Preseason Pick: Stanford
This is an interesting game, key for both teams. If UCLA loses, you can just forget about a bowl bid. Starting 0-2 with brutal road trips to Texas, Cal and Oregon remaining, plus challenging home games against Houston, Arizona, and USC, means that it simply won't happen if they can't find a way to pull the upset here.
And if they can't seriously up their level of play from last week, they won't pull the upset. Kansas St ran the ball at will, and UCLA's passing game simply wasn't working, largely because their receivers kept dropping balls. Against a Stanford team with a great offensive line and good running backs, and whose only real weakness is the pass defense, that's a very bad combination.
On the Other Hand:
This is a huge game for Stanford as well. Don't forget, Stanford has been consistently poor on the road under Harbaugh; other than two surprising upsets at USC, all they've done on the road is beat the Washington schools. And if they can't win this road game, why should anyone like their chances in much tougher road games at Notre Dame, Oregon, and Cal? Heck, why should anyone like their chances at Washington or ASU either? And there's no way of knowing whether their secondary is any better than the atrocious mess it was last year. Yes, they can put serious points on the board, but if they're giving up loads of points too, they're in real trouble.
It's also worth noting that you can't seem to find much of anyone outside of UCLA who gives the Bruins a meaningful shot at this game, but the line absolutely refuses to move (in fact, I believe it actually started over 8 and has moved down, not up). Unless there are some big bettors out there who really like the Bruins here, it probably means that Vegas is OK with having net action on Stanford. Given that the books are usually smarter than the public, that's a positive sign for the upset possibility.
This is desperation time for UCLA. Expect them to pull out all the stops to find a way to keep hope alive for the 2010 season. Unfortunately for them, I just don't see them doing much against Stanford's offense, and their own offense will be up and down just like it was last week at Kansas St. They'll have some good moments, but it won't be enough.
Stanford 31, @ UCLA 17
Oregon (-11.5) @ Tennessee
This is supposed to be a marquee game, and Oregon is definitely holding up their end so far, humiliating New Mexico 72-0 in a game that was over before the end of the first quarter. They looked even better than last year's very good team in all phases of the game, and look to continue their dominance in an extremely hostile environment all the way on the other end of the country. If they bring their "A" game and aren't affected by the distance, weather or crowd, this really shouldn't be a close game.
On the Other Hand:
Neyland Stadium has claimed plenty of highly-ranked victims over the years, and even with what is probably a down Vol team, it's entirely possible that it happens again. It's hard to go to the other end of the country, and it's hard to fight a crowd that will be extremely fired up for this game. And Tennessee still has talent, even without very much experience; it's entirely possible they're a lot better than most people rate them.
I don't believe in Tennessee's personnel, and I don't believe in Derek Dooley, who had a losing record (including a 4-8 2009 campaign) at Louisiana Tech before landing this job. The situation is difficult, but I just don't think the opponent is.
Oregon 34, @ Tennessee 13
Colorado @ Cal (-10)
Last week was an eye-opening performance for Colorado, taking their rival Colorado St behind the woodshed, dominating in pretty much every way. They shut down CSU's run game (their specialty), they got three interceptions from CSU's quarterback, and they were strong on offense, especially through the air (less than 200 yards, but almost 8 yards per pass). Given that Cal is going to want to run the ball, has a sometimes shaky quarterback in Kevin Riley, and a pass defense that remains questionable until proven otherwise, this could actually be a surprisingly tough matchup for the Bears.
On the Other Hand:
Cal is still the better team, with more weapons on offense, a stronger defense, and home-field advantage. Unless Riley is flat-out lousy (possible but unlikely), Colorado won't enjoy a turnover advantage like last week's, and to be honest, they'll need one in order to win.
This line has reached 10 points, which seems a bit high if Colorado really is decent this year. Since I think they are, I'd take the points; this should be a fairly decent game, though Cal is still going to win.
@ Cal 28, Colorado 20
Virginia @ USC (-19.5)
USC's defense looked extremely vulnerable last week at Hawaii, but their offense still looked fantastic, and now that they're at home against a Virginia team that's making a long cross-country trip (not to mention a very late kickoff), 19.5 just seems like too small of a line. Virginia may be the worst ACC team, and it's highly unlikely that they can hang with a USC team that will be motivated to show that they're still elite after last week's uninspiring showing.
