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ICE-COLD: SOLON'S PICKS, 10/8/05

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Solon, down in his chips, looks to dig out of his hole by invoking memories of losses past, in this case involving a loss to Tennessee, a blown bet on Oregon, and the ghost of a particularly painful auto-cockblock. Enjoy.

This week is the 10-year anniversary of the toughest gambling beat ever.

Actually, to be honest, it's not the 10-year anniversary (although it was Georgia-Tennessee weekend), and it wasn't the toughest gambling beat ever, but the confluence of events was such that there's never been anything that's felt like a tougher loss.

The date was September 9th, 1995--Georgia played Tennessee earlier then, for some reason--and I had just recently moved to Athens in order to go to Graduate School. As soon as I got to town, my so-called mates had secured tickets to the Georgia-Tennessee game. We gathered up around 30 Athenians for the trip and headed up to Knoxville, prepared for our yearly ass-kicking at the hands of the Vols.

So what happens as I stumble into Neyland? I see a young, attractive woman, who I'm going to refer to as "Rita" (no reason, other than that I love Rita Hayworth). I'd met Rita several months earlier when I visited Athens during Spring Break, and we'd hit it off especially well. Problem was, my buddy Kanu was dating her at the time, and there wasn't anyway I was going to fuck with that. In the intervening months, though, Kanu had cut Rita loose; the combination of opportunity and drunkenness led to a makeout session in the tunnel just before kickoff. Since we were going to get the shit kicked out of us anyway, it seemed my only recourse was getting in the way of the UT fans as they struggled to get to their seats; every expletive hurled my way increased my delight. Eventually the novelty wore off, and about halfway through the 1st quarter (after telling Rita where I was staying and telling her my room number), I made my way to my seat.

Orson Welles hit it. So would Solon.

It couldn't have been foreseen, but there was some crazy shit going down that night.

Georgia's best RB since Herschel chose to emerge that night in Knoxville (yes, Robert Edwards was better than Garrison Hearst); as the game went on we were in it with a shout. Even after Edwards broke his ankle in the 3rd quarter--having already gained 200 yards, averaging 10 yards a carry--we still had a great chance to win. But toward the end with the score tied at 27, in the last 90 seconds UGA missed a FG, Peyton threw some sort of bullshit screen pass that gained a shitload of yards, and UT kicked the game winning FG right in my fucking face. Sons of bitches, all of them.

But at least I'd set myself up. Sure enough, Rita came to the hotel room. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a delay with regard to her arrival--long enough for me to flip around the channels on the TV, and find the Oregon-Illinois game on Fox Sports South (or whatever it was called then). And I had some sweet action on that game, courtesy of my good friend on the West Coast, CollegeFootballPundit, who had gone to Vegas. I had Oregon -3 1/2; at this point, I'm not sure how much I'd bet, but it was more than my net worth at the time and would have paid at least a couple months rent.

Oregon did their level-best to piss it away--they held Illinois to 237 yards but gave up 31 points, largely due to being -4 in turnovers. Anyway, Rita shows up, and we start messing around, but I keep looking the TV whenever I get a shot, and Rita starts getting pissed off. Finally, it's 31-20 Illinois, and there's about 3 minutes to go. So I tell Rita, "Hey, no worries, I'm not watching that shit anymore, it's all you baby" or some similar sounding cheesy bullshit, and I turned away from the TV. But, cleverly, I left the sound on, and kept listening.

What happens next? Oregon scores a TD and gets the 2 point conversion. 31-28 Illinois. Still focused on Rita.

Onside kick, Illinois recovers. Still focused on Rita.

Then, a miracle occurs. With about a minute left, Jaiya Figueras--who had a fairly unremarkable career at Oregon except for this one play--sacks the Illinois QB, forces a fumble, and returns it for a TD. At that point, there was no fighting it--I jumped up and down, knowing full well I'd blow my shot with Rita. When she complained, I think I even said something like, "Whatever, bitch, I've got a bet down." Surprisingly, Rita was finally fed up and got the hell out of there.

And as soon as she shut the fucking door? That's right, Oregon missed the extra point, and I lost my bet by a half a point.

Maybe leaving the sound on wasn't such a clever move after all.

So, let me recap the night--(1) UGA's best RB in the last 25 years is on the verge on leading us to a historic upset of UT in Neyland, but breaks his ankle, not only blowing our shot in that game, but (2) fucking up our season; (3) I have a shot to get with some hot chick, but I'm so focused on a bet I've got that I blow it; and, (4) then I lose the bet on a missed XP immediately after I run her ass out of the room with my hubris.

