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SOLON'S PICKS, WEEK TWO: HOW TO PUNT IT BEHIND YOUR OWN ASS

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I have an uncle, a bit of a know-it-all type, who once when Solon was younger, decided he would show me and my friends how to punt a football. Problem was, when he would do it, his form was such that he actually would kick the ball slightly behind him. After a couple of attempts where this occurred, my friend Gene suggested to my uncle that he catch the snap, turn his ass toward the line of scrimmage, and punt while facing in that direction. This pissed off my uncle, who then left, which was what we all wanted anyway; Gene was hailed as a hero.

My attempt to play the hero is to tell readers that on the first week's evidence it seems they should do something similar with my picks. If you had played the opposite of my selections last week, you'd have gone a healthy 7-4.

Our resident punter hopes to recover from some nasty blocks in week one.

The expletives were flying throughout peaceful Mill Valley all day Saturday. I'll bet my new neighbors are plenty excited--and that's a bet I'd actually win.

So, a mixed bag, but there's no reason to dwell on past mistakes when there are a bunch of winners out there. Here are this week's picks:

Kansas State (-9.5) v. MARSHALL
Bottom line--K State is a bad team. Their 35-21 win last week over a horrible Fla Intl team is probably indicative of their actual ability--if they can cobble together anything better than a 6-5 record this season, it will be a miracle. But their opponent, Marshall--this team is going to take some serious lumps this year. In week one, Marshall was trailing William and Mary last week 24-23 late in the 3rd quarter, and driving deep into Marshall territory, when a fumble was returned for a TD, giving Marshall the impetus they needed for a 36-24 victory. They gave up 362 yards to a team with a QB making his first career start. K State's D was actually pretty impressive last week--they only gave up 236 yards, and Fla Intl's TDs came on 16 and 15 yard drives following TOs, and off a blocked punt. Keep in mind that Marshall beat K State a few seasons ago--the year they won the Big 12, amazingly--and if they have a chance to stick it to Marshall this time around, they will. And, they will.

Clemson (+1) v. MARYLAND
Both of these teams were fortunate to win last week. Of course, Clemson was playing a trendy pick for the Big 12 title, whereas Maryland was playing a service academy returning only 6 starters. Maryland, which scored the go-ahead TD with a minute to play, was even more fortunate than it might appear at first blush--Navy's QB Owens injured his hand in the middle of the 3Q with Navy ahead 14-6 and his team on the Maryland side of midfield. By the time he returned with 9 minutes left in the game, Navy was behind 15-14. The chances are good that his presence for the entire game could have pushed Navy to victory. Clemson has some problems, but I am inclined to believe that Texas A&M is a pretty good team and this win will look good when the season ends. If the first game is any indication, I think Clemson's D might be no worse than it was last season, and their O should be considerably better. For 4 of the 6 Clemson FG, their O had driven inside the 10-yard line. As long as they can improve their red-zone efficiency, they should come out on top here.

AUBURN (-16) v. Mississippi State
For all Auburn's problems against GT, the biggest was QB Cox's 5 turnovers against a very solid GT D. For what it is worth, other than his 4 INTs Cox did fairly well. He is facing a much weaker D this week and should improve on his performance. Additionally, Auburn's running game, non-existent last week, should emerge and take some of the pressure of Cox; MSU gave up 4.5 ypc LY, and GT gave up 3.1. Auburn's D seems to be the strength of their team, and they should shut down the MSU O at least as well as they did LY--and as bad as the 43-14 score was LY, Auburn actually led 43-0 lead before MSU scored 2 TD in the final 2 minutes of the game. How did MSU do on the road LY? They lost by 51 to LSU, 18 to Vandy, 16 to Alabama, and 17 to Ole Miss, scoring 30 points total in the 4 games. Playing a pissed off Auburn team with a solid D that is better than three of those teams is not the best thing for MSU at this point. Even Tommy T can't avoid winning big in this spot.

ILLINOIS (-14.5) v. San Jose State
SJSU probably had the worst D in Division 1-A LY, giving up 44 ppg and 456 ypg against 1-A opponents. The hire of HC Tomey will help this team's D immensely, but not this soon. Last week against Eastern Washington, they gave up an average of 9.79 ypa against the EWU starter at QB. Illinois QB Brasic was shaky early against Rutgers, but recovered to lead a 4Q comeback and he should be able to take advantage of this D with his excellent set of WR. SJSU simply does not have enough quality to make this game competitive; LY they lost to Stanford by 40 and to Pac-10 doormat UW by 15. I do expect SJSU to score points here, but I do not think they will keep up with the Illinois O. My only concern with this game is the emotional state of the Illini, given the combination of an emotional win for Illinois last week, and a big game for them at Cal next week.

Northern Illinois (+3) v. NORTHWESTERN
NW did look good last week, but I think Ohio is a team in transition and the win is not as good as it appears at first glance. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, looks better than the 33-17 final score against Michigan, even though they benefited from a late TD to make the score closer; 5 turnovers did them in, and it detracted from a performance where they amassed 411 yards against a D much better than the one they are facing this week. RB Wolfe is the real deal and he will find the going easier against a NW D that had some trouble last year against teams with good RBs (Minn, Wisc, and Mich all rushed for over 200 yds against them). NW has a good O, but seems to have trouble scoring points, having only scored more than 30 LY against TCU and Hawaii (not including OT). The Northern Illinois D is better than those and I expect their output on O to be reduced here.

