Solon brings us his picks for this week while still waiting to write his column on his own computer, to be delivered to him sometime shortly. He may not want this, actually, since he's been on fire since his computer crashed. Those of you who work in the delivery business, email us and we'll see if we can sabotage the delivery. Enjoy.
I want to give appropriate thanks to Kanu of "Dodgy at Best" fame, who has loaned me his computer and allowed me to break free from the shackles and restrictions placed on a person who is writing a column at the local library. No, not things like having to wear clothes or being unable to look at porn between writeups, but things like having to finish in two hours and not being able to do proper research into injuries and whatnot because of it. (Solon, you've been warned: the use of whatnot is simply not tolerated here. Grammar police, signing out!--ed.) Then again, maybe it's not such a bad thing to be largely cut off during the week, because I've gone 20-8 since my computer crashed, after starting 6-11.
Computer BAD! Wild-ass guessing, good.
Furthermore, my apologies to all who had questions and comments over the last couple of weeks; my computer situation meant that I was unable to respond in a timely fashion. Of course, this situation has been rectified and I will be able to engage in dialogue with commenters. So, comment away.
A strong 9-2 record last week leaves me at 26-19 for the season, a winning percentage of 58%, the same percentage I finished with last season. Let's hope I can build on it this week. Here are this week's selections:
Texas Christian (+3) v. UTAH
I'm not sure why the line on this game has gone so crazy (from TCU -2.5 to TCU +3); apparently, there was some concern that TCU QB Ballard would not start, but TCU HC Patterson claims that he will, and, in any event, he has a passable backup in QB Johnson, who played the 2H against Baylor, and finished with an 11-13, 148, 2-0 statline that turned a 7-3 deficit into a 17-7 win; these stats were helped by an 84-yard TD pass, but even without that his stats were at least comparable to Ballard's 1H achievements.
I would argue that TCU's larger problem is at the RB position, where RB Brown--himself filling in for RB Merrill--is out, and will be replaced by RB James; I think James is fine but eventually you start to worry about the attritional effect. Given their injury issues, TCU will have its hands full with the stout Utah D, but the problems they face are not comparable to the problems the Utah O faces; Utah can't throw the ball, despite their talent at QB; they are averaging 5.37 ypp with a 6-7 ratio against 1-A opposition. If you take out a pretty good performance against Utah State--a team battling with Temple for the honor of being the worst team in 1-A football--those numbers drop to 4.48 ypp with a 2-7 ratio. TCU has given up some yards passing this season, but considering that they have played Texas Tech--who they held without a TD--Baylor, who runs the Texas Tech offense, and BYU, that is to be expected; in any event, they have been pretty efficient, giving up only 6.19 ypp in those games. Utah can run the ball a little, but it is unlikely that they will do much against a TCU D that is giving up 56 ypg and 2.5 ypc rushing this season against 1-A opposition. Regardless, I expect TCU to win this game outright.
Louisville (-33) v. Middle Tennessee State (Nashville, TN)
Louisville's O has not been doing what the Louisville's O usually does the last couple of weeks, which I think most attribute to the injuries to QB Brohm and RB Bush. I would argue that in addition to these factors--which are certainly considerable--the quality of opposition has something do with it as well; both K State and Miami, while having limitations on O, still have pretty strong Ds and no doubt this has stemmed the Louisville production. MTSU has pitched two shutouts this season, and held Fla Intl to a TD; unfortunately, their other two games challenge the assertion that this is a high-quality unit. Maryland was only able to score 24 points and gain 275 yds against MTSU, but the game was probably their best effort of the year on O, all things considered; they produced more against West Va, but that game stood at 28-0 at the end of the 1st quarter, and for the most part Md gained their yds while West Va was going through the motions. Maryland's other game against 1-A opposition--against Florida International--resulted in 14 points and 272 yds. Meanwhile, against Oklahoma, MTSU was demolished, losing 59-0 in a game that was 45-0 at the half; Oklahoma had the benefit of short fields in that game due to 5 MTSU turnovers, in addition to having a punt and interception each returned for TDs, but to a large extent the victory was due to the Oklahoma D, which held MTSU to less than 100 total yards and set the offense up. I expect the Louisville D to do the same sort of job; as I've said before, Louisville is vulnerable to the pass, but this is not an O that is going to be able to exploit them. QB Cantwell should light it up against this D, at least doing as well as Oklahoma QB Thompson, who went for 14-20, 272, 2-0. Louisville will be looking to get it going again after the two (for them) down weeks on O, and not even the fact that the "Keg of Nails" is on deck next week should distract them. Louisville has little margin for error; one close game against a weak opponent is the sort of thing that could drop them below a 1-loss team at the end of the season in the polls, costing them their shot at the championship; Petrino is aware of this and with the week off last week they should come out ready to roll here.
