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SOLON'S PICKS, WEEK 10: REQUIEM FOR THE STARDUST

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We'll put more pretty pics in this post ASAP, but for the junkies we post fast few pics bet win GO!

A sad day for me today (I'm writing this on Wednesday), as the legendary Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has closed its doors, making way for the building of Echelon Place, which is set to open in 2010. Anyone who has been there knows that the Stardust--the whole place, really--is a shitpile; its place in the history of sports betting in Vegas, however, is immeasurable.


Wayne Newton: that's class.

A while back, I considered writing a piece on the most important figures in the history of sports betting in the USA. Suffice it to say, the column never got written, but the list was made--and there is little doubt, the #1 figure on any such list would be Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. For cinephiles, Mr. Rosenthal provided the inspiration for the Sam Rothstein character (played by Robert DeNiro) in the Martin Scorsese movie "Casino."

Mr. Rosenthal--blessed with a knack for statistics and mathematics--made his name as an accomplished horse and sports bettor, which attracted the attention of the Chicago mobsters, who were more than happy to listen to his input on gambling issues. Eventually, he earned their trust and was sent to Las Vegas to oversee the operation at the Stardust Hotel and Casino. In 1975, he testified in front of the Nevada State Legislature in favor of legislation allowing sports betting in the casinos, and he was instrumental in the legislation being passed. Prior to this point, the only legal sports betting in Nevada took place at "Turf Clubs"--unseemly places, similar to OTB parlors (for the New Yorkers among you), or to the betting shops in the UK. As it stood, these places were not especially conducive to betting--most visitors to Las Vegas preferred to spend their time at the larger hotel/casinos, and these places opened and closed with regularity.

After the legislation allowing sports betting in the casinos was passed, Mr. Rosenthal oversaw the construction of a Stardust Sportsbook that was quite visionary for its time. It was large--close to 10,000 square feet--and was designed to accommodate over 500 bettors. He installed a bank of large television sets in the wall opposite bettors, and devoted the majority of his space to horse racing, covering the five largest racetracks around the nation. All of this is SOP now, but at the time, it was revolutionary.

Even up until last year, the Stardust was the most highly respected 'book in Vegas. On Sunday nights at 6.00 PM local time, they were the first sportsbook in town to post lines for the following week's football games, a ritual that was followed by a lottery to determine the individuals that got first crack at them. In recent years, some of the offshore locations started putting up their lines before the Stardust would, but despite this the Stardust still generally set the trends with regard to the betting lines.

There's little doubt that others have done it better since--Caesar's Palace, Mandalay Bay, and the Las Vegas Hilton are three that immediately come to mind--but, for my money, the Stardust was always special, and it's sad to see it go.

But a hearty thanks to Mr. Rosenthal--still alive and living in Florida--for setting the standard that all the others have aspired to imitate.

Losses in the Thursday and Sunday games last week put me a damper on my weekend, but an 8-1 Saturday more than made up for it. My record stands at 55-35 for the season, a winning percentage of 61%. Often times, things can get away from you quickly, but hopefully I can keep it going this week. Here are this week's selections:

SATURDAY:

