This is a really, really good weekend for watching football, both in and out of the league. Cal - UCLA will be an interesting tilt, the other two in-league games could be fun, and USC - Notre Dame might well stay close to the end. And with other good games all around the country, this is definitely a Saturday to stay inside with your eyes glued to the TV set.
Cal (-1) @ UCLA
(preseason pick: UCLA)
This is an extremely important game for both teams, each of whom is attempting to recover some momentum in time to make a run at the league title. Cal comes in one week removed from a #2 ranking and a home loss to Oregon State, while UCLA has had a bye week to seethe over their awful performance against lowly Notre Dame.
At first glance, it might seem that Cal has an edge. They have a tremendous amount of talent on offense, led by receiver DeSean Jackson and the rest of their fantastic receiving corps. And UCLA has been incredibly up and down, with Ben Olson out, Patrick Cowan hurting, and the other guy flat-out terrible in their last game against the Irish. Cal took a huge step forward a few weeks ago when they came up with a huge win at Autzen. They are certainly capable of coming up with another big win here.
On the Other Hand:
There are a lot of other factors favoring the Bruins. First of all, UCLA has an excellent defense, which is a huge edge facing an extremely inexperienced quarterback making his first ever road start. And while the Bruins haven't been awesome on offense, Cal's D has only been good in spurts and is clearly capable of giving up a lot of yards and points.
Moreover, there's a lot of history that favors UCLA, both in general and in this matchup, where the home team just about always wins. The Bruins are almost always solid at home, and Cal has generally struggled on the road, which could again be a problem here. Throw in a bye week for UCLA to stew over their loss and better prepare their backup, and they ought to come out and play a lot better than they did against the Irish.
This is a game that could go down to the wire, or either team could win going away. That said, UCLA seems more capable of bouncing back quickly, since they'll have a healthy quarterback with experience and Cal won't. The Bears will make some big plays to keep them in it for a while, but UCLA will pull away late.
@ UCLA 31, Cal 27
Oregon (-13) @ Washington
(preseason pick: UO)
This could be an interesting game. While the Ducks have been fantastic and the Huskies have struggled of late, this is a rivalry game and a big chance for U-Dub to turn it all around. With a great young quarterback in Jake Locker and a decent defense, the Huskies might actually have a chance at this thing. Moreover, this is a rivalry game that the Huskies really, really need to have if they want to make a run at a bowl bid, which means that Oregon is going to get their absolute best shot.
On the Other Hand:
Oregon just has so many weapons, it's hard to see how they can be contained. They have a great QB in Dixon, a great running back in Stewart, a great receiving corps, and a solid O-line. Throw in a decent defense, and it's really, really hard to beat this team.
Ty Willingham will have his troops fired up and will give Oregon a scare for a while, and keep it within reach at halftime, but the Ducks will take over the second half and win with relative ease.
Oregon 38, @ Washington 21
Stanford @ Arizona (-13.5)
(preseason pick: Ariz)
So, which team is going to show up for this game? Stanford obviously had that good performance against USC, and did great against San Jose State, but have generally struggled, putting together competitive first halves but consistently falling apart late. And U of A has been a solid second half team, sometimes falling behind early but generally doing a decent job late.
Moreover, the Wildcats have a talented (though inconsistent) quarterback in Tuitama, a talented (though underachieving) defense, and a running game that has at least occassionally shown some life. Against a Stanford defense that seems to make everyone they play look good, this could be a game where Arizona explodes.
And one thing that Mike Stoops has been good at during his tenure if the big job-saving run. If that's going to happen this year, it's going to have to start here and now.
On the Other Hand:
Is it really possible to trust Arizona to even show up? They were lousy at BYU, poor against New Mexico, poor against NAU, lousy against Oregon State, and mediocre against Cal. Their only good games were the blowout of Wazzu and a close loss at USC. Two out of seven is a pretty poor ratio, which means that this really is anyone's game, especially against a Stanford team that has shown the ability to win big against bad teams (SJ State) and be very competitive against mediocre teams (1-1 against struggling USC and TCU).
Also, the psychology probably favors Stanford. Arizona has already killed their season, which means that it's going to be tough to get motivated when they know that they have no realistic shot at the postseason, while Stanford is in a desperate situation, which means they need to get on a big run, but still do have a shot given that they have two losses to give and only one really tough team (Cal) left.
This is anyone's game, which means that a two touchdown line and a moneyline of +420 / -500 (bet $1.00 to win $4.20 for Stanford, bet $5.00 to win $1.00 for Arizona) is flat-out silly. Still, Arizona has a bit more talent and is at home, which means that the coin is just a bit more likely to come down on their side.
@ Arizona 28, Stanford 24
USC (-17) @ Notre Dame
Wow, it's amazing how quickly a "big" game can become a total afterthough. USC comes in with a bunch of talent looking to turn things around, while Notre Dame is simpmly trying to salvage anything they can get before things become a total disaster. Personnell-wise, the Trojans have a big edge, but until they actually put together a good game with the current roster, it's impossible to justify laying these kinds of points to a Notre Dame team that is steadily improving.
USC 31, @ Notre Dame 21
National Games of the Week:
Texas Tech @ Missouri (-3.5)
This ought to be a really entertaining game between two very explosive teams. Tech could come out ahead, but Mizzou seems like the better team, plus they're at home.
@ Missouri 38, Texas Tech 31
Auburn @ LSU (-10)
LSU looks to bounce back in the game that looks like it will decide the SEC West. At home, they won't be beat, but Auburn will make this game really close for yet another year.
@ LSU 17, Auburn 14
Florida (-6.5) @ Kentucky
This line just seems too high. Florida is struggling, and Kentucky is playing great. Until the Gators show they can consistently play well on the road, it's tough not to take the Cats.
@ Kentucky 24, Florida 21
Virginia @ Maryland (-4)
Even with a bunch of other really good games on tap, don't be surprised if this turns out to be the best of the bunch. The Terps have a slight edge at home, but UVA is good enough to make sure that this will go right down to the wire.
@ Maryland 28, Virginia 27
Miss St +25.5
The Mountaineers are a very good team, but Miss St isn't bad. This one might actually be a decent game.
San Jose St +13.5
Fresno hasn't covered this line yet this year, and the Spartans seem to be improving (though part of that is the schedule getting less brutal).
It seems that absolutely no one has any faith in Kansas, despite the fast start, the undefeated record, and the generally high level of play they've shown. The Buffs did have that big win over Oklahoma, but other than that there just hasn't been much evidence that they're good. Even a touchdown would seem a bit small for a line.
Air Force -2.5
I'm riding this train until they lose ATS or Vegas gets around to adjusting their lines.
The Rebels have been finding ways to win, and the Rams ways to lose. At home, that means that UNLV is an easy pick.
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