Pittsburgh beats the spread
Comment: I really like Pittsburgh in this one. The Panthers are 7-1 in their last 8 road games, while NC State is just 18-19 at home since the start of the 2004 season. The Wolfpack handled FCS teams in the last couple of weeks but they opened the season with a 7-3 loss to South Carolina at home. I thought they’d pick up where they left off last season and be much improved this year but it hasn’t shown yet. Pitt should actually be a good team this year and I like them to win in Raleigh.

Game 8: Illinois (+14) @ Ohio State
Pick: Illinois beats the spread
Comment: It’s hard to know what to make of Illinois. They opened the season with a total disaster, getting whipped 37-9 in St. Louis by a Mizzu team that was supposed to be rebuilding. The Illini have been a bad road team this decade but you have to remember that they’ve been a very bad team for most of the decade. They are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 as road dogs. Amazingly, they’ve actually won 3 of 4 in Columbus, including their last trip there in 07 when Ohio State was #1. The visitor has won 8 of the last 9 in this series. Last year Illinois out-gained the Buckeyes 455-354 but wound up losing 30-20. I think Ohio State will handle Illinois but not by 2 touchdowns.

Game 9: Iowa (+9.5) @ Penn State
Pick: Iowa beats the spread
Comment: Forget about revenge. That stuff will go out the window early in the 1st quarter. Penn State has opened the season playing their traditional schedule of cream puffs but they’ve been much less impressive than in recent years. They’ve yet to allow more than 7 points in any game but they’ve also yet to top 31 points scored in any game. Iowa was supposed to be solid this year and after miraculously surviving defeat at home to Northern Iowa in week 1 the Hawkeyes have gotten on track with solid wins over Iowa State and Arizona. We’ll see what they can do on the road, where they are just 4-10 in their last 14. I don’t think they’ll pull off another upset but I like the Hawkeyes to keep it within single digits.

Game 10: Southern Miss (+14) @ Kansas
Pick: Kansas covers
Comment: This actually is kind of a big game. The Golden Eagles were expected to challenge for a Conference USA title this season and they’ve opened 3-0 but they’ve been fairly unimpressive, winning home games by 7 over Central Florida and by just 3 over lowly Virginia. Kansas is also 3-0 and if they win this one they have a good chance of being 6-0 when they face Oklahoma at home on October 24th. Kansas is 25-4 in their last 29 at home and 19-10 ATS in their last 29 as home favorites. I think the Jayhawks will roll and knock out another BCS Buster hopeful.

Moneyline Special

North Carolina over Georgia Tech: The Heels are 2.5 point dogs on the road at Tech this weekend. Not much of an upset, I know, but I had to try really hard to find moneyline upsets that I truly believed in this week. This is a huge game for both teams. To take the next step UNC needs to start being able to win on the road. They were lucky to come away with a win in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago and that victory made the Heels just 6-16 in their last 22 road games. The Jackets have owned UNC, winning 9 of 11 over the Heels, but last season they got handed a 28-7 loss in Chapel Hill. Tech also needs this one badly, as they don’t want to be 1-2 in the ACC with games against FSU and VT coming up in October. There’s no real reason to pick UNC in this one but I just have a hunch that they will get it done.

Wyoming over UNLV: The Cowboys are 4.5 point underdogs at home this weekend against the Rebels. At first glance this pick might seem foolish. Wyoming has looked absolutely awful so far. They began the season with a lackluster 7 point victory over Weber State at home. After getting whipped by Texas at home, 41-10, they got shutout by Colorado in Boulder, 24-0, after the Buffs had been soundly beaten by Colorado State and Toledo. UNLV on the other hand, is 2-1 with a 2-point loss to Oregon State being their lone defeat. But you have to understand how horrible UNLV has been on the road in recent years. Folks, the Rebels are just 3-26 in their last 29 road contests. They beat Wyoming by 8 at home last season but prior to that they had lost 4 straight to the Cowboys. I like Wyoming to come up with a surprise win.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The College Football Blog: 2009 Power Rankings (After Week 3)

Power Rankings after Week 3

1. Florida 3-0 (1st)
2. Texas 3-0 (2nd)
3. Oklahoma 2-1 (6th)
4. Alabama 3-0 (5th)
5. Mississippi 2-0 (4th)
6. USC 2-1 (3rd)
7. Cal 3-0 (7th)
8. LSU 3-0 (12th)
9. Michigan 3-0 (10th)
10. Penn State 3-0 (9th)
11. Boise State 3-0 (13th)
12. Miami 2-0 (NR)
13. Ohio State 2-1 (14th)
14. Cincinnati 3-0 (NR)
15. Nebraska 2-1 (NR)
Out: BYU (8th); Virginia Tech (11th); Notre Dame (15th).

Explanation: At first glance, you probably think I accidentally posted my rankings from a week or two ago. But these are my power rankings after week 3 of the 2009 college football season. Yes, it does speak to confusion, but everyone’s rankings have been turned upside down over the last few weeks. Strangely, this is as comfortable as I’ve felt with my power rankings in a while. This is my second season doing this list and I’ve finally gotten a handle on what exactly I’m trying to do. As you know, my power rankings are based on which team I think would win a head to head matchup on a neutral field at close to full strength. With that in mind, my rankings aren’t going to be affected by wins and losses as much as other polls. I have my view of each team and then I use the new information I get each week and apply it to my rankings. These would not be the rankings you would want to use to determine a national champ because it’s not necessarily going to reflect what teams have accomplished on the field.

Florida is most likely going to stay at #1 for me this season. Even if they win ugly and other teams win impressively I’m still going to lean towards the Gators in one game on a neutral field against anyone. Texas stayed at #2 for me this week although I wasn’t overly impressed with their win over Texas Tech. I expected both the Gators and Longhorns to win by bigger spreads last week.

It’s at #3 that people would start to have a serious problem with my rankings. How did Oklahoma suddenly vault back to #3 just weeks after falling to BYU? Well, first of all, I never dropped the Sooners down that much because I think Sam Bradford’s injury was a major factor in their loss to BYU in the opener. In addition, I’m starting to feel more and more that early season performances can be misleading. I went into this season thinking the Sooners were one of the top teams in the country. In their first game they lost arguably the best QB in college football for the entire second half and ended up losing by 1 point to a very legit BYU team on a neutral field. In two games since, the Sooners have played with backup QB Landry Jones and outscored Idaho State and Tulsa by a combined score of 109-0 at home. While Idaho State is an FCS program—and a middling one at that—Tulsa is one of the better Conference USA teams annually and will again be one of the more prolific offensive teams this season. The Golden Hurricane went into this matchup having scored at least 21 points in 30 consecutive games, and they had scored at least 10 points in 65 straight games. Putting Oklahoma 3rd may look silly now but it won’t when they go down to Miami and cool off a red hot Canes team in a couple of weeks (provided the Canes take care of VT on the road this week; far from a certainty).

Bama and Ole Miss switched places at #4 and #5 this week and that has a lot to do with the fact that we just haven’t learned much about the Rebels over the course of the first 3 weeks. They’re 2-0 with blowout wins over a weak Memphis team and an FCS team. Bama finally seems to have figured out how to play their best even against weaker opponents, as they’ve rolled over SBC teams since their big win over VT in the opener.

The next eye catcher in my rankings this week is USC at #6, just 3 spots down from where I had them last week prior to their upset loss at Washington. From what we’ve seen from USC so far it’s about what many expected. While their pro-stacked defense was decimated by the draft, they’ve reloaded as usual and are still stout on that side of the ball. The offense, despite the unexpected departure of QB Mark Sanchez, is still quite capable. However, because of the lack of experience at QB, Troy is not quite as strong offensively this year either. Finally, the loss of so many talented assistant coaches has also seemingly taken a bit of a toll. Still, it was evident during their 2 victories that when Matt Barkley is under center USC is capable of being an elite team.