Boston College (-3.5) v. WAKE FOREST

With all due respect to all of the other contenders--Greg Schiano, Bret Bielema, and Terry Hoeppner come immediately to mind--I think this game is a matchup of the two coaches who have done the best job this season. I have always liked Jim Grobe, and when you consider that his team is 7-1, rebounding nicely after a crushing collapse v. Clemson that would have doomed all but the most resilient of teams. All this despite losing his starting QB in week 1, and stud RB Andrews in week 3--both of which have been replaced by freshmen--the job he has done is even more impressive. In fact, it is so impressive that I think he warrants coach of the year consideration even if Wake loses its last 4 games, which they may well do. Almost as impressive is the job Tom O'Brien has done with BC; despite losing 5 starters off his D, including star DE Kiwanuka, he has cobbled together arguably the best D in the ACC. In addition, BC is winning despite their QB pretty much playing injured all season. Fortunately for BC, the schedule offered up a game against lowly Buffalo last week, allowing the Eagles to rest QB Ryan (along with WR Gonzalez and LB Dunbar) and all of them should be ready to play this week. Wake, for their part, have fresh injury problems; an injury to RB Harris means that they are moving WR Moore to RB this week to share carries with RB Bryant. I do not rate the Wake running game as particular strong anyway; they have only averaged 100 ypg since the opener (when running QB Mauk was injured) and injured RB Harris was, by far, the best of their remaining options at RB. Wake's passing game is actually pretty efficient--I'd wager that QB Skinner is an upgrade over QB Mauk, at least as far as his passing goes--but they don't throw enough to take advantage; they are averaging 17 passes per game this season, and hitting over 170 yds passing only once, against Duke. Either way, BC's pass D is pretty solid; while they've given up 245 ypg this season, opposing teams have thrown an average of 40 passes a game to get to that number, and their ratio is an impressive 6-11--and much of that damage was done by BYU, one of the better passing attacks in the nation (without BYU, the numbers drop to 213 ypg and 5.78 ypp). On D, Wake is strong against the run, but are much weaker against the pass; for the season, they are giving up 6.44 ypp and have a 5-8 ratio. These are impressive numbers until you consider that they have played Duke, UConn, UNC, and Ole Miss, 4 of the worst passing teams in the nation, and the best QB they have faced is probably Clemson QB Proctor, last seen pissing his pants against VT when they Hokie D took away the run--something Wake's D couldn't do. QB Ryan is not the greatest QB but he is certainly serviceable and makes few errors; he should do a fine job against this D. The BC running game is also not overly flashy, but they are good and will get yards in this game; BC was stuffed by the Clemson, VT and FSU Ds--83 ypg--but Wake is not the equal of those teams. Wake gave up over 200 yds to Clemson, and NC State went for 150; I do not think BC's running game is as good as those teams, but UNC went for 123 (albeit on 38 carries) and I think BC is much better than that unit. BC has already won at FSU this season, and I think they will get another workmanlike win in this spot and get ahead of this number.


Jim Grobe: underappreciated, underrated...and will likely lose this Saturday.

CLEMSON (-16) v. Maryland

Clemson was stuffed last week by the VT D, but as long as they have not given up on their season--and, that's possible when you consider that last week's loss likely dropped them from the Orange Bowl to the Peach Bowl--I think they will get back on track this week.

It is evident that QB Proctor cannot win a game if he an opposing D can stop the Clemson running game, but I think that scenario is unlikely to unfold this week. Maryland has only held one 1-A opponent to less than 100 yards rushing--Florida International--and keep in mind that they also played MTSU, who ran for 117 yards against them. For the season against BCS teams, Maryland has given up an average of 212 ypg and 5.67 ypc, and, outside of West Va, none of the previous opponents are in Clemson's class when it comes to running the ball. If further proof is needed, Florida State ran for 172 yards against Maryland last week; if you take out FSU's game against Rice--who I rate as having the worst run D in the nation--they were previously averaging 66 ypg rushing, and that average includes games against Troy and Duke. Clemson QB Proctor struggled last week, but he is most effective when the Clemson running game alleviates the pressure, and the Maryland pass D does not really have the goods to make him struggle; they do not get a lot of pressure on opposing QBs, and they have given up 6.85 ypp with a 7-5 ratio despite facing a very modest slate of QBs--it's tough to select the best passer among them, but I think it is probably either FSU backup QB Lee or West Va QB White (yes, that's right, Pat White may be the best passer they have faced). Obviously I am down on Proctor but he beats the hell out of any QB Maryland has run up against this season, and I look for him to get a decent bit of production with WR Stuckey back healthy. The Maryland O is all right, and I am a little concerned about the way RB Ore ran over the Clemson D last Thursday; but, while I think Maryland RBs Ball and Lattimore are quality, the Maryland running game has only been especially effective only twice this season--against Virginia and NC State. While Virginia's D is solid, it is not nearly as good as Clemson's D, which, outside of the game against VT, has been very effective against the run this season, only allowing over 100 yards rushing to FSU, in a game where they were missing 5 defensive starters. And, keep in mind that while VT RB Ore did run over the Clemson D, the performance was largely attritional and appeared more impressive than it actually was; outside of a 3 play, 60 yard sequence by Ore on VT's first scoring drive, the VT RBs ran for 173 yards on 48 carries. Maryland QB Hollenbach is decent but he is not overly prolific; 159 ypg and 6.45 ypp, and he has only gone over 200 yds once (against West Va, when he needed 45 passes to do it). Clemson's pass D has been great this season, giving up 133 ypg and 5.65 ypp with a 3-3 ratio in ACC play, and I doubt that Hollenbach will be able to produce against them this week. Amazingly, despite having a 6-2 record, Maryland has not outgained a single 1-A opponent this season, and I think their run of luck will catch up with them here and I like Clemson's O to return to form this week and cover this number.

