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SOLON'S PICKS, WEEK 10: RAIDERS! RAIDERS!

We fell asleep in our underground meth lab on Wednesday--you know, Mustache Wednesday really takes it out of a body--and totally forgot to post Solon's oh-so-accurate pick on the UConn/WVU game, which he got right right right. Considering the streak he's been on, you'd best pay attention to the rest of his picks this week, including the one where he says Barry Alvarez looks like Colonel Kurtz.

I am back from a vacation to one of my favorite American cities, Las Vegas, which is where I go every year to watch the Gator victory over the Dawgs. For those who have never been, I can tell you that while college gets a lot of attention, it's nothing like what happens on Sunday. While sitting there on Sunday going over Saturday's stats (I couldn't give two shits about the NFL, so I wasn't watching the games), I observed the scene, and was reminded of what has to be some of the craziest shit I've ever seen in a Vegas sportsbook.

It was November 7th, 1993--I know because I looked it up somewhere--and the then-LA Raiders were playing in Chicago against the Bears. Early in the day (the book fills up around 6 AM or so for the NFL games, so it's full long before the games start), I noticed some joker in the front of the sportsbook in full Raider gear. That in and of itself wasn't noteworthy--but the fact that he kept yelling "RAIDERS!" at the top of his lungs was. I mean, the games hadn't even started yet, and this clown was going nuts, every 5 minutes or so, just yelling "RAIDERS!", over and over again.

Frequent visitors to Vegas Sportsbooks, evidently.

Eventually the game started, and the Raiders did well for themselves, jumping out to a 16-7 lead. In the process, Raider fan stepped up his yelling of "RAIDERS!"--to use a CFB analogy, imagine the USC band striking up "Conquest" or the UT band playing "Rocky Top"--that's how often it was happening. Of course, it's a two-way game, and someone else, on the other side of the sportsbook, was a fan of the Bears. So, when the Bears got a first down at some point early in the game, he decided to let out a "BEARS!", which was immediately drowned out by a "RAIDERS!!!!" and a staredown across the book. After this, there were no more shouts of "BEARS!", but Raider fan continued his "RAIDERS!" shouts throughout the game--until the last couple minutes.

It looked like the Raiders were going to take it, but things got interesting toward the end. The Bears scored a TD with about 90 seconds left to make it 16-14, and then they recovered an onside kick. At this point Raider fan was just sitting there stewing, while Bears fan was quite happy. The Bears drove down to the Raider 3 and the clock was stopped with just enough time for one more play.

As luck would have it, Kevin Butler hooked the FG (for something like his third miss on the day) and the Raiders got the win. Immediately after the kick, Raider fan jumped out of his seat, and ran toward the Bears fan, yelling "RAIDERS! RAIDERS! RAIDERS! RAIDERS!" and pointing at him each time he did it. Finally, he stopped about 3 feet from the guy, and did a crab pose with one final, drawn out, "RAIDERS!" right in his face.

In truth, looking at the two of them, Raiders fan would have clearly beat the shit out of Bears fan if it had come down to it. Still, Bears fan showed remarkable composure, just sitting there with a "What the fuck is this guy doing in my face?" look on his face. Everyone else in the book was just pretty stunned by the whole thing.

Funniest part of the story? The line was Bears +2 1/2, meaning that the missed FG at the end had nothing to do with the pointspread win. So the chances are good that Bears fan won his bet and Raiders fan lost his.

So consider this when your team has a tough beat--at least there's not some vato loco getting in your face doing the crab and yelling the name of the opposing team at you.

Also, I forgot that Orson does his drinking on Wednesdays, so this wasn't posted--but it's legit. I'll let y'all see the email in its entirety.

"Orson

Hey, man, I don't want to get caught out like a few weeks back, so I'm hoping you can get this out there. I really like West Virginia tonight, but I haven't had time to finish the rest of the column. There's nothing worse than some ass who says after the fact, "Oh, yeah, I had that game"--so I'm hoping you can post this before the game starts tonight. Thanks, man.

I'll try to send you the rest tonight.