That brings us to the main point (and I don’t know why people seem to be over looking this as so many talk of “what’s wrong with USC”): the Trojans were without their starting QB in the loss at Washington. Yes, Barkley is only a freshman. And yes, Aaron Corp was the front runner to win the starting QB spot before an injury opened the door for Barkley prior to the season. But there was a reason why Pete Carroll went with the true freshman over Corp and Mitch Mustain even after Corp was seemingly healthy again. Barkley’s stats in the Ohio State game don’t look any better than Corp’s numbers in the loss to Washington but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Without Barkley, the Trojans’ offense went through sputters and starts. Carroll was forced to play much more conservatively than he ordinarily would have. And Corp made one of three killer turnovers that led to the defeat. I don’t really understand how Barkley was healthy enough to lead the game winning drive against the Buckeyes and yet was not healthy enough to play a week later in Seattle. Perhaps Carroll figured USC could get by with Corp and it wasn’t worth sending a banged up Barkley out there. But just as I think Oklahoma would have prevailed against BYU had they had Sam Bradford for the entire game, I’m quite confident that USC would have been able to get past Washington if Barkley had been playing instead of Corp. USC was 6 for 16 on 3rd down and 3 for 4 on 4th down against Ohio State; against Washington, USC was 0 for 10 on 3rd down and 0 for 1 on 4th down.

Barkley’s injury is short term and I expect the Washington loss to be just a bump in the road for USC. I’d take them right now over just about any other team in the country in a one-game situation on a neutral field. Thus, there’s no reason for me to send them plummeting out of my top 10. Before I move on, there are a few more things to consider about the loss to Washington. USC dominated the running game and out-gained Washington overall. They played most of the game with very poor field position due to penalties on kickoffs and punt returns. This is surely a sign of an inexperienced team but the poor field position was more costly because the inexperienced (relatively, in comparison to the barley more experienced Barkley) QB was in the game. USC turned the ball over at the Washington 26; the Washington 16; and the Washington 18. Conservative play calling led to less scoring chances, and led to field goals instead of TD’s, and in the end the defense wasn’t able to make 13 points enough for the win. But USC will only get better from here. And again, with Barkley at QB I’d take them right now over almost anyone.

I’ve got Cal at 7th again this week. They may beat USC this year but right now I’ve still got to go with USC over the Bears on a neutral field. LSU made the biggest jump in my power rankings this week, moving up 4 spots from 12th to 8th. They’re 3-0 and one of their wins—a 31-23 win at Washington in the season opener—now looks more significant than it did a couple of weeks ago. Michigan and Penn State switched places at 9th and 10th in my rankings this week, with PSU dropping to 10th and Michigan moving up a spot to 9th. Michigan took care of business against Eastern Michigan to move to 3-0, while Penn State was again not so impressive in a win over a weak opponent at home.

I moved Boise State up a couple of spots from 13th to 11th this week after their hard fought win at Fresno State. They were exposed a bit by Fresno, which used some big runs to put up 34 points on the Bronco defense. But in the end Boise State won by 17 in a hostile environment over what looks to be a capable Fresno State team. Miami debuts in my power rankings at #12 this week. Everybody is jumping on the Hurricane bandwagon following their impressive win over Georgia Tech last Thursday. I’ve been impressed by Miami as well but we’ve only seen them play two games, both against ACC opponents, and they’ve yet to leave the state of Florida.

I moved Ohio State up a spot to 13th this week after their rout of Toledo. While the fact that the game was played in Cleveland is not that big of a deal, the Buckeyes did shutout Toledo, who had scored 31 points against Purdue and 54 points against Colorado in their first two games. Two more teams debuted in my power rankings at #14 and #15 this week. Cincinnati is my #14 squad. I think it’s time to start equating this year’s Cinci team with the 10-win team of 2007 and the 11-win team of 2008. There was a tendency to look at this year’s team as a new group, with 13 starters gone, but the important thing is that Brian Kelly is still there. The Bearcats throttled Rutgers by 32 on the road in week 1; they put a 70-3 beat down on an FCS team in week 2; and last week they went on the road to Oregon State and came away with a 28-18 victory. That’s enough to convince me that they’re again legit.

The last team in my power rankings this week may be the most surprising of all, considering that Nebraska lost in week 3 to fall to 2-1. But I’ve got Nebraska at #15 because their loss at Virginia Tech was still one of the more impressive statements of week 3. Certainly the Cornhuskers have only themselves to blame for allowing a receiver to get by the secondary in the final moments of the game when the Hokies needed a touchdown to survive. Still, Nebraska had the game won, and VT needed a desperation scramble and throw for a TD to pull out the 1-point win at home. Despite surviving the game, I dropped Virginia Tech from 11th all the way out of my power rankings. Consider that this was a home game for Tech. And although Tyrod Taylor pulled a couple of rabbits out of his ass in the final moments, I still wouldn’t want him as my quarterback.

Notre Dame also survived in week 3 but they did not remain in my power rankings, falling from 15th to unranked. The Irish nearly gagged against Michigan State at home. Also, I think you have to treat Michael Floyd’s injury a little differently than other injuries because there is no guarantee that he will play again this season. Even if he does make it back for a bowl game, who knows how effective he will be coming back from a broken collar bone. So I have to take that injury into account.

Of course there was one other team that got ejected from power 15 this week and that was the Mormons of BYU. What a let down! I mean this really shocked me; I’ll be honest about that. I knew BYU’s defense was a question mark coming into the season but they had been impressive against Oklahoma in week 1 (albeit with Sam Bradford injured for the second half) and gave up only 16 total points in their first 2 games. And it’s not like FSU has been an offensive power house in recent years. But the biggest surprise for me was that this happened in Provo. Folks, BYU came into this game having won 18 straight at Lavell Edwards Stadium, going undefeated at home in their previous 3 seasons. Their last home loss had come in the 2005 season finale against Utah, a 7-point loss in overtime. Their last home loss prior to that had been a 1-point loss to TCU in overtime earlier in the 2005 season. And while many of their wins at home had come against overmatched MWC opponents, they’d beaten some BCS teams as well. Last season in week 3 they had hosted UCLA and won by a score of 59-0. In 2007, BYU opened the season with a 20-7 win over Arizona at home. Florida State had opened the season with a loss at home to Miami and had then been scared to death at home by Jacksonville State before escaping with a win. There was no reason to think BYU would lose. Incredibly, not only did BYU lose at home, they got blasted 54-28 by an FSU team traveling across the country. Peace to BYU’s chances at a BCS Bowl (which were not only legitimate but were likely) and obviously there slim hopes at a National Championship. And they would have had the whole world calling for them to be in the BCS title game if they had finished as one of two or fewer undefeated teams in the country. I kicked the Cougs out of my power rankings (likely for good) after they had been 8th a week earlier.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The College Football Blog: Thoughts on Contenders and Conferences

Updating the Season Résumé Rankings

The “Season Résumé” top ten is still a bit pointless because there are so many teams at 2-0. Actually, a few teams have only played 1 game, so the rankings aren’t that interesting yet. But here’s my 2nd edition of the Season Résumé Top 10. (For those who don't know, these are totally different from my power rankings. For an explanation, see blog about CFB rankings)

1. Florida 2-0 (1st)
2. Alabama 2-0 (2nd)
3. BYU 2-0 (4th)
4. USC 2-0 (5th)
5. Boise State 2-0 (7th)
6. Cal 2-0 (8th)
7. Cincinnati 2-0 (9th)
8. Michigan 2-0 (NR)
9. Houston 2-0 (NR)
10. Texas 2-0 (NR)

Obviously Oklahoma State dropped from 3rd to negative something after their loss at home to Houston. I had to move Miami and Ole Miss out since they were off last week. I moved Houston and Michigan in after their big wins and Texas jumped into the top 10 even though they still haven’t played anybody. Again, these seasonal Résumé rankings will get more interesting later in the year.

