By REED NELSON
Remember when Week 4 was the best week, like, ever in college football?
Well, to paraphrase Twain, those reports might have been exaggerated.
This week, like Week 4, there are plenty of matchups between Top 25 programs. Unlike Week 4, however, two of those feature four Top 10 SEC teams between them. The other three, are just, you know, showdowns between #8 West Virginia and #11 Texas, #2 Oregon and #23 Washington, and #12 Ohio State and #21 Nebraska.
Also unlike Week 4, there is an actual possibility to catch more than one of these games in its entirety. #4 LSU and #10 Florida kick off at 12:30 p.m. PST, presenting no viewing conflict.
Active, concise, accurate and somewhat telepathic channel flipping (one of my few skills) must be honed, however, starting at 4:30 p.m. PST. As the sun starts to set and fans flock to the tailgate, #5 Georgia and #4 South Carolina kickoff, which is awesome.
The not-so-awesome thing is that WVU-Texas kicks off at the same time. The primary viewing selection must become a calculated choice: Geno Smith or Aaron Murray? Jarvis “Sac-Man” Jones vs. JaDaveon Clowney or Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin vs. the Texas Secondary? A high-powered game with an over-under of 73.5 or a game featuring two SEC teams that have been on the cusp for half a decade now?
Gamebreaks, we thank thee.
And Pacific Standard Time, we thank thee as well. One game that won’t conflict all too much with the PrimeTime Double Time is Oregon-Washington (Ohio State-Nebraska kicks off at 5 p.m.), the cream of this week’s Pac-12 crop. A title that is most definitely an honor this week.
For the first time this season, all five Pac-12 games will feature at least one ranked team. #14 Oregon State could be Top 10 bound if they clean up at home. Same goes for #13 USC on the road. 18 of the top 20 teams are in action this week, 11 of the top 12, and of those 11, six play each other. For teams sitting outside the top 12… cough… USC and Oregon State… cough… statement victories could propel them inside the top 10, possibly higher. At least six of the top 12 teams will have losses by 11 p.m. PST, which bodes well for a conference that has only one team amongst those ranks, but plenty knocking on the door1.
Saturday is setting up nicely for the fans and, coming off a 4-1 week against the spread, I feel good too. Can I make it two straight Thursday night upsets (the gambling equivalent of taking the opening kick to the house)? Let’s hope so. Unless you’re an SC fan.
Off we go (As always, times are PST, lines from sportsbook.ag, and my moneyline picks are in bold.).
#13 USC (-14) at Utah (+14), O/U 48.5, 6:00 p.m. — Taking Washington made sense last week: Coming off a bye week and a win over USC, Stanford had every opportunity to come out looking sluggish, and they did. Now, it’s USC’s turn to come off a bye and avoid sluggishness. Considering their recent struggles, however, their bye week couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. If Lane Kiffin is actually a competent coach (instead of the oft-suggested scenario in which he is really the Problem Child wearing a Peyton Manning costume. Alright, maybe it’s not “oft-suggested”, but at least now it’s been suggested. Take that universe, that one’s out there.) and Matt Barkley is actually a good quarterback, then the 10-day hiatus should have provided some much-needed bonding time. If they aren’t the symbiotic pair that we thought they’d be, though, then Kyle Whittingham’s Scary-As-Hell defensive line has the potential to turn Barkley into the “You Rang????” kid from Little Giants. That being said, Utah’s secondary has looked sporadic at best. Mo Lee is one of those Big Risk/Big Reward/Where The F*ck Did You Think That Pass Was Going, Bro?! corner’s, and if Paul and Dave Krueger and Star Lotuleilei can’t rush Barkley and force him to move around, this could be Utah vs. ASU (37-7) 2.0. I think they can get to him, but not nearly enough. Let’s not forget: Last year, Utah went into The Coliseum, and lined up for a field goal to tie the game as time expired. Sure the field goal was blocked and returned for a score, demolishing the spread and skewing history’s perception of the game, but Utah was right there. I like them to keep it close again this year. And I’m a total friggin’ homer. Hate me; I sure do. Who I’m taking: Utah (-14) with the under. A.
Arizona (+9) at #18 Stanford (-9), O/U 54.5, 12:05 p.m. — Arizona was somehow favored against Oregon State last Saturday, but this week their 20-day stretch of ineptitude caught up to them, at least with the odds-makers. RichRod’s offense, which had been averaging over 45 points a game for the first three games of the season, has been held to just 35 points since conference play began. And just to pile on, Stanford needs to win this game more than any other Pac-12 team needs to win on Saturday (save Oregon, who, at this point, just need to win, win and win), and not just to save face; they play #9 Notre Dame next Saturday, just a day before the first BCS polls are released, and they don’t want to travel to South Bend in the midst of a two-game losing streak. Arizona isn’t nearly the mess that I’d like them to be, but RichRod handles adversity about as well as Chris Brown handles relationships. Unless Arizona’s run defense can get themselves together, Stepfan Taylor, who is still one of the most exciting backs in the country, will have himself enough of a ball game to mask whatever deficiencies that Josh Nunes decides to have on Saturday. I like Stanford on the moneyline, but I’m still not sold on their offense. A nine-point win is a tall order for a team averaging just 26 points a game2. Who I’m taking: Arizona (+9) with the Under. AA.