Kent (-13.5) v. BUFFALO

Despite losing last week, Kent has really turned it around last season and this week's game against Buffalo will provide the perfect opportunity to get things back on track. Kent has a strong running game, led by QB Edelman; Kent has rushed for at least 143 yards in every game this season, and they have averaged 181 ypg and 4.39 ypc. Buffalo's rush D is among the worst in the nation; even eliminating games against Auburn and BC, they have given up 201 ypg and 5.23 ypc, despite only giving up 73 yards to Temple. Additionally, the one team they have played with mobile QBs--BG--ran for 280 yds, 184 of them were by the QBs. Most teams do not need to throw against Buffalo, but when they choose to, Buffalo struggles, giving up 7.76 ypp with an 8-5 ratio--and these numbers, once again, do not include Aub and BC. Kent QB Edelman has been a solid passer this season, averaging 7.90 ypp with an 8-7 ratio; in truth, though, his learning curve has been quite steep and after his first two starts--the first two starts of his career--those numbers have been 8.23 ypp with a 7-3 ratio; he struggled last week against Ohio, but their pass D is no joke and he will throw the ball much better this week. If you are going to do anything against Kent's D it will be with the run (134 ypg and 3.58 ypc in MAC play), but Buffalo will not be able to take advantage; they have only hit 100 yards against Temple and Miami (O), and are averaging 91 ypg and 2.87 ypc against non-BCS opponents. Buffalo's passing game is much better than their running game, but, in this case, the matchup is much worse for them; while Buffalo averages 201 ypg and 6.55 ypp with a 5-6 ratio against non-BCS opponents, Kent is only giving up 141 ypg and an amazing 4.83 ypp with a 5-9 ratio in these games. Akron and Temple have been the only teams to average as many as 5 ypp against them; note that Temple QB DiMichele has been on a great roll, averaging 10.90 ypp against Vandy, Northern Illinois, and Bowling Green--but right in the middle of that was a 14-26, 144 yd performance against the Kent pass D. I don't really understand how the city of Buffalo exists--seems like 250 years ago, it would have just been too cold to settle the area (keep in mind that I am a pampered Southern California boy, and I am used to it being 75 degrees and sunny on New Year's Day)--but, fortunately, the weather should not be too bad this week (snow showers Friday, but sunny and 41 degrees on Saturday) and I am sure the Kent players will be able to handle the conditions. I expect them to easily get ahead of this number and take another step toward a 7-1 record in MAC play.

Texas Christian (-20.5) v. UNLV

UNLV's offense this season has a very strange statistic. UNLV scored 28 pts in the 2nd quarter against New Mexico (before losing in OT), and 17 pts in the 4th quarter against Utah (after the game was decided). Outside of these two quarters, UNLV has scored a total of 34 points in 6 1/2 games against 1-A opponents this season. I have difficulty believing that they will get things together this week against a TCU D that is giving up 14 ppg and held Texas Tech without a TD. UNLV has no running game to speak of; they have yet to hit 100 yards in any game (against 1-A opponents) this season, and are averaging just 68 ypg and 2.44 ypc. Only Utah has reached 100 yds against TCU this season, and opponents are only averaging 59 ypg and 2.37 ypc. UNLV QB Steichen--who engineered the 28-point quarter against New Mexico--is out for the season, and QB Hinds is now the full-time starter. Hinds' numbers are a bit modest; 5.48 ypp with a 3-9 ratio--and 2 of those TDs came after Utah had taken a 45-6 lead last week. TCU's pass D has given up some yards, but they have faced Baylor, TCU, and BYU, all of which have pretty good passing attacks; and, even having played these teams, for the season TCU has given up 5.99 ypp with a 6-6 ratio. TCU struggled in losing to BYU and Utah, but stated their intention last week against MWC upstart Wyoming, who had won 3 MWC games in a row and had looked impressive doing so. Last week, TCU gained 432 yards against a Wyo D that had yet to give up that many to any opponent this season, and had been giving up an average of 210 ypg in conference play. TCU's running game has been strengthened by the return to the lineup of RB Hobbs, and now they have the depth at RB that was so much a hallmark of their success in previous seasons. UNLV's run D is quite poor; they have given up 166 ypg and 4.34 ypc in conference play, including 130 yards to CSU's nonexistent running game (their next highest total this season is 78 yards, against AFA). In the two games where RBs Hobbs and Brown have been at full-strength, TCU has averaged 179 ypg and 4.48 ypc, and I expect that success to continue here. TCU's passing game is at its best when they are not playing from behind; they are averaging 8.21 ypp in their wins, and given the UNLV offensive limitations it is unlikely that TCU will have to deal with chasing the game. So long as TCU does not bottle it after gaining a big lead and give up points late, I think they will get ahead of this number with ease.