Solon

WEST VIRGINIA (-15) v. Connecticut
UConn is down to their 3rd string QB (the 2nd stringer is questionable), and, truth be told, none of them are very good. That is bad news against a West Va D that is one of the nation's best. The West Va D has only given up as many as 300 yards to Md (339 yds), VT (375 yds), and Louisville (371 yds in regulation). UConn's offense is not in the class of these teams even when led by their 1st string QB, so they should have trouble tonight. The West Va run O is solid, running up large amounts of yards against those teams already mentioned, all of whom have run Ds superior to the UConn run D, which has already given up over 200 yards rushing to GT, Cincinnati, and Rutgers--and none of those have a running game anywhere near as potent as this West Va team. UConn's season was going well when they were facing the likes of Buffalo, Liberty, and Army but with the toughening of the schedule has come a reversal of their fortunes. The only team they have played that has near the quality of West Va is Georgia Tech, and GT managed a 15-point win against them without their starting QB. West Va should not have any trouble covering this number."

So, I'll take that winner (even though it's shitbird to do so), and I sit at 49-45-1 for the season for a still-underwhelming 52%. I'll try to step it up now that November is upon us.

Here are the rest of this week's picks:

Saturday:
Minnesota (-13) v. INDIANA
I am not sure what to make of Minnesota but their performance on offense last week was pretty amazing. Cupito is quite an upgrade from Mortenson at QB. Indiana is a clear #10 in the Big 10 and it is a big gap between them and the top 9. Indiana does not have the O to exploit a relatively weak Minnesota D. In Big 10 play, Indiana is averaging 335 ypg and only 4.34 yards per play. The only team that has stopped the Minnesota run O was Penn State, and even Ohio State could not stop them despite selling out to stop the run (and, as a result, giving up close to 400 yards passing). Indiana had a good performance against Wisconsin's run O, but both Ohio St and Mich St ran over them, and Div 1-AA Nicholls State gained over 400 yards on the ground, so they will be up against it here.

NORTHWESTERN (+2) v. Iowa
It is tough to get a read on the Big 10 this season. Iowa is 3-2 in the conference, but they have defeated Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, who look like the 3 worst teams in the league. They were rolled by Ohio State, leaving the home OT loss to Michigan as the only game giving indication as to their quality. In particular, I am concerned about their D; the closest they have faced to an O like this one is that of Ohio State, and they gave up 31 points and 539 yards. Even with their defeat last week, NW had their worst performance in conference play and still gained 421 yards against a solid Michigan D. The NW D is not great but last week was their best performance yet, and they should be able to handle the Iowa O enough to get the win at home.

GEORGIA TECH (-8.5) v. Wake Forest
Georgia Tech is by no means great, but their D is. No one has gotten as many as 400 yards on them, and they are giving up an average of 306 ypg. Outside of a complete collapse against VT, only one team (UNC) has scored as many as 20 pts against them, and that was only done with the benefit of a couple long TD passes. Wake generally has a good run O, but this year they seem to have regressed and were only averaging 126 ypg rushing until a breakout performance against ACC doormat Duke--and this will arguably the best run D they have faced this season. GT's is not too great, but they can run a bit and Wake will not be able to stop them. As long as GT QB Ball avoids interceptions this game should be all GT.

SOUTHERN METHODIST (-7.5) v. Rice
Games like these always are cause for trepidation. Rice's D is worse than I can ever remember it being. They have yet to give up less than 38 points in a game. They have only held Navy and Tulsa under 400 yards, and that only because those teams ran very few plays (Navy 52 plays, 372 yards; Tulsa 57 plays, 385 yards). SMU may not have the O to match that 38 point total but they have a surprisingly strong D this season. Against non-BCS teams, they are only giving up 109 ypg rushing and 327 ypg overall. The problem is that they were smashed by Baylor and Texas A&M, the two BCS teams they played. A&M, other than Marshall the only team they have played with a mobile QB, ran over them to the tune of 316 yards. Regardless, the Rice D has a way of making mediocre O's look good this season and I am betting that the SMU D will hold down the Rice O enough to get the cover.

