I hate having to do this, but I’m going to lead off with a retraction of something I said in the review of last week’s games. The refereeing crew in the Notre Dame – Michigan St game was a Big East crew, not a Big Ten crew, and it’s simply not fair to blame the Big Ten for the apparent blown call at the end of the game. While there have been a troubling number of blown calls in previous non-conference games (and there seemed to be a couple in the ASU-Wisconsin game too), the Notre Dame call isn’t something that can be added to the list. I apologize for the mistake. On to actual previews:
Cal @ Arizona (-6.5)
Preseason Pick: Cal
At first glance, this game looks like an easy call. Arizona got a huge program-boosting win last week against Iowa, while Cal looked flat-out horrible against Nevada. Arizona has one of the league’s two best quarterbacks, a strong offense, and a defense that has played very well so far. Cal has a shaky quarterback, a defense that hasn’t always been so great, and are looking early on like they’re going to be relying far too much on Shane Vereen to bail them out of games. Throw in the fact that it’s at Arizona, and it seems like this should be a Wildcat win by at least 10.
On the Other Hand:
Arizona is at home, against a team no one gives a good chance at the upset, after knocking off a top ten, undefeated team for a huge program boost. The last time this happened? Washington came in and slaughtered them, 38-14. Letdown games are absolutely a concern for this program, and a Cal team that’s always up and down is a problematic opponent for the Wildcats, especially since the Bear defense can force turnovers, which has been an issue for Arizona’s offense.
Arizona was also fortunate last week to jump out to such a big early lead, because it forced Iowa (who’s good at running the ball) to throw it more often, which put the Wildcat D in a position of strength. If they can’t jump out to a similar lead here, this will turn into a real test for their run defense.
Arizona is the better team, and at home. There’s some letdown potential, and it’s always possible Shane Vereen just has an awesome game and carries Cal to victory, but this ought to be a Wildcat win, especially if Kevin Riley makes some more mistakes against a good Arizona secondary.
@ Arizona 31, Cal 21
Oregon (-11.5) @ Arizona St
Preseason Pick: Oregon
Obviously Oregon is a legit top 10 team, and so far has looked like a legit top five team. So the real question here is about ASU. Was their oh so close effort at Wisconsin because:
Wisconsin was overrated and was missing their star receiver?
Or because ASU was much better than people expected?
Given that ASU very nearly won (and part of the reason they didn’t was questionable refereeing), it’s easy to think that it’s just that they are actually good. However, it’s worth noting that they did struggle against NAU for a while, and that Wisconsin wasn’t at full strength (and didn’t exactly look fantastic against UNLV and SJ St). So the jury is still out on this team.
Ultimately, I think that they’re capable of doing some of the same things Tennessee did: ride home field advantage (especially the weather advantage; it’s expected to be hot, though being a night game will cool things down a bit), a decent running game, a salty defense and an apparently decent quarterback (which the Vols didn’t seem to have), and be competitive against the Ducks for a while. However, even if two or three of the quarters show close scores, and even if ASU manages to win one of the quarters, at some point Oregon is going to go on a crazy run like they’ve done every other game this year, and run up three or four TD’s in a quarter. And that will be the ballgame.
Oregon 38, @ Arizona St 17
USC (-22) @ Washington St
Preseason Pick: USC
Obviously USC is the better team, and should win without too much trouble. However, there are signs that Wazzu could be at least somewhat better than they were last year. Throw in USC’s constant mediocre performances (which Vegas hasn’t really caught up to yet), and the likelihood that they aren’t going to care much about this game beyond winning by 14+, and the line looks just a tad high.
USC 38, @ Washington St 20
Stanford (-4.5) @ Notre Dame
The big question for Stanford is whether the dominant showing at UCLA has largely ended their frequent road woes, or whether it’s an aberration before things go poorly again. While they’ve played extremely well so far, when healthy Notre Dame is a better offense than they’ve seen, especially through the air. It’s possible that the Irish push the Cardinal secondary hard, though to date Stanford has been surprisingly strong against the pass (they held Wake to less than 100 yards through the air, a surprisingly effective performance defensively).