Louisiana State (-3) v. TENNESSEE

Even though the SEC has 4 1-loss teams, I think that one could make the case that LSU--a 2-loss team--is actually the best team in the conference (i.e., that they'd beat any team in the conference at a neutral site). The schedule did them no favors this season; not only did they draw the two best teams from the SEC East, but they had to play both on the road; in addition, they also are away to Auburn and Arkansas, most likely the two best teams in the SEC West. Despite losing to Auburn, I thought they were clearly the better team on the day; while I did not think they were the better team against Florida, they were at least only marginally worse than the Gators on the day. I have been impressed with Tennessee this season, but their O is likely too one-dimensional to continue their success. Tennessee did not have an overly prolific running game prior to the injury to RB Coker, and without him it has disappeared completely; their other RBs have averaged 3.34 ypc this season. LSU's run D is strong; only La-Lafayette has gained as many as 100 yards against them, and all opponents are averaging 73 ypg and 2.44 ypc. Tennessee has averaged 9.03 ypp with a 16-8 ratio this season, but against the two best pass defenses they have faced--Florida and Alabama--they have only averaged 6.67 ypp with a 1-5 ratio--and that TD was not thrown by Ainge, it was thrown by Lucas Taylor. The LSU pass D has put up the following numbers this season: 139 ypg and 4.99 ypp, with a 3-11 ratio. Really, the only QB that has done anything against them is Florida QB Tebow; incredibly, without his two passes, those numbers drop to 135 ypg and 4.87 ypp, with a 1-11 ratio. There is little doubt that Tennessee has a great passing attack, but their production will be severely curtailed this week against what I rate as the best pass D in the nation. On the other side of the ball, LSU does not have an especially great running game but it is far better than their opposite number; 134 ypg and 4.20 ypc against BCS opponents. And, since the opener at Cal, UT has been vulnerable against the run; AFA went for 281 yds against them, and Florida, Marshall, Georgia, and South Carolina all had success against the Vols on the ground. UT is strong against the pass--6.89 ypp and a 7-9 ratio against BCS opponents, despite facing Cal and Florida, among others--but the only team that has slowed down the LSU passing attack is Florida (who I rate as having the 2nd best pass D in the nation) and QB Russell was actually quite effective against Auburn's strong pass D (267 yards and 7.63 ypp) in defeat. I think LSU will outrush and outpass the Vols, and as long as they avoid turnovers--something they couldn't do against UF and Auburn--they should win this one relatively comfortably.

