This pick-off is turning into a war of attrition. Whoever sucks less will be sipping a delicious chocotini on Christmas Day.
WEEK FOUR--The Skinny
(Last Week: 5-1; Overall: 7-11)
It's the worst weekend of the college football season, Oklahoma's bye week! I can generally take heart in a fun slate of games to get me through the weekend. Unfortunately, it is hard to remember as weaker slate of games than we have this weekend. It could be much worse, though. It's like being the ugliest Playmate... It's still a college football Saturday, and that means Skin is picking games.
Weekly Advice: Watch out for the Minnesota Vikings this year. I mean you should literally watch them play. With Favre, who I can't stand but is fun to watch; Peterson, the most exciting football player I have ever seen, and now Percy Harvin, the Vikings have a fun team. If they just had one more receiver, I would lock them up for the Super Bowl.
Miami (-2) at Va. Tech
Miami is all the rage early in the season, deservedly so. Miami has opened the season with one of the more brutal September schedules I can remember: at Florida State, Ga. Tech, at Va. Tech and Oklahoma. So far, so good for the ‘Canes. Their wins against FSU and GT gave Hurricane fans flashbacks to the late 1980s. Granted, I think Georgia Tech is overrated, but Miami's victory over FSU looks even better after the Seminoles dominated BYU in Provo.
I think Miami is a contender, and not just to beat the Hokies and Sooners, but to win the national championship. I said in the preseason that there wasn't much depth at the top of the rankings. This was one of the weaker top 10s I can remember. It just felt like a year when a dark horse might rise up a la Oklahoma in 2000 and Ohio State in 2002 to win the national title. Miami has outstanding athletes all over the field, and Jacory Harris appears to be the QB the 'Canes have been missing since 2003. I am concerned that Miami will drop an easy down the stretch, but the 'Canes appear mature beyond their years. Maybe national championship talk is a little premature after two games, but Miami will win this week in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech is as overrated as ESPN's Mike and Mike. Seriously, why are they so popular? The Hokies were lucky to win last week against a solid Nebraska squad. The 'Huskers were the better team, except for one key defensive mistake that led to an 80-yard Hokies touchdown. Tech's normally rock-solid defense has been downright awful this season, giving up nearly 500 yards rushing in two games.
The Skinny says: Miami will win big setting up a scary matchup next week for my Sooners.
Washington St. (+46) at USC
The Cougars are awful, but 46 points? That is crazy. Do you remember what happened the last time USC was favored by 46 points at home? They lost to Stanford! Given Pete Carroll's track record lately, maybe Washington St. should be favored.
Personally, I am glad Carroll is catching some heat for USC's annual loss to an inferior Pac-10 team. This year is different, though. As much as ESPN may not want to believe it, the Trojans are down this year. There is a reason Pete Carroll threw a temper tantrum at Sanchez decision to turn pro.
'SC is still a top-10 team, but I think the Trojans will drop three games this season. I am sure Mark May will still declare USC the national champions at the end of the season.
Skin says: Wazzu.
South Florida at Florida State (-14.5)
You have to be impressed by Florida State so far this season. The Seminoles' only loss this season came in an epic 34-30 battle with Miami. Like Miami, FSU is for real this season. I had concerns about both teams going into the season, and I anticipated the same old routine from them. It seems for years now the teams were primed to return to their glory years, only to be disappointed by lackluster 7-5 or 8-4 seasons.
The Seminoles have better athletes across the board than they have had since 2000. FSU's victory at BYU last week was impressive. The Seminoles traveled cross-country and dominated a good BYU team in a hostile environment. This week, the 'Noles are back home against South Florida.
You have to respect the job Jim Leavitt has done at South Florida. He has taken South Florida from a "directional school" to a legit BCS program. According to Heather Dinich of ESPN, a remarkable 40 players from these two teams were high school teammates. At the very least the Bulls are attracting players from Florida's top high school programs.
To say the 'Noles are the more battle-tested team is an understatement. The Bulls' first three opponents have been easier than the Cougars trolling the Bottle and Cork during Jam Session. Speaking of which, I am anxiously awaiting the series premiere of Cougar Town on ABC! I will report back next week!
