This is a weekly picks column where Matt, Bob and I each pick five college football games against the spread. Those games will include each of our schools’ games (Illinois, Northwestern and Miami, respectively) and two national games. If one of our teams is off, then we’ll substitute an extra national game. You are invited to pick with us in the comments and we’ll post the standings each week. On with the show.
We love sports, especially college football. This is obvious. We wouldn’t be writing about college football for various outlets if this weren’t the case. College football is awesome for so many reasons and most weekends it brings us unbridled elation and just general good feelings. All of the good feels.
This was not one of those weekends. Illinois won, but trailed a 1-AA (nope, still not doing that FCS thing) team into the fourth quarter. After that, Northwestern was undressed on its home field for three quarters by Cal and a late comeback came up short en route to the Golden Bears’ first win over a real football team since October 13, 2012. (Not a typo.) Not to be outdone, Miami squandered a number of excellent chances to win the Louisville game and then got run off the field in the fourth quarter.
So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little out of snark this week. Any biting comments I make about other schools or people would inevitably come back to “YOUR TEAM JUST LOST TO LOUISVILLE TWO STRAIGHT TIMES BY A COMBINED SCORE OF 67-22!” So you’ll have to wait until next week when Miami beats the pants off of Florida A&M and I’m in a better mood for the snark express. As the headline says, when it comes to last week, I don’t wanna talk about it and I doubt Matt and Bob are that eager to rehash their games either. Guh. I need my Creed Tucker paragraph this week more than ever. No pressure, Creed.
In games we picked last week, Youngstown State (+20.5) kept things dangerous close against Illinois, Cal (+10.5) rolled as previously mentioned, Todd Gurley (-7.5) singlehandedly destroyed Clemson, Wisconsin (+5) collapsed late as literally not having a playable quarterback (literally applies here, that guy under center was a safety) caught up to them, but at least they covered and Louisville (-3.5)…guh. Let’s have a look at the standings (this year with a table!!!!):
LET’S GOOOOOOOOO! The #REDEMPTION bandwagon is officially on the road and it’s not too late to jump on! In other news, I love small sample sizes. Here’s the peanut gallery:
[Update: I originally reported Creed’s record as 3-2; he was 4-1 as you see corrected here. My bad.]
Can’t wait until we all maintain an over .500 pace for the rest of the season! Here’s this week’s slate of games. As always, lines come from Pinnacle and all game times are eastern. Because Miami is snacking on a 1-AA team this week, we’re just going to toss that game out instead of prognosticating as to whether Miami can win by 40 points or not. You’re welcome.
Western Kentucky vs. Illinois (-6); Noon, BTN Illinois takes a major step up in competition from a 1-AA squad to an almost legitimate Division I program. Wowzers! You can call this game the Matt’s Conflicted Affections Bowl as he has some bizarre sympathy for the Hilltoppers developed from video games that’s just as weird but thankfully not as annoying as his Washington Wizards fetish. [ED Matt: Honestly, this is totally fair except WKU is actually a MAC-level program, which I would say is a fully legitimate D-1 squad (except Purdue). Everything else is true though.]
Northern Illinois vs. Northwestern (-7); 3:30 pm, BTN Wait, Northern Illinois didn’t retire their football program after Jordan Lynch graduated?
#14 USC vs. #13 Stanford (-2.5); 3:30, ABC Hey look, we’re picking a USC game! I can hear Arnim salivating from 2,500 miles away.
#7 Michigan State vs. #3 Oregon (-12); 6:30, FOX By far the tastiest matchup of a solid Week 2. I especially love the contrast in styles between go-go Oregon and play D now, think about offense later Michigan State. This is a surprisingly big spread, but as we learned over and over last year, bet against Oregon at your own risk.
Michigan at #16 Notre Dame (-3.5); 7:30, NBC If for nothing else than to allow me to pick against Notre Dame and then make a series of jokes about them after they lose to Michigan like always, we’re putting this one in here. It’s also an excuse to post this video:
Excuse me while I spend the next few hours watching it on a loop and laughing my ass off. While you wait, here are the picks this week. We’re trying out a new format for laying them out; let us know what you think.
