By REED NELSON
It has been a sports week rife with the Irish, Aaron Raadgers and rekindled rivalries in the SEC, but, alas, neither the Packers, Notre Dame or the new titans of the South are the sun, and we, the earth, have plenty of ancillary Pac-12-action on tap for week 3. And aren’t we lucky.
Since the last Dirty Preview, the Irish became the newest kind-of-member of the ACC, the John L. Smith Era got off to a very John L. Smith-ish start last week in Fayetteville (shaking up this week’s totem pole of matchup watchability, but more on that in a moment), and Stanford managed to erase some of the San Jose State induced week one doubts. Why mention Stanford? Because with their definitive takedown of Duke last week, they’re Saturday afternoon showdown with USC could be the best that the FBS has to offer us this weekend.
‘Blaspheme!’ you might shout, ‘Notre Dame is playing Michigan State! And don’t forget about the 1997 SEC Reunion Special, starring Tennessee and Florida!’ I haven’t, and I’m excited for both of those games. USC-Stanford however, is the only one of those games that has the potential to shake up the Top 5 AND features two ranked teams. So, by my incredibly complex formula (Ranking + Ranking, lowest number is the best matchup. Sort of like golf. Sort of.) USC-Stanford, at 23, is by far the best matchup. MSU-Notre Dame, with a score of 30, comes in second. Tennessee and Florida never had a shot, unless you’re into Dawson’s Creek reruns. But enough with the rest of the country, this is the Dirty Preview, Week 3 1:
Washington State (-8) at UNLV, 6:05 p.m. — One thing I’ve learned this season? Don’t bet on Mike Leach. Not yet. Not after the Cougars curled up into a ball against BYU in their opener, then followed up that performance with a 24-20, down-to-the-last-drive win at home against Eastern Washington last week. Given that WSU failed to cover the 12 point spread at home against Eastern Washington, it’s hard for me lay the eight points, on the road, against a MWC opponent. The caveat to the ironclad logic? Washington State, sans Leach, thumped UNLV last season in Spokane, easily covering the 14-point spread and winning 59-7. In other words, betting this game is like beer-bonging toxic sludge. If WSU QB Jeff Tuel had generated more than a whimper against EWU, it’d be a simple take. But UNLV is supposedly “much improved” from last season, and they’re primary offensive weapon is a workhorse running back averaging 134 yards and 25 carries a game thus far. But enough with Washington State, I’ll probably blow it three weeks in a row anyway. My advice: Leave it alone. Who I’m taking: UNLV (+8), A.
Tennessee Tech at #4 Oregon (-50), noon — I might as well preview the much-anticipated matchup of the china plate vs. tile floor. Maybe I will… Who I’m taking: Oregon (-50), AA.
Cal (+16.5) at #12 Ohio State, 9 a.m. — For the third straight week it appears Jeff Tedford is coaching for his job. I’ve heard from a source that *SPOILER ALERT* the school and its trustees, while happy with Tedford’s ability to attract talent to Berkeley, are not too happy with his ability to translate that talent into consistent production. A win in Columbus could help turn those frowns upside-down, at least for a moment. But that’s a tall order. Cal is coming off back-to-back week’s of not-so-good play, and it came at home. The Horsehoe is a totally different animal, and they’ll have 90,000 flamed-out fans in attendance to prove it. Cal should be able to play with Ohio State, but OSU QB Braxton Miller is the best player on the field. I’m looking for Cal to keep it close enough to make Urban Meyer uncomfortable, but not enough to knock that smug, slightly Belichick-ian smirk off his face. Who I’m taking: Cal (+17), AA.
Portland State at Washington (-27), 1:00 p.m. — After incurring the Wrath of the Tigers last week, look for Keith Price to make this Pacific Northwest showdown personal. 27 points is off-putting, to say the least, but Washington has the fire power to cover. Who I’m taking: Washington (-27), AA.
Arizona State (+5.5) at Missouri, 4:00 p.m. — Just like Texas A&M last week, Missouri looked like the cool new kid in the SEC cafeteria right up until they didn’t. Early in the third quarter, facing #7 Georgia, the kids from Mizzou were up eight and strutting their stuff like Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon’s iteration, not that other kid’s). But when the fourth quarter game of chicken began, they bailed into the river like Chuck Cranston. Georgia’s 17 unanswered fourth quarter points Mizzou’s were the exclamation point atop their eventual 41-20 loss. ASU, on the other hand, is 2-0 and riding high into Columbia. This should be the week that they get knocked down a level or two; Missouri is a good football team that just seemed overwhelmed by the glitzy stage of the SEC. This week, however, ASU will be the young and overwhelmed program, wilting under the SEC lights. Who I’m taking: Missouri (-5.5), AAA.
