Solon makes his picks for week two after a dismal 3-5 start. May we remind you that nobody loses all the time? Exactly. The best time to bet on a gambler is right after he loses, so pay up your ducats to Gamblor, slave. You know you want to.
An abhorrent performance last week, as my picks went 1-5 on Saturday after a 2-0 start on Thursday and Friday. Still, my 3-5 record is better than it was a year ago at this time, when I stood at 4-7.
I was discussing my slow starts with my buddy Brain Saturday night. Our exchange went something like this:
Solon: I've got to do something different at the beginning of the season. What I'm doing isn't working.
Brain: Maybe you should just pass on the first week of games.
It occurs to me that this functions as a Rorschach test of whether someone is a compulsive gambler.
If you look at this exchange and Brain's suggestion seems reasonable to you, then while you may have many problems, being a compulsive gambler is likely not one of them. If, on the other hand, you look at this exchange and see a completely unreasonable request on the part of Brain--i.e., realizing that the suggestion you just hold back when finally presented with lines after 8 months is utter and absolute folly--then welcome to my world, you pathetic addict.
Addiction: uglier in some cases than others.
It also might be best to avoid giving large numbers of points until the full effect of the rules changes can be gauged. Or not.
All right, let's get to the winners.
Pittsburgh (-8) v. CINCINNATI
Both Pitt and Cincy look to be much improved this season, but Pitt has more to work with and Cincy has farther to go. Pitt probably did not dominate LW v. UVA as much as the 38-13 score would indicate (2 INT TDs), but they were good for their win and while they are not without problems UVA is considerably better than Cincy. Of particular note was the performance of the Pitt D, which gave up a total of 211 yards; compare to last season's opener against ND where they were left steamrolled, giving up over 500 yards. Cincy is rotating 2 QBs, and while Grutza and Davila are both considerably more seasoned than UVA's Olsen I doubt either is as good. Cincy could not run the ball against Pitt last season (41-113), and while all their RBs have returned their OL is worse and they will not be any more successful against an improved Pitt front 7. Palko continues living up to his promise (17-22, 283 yds, 3-1 LW) and with Pitt also running the ball well behind an improved OL they should not have too much trouble getting ahead of this number.
Akron (+10) v. NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Last year, NC State had an incredible D, but their limitations on O prevented them from achieving a winning season. If the game against App. St. is any indication, NC State does not appear to have sorted out their problems on the offensive side of the ball. RB Brown had a good game last week (15-125), but Akron had a solid performance against the talented Penn State RBs (20-43) and they should be able to keep him in check. NC State QB Stone has not developed in the least, and his 7-13, 36 yd, 1-1 performance was among the worst of his thus-far unremarkable career. NC State is very light at WR and Akron will be facing a massive dropoff in talent at that position relative to last week. Despite their loss to PSU last week, relatively speaking I was impressed with what Akron did on O ( i.e., as much as you can be when a team gains 225 yards); I think they are facing a weaker D this week and I expect them to improve their performance to such an extent that this game should be competitive.
It's hard out there for a coach.
WAKE FOREST (- 19.5) v. Duke
Wake has got some problems--primarily, that their starting QB Mauk has broken his arm--but their troubles pale in comparison to those faced by Duke. Syracuse's weak O only managed 136 yards against Wake last week, and this week Wake's D may amazingly face a more inept unit. As if being shut out by 1-AA Richmond was not enough, Duke is starting a true freshman at QB, the team has very little WR talent, they return 1 OL starter from last season, and their top 2 RB are listed as doubtful for this game. Ironically, the injury to QB Mauk may work in Wake's favor, as they intend to limit the playbook for new QB Skinner and will likely focus on what they do best--run the ball. They ran for 245 yards against a much more talented defense last week, and ran for 419 yds against Duke late last season in a 44-6 road victory. The only fear here is that Wake calls off the jam early, not wanting to risk further injuries.