SOUTH CAROLINA (+2) v. Arkansas

Arkansas has done well so far this season, but I think it is about to all go pear-shaped for them. South Carolina was unfortunate to lose last week; in the 1st quarter against UT, they threw an int returned for a TD, and threw an int in the end zone; in addition, two SCar defenders tipped a ball thrown by Ainge that was then caught for a UT TD. Despite this, they overcame these mistakes and led the game going into the 4th quarter, when the game got away from them. Even with the loss, I was impressed with their performance and I think they match up better with this week's opponent. Arkansas has a strong running game, but South Carolina seems to have gotten better against the run as the season has worn on; they gave up over 200 yds to Georgia, and nearly 300 to Wofford, but since the Georgia game they have held SEC opponents to 92 ypg and 3.16 ypc. Among those opponents were Vandy and Auburn; not nearly as strong as Arkansas, certainly, but both have decent running games. While I expect Arkansas to have some production on the ground, I do not expect them to do what they did to Auburn; and, please note that in Arkansas' other SEC games (against Vandy, Bama, and Ole Miss) their rushing game production was a good-but-not-great 162 ypg. I do not rate QB Mustain as a passer, at least not yet; his performances have alternated between serviceable and inconsistent--13-20, 224 yds, 3-1 v. Vandy, but 5-13, 51 yds against SE Mo. State. I think he will struggle against the South Carolina pass D, which has had trouble against elite QBs Cox, Ainge, and Woodson ( 9.15 ypp with a 4-1 ratio), but has handled their other opponents rather well (5.59 ypp with an 0-7 ratio against MSU, UGA, and Vandy). I think Mustain is probably superior to the QBs of those schools, but he is certainly not in the class of Cox, Ainge, or Woodson. The other side of the ball is where SCar's advantages become fully realized. Arkansas had a strong effort on D against Auburn, but otherwise have been a little shaky; 'Bama threw on them, Vandy ran on them, and USC did both (Ole Miss didn't do anything, but they don't really have much of an O). I am especially concerned about their pass D; they had 5 picks against La-Monroe, and 2 picks against SE Mo State, but have an 8-0 ratio against BCS teams. Booty, Cox, and Wilson combined for 7.83 ypp with a 7-0 ratio. I am not sure SCar QB Newton is in their class but he is not too far off of them. He should also prove a running threat as well. Arkansas held Ole Miss QB Schaeffer to 5 yards on 5 carries, but Vandy QB Nickson had 74 yards on 13 carries, and La-Monroe QB Lancaster had 53 yards on 12 carries; as a running threat Newton is at least their equal, and in the last three games he has gained 67 ypg and 5.61 ypc, and he will likely do some damage with his legs as well as his arm. Additionally, RB Boyd has stepped it up as of late; 98 ypg and 4.61 ypc in his last 3 games. Arkansas stuffed Auburn, but gave up 179 yds on the ground to La-Monroe, and 240 yds rushing to Vandy--the two teams they have faced with mobile QBs--and they gave up 192 yds to USC as well. I expect SCarolina to move the ball well both running and throwing and pull off the (minor) upset at home.

COLORADO (-4) v. Kansas State

Colorado has some serious limitations this season; most notably, they have absolutely no passing game. Their D ranks 55th in the nation giving up 319 ypg, but if you look a little closer it is easy to see that this is a quality unit. Opponents have run 67 plays/game to get to that number; among D's ranked above them, only Iowa's D has spent as many plays on the field. Colorado's D matches up well this week against a K State O that has averaged 307 ypg against BCS opposition. As poor as the Colorado passing game is, K State's passing game might be even less efficient; against BCS teams, Colorado averages 5.36 ypp with a 3-7 ratio, whereas K State averages 5.54 ypp with a 1-9 ratio. The main difference is that Colorado's O is run-based--64% of their plays are running plays--while K State's is pass-based--54% of their plays are passes. In addition, Colorado's pass D is pretty good; other than struggling against CSU QB Hanie and Georgia backup QB Cox--both of whom they played in September--no one has really torn them up, and they have gone up against some good passing games ('Zona State, Mizzou, Baylor, Texas Tech). In Big 12 play, they have given up 5.86 ypp with a 10-10 ratio. In addition, K State's best WR, Moreira, is listed as doubtful for the game. The K State running game is more effective than their passing game, but, as pointed out above, it is largely ignored; in any event, the Colorado run D has been all right--3.55 ypc in Big 12 play--and they should be able to stuff whatever the K State running game throws at them. Colorado plays to its strength on O; they have a decent running game--only CSU and Oklahoma have held them under 100 yards, and they are averaging 151 ypg and 3.79 ypc against BCS opponents--and K State has shown a propensity to give up yards to teams with good running games; 168 to Mizzou, 190 to Nebraska, 193 to Oklahoma State, and 175 to a Bush-less Louisville. I think the Colorado D will make the difference in this one and I will trust the Colorado O to score enough points to get ahead of this number at home.