But as wide open as things are this early in the year, it’s remarkable to look at how many teams are already virtually eliminated from the National Title hunt. It’s not accurate to say that one loss for any team ends NC dreams. In fact, the NC is rarely undefeated these days. But 1 loss does end NC dreams for certain teams. Nothing is certain, of course, but there are some assumptions we can make without going out on a limb. First of all, no team from a non-BCS conference (other than Notre Dame) can make the BCS NC game unless they’re undefeated. I think we can all agree on that one. Furthermore, no team with 1-loss (other than USC or ND) would make the BCS title game ahead of a 1-loss team from the SEC or Big XII. That’s a pretty safe assumption as well. The only possible exceptions might be a situation where Oklahoma and Texas each finish with only 1 loss, but Texas goes to the XII Championship Game and loses to a 3-loss Kansas team. Obviously Texas would be out and it’s unlikely that voters would allow a team that didn’t even make their conference championship game to go to the NC game. Another possibility would be an undefeated XII or SEC team losing in their conference title game. Other than those two scenarios, a 1-loss SEC or XII team would make the title game over any 1-loss team from another conference unless it was USC or Notre Dame. So basically, any non-BCS team other than Notre Dame would have to go undefeated to have even a shot at making the NC game. Additionally, any Big XII or SEC team with 1 loss would likely make the BCS title game ahead of a 1-loss team from another conference (other than ND or USC). It’s also unlikely that there wouldn’t be at least 1 team from both the Big XII and SEC with only 1 loss. Therefore, any team from outside the Big XII and SEC (other than USC and ND) would be very unlikely to make the title game unless they were undefeated. With these reasonable assumptions in mind, there are a ton of teams already out of the hunt or at least way behind the 8-ball.

The only team from the Big XII or SEC that is truly out of the hunt for the BCS title game is Colorado, who already has 2 losses. Going into the Miami-GT game on Thursday night, there were only 4 ACC teams left without a loss. The soft schedules of Big East and Big Ten teams are having an effect on things, as 7 teams from the Big Ten are undefeated and 5 of 8 Big East teams have yet to lose. The Pac-10 still has 6 undefeated teams. Only 4 Conference USA teams are still undefeated, while none of the 3 Independent teams are still without a loss. Realistically, every MAC team is eliminated from the BCS title game race before the season even begins, but just in case you were wondering, there’s not one MAC team left without a loss. 4 Mountain West teams, 2 WAC teams, and 1 Sun Belt team have made it to week 3 without a loss. Taking all of this together, 62 of the 120 teams eligible for the BCS title game have been—barring a very unlikely string of surprising results—have already been eliminated. The number will be trimmed down farther in the week ahead.

The Big Eleven “Down” Again

The Big Ten is 18-4 against the rest of college football after 2 weeks. It’s not that the conference is better this year; it’s as weak as ever. The reason for the great record is that the Big Ten Conference plays a very light non-conference schedule early on and they’ve been very lucky so far this year. At some point people are going to realize that the Big Ten isn’t very good and they’ll start talking about 2009 being a “down year” for the conference. My question is this: when is the Big Ten going to be seen as a 2nd rate conference and not a topnotch conference annually having a down year? Let’s look at what the Big Ten teams have done so far this year.

Penn State opened against Akron at home. The Zips are from the MAC and they came into this year 48-58 since the start of the 2000 season. They haven’t lost less than 5 games in a season this decade and PSU won 31-7. In week 2, PSU hosted Syracuse, the worst team from a BCS conference over the last 4 or 5 years. Coming into this season, the Orange was 10-37 since the start of 2004 and 7-32 on the road since 2002. Penn State only won 28-7. Ohio State is the dominant team of the Big Ten. They opened the season with a 31-27 win at home over service academy Navy. The Midshipmen went for a 2-pt conversion to tie the game with just minutes to play and it was returned for a safety to make the final spread 4 points. Last week Ohio State hosted USC and lost, meaning the best team in the Big Ten couldn’t beat the best team from the Pac-10, despite being at home and facing a true freshman playing in his 2nd game. Illinois played at a neutral site in week 1 against a rebuilding Missouri squad and lost 37-9. In week 2 they played Illinois State of the FCS and won 45-17. Iowa opened the season at home against Northern Iowa of the FCS and won 17-16, blocking 2 short field goals in the final 10 seconds of the game to avoid the upset. Last week they played on the road against Iowa State (9-27 over the last 3 years going into this season) and beat the worst team from the Big XII, 35-3. Michigan State whipped FCS team Montana State 44-3 in week 1, but last week they lost at home to Central Michigan of the MAC, 29-27. Michigan has been the most impressive Big Ten team so far, beating Western Michigan of the MAC, 31-7, at home to open the year, and stunning ND, 38-34 at home last week. Wisconsin opened the season hosting NIU from the MAC and they won 28-20. Last week they hosted Fresno State of the WAC and needed double OT to win 34-31. Minnesota began the year at Syracuse, whose struggles have already been documented. The Gophers stole the game in overtime, 23-20. Last week they beat service academy team Air Force, 20-13, at home. Northwestern opened the season with a 47-14 home win over Towson of the FCS. Last week they played Eastern Michigan of the MAC at home and won 27-24. Purdue opened the year with a win at home over Toledo of the MAC, 52-31. Last week they went on the road to Oregon and lost to a rebuilding Ducks team, 38-36. Finally, Indiana began the year winning just 19-13 over FCS team Eastern Kentucky. Last week they hosted Western Michigan of the MAC and won 23-19. That’s a lot of home games, a lot of games against FCS teams, a lot of games against teams from the MAC, a lot of games against teams from other non-BCS conferences, a lot of games against the weakest teams from BCS conferences, and a lot of close and somewhat lucky wins. Despite the 18-4 record, the Big Ten maybe as bad as or worse than ever this season.

SEC’s Reputation Taking a Hit

The other day I was complaining about the SEC suffering some disappointing losses during the first 2 weeks when my buddy pointed out that teams from every conference had already had some bad losses. His point was that the SEC wasn’t doing any worse than anybody else and he was 100% right. The problem is that fans of the SEC (such as me) like to claim that the SEC is a level above the rest. They can’t make that claim if the SEC is faring exactly the same as every other conference. Two losses early in this season have hurt the argument that the SEC is superior. First, in week 1 Georgia was beaten handedly by Oklahoma State on the road. This wasn’t good for the SEC because Georgia has been one of the top teams from the conference year in and year out and they were getting soundly beaten by a rising team from the conference most feel is closest to the SEC in strength. However, the game was at Oklahoma State and the Cowboys were thought to be one of the best teams in the country. So it wasn’t really that bad of a loss for the SEC. That was before Houston—a team from Conference USA that has lost at least 4 games in each season this decade--went into Stillwater in week 2 and beat Oklahoma State by 10, scoring 45 points, 35 more than Georgia had scored the week before. Now Georgia’s 24-10 defeat to Oklahoma State looks really bad for the SEC.

But it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as Tennessee’s 19-15 loss to UCLA at home last week looked. For many years the Vols were a national power from the SEC but they’ve become very average. Neyland Stadium is supposed to be one of the toughest places to play in the SEC but UCLA—a team picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10—flew across the country for a day game and was able to come away with a win to backup their victory over the Vols in LA last season. It was a disgraceful performance by Tennessee and an embarrassment for the SEC. It’s still my opinion that the top teams in the SEC are better than the top teams in the rest of the country. We’ll have to wait for bowl season to see how the SEC’s best fair against the other elite teams. As for the middle and the bottom of the conference, there’s just not much proof that the SEC is any better than the other BCS conferences. So far SEC teams have done a good job of taking care of business against weak competition. But the losses by Georgia and Tennessee have put a damper on things for the SEC.