Now that's a rough night.

So, given that I know it can't get worse than that, I'm not too worked up about my pathetic 25-27 mark for the season.

Here are this week's picks:

West Virginia (-3.5) v. RUTGERS
Rutgers has looked pretty good on O this season but they have not faced a D the caliber of West Va, which held what appears to be a pretty potent Md O to 19 points. They gave up 34 points to VT, but only gave up 375 yds to a pretty good O. The going should be easier for them this week. Rutgers' D has played fairly well at first glance, but a closer look reveals problems. They held 1-AA Villanova to 6 points, and held the worst offense in 1-A, Buffalo, to 3 points. Against their other two opponents, Illinois scored 27 (in regulation) and Pitt scored 29; those are two of the worst BCS conference teams in 1-A football. West Va should be able to score plenty of points and cover this spread with ease.

BOSTON COLLEGE (-7) v. Virginia
I expected more out of Virginia this season but they have not gotten the job done. They limped to a win over Western Michigan, beat Syracuse on a last-second FG, and blew out a horrible Duke team. When faced with legitimate opposition, they were beaten comprehensively by Maryland. BC, on the other hand, has overachieved this season. They blew the game against FSU but outplayed the Seminoles; then, they kept it together after a tough loss, beating Clemson on the road in OT with their backup QB. They have dominated the shit teams on their schedule, beating Army by 37 and Ball St by 38, and beat their mid-level opponent, BYU handily on the road (compare to UVa's 3 point win at Syracuse). The BC O is not as good as Maryland's, but their D is markedly better and I expect a comfortable win this week.

MIAMI (FLORIDA) (-35) v. Duke
This pointspread win has been brewing for a couple of weeks. Miami has left a lot of points on the board each of their last two games against Colorado and South Florida. Fortunately for them, Duke does not have anywhere near the D of those teams and their red-zone stats should improve and they will be more than happy to take advantage. Additionally, the game against South Florida last week showed the benefits of defensive domination; Miami only gained 349 yards for the game, but scored 27 points, mostly due to short fields after defensive sets or turnovers. As bad as South Florida's O is, they have it all over the Duke O, which is averaging 216 yds/game against very modest 1-A opposition. They gained 40 yards against the VT D and should not do too much better on Saturday against this D.

Kansas (+6.5) v. KANSAS STATE
It's tough to get a read on K State this season. They struggled against a very bad Florida International team, winning only 35-21. They were then nearly beaten by Marshall, a team I expect to be very bad this season. They followed this up with a blowout of North Texas, another team I expect to be very bad this season. When finally facing a halfway decent opponent, they were rolled by Oklahoma and RB Clayton was shut down. I expect the Kansas D to do a similar job against Clayton, and I expect the K State O to struggle if they have to pass. The Kansas D appears to be solid against the pass as well, giving up 333 yards on 52 passes to the potent Texas Tech O. Surely K State will not match that production. The issue is whether Kansas can score against the K State D, and given the performance of the previously inept Oklahoma O against them last week, I am guessing that they can.

Maryland (-28.5) v. TEMPLE
I suspect that Maryland is a machine on O. Their passing game has been pretty potent this season, and this is by far the worst D that they will face this season. Last week against Virginia they got on track, scoring 45 points, and this is a severe step down in class. Maryland's D is only marginal but Temple will not be able to exploit them for too many points. Simply put, Temple is not a 1-A quality football team and they will lose every game they play this season. The only issue is whether Maryland comes to play; VT is on tap, but since it is after a bye week they should play with purpose here.

Baylor (+9) v. IOWA STATE
I do not know how it happened, but Baylor has a legitimate defense. They had played well against poor opponents to start the season, but then shut down the powerful Texas A&M O last week. Texas A&M is not as good as most originally thought, but holding their O to 10 points and 253 yards (in regulation) is a feat for any defense. Iowa State's O has been very average this season and I do not think they will break out this week. Baylor has actually run the ball pretty well this season, and while Iowa State has had a pretty good run D, the one decent run O they have played this season, Iowa, actually was able to run the ball fairly well against them. I expect Iowa State to be down after their loss to Nebraska last week and while they may get the win, I do not think they will get the cover.

