Welcome back to Don’t Call It A Picks Competition, our weekly column where Matt, Bob and I pick five college football games against the spread and make appalling jokes at pretty much everyone’s expense. As always, you’re invited to pick with us in the comment section and we’ll post the standings each week.
While college football is unquestionably the greatest sport in the world, nothing is perfect. There are many issues with college football and collegiate athletics in general that are far too numerous to get into in this space, but let’s discuss a (mostly irrelevant) one very quickly: The coverage around the sport.
Every single year, there are a handful of grating media and fan fixations that serve only to make me try to hate the only thing in this world I am capable of truly loving. The first one that everyone seems to be kvetching (there’s your yiddish word of the day) over this year is Ohio State’s schedule. And yes, calling it a cakewalk would be deplorable hate speech against cakewalks. I mean look at this damn thing:It’s stupid easy. No argument from me. But does that matter? To answer this question, I’m going to use that dumb gimmick bad writers like myself lean on when they can’t simply let the quality of their writing do the talking—the bolded straw man to set up your arguments. Take it away, Straw Man!
Come on, Harry. You can’t seriously argue that any of this is fair. Ohio State’s schedule is such a joke!
Okay, Straw Man, it is a joke, but that’s not really Ohio State’s fault. I’ll address this on two fronts: the non-conference and the conference schedules. Beginning with the non-conference, keep in mind that these are scheduled years in advance and it’s impossible to predict year-to-year how good each of your opponents will be beyond scheduling Nick Saban (which is just not a good idea for entirely different reasons).
Let’s look at what Ohio State scheduled: a program at the time that was perennially good and a challenging opponent (Virginia Tech) [Bob: On the road in a standalone night game, I would add], a very solid mid-major that was just three years removed from a 10-win season when the game was scheduled (Hawai’i) and two consistently competitive MAC teams (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan) [Bob: Recall that Northern Illinois is entering just its third season since making the Orange Bowl following an undefeated regular season]. There are no FCS teams on here. The Buckeyes didn’t even dip into the Sun Belt! It’s certainly not their fault that VT slipped into mediocrity after they scheduled a game with the Hokies. Hard to fault Ohio State for their scheduling here.
In the conference schedule, it’s not Ohio State’s fault that the Big Ten expanded to include Maryland and Rutgers and then stuck them in the Buckeyes’ division. Ohio State can’t control that they have a cross-divisional game against Illinois as opposed to Nebraska. It’s also out of their hands that traditional divisional powers Michigan and Penn State are down. At the end of the day, holding Ohio State’s schedule against it is unfair.
Okay, but life isn’t fair. It’s still an awful schedule.
Fine, so maybe fairness doesn’t matter to you and maybe it shouldn’t. But at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter WHO you play, but HOW you play them. If Ohio State goes undefeated with four wins by three points against Indiana, Maryland, Penn State and Illinois, then you can knock their performance and question their legitimacy. However, if (perhaps “when” is more appropriate here) they go undefeated with convincing wins in nearly all of their games, then the Buckeyes should be lauded for that. The opponent doesn’t determine whether a team plays at an elite level; the team’s performance RELATIVE TO THAT OPPONENT does.
I’m still not convinced.
If you still want to have this debate, here’s what should have ended it before it started: in 2014, an Ohio State squad that was markedly worse than this year’s outfit beat Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon all in a row by a combined score of 143-55. These guys are the DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPS and they’re better than they were last year! What does Ohio State need to prove? College football is weird and there are no guarantees, but chances are the Buckeyes will be in the playoff and—despite what SEC fanboys want you to believe—that will be perfectly fair.
These assholes better never make me defend Ohio State ever again. I’m going to go throw up.
In games we picked last week:
- Illinois (-14.5) impressively put the turmoil of their coaching situation behind them for a day and obliterated an overmatched Kent State team 52-3. [Matt: I am absolutely stunned that this didn’t contain some sort of joke in any form. Weird.]
- Northwestern (+12) put college football on notice with a fairly commanding 16-6 win over Stanford that could have been 23-6 if they wanted it to be. What a difference a year makes for the ‘Cats.
- Louisville (+11) covered the spread but lost to a shaky Auburn outfit that has a lot of work to do if they want to fulfill the massive hype that’s been heaped upon them this year. [Bob: If you like watching amazing athletes who suck at quarterback play quarterback, this game was an all-timer.] [Matt: I’ll just watch some Northwestern games this year instead.]
- Alabama (-11) commenced the season—just like every other season— with an utter spanking of a decent but not great Big Ten team.