Big XII Not Exempt from Early Season Disappointment

For all the talk in recent years about the Big XII having become the other dominant conference in the country to go along with the SEC, the conference has looked pretty ordinary through 2 weeks of the 09 season. First, Oklahoma lost on a neutral field to a team from the Mountain West. Obviously BYU isn’t just any team and the loss of Sam Bradford was a huge factor but it was still a major blow to the Big XII. Then last week the Big XII took an even bigger hit, as Oklahoma State went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. After beating SEC power Georgia 24-10 in the opener, moving into the top 5, and appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Oklahoma State was exposed by Houston of C-USA at home in week 2, losing 45-35. There have been other positives for the Big XII during the first two weeks: Baylor beating Wake Forrest on the road; Missouri surprising everyone with a blowout win over Illinois in St. Louis; etc. But the bottom feeders of the Big XII have struggled. Kansas State opened the year with a 21-17 win over UMass of the FCS. Then in week 2, Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt knocked off the Wildcats. Iowa State got stomped by in-state rival Iowa at home, 35-3 last week. And perhaps no team in all of college football has been as disappointing as Colorado. In their opener, the Buffs got beat by their in-state rivals from the Mountain West, Colorado State, 23-17 at home. Then playing in a stand-alone game last Friday night, Colorado gave up 54 points in a 16 point loss to Toledo of the MAC. Dan Hawkins and his son are less popular than Kobe and the Ramseys in Boulder at this moment.

The NFL Blog: 2009 Week 2 Betting Lines

Last Week: Vs. Spread (10-6); Straight Up (13-3)
Season: Vs. Spread (10-6); Straight Up (13-3)

Week 1 Review: This was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. Going into the Sunday night game I was 10-3 ATS and straight up. I lost all 3 night games ATS but won all 3 straight up. I had a few bad picks, like St. Louis +9 (they lost by 28), Houston -4.5 (they lost by 17), and Patriots -10.5 (they trailed by 11 with 2 and a half minutes left) but it was a great week for me.

Week 2 Preview: I’d really like to put up another solid week to convince myself that it’s not just dumb luck. In the 2nd week you want to use the new info you have without overreacting. It could be a rough week for me, as I’m taking 4 road favorites to cover.

Sunday’s Early Games

Carolina (+6.5) @ Atlanta
Pick: Falcons win but Panthers beat the spread.
Comment: As a loyal and life long Falcons fan, I am terrified by this game. Everybody is down on the Panthers, while everyone in Atlanta was pleasantly surprised by the way the Falcons’ defense played in their opening week win over Miami. But the Panthers have come into Atlanta under similar circumstances in the past and gotten a win. Atlanta really didn’t get a good game out of Matt Ryan or Michael Turner last week and they still had enough offense. While I’d like to think that Atlanta’s defensive performance in week 1 will be typical of the 2009 season, I don’t believe that is the case. It would seem to me that the huge question mark for Atlanta’s defense is pass defense. Well, Miami isn’t a team apt to exploit that weakness. Remember, they’re the guys who were so desperate they came up with that Wildcat thing which never works. Also, Miami had unimaginably good luck with turnovers last season and there was no way that would happen again this year. The Falcons can’t count on getting 3 or 4 turnovers a game. On the other hand, if Jake Delhomme could figure out how to limit himself to 2 or 3 turnovers again instead of 10 of 15, the Panthers would no doubt be a much better team than they showed last week. I think the Falcons will win it but it’ll be close.

St. Louis (+10) @ Washington
Pick: Redskins cover.
Comment: I’ve got bad memories from this game last year. The Rams’ 19-17 win at Washington in week 6 last season was probably the most inexplicable outcome of 2009. It ruined my “Elimination” entry just 6 weeks into the season. This time I once again can’t imagine the Redskins figuring out a way to lose to the Lams. Obviously it is possible but I honestly think the spread should be more like 14 points.

Houston (+6.5) @ Tennessee
Pick: Titans win but Texans beat the spread.
Comment: I’m not jumping off the Texans bandwagon just yet, although I will admit that outside of having a slew of injuries last week couldn’t have gone much worse for Houston believers. Houston is just 6-26 on the road since the start of the 2005 season and they’ve lost 4 in a row in Tennessee. I think they’ll come out of this game 0-2 but I think it’ll be a close game.

New Orleans (+1) @ Philadelphia
Pick: Eagles cover.
Comment: Clearly this is a tough game to call because of the Eagles’ uncertain QB situation. It’ll be interesting to see how successful Philly’s defense is at holding down the New Orleans passing attack. I like the Eagles to win even without McNabb.

New England (-3.5) @ New York Jets
Pick: Patriots cover.
Comment: The Jets dominated the Texans on the road, while the Patriots should have lost at home to Buffalo. Still, I look for Brady and co. to jam a bunch of points in Rex Ryan’s mouth, and I think we can assume that Ryan will then greedily eat them.

Oakland (+3) @ Kansas City
Pick: Chiefs cover.
Comment: Oakland’s 23-8 win at Arrowhead in week 2 last season was actually a total stunner, as the Chiefs had hung in at New England the week before while the Raiders had been embarrassed by the Chargers. The Raiders are 9-39 on the road since the start of the 2003 season. The Chiefs once had perhaps the biggest homefield advantage in the NFL but lately it hasn’t mattered much where they’ve played. The Chiefs are just 3-13 at home since the start of the 2007 season. Both teams were better than expected in opening weekend losses. Something has to give and I’m just going to take the Chiefs to win it by 4 or so.

Arizona (+3) @ Jacksonville
Pick: Jags cover.
Comment: I thought the Cards would be able to avoid the Bride’s Maid Slump but I’m not so sure anymore. I expect the Jags to be better this season but it doesn’t seem like many in Jacksonville will notice. The Cards are still not at there best on the east coast. I’ll take the Jags to win by 5 or 6.

Cincinnati (+9.5) @ Green Bay
Pick: Packers cover.
Comment: Cincinnati’s offense looked awful last week and Green Bay shouldn’t have any trouble scoring points. I look for a blowout.

Minnesota (-9.5) @ Detroit
Pick: Vikings cover.
Comment: Over the last few years the Vikings have been known to play down to their competition. Last season they won their 2 games against the Lions by a combined 6 points and could easily have been swept by the winless Lions. But this year Brett Favre is the QB instead of Tavaris Jackson or Gus Frerotte. Matt Stafford looked like a rookie QB last week. I like the Vikes to win by double digits.

Sunday’s Late Games

Tampa Bay (+5) @ Buffalo
Pick: Bills win but Bucs beat the spread.
Comment: Last week’s collapse by the Bills against the Pats was similar to losses to the Jets late last season and the Cowboys on Monday night in 07. I think they’ll come back to beat the Bucs this week at home but I think it’ll be close.

Seattle (+1) @ San Francisco
Pick: Niners cover.
Comment: Both teams won last week and I think they are both better than they were a season ago. Seattle is a little banged up and San Fran is at home so I’ll take the Niners to win a close one.

Pittsburgh (-3) @ Chicago
Pick: Steelers cover.
Comment: I would have thought this spread would be bigger. I know the Steelers are on the road and without Troy Polamalu but Chicago looked horrible last week and they don’t have Brian Urlacher. Maybe the fact that Pittsburgh’s defense is so dominant will force Jay Cutler to realize that he has to take care of the ball. Even still, I like the Steelers to win by at least a touchdown.

Cleveland (+3) @ Denver
Pick: Broncos cover.
Comment: Well the key to this game will be…zzzzz…oh, sorry—just got so sleepy there all of the sudden. I’ll take Josh McDaniels to win the battle of former Belichickians.

