Want to hear something sad? After Saturday’s games, most every team in college football will be done with a third of their schedule. On a sadness sale of “seeing a puppy walk around with a broken leg” to “Watching Charlie Weis sweat in 28 degree Kansas weather” it’s safe to say that knowing a third of the college football season is over, is somewhere smack dab in the middle of that.
Of course if there is one silver-lining, it’s that we are just not starting to get a good feel for how the college football season will play out. There have been plenty of surprises so far, some good (Florida, Arizona), others bad (the entire Big Ten, John L. Smith’s wardrobe and finances) and some that actually aren’t surprising at all (cough…Alabama…cough). But thankfully, we are learning about these teams none the less.
And it’s with all that accrued knowledge, that it’s time to get to the Week 4 picks. As usual all games are picked against the spread, with the home team in caps.
Enjoy. And remember, whatever you do, don’t make direct eye contact with your TV screen when Charlie Weis is pacing the sidelines.
WEST VIRGINIA (-25 ½) over Maryland: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. FX
Of every dumb early season story line, maybe the dumbest to me is Geno Smith’s early “Heisman buzz.” First of all, I hate September Heisman buzz to begin with, but at least with guys like Braxton Miller, Jonathan Franklin they’ve played against real teams. Who has Geno Smith played so far? As of right now, his resume includes big numbers against Marshall and James Madison with a bye week in between. What, was Sweet Valley High not available to schedule this year too?
The point is we know nothing about Smith, and nothing about the Mountaineers. And unfortunately going against another FCS… err… struggling Maryland team, I doubt we’ll learn much more Saturday either.
Kentucky (+24) over FLORIDA: Saturday, 12:21 p.m. SEC Network
Look, as I’m sure most of you know by now, there’s no bigger Florida fan than me…
… avoiding eye contact…
Ok, you caught me, and to be blunt, there are a lot of people who are bigger Florida fans than me. Like pretty much anyone who has rooted for the Gators, at any point in their lives, ever.
Still, while I’m a proud man, I’ve never too proud to admit when I’m wrong, and so far, I have been wrong about this group from Gainesville. They’re more talented than I thought they’d be. They’re tougher than I thought they’d be. And Will Muschamp is a better coach too. Heck, just to prove that last point, I even went out of my way to write Muschamp an apology letter earlier this week. Seriously, that happened. And if you haven’t read it, you should check it out.
But when it comes to Saturday, well, don’t take it personal Gators fans, but this one will be close. After all, do you really trust a young team, in a noon kickoff, returning home after two epic road wins? Especially when the Gators are headed into a bye directly after this one and are playing a school that is coming off arguably their worst loss in program history.
That’s what I thought.
Look, Florida is going to win this game. It’s going to be ugly but won’t necessarily be as close as the final score will indicate.
I still like Kentucky and the points here, though.
Oregon State (+7) over UCLA: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN2
With USC’s loss last week, trust me when I say there isn’t a bigger toast, in any town than UCLA football right now. A month ago, Jim Mora was practically standing on the street corner screaming “Extra, Extra, Read All About It,” and now it’s swung so far the other way that I actually heard a talk radio debate earlier this week about whether Brett Hundley had surpassed Matt Barkley as the best quarterback in Los Angeles.
The answer is no. But yes, that seriously did happen.
The point being that all the hype seems a little too much, too soon for the Bruins and because of it, they better watch out Saturday. UCLA is going against a fully refreshed Oregon State team (the Beavers have played just one game this season after their opener was cancelled) and had an extra week to prepare for the Bruins after a bye last week. Add in a 12:30 kickoff after two straight night games and a steamy Rose Bowl (the current temperature in Pasadena is “Hotter than the Core of the Earth”) right before a two-game road-trip, and well, I’m not saying UCLA will lose…
But it will be close.
Missouri (+10) over SOUTH CAROLINA: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CBS
You ever have one of those moments when you’re watching a movie and see an actor you recognize, but can’t quite put a name with the face? You start telling your friends, stuff like “Wait, who is that guy? Yeah, that guy right there? I know he was in that movie, with that chick, the one with dragons and stuff, and I’m pretty sure he’s buddies with one of the Baldwin brothers. Geez, what the heck is his name! Yeah, THAT guy right there! Who is he?”
Well right now, South Carolina is college football’s “that guy.” They burst onto the scene on the first night of the season, and well, we basically haven’t heard from them since. Beyond that, all we really know about them is that they play solid defense and Marcus Lattimore appears to be healthy. What we don’t know however is the status of Connor Shaw’s shoulder, if they have any playmakers in the passing game, or even if the Vanderbilt team they beat that night was even any good.
My hunch tells me South Carolina wins on Saturday, but it’s close and ugly. Something boring, like 17-12, 19-13.
Either way, we should learn about the Gamecocks this weekend. They won’t be college football’s “that guy” for that much longer.
ARKANSAS (-8.5) over Rutgers: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ESPN
So which is the more surprising number to come out of Fayetteville this week: That according to bank reports, John L. Smith literally has just hundreds of dollars to his name after filing for bankruptcy? Or that Arkansas (the most mentally bankrupt team in college football right now) is favored by over a touchdown entering Saturday? Frankly, that number stunned me. I’m not sure I’d make them more than a field goal favorite even if the Washington Generals were coming to town.
Still, with Tyler Wilson coming back, I’ll go ahead and say something nobody has about Arkansas the last two weeks: I think they win big. At this point it isn’t about football, but pride, and we all know Wilson has that. Add in a tough upcoming schedule (the Hogs go to College Station next week) and I think it’s safe to say that if they lose here, their season will be over too.
The Razorbacks will live to play another day. At least for one more week.