- Ohio State (-11) might be pretty good, you guys. Especially if Braxton Miller is now the best wide receiver in college football.
Here’s a look at the standings after week one:
And the splits:
|We All Agree||2-1 (winning record!!!!)|
It was a really good start to the season for the peanut gallery:
|Winning Percentage||Season Record||Last Week|
Let’s get to this week’s games. Because Illinois and Northwestern both play FCS opponents this week, we have four national games. All game times are eastern and on Saturday (unless otherwise noted) and lines come from Bovada.
Miami (-17.5) at Florida Atlantic, Friday, 8, FS1
Miami takes on an FBS opponent for the first time this year after dispatching Bethune-Cookman 45-0 in a rain-shortened affair last week. This one is on the “road” for the Hurricanes, as they travel 50 or so miles north to Boca Raton to take on the Owls.
Harry: FAU is a legitimate offensive threat, as the Owls showed last week in a wild 47-44 loss to Tulsa. While Miami projects to be very solid defensively, the Hurricanes are still largely an unknown on both sides of the ball and even a dominant win over Bethune-Cookman last week obviously doesn’t provide many relevant answers. Add that all up, and I’m going to venture a solid *shrugging emoji* here. Because I think the Hurricanes are slightly undervalued by Vegas in general this year, I’ll pick them. Miami -17.5
Bob: Florida Atlantic appears to be a bad football team. The C-USA team went 3-9 last year, including a 55-7 opening week loss at Nebraska followed by a 41-0 blowout in Tuscaloosa. Obviously, those games are not easy for any side, but they proved (in a small sample, yes) that hanging with big teams is not exactly in the cards for them. Combine that with a 118-ranked S&P+ defense, and I think the Hurricanes can win this by at least three touchdowns. Miami -17.5
Matt: After watching Illinois completely dismantle an un-athletic Kent State team, it’s hard for me to pick an underdog that will be as outmatched physically as FAU when it plays Miami. Not exactly sure why Miami would even go on the pseudo-road for this, but Michigan State played at Western Michigan last Friday so sometimes weird things just happen I guess. I agree with Harry– Miami seems to be a bit undervalued. They have a quarterback primed for a second-year leap and your typical world-beating Florida recruits. I’ll take the Canes to blow out Florida Atlantic. Miami -17.5
#9 Notre Dame (-12.5) at Virginia, 3:30, ABC
Man, Virginia has a tough non-conference schedule. [Bob: They also host Boise State in two weeks.] Just a week after getting Josh Rosen’d in Pasadena, the Cavs have to travel all the way across the country to host the owner of Week 1’s most impressive performance, Notre Dame.
Harry: Texas is far from a juggernaut and since Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, they have the newly acquired honor of the traditional power with the most laughably pathetic offense in the country. That said, it’s hard to argue that the Longhorns are anything worse than decent, and Notre Dame made them look like an FCS team. The Irish could have won by much more than 35 points if they wanted to and I’m worried about what they’re going to do to Virginia this week. Notre Dame -12.5
Bob: This is a tough line. As Harry mentioned, Texas’s deplorable offense clouds any judgment we can make regarding Notre Dame’s defense, and on the same side of the ball, advanced stats disagree with traditional stats, which disfavor Virginia’s offense. This pick here relies on some combination of the following: 1) Notre Dame is slightly overrated because it always is; 2) Notre Dame is slightly overrated because it beat a terrible team; 3) This is a lot of points to give up on the road; 4) Virginia did a great job of hanging in there with good teams throughout last season; 5) Virginia only lost by 18 on the road to a team that appears about as good as Notre Dame, so I’ll take Virginia to cover, though I would love for the line to push above two touchdowns. Virginia +12.5
Matt: At least for now, I’m buying what Notre Dame is selling. Malik Zaire can get it done through the air or on the ground, and the defense looked monstrous against Texas. The Longhorns are destined for a terrible year, as Charlie Strong implements the classic “play a bunch of crappy freshman and sophomores and hope they turn into something good a year or two from now” strategy (which looks like it’s working a little bit for Illinois, by the way), but a complete obliteration like that of any Power Five team is not to be taken lightly. This is sooooo many points for a road game against a team that likes to play weird games and randomly win things, but I’ll grab Notre Dame here. Notre Dame -12.5
#19 Oklahoma (-1) at #23 Tennessee, 6, ESPN
Tennessee has recruited like an elite program for a few years, but now’s the time that head coach Butch Jones needs to prove Tennessee can be an elite program on the field. Does that start this week against a Top 20 Oklahoma outfit?
