It’s week 2 of the college football season, and after a summer of educated guesses and prognostication, we finally know something about this year’s teams. Clemson looks fantastic. South Carolina will cause problems for whoever they face. Oregon hasn’t lost a step. Florida State is a top ten team. LSU is a contender. Louisville might go undefeated. Alabama is still the team to beat.
Of course not all the revelations were good. Georgia proved they still can’t be trusted in big games. Like a scene from “Brokeback Mountain,” Nebraska kept it way too close with Wyoming. Oregon State and Kansas State lost what were essentially scrimmages. Johnny Manziel took a break from giving away free autographs and reminded Texas A&M that they need him if they want to win. There’s UConn, who should be thankful this isn’t soccer, otherwise they’d be relegated to a play with a bunch of middle school teams. Then there was my pick of Boise State to win. Now that was a terrible call. Even the Long Island guy who chopped off his own head with a remote-controlled helicopter displayed better judgment than that.
That brings us to week 2, a week traditionally known for giving us cupcake games. This is when we normally see stuff like Alabama-Tennessee Tech, USC-Phoenix Online and Florida State-Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Clemson, Oklahoma State and Louisville all have laughable games this week, just to name a few. However, we are fortunate enough to have some marquee match-ups. South Carolina vs. Georgia features one team with title aspirations, and another team fighting for its life. Should be great. Florida vs. Miami is an underrated game that could set the tone for each team’s season. And there’s the last game (for now) of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry at the Big House.
Here are the games I’ll be keeping an eye on this weekend…
Oklahoma State -27.5 over Texas San Antonio
I like this year's Cowboys team, and I expect them to compete for the Big 12 crown. I think last week's 21-3 victory over Mississippi State was a quality win. I also feel a lot better now that they've declared J.W. Walsh their starting quarterback. No offense to Clint Chelf, who did a fine job last year, but you have to make a decision, and all things being equal, I'll take the sophomore with three years of eligibility over the senior. Having two quarterbacks is like having two girlfriends; you think it will be twice the fun, but in reality you'll never be comfortable, neither of them will ever be happy, and someone will end up transferring and/or getting stabbed with a steak knife.
Miami +3 over Florida
I don't usually listen to analysts when making my picks. In the words of Aaron Hernandez, you can't trust anyone anymore. People make strange picks just to stand out from the crowd. But there's been a groundswell of support for Miami over the past couple days, and this time, I think the analysts have a point. Miami is a team with some real pro talent. Florida is banged up and trying to find a rhythm on offense. I still like the Gators in this game, but I think it'll be close, real close. Florida 21, Miami 20. Nail-biter with a chance of upset. Take the points.
I like this year's Cincy team. If Louisville wasn't queued up for a banner year, I would pick the Bearcats to steal the Big East*, but Teddy Bridgewater and Co. are just too good. Illinois, conversely, is in for a rough year. They could be in the running for the doormat of the Big Ten. Indiana is the Cal Ripken of Big Ten doormats, but recently the Hoosiers have shown some signs of life, so that might change. I just looked at Illinois' remaining schedule and it's entirely possible that they might not win another game. I'm not predicting that, I'm just saying it's possible. They'll probably be underdogs in 10 of their last 11 games. I'll take Cincinnati by three scores in this one.
*I don't care what this conference is named now, I'm calling it the Big East. We shouldn't have an ACC and an AAC. It's too confusing and can only lead to trouble. It's like when I lived in New York City and I would try to take the train to Brooklyn, except I would be super hungover and only see the B-R-O part, then next thing I knew I was headed toward Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Damn you, English language!
Houston -3.5 over Temple
This is my sleeper pick for the week. By which I mean you'll probably fall asleep if you try to watch this game. Temple is a bad, bad football team. Houston looked good last week. Now granted, it was against Southern, but still, they showed a balanced attack and won by 49 points. My takeaways from last week were that Houston at least has some semblance of an offense, and Temple has nothing. I predict a 9-point Cougars victory, and a TV rating of 0.000001.
