Well, last week was kind of a mixed bag...
-Picking Miami to blow Pitt away
-Picking LSU to win close
-Boise State pick
-The Miami/Pitt, Purdue/Toledo, and UNC/Rutgers spreads
-Thinking Arkansas would be overmatched against Bama
-Thinking Notre Dame would keep it close with Stanford
-Picking South Carolina over Auburn
-The Houston/Tulane and Iowa/Ball State spreads
We have a metric ton of really good games this week. I can't pick them all because there are just too many. But first, HEADLINES...
-Of course you know I'm gonna start with Miami. Especially since I saw this coming a mile away. I saw this coming as soon as Utah beat Pitt (not because Utah beat Pitt but the way they did it) and I saw it coming after Miami lost to Ohio State. Pittsburgh just plain isn't very good. The defense has its soft spots but the offense is totally inept. Of course it helped that Miami has one of the smartest, most athletic defenses in the country. And you could tell that John Lovett emphasized technically sound tackling in the 11 days leading up to this game. But the Panthers couldn't buy a first down to save their lives. In the first half, they were gifted with two typical Jacory Harris mistakes and couldn't do diddly squat with them. It feels unfair to say this but I know it isn't: Miami should have won this game by a lot more than they did. The offense easily could have put 40 or 50 on the board if it wasn't for a litany of bonehead mistakes on offense (and special teams) that stalled drives and took points off the board. For starters, if Jacory puts a little more air under that first INT and if an early Travis Benjamin punt return TD doesn't get called back, it wouldn't be outlandish to think this game might have ended 45-3 (nevermind the myriad of dumb penalties and dropped passes on offense)--granted, if they had built that kind of a lead early, they might have called the dogs off sooner but there's no reason to think they wouldn't have still hit the 40s.
-What a surprise. Now the whole world is jumping on the NC State bandwagon. Allow me to Lee Corso this trend: "NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS!" I'll say it again: teams (especially ACC teams) are figuring out the triple option attack now. There's still the opportunity for big plays once in a while because defenses will still miss assignments from time to time and Georgia Tech still has the athletes to make them pay. But if you watch the Jackets on offense, they're not a consistent ball-moving offense; not anymore. The ACC has figured out how to play assignment football now. Combine that with the fact that they lost most of their defense and I just don't know how impressive the NC State win really is. This is a Georgia Tech team that lost to a Kansas team that lost to North Dakota State 6-3--Kansas, by the way, scored 28 points on Georgia Tech just a week removed from notching only 3 on the Bison. But, of course, the media loves a dark horse, so North Carolina State is now ranked and being talked about all over ESPN to win the ACC Coastal. Not that beating the defending ACC champs on the road isn't impressive, but let's see how they do against THIS year's preseason favorites to win the ACC first. More on that later.
-I was thinking about how this year's Red River Shootout is possibly the least enticing edition of the game since 1999 when only Texas came into the game ranked and was ranked #23 (you might argue that the 2005 edition was less interesting because an unranked 2-2 Sooner team faced Vince Young's juggernaut but I felt that was an underrated Oklahoma team at the time--and, to be fair, they did win 6 of their last 7 and then shock #6 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl--and it was also the year Texas snapped a five-game losing streak to the Sooners). That got me thinking about a more broad picture: Is there any top ten team that has looked legitimately impressive this year?
Let's go down the list:
Alabama and Ohio State have certainly looked like the two best teams in the country (which isn't exactly saying a lot) but they also both have some pretty glaring weaknesses and certainly neither look unbeatable.
Boise State may have been the most impressive team in the country but needed a miracle drive to beat a currently unranked Virginia Tech team after giving up a 17-0 lead.
Oregon's offense has been rolling but they haven't exactly faced a team with a pulse, nor has Nebraska or Florida.
TCU looked solid in their win over Oregon State but mighty shaky against SMU.
Oklahoma barely got by Utah State, Air Force, and Cincinnati.
Stanford destroyed a UCLA team (on the road) that just dismantled Texas in Austin and a Notre Dame team (also on the road) that had been looking very respectable but that's still not that much to go on.
Auburn has looked pretty impressive in two brutally physical gut-check home wins over Clemson and South Carolina--and before you're turned off by the fact that these were home games, remember that they were dominated early in both these games--but, again, not much to go on there.
If you want to consider the opinion of the coaches as well (for some reason), then you have Wisconsin and LSU instead of Stanford and Auburn--which kind of makes no sense to me because Stanford and Auburn have probably been the two most impressive top ten teams outside the top three.
Wisconsin needed a blocked extra point to beat Arizona State (their only BCS conference opponent so far) and LSU has narrowly beaten a decimated North Carolina team and an unconvincing West Virginia squad while managing to be ranked 115th in the NCAA in passing offense.
If I had to pick my top ten heading into October it would look something like this:
2. Ohio State
3. Boise State
In fact, that gives me an idea. Maybe every Sunday or Monday I'll start doing my own top 25. That would be fun for those people that read this. Yeah...
And now...on with the show...