Iowa (-8.5) v. IOWA STATE
I was not sold on Iowa before the season, but if week one is any indication they will do the job. Certainly Ball State was rubbish, and the suspensions did not help their case at all, but Iowa seemed to show a lot of chemistry on O that they lacked LY. The closeness of LY's game was largely due to Iowa's inability to run the ball, but they seem to have sorted that problem out if last week is any indication. Last week against Illinois State, ISU's D played well, but was burned by two long TD passes. Against Iowa QB Tate and his stud WR Solomon, that is a recipe for disaster. This game has given Iowa a lot of trouble the past couple years (a 7-point win LY, and a home loss in 2002, when they went on to be Big 10 co-champs), but I think ISU is overmatched this year.

North Carolina (+12) v. GEORGIA TECH
A good win for GT last week; lost in the shuffle was that winning the TO battle is what won the game for them, as statistically they were outgained 392-313. GT's O is not strong; other than handing the ball to RB Daniels and throwing balls to WR Johnson they do not seem to have much else. Simply put, this line is too big for such a non-prolific O. LY, GT averaged 18 ppg in ACC play. They only return 2 starters to the OL and against a UNC D returning 9 starters (although admittedly poor LY), they should struggle to score points. For all of UNC's faults the last couple of seasons, their O has gotten the job done, averaging 26 ppg in ACC play the last 2 seasons. This year, UNC has to replace several players on O, but I think new QB Baker may be as good as GT QB Ball, and RBs McGill and Edwards are talents. UNC's OL should be strong this season and be able to hold off the GT D well enough to score points and keep this game close enough for the win here.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (-3) v. North Texas
North Texas has had a remarkable run atop the Sun Belt. Unfortunately for them, this year it will likely come to an end. They only return 9 starters and must break in a new QB. Both Thomas and Hobbs are good RBs but the OL only returns 2 starters and teams will stack the line and not have to worry about a 4-year starter at QB keeping them honest. The NT D will be considerably weaker this season as they now lose their entire DL. MTSU returns 18 starters, and QB Marks is now in his second year as a starter. He had a serviceable game against 'Bama last week but should have considerably more time to throw this week and it should be reflected in his production. The MTSU D, which returns 10 starters, held down 'Bama last week and only gave up 345 yards and 3.6 ypr. Since Sun Belt play has started, MTSU has never beaten NT but has also never lost big. I expect them to turn the tables this season.

Alabama-Birmingham (-9) v. TROY
This game is much like the K State-Marshall game, except that UAB is actually good. Troy is devastated by graduation losses and will have a long year. Much like NT, they are losing their entire DL--but unlike NT, their success LY was predicated upon their D, which gave up 17 ppg and managed 40 sacks. These numbers will be considerably worse this season. UAB could not run last week but they will find more room to operate here and QB Hackney should have plenty of time to find receivers. Last week, Troy gave up 5 sacks and managed 65 yards rushing against Cal-Poly in a 27-10 win. The UAB D should have a field day against a Troy OL that only returns 1 starter and a new QB considerably less mobile than last season's QB McDowell.

Other games of note:
Notre Dame (+7) v. MICHIGAN
I am not sure what to make of this game. For whatever reason, Gameplan didn't show the Michigan-Northern Illinois game at my house. So, reading up on the game, I'm sort of left with the impression that Michigan was rubbish, although I can't say I saw it myself. ND, by all accounts, was magnificent; how much of this was Weis and how much of this was Wannstedt is debatable. For my money, I thought Michigan was overrated all of last season (a product of the ND and SDSU games), and then they surprised me with a strong performance in the Rose Bowl. Generally, freshman QBs will regress a little in their sophomore seasons, so I think Michigan's rating is a little inflated because I do not expect Henne to reproduce his numbers from last season. Additionally, historically (by which I mean recent history), Michigan tends to underperform against ND. So, I think I'll lean toward ND in this game, because I'm sure in the end I'll appreciate having the 7 points.

OHIO STATE (-1) v. Texas
First things first--I don't buy Texas' O. They don't have Benson anymore, and while Young can run, I don't really think he can throw. And, I doubt he'll run on OSU's D. I don't really buy the OSU O either, but after what they did last week against a much-improved Miami (Ohio) team, I'm going to guess that they'll do something, and the combination of (1) a road game in a bitch of a place to play and (2) the immediate prospect of massive success for Texas this season (given OU and A&M's apparent weaknesses), will result in Texas' bottling their big chance again, this time in Columbus instead of Dallas. Lean toward Ohio State.

ARIZONA STATE (+1) v. Louisiana State
I lean toward Arizona State here, now, simply because teams do not go into the desert at night and win. 1996 Nebraska and 1997 Washington State are 2 notable recent examples of great teams who had otherwise undefeated regular seasons except for a night game in Tempe; Iowa LY found out what it is like to play there at night as well. I think, at a neutral site, with no Katrina distractions, LSU is probably the 3rd best team in the nation (USC, Texas), but when you add the fragile emotional state (note that LSU's roster is overwhelmingly from the state of Louisiana) with such a hostile environment, I think it may be a bridge too far for this lot.

I think there is some precedent for teams having success in situations like these, with Miami winning several games after their region was hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the situations are hardly equivalents. In any event, Miami did not have to travel across the country to play a tough non-conference opponent in its opening game with the situation still fluid.

So there it is. Bet on the opposite sides, and you'll be all set.