#2 USC (-9) at #21 Stanford (+9), 4:30 p.m. — In what I’ve already touted as the the most intriguing matchup of the weekend (Total Homer thinking here, mind you, Notre Dame at Michigan State and Florida at now-good Tennessee2 are probably safer picks for great 60 minute games, but we’re in Pac-12 country, so we play by our rules) USC faces its first true test playing Stanford on the road. It’s the second straight road game for the Trojans, and last week’s defensive effort wasn’t what Tampa Cover 2 guru Monte Kiffin was looking for against an underrated Syracuse team. Stanford is pretty good, but not David Shaw telling Andrew Luck “to just go have fun, xoxo” good3. USC is that good, and Matt Barkeley might as well have been genetically engineered by Oliver Luck’s fictional super-nemesis, in a top secret bunker nestled away somewhere near Lake Tahoe, to be Andrew Luck’s blonde haired, laid back, good-looking, rocket-armed, Crest White Strips-enhanced, easy to understand caped nemesis in the football future to come. I love this scenario. I don’t care if I just turned Matt Barkeley into an amalgam of Todd Marinovich and Batman. And I already miss Andrew Luck’s weird neck beard. I’m sure Stanford does too, which is why I can’t, in good faith, take Stanford. Even with the nine points it feels like the NFL-ravaged Cardinal are taking pillows into a gun fight. If they figure out a way to make the pillows work (let’s face it, if anyone can, it’s the kids from Stanford), the spread shouldn’t matter. If they can’t USC will cover quick and drop a cinderblock on the gas pedal. I’m laying the nine. Who I’m taking: USC (-9), AA.
Colorado (+8.5) at Fresno State, 5:00 p.m. — I’ve got a plan for you, Colorado, even if PETA might paint me like a Twizzler as a result: Start Ralphie at running back. It’s the only way. You suit up those two invaluable members of the Pep Squad who hold the rambunctious buffalo and give Ralphie a jersey, too. You line up in the Pistol set, and Jordan Webb, upon receiving the snap, places the ball in Ralphie’s uniform. The two caretakers then release Ralphie upon the now-undersized defense, and Ralphie runs like its 1994. I know, you can’t let caretakers onto the field. Or buffalo, I’d assume, but the NCAA should make a special consideration. If they don’t, I’ll take an order of the Fresno State, laying the points, and a side of 0-3 Buffaloes. P.S. – Colorado must be bad if I just passed up an opportunity to bash Derek Carr (and, by association, his broadside-of-a-barn sized target of a brother, David) for a second straight week. Who I’m taking: Fresno State (+8.5).
#25 BYU at Utah (+2), 7 p.m. — “I’m a Utah man sir, will be ’til I die.” Last week, I considered invoking the lone clause, as per the fight song, in which I could revoke my status as a Utah man. It was embarrassing, losing like that. Utah is in the Pac-12, now, dammit! Egad. And that was at the hands of Utah State, a loss which I justified with ease. OK, maybe not with ease, but the point is, I’m now over it. A Homecoming loss to the Holier Than Though bottom-feeders from Provo, however? That would be too much for one Ute to handle before conference play begins. Fortunately for the Utes, they’re playing at home and I got faith. Unfortunately for the Utes, if faith comes into play, BYU’s fan-base has me steamrolled. In my least objective pick of the day… Who I’m Taking: Utah (+2), A.
South Carolina State at #24 Arizona (-33.5), 7:30 p.m. — RichRod, RichRod, RichRod. Just when you died — and you did die in Ann Arbor, yes you did. There’s a grave and everything. It’s where Brady Hoke sends his players when they need a Time Out to ‘Think about things’ — you have sprung to life as a desert zombie, the rarest of breeds. I’m scared of you RichRod, but not enough for me to deliberate over your Oregon warm-up. Barring a second-unit brain fart, this one’s signed, sealed and covered. Who I’m taking: Arizona (-33.5), AAA.
Houston at #22 UCLA (-10), 7:30 p.m. — Last season, UCLA opened up with fizzle against a lauded Case Keenum-led Houston team (that eventually proved to be nothing more than a lamer version of an Annual Boise State Letdown). In that game, UCLA was the confused road team and Houston was the rising surprise. Flash forward a year and flip the script. Jim Mora Jr. has the Bruins positioned to be the dark horse of the Pac-12 south and Houston misses Keenum. Shining in the late 10:30 ET slot would be a nice affirmation to last week’s upset over Nebraska, a task that UCLA should be up to. Who I’m taking: UCLA (-10), AA.
- At +3, Florida might be favorite play of the week. Not for a guarantee, I just can’t wait to see how they play at Tennessee, as underdogs for the first time in a decade. The subplots are wonderful: Is Tennessee back? Is Muschamp a Mus-Chump? What is a Jeff Driskell? Is it like a Chris Leak? Where is that Tim Tebow guy (I hope he ends up in New York)? Dooley v. Muschamp = Fullmer v. Spurrier? What exactly is a Volunteer? Is it like an actual volunteer or is it something much fiercer? I’ve been on a humanitarian trip and I hardly consider the housewives in safari hats intimidating. Given that piece of information, Tennessee, would you ever consider changing your name? You’re move, Rocky Top, you’re move. Jump.
- Stanford is in the bottom third of the NCAA in too many offensive categories, through two weeks of subpar oppositional play, to be considered a solid “good.” If they prop that Third Down Conversion rate up a little bit, then the adjective fits. Jump.
- Picks for the game, straight up, no spread, are in bold in the matchup, and as always, for an explanation of the AAA, AA, A system, click here. Jump.