#21 Texas vs. #8 Oklahoma
OK, everyone, relax. This is STILL Texas/Oklahoma. It may not have all the luster it's had in recent years but it is still one of the premiere rivalries and these are still two supremely talented teams even if they haven't quite found their identities yet. I've been a big fan of Garrett Gilbert ever since last year's BCS title game (which I STILL think Texas wins with Colt McCoy playing 60 minutes) but the Longhorns have no running game (no matter how much they think they do) while the Sooners have DeMarco Murray. I give Landry Jones the slight edge in experience and while both defenses will be tough to crack, Oklahoma will make just enough plays to win another defensive struggle.
Hobbitcore sez: Oklahoma
Virginia Tech @ #23 North Carolina State
The Wolfpack has become everyone's favorite dark horse in a disappointing ACC (which is saying something because not much is generally expected of this conference) after a 4-0 start and a big win over the defending conference champs. That's all well and good but, in my opinion, the road to the ACC title still goes through Virginia Tech, who are coming off of a dominant 19-0 win over a very good Boston College team. Russell Wilson has the tools to give the Hokies defense some fits but I think Tyrod Taylor gives the Wolfpack D even more and Bud Foster will have enough tricks in his bag to confuse Wilson into at least one or two uncharacteristic mistakes.
Hobbitcore sez: Virginia Tech
#22 Penn State @ #17 Iowa
It may not be sexy but this promises to be a classic Big Ten slugfest. Both defenses should have good days but I think Ricky Stanzi tips the scales in Iowa's favor and the Hawkeyes get the big conference win at home.
Hobbitcore sez: Iowa
#7 Florida @ #1 Alabama
Yeah, ok, maybe I'm biased against the SEC but someone has to be, right? Personally, I have to disagree with everyone who's talking about how they think Florida will keep this one closer than everyone expects. Yeah, they'll be playing with a chip on their shoulder and yes, Trey Burton is beginning to emerge as the playmaker they need, who will give the young Bama defense a lot of problems. However, Florida is facing their first real test of the season after weeks of games against unranked teams to help them work out the kinks. They seemed to be able to do that against Kentucky, but that's Kentucky. I think Bama's defense has enough talent and Kirby Smart is crafty enough to confuse the Gators into making several crucial mistakes on offense, which, unlike Miami (OH), South Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Alabama will be able to take advantage of on offense while avoiding mistakes against Florida's opportunistic defense. I know I said this last week but this one may be close for a half or three quarters but eventually the Tide pull away at home because the Gators just aren't mentally tough enough to handle the #1 team in the country in a hostile environment.
Hobbitcore sez: Alabama
UPSET OF THE WEEK
#11 Wisconsin @ #24 Michigan State
I'm really struggling with this one because Wisconsin hasn't exactly looked like a world-beater and Michigan State has been mildly impressive. With this one being held in East Lansing, all the pieces are in place for a big upset. John Clay will be tough to contain but Michigan State held Armando Allen to 71 yards on the road. I may end up regretting this but my gut is telling me to go with the upset.
Hobbitcore sez: Michigan State
GAME OF THE WEEK
#9 Stanford @ #4 Oregon
Stanford could really make the argument that they have the best resume of any top ten team up to this point with blowout road wins over UCLA and Notre Dame. Oregon has been steamrolling a handful of mediocre opponents. Now we get to see who can play defense. Oregon averages 57.8 points a game and is allowing 11 a game while Stanford is averaging 48 points a game and yielding just 13.8 a game. Those stats could be fairly misleading, however, as Oregon pitched shutouts against New Mexico (ranked last in the nation in points against and next to last in points for...Oregon beat them 72-0) and Portland State (of the FCS) as well as dominating a dismal Tennessee offense (after struggling early) and also gave up 31 to Arizona State last week. Stanford, meanwhile, went on the road and pitched a shutout against UCLA, and went into Notre Dame and held Brian Kelly's much-improved offense to 14 points. The misleading thing about Stanford is the fact that their QB is one of the top NFL prospects in the country and yet they are actually one of the top 15 rushing offenses in the country. This is an unbelievably even matchup so I have to give Oregon the edge solely because of Autzen Stadium, which has quietly (not literally, obviously) become one of the ten most difficult places to play in the country.
Hobbitpick: Oregon 45, Stanford 42
Keys to the Game
-Pressure Andrew Luck
-Pass to set up the run
-Special teams, special teams, special teams
-Make Darron Thomas beat you with his arm
-Run to set up the pass
-Special teams, special teams, special teams
East Carolina (+14) over North Carolina
Tulane (+17.5) over Rutgers
Kentucky (+3) over Ole Miss
Kansas (+9) over Baylor
Boston College (+2.5) over Notre Dame
My Heisman Ballot (if voting ended today)
1. Denard Robinson
2. Mark Ingram
3. Cameron Newton
ACC: Miami over Florida State
Big 12: Nebraska over Oklahoma
Big East: West Virginia
Big Ten: Ohio State
Pac 10: Oregon
SEC: Alabama over Florida
BCS Championship: Alabama over Nebraska
Sugar: Boise State over Oklahoma
Orange: Miami over Florida
Fiesta: TCU over West Virginia
Rose: Oregon over Ohio State