Last week’s games stunk. College football makes up for it this week. Multiple screens may be a necessity from about 3pm onward.
LSU at Georgia
Let the SEC Rochambeau begin. LSU and Georgia are both at a scheduling disadvantage in their division because of this game. The winner negates that. Georgia, barring letdowns, would be a Florida win away from a trip to Atlanta. The Tigers would still have to slog through Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M.
Both defenses lost numbers and NFL talent from last year. Neither has looked that sharp to open the season. The stats are disparate in LSU’s favor, though much of that disparity is due to Georgia playing two top 20 offenses. As freakish as Anthony Johnson is, LSU’s front has not been what it was last year. The Tigers rank 64th in sacks per game and 103rd in tackles for loss through four games. They ranked top 25 in both categories in 2012.
The pick here comes down to which offense you trust. Georgia’s unit is battle tested. LSU’s revamped crew under Cam Cameron is not (Will Miles meddle if things get tight?). Aaron Murray will tear out vital organs if given time to throw. This game is in Athens. Dawg Bite. [Pick: Georgia -3]
Alabama vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss is college football’s equivalent of Britney Spears circa “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” The potential is apparent. The gushing from public and cognoscenti alike has been premature and a tad creepy. Ole Miss enthusiasm has even penetrated the James Franco-verse. Yes, the Rebels brought in some ace recruits. They edged Vandy on the road. They splashed mud on a flailing Texas team. The future is bright. But tone it down a bit.
The Tide have not struggled with up tempo offenses. They have struggled with Texas A&M’s up tempo offense. Ole Miss is no Texas A&M. The Aggies rank 6th in yards per play this season. Ole Miss ranks 44th, behind Penn State and Mississippi State. Texas A&M has Johnny Effing Football. Ole Miss has Bo Wallace who, against FBS opposition, ranks 59th in passer rating and 72nd in yards per attempt in 2013. Ole Miss’ impressive showing against Alabama last year was scoring one touchdown and getting their throat stepped on for three quarters. We’re not on “Upset Alert.”
But perhaps Ole Miss may cover. This is not last year’s Alabama team. The Tide’s offensive line is a work in progress. Their secondary looks vulnerable. They have given up eight 30-yard or longer plays through three games. Alabama may simply be the best team this year, not among the best teams of all time. Historically, “the Process” does not factor in the point spread. Ole Miss will be up for this one coming off a bye week. We would be more confident of this pick in Oxford. But maybe this is a 37-24 type game. [Pick: Ole Miss +14]
Ohio State may face no more than a spirited pillow fight during the 2013 regular season. Michigan looks far less challenging after the last two weeks. This Wisconsin game may be as gut-wrenching as it gets. The Buckeyes play three teams that may be able to mount an opposition against them. That “Little Sisters of the Poor” schedule will be a problem.
No one respects the Big Ten. Perception, however accurate, places it fifth among the “big five” conferences. Ohio State may go 13-0. But in 2013, that does not guarantee them a title shot. Undefeated champs from the other four conferences could beat them out. One loss champions from the SEC or Pac 12 would have a strong case. Maybe even an SEC at large in the mold of 2012 Florida or 2011 Alabama enters the discussion. The Buckeyes need to impress with an emphatic win to get attention. But, too emphatic of a win would discredit the notion that Wisconsin was a veritable test for them.
There’s been talk of a quarterback controversy. We’re not sure that will be an issue. Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton are co-starters. The understudy has been impressive (top 15 in passer rating, 7.4 yards per carry). But Urban Meyer won’t pull Miller because of an injury. He has more talent and more experience. Guiton can run the system. Miller can be more ambitious within it and improvise when needed.
These teams are quite similar on paper. We’re not convinced by the numbers for either defense. Ohio State will score. The question is whether Wisconsin can explode in the run game against a young Ohio State front seven and keep up. We think they can. [Pick: Wisconsin +6.5]
Both teams are enigmas right now. Oklahoma has not played anyone decent, or run a consistent style of offense. Notre Dame looked a bit worse than Michigan and a bit better than Michigan State. It’s not clear how good any of those three teams are. The reverse leg last year was about even, until Notre Dame blew it open late with turnovers.
Blake Bell is starting for Oklahoma, after a strong passing day against Tulsa. He could have success against Notre Dame’s susceptible secondary. The Sooners should be able to get some traction on the ground. Oklahoma has a top-tier pass defense, which should neutralize Tommy Rees. It looks like there is vulnerability on the ground against them, but Notre Dame, 92nd in yards per carry, may not be the team to exploit it.
Fatigue could also be a factor. Notre Dame is coming off three draining games against Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State. Oklahoma is fresh off a bye. This is Bob Stoops in a big game on the road. But Oklahoma has an axe to grind here. [Pick: Oklahoma -3.5]
UCF (+6.5) vs. South Carolina: UCF plays its first game on national television. Blake Bortles has strong game on the field and off the field. The Gamecocks tend to go flaccid away from home. We also like the Knights’ Top 15 offense going against a not so impressive South Carolina defense.
South Alabama (+18) at Tennessee: Tennessee is coming off consecutive road trips to Oregon and to Florida. They have Georgia coming to town next week. Sandwich game. South Alabama is an FBS team. They are averaging 9.5 yards per pass attempt the past two weeks. Tennessee is 105th nationally in yards allowed per attempt. 34-17 is not inconceivable.
Arkansas (+14.5) vs. Texas A&M: Home dogs in the SEC. Arkansas wants to run the ball. Rutgers ranks third in yards allowed per carry. Texas A&M ranks 118th. The Hogs sustain some drives, have a rash of defensive cramps and keep it within two touchdowns at home.
Washington State (+9) vs. Stanford: WSU is confident after a strong start. Stanford have a road game sandwiched between two huge home games. This was a one-touchdown game last year at Stanford. The Cougars’ defense looks pretty legit. Stanford wins, but doesn’t pull away in the 28-20 range.
USC (+3.5) at Arizona State: The Sun Devils can’t stop the run. They spent the last two weeks being tenderized by Wisconsin and Stanford. USC gets another strong effort from its defense. Getting out of their fetid home environment should be worth a few points.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]