Hunter Cantwell and his nice, slightly highish release point.
WISCONSIN (-21) v. Northwestern
I hate to pile on NW; they have a beautiful campus, Evanston is a great town, and I actually was considering getting my PhD there until I dealt with a decidedly unhelpful theology department secretary on my "recruiting" visit. That said, I do not think the linesmakers and bettors have figured out how bad they are yet. The NW D is actually pretty good, probably due to the influence of new HC Fitzgerald; their O is so bad, though, that it makes it impossible for them to be competitive against quality opponents. This week they run into a Wisconsin D that is every bit the equal of Penn State's last week, where they managed 7 points and only were able to score on a 16 yard drive following a Penn State interception. NW has injury issues at QB, and Brewer gets the start again this week (Kafka, and perhaps Bacher, might play in relief), and I expect him to struggle just as he did last week. NW can't throw the ball; they are averaging 134 ypg and 5.30 ypp this season with a 1-5 ratio, and they have only faced one really good D. NW can run a little bit but Brewer is not as good as runner as Kafka and Wisconsin is a tough team to run on; they held Michigan to 101 yds, and outside of the BG QBs running well on them in the opener they have held opponent running games in check. Wisconsin's running game is always honest, and I expect them to run at least as well as Nevada (156 yds) and Penn St (179 yds). In addition, QB Stocco got it together last week with an 18-23, 330, 3-1 statline a week after a good effort against a great Michigan D, and I expect that balance to result in good production at home. The Wisconsin D is looking to make amends for a horrible performance against NW last season (51 pts, 674 yds), and I look for Wisconsin to handle Northwestern with ease.
ILLINOIS (-8) v. Indiana
I thought Indiana might step it up after the return of HC Hoeppner, but their defeat to Wisconsin last week was so definitive that the I think Indiana has given up on their season and they will probably close it out with 10 consecutive losses. Illinois is playing well; even prior to the win over Michigan State, they had stepped it up after a humiliating loss to Rutgers, and after switching to QB Williams they have played much better on O. Since the Syracuse game, QB Williams has averaged 7.97 ypp, and has also run for 133 yards. Indiana has only played one mobile QB this season; even with very little passing threat, UConn ran over them to the tune of 257 yards. Against Wisconsin, Ball State, and WMU, Indiana has given up 279 ypg through the air, so I expect Williams to have his best game yet passing the ball. Illinois' D has been pretty good this season; their worst performance was a 352 yd effort against Iowa, and against 1-A opposition they have been giving up 309 ypg. I do not expect Indiana's below-average offense to be able to take advantage of them. I do not expect Illinois to let down this week, because last week's win took place on the road and they will be looking to do the job in front of the home fans against a seemingly overmatched opponent.
Does beating Slappy and a guy who just had brain surgery count in the standings? It might for [NAME REDACTED].