@ USC 35, Virginia 13
Syracuse @ Washington (-13)
Washington absolutely could have won last week's game if a couple breaks had gone their way, and there's still reason for optimism here. However, while you don't want to read too much into a game against a MAC opponent, Syracuse still played extremely well in a week one road game. Given that, nearly 2 touchdowns is a bit too high of a line, especially with the Huskies likely looking ahead a bit to next week's huge test against Nebraska. That said, an actual upset is pretty unlikely.
@ Washington 28, Syracuse 17
Montana St @ Washington St (NL)
Hopefully this is an easy win against Montana St. Unfortunately, there's no way to know for sure until kickoff, given how bad things looked last week.
@ Washington St 35, Montana St 21
Northern Arizona @ Arizona St (NL)
@ Arizona St 45, NAU 3
Citadel @ Arizona (NL)
@ Arizona 45, Citadel 3
National Games of the Week:
Miami @ Ohio St (-8.5)
Maybe "The U" really is back… but I'm not quite ready to believe it. They have plenty of talent, but Ohio St has more, pretty much across the board. It will be hard to run effectively against Ohio St's defense, which means Jacory Harris will need to carry this team. I'd consider it more likely that he throws a couple of game-killing interceptions against an elite secondary than carrying the Canes to victory. Throw in a major home-field advantage for Ohio St, and this one might actually get ugly.
@ Ohio St 31, Miami 17
Penn St @ Alabama (-12)
This is a very tough game for Penn St, going on the road against a very good Alabama team, especially given a young quarterback and a rebuilding defense. If you believe Bama is the true #1 team this line might actually be light. But if you're a bit skeptical they're quite that good, then this might be a tad high. Newsome won't be quite ready for this test, and won't be able to carry his team to the upset win, but they'll come close.
@ Alabama 24, Penn St 17
Florida St @ Oklahoma (-7)
Like Miami, Florida St is a team that's supposed to be "back", but even more than Miami, they just haven't done much to prove it. Last year the defense was soft and the offense up and down. While they should be improved, it's tough to see them really hanging with the Sooners, unless Oklahoma really was as bad as they looked last week against Utah St (which I doubt). Norman is a brutal place to try to win at, and this will be proven once again.
@ Oklahoma 28, Florida St 14
Michigan @ Notre Dame (-3.5)
To be honest, I'm a Notre Dame skeptic until proven otherwise, and I don't see Purdue as being good enough to make an 11-point home win especially impressive. Jimmy Clausen really carried this team last year, and with him and star receiver Golden Tate gone, even a coach as good as Brian Kelly probably can't make them a legit top 25 team in 2010. That said, I'm not really ready to jump on board the Michigan bandwagon either. They played great against UConn, but now they've got a challenging road game against a team almost as good as them. This looks like a tossup to me, with a slight edge going to the home team.
@ Notre Dame 28, @ Michigan 27
Georgia @ South Carolina (-3)
Is South Carolina really the better team here? This is a tough road game for a green quarterback, but Georgia is still more talented, and Mark Richt has been so consistently good on the road I can't go against him, though to be honest this is a genuine tossup in my opinion.
Georgia 21, @ South Carolina 17
Duke +6 @ Wake
These games are usually extremely close, and to be honest I strongly suspect that Duke is the better team. I'd call this a true tossup; at most Wake should be a 1-2 point favorite. And for the record, I thought Duke was consistently undervalued last year (5-4-1 ATS last year per Phil Steele, with the ATS losses generally close and a number of covers by double-digits), and this line makes me think that Vegas is at it again with this team.
Bowling Green +17 @ Tulsa
So Tulsa just gagged against a completely rebuilding ECU team, while Bowling Green very nearly won at Troy (who's probably about as good as Tulsa), and yet the line is well over 2 touchdowns? This just looks like an under the radar line the books weren't paying much attention to. Unless you believe that both teams' results last week were meaningless flukes, it's hard to see why this line should be anything over 10.
BYU +1.5 @ Air Force
Between the way BYU always seems to win this game, and the fact that they just had a nice win against Washington, I have a really hard time seeing why the heck they aren't around 3-point favorites. This one seems way too obvious, which makes me think I'm missing something important.
Pac-10: 8-2 SU, 3-4 ATS
National: 3-0 SU, 1-1-1 ATS
Bad Lines: 0-2
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