WASHINGTON STATE (-16) v. Arizona

'Zona QB Tuitama is back this week but I think his presence will be marginalized by a good D and a fired up WSU team. 'Zona HC Stoops has not decided whether or not Tuitama will start, but, at least statistically, the difference between the 'Zona QBs is negligible and I think it will make little difference; Tuitama is averaging 5.73 ypp with a 2-5 ratio this season, and Heavner is averaging 5.73 ypp with a 0-2 ratio (for the record, I think Tuitama is far superior to Heavner, but I don't think he'll do the job this week). WSU has been pretty good against the pass since the opener, and in Pac 10 play they have given up 7.06 ypp with a 7-9 ratio, despite facing the 3 best QBs in the conference (Longshore, Dixon, and Booty), and facing Stanford when QB Edwards was playing. WSU's run D is nearly as good as their pass D, but that is irrelevant this week, as 'Zona has the worst running attack in the nation. WSU is wracked with injuries on the defensive side of the ball, particularly at DT, so much so that they have been reduced to playing a 3-4 for large portions of recent games--but 'Zona's run O is so poor their biggest weakness cannot be exploited. 'Zona ran for 221 yds against Pac-10 doormat Stanford, but in their other Pac 10 games they have managed a total of -34 yards, and have only hit positive yardage once--a mere 7 yds against Oregon State. WSU have given up some yards to Auburn, USC, and Cal on the ground, but they have held lesser opponents in check and it is highly unlikely that the Zona running game will get on track against them this week. 'Zona's D is actually halfway decent; they have only given up 21 ppg and held the high-powered BYU O to 13 points. I think WSU's O is hitting their stride--34 pts against Oregon and 37 pts against UCLA the past two weeks--and they will keep it going this week. WSU has an above-average running game, and last week against UCLA gave a strong effort, running for 110 yds against a strong Bruin run D; for the season, they have averaged 117 ypg against legitimate Pac-10 opponents ( i.e., those that are not Stanford). 'Zona has struggled against good running games; LSU, USC, Wash, and OSU averaged 177 ypg against them. I do not think WSU will hit that number, but they will likely be able to move the chains running the ball and give the O some balance. WSU's strength, of course, is their passing game; they have averaged 272 ypg and 7.66 ypp with a 10-7 ratio in Pac 10 play, and I would rate none of the pass defenses they have played as markedly worse than 'Zona's. 'Zona did well against USC and Oregon State (180 ypg and 5.90 ypp with a 2-3 ratio), but both of those games were at home, where they have a large home-field advantage; on the road, they struggled against LSU ( 10.00 ypp) and UCLA QB Cowan went 20-29 for 201 yds, despite coming off the bench in the 1Q after starting QB Olson was injured. I rate WSU QB Brink as far superior to Cowan, and he went for 400 yds against a superior UCLA pass D on the road last week. I think WSU will probably finish the regular season at 9-3; they are on serious roll right now and I do not expect 'Zona to derail them.

Brigham Young (-15) v. COLORADO STATE

I have a lot of respect for CSU HC Lubick but there is only so much the guy can do. CSU lost RB Bell to an ACL injury just prior to the start of the season, but they were still able to win 4 of their first 5 games; unfortunately, it has caught up with them and they have lost their last 3 games, and they have been unable to hold 4th quarter leads in 2 of those games. QB Hanie held it together early in the season, but his form has dipped recently; after averaging 9.75 ypp with a 7-2 ratio in his first 4 1/2 games this season against 1-A opponents, he has only thrown for 5.34 ypp with a 2-5 ratio since halftime of the Air Force game. Certainly, the defenses he has been facing have been better, but I also think being the only weapon on the CSU offense is catching up with him. While the BYU O is the reason they are winning games, their D is not a bad unit, by any means; they are only giving up 15 ppg, and the most anyone has scored on them in regulation is 24, and Tulsa only got to that number by adding a TD with 2 minutes left, long after the game had been decided. BYU held AFA to less than 200 yds rushing, and held Tulsa to less than 300 total yards. Against the pass--likely the only concern of the BYU D, given that the CSU is only averaging 60 ypg rushing, and 2.03 ypc--BYU held QBs Ryan, Smith, and Ballard--all probably better than Hanie--to 6.61 ypp with a 4-4 ratio; please note that all of these teams also had legitimate running games, so given that BYU will be able to focus on the passing game I do not expect Hanie to surpass this level of production. BYU's O is great; against non-BCS opposition--and note that they have only played MWC, ConfUSA, and WAC teams, not Sun Belt or MAC teams--they are averaging 42 ppg, and have scored at least 31 in every game. BYU can run the ball a little bit; they are averaging 151 ypg and 4.55 ypc; only TCU and 'Zona have held them under 100 yds. CSU has a good rush D--they held Colorado to 77 yds, and held Fresno to 74--but, they have shown some vulnerability; most notably, Wyo went for 151 yards against them 2 weeks ago, their second-highest total of the season. Even if CSU holds the BYU running game in check, the BYU passing game will make the difference here In all games, BYU is averaging 298 ypg passing and 9.16 ypp with a 20-4 ratio. CSU has been pretty good against the pass this season, but against the best QBs they have played--Nevada's Rowe, Wyoming's Sween, and New Mexico's Porterie--they have given up 8.07 ypp with a 5-1 ratio; and, please note that CSU lost all of these games. There is little doubt that BYU QB Beck is far superior to any of those QBs, and his production should be much greater. BYU has already defeated TCU on the road this season, and went to BC and took them to OT; I think CSU is struggling and BYU should keep it going this week.

