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.
Well it’s been two weeks and we’re already more than 10% done with the college football regular season. That’s a pretty depressing thought, but there’s still so much more fun to have this season. One relatively big program hasn’t even played a game yet! How much will people count out Michigan State despite putting up a very respectable performance on the road against what just might be the best team in the entire country? To what degree will Notre Dame’s fans convince themselves they’ll beat Stanford before the Cardinal destroy them and their perfect season? Will pundits crown USC despite the fact that their victory over Stanford last week was perhaps college football’s luckiest win since Miami’s “victory” against Florida last season? So many questions and I can’t wait to discover the answers over the coming weeks.
Let’s get to a new segment we’ll roll out weekly here on DCIAPC! It’s the Playoff Power Rankings, where I lay out the four teams that should make the playoffs if they started this week. Without further ado, here we go:
Playoff Power Rankings:
1. HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, STFU ABOUT PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS AND BRACKETS IT’S WEEK THREE
2. IF YOU ACTUALLY THINK IT’S WORTH ARGUING WHO THE TOP FOUR IS RIGHT NOW (LOOKING AT YOU, ESPN) PLEASE FIND A GRATUITOUSLY OVERSIZED TOASTER, STICK YOUR HEAD IN IT AND SLAM IT SHUT
3. I SWEAR IF I HEAR LOU HOLTZ AND MARK MAY GIVE ME THEIR TOP FOUR ONE MORE TIME I’M GOING TO HAVE AN ANEURYSM
4. Oklahoma Sooners
In games we picked last week, Illinois (-6) again found itself trailing into the fourth quarter against a bad opponent but found a way to come out on top. We’ll see how long this escape act can last. Northern Illinois (+7) went to Evanston and beat Northwestern. I would make a joke, but Bob is barely holding on to his sanity right now and I’d hate to be the one to push him over the edge. I’ll be driving his car someday anyway. USC (+2.5) picked up what has to be the luckiest win of the college football season so far this year. Apparently some of us have not learned to never ever ever ever ever bet against Oregon (-12). And lastly, Notre Dame (-3.5) somehow beat Michigan 31-0 despite the Wolverines out-gaining them in total yardage. How is that even possible?
Let’s get to the standings, where somebody has now won both weeks this season. (It’s me. I’ve now won both weeks this season.)
And the peanut gallery:
Here are the matchups for this week. Mercifully for its fan base, Northwestern is off this week so we’ll add a third national game. As always, all game times are eastern and lines come from Pinnacle.
Arkansas State vs. Miami (-16); 3:30, ESPNU
One more tuneup for the Hurricanes before a brutal stretch where they play teams that are at worst decently good for seven straight games. Is Miami going 6-6 this year? Yeah, probably. Shut up. It could be worse; ask Texas or Michigan.
#6 Georgia (-5.5) vs. #24 South Carolina; 3:30, CBS
If a team from a different conference lost at home to an SEC school with a brand new starting quarterback by 24 points, people would probably say they’re terrible and the SEC just dominates everything. But South Carolina is in the SEC and coached by Steve Spurrier, so they’re still ranked. Okay.
Illinois vs. Washington (-13.5); 4, FOX
People (myself included, really) are already writing off Illinois this year despite their record against sad opponents, but is Washington actually any good? They’ve played a bad Hawai’i team and an FCS squad and won by a combined eight points to get to 2-0. Regardless of who wins, a team that’s not very good is going to get to 3-0 this week.
#12 UCLA (-7) vs. Texas; 8, FOX
Texas and Michigan are in discussions for a home-and-home series. Sounds about right.
Tennessee vs. #4 Oklahoma (-20.5); 8, ABC
Speaking of teams with really lousy schedules, I give you Oklahoma! Take a look at this bad boy. Even though Kansas State is ranked, they pretty much lost to Iowa State this week. That Baylor game looms, but it’s at home. With no conference championship game, I would argue that Oklahoma has the easiest path to the playoff of any team in the country.
