USC (-4) @ Cal
Preseason Pick: Cal
Once upon a time (better known as two weeks ago), this was one of the marquee games of the early season. Now, after USC got stunned at Washington and Cal got humiliated at Oregon, this game has a far different meaning. Now, this isn’t just a Pac-10 elimination game, this is very probably a BCS at-large elimination game as well. Quite frankly, even the winner of this game is unlikely to run the table with so many Pac-10 teams playing well enough to have a shot, much less the loser. And 9-3 simply won’t cut it. In big-time, must-win games, it’s hard to go against USC. They’ve used to the spotlight, and they’re used to winning in the spotlight. From 2002 onwards, the only spotlight games USC has lost have been at Wazzu in 2002, against Texas in the 2005 title game, and at Oregon in 2007. That’s an incredible record over seven years of tough opponents who wanted to bring it to the Trojans.
Cal, on the other hand, has a far worse track record at this sort of thing. They’ve done an OK job of hanging with the Trojans, but have had nothing to show for it after a stunning upset in early 2003. In a big-time, “prove it” game at Tennessee a few years ago, they gagged. Last year against a surging Oregon St team, it wasn’t even close. And after the atrocious showing last week in Eugene, you really have to wonder if this team has what it takes mentally to rebound.
On the Other Hand:
This clearly isn’t the same USC team as we’re used to seeing. They look just as vulnerable as they were in 2007, when they nearly lost to Washington, got stunned by Stanford, then nearly lost to Arizona, and actually did lose that big road game at Oregon. The offense is sputtering, the defense isn’t quite good enough to put the clamps on other offenses, and there doesn’t seem to be the typical ability to come up with the scary huge plays, aside from the game-winning drive at Ohio St. Meanwhile, Cal still is an extremely talented team, still has a very good defense, still has Jahvid Best, and still consistently plays far, far better at home, which is where this game will be.
Cal’s complete meltdown at Oregon really makes me hesitate to pick them, even at home against a vulnerable USC team. However, as long as they don’t go into the death spiral, they seem like they may actually be the better team, and they’re at home.
@ Cal 27, USC 21
UCLA @ Stanford (-5)
Preseason Pick: UCLA
The undercard to the USC-Cal game will be a very important game as well, featuring two teams that are looking like they can exceed expectations and make some noise in the league. Whoever wins this game will be at four wins and a virtual lock for a bowl game, as well as a serious contender for top two in a league that has a bunch of good teams but no one who has stepped up their game and taken control.
At home, Stanford seems to be a decent pick. They have a great running back in Toby Gerhart, their passing game continues to improve, their run defense is fine, and their special teams have been fantastic. Their one weakness, pass defense, may not be such a big deal, given how shaky Kevin Craft is as a quarterback. They’ll probably give up yards but they’ll probably also get a couple of important picks.
On the Other Hand:
UCLA has been playing great defense of late, and while Stanford may have the best offense they’ve seen so far this year, they should still have real success. Moreover, while Kevin Craft is shaky, there are times when he looks really good as well. If this is a good week instead of a bad week for him, the Bruins are very capable of winning this game.
Barring Kevin Craft having his best game of the year, UCLA shouldn’t win this game. They’re still not a great road team (though they are improving), they don’t have as many weapons on offense, and they don’t have as good special teams. They have a shot, but Stanford is probably the slightly better team, and at home should win and cover.
@ Stanford 24, UCLA 17
Oregon St @ Arizona St (-5)
Preseason Pick: ASU
Arizona St sure looks like the easy pick here. They’re playing better football, seem to have a very solid defense, and have a strong home field edge, especially early in the year. Oregon St always struggles in early season road games, always struggles at ASU, and really isn’t playing well.
On the Other Hand:
At some point, Oregon St is going to break out and play better football. At some point, the defense will start to play like a Beaver defense, and when it finally does, the offense is more than good enough to carry the team. It’s possible that this will be the game when it starts to come together.
This is a vulnerable Oregon St team on the road in Tempe in September against an ASU team that is starting to look good. That’s not a recipe for an upset.