Harry: Don’t sleep on the Hilltoppers. They absolutely obliterated a half-decent Bowling Green squad last week and went 8-4 last year, including a win over a Kentucky squad that was roughly even talent-wise with this year’s Illinois outfit. Couple that with Illinois’s shaky performance last week and I’m nervous about this pick. I’m going to take Illinois (-6), but with almost no confidence. In my quest for an undefeated, 60ish-0 season, this seems like a potential stumbling block.
Bob: Harry just made a great case for picking Western Kentucky, then somehow chose to select Illinois. Bowling Green, whom Western Kentucky defeated in its first game, is a legitimately good team, going 9-4 and winning the MAC last year after a twenty-point victory over the holy Jordan Lynch’s Northern Illinois squad. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for six touchdowns and 569 yards, the largest total of the week, against Bowling Green. Football Outsiders’ Bill Connelly rates Western Kentucky’s offensive unit as the 21st in the country, though its defense just 119th. Interesting. All things considered, Western Kentucky has proven to be a strong team over the last few years while Illinois has been shaky, including for most of last week’s matchup against a much-worse Youngstown State team. I would not at all be surprised if Illinois wins this pretty comfortably, but I’m feeling the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky +6
Matt: I’m going to start off by saying that this seems like one of the hardest weeks we’ve ever had to pick for DCIAPC. A lot of that is probably recency bias, but I’m picking all five of these games with roughly 60-70 percent confidence. Typically, I feel like I have at least one or two “lock” picks that I’m 90+ percent confident about. Maybe it’s just me, but my view of all of these games is pretty cloudy. With all of that said, I will now make the rest of my picks with seemingly full and complete confidence.
Illinois is going to win this game. The shock factor of Western Kentucky’s dominating win over Bowling Green is significant, but Illinois is still a more talented team. The WKU offense was really good, but that type of incredible performance is hard to sustain or even duplicate week-to-week. QB Brandon Doughty had a decent completion percentage and a one-to-one TD/INT ratio last year (not good). It’s hard to believe that Doughty improved enough in a single offseason to sustain the performance that Bob described earlier. The key match-up on this side of the ball will be WKU’s tempo versus the depth (or lack thereof) of Illinois’ defense. If HC Tim Beckman and DC Tim Banks prepare the Illini adequately for the speed of a team that ran 96 plays last week (!), then it will be a lot harder for the Hilltoppers to move the ball with consistency.
The main thing working in Illinois’ favor is Western Kentucky’s very green defense. There’s really only one or two established starters on this D and WKU’s best player is a safety. Illinois should be able to abuse the ‘Toppers both on the ground and through the air, but I thought they’d do that to Youngstown State and it didn’t happen until the fourth quarter. The run game will be very important, because Illinois is going to need to have better control of the clock in this game or Western Kentucky will run the Illini defense into the ground. I’m confident that the Illini will be able to pull this one out by a touchdown or more. (Apologies for going a bit overboard, but I have had a lot of pent-up thoughts over the last few days about this game and I just had to splatter them everywhere.) Illinois -6 (Illinois 38, Western Kentucky 28)
Harry: Vegas loves to take advantage of yuppies. One thing yuppies love to do is dramatically overreact to the last game a team played. Naturally, because of Northwestern’s performance against Cal, they’re only favored by a touchdown against a team whose only real win came against an okay-at-best Iowa team last year and lost the best QB in the history of its program to graduation. This is a very, very easy pick for me. Northwestern (-7) bounces back in a relatively easy win.