Arkansas State is not a team that should be taken lightly. They finished 8-5 last year and that was their worst record of the past three seasons. Last week, they hung around with a Tennessee team that looks to be pretty solid through two weeks and at least fairly even with Miami. I think Miami wins without too much trouble, but 16 points is too much to give up with a Hurricanes offense still struggling to find its way with a true freshman quarterback and shaky right side of the offensive line. Arkansas State +16 Fuck it, I’m taking Miami. Miami -16
Bob: I keep going back and forth on this one: a high-but-not-astronomical spread between a decent-but-we-don’t-really-know-how-good ACC team and a shot-in-the-dark Sun Belt team. Arkansas State, formerly coached by the holy Gus Malzahn (which is a big reason their record last year was worse than the previous two seasons) and formerly nicknamed the Indians, are 80th in F/+, which is probably lower than you would expect them to be, while Miami is ranked 30th, which is 26 spots higher than Tennessee, who beat Arkansas State 34-19 last week. All of these numbers seem to point to giving up the points, but I was pretty successful picking against Miami in heavily favored games last year. [ED Harry: Miami was actually 2-1 against the spread in their three lopsided games last year. Not sure where you’re getting that.] I think the Hurricanes get by without much trouble, but I can’t trust them to blow anyone out yet, especially after Kaaaaaya [ED Harry: I swear to God if you do that one more time I’m doubling down on the Northwestern jokes.] only completed 12 of 22 pass attempts and threw two picks against Florida A&M last week. Arkansas State +16
Matt: Miami’s passing offense is going to be highly questionable for at least the first several games this year due to Brad Kaaaaaaaya’s [ED Harry: I’ll break your face.] ongoing maturation process. Until he settles in, it’s going to be tough to pick Miami against the spread in any game. That being said, Miami shouldn’t need the passing game all that much in this one. Arkansas St. did a pretty decent job of stopping the run against Tennessee, but I doubt they’ll be able to stop Duke Johnson. That would be my key match-up in this one, and I think Miami should be able to run the ball whenever they want against the Red Wolves. Harry’s correct about the offensive line questions, but those didn’t have a significant effect against Florida A&M and they shouldn’t here. Duke runs for 150+, and the Red Wolves struggle to get much going on offense against a potent Miami defense (lol). Miami -16 (Miami 35, Arkansas State 13)
Harry: This is a pretty easy pick to me. I know road favorites are generally traps, but I’m pretty confident I won’t fall into one here. Texas A&M tore up the Gamecocks’ defense and I’m scared for what’s going to happen to that unit against Todd Gurley. I definitely don’t think Georgia will win by four scores like the Aggies, but they’ll cover the spread. Georgia -5.5
Bob: I am on the same page as Harry. Although this series’ results have been wildly unpredictable in recent years, I have a lot of confidence in Todd Gurley and friends, and South Carolina couldn’t stop a nosebleed against Texas A&M in week one. Another big win – this time on the road – would certainly launch Georgia into the way-too-early playoff echelon (good job to Harry on the intro) [ED Harry: *curtsey*]. Georgia -5.5
Matt: I feel a bit nervous about this one because Texas A&M’s recent massacre of SC may have us all operating with clouded judgement, but as long as these two are picking Georgia, I feel comfortable going with my gut. Georgia -5.5 (Georgia 38, South Carolina 24)
Harry: This is a really tough one for me. I mentioned Washington’s struggles earlier, but there are some important mitigating factors in play—they had to travel across a freaking ocean to play Hawai’i and Eastern Washington is a very good FCS squad (they picked up a win against a decent Oregon State outfit last year). This is still a tough pick; Washington is not as good as last year’s squad after losing its two most important players on offense in QB Keith Price and RB Bishop Sankey. Illinois seems (marginally) improved. Both teams have played pretty poorly thus far. I’ll sum up all of my thoughts with this: I have no idea. When in doubt, take the points. Illinois +13.5
Bob: Washington beat Hawaii by one and Eastern Washington by seven, and now they are favored by 13.5? Even if they have a major turnaround and smash the (shakily) 2-0 Fighting Illini, Vegas grooved this pick. Illinois +13.5
Matt: Both of those two took Illinois and it is making me very, very uncomfortable. Before I talk about this game at all, let me use this section to briefly air some concerns I’ve been having lately. The Illini faithful are such an inherently negative bunch that I feel like my analysis of the team has been too positive recently, as though I am coming across extremely biased. Basically, I’m struggling to appropriately define my perception of the team’s abilities because I feel the need to compensate for the entirely negative opinions I’m reading and hearing everyday. Usually, I consider myself a rational and fairly unbiased voice (especially when I want to be), but lately I’ve been struggling with my analysis. Hopefully that changes as the Illini face better opponents and I feel worse about their performances because they’ll be losing. Whether that made sense or not, I don’t know. Either way, you definitely didn’t care. The section where we predict Illinois games might just become a small rant piece for me every week about the trials and tribulations of being a football-loving Illini blogger. Deal with it.