PURDUE (-17) v. Miami (Ohio)
Much has been said about Purdue's poor defensive performance last week, where they gave up 387 yards to a team that went 0-11 at the 1-AA level last season. While Purdue clearly has some problems on D, I think the performance is not as bad as it appears at first blush. Two of Indiana State's TD's were a punt block return, and a 13 yard drive following a botched punt. In addition, Indiana State scored a TD with 2 seconds left, during which they gained 87 of their yards in the final 3 minutes when the score was 60-28. And, for all of the problems with their D, there are few concerns about their O; a strong game by RB Kory Sheets, and a much-improved performance from QB Painter. Miami (O) held their own against the normally-potent NW O last week, but please note that NW was starting a redshirt freshman at QB who had earned the job 2 weeks before the opener, who only threw 17 times for 106 yards; the Purdue O will present a much stiffer test. NW's D--if anything, only marginally better than Purdue's--completely shut down the Miami (O) offense last week, holding them to 247 yds and a FG. No matter what the problems with the Purdue D, it is unlikely that Miami (O) will be able to keep up with the inevitable output of the Purdue O. Additionally, Purdue will want to make amends for their lackluster performance last week and that will only serve to help them get the cover.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (-14.5) v. Ohio
Understandably, the Ohio State D will suffer some this season with the loss of 9 starters, but they wil still cobble together a quality unit. Last week's 343 yard performance was reminiscent of their 411 yard effort to start the season against Michigan, and there was little to suggest that they will not match last season's output of 32 ppg. Wolfe's strong performance behind a rebuilt OL answers their biggest offensive question; as long as their WR develop they will not miss a beat. I expect their D to be better as well and holding what might be the best O in the nation to less than 500 yds and 35 pts suggests that they will be fine against MAC-quality opponents. In particular, they should be fine this week; Ohio only managed to score 17 ppg and 292 ypg last season, and while they return 9 starters if last week is any indication, they have not improved, as against 1-AA Tennessee-Martin--a team that lost 56-7 to Arkansas State last season--they only managed a total of 144 yards on offense, and in addition to scoring on a TD on a fumble return all of their scoring drives started in UT-Martin territory. Ohio's D should be improved from last season but they gave up over 30 pts in 7 of their 11 games last season and I do not think NIU will have too much trouble hitting that number; combined with Ohio's limitations on O this should be enough for the cover.
Garrett Wolfe, taking the place of Michael "The Burner" Turner as the MAC's Beloved Midget of the Year.
Washington (+17) v. OKLAHOMA
Washington's 35-29 win over SJSU last week was not as close as it appeared. Three UW turnovers in the 1st half led to SJSU FG's, and if not for these, the score would have been 21-0 at the half and UW likely would have had a comfortable win. As it was, the score was 28-15 with about 5 minutes to go, before SJSU started throwing on every play, exploiting a weak UW secondary. I do not think OU will be able to do the same; as strange as it may sound, I am not sure they have the ability to get the ball to their WR and stretch the UW D the way SJSU did; against UAB, OU's WR had a combined 8 catches for 65 yards and Thompson does not have the ability to take over the game. I will acknowledge that the expected addition this week of WR Johnson will help in this regard, although I do not expect it to make too much difference. RB Peterson is obviously quality, but UW is much more solid against the run than they are against the pass. SJSU managed only 50 yards on 29 carries, and their run D LY was strong as well; I believe Jerome Harrison was the only RB who went for as many as 130 yds against them, and USC's potent rushing attack had 32 carries for 118 yards. While OU's D is strong, UW's O--which played well sporadically last season, gaining 449 yds v. ND and 490 yds v. Zona--should be improved this season and I expect them to at least equal UAB's output of 304 yards, even if they do not match their point total. LY OU only beat K State and Okla St by as many as 17 points; add to this their lackluster performance last week, and it appears that with the dropoff in production from the QB position they seem to have lost the ability to blow teams out like they did in the early years of the Stoops era.
Tulsa (+5.5) v. BRIGHAM YOUNG
Tulsa was a quality squad last season that the gamblers never caught up with, as they went 10-3 ATS and won their last 5 against the number. I was on board for all 5 of those wins to close out the season and I see no reason for offseason developments to get me off the train. Tulsa had a quality O last season, and while they lost some talent, most notably TE Mills and RB Parrish. At RB, they have three quality backs (Adams, Diles, Tennial) to take Parrish's place, and while 34% of their completions went to Mills last season, they spread the wealth in the opener, completing passes to an amazing 13 different receivers as their passing line was an impressive 20-28, 346 yds, 4 TD, 0 Int. The BYU D was nothing special last season, and they only return 4 starters; several people were impressed with the defensive performance against 'Zona, but I do not expect 'Zona to have a particularly strong O this season. BYU does not have a particularly strong run O, which is problematic because it is almost impossible to throw against Tulsa; last season, Tulsa only gave up 6.66 ypp with a 9-22 ratio. This season, Tulsa returns 3 starters to the secondary and should have a stronger pass rush. The only teams to throw well against Tulsa last season were UTEP, Houston, and Minnesota (who averaged 9.46 ypp; all others, 5.72 ypp), and the pass O of those teams could not be more different than that of BYU's; while they rely upon speedy WR who break big plays, BYU's WR are almost all possession-type receivers (11.2 ypc, as opposed to Minn's 14.4, UTEP's 13.5 or Houston's 12.8) and they will not be able to exploit the Tulsa secondary.