The Skin says: As much as I like FSU this year, I think the 'Noles are in for a letdown game after playing three in 12 days. Take South Florida with the points.
Florida at Kentucky (+22)
It is hard to say why I like Kentucky in this game. Call it a gut feeling, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Kentucky pull off the upset on Saturday. I can see a big letdown for Florida, with this game sandwiched between last week's hard-fought victory over Tennessee and the Gators' upcoming matchup in Baton Rouge.
I don't really buy into the theory that Monte Kiffin laid out a blueprint to stop Florida's offense last week. Kiffin is a great coach, but a lot of good coaches have faced Florida and Urban Meyer's offense over the past three years. I do think Tennessee was the Florida's first real physical opponent of the year, and that could have an impact on this week. I also think Tennessee was the first good defense Florida has faced this season without Percy Harvin. I said it at the beginning of the season, and it was true last weekend: Florida isn't nearly as dynamic offensively without Harvin.
Kentucky has shown the ability to pull off upsets at home under Rich Brooks. Look for Brooks to pull out a few wrinkles and get a few easy points. If they can do that and get a couple cheap turnovers, you might see an upset in Lexington this weekend or at least a cover.
Skinny says: UK.
Arizona at Oregon State (-2.5)
I hate to say it, but I don't think Mike Stoops is ever going to get over the hump in Tucson. Optimism ran high this offseason after Arizona knocked off BYU in its bowl game last year. I still think Stoops is a damn good coach and not just as defensive coordinator. But I don't think he has quite the "It" as a head coach that his brother has. (Although that was the knock on Bob Stoops before he became a head coach.)
In retrospect I think Stoops miscalculated how difficult it would be to turn Arizona into an elite program. Arizona has potential, but it lacks a fertile recruiting ground. It's just not a school that recruits itself like Texas or Southern Cal.
Oregon State is coming off a tough loss last week to a good Cincinnati team. It's not often you find a team with two players as versatile as the Rodgers brothers. James and Jacquizz are the squad's top two rushers and receivers. OSU also has quietly put together a pretty solid defense, holding two of the nation's better offenses, UNLV and Cincy, to well under their season averages. Corvallis is tough environment for opposing teams, just ask USC.
The Skin says: The Beavers are the better team, especially on defense, playing at home as less than field goal favorite. That makes for a good play.
(Update: Just finished up Cougar Town. Courtney Cox-Arquette still has a smoking body, but that is about the only good think I can say for it. Think Desperate Housewives without the darker edge. Who do they consult before they spend millions of dollars making this shit?)
Lee Greenwood Special: San Diego St. at Air Force (-16)
I don't know much about either team, except that Chuck "Third and" Long was fired from SDSU in the offseason. (It seems pretty unbelievable he got that nickname at OU, considering some of the explosive offenses he coordinated in Norman.) The Aztecs got smoked in Idaho last week. Now, they have turn around and travel to Colorado Springs and play in the high altitude.
The Skinny says: I like Air Force.
WEEK FOUR--Blatant Homerism
(Last Week: 2-4; Overall: 8-10)
When you're mired in a slump, every decision, every intuition, every projection becomes questionable. You start pressing, overthinking, second-guessing. Your handicapping columns turn into jagged, incoherent, rambling, redundant messes.
Time to breathe and re-center my chi.
While instructing his players in the finer points of 40 Minutes of Hell, Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson used to implore them to "try easy." That's what I'm doing this week. If you don't get what that means, well, you don't get it, period.
LSU at Mississippi State (+13)
Guess what, Tigers? Don't adjust your clocks--this game really does kick off at 11:20 am! And I'm sure you'll get a full night's sleep at whatever charming accomodations Starkville has to offer. By the time you take the field on Saturday, you should be rested, refreshed and ready to play in the middle of a forecasted thunderstorm.
Homerism says: LSU will shake off a sluggish start to win, but it won't be enough to cover the 13. Also, consider a little something on the first half on MSU.
Notre Dame at Purdue (+7)
Usually I stay away from Fightin' Irish games, but every so often one jumps out at me.