Clemson (-16.5) v. WAKE FOREST
I was actually pretty high on Wake this season, and I am not overly surprised by their 5-0 start. That said, I am a little surprised that they have been able to start 5-0 despite season ending injuries to their starting QB and RB; now, as the schedule gets tougher, those injuries will take their toll. Clemson's O is deservedly getting plaudits but the strength of their team is actually their D; they are giving up 11 ppg, 67 ypg rushing, and 169 ypg passing with a 1-6 ratio. Clemson also suffered several injuries on D early in the season--for the FSU game they had 5 starters out--but three of those players are back I only expect their D to play better from here on out. Wake has played some above-average Ds this season, but they have only hit as many as 300 yds once this season against 1-A opposition--v. Syracuse in the opener--and this will be the best D they have faced. Wake's run D has been pretty good this season, although, once again, the Clemson run O will be the best they have faced. The problem Wake faces is in the secondary; they have faced absolutely no one who could pass this season--the best QB they have faced, amazingly, is Syracuse's Patterson--and they have not done well even against that modest slate. They have given up 6.18 ypp, which does not sound too bad except when you consider that these QBs have averaged 5.90 ypp against the rest of their opponents, which include games against 1-AA opponents. Clemson QB Proctor will present a much stiffer challenge. I think Wake HC Grobe is a great coach, and he tends not to be on the wrong end of blowouts, but I think this loss has been coming for a while and they will get it handed to them here.
ALABAMA (-28) v. Duke
I can only imagine this line is what it is due to the perceived weakness of the 'Bama O. I actually think the 'Bama O is just fine, if last week is any indication; a good performance against what is a strong Florida D, where they produced a lot of yds even if their point production was light. As long as they focus--and, since they are in a sandwich game between Florida and Ole Miss, they may not--they should have no troubles this week against a Duke D that has yet to face an O as good as 'Bama's, and gave up 37 and 36 pts to the offensively-challenged Virginia BCS schools. Duke's run D is passable, but their pass D is among the worst in the nation--8.76 ypp against 1-A opposition, none of whom are particularly good, with the possible exception of VT QB Glennon--and 'Bama QB Wilson, averaging 8.30 ypp, will build on his strong start against a suspect Duke secondary. On the other side of the ball, Duke is ridiculously pathetic, having scored 13 pts in 4 games, and outside of a strong performance against Wake, apparently aberrational, where they gained 369 yds, they have averaged 153 ypg. After giving up 395 yards to the tricky Hawaii O, 'Bama has given up 259 ypg and against the passing game--Duke's strength, insofar as they have one--they are giving up 127 ypg, 5.83 ypp, and have given up a 4-7 ratio. My belief is that coming off two consecutive losses, and with Ole Miss looking decidedly average, 'Bama will focus here and do the job in a big way.
Washington State (-3.5 ) v. OREGON STATE
I was burned by this game last season, but I think this year it will be different. I rate WSU as the 4th best team in the Pac 10, so the loss to USC did not catch me by surprise; I do not know what WSU thought of themselves, but if anything, the loss will probably serve to them as a harbinger of a successful season and they will build upon it in upcoming weeks. WSU seems to have a running game this season even with the loss of RB Harrison; outside of a 75-yd effort against Baylor, they have rushed for over 100 yards in each game this season, which includes games against strong Auburn and USC defenses. Oregon State did better against the run than I expected last week against Cal, but Cal has struggled a little this season running the ball--probably because of their rebuilding OL--and, in any event, Cal did run the ball well, with 132 yds on 32 carries. I think Oregon State is pretty weak against the run and will struggle here; witness the Boise State game, where they were run roughshod by neophyte Boise RB Johnson. Even with this, WSU's strength on O is their passing game, and they are averaging 7.16 ypp and have an 11-4 ratio despite having faced strong units at Auburn, USC, and Baylor. Oregon State is decent against the pass, but Cal QB Longshore took them apart last week and while I do not expect the same sort of production out of WSU QB Brink, I think he will have another good game and set his team up well. Oregon State does not have the running game to challenge the strong WSU run D, which has played very well against the run after being lit up by Auburn RB Irons; OSU only averaged 54 ypg rushing against Cal and Boise, I do not expect them to step it up against a unit that held a much stronger USC running game to 135 yds after holding Stanford to less than 1 ypc, and held Baylor to negative rushing yds. OSU can throw the ball some, but WSU's pass D has been better than I expected, and they are only giving up 6.94 ypp with a 5-5 ratio despite going up against some pretty legitimate QBs. Last year in this game, WSU outgained OSU substantially, but TOs did them in and they blew a big lead. Hopefully that setback will help them keep their focus, and they will get the job done.