@ Arizona St 38, Oregon St 24
Washington St @ Oregon (-34.5)
Preseason Pick: Oregon
The Cougars look like they’re starting to play halfway decent football, and the Ducks are due for a bit of a letdown (especially with a big game at UCLA coming up next week), which means that this line looks really high. To me, even the starting line (around 32) was too high, but it’s even moved up from that, so someone really likes the Ducks here. However, I simply don’t see it. Barring an injury I don’t know about, this feels like a massive over-reaction to last week’s win, combined with an automatic assumption that the Cougars are awful, and right now that assumption looks like it could very well be wrong.
@ Oregon 38, Washington St 13
Washington (+12.5) @ Notre Dame
At first glance, this line seems a bit high. Notre Dame has really been struggling lately, losing at Michigan then barely hanging on against mediocre (or worse) Michigan St and Purdue teams. The Huskies may have taken a beating last week at Stanford, but they still hung with LSU in week one, easily handled Idaho in week 2 (that’s better than you think), and knocked off USC in week 3. That’s a solid resume for a team that’s about a two touchdown underdog, especially against a team still trying to find its way after losing its best receiver in Michael Floyd and still trying to figure things on defense, where they’ve given up bunches of yards and points each of the last three weeks.
On the Other Hand:
Anyone remember Notre Dame’s week one rout of Nevada? Well, Washington is basically a rich man’s Nevada, with a better quarterback, more talent on offense, and a better front seven. But Locker still isn’t awesome at passing (mobility is still his big strength), the receiver corps isn’t a big strength, and the pass defense still sucks. Against an Irish team that passes the ball a lot and is probably most vulnerable in the secondary, the Huskies look like they’re going to have matchup problems.
Notre Dame is definitely vulnerable right now, and if the matchups were better, I’d think the Huskies had a serious shot at the upset. As it is, I don’t see it. In fact, a Notre Dame blowout is just as possible as an upset, though either one would surprise me.
@ Notre Dame 37, Washington 24
National Games of the Week:
Oklahoma (-7.5) @ Miami
This is a big game between two legitimately good football teams that both have a lot to play for: Oklahoma needs to run the table to have any chance to get back into the national title discussion, while Miami needs to get rid of the bad taste in their mouths from last week’s loss at Virginia Tech and to reclaim some small shred of dignity for the ACC after what has been a near-constant disaster of a season. Unfortunately for the Canes, Oklahoma is the better team, and will prove it here.
Oklahoma 28, @ Miami 23
LSU @ Georgia (-3.5)
Georgia comes into this game after a nasty opening stretch of OK St, South Carolina, Arkansas, and ASU, and has an important road game at Tennesssee afterwards. LSU comes in after nearly getting upset by lowly Miss St, and has a huge home game against Florida right afterwards. I lean a bit towards LSU, but it’s more a gut feeling than anything else.
LSU 28, @ Georgia 24
Utah St +24 @ BYU
Utah St will be the more fired up team, and I’m not sold that they’re much (if any) worse than Colorado St, who BYU couldn’t cover this type of line against.
Clemson -13.5 @ Maryland
This is the sort of line that says that the Terps might be due. However, they’ve shown absolutely nothing yet to think they can even hang in this game, much less win, and Clemson will be fired up for payback after last year’s upset.
Auburn +2.5 @ Tennessee
The Vols have so far shown nothing to convince me they’re capable of beating a good team, whether home, away, or on Mars, and right now Auburn looks like a good team.
Texas A&M +1.5 vs Arkansas (in Dallas)
Surprisingly, A&M has been playing reasonably well, while the Hogs have looked very vulnerable. The Aggies haven’t really been tested, but Arkansas has been tested far too often, may not have much left in the tank for this one, and looked completely awful last week when they left home for the first time this year.
Virginia +13 @ UNC
The Tar Heels just don’t look like they have the ability to execute on offense well enough to blow anyone out, and the Cavs have started to improve a bit, and got a bye week to stew over their bad 0-3 start and get ready to spring a trap on the Heels.
