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SOLON'S PICKS, WEEK FOUR: GRAD SCHOOL SLACKER

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At 15-16, our resident punter/salaryman/gambling addict Solon faces a critical week in his gambling life. The best always overcome adversity, Solon, and we believe in your ability to make diamonds from the cowflop of games like FAU/Lousiana-Monroe. He tells you all about it in his picks for the week, as well as regaling us about his glory days as a wagering-mad grad school slacker below.---Orson

As it happens, my most successful years gambling on college football were the years during which I was not working 9-to-5, devoting 40 hours a week to some shit job that I hated. Instead, my most successful seasons were those where I either (1) worked as a substitute teacher, where I just let the fuckers run amok as long as they didn't make too much noise, while I pored over statistics from the previous games, or (2) when I was in Graduate School, where the football came first and the ancient Greek and/or my students got the short end of the stick (fortunately, I was able to compensate somewhat by regaling students with stories about drinking or stories about tough gambling losses at the beginning of class on Mondays, so at least they were still learning something).

So, as I sit here, looking at my pathetic 15-16 record for the first three weeks of the season, part of me wonders if I'll have to lose my job before I can pick some winners. Then, another part of me realizes that I had some tough beats last weekend, and with a little more luck (Georgia making a short FG, BC's QB not getting hurt, and Temple not scoring a TD with 4 minutes left), I'd be sitting at 18-13 right now, with a healthy (if not spectacular) 58% winning percentage. So I'll give it a few more weeks before I quit the law firm and check in for that job with the Marin County School District. If I do indeed make that move, I figure the tremendous hit in salary that I'll take will be overcome by my increased income due to higher winning percentage, so I should be covered (so to speak) there.

Here are this week's picks:

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (-7) v. Louisiana Monroe
At this point in the season with the small schools, you have to dig a little deeper than usual.

Both of these schools are 0-3, and, with the exception of a game for La-Monroe against Div. 1-AA Northwestern State, neither has come close to winning. That said, La-Monroe lost that game to NW State, and was annihilated by Wyoming 38-0, and by Georgia 44-7 in what is universally regarded to have been a horrible performance by the Dawgs. Fla Atl, on the other hand, played Kansas tough, played Oklahoma State much tougher than the 23-3 final score indicates (only being outgained 292-220; OSU's 2 TD drives were after fumbles, for 5 and 21 yards), before being smashed by a Minnesota squad that tends to do that to overmatched opponents. Fla Atl QB Embick is decent and should be able to score some points here, and that should be enough against an O that has only scored 3 TDs on O for the season, and only 1 TD altogether in the last 10 quarters.

Georgia Tech (+11) v. VIRGINIA TECH
Ever since a humiliating loss to Temple several years ago, VT has made a habit of beating the shit out of lesser teams and impressing people in the process. In the last 5+ seasons, VT has been a 20+ point favorite on 22 occasions, and are 13-9 against the spread in these contests, including the last two contests. Lost in all of the hype over VT lately is that they were badly outplayed by the one good team they have played this season, NC State, where they were outgained 438-232. QB Vick has looked good, but that is not too difficult against the likes of Duke and Ohio. GT has played three pretty solid opponents so far, and their win at Auburn was every bit as impressive as VT's win at NC State. VT's O is pretty average (365 ypg last year, 356 ypg this year) and will struggle to score points against a solid GT D. The key issue, of course, is the health of GT QB Ball, who at this point is listed as questionable. In the normal flow of the game, VT and GT will have close to equal production; VT's advantage, if any, will come from TOs and special teams. Thus, GT needs an experienced QB who will avoid mistakes. This has not been Ball's forte thus far in his career, but he has looked better this year and I think he will get the job done if he plays.