While Jimmy Clausen and the offense are moving the ball as well as expected, ND continues to struggle with getting stops. Michigan State went up and down the field against the Irish to the tune of 7.1 yards per play. The pass defense should be especially troubling for Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, as Sparty passed for almost nine yards per attempt. If not for a late interception thrown by MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins, Weis would already have one of his ample feet out ND's door.
The Boilermakers aren't exactly setting the world on fire after last week's home loss to Northern Illinois, but there's reason to think they will have success moving the ball through the air. Senior QB Joey Elliott enters this game completing a solid 61 percent of his throws for an average of 6.7 per attempt. Elliott's biggest issue this week: avoid interceptions.
When you consider the health issues Our Ladies are facing on offense, the Irish could struggle to outscore Purdue this week. Translation: Irish in trouble.
Homerism says: ND by 2, if at all.
LGS: San Diego State at Air Force (-16)
The LGS options this week are even more unenticing that usual, so I guess I feel "least bad" about this one. This does seem like an awful lot of points for the Falcons to cover, but the Aztecs are flat-out awful and playing their second road game in a row.
Homerism says: Air Force by 20.
Missouri at Nevada (+7.5)
This was one of my preseason picks, and I feel compelled to stick with it. Mizzou raised some eyebrows with its dominating win in week one over Illinois. But, now that the surprise has worn off, we're reminded that the Illini are as schizophrenic as they come. How much stock can we put in that game? Not much.
And what to make of Nevada's disappointing start? Many were jocking the Wolf Pack as a candidate to pull off the stunner versus Notre Dame in the opener--loss, 35-0. Two weeks later, Nevada no-showed as a road favorite at Colorado State, falling 35-20. Are the Pack really as bad as they've played? Doubt it.
The public money is coming in three to one on the road favorite in this game, per Wagerline. That's the nail in the coffin.
Homerism says: Nevada wins outright under the Friday night lights.
Boise State at Bowling Green (+17)
Man, if there's one team I feel like I just can't get a handle on, it's Boise State. I shudder to think how many times I've missed on Boise games in the past two seasons. So forget about trying to play pin the tail on the Broncos anymore, right? Of course not.
I suspect the sentiment against Bowling Green has shifted this line a bit too far. The Falcons pounded Troy in the season's first week before falling in two close road contests to Missouri and Marshall. That's not the stuff of BCS busters, but it's respectable. Now, the Falcons have returned to the nest, which should help lift their quality of play. They also played the Broncos relatively tight at Boise last year, losing by 13.
The loss of running back D.J. Harper isn't a season-killer for BSU, but it's likely to have coach Chris Petersen's team just a bit off its game this week.
Homerism says: My sordid history with Boise definitely has me spooked, but I think the signs point strongly to the Falcons here.
Washington at Stanford (-7)
If I owned Husky stock, I'd jump ship right now. Coach Steve Sarkisian and his team probably spent the last week living up their titanic upset of USC, and rightfully they should. Now, though, it's back to the drudgery of the weekly conference schedule with a trip to the Farm.
The enthusiasm generated by Washington's biggest win in a while doesn't change the fact that the Husky defense has played pretty poorly this season. The Husky D is allowing 6.6 yards per play on defense, tying for 109th nationally. Opponents are averaging 5.4 yards per rushing attempt (113th) and 7.8 yards per pass (97th).
Meanwhile, the Cardinal offense is humming along in a fashion not seen since the days when Denny Green roamed the Stanford sidelines. Stanford's O is gaining nearly seven yards per play, good for 13th in country. Granted, U-Dub has faced a tougher schedule so far. Still, that doesn't let the Husky defenders off the hook. Jim Harbaugh has Sark right where he wants him.
Homerism says: Stanford covers the seven.
Bonus Pick: Tennessee Titans (+2.5) at New York Jets
My handicapping has been so thoroughly mediocre this season that I feel my loyal readers are due a special bonus this week. (Of course, is it fair to call this a bonus, considering the source?)
Whichever one of Buddy Ryan's kids who is coaching New York has done a great job bringing a little snap back to the J-E-T-S. His team may have shot its wad last week against New England, though. Jeff Fisher has been around long enough to know what it means if the Titans start the season 0-3. I expect the Titans will do whatever it takes to win this game.
Homerism says: Titans, 13-12.