Minnesota -2.5 vs Wisconsin
The Badgers squeaked by NIU, really squeaked by Fresno (thanks Big Ten refs!), and didn’t exactly blow out 1-3 Michigan St. And they haven’t yet been on the road. Meanwhile Minny is 3-1 with only a loss to a talented Cal team, and road wins over both the Cuse and Northwestern, plus a home win against an Air Force team that’s better than you think. Also, Fiu likes the Badgers , and you all know what that means.
Pac-10: 24-8 SU, 12-14-2 ATS
National: 4-9 SU, 4-9 ATS
Bad Picks: 11-3
I was skimming SI the other day, and I came across a post by one of their writers (link here), and felt like I had to respond to it. First of all, his point about the coaches’ poll is correct, although I personally think that one loss, beat nobody Penn St over undefeated Iowa (who also beat Arizona), as well as Oklahoma St over Houston are far more egregious than Cal over Oregon, given how badly the Ducks played in two of their four games. But I digress. The first point of his poll is that the coaches’ poll basically has zero credibility, given the wacky voting patterns and total lack of disclosure, much less accountability; there’s little question that it’s a disgrace that a poll which is quite obviously not taken seriously by its participants is a part of the national title decision. I’ve written about that sort of thing before as well, but it’s always good to see other people paying attention and taking them to task. So far, so good.
However, the second point he raises is that the coaches should be replaced by the oddsmakers. This argument comes from an important writer on one of the major college football news websites, not an aside post from a commenter or some random dude plugging away on a blog somewhere. And I know I’ve read that sort of argument posted before on major news sites, though I can’t find the links off the top of my head. And you know what? It is disgusting. You read that right. DISGUSTING.
It’s one thing to be okay with the existence of sports gambling (I personally think that we’re all adults, and we should be free to indulge in vice if we so choose, but that’s an argument for another day), but it’s horrible to actually think that it’s a good idea to give the sportsbooks authority in the championship race. People think they’re objective, and indeed they are. Their objective is to make as much money as the possibly can, and that’s how they set their rankings, and that’s how they’d keep on setting the numbers.
Why is this a problem? Easy. Let’s say you’ve got a big group of rich USC fans (I use that as an example because it’s the biggest program that’s reasonably close to Vegas, and there’s already a reputation of a lot of USC money being in Vegas already), and those fans want to boost USC’s national ranking. All they have to do is bet big on the Trojans every week, and the ranking will go up. If the books know that they’ll get the majority of the money on USC when they play, say, Notre Dame, then they’ll set the line as high as they possibly can. How high? 20, 30, or maybe even 40 points if they think the net betting will be on USC. And they’ll set the rankings accordingly.
See where this is going? All you have to do is have a bunch of rich guys put a lot of money on your team consistently and you can simply buy your way to a high ranking. If you think the coaches are bad (and they are), then wait until you see the boosters buying rankings. If you think that’s crazy, just remember how many really rich guys are really big fans. T Boone Pickens threw over a hundred million at Oklahoma St, and that’s just one guy. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to get a return on buying a ranking than it is from buying a stadium, where it takes years to complete, and may or may not take your program to the next level.
Sure, some boosters wouldn’t sink to that level, perhaps even most. But some would. And then more would. And then pretty much everyone would be doing it. And the corruption of college football would be complete. That’s the inevitable consequence of giving the bookies ranking power. And it’s obvious.
And that’s why I have such a problem with this sort of piece. The writer is advancing an idea that is obviously both really stupid and wildly destructive. Yes, I’m sure he just didn’t bother thinking about the issue for more than 5 seconds, but isn’t that his job? Isn’t is the job of writers to actually think about what they’re writing before they write stupid stuff?
I’m picking on this guy, but it’s far more than just him. Many, perhaps even most writers churn out crap like this without any accountability for what they’re doing, and that (plus the even worse people on TV, especially when it comes to political news) is a huge part of why people don’t trust the media. If the media wants to be trusted, then they have to prove that they deserve that trust, and that means they need to be accountable for the stuff they say and the stuff they write. Or we can keep going down the path where nobody believes the media (not just sports, but all media), and one of the most trusted news guys around is a host of a parody news show. There aren’t extra choices; it’s one or the other. And unless people do make the conscious choice to bring back accountability and credibility, the choice will be made for all of us.
Mr Pac-10's 2009 Blog
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