Anyway, I’m finding this match-up pretty tough to predict. The other two failed to mention that Washington was without its starting quarterback Cyler Miles in that first game against Hawaii. It also doesn’t help that it was a road game in Hawaii, which I feel would mess with the mojo of most any team from the mainland, as Harry mentioned. Eastern Washington has a fantastic quarterback and passing attack and it certainly showed as they put up 52 against the Huskies, whose secondary will be depleted after the one-game suspension of potential All-American Marcus Peters.
Still, Washington was able to put up 59 points on the basis of a ferocious run game and a slightly shaky passing game. I think this game ultimately comes down to whether or not the Illini will be able to shut down the run game without falling victim to big plays on bubble screens and other constraints that Washington may use and abuse. I’m struggling quite a bit with this one, and my opinion may change by the time I write my preview for TCR, but for now I’m gonna guess that Washington does just enough to cover the spread here. Washington -13.5 (Washington 34, Illinois 20)
Harry: Yeah, UCLA has looked horrible in their first two wins against Virginia and Memphis, but I don’t believe all of the Bruins’ talent simply evaporated in the Southern California summer and Texas actually is horrible. I feel very confident that UCLA wins this game by at least a touchdown. UCLA -7
Bob: Harry and I are on page 654 this week. UCLA is hilariously over-ranked (12th, while just 25th in F/+) after two abysmal performances, but Texas sucks, which I still don’t know how is possible given all of their resources. If BYU – not to say they are bad – beat Texas 41-7 at Darren K. Rovell Stadium, I feel confident taking the Bruins to drop seven points. UCLA -7
Matt: UCLA’s offensive line is bad. How bad? This bad. Click this link now. Yes, it is bad. However, it doesn’t seem that Texas has the wherewithal to take advantage of UCLA’s weaknesses right now. Their defense wasn’t quite as bad against BYU as it looked, statistically speaking at least, but their offense will really struggle to manufacture any points against the UCLA defense. This looks good for the Bruins. UCLA -7 (UCLA 27, Texas 13)
Harry: Oklahoma is the better team here and will win this game, but Tennessee is better than people think. Picking the Sooners would simply be giving up too many points. Tennessee +20.5
Bob: This is the toughest pick of the week for me. I’m not going to pretend I have watched Tennessee play this year, but none of the advanced statistics like them, while they all love Oklahoma (4th in F/+, 3rd in S&P+, number 1 overall defensive S&P+). I’m still stuck wondering if people are overreacting to the Sooners’ outstanding performance against Alabama last January. In 2013, Oklahoma only beat three teams by 21 or more (all of them at home): Iowa State, Tulsa, and Louisiana-Monroe. However, for some reason, I can just see Tennessee getting torn apart by that Oklahoma defense, particularly in a primetime crowd in Norman. Oklahoma -20.5
Matt: Tennessee has a dude named Pig Howard as their starting receiver. Sounds pretty #B1G to me, which means I should probably take the Sooners. Oklahoma -20.5 (Oklahoma 38, Tennessee 17)