Baltimore (+3) @ San Diego
Pick: Chargers cover.
Comment: Last week’s games left me wondering a bit about both of these teams. Baltimore gave up 24 points to Kansas City and the Chargers gave up 20 points to the Raiders. San Diego has never seemed to have that sense of urgency during the last few years. Baltimore’s defense is a year older and you can’t expect Joe Flacco to throw for 300 yards every week. The Chargers are at home and they should be able to win this game but you never know what you’re gonna get with them.

Sunday Night’s Game

New York Giants (+3) @ Dallas
Pick: Giants pull off the upset.
Comment: I have to chalk this line up to Dallas always been slightly overrated, even from week to week. Why should they be favored in this game? I don’t see how their homefield advantage will be any greater just because they’re playing in front of a million people. They might be jacked up to play their first game at the new stadium but this is a rivalry game so energy will be high regardless. The Giants are 14-4 in their last 18 regular season road games. They’re 22-10-1 ATS since the start of the 07 season. Dallas won by 13 last week but they gave up a lot of yards and 21 points to a rebuilding Tampa Bay team. I think the Giants will spoil Jerry Jones’ big night.

Monday Night’s Game

Indianapolis (-3) @ Miami
Pick: Colts cover.
Comment: Miami’s 2nd season under Tony Sparano got off to a rough start last Sunday. Manning and the Colts haven’t faced the Fins since 2006. But the Colts are one of the top road teams in the game. They are a sparkling 48-24 in regular season road games this decade. Miami usually plays well at home and in night games. Maybe they will keep it close but I think this year is going to be a lot tougher for the Dolphins than last year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The NFL Blog: 2009 Week 1 Power Rankings

Power Rankings After Week 1

1. Pittsburgh 1-0 (2nd)
2. New York Giants 1-0 (5th)
3. New England 1-0 (1st)
4. Philadelphia 1-0 (4th)
5. San Diego 1-0 (3rd)
6. Minnesota 1-0 (6th)
7. Tennessee 0-1 (7th)
8. Indianapolis 1-0 (8th)
9. Atlanta 1-0 (11th)
10. Washington 0-1 (9th)
11. Dallas 1-0 (13th)
12. Green Bay 1-0 (15th)
13. Baltimore 1-0 (12th)
14. New Orleans 1-0 (16th)
15. Arizona 0-1 (10th)
16. Houston 0-1 (14th)
17. New York Jets 1-0 (19th)
18. San Francisco 1-0 (23rd)
19. Buffalo 0-1 (20th)
20. Seattle 1-0 (21st)
21. Carolina 0-1 (17th)
22. Miami 0-1 (22nd)
23. Jacksonville 0-1 (27th)
24. Oakland 0-1 (28th)
25. Chicago 0-1 (18th)
26. Cincinnati 0-1 (24th)
27. Denver 1-0 (29th)
28. Cleveland 0-1 (25th)
29. Tampa Bay 0-1 (26th)
30. Kansas City 0-1 (32nd)
31. Detroit 0-1 (30th)
32. St. Louis 0-1 (31st)

-Preseason ranking in parenthesis;

Explanation: If you read the Horse Collar last year then you are familiar with my NFL power rankings. The difference this season is that I’m going to rank all 32 teams each week. Last season I ranked all 32 teams in the preseason and then had a top 8 that I updated weekly during the season. This year I’m just carrying my preseason power rankings into the season and I’m going to do a full 32-team ranking each week. The main difference between my NFL power rankings and my college football power rankings is that while I only take season ending injuries into account for my CFB rankings, for NFL teams I consider overall health at the moment. Something you will probably notice is that compared to my CFB rankings I’m going to be quicker to move teams up and down in my NFL rankings based on wins and losses from week to week. This is because the NFL is structured with parity in mind. The salary cap, the draft and schedule structure, and other things keep teams from becoming much better or much worse than the average team. It’s easier to judge wins and losses in the NFL because more is known about each team and each player. The variables that exist in the college game are much fewer and easier to identify in the NFL. Finally, it’s virtually impossible to watch as much as 10 minutes of even half of the college football games in a particular week. Contrary wise, it’s very easy to watch a good bit of every single NFL game during a particular season. The main point, is that I’m going to be more confident in moving teams up and down from week to week in my NFL rankings than I am in my CFB rankings.

Having said that, I tried pretty hard not to overreact to the results of week 1. That’s much easier said than done, even though we all know that week 1 of the NFL season is notoriously misleading. Most of the time it’s not the 12-win teams or the 12-loss teams that trigger false readings in week 1, although there are certainly exceptions. But it’s more often the teams that win between 6 and 10 games that can steer people the wrong way with a week 1 performance.

My top 5 is made up of the same teams that were in my top 5 in the preseason but they are ranked differently after 1 week. To begin with, I have a new #1 team. Despite losing Troy Polamalu for perhaps 8 weeks, the Steelers moved up a spot to #1 in my rankings, taking the place of the Patriots. The Steelers have a dominant defense even with out Polamalu and in their overtime win over Tennessee in the opener they looked just like the team that won the Super Bowl in February. I moved the Giants up 3 spots from 5th to 2nd after their convincing win over the Red Skins. The Patriots fell to 3rd in my rankings and I think much less of them now than I did 3 weeks ago. Not only did they trade away Richard Seymour, they lost Jared Mayo for 2 months in the opener, and their defense was exposed by the Bills on Monday night. The offense too looked out of sight and the offensive line again looked mediocre. I don’t feel confident that they can run the ball or stop the run. But they do know how to win. The Eagles would have been my #2 or #3 team if they hadn’t lost Donovan McNabb with a broken rib and lost Shaun Andrews for the season. Because of those reasons I kept them 4th. The defense looked great in their first game since the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and they did sign Jeff Garcia but McNabb has to be healthy for them to be an elite team. I dropped the Chargers down a couple of spots to 5th after their lack luster win in Oakland. LT was hurt again and they also suffered some injuries on the O-line.

The second half of my top 5 was also relatively unchanged. Of the 5 teams ranked 6-10 in my preseason rankings, 4 were still there after week 1. Spots 6-8 stayed the same. The Falcons were the new team in my top 10 this week, coming in at #9 after being 11th in my preseason rankings. I dropped the Skins from 9th to 10th after they struggled offensively in a loss to the Giants. The only team to drop out of my top 10 was my preseason #10 team, the Cardinals. The Cards plummeted 5 spots to 15th after a loss at home to the Niners. Both Steve Breaston and Anquan Boldin are battling injuries. Also, Edgerrin James is gone now, and while Edge was worthless in the regular season last year, it was his reemergence during the postseason that took the Cards from being playoff imposters to being ahead in the Super Bowl with seconds to play.

But the Cardinals did not take the biggest plunge in my rankings in the first week. That honor went to the Bears, who dropped 7 spots in my rankings from 18th to 25th. The Chicago Bears endured one of the most disastrous opening games in recent memory. To begin with, the limitations of the offense were abundantly clear. Everyone knew that Jay Cutler wasn’t going to be able to turn the Bears into the 2001 Rams, but after watching the Bears on Sunday night I’m not even sure the Bears offense will be as good as last season. The lack of talent at receiver was obvious and Cutler is going to find out what it’s like to play without a stockpile of weapons. And with more emphasis and focus going to getting the passing game off the ground, the Bears got away from the only thing that worked for them last season, which was giving the ball to Matt Forte. Cutler’s dismal performance; the turnovers; the blown coverages; the awful decisions by coaches and players; the penalties; all of these things made the heartbreaking defeat even more sickening for Bears fans. But none of that was as bad as the news that came the next day, when it was learned that the face of the team and the leader of the defense, Brian Urlacher, was lost for the season. The Bears have been only a decent defensive team in the last few years and without Urlacher they won’t even be that. I believe the fall from decency to the bottom of the League will come swift and hard for the Bears.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Niners made the biggest jump in my rankings, rising 5 spots from 23rd to 18th. It’s not just the win at Arizona that led to their climb up the rankings. San Fran was a team I thought might be better than expected this season and their win over the Cards gave me more confidence that they will be. The biggest question mark is at quarterback, but Shaun Hill looked okay in the opener.