Purdue (+4) v. MINNESOTA
Minnesota has done what it does, scheduled a rubbish non-conference schedule and kicked the shit out of it. Updating what I mentioned in a previous column, Minnesota is 10-2 ATS the last 4 seasons in preseason non-conference games (all against non-BCS opponents). Minnesota has then gone on to go 9-15 ATS in Big 10 play during this period because they are overvalued. Once again, they are overvalued here. Purdue's win at Arizona was not unimpressive; Arizona is much improved this season and it is never easy to go into the Arizona desert at night and come out with a win. Minnesota is running the ball with aplomb, but they always are at this point in the season, and Purdue's D will provide a stiffer test. If Minnesota's running game can be stifled their production drops significantly; LY, when they were held to less than 4.8 ypc, they averaged 18 ppg; they averaged 37 ppg otherwise. I think the Purdue Run D will slow down Minnesota enough to keep their production down. Purdue's D is exploitable through the air, but Minnesota tends not to pass well unless their running game is working; in the games where they averaged under 4.8 ypc LY, they also only averaged 6.60 ypa, as opposed to 9.13 ypa otherwise. On the other side of the ball, Purdue should be able to put up enough points against an average Minnesota D to get the outright win here.

CLEMSON (-3) v. Boston College
These teams are rough equivalents. They had good starts to the season, and then lost tough home games to perennial powers from Florida, in games both could have (maybe even should have) won. I believe Clemson is better placed to rebound here, for several reasons. Consider the mental states of the two teams. I'd guess Clemson is probably motivated after the loss, and would love another shot at Miami; there's no intimidation for this team, having defeated Miami LY and FSU 2 years ago; they probably think they have as good as shot as anyone to win the lot. BC, on the other hand, probably realizes that they have blown their shot again, just like they did LY in the season finale home to Syracuse with BCS bid on the line, and in years past when Miami used to show them they were not ready for prime time. Consider also that simply as a scheduling matter, Clemson's loss last week hurts considerably less than BC's, because BC lost to a divisional opponent; Clemson still controls its own destiny after the loss, whereas BC needs help to get to the ACC championship game. Additionally, QB Porter's injury, which no doubt compromised his effectiveness and cost his team their best chance at winning, is still lingering and he is listed as doubtful for Saturday. Even if he plays he will likely not be 100%, and if he plays like he did last week in the 2nd and 3rd quarters his production should be limited. Clemson has been tested against quality opposition this season and they have shown their mettle, and I expect it to pay off here.

Louisville (-20) v. SOUTH FLORIDA
At the end of last season, I had Louisville ranked 2nd in the nation in my power ratings. They have lost a lot this year but if last week's performance is any indication Brohm has figured out what he is doing and that is bad news for opponents and good news for Louisville bettors. LY, Louisville had a 3-point loss at Miami, a 7-point win at Memphis, and a 4-point win v. Boise in the Liberty Bowl. They won the other nine games by a minimum of 27 points. Keep in mind that in all of Louisville's close games LY, the opponent scored at least 40 points. While the South Florida D is pretty good and should slow down the Louisville D as much as can be reasonably expected (i.e., hold them to between 30 and 40 points), South Florida simply does not have the firepower on O to challenge the Louisville D and keep this one close. The score LY was 41-9 and I am looking for something similar here.

Notre Dame (-13.5) v. WASHINGTON
Washington has been overvalued in the lines so far this season (favored against AFA, and only 8' dogs to Cal), and it continues here with this inexplicable line. ND won 38-3 LY, and while the venues have changed, ND is considerably better than they were and Washington does not appear to have improved. For all of their problems on D (and, keep in mind they did hold Michigan to 10 points), ND can move the ball and score points. MSU's O is going to score points this year, and there's little shame in ND's performance on D against them last week. ND's D is exploitable, but Washington's O (340 yds LW against Idaho) will not do the job. And, while a team in ND's place might normally be a little deflated after the game LW, ND's comeback and MSU's flag plant probably insures against the lack of a letdown in this spot. Washington used to be a difficult place for opposing teams to win but in recent seasons even teams with very modest credentials such as Nevada and AFA have gone in there and walked out with Ws, and ND should win handily. The only concern is that ND will not want to beat the hell out of Willingham.