CALIFORNIA (-17) v. UCLA (Berkeley, CA)

I lost my bet in last year's corresponding fixture in most incredible fashion; I had Cal +1.5, and my bet led start to finish--from the opening kickoff (when Cal was, obviously, up 1.5 points) I was not at any point behind the number until the clock read 0.00, as UCLA scored a TD on 4th and Goal from the 1 with no time on the clock to make the final score 47-40 (no XP attempted). The fortunes for each team has changed considerably since then, however, and I think Cal provides good value here. UCLA's D is vastly improved this season from last, but as was shown last week, they can be thrown on; the quality QBs they have played--UW's Stanback, Oregon's Dixon, ND's Quinn, and WSU's Brink--have averaged 264 ypg and 7.89 ypp against the Bruins this season, with an 11-4 ratio. A case could be made that Cal QB Longshore is as good as any of those; after a shaky opener against UT, he has recovered and has only had one bad game since, against WSU; even with that game, in Pac 10 play he has thrown for 253 ypg and 8.45 ypp with an 11-5 ratio. Also, the Cal running game has recovered nicely from the opener (where they were ineffective) and they have averaged 170 ypg and 4.95 ypc rushing in Pac-10 play. UCLA is good against the run, but Oregon and WSU were able to move the ball on them, and Cal should do so as well, and provide some balance for Longshore. On the other side of the ball, UCLA has serious problems on O. Cal has shown some vulnerability against the run--UT went for 198 yds, ASU went for 237 yds, and UW went for 163 yds--but UCLA does not have the ability to match those numbers. RB Markey had a great game against Rice, but since then he has been considerably less prolific, averaging 67 ypg and 4.24 ypc, and he has not hit 100 yds since September 23rd against Washington. And, the only backup RB with significant experience (Bell) is listed as doubtful for the game. QB Olson is still a week away from being able to play, and that means QB Cowan starts again this week. For the season, he is averaging 5.96 ypp with a 5-4 ratio, and he goes up against a strong Cal pass D this week. It sounds like a broken record, but the Cal pass D has recovered nicely since the opener and they are giving up 7.05 ypp in Pac 10 play despite facing 4 pretty good QBs (and the book is still out on Bonnell), and they have an impressive 6-14 ratio--nearly 3 interceptions a game. UCLA will have trouble doing much of anything on O in this game, and I look for Cal to make amends from their close call against UW last time out and end up well ahead of this number.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:

LOUISVILLE (-1) v. West Virginia

I've gone back and forth on this game all season--initially, I liked Louisville, and even after injuries to RB Bush and QB Brohm, I still liked their chances. For the most part, I thought West Va was highly overrated, and I didn't trust their D to get the job done. Even in last season's Sugar Bowl--no doubt their apex--their D was shredded and they likely only held on for the win because a fake punt didn't give the ball back to UGA late. All that said, West Va has been so workmanlike this season--even their one "iffy" win, over ECU, doesn't look too bad in retrospect, as ECU stands a good shot to represent the ConfUSA East in the championship game--that I came around on them and viewed Louisville's stuttering on O after getting QB Brohm back as indicative of trouble. Furthermore, the Louisville D--which I've never thought could stop the pass worth a damn (please note when they play Pitt)--showed some weakness against Cincy, allowing the Bearcats to run for over 200 yards. Despite this, I am back on Louisville this week. In my preseason column--where I listed the Cards as a good bet to win the National Title at +2352--my thinking was that they had pretty much a 2-game season, and both games were at home. I am willing to wager that they have been sleepwalking through their schedule since the Miami game, and if you look at what they have done, while they haven't been particularly impressive they have only been challenged once, and that was in Brohm's first game back against what has turned out to be a decent Cincinnati team. So, it's one of those games where you look at things other than the matchups. The biggest factors here are (1) that I think Louisville has been wanting to play this game for a year, ever since they got stuffed by a bad call (for which the Big East called them and apologized) and blew a big lead in Morgantown, and (2) I think the Pizza Box will be straight-up insane for this game. Given that the spread is so small they just have to win to be the winning side. I think they will get the job done, and Bardstown Road will be host to a MASSIVE two-day party lasting from the end of the game until the start of the Breeders' Cup on Saturday.