The final 3 spots in my power rankings were made up of the same 3 teams from my preseason rankings but each team was in a different spot. The Kansas City Chiefs surprised me more than almost any team in the League in week 1. Without Matt Cassel they played the Ravens very tough on the road before eventually being put away. I moved them out of last and up 2 spots to 30th. I dropped the Lions from 30th to 31st after they got violated by Drew Brees and the Saints. I really expect Matt Stafford to have the same sort of problems he had in week 1 for the entire season. The new #32 team in my week 1 rankings is the St. Louis Rams, who got whipped 28-0 by the Seahawks. I dropped them down 2 spots from 30th, as they looked like easily the worst team in football. They were the worst team last year as well, although the Lions stole their thunder by losing all 16 games.

The 0-1 team highest in my rankings is Tennessee, who lost in overtime to the defending champion Steelers on the road. Still, 12 of the top 14 teams in my power rankings are 1-0. The lowest ranked 1-0 team is the Denver Broncos, who looked absolutely awful against the Bengals and won on a tipped pass that was caught by an unintended receiver for an 83 yard TD with a less than a minute to play. I actually have the Bengals ranked 1 spot higher than the Broncos. Both the Patriots and Chargers fell 2 spots in my rankings despite winning in week 1. The Jags and Raiders both climbed 4 spots despite losing in week 1.

The College Football Blog: 2009 Week 3 Betting Lines

Last Week: Vs. Spread (5-5); Moneyline Upsets (1-1)
Season: Vs. Spread (10-10); Moneyline Upsets (2-2)

Week 2 Review: It was an exact repeat of week 1 for me last week. My only really bad picks were Iowa State staying within 6.5 of Iowa and Tennessee covering the 9 point spread against UCLA. I should have been 2-0 on upset picks but a phantom holding call stole a win away from Clemson against Tech.

Week 3 Preview: There are more good games to choose this week than either of the first two weeks. But these games seem to be tougher to pick. Hopefully I’ll get over the hump this week and post a winning record.


Game 1: Georgia Tech (+4.5) @ Miami
Pick: Miami covers
Comment: The Jackets were looking scary last Thursday night as they jumped out to a 24-0 lead over Clemson at home. But in reality, Tech’s early lead was built on a series of somewhat fluky plays: an 82 yard run for a TD on the first option play the Jackets ran; an 85 yard punt return for a TD on an ill-advised and poorly executed pooch punt; and a 34 yard pass for a TD by the kicker on a fake field goal. But beginning in the middle of the 2nd quarter, Clemson came roaring back, scoring 27 unanswered points to take the lead in the 4th quarter. Tech tied it with around 5 minutes to go but Clemson was in position for the win after a 38 yard pass on 3rd and 11 from their own 44 gave them a 1st down at the Tech 18 with a little over 3 minutes to play. However, a phantom holding penalty on a Clemson lineman in the middle of the field changed everything, making it 3rd and 21 from the Clemson 34 instead. The Tigers threw incomplete on 3rd down to stop the clock and they had to punt. The Jackets took over at their own 35 with 2:52 to play and they went down and kicked a field goal to win it. Give Tech credit for getting the job done but they were very fortunate to come away with the win. They’ve been pretty damn good in close games under Paul Johnson. Actually, it goes back even before Johnson got there. The Jackets are 8-1 in their last 9 games decided by 4 points or less. They’re 6-1 in games decided by 4 points or less under Johnson and have won the last 5 such games in a row. On the other hand, Tech’s last 3 losses and 6 of their last 7 have been by 7 points or more; 5 of those have been by 12 points or more. This is a series that the Jackets have faired very well in. Tech is 10-3 against Miami in the regular season and they have won 4 in a row over the Canes. Last year Miami came to Atlanta having won 5 straight, while the Jackets had just lost 28-7 to UNC. In a primetime matchup, the Jackets ran all over Miami, racking up 472 yards on the ground for a 41-23 victory that was not as close as the score indicated. In the last matchup in Miami back in 2007 the Jackets were down 7 at halftime but they out-gained the Canes 244-71 in the 2nd half to win 17-14. I think Miami will be much more prepared for this year’s game than they were last year. For one thing, the Canes had never seen Tech’s offense before last year and they had no clue how to stop it. This year they will know better what to expect and they will have had 10 days off with which to prepare. It will be interesting to see what kind of homefield advantage—if any—the Canes have at Joe Robbie Stadium this year. In 07 (their last year in the Orange Bowl) and 08 (their first year at Joe Robbie) the Canes were just 4-5 at home against teams from the major conferences. I think Miami will win by a touchdown.


Game 2: Boise State (-7) @ Fresno State
Pick: Boise State covers
Comment: This game is very, very tricky. You start with Fresno State, who will be coming into this game off of a heartbreaking defeat at Wisconsin in overtime. Fresno State led for almost the entire day, leading 21-7 at one point in the 2nd quarter and holding the lead until the 5:45 mark of the 4th quarter. The Bulldogs out-gained Wisconsin by 55 yards but they missed a field goal, allowed a long kick return, and lost the turnover battle 3-0. It was just another near miss for the Bulldogs. It will be interesting to see where Fresno State is at mentally. They have been in the habit of playing very well in big matchups and then turning around and choking against lesser opponents. But that doesn’t seem to apply in this case, as the Dogs will be going up against the #10 Boise State Broncos. It’s a strange thing: Fresno State has become famous for being a team that is not afraid to play anyone and can hang with the best teams in the country, and yet Pat Hill has never won an outright WAC title. Boise State has played a big role in that. Boise State is the only WAC school that Fresno has a losing record against. They’ve lost the last 3 to the Broncos and 7 of 8, and those last 8 games have been decided by an average of 19 points. This game is in Fresno, which is the only thing that gives the Dogs a chance. One thing to note is that Fresno State often does quite live up to their reputation in Vegas. For example, coming into this season Fresno State had gone 11-26 against the spread over the last 3 years. Last season they were 2-11 ATS, including 0-5 ATS at home. They are 3-13 ATS at home over the last 3 years!!! They are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 against Boise State. Boise State is not flawless. So far this season they have won at home against Oregon and demolished Miami of Ohio at home. But Oregon is way down this year in the first season under Chip Kelly and Miami of Ohio is one of the worst teams in the FBS. One of Boise’s 2 conference losses since 2002 came here in 03 so…actually, I think the discussion ends at “2 conference losses since 2002.” The Broncos should win it and their last 7 wins over Fresno have come by an average of 24 points.


Game 3: Boston College (+6.5) @ Clemson
Pick: Boston College beats the spread
Comment: Clemson won this game last year but BC beat the Tigers the previous 3 years. All 4 games were decided by 6 points or less and 2 went into overtime. BC won by 3 in OT at Death Valley in 05 and won by 3 in regulation on the road in 07. The Tigers will have had 9 days off since their heartbreaking loss at Tech. BC has yet to be challenged this year, having outscored Northeastern and Kent State 88-7 in 2 home games. I think Clemson will win but I think BC will stay within a TD.

Game 4: Tennessee (+29.5) @ Florida
Pick: Florida covers
Comment: The Gators are easily the best team in the country and the Vols may not score. The Gators are 4-0 against Tennessee under Urban Meyer, covering in 3 of the last 4 against the Vols. The last time these two played in the Swamp it was a 59-20 Florida win. Last year the Gators won 30-6 in Knoxville. The Gators are 32-3 at home since the start of the 04 season, they are 11-1 ATS at home since the start of the 07 season, and 21-5 ATS overall since the start of the 07 season. Lane Kiffin’s “smart” mouth will have a minimal effect on the game because the Gators are always fired up to kill the Vols. Florida should win by at least 30, which is not good for the SEC.