San Diego State (-9.5) v. UNLV
I seem to get burned every time I play against UNLV, but I will give it another shot. UNLV's O is poor, and in any event most teams in the MWC will not light up the Aztec D, which held Ohio St to 27 points and shut down a good BYU O last week. The big problem here for UNLV is their pass D, which has given up an average of 9.86 ypa and a 10-1 ratio against some pretty average passing offenses. SDSU has a decent running game, and SDSU's passing O has stepped it up the past few weeks, lighting up SJSU and BYU. Those are not great teams but BYU in particular is considerably better than UNLV and they should cover this number as long as they are not looking ahead to the Utah game next week.

COLORADO (-3) v. Texas A&M
I am not sure what is going on with A&M but there is something happening and it is not good. As bad as the 44-31 win over Texas St was, those of us who were big enough CFB junkies to watch the game saw that only a questionable offensive pass interference call (one of several questionable penalties called against Texas St that night) kept the score from being 44-38 (with an onside kick and shot for Texas State to win) a few weeks back. Colorado is a good team on both sides of the ball. They were overmatched in the heat at Miami but their performance against Oklahoma State was their best game in two years and they should get the cover here.

WASHINGTON STATE (-13) v. Stanford
Washington State beat themselves last week, plain and simple. They outgained Oregon State 639-397 but pissed the game away with mistakes. Stanford's O is not as good as Oregon State's O and they should not be able to exploit the Washington State D the way Oregon State's O could. In addition, the Stanford D was decent last season but they seem unable to defend the pass this season. Navy's option offense threw for 248 yards against them, and Oregon lit them up for 453 yards. Washington State's pass O is probably as good as Oregon's, if not better, and they should throw for over 400 yards. Stanford will probably score some points on O but it will not be enough to keep up with the Washington State O's production.

Houston (-1.5) v. TULANE
Houston strikes me as a team that has been undervalued this season but I have not had occasion to play them until now. Tulane's D has played pretty well but they have not played an O with any sort of potency and I expect Houston to score a lot of points. Houston's run D is exploitable, but against a Tulane O that only managed 31 yards on 20 carries against 1-AA SE Louisiana last week, I do not expect them to be burned the way they have been. Houston's pass D is pretty good, and they will probably pick off a few balls against a poor Tulane pass O.

California (+1.5) v. UCLA
Cal strikes me as a team that may be fabulously overrated; they have beaten a 1-AA team, a winless WAC team, the two worst teams in the Pac 10, and Big 10 bottom feeder Illinois. In particular, they struggled against Illinois, only taking the game over in the 2nd half. On the other hand, they can only beat who is on the schedule, and that is what they have done. UCLA, for their part, have two wins as impressive as any of Cal's, at SDSU and home to Oklahoma; that said, they struggled against Washington last week and were fortunate to win. Bottom line: I expect Cal to run the ball on UCLA and control the clock. My concern with regard to Cal is their pass D; a while back I thought that UCLA's pass O was pretty good, but after last week I do not think they are nearly as good as they appeared at the start of the season. And, when it comes down to it I am getting points with Tedford against Dorrell--are you shitting me?

Other games of note:
Oklahoma (+14) v. Texas
Oklahoma has had a lot of problems this season but their run defense is not one of them. Texas will not run the ball, so the onus will be on QB Young to get the job done. I do believe that he is better than he has been in years past, but I do not believe he is good enough to get the job done by 14 points. QB Bomar has been playing better, and should be able to get some yards and some points against a solid Texas D. The most important thing that has to be said about this game is that the giant cowboy thing outside the stadium scares the ever-loving shit out of me.

PENN STATE (+3) v. Ohio State
This is a tough one to call. These teams are damn near mirror-images--mobile, below-average QBs; big time playmakers at WR; stifling Ds. I'd give a slight edge to OSU on O and a slight edge to PSU on D. In the end, I'll take PSU, because they are at home, they are getting the points, and (amazingly) Paterno seems more likely to do some circus shit with his gamebreakers.

Georgia (+3) v. TENNESSEE
Another tough one to call. These are two solid Ds, but I think Georgia is more likely to challenge the UT D than the converse. Ainge is not nearly as good as Clausen, but oddly enough Ainge would probably give UT a better chance to win this game because he can challenge the UGA D in a way Clausen is unable. Of course, he would also be more likely to throw away the game with mistakes in a way Clausen wouldn't. Should be close; slight edge to Georgia with the points.