MIAMI (FLA) (-14) v. Colorado
Upon further review, Colorado's strong start to the season is less impressive than it appeared initially. New Mexico State has not grasped new HC's Mumme's O yet; further devaluing Colorado's 39-0 win, UTEP led NMSU 31-0, and New Mexico led NMSU 38-7, before NMSU scored late TDs in each game. Colorado was fully extended to defeat CSU, which then lost to Minnesota 56-24. Miami has played two pretty good teams, both on the road, and while you could say they were fortunate to defeat Clemson, you could also say they were unfortunate to lose to FSU. Colorado's strength on O is the passing game, but this plays to Miami's strengths, as they have given up 4.47 ypa this season and only gave up 6.18 ypa last season. Against the two most athletic teams on the schedule LY, Colorado was overwhelmed, losing 31-7 to Texas at home, and 42-3 to Oklahoma at a neutral site. Miami's talent should overwhelm them as well and they should easily cover the spread here.

Michigan (-3) v. WISCONSIN
I'm not really sold on Michigan, but I'm pretty certain they have a good D, since they pretty much shut down ND, handled a good N Ill O pretty well, and did what you'd expect against EMU. Wisconsin, on the other hand, I've really got no clue about. They beat BG by outscoring them, and beat UNC by shutting them down (Temple doesn't really warrant mention, do they?). I didn't think they'd be all that good before the season, but Colonel Kurtz has his troops tearing through the opposition as if they were Cambodian oxen. The BG win that looked so good in week one has lost its shine, because BG does not look the business--after getting run over by Wisconsin, they struggled against a very bad Ball State team and then lost the plot against Boise. I was impressed with Wisconsin's D in the win against UNC; that said, UNC's ability to shut down their O does not bode well for them here against a far superior D. I think Michigan gets it done here and sets up a big matchup next week with Michigan State.

Arizona State (-7) v. OREGON STATE
Oregon State is not nearly as bad as they looked last week; they should recover to have a fine season, and the win over Boise will probably look pretty good at the end of the season. That said, Arizona State is a machine on O. Keller is insane and Freshman RB Herring has emerged and they look unstoppable. OSU's Pass D was very good LY, but the loss of Browner, Williams, and Meeuwsen in the secondary has taken its toll; not only did Brohm tear up the OSU D LW, Zabransky did fairly well a week after pissing his pants against UGA. Keller should do his part and the ASU O should continue rolling here.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-19.5) v. Troy
South Carolina is pretty bad, but they are sure to be pissed off after getting crushed last week and Spurrier is their coach. Troy will provide the perfect tonic for them; given the stiff challenge Troy provided LY (a 17-7 SCarolina win), the Gamecocks should be fully focused on this game. Until last week, Mitchell had looked pretty good on the season, and against a weakened Troy D he should shine here. Troy cannot run the ball at all (1.65 ypc this season); by default the 'strength' of the Troy O is the passing game, but the SCarolina pass D is pretty solid and they might pitch a shutout here.

Other games of note:
OHIO STATE (-7.5) v. Iowa
Not sure about this game at all. I'd lean toward Ohio State, because they just seem better on both offense and defense, and Iowa looked absolutely horrible against Iowa State, even before Tate went out. I thought Iowa was a little overrated coming into the year, and they have been considerably worse than I expected (seeing as how I thought they'd beat Iowa State). But, that's a big spread to cover when you've got a pretty mediocre offense. So, it's a lean toward Ohio State, but there's no play.

OREGON (+21) v. Southern California
I think USC's toughest matchup for the season comes next week against ASU, but I like Oregon to keep it fairly close here. If USC loses this season, it will be to a team that can (1) score a lot of points, because you're not going to shut them down and (2) get pressure on Leinart, because you've got to disrupt the passing game or he will tear your ass up. Oregon should be able to do both of those things, and I expect them to play with some pride and keep it closer than the spread. I also think the talk about USC being the greatest team ever is wildly premature (having thus far only beaten a bad Hawaii team, and an SEC team that was defeated at home by Vanderbilt), and while it might not affect the Trojans it could serve to fire up their opponents.

LOUISIANA STATE (-6.5) v. Tennessee
Tennessee will almost certainly run the ball like mad this week, partly because Fulmer has heard shit about not doing it last week, and partly because it will probably be raining fairly heavily in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately for them this does not appear to be the best way to beat LSU. LSU is high as a kite after the ASU game and Tennessee is probably down after pissing away a game they had a good shot to win down in Gainesville. LSU should also have their full contingent of WR for this game and in front of a liquored-up bunch of Cajuns that should be enough.