WASHINGTON (+3.5) v. Oregon State
Washington was unfortunate to lose by as much as they did last week, trailing only 24-20 late before giving up 20 points in the last 5 minutes. As I have stated on many occasions, they do have a good passing game and this week they are facing a pass D that has given up 341 ypg passing and 9.79 ypp with a 23-7 ratio. On top of this, Oregon State gave up 335 yards on 22 passes to a freshman QB making his first start last week. I am guessing that Washington will be able to keep their success passing the game going. Washington's D is solid against the run and should stop the Oregon State rushing attac. Washington has not been great against the pass, but the way that Moore is throwing interceptions (16 in 5 Pac-10 games) they should be able to stop Oregon State from scoring enough to win.

COLORADO (-11.5) v. Missouri
As mentioned last week, Mizzou is not a good team, despite their ability this season to cobble together some wins. Colorado, on the other hand, is the 2nd best team in the Big 12 (for what it is worth). Mizzou cannot pass the ball, and as Kansas showed last week if you shut down Smith you will stop the Mizzou O. Colorado's D is not as good as Kansas' but their run D is solid, and they held Texas QB Young to 58 rushing yards. If they have a similar performance this week against Brad Smith, Mizzou will not score too many. On the other side of the ball, Mizzou's pass D is quite poor and they have probably not faced a pass O as good as this one (perhaps Texas, perhaps not). Outside of poor performances against the elite Ds of Miami (Fla) and Texas, Colorado has thrown the ball well, and they should be able to score a lot of points here despite the possible absence of RB Charles.

VIRGINIA TECH (-6.5) v. Miami (Florida)
This is a matchup between two solid defenses. The difference is that VT is much more likely to create something on O or on special teams than Miami, and the game is in Blacksburg. And, truth be told, VT is better on defense; since a shaky performance in their opener, they have yet to give up more than 255 yards in any game. The Miami O is pretty bad and will likely not challenge them; other than their performance against Duke they have failed to gain as many as 400 yards in any game (and this is a schedule that includes opponents like Temple). The VT O will probably struggle here, but as long as they do not fuck up royally, they should be able to win this one with D and special teams.

PENN STATE (-11) v. Wisconsin
I have a lot of respect for Colonel Kurtz; the man has accomplished much during his career, and this season is one of his better coaching jobs. I do believe that his team is living on borrowed time, however. They managed a close win at home over Michigan (without Hart), had a miracle win over Minnesota, and were fortunate to beat Purdue (with a game-changing Int TD in the late 3Q turning the game around). This will be by far the toughest opponent they have faced and they are playing them at a difficult venue. I believe that Penn State is the best of the 1-loss teams. The Penn State D is a step up from the Michigan D, and Wisconsin only managed 287 yards against them. Penn State's O is among the most underrated units in CFB, and against a poor Wisconsin run D (gave up 318 yds rushing to NW, 411 yds rushing to Minn, 237 yds rushing to Illinois) they should have no trouble gaining a lot of yards and getting the cover despite Robinson's obvious limitations at QB.

Barry Alvarez: like a slug, on the edge of a razor blade...

Tulsa (+9) v. TEXAS-EL PASO
UTEP has a good offense, predicated upon the pass. This week, that is a problem, as Tulsa's pass D is among the best of the non-BCS teams. For the season, they have given up 149 ypg, 6.10 ypp, and have a 3-13 ratio. Tulsa is not too great against the run, but UTEP's run O is not all that great and should not be able to exploit the relatively weak Tulsa run D. The Tulsa O has been pretty solid against non-BCS teams, scoring an average of 34 ppg after opening with Minnesota and Oklahoma. They should be able to score against a good UTEP D and the pointspread win in this spot.

LOUISIANA-MONROE (-11) v. Florida International
Sun Belt games are always tricky, but UL-Monroe appears to be in a good position in this matchup. They appear to be the class of the Sun Belt, and they are up against what is probably the worst D in Division 1-A. Fla Intl is giving up 5.20 ypc against the run, and UL-Monroe has a solid run O, averaging 3.89 ypc against a slate of run Ds that includes one of the SEC's best (UGA) and the best in the MWC (Wyoming). On O, Fla Intl really can only throw the ball, and UL-Monroe is in good shape there, giving up 7.55 ypp with a 7-11 ratio despite playing two SEC teams and a Wyoming team that can throw the ball. Fla Intl does not have anywhere near this sort of quality, and they should struggle to get yards in this game.