Brink: a fine name for a fourth quarter qb.
MICHIGAN (-15.5) v. Michigan State
In the Lloyd Carr era, Michigan has rarely had the opportunity to beat the hell out of Michigan State, but I suspect that if given the opportunity he would gladly take advantage. This week provides him the opportunity. The most impressive thing about Michigan this season has been how workmanlike they have been; after exploding against ND, the wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota were surgical and methodical. MSU is certainly not as bad as they were last week, and probably view this game as a unique opportunity, with a win being the only way to erase the shame of a loss to a Zook-coached team. I do not see this on the cards. MSU's strength is the running game; much like Minnesota last week, there's just no way you're going to run on this Michigan team, or at least not overwhelm them; Minn topped out at just over 100 yards on the ground, which is about what I expect MSU to do; and, for whatever reason, QB Stanton is not going to produce enough to make a difference. Against the 3 BCS opponents on the MSU schedule, he has averaged 163 ypg with a 4-3 ratio, and I do not think I am going out on a limb when I say that the opposition will be a little better this week than the threats posed by the Ds of Pitt, ND, or Illinois; Michigan has already blown up ND QB Quinn's Heisman hopes, outside of Minn QB Cupito's average game last week (17-34, 215), no one has had a good game against them this season. And, as much as I think psychological factors tend to be overrated, if there's any team with which it comes into play, it's this MSU team. There's little other explanation for their poor performance against the Illinois O last week. If Illinois could run for 236 yards, Michigan's could hit 300; I don't think that will happen, but I think they will have plenty of production and Henne will have his usual 18-28, 250 yard game, which should be enough to get them in front of this number.
COLORADO STATE (-15) v. Nevada-Las Vegas
Outside of a horrible performance against Nevada--a 28-10 loss--CSU has been pretty good this season, with wins over Colorado in Denver and over Fresno State on the road. An injury to RB Bell has left CSU with no running game to speak of, but QB Hanie has picked up the slack and had a great season, averaging 8.37 ypp with a 4-2 ratio against 1-A opposition, even including the Nevada debacle. UNLV is giving up 8.68 ypp against 1-A opposition and Hanie will likely keep it going this week. The other side of the ball, however, is the key to the game. CSU has a strong D; they did markedly better against Colorado than did Georgia, Arizona St, or Mizzou, holding them to less than 150 yards. Against Fresno, they muddled around for a half before shutting them down in the 2H, when they gave up only 111 yds, 4 FDs, and gave up 0 pts on D. The UNLV O has been very poor, averaging 9 ppg against 1-A competition and managing only 3 TDs in 3 games, 2 of which were scored after Hawaii had a 42-0 lead. UNLV is averaging 2.05 ypc rushing and 5.29 ypp, numbers among the worst in 1-A football. UNLV has run up against some decent Ds but CSU probably does not take a back seat to any of them, and UNLV will likely not do well enough to make this game competitive; as long as CSU scores enough to get ahead of the number, they will cover.