Bob: The post-Jordan Lynch era at Northern Illinois began with a 55-3 win over Presbyterian during which the Huskies rushed for 424 yards, but I’m pretty sure Northwestern could also destroy a high school team. [ED Matt: Then again, Cal.] Connelly actually puts Northern Illinois higher in his S&P+ rankings than he does Northwestern, but I have a similar problem with the Huskies as Harry does. As great as they were the last two years, none of their wins are really impressive at all, and they closed out the season losing to Bowling Green and Utah State. At this point, I look at Northwestern’s horrible loss to Cal as a bit of a fluke performance by a woefully underprepared team. [ED Matt: In spite of my earlier trash talk, I believe this is true.] It’s tough for me to bet on Northwestern, but this team at its core is much stronger than Northern Illinois’s, so I’ll give up the touchdown in Evanston. Northwestern -7
Matt: I’m picking this game with a similar logic to the last. Northern Illinois lost a lot of talent from last year’s squad. I’m not going to overreact to a flukey loss to Cal by Northwestern, although the thousands of excuses that Pat Fitzgerald is spewing out this week are still pretty hilarious. They weren’t fully prepared and they got off to a bad start that ultimately cost them the game. Oh well. They still have a good shot to be bowl eligible and they’ll get into the win column this week. I doubt Fitzgerald is going to let the team blow this game (or even really let it get close) after last week’s embarrassment. Northwestern -7 (Northwestern 41, Northern Illinois 20)
Harry: Like with the previous paragraph, this line feels like a gift with Vegas knowing people are going to overreact about USC’s smashing performance against Fresno State last week. Let me preface what I’m about to say by saying this first so Arnim doesn’t freak the fuck out: I think USC is a good team and will make noise in the Pac-12 this year. That blowout win last week was no accident. That being said, Fresno State SUCKS. A USC squad that wasn’t nearly as good as this year’s version destroyed them in a bowl game last year too, and that was when they had NFL starter Derek Carr (just laughed out loud typing that). You’re telling me that two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford (-2.5) is giving up less than a field goal at home? Thank you and please drive through.
Bob: What Harry said. I like USC this year, but this line says they are equal to the perennially studly Stanford Cardinal. Seriously? As Drake said in this monumentally odd Sprite commercial, “I’m just not feelin’ it.” Stanford -2.5
Matt: I think I believe in USC’s chances in this game a bit more than the other two based on their thoughts, but I won’t pick against Stanford with a miniature line at home. USC’s tempo should make this game really fun to watch though. Stanford -2.5
Harry: This is another really tough one. Oregon tends to cover higher spreads, but at the same time MSU’s defense is so good that it’s hard to justify giving up basically two touchdowns. I have no idea and would stay away from this game with real money, but since I’m required to make a pick, I’ll go with Oregon (-12).
Bob: This is another really easy one. I’m a strong Dantonio/Narduzzi believer, and I think their stout defense will be able to slow the Oregon offense much like Stanford’s defense did last season. Interestingly, I also love Marcus Mariota, so I’m looking forward to my Heisman pick going up against last year’s top defense (though they probably will not be quite as strong this season). We know that transitive property means little in college football, especially from a season ago, but Michigan State’s topping a hefty Stanford team that clearly outplayed Oregon last season makes me confident that this one will at least be close. Michigan State +12
Matt: This is another really [adjective] one. [ED Bob: In disappointed British soccer broadcaster voice: “Poor finish by Silich”] I trust Narduzzi’s defense just as much as the next guy, but this is Oregon we’re talking about. Potentially the very best offense in the country this season and certainly the most consistently elite O over the last 5-10 years. I don’t trust Michigan State’s offense very much this year (I think Connor Cook is one of the most overrated players in the Big Ten, if not the country) but they should be good enough to put up a moderate amount of points in this game. While I agree with Harry that it’s really hard to go against Oregon, I think Michigan State plays by Stanford’s example and holds Oregon low enough on the scoreboard to compete. Michigan State +12 (Oregon 31, Michigan State 23)
Harry: Lol Notre Dame. Michigan +3.5 (In reality, I think Michigan’s defense is great and vastly underrated and their offensive potential is huge with Devin Gardner at the reins and a real offensive coordinator this year. But “Lol Notre Dame” is much more fun to type.)
Bob: As is often the case when we come upon the early-season matchup between these two traditional powers, Michigan and Notre Dame seem about equal, a belief with which both the line and Connelly’s projections agree. Everett Golson enjoyed a great first week, but so did Michigan, particularly Devin Funchess and Derrick Green. I also agree with Harry’s thought that Michigan’s defense is much stronger this year than in years past, and overall I like this Michigan team just a little bit better than I do Notre Dame. Michigan +3.5
Matt: It’s a testament to these two teams that this game has been a tough call for the last several years. Michigan really fell off the wagon after the Notre Dame game last season, but they looked very impressive in their season debut against Appalachian State. Notre Dame looked good as well, but I’m starting to believe that this might be the year Brady Hoke’s incredible recruiting starts to have a major impact at Michigan. Michigan +3.5 (Michigan 34, Notre Dame 27)