Game 5: Nebraska (+5) @ Virginia Tech
Pick: Virginia Tech covers
Comment: I actually think Nebraska is a good team and I think VT is limited offensively. The problem is, Nebraska has to come all the way to the East coast, and not many teams win at Lane Stadium (Hokies are 59-9 at home this decade). Last year VT won by 5 at Nebraska. I think it’ll be a good game but I see VT winning it by a TD or so.

Game 6: East Carolina (+7.5) @ North Carolina
Pick: East Carolina beats the spread
Comment: So far, ECU has not been very impressive. They led 10-0 at West Virginia last week and they were down just a point at the half, but they ended up losing 35-20 and being out-gained 509-237. In their opener they won by just 5 over Ap State at home. UNC was lucky to come out of their game at UConn last week with a 12-10 win, scoring a safety on a holding call in the end zone to complete a comeback from down 10-0 in the 4th quarter. I think the Heels will win because they are at home and they are the better team but the Pirates were 13-3 ATS as a road underdog over the last 4 years coming into this season. I think they’ll stay within a TD.

Game 7: Michigan State (+10) @ Notre Dame
Pick: Notre Dame covers
Comment: This line has gotten smaller as the week has gone on. The Spartans were shocked by Central Michigan at home last Saturday, while the Irish lost a heartbreaker at the Big House. MSU is 9-3 in this series and has won 3 of the last 4. Normally the visitor wins in this rivalry (7-1) but I don’t see it this year. I think Notre Dame will win by a couple of touchdowns.

Game 8: USC (-20) @ Washington
Pick: Washington beats the spread
Comment: USC has been ridiculously dominant since 2002, going 84-9 in 93 games. But when they have lost, it’s almost always been on the road. Only 1 of their 9 losses over that time has been at home, and 7 have come in true road games. Actually, Troy lost 4 road games over the previous 3 seasons, which is a lot compared with 1 over the 3 seasons before that. New Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was of course the USC offensive coordinator the last 2 years and was on Pete Carroll’s staff for 8 years. The Huskies’ main problem is their very tough schedule. In my opinion they are one of the most improved teams in the entire country. Last season they lost 56-0 in LA but they had played the Trojans very tough in the previous 2 years. In 06, #3 USC won 26-20 over Washington at home as 19 point favorites. In 2007, USC was #1 and favored by 20.5 on the road but they won just 27-24. USC is almost unbeatable in big games. If they were as unbeatable in “easy” games they would have 5 or 6 national titles. This is the sort of game that USC has lost over the last few years but I don’t think that will happen. I do think Washington will surprise some people though, especially with Matt Barkley hurting. Speaking of Barkley, I’m not ashamed to say that I have a feeling close to hatred for him. There’s a difference between being confident and being a cocky, spoiled little Orange County brat. The shot of him with his helmet off, kneeling and praying out loud with his eyes closed is enough to make one want to vomit.

Game 9: Florida State (+7.5) @ BYU
Pick: BYU covers
Comment: Give the Noles credit for scheduling this game. The Cougars have won 18 straight in Provo. Last week FSU was very fortunate to come away with a win over Jacksonville State at home. The Noles are not back. They aren’t close to being back. On the contrary, the Noles are far, far away from what they once were. I like BYU to win by double digits.

Game 10: Texas Tech (+17.5) @ Texas
Pick: Texas covers
Comment: Before Tech’s miracle win over Texas in Lubbock last season, Texas had won 5 in a row over the Red Raiders. The Horns are 51-4 at home this decade. Texas Tech is 24-25 on the road this decade. Both teams have had blowout wins over weak opponents in their first two games but we know more about Texas than we do about Tech. Texas Tech lost a ton from last year’s 11 win team; too much to pull off a win like this. It’ll be high scoring (the lowest total in the last 7 between these 2 teams was 66 in 2006) but I think the Horns will roll.

Moneyline Special

Syracuse over Northwestern: Syracuse is a 3.5 point underdog at home this week against Northwestern. I don’t particularly love any games for moneyline upsets this week so I just picked a couple that I thought might happen. Northwestern barley hung on to beat Eastern Michigan at home last week, while the Cuse lost in OT against Minnesota in week 1. Last week the Orange lost at Penn State but a 28-7 loss in Happy Valley was actually a sign that Syracuse is getting better. I think Cuse has a good shot to beat the Wildcats.

Kent State over Iowa State: Kent State is a 3 point dog at home against the Cyclones this week. Kent State is just 20-28 at home this decade but ISU has lost 17 straight on the road. Last week the Cyclones lost 35-3 to Iowa at home. Last season ISU won 48-28 over Kent State at home but the Golden Flashes won at Ames in 2007, 23-14. Kent State was no match for BC on the road last week but I think they can win this one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The College Football Blog: 2009 Power Rankings (After Week 2)

Power Rankings after Week 2

1. Florida 2-0 (1st)
2. Texas 2-0 (3rd)
3. USC 2-0 (5th)
4. Mississippi 1-0 (4th)
5. Alabama 2-0 (6th)
6. Oklahoma 1-1 (7th)
7. Cal 2-0 (9th)
8. BYU 2-0 (10th)
9. Penn State 2-0 (8th)
10. Michigan 2-0 (11th)
11. Virginia Tech 1-1 (12th)
12. LSU 2-0 (13th)
13. Boise State 2-0 (NR)
14. Ohio State 1-1 (14th)
15. Notre Dame 1-1 (NR)
Out: Oklahoma State (6th); Tennessee (15th).

Explanation: I had a more difficult time doing the power rankings this week than any time last season. It really seems like this could be another year of weekly shakeups. I really only feel good about a handful of teams. I’m running out of teams that I don’t think have major flaws. My top 5 stayed the same this week. #1 Florida and #2 Texas rolled after slow starts. #3 USC came from behind in the 4th quarter to pull out an 18-15 win over Ohio State on the road. That was damned impressive. Ole Miss was idle and Bama took care of business against FIU so I just kept those two at #4 and #5.

The first team this year to take a nose dive in my power rankings is Oklahoma State. I know I’m not alone in saying that I was totally caught off guard by this one. There are many reasons that I chose to drop Oklahoma State from 6th all the way out of my top 15.
The defense that we thought had improved enough to make Okie State legit got exposed badly on Saturday. But it goes way beyond that. You just can’t lose that sort of game the week after a statement-making win to open the season. It’s not that I think Houston is a bad team. And I understand that this was a close game that Ok State nearly won and in which a lot of breaks went against them. I realize that I might be looking at things differently if Oklahoma State had ended up on top in this one, which they easily could have. Having said all of that, their performance in this game screams “pretender.” They made a slew of mistakes in this game, including bad penalties, bad turnovers, missed kicks, fumbled snaps, and dropped passes. And I’m starting to really question the toughness of Dez Bryant, who seems to come out of the game each week for some sort of injury. I could go on and on about this one but the bottom line is that I had clearly overrated Oklahoma State coming into the year, and I overrated them again following their win over Georgia. Their lack of focus proved them to be frauds, thus I dropped them out of my rankings.

Oklahoma took their rivals’ spot at #6 in my rankings this week. I know they were playing Idaho State but they still won 64-0 without perhaps the best quarterback and tight end in the country. I moved them up a spot from 7th to 6th and I would not be all that surprised if they ran the table from here on out and got back to the National Championship Game. I moved Cal up 2 spots to 7th and dropped Penn State from 8th to 9th this week. Cal was impressive in their win over an FCS team, while Penn State won easily over Syracuse but really wasn’t all that dominant, putting up just 318 total yards. I moved BYU up from 10th to 8th after they crushed Tulane 54-3. I realize that Tulane is a weak opponent but BYU had every reason to lose focus this week after their win over Oklahoma. Michigan closes out my top 10 this week after their dramatic win over Notre Dame. I’m sure I’m one of the few people out there who only moved Michigan up 1 spot this week.