Vanderbilt (-1.5) v. MISSISSIPPI
I am not sure how they did it, but Vandy seems to have a decent team this season despite losing QB Cutler. If they can win this week, Vandy will fancy their chances for a bowl with games against South Carolina, Kentucky, and Duke still on the schedule. Since their players go to Vandy, they are probably pretty smart and can do the math, which almost ensures they will play with a sense of urgency. The key matchup in this game is the Vandy running game against the Ole Miss run D. Vandy struggled to run against Michigan and 'Bama, but in retrospect there is little shame in this; their performances against Arkansas and Temple are more indicative of how they will play here. In those games, they averaged 260 ypg and an insane 7.63 ypc; Ole Miss has faced 3 teams that can run the ball--Mizzou, Wake, and Georgia--and, in those games, they allowed 184 ypg and 4.76 ypc. Ole Miss has struggled offensively this season, only averaging 12 ppg and 265 ypg; Vandy's D has played pretty well this year against much better offenses this season, holding Michigan to 20 pts through 57 minutes, and holding 'Bama to 13 pts for the game. Vandy has faced no shortage of quality RBs this season, already having faced Hart, Darby, and McFadden; I do not think Ole Miss RB Ellis will match their output. Ole Miss QB Schaeffer is not doing the job, averaging only 135 ypg, 5.33 ypp, with a 4-6 ratio; he is hamstrung by having only 1 truly legitimate WR, but that problem is not going to be addressed before this week, and as a result I think Vandy's D will continue its strong play. Vandy has some issues at LB, with both Buggs and Joyce listed as questionable, but I do not think Ole Miss is good enough to take advantage.
The long climb to bowl eligible has Steve Martin very excited.
Central Michigan (+2.5) v. TOLEDO
Toledo usually plugs in a new QB every season, who steps in and does the job just as well as the QB did the season before. This is not happening this season, as the loss of last year's QB Gradkowski has taken its toll. Toledo has played 3 QBs this season, and none of them have played particularly well; as a team, they are only averaging an amazing (particularly for Toledo) 4.92 ypp with a 3-6 ratio against 1-A opponents. CMU has played a pretty strong schedule thus far, and played 4 pretty good passing attacks (BC, Mich, Akron, UK); against these teams, they gave up 7.48 ypp, but I would argue that even if Toledo puts it all together they will not have a passing attack as good as any of these squads. And, outside of Michigan, no one has run too well against CMU this season; given that Toledo is averaging 83 ypg rushing I doubt they will exploit the CMU D running the ball. On the other side of the ball, CMU has also been rotating 3 QBs, but have now settled on LeFevour, who had a great game last week against UK and has gotten progressively better as the season has worn on. Against quality QBs--ISU, Pitt, and WMU--Toledo has given up 8.65 ypp with a 4-0 ratio. LeFevour is probably not as good as those QBs but he is full of confidence right now and should do just fine against a very average Toledo D. Toledo is a tough beat in the Glass Bowl, but this Toledo team is not nearly as good as recent editions and I think CMU will pull off the outright win here.
ARKANSAS STATE (-5) v. Louisiana-Monroe
Arkansas State has burned me each of the last two weeks but I am hoping I have finally sussed them out. ASU usually has a strong running game, and this season is no exception as freshman RB Arnold has taken the starter's job and is doing remarkably well, averaging over 100 ypg and 5.13 ypc. He should have little trouble against a La-Mon D that is giving up 177 ypg and 4.69 rushing against a relatively weak slate of running offenses. Should ASU decides to pass the ball, they will likely face little opposition; 1-A opponents are averaging 8.47 ypp with a 5-2 ratio, and, outside of 'Bama, the other teams (Kansas and Fla Atl) have very bad passing attacks. La-Monroe actually has a decent O, but they tend to pass the ball more than they run, and pass D is a strength of the ASU D; ASU have an amazing 9 interceptions in 4 games, and opponents are averaging 5.78 ypp. Certainly, ASU has not faced the best passing attacks, but one would be hard-pressed to contend that La-Monroe is markedly better than any of them.
Solon actually puts money on Arkansas State. That's rollin' like Leonard, cuz.