LSU (-20 ½) over Auburn: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ESPN
So I was totally thinking Auburn could keep things close Saturday, you know… if they weren’t playing LSU in football.But on the gridiron and in 2012, well, it’s going to get ugly. I fully expect LSU to run the ball all over Auburn offensively, and defensively, their ends are going to get to know Kiehl Frazier on a more personal level than his girlfriend could ever imagine.
Point being, this one will be over before it even starts.
On a different note, can you believe it’s only been two years since this play happened?
NOTRE DAME (-5) over Michigan: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. NBC
After spending the last five days sitting in my dark basement, breaking down all the film available on these two teams, I’ve come to the following conclusion about Saturday’s game: If Notre Dame can keep Denard Robinson in check, they’ll win. If they can’t, they won’t.
How’s that for great analysis, huh (I’m definitely thinking Mike Mayock’s job might be in jeopardy with that one)?
In all seriousness though, if you want a stat that tells you just how important Robinson is to this offense, here goes: Over the course of the season, Robinson has accounted for 60 percent of Michigan’s total rushing offense, a number which admittedly is pretty impressive. Except if you take out last Saturday’s beat down of UMass (a club which might be the worst team in FBS football this season), and just use numbers from Michigan’s games against Alabama and Air Force, that number is actually 86 percent. Hello.
Now to you, that might mean that Robinson is just that good. But to me, it means, well, that maybe everyone else on Michigan’s offense (specifically the line) is just that bad.
We all knew the Wolverines were probably a little bit overrated entering this season. We’ll see it proven Saturday night, as the Irish cruise to another victory.
GEORGIA (-15) over Vanderbilt: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ESPN
Go ahead and admit it: You’re definitely way more interested in the postgame handshake between James Franklin and Todd Grantham, than anything that actually happens on the field. Aren’t you?
As a matter of fact, if I had to analyze this one, it’d go a little like this:
“Well, entering this matchup, Franklin is definitely giving up about 60 lbs., none of it muscle on Grantham. For Franklin to win, he’s going to have to stay low, strike when the opportunities arise and otherwise get the hell out of the way. If Franklin tries to get in there and mix it up, well, it could get ugly…”
As for the game… well, isn’t it basically the same analysis? Vanderbilt has to strike when the opportunities arise and get the heck out of the way. Even then, I just don’t think they have much of a chance. Not against Georgia, not at night, not between the between the hedges.
Kansas State (+14) over OKLAHOMA: Saturday, 7:50 p.m. Fox
As ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons likes to say, Oklahoma is the ultimate “zig zag” team. Just when you expect them to zig, they zag. Just when you expect them to zag, they zig. And just when you think Landry Jones is about to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, he puts up 250 yards with a touchdown and three picks instead. Over the past few years in Norman, up has proven to be down, left is right and nothing is the way it seems.
So what does that mean for Saturday’s game? Honestly, I’m not sure.
My hunch is that Kansas State pounds it on the ground with Collin Klein, slows down Oklahoma’s tempo and does just enough to keep things close in a narrow loss. Maybe something like a 24-14 final.
That also probably means the Sooners will win 52-10 and have their starters out by the end of the third quarter.
Wait, are you just as confused as I am?
Good, so let’s just assume that Oklahoma wins by somewhere between three and 35 points.
Then, for the sake of our sanity, let’s just move on.
FLORIDA STATE (-14.5) over Clemson: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ESPN
Before we get into a discussion on anything football related, let me start by saying this: If you haven’t read Dan Wetzel’s brilliant piece on Dabo Swinney from earlier this week, drop what you’re doing right now (even if that includes the small infant child in your arms) and read it right now. This is one of the 10 best pieces of sports journalism you’ll read in 2012, if not the best. Just trust me on that.
Now to the game, and to four reasons why I like the Seminoles to win big:
1. While Oklahoma was the Noles first loss last year, it was the Clemson game that sent their season running off the tracks. You don’t think this defense (which gave up almost 450 yards and 35 points last season) wants revenge? I sure do.
2. Speaking of the Oklahoma game, if you listened to my podcast with Coley Harvey this week, you know that while the Noles may have been physically prepared for that matchup, mentally it was a different story. At the time there were too many friends, too much family, too many opportunistic future baby-mommas trying to sneak around and get in good with these players. When Florida State lost to the Sooners, those same people who had been their friends the week before, all of a sudden disappeared.
Well, the Clemson game this year has much the same hype as Oklahoma a year ago. This time though, Florida State’s players are much better prepared to handle it.
3. Oh by the way, what do we know about Clemson? After all, isn’t their signature win a narrow victory over Auburn? Isn’t that the same Auburn team that is trying to run Gene Chizik out of town with pitchforks right now?
4. Finally, there’s this: Clemson has a nice history of running teams out of the building since Chad Morris implemented his high-powered, no-huddle attack last year. Which is great, it really is.
Except at the same time, if we’ve learned one thing about these tempo offenses through the years (from Oregon to Auburn to Oklahoma State) it’s that the best way to stop them is with a strong defense that creates negative plays on first and second down. Essentially, if you can’t get first downs in this offense, you can’t run it successfully. And if you can’t run this offense successfully you can’t win.
Well, guess what? There might be only three or four defenses in the country capable of slowing down this Clemson offense. Florida State just so happens to be one of them.
I love Dabo Swinney, and think Clemson is in for big things.
But they’re gonna get beat DOWN Saturday night.
OREGON (-22) over Arizona: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ESPN
Finally, there’s Oregon-Arizona, which, umm… was over the second the schedule was announced back in May.
Look, there really is no bigger Rich Rod fan than me, but I just don’t see any way his club goes on the road for the first time, in a night game at Autzen Stadium, against this Oregon team and keeps things even close. Not for a quarter or a half, let alone the whole game.
Oregon wins, and wins big. In the process, the college football world will get to know just how good this Ducks team is.
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