Harry: I’m not sure I buy what Butch Jones is selling. Through what I’m sure are less than ethical recruiting benefits and massive oversigning, there is talent in Knoxville. But Jones is going to have to prove he has in-game coaching skills to match his recruiting before I take the Vols in a Top 25 matchup. Oklahoma -1
Bob: Scroll through any college football website, and you’ll see guys hyping up Oklahoma as the Big 12’s dark horse. Turn on Paul Finebaum, and you’ll hear why Tennessee will finally win the SEC East. Both these teams have been talked up a lot, and this matchup will have a lot to say regarding their respective seasons. Much of the chatter surrounding Tennessee relates to their improvements after Joshua Dobbs took over the quarterback spot, but the results really are not that impressive. Couple that with the dismantling that took place in Norman last year, and I like the Sooners to win what could be a huge game for both programs. Oklahoma -1
Matt: These two summed it up pretty well. Tennessee has a bunch of blue chip recruits who’ve survived the oversigning cuts and Oklahoma has a bunch of blue chip recruits who’ve survived having to live in a crappy state like Oklahoma. It’s hard to imagine living in that place for any amount of time. Somebody should advise Kevin Durant to move to, oh I don’t know, perhaps the D.C area. That seems like it’d be a huge upgrade. Oklahoma -1
#7 Oregon at #5 Michigan State (-1.5), 8, ABC
Here is 2015’s first Top 10 showdown, and it’s a good one. One year after getting rolled by eventual Heisman-winner and NFL washout Marcus Mariota, the Spartans look for revenge on their home field against Vernon Adams and Co.
Harry: Coming into the year, the two teams that jumped out to me as overrated due to previous performance that was irrelevant to this year’s teams were Stanford and Michigan State. One down, one to go. Oregon +1.5
Bob: Both teams had pretty discouraging opening games in my mind. Oregon gave up 42 points at home to an FCS team, while Michigan State won by just 13 to a dead-average Western Michigan team. Looking at the quarterbacks, Michigan State’s Connor Cook is a top draft prospect, while the talented Vernon Adams plays just his second game for the Oregon Ducks. Honestly, I don’t know with this one. My head likes the home team that only lost to the two finalists last season, returns its star quarterback, faces a possibly shaky defense, and a team that lost its best offensive and defensive players, but my gut says Oregon is a superior football program. Oregon +1.5
Matt: I’ve picked this game four or five times this week, in various ESPN games and TCR posts and whatnot, and for the first time I’m going to take Michigan State. This is admittedly mostly because the other two picked Oregon and the chance of gaining a full win on each of them is enough to get me to switch my pick to the Spartans. And there’s plenty of reason to believe in MSU. Michigan State has a terrorizing defensive line full of top tier recruits just starting to round into form after the Spartans’ recruiting prowess increased a few years ago. Connor Cook is a good-to-great college quarterback who will suck in the NFL just like all other MSU quarterbacks of recent memory. The Oregon defense gave up 42 points to an Eastern Washington team that doesn’t have Vernon Adams anymore. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, 42 points to a crappy Eastern Washington team without its good quarterback. Michigan State has the chance to put up some big numbers here, and I don’t quite trust Vernon Adams against a defense like the Spartans’ just yet. Michigan State -1.5
#14 LSU (-4.5) at #25 Mississippi State, 9:15, ESPN
For the first time at LSU, Les Miles has some tangible heat coming from his seat as the Tigers look to compete in a hyper-competitive SEC West. The gauntlet starts Saturday as the Tigers head into Starkville in primetime.
Harry: When I pick NFL games, I make my living picking home underdogs. While I like to be a little more nuanced with my collegiate picks, I’m returning to my roots here. Mississippi State +4.5
Bob: I should note that Harry picked road teams in each of the first four games, three of them being favorites. LSU has a big leg up in advanced statistics, but Mississippi State did not lose a home game last year. LSU also doesn’t have a quarterback, but that’s nothing new. Both these teams are good, but I’ll take the Bulldogs as a home ‘dog before I pick against them against a team that we aren’t sure is that great. Mississippi State +4.5
Matt: Do we still think Les Miles is a good coach? I feel like this is an actual question worth discussing, which is pretty indicative of the last couple year or two of LSU football. I’ll open it up to your thoughts in the comments. In any case, Leonard Fournette is going to run for 1,600 yards in this game alone and LSU is going to pull out an early season victory that will vindicate the dumb people who ranked them as high as #14 after they sucked last season. Later this year, LSU will finish 8-4 (4-4) and everybody will wonder why the Tigers were ever in the Top 25. So it goes. LSU -4.5