Washington State (-15.5) at #14 Oregon State (+15.5), O/U 58.5, 3:00 p.m. — Mike Leach’s bunch bit me in the butt last week, and they did it late. After the Cougar offense stalled in the second half, Leach inserted his neglected stepchild of a quarterback, the hurt-then-spurned Jeff Tuel, who promptly threw a 26-yard touchdown pass in his only play from scrimmage. The lesson? I can’t find one, except that Leach is entertaining on the sidelines and has the ability to cover a 30-point spread against Oregon at home. But this game isn’t in Seattle, and the spread is only 15.5. Need more? Mike Reilly’s defensive unit is allowing less than 21 points a game. His suddenly-brilliant sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion has thrown for 1,088 yards in just three games, which comes to 362.7 yards per game (4th in the nation). And Oregon State is undefeated, knocking off two ranked opponents. If they lose to the Cougs, it was all an aberration. I don’t think it was. Who I’m taking: Oregon State (-15.5) with the Under. AAA.
#25 UCLA (-2.5) at Cal (+2.5), O/U 55.5, 7:00 p.m. — This wins the Most Baffling Line of the Week Award, no contest. For the second straight week, the odds-makers have seemingly undersold the impotence of the Cal offense and the inconsistency of their defense. The Bears have allowed 30.2 points a game on defense, which doesn’t exactly pair like wine with their 25.6 ppg average on offense. UCLA, coming off an as-expected trouncing of Colorado (Oh, pobre Buffaloes… At least you’re off this week.) shouldn’t have trouble with this 1-4 Cal team, nor should they have trouble against the spread: Cal is 1-4 on the season against the spread, while the Bruins are the mirror opposite, 4-1. Oh, and Cal head coach Jeff Tedford might be past the point of employment salvation (the best Cal can finish at this point is 8-4, and they still would have to beat #2 Oregon at home then #14 Oregon State on the road just to get there). Cal looks like, at best, a 6-6 team, but more like a 4-8/5-7 team. So, laying less than a field goal on UCLA playing at 1-4 Cal? Yespleasethankyousircanihaveanother. Who I’m taking: UCLA (-2.5) with the Over. AAA.
#23 Washington (+24.5) at #2 Oregon (-24.5), O/U 65, 7:35 p.m. — This preview comes tomorrow, so I’ll keep it brief and gambling-related: Chip Kelly is to a spread what Flubber was to a room full of delicate possessions. His actions are wild and often out of control, but his outcomes are predictable (destruction, destruction, destruction) and seemingly calculated. He allows bad teams to play up to Oregon’s level (see: Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech, Fresno State and WSU), then pummels good teams as if he’s punishing them for having the gall to think they were good (see: a then-#22 Arizona). His 5-0 Ducks are somehow, inexplicably 1-4 against the spread while winning there games by an average of 32.6 points. Against Tennessee Tech, the failed to cover a spread while winning by 49. But Washington isn’t Tennessee Tech. They aren’t Washington State, either. They’re better than both of those teams, which might make things much, much worse for the Huskies. Top it off, barkeep? No problem. Oregon has won the last eight meetings between the two, and done so by an average of 25 points. There’s my rationale. Who I’m taking: Oregon (-24.5) and the Over. AA.
#4 LSU (-2.5) at #10 Florida — I like the Gators this season, and I don’t like the Tigers. Even if you can explain their poor play against poor opponents, I still don’t like their offensive anemia. I hope it’s not contagious. Florida (+2.5).
#5 Georgia at #6 South Carolina (-1) — It’s been a waiting game since Spurrier arrived in Gamecock country, as the nation waited for the reincarnation of the Fun-n-Gun offense that was such a spectacle at The Swamp. Is Connor Shaw the next Danny Wuerffel? Maybe this game will help us weed out the answer. South Carolina (-1).
#8 West Virginia at #11 Texas (-6.5) — This is my favorite line of the week. Following the 70-point bullhorn that WVU blew on the nation last week, they’re really getting points this week?!? And not just getting points, but almost a touchdown?!? Awesome. Texas QB David Ash might be the nation’s second-most efficient passer (behind, of course, WVU’s Geno Smith), but I like the freak’s from Morgantown. West Virginia (+6.5).
- To top things off, this is the penultimate week in the pre-BCS Standing season, and everyone who watched The Wire knows this: One of your favorite characters will get killed off in the penultimate episode. Especially if its written by George Pelacanos. Top 10, beware, television plots are coming for you.Jump
- A number that has been bolstered by their 50-point outburst against Duke in Week 2. Other than that game, however, Stanford has scored more than 20 points just once (21, against USC) and won by no more than seven points. In fact, if you take out that 50-13 win over Duke, Stanford averages just 19 points per game. Their defense makes up for most of that by allowing just 15.3 points a contest, but that doesn’t buy a cover. Jump