Virginia Tech demolished Marshall for their first win and I bumped them up from 12th to 11th. LSU took care of Vandy (albeit with some difficulty) and I bumped them up from 13th to 12th. At #13 this week I have a new team in my rankings: Boise State. Really this had more to do with me not liking anyone else than it did me particularly loving the Broncos. They threw a 58-0 shutout over Miami of Ohio on Saturday to move to 2-0. That doesn’t tell us much but one thing it says is that they are focused. They were also coming off a huge win to start the year but they did not come out flat on Saturday. I think they have some holes but I think they’d beat the overwhelming majority of teams out there.

The last 2 teams in my top 15 would have most folks scratching their heads. How could I leave Ohio State at #14 when they lost at home? Well, first of all, they lost to USC, who I have ranked #3 in the country. Secondly, they led most of the night and were very close to winning the game. Finally, I really couldn’t think of any teams not in my top 13 that I thought would beat them on a neutral field. My reasons for putting Notre Dame at #15 are similar. First of all, I don’t drop or raise teams in my rankings just because they won or lost a game. To me, a close loss to a good team is more impressive than a blowout win over a weak team. Second, I have Michigan ranked 10th in the country and this was a road game for Notre Dame. I actually expected them to lose by 7 to 10 points. They could have easily won this game and I was actually impressed by their performance.

Notre Dame of course took the place of Tennessee in my rankings this week. Even though they were only my #15 team, I’m still more embarrassed by their loss to UCLA at home than I am by my previous #6 team’s loss at home to Houston. They disgraced the SEC. I was totally off in my overreaction to their dominating win over Western Kentucky. To lose at home against what appears to be at best a decent UCLA team is just unacceptable. Clearly they still have a long way to go.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The NFL Blog: 2009 Week 1 Betting Lines

Even though we don’t have much to go on in the opening week, Week 1 seems like the easiest because so many things look black and white heading into the season. But by next week everything will be gray.

Thursday Night’s Game

Tennessee (+6) @ Pittsburgh
Pick: Steelers win but Titans beat the spread.
Comment: I like this one to start off the season. Should be a tough, hard hitting, defensive battle. I suppose Kerry Collins will have to get it done against the Steeler defense in order for the Titans to win and that probably won’t happen but I think it’ll be a close game. These teams are well matched, although the absence of Albert Haynesworth figures to be tough for Tennessee to make up for.

Sunday’s Early Games

Miami (+4) @ Atlanta
Pick: Falcons win but Dolphins beat the spread.
Comment: An interesting matchup of the two most surprising teams from a year ago. I’m curious to see how the Falcons will play in game 1 of year 2 of the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era. I’m equally curious to see what the atmosphere at the Georgia Dome is like for the season opener following one of the most successful seasons in team history.

Kansas City (+13) @ Baltimore
Pick: Ravens cover.
Comment: I can’t imagine the Chiefs being anything but horrible and it looks like they won’t even have Matt Cassel for this one. The Ravens should have one of the top defenses in the NFL again this year. The Ravens are 36-16-2 ATS as home favorites this decade.

Philadelphia (-1) @ Carolina
Pick: Eagles cover.
Comment: This spread seems to be a reflection of the mistrust that fans have in general for the Philadelphia Eagles, who have a knack for looking both Super Bowl bound and headed for rebuilding at different times during the same season. The Eagles ought to win this game for sure. They’re usually one of the better road teams in the NFL.

Denver (+4) @ Cincinnati
Pick: Bengals win but Broncos beat the spread.
Comment: Now we will begin to see whether the next phase in the Josh McDaniel era in Denver is as much of a wreck as the first phase. The Bengals aren’t all that much better but they should have Carson Palmer back under center. The Broncos, meanwhile, will have Kyle Orton under center.

Minnesota (-4) @ Cleveland
Pick: Vikings cover.
Comment: A strange opening matchup. Mysterious but obvious starting quarterback appointees abound in this game. Favre vs. the Manidiot. Quinn (Now I’m Done) vs. Favre (Now I’m Done too…or wait, no I’m not…yeah, I am…no I’ll play but not until after training camp). The second edition of post-Packer Favre playing in front of the second edition of the Dawg Pound. Weirdness, my friends.

New York Jets (+4.5) @ Houston
Pick: Texans cover.
Comment: Man, I would love to see Buddy Ryan’s kid get his bottom spanked in week 1. The Texans are expected to take that next step forward this year. They’ve been great at home the last two years, going 12-4 at Reliant Stadium, with losses only to the Colts (X2), Ravens, and Titans. The Jets will have a QB with almost zero experience. The Texans should roll as long as they can keep Matt Schaub in the game.

Jacksonville (+7) @ Indianapolis
Pick: Colts win but Jags beat the spread.
Comment: This seems like a big spread for a Colts team with coaching changes across the board. Last season the Colts lost their first two home games at brand new Lucas Oil Stadium—including a week 3 loss to the Jags—before finishing the year winning their last 6 at home. But they were just 2-5 ATS as a home favorite last season and the Jags have got to be better this year.

Detroit (+13) @ New Orleans
Pick: Saints cover.
Comment: I don’t know what Detroit’s plan at QB is going to be but the Saints should be able to put up big numbers against the Lions defense. A loss would be 18 straight for Detroit. Stunningly, the Lions were just 1-7 ATS as home underdogs last season.

Dallas (-6) @ Tampa Bay
Pick: Cowboys cover.
Comment: I don’t know what to expect from the Bucs because they have gone through so many changes since last season. The Boys absolutely must get off to a good start this year, just as they have the last 2 seasons, starting off 5-0 in 07, and 3-0 last year.

Sunday’s Late Games

San Francisco (+6.5) @ Arizona
Pick: Cards win but Niners beat the spread.
Comment: If things hold true to form, the Cardinals will struggle in the year following a loss in the Super Bowl. The Cards are 14-4 at home over the last 2 years (including the playoffs); the Niners are 23-49 on the road this decade.

Washington (+6.5) @ New York Giants
Pick: Giants win but Skins beat the spread.
Comment: This spread seems a bit big. What difference will Haynesworth make against New York’s ground game? Will the Redskins be able to move the ball offensively? This should be a good one. I think the Skins will definitely keep it within 6 or less and could win it.

St. Louis (+9) @ Seattle
Pick: Seahawks win but Rams beat the spread.
Comment: I know Seattle is a tough place to play and I realize that Hasselbeck is healthy, but Vegas must think the Rams seriously suck. The Lams are 3-13 on the road over the last 2 years, while the Seahawks have won 8 straight over St. Louis.

Sunday Night’s Game

Chicago (+3.5) @ Green Bay
Pick: Packers win but Bears beat the spread.
Comment: A very intriguing matchup for the first Sunday night of the 2009 season. The Packers really need to regain their homefield edge if they want to compete for the division title. We’ll find out if Jay Cutler is more winner or whiner.

Monday Night’s Games

Buffalo (+10.5) @ New England
Pick: Patriots cover.
Comment: Lots of defensive changes but it shouldn’t matter against the Bills, who the Pats have won 11 straight against. I don’t see T.O. being much of a factor. Hopefully he’ll get upset and start storming around having a tantrum. Brady and Moss and co. should have a big day.

San Diego (-9) @ Oakland
Pick: Chargers cover.
Comment: Is it just me or is this the safest bet of week 1? I would take SD -21. The Chargers have won 11 in a row over the Raiders and covered in 10 of 11.