The week's picks, divided into the quasi-rational and nakedly irrational.
#18 Tennessee @ UCLA
SWINDLE: OPTION: QUASI-RATIONAL. Don't consider this an endorsement of Tennessee so much as a suspicion that UCLA's battered offensive line, JUCO starter Kevin Craft, and new offensive schemes will give Tennessee the opportunity to line up a few par 3 touchdowns thanks to turnovers. Tennessee will introduce the Clawfense, which is new itself and will feature spectacular, vurping hiccups. (Option route peekaboo: you run slant, I thought you were going the other way, we give six the other way ROCK.)
In a battle of two freshly molted offenses, though, Tennessee's got better, less maimed tools to work with here. Our fanfiction ends with UCLA's defense getting swamped by the offense putting them into untenable, unwinnable positions. Add in the unscoutability of the Clawfense--relatively unseen to this point--and the biggest winners of this game may be the Florida defensive coaching staff, who will have fresh gametape of Tennessee's brand new dance.
(Oh, and because this is fanfiction, Ron Weasley is over in the corner tagging Hermione while Voldemort watches from his spank chair. That's happening, too.)
HOLLY: RATIONAL/BLATANT HOMERISM Tut tut, looks like rain. Tennessee: New QB with mileage comparable to an Oldsmobile Alero never driven anywhere except to church on Sundays by your great-great-aunt.
A new offense that center Josh McNeil describes as "really complicated". (Josh McNeil, you will recall, is not dumb.) And somehow...are those...safeties? In orange?? UCLA: Three-fourths of a working quarterback, combined, a set of Norm Chow schemes that will take weeks, if not a season to hone, and not one player with a prayer of running past our D-line. Advantage: Vawls.
Kentucky @ Louisville
SWINDLE: QUASI-RATIONAL Snack-sized Tony Dixon has a massive game, Kentucky wins, and Steve Kragthorpe adjusts ballcap, stares impassively towards godless, unforgiving sky. Dicky Lyons had a dream he had to fight his fiancee to the death, and when he woke up, he thought that she was still a better contest than the challenge of beating Louisville's secondary, who made Florida's look "almost competent" in comparison last year.
HOLLY: QUASI-RATIONAL-ISH Mildcats, per conference bias and Randy Sanders turning out to be an all-right quarterbacks coach. Where'd he pick that up?
#20 Illinois @ #6 Missouri
SWINDLE: QUASI-RATIONAL: Missouri. Outside of CB Vontae Davis, Illinois' defense took a relatively laissez-faire to defending the pass last year, and that was with a schedule whose most intimidating passer was...oh, wait! That was Chase Daniel, who hadn't even seen the glowing orb around Jeremy Maclin indidcating he was the impact player yet when Illinois lost 40-34. llinois stayed in this game last year thanks to Missouri turnovers and still lost; at a neutral site with Daniel at qb and no Rashard Mendenhall to hog possession, Missouri wins despite Juice Williams looking better than one might think Juice Williams has a right to, frankly.
HOLLY: QUASI-RATIONAL Chase Daniel in a shootout, despite being a contemporary of Martin Van Buren, because it's easy to win a shootout when Illinois brings knives. To the gun fight. See what I did there?
Michigan State @ Cal
SWINDLE: IRRATIONAL: Cal. No one's talking about them, they're operating without the slightest whiff of interest from the press or rabble, and this means we are all woefully incorrect about them. Also, Dantonio didn't start Jehuu Caulcrick, who was huge and therefore entertaining. Actions must have consequences.
HOLLY: IRRATIONAL Cal, in a squeaker that won't speak well for the head-scratchingly competitive Pac-10. I watched an eminently beatable Nate Longshore pick apart Tennessee a year ago; he can only have settled the fuck down. Right?
#24 Alabama @ #9 Clemson
SWINDLE: IRRATIONAL: Alabama. We now reach into the UNO deck and pull out the "Tommy Bowden Flip" card: what are the expectations? Massive success? Flip that, take its opposite, and you lose your turn in the process. We just think Alabama's going to win for reasons that go no further than a bet on Clemson to come through completely on expectations is a bet for defeat.
HOLLY: IRRATIONAL Bama. Because fuck Clemson, that's why.
Arkansas State @ Texas A&M
SWINDLE: IRRATIONAL: Texas A&M. Karma for not changing their team name to "The Arkansas State Meth Lab Explosion."
HOLLY: IRRATIONAL I'm going AK State, by virtue of them being a) a not-bad football squad that no major conference team seems to notice until the game gets uncomfortably close in the second half *ahem*, and b) being unofficially mascotted after last year's renaming contest as The Arkansas State Hot Springs. You'd pay to see a mascot squirt boiling water at opposing student sections. You would, liar.
Florida Atlantic @ #11 Texas
SWINDLE: QUASI-RATIONAL: Texas. But not by all that much. The cognitive shortcut most people are taking here is "2007 close scare versus UCF = early season thriller versus small but feisty Florida school > ability not to take bait on upset." Add in the ineffable lightness of being Howard Schnellenberger and you're swallowing the spinner bait con gusto. FAU is very, very tough: on the road at Florida last year, they were 28-20 right before the half and had Florida fans sweating the bad sweat at the Swamp. (The good sweat smells of cinnamon and victory; the bad stuff reeks of ass and shame.) They also will be in Texas, will have half as much talent, and will wilt in the fourth quarter as the talent gradient avalanche begins to crush them.
HOLLY: QUASI-RATIONAL Texas, but see above re: AK State. Schnelly don't holler for nothin', y'all.
Utah @ Michigan
SWINDLE: IRRATIONAL: Utah. Because we like the deep, well-traveled neurochemical pathways in our brain, like the one where Michigan drops a home opener to a team running the spread offense. It's almost as comfortable as the one where, against a Florida team in a bowl game, they make us want to give ourself a facial with a belt sander.
HOLLY: IRRATIONAL Utah. Because Charles Woodson is fat, fat, fat.
#3 USC @ Virginia
SWINDLE: IRRATIONAL: USC, BUT SCARY. Unless we're talking about an opening series against Arkansas, USC can start the season with stutters, and has. UVA, when not giving Miami the most humiliating and aberrant home loss of their program's history, likes to play sludgy, inconsistent, and often slow-paced football. We just feel a Groh game in the works: just on the verge of upset, perhaps even nustling its nose in victory's collar and thinking fine thoughts about what could be...and then a house falls on them.
HOLLY: QUASI-RATIONAL USC, due to bringing a football team to Charlottesville. (No, this is totally rational. Have you seen UVa's line? Is "line" really the word we're looking for here?)
Hawaii @ #5 Florida
SWINDLE: QUASI-RATIONAL: FLORIDA. Hawaii will be playing at six in the morning their time in a sweaty hellbath of screaming rednecks and the color orange. They will face a team whose talent is inarguably a grade above theirs at every position. The offense they must stop is one of the top three or four in the country even without Percy Harvin starting. Also, they are Hawaii, and they are playing halfway around the world. Boys for Pele, but in reverse.
HOLLY: QUASI-RATIONAL Florida. Whoever scheduled this game for a noon kickoff ought to be dragged to the Hague.