Oregon -24.5 over Virginia
Oregon vs. Virginia OVER 62.5
My favorite bets for Oregon games are the first half line and the first half over. The Ducks come out strong and blow the competition away early. Then Bryan Bennett and the B-squad show up and try to run out the clock before the opponent can score too many garbage time TDs. Watching Oregon reminds me of when I was in high school and I would play one-on-one basketball against my brother, who was five years younger. I'd dominate early, but then I'd start to feel bad and I'd let him back in the game. That’s why I never covered the Vegas spread against my little brother. (Don’t be naïve… Vegas has a spread on everything.) Oregon is Virginia’s big brother, and that's why I like the first half lines, but I’m also pretty comfortable with the game line as well as the over/under. Virginia is a weak ACC team, and Oregon is a national title contender. Game over. Oregon 56, Virginia 24.
South Carolina +3.5 over Georgia
I was really impressed with South Carolina last week, and not overly impressed with Georgia. A lot of that had to do with the level of competition. North Carolina is alright, but Clemson is an outstanding team. It will be interesting to see what happens this week. If Georgia can get it together and win out through September, they'll be right back in the National Championship conversation by year's end. Trust me, week 1 is the best time to lose, and 38-35 to Clemson will look good to the computers even though we all know it wasn't that close. That's the thing about computers. They're good at calculations, but they aren't very clever. My Netflix account keeps telling me I should watch "Lost," and I hate that show. If I wanted to see something with tons of build-up that never delivered, I would watch a Jets game. And Netflix is a billion dollar company. If they can't get it right, how good do you think the BCS algorithm is? Georgia just needs to start winning and they'll be right back in the mix.
Similarly, if South Carolina wins here, they're in a great position to take the SEC East. Whoever wins the SEC East plays in the SEC Championship Game, and whoever wins the SEC Championship goes to the National Championship Game. Therefore via the transitive property, the winner of this game is a title contender. The Gamecocks have a real shot this year. While everyone was fawning over Jadeveon Clowney, we failed to realize that this South Carolina team has a lot of other talented players. The defense is strong. The running game is solid. Even the quarterback play is greatly improved. I like SC to make a run at the conference this year. I'm not sure who wins this game, but I'll definitely take the points.
[Warning: Accepting a transitive property can get you suspended by the NCAA.]
USC -16 over Washington State
This is a statement game for Lane Kiffin. If the Trojans can't come out and destroy a hapless Washington State team, then maybe Kiffin isn't cut out for this job. Pete Carroll would have beat the Cougars by 50, then illegally recruited half the kids in the stands afterwards. That’s what a true champion does. I'm putting my money on USC here, but if they let me down, they're dead to me. You hear me, Kiffin? Dead!!
Michigan -4.5 over Notre Dame
This is my favorite bet of the week. A depleted Notre Dame team against an up-and-coming Michigan squad in the Big House. I think Brady Hoke is a really good coach who teaches a smash-mouth style of football that will work well in the Big Ten. Devin Gardner is a solid quarterback who will only get better. He's not as exciting as Shoelace Robinson, but he's a better overall QB. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wolverines challenge “that team from Ohio” for the conference title.
I'm not sure what to say about Notre Dame. I was down on them last year and they made me look foolish week after week. I just don't think the Return of Tommy Rees is going to play out the way Irish fans hope. We already tried this and it didn't work out. You're not Patrick Duffy and things are not going to be better the second time around. Not to mention that they lost their middle linebacker -- I think his name was Teo? You never hear about that guy -- and the highly underrated Tyler Eiffert, who changed the complexion of their offense. I think Notre Dame will be decent this year, but I do think it will take a few weeks to get their bearings.
Michigan 30, Notre Dame 17
One Last Note: My friend Dan and I discussed this game at length in the first episode of our brand-new Take the Points podcast. Dan has an interesting theory about last year's title game. Basically he thinks that the Alabama blowout crushed Notre Dame's soul and they won't be the same for awhile. It was an entertaining podcast and I encourage everyone to take a listen.
Take the Points: @take_the_points
Tom Z: @thefaketomz