BYU: They've got possession receivers.
Texas Tech (-7.5) V. TEXAS-EL PASO
I have a lot of respect for Mike Price and believe he is one of the better coaches in the nation. That said, I have very little confidence in Jordan Palmer as a legitimate college QB. His ratio last season against 1-A opposition was 25-19 and it was 3-4 last week against an admittedly strong SDSU secondary. UTEP's performance on O was poor; they only managed 243 yds, and scored TDs on 41, 36, and 28 yard drives, in addition to scoring a TD on a fumble return. UTEP does not have a quality running game and if Palmer does not do the job they will struggle to score. Even if he has a good game, their point production will probably not be as high given that they are playing a Texas Tech team that does not make a lot of mistakes on O and they will be unlikely to receive the benefit of such short fields. Texas Tech does not have a conventional passing attack, but UTEP struggled last week against the pass while playing much of the game against backup QB Mougey; the SDSU QBs combined for a 24-30, 275 yd statline. Texas Tech has more talent at QB, more talent at WR, runs a better system and will have much better production through the air. I do not believe the UTEP D has the sort of ability to keep this game competitive.
Oregon (-4) v. FRESNO STATE
With their performance last week, I believe Oregon has stated their intention. Stanford will turn out to be a decent squad and Oregon's win will look more impressive as the season progresses. If last week is any indication, RB Stewart has realized his potential and he is backed by the highly competent RB Johnson. QB Dixon is also serviceable and appears to have upgraded his form from the end of last season. Fresno has a quality D but they will be overmatched here and I expect Oregon to have a good game on O. Fresno's larger problem will come on O; RB Wright had a great game last week, but he will be going up against a much stronger run D this week. QB Brandstater was efficient last week, but this week faces a much stronger pass D that has just handled one of the better QBs on the West Coast; I do not expect him to improve significantly on his total of 124 yds from last week. It is difficult to beat Fresno at home but this is too big an ask for QB Brandstater.
Nevada (+14.5) v. ARIZONA STATE
Arizona State's struggles last week have been well-documented. They were level against 1-AA Northern Arizona until an Int return for a TD on the opening play of the 4th quarter, and added 2 late TD's for a 35-14 win. ASU is almost certainly better than they showed, but they are probably overrated; Nevada is a quality opponent and will give them some trouble. ASU's D is not too strong; last week, they got a lot of pressure on NAU QB Murrietta last week but Nevada QB Rowe is much more mobile and should not have as much trouble in that department. Once Rowe mastered the pistol offense last season, the Nevada running game improved considerably, averaging 5.45 ypc; last week against the Fresno D they averaged 4.94 ypc and it is unlikely that the ASU D will slow their production. Last week, the NAU passing attack had a statline on 15-20, 259, 2-1, and while Rowe will be hard-pressed to match that sort of efficiency, he will probably have a better day than he had last week against a strong Fresno D. ASU will assuredly score points against an average Nevada D; that said, they are still not operating at peak effeciency and it is unlikely that they will be able to outscore the Nevada O enough to get ahead of this number.
OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:
Penn State (+8) v. NOTRE DAME
I was not nearly as disappointed in ND's performance last week, as they were going up against a tip-top D in a hostile environment, and their performance on O was actually pretty impressive. This week's opponent offers no respite in terms of quality of opposition; I expect the Penn State D to be nearly as stout this season as they were last year. I expect the PSU O to be better than they showed last week; HC Paterno kept it pretty vanilla on the offensive side of the ball and only special team mistakes kept the margin of victory as low as it was. I still think ND is a quality team but I also believe they are overvalued. Until I see them handle a strong D I will have difficulty giving substantial points with the Irish.
Ohio State (+2.5) v. TEXAS
I view this game as the mirror image of last year's; not only has the venue changed, but this season, Texas will get considerably better as the season goes on, especially on O; and, this season, OSU is the team that has the precocious talent at QB. I expect this year's game to be a much higher-scoring affair, as OSU's O would get yards against the Great Wall of China and their D is not seasoned enough to stop a talented, if not experienced, Texas O. The suspension of CB Brown will prove decisive, as he was poised to mark WR Ginn. No doubt Austin is a tough place to win, but it is by no means a fortress and I think OSU will turn the tables on the 'Horns this season.