Oklahoma (-3) v. TEXAS A&M

Oklahoma's D--which, coming into the season, appeared to be among the best in the country--finally decided to show up after getting torn up by Oregon. They held Texas' solid O to 232 yards in defeat, undone by TOs, and have held their 3 Big 12 opponents since to an average of 7 points and 237 yards per game. I think Texas A&M has a good O, but they are likely no better than Mizzou's; and, in the final analysis, their D is much worse than that of the Tigers. I generally do not trust Oklahoma QB Thompson, but I will trust him this week; any team A&M has played with a QB has torn them up (with the exception of Okla State, whose QB went out early in the 2nd quarter--and, whose backup threw for 3 TDs in just 16 passes in his absence)--Texas Tech, Mizzou, and Baylor averaged 9.76 ypp with a 6-1 ratio--and the interception was thrown by the Baylor backup after the starter was knocked out of the game late. Even La Tech threw on A&M. A&M certainly has a strong home-field edge, but in truth their edge there is largely overrated; in any event, I do not think that it is as strong as Mizzou's edge at Faurot, and OU had little trouble at that venue last week. That said, the A&M O is solid and if the OU D reverts back to its previous form they could very well score points and that could be a problem for the Sooners, since I think their running game will have trouble achieving production in this game.

OTHER SPORTING EVENTS OF NOTE:

Lava Man (6/1) in the Breeders' Cup Classic

Bernardini is a super-horse, a freak; in retrospect, it seems that even if Barbaro--the best 3-year-old since Point Given--had not gotten injured in the Preakness, Bernardini may well have won the race. Unfortunately, he offers little value at even-money and he has enough question marks--very pedestrian opposition, from the Preakness (given that Barbaro was injured) through to the Jockey Club Gold Cup--to suggest that the best of the older horses may have his measure (for the record, I do like Invasor nearly as much as I like Lava Man, but I do not believe that he can be trained up to this race without a legitimate prep and win it). Not only has Bernardini faced weak fields--and only faced older horses once, in a 4-horse Jockey Club Gold Cup--but he has had the running his own way; he went out in : 47.1 and 1:11.1 in the Jim Dandy, and went out in :48 and 1:12.3 in the Travers, but, amazingly was on the lead in each of those races. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he sat just off Wanderin Boy, who went out in :48 and 1.11.4 before a sweeping move took him into the lead going into the stretch and gave him a 6 3/4 length lead at the wire. He'll catch no such breaks on Saturday, and he'll have to deal with dirt in his face; Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, and Suave all ensure that the Bernardini will be dealing with a different kind of pace, and will force Bernardini to pass multiple horses when he makes his move. Additionally, Bernardini has drawn the 3 post, and may very well face traffic troubles; he faced a similar position in the Preakness, but the quality of opposition on Saturday will be much steeper. Lava Man has drawn the 8 post and that should suit him well. He has the speed and temperment to sit just off the leaders, and he should be well-placed when it comes time to do the running; witness his performance in the Hollywood Gold Cup where he stumbled at the start and still rated in 3rd behind the leaders. The Hollywood Gold Cup is instructive; while Bernardini's shortest win was a 3 3/4 length victory in the Withers, Lava Man showed his heart in the heat of a stretch run, coming out on top in a 4-horse drive to the wire, dispatching Magnum, and holding off Ace Blue and Super Frolic at the wire. If those two are in the stretch together, I think Lava Man--who has not lost a race this year, going 7 for 7--is better prepared, and he will show himself to be the stronger of the two.