The big question for Notre Dame, on the other hand, is whether they really are the 1-2 team they’ve looked like. Michigan, who beat them, struggled against a AA team and had their UConn win severely devalued after Temple beat the Huskies by 14. Michigan St, who also beat them (though that was VERY close), hasn’t been especially impressive against much lesser competition. Ditto for Purdue, their only win so far. It’s entirely possible that Notre Dame hasn’t played a team that will finish the year in the top 25 (though both Michigan schools are currently ranked). 1-2 against that set may be worse than it looks at first glance, which is why I’m feeling skeptical about this Irish team until they prove deserving of more respect. I don’t think they prove it this week.
Stanford 31, @ Notre Dame 20
Oregon St (+17) @ Boise St
Boise is the better team, at home, and this is a bigger game for them than the Beavers. So they’re certainly the pick to win. However, the real question here is how good the Beavers are. If Oregon St is a legitimate top 25 team, then this line is too high. If they’re more like the 40th best team in the country (which they’ve looked like in their first two games), then Boise will blow them out. I suspect that it’s the former, and that this is where the Beavers start to put it together, but I could easily be wrong. Ultimately, this game will say more about Oregon St (who may or may not be a legitimate top 25 team) than it will about Boise St (who is clearly a legit top 10 team at the very least).
@ Boise St 31, Oregon St 17
UCLA (+15.5) @ Texas
This is just a really tough game to get a handle on. Texas (at least on defense) looked impressive against Tech, but they struggled a bit in their first two games, and have a huge matchup with Oklahoma coming up next week. Meanwhile UCLA had major issues in their first two games, but like Texas took a big step forward in week three, beating Houston by 18 in a game that was over at halftime. Unfortunately for the Bruins, this is a road game, where they frequently struggle, and it’s against a team that is likely to take a solid lead and force them to pass to try to keep up. Just as it was against Stanford, that’s going to be a problem.
@ Texas 38, UCLA 14
National Games of the Week:
Alabama (-7) @ Arkansas
Arkansas is a good football team, and they have a puncher’s chance of pulling the upset. However, until proven otherwise Bama is just too good to be stopped. They’ve looked fantastic in three games so far this year, and to be honest I still think Vegas is underestimating them a bit.
Alabama 31, @ Arkansas 21
South Carolina @ Auburn (-3)
I think that South Carolina is actually the better team, and they’ll benefit from playing a AA team last week while the Tigers played a tough game against Clemson. It’s at Auburn, but I think Carolina pulls it out.
South Carolina 24, @ Auburn 21
West Virginia @ LSU (-9.5)
Neither of these teams has really blown me away so far. It’s at LSU, at night, so the Tigers should win, but it’ll be a good game.
@ LSU 28, West Virginia 24
Pitt +3.5 vs Miami
Apparently “The U” is back. Or, at least, that’s the popular theory. Unfortunately, they needed a bunch of special teams plays just to avoid getting blown out at Ohio St, and haven’t done anything else of note in their other games. This is a Thursday night game on the road against a Pitt team that is probably almost as good as them, and will be more fired up for this game, especially since Miami has big games coming up against Clemson and FSU, while Pitt has a much easier test against FIU coming up. This feels like an absolute tossup to me.
Duke -6.5 vs Army
Army is almost certainly a bottom 25 team, having lost at home to Hawaii and barely held off EMU (though they did roll against North Texas). Duke is not; yes, Bama rolled them… but that’s not an enormous surprise, given that Bama is #1. I was actually impressed by their Wake effort, where they self-destructed in nearly every way humanly possible and yet still nearly pulled off the win. They’re the better team, and they’re at home. Unless they just completely fall apart here, they should win by about two touchdowns, maybe more.
Oklahoma -13.5 @ Cincy
Oklahoma is up and down, but Cincy has just been down. In a game that should have some of the Sooners’ attention (though Texas is next week), they should be focused just enough to win without much trouble.
Toledo +11.5 @ Purdue
To be honest, I’m not sure that Purdue is even a better team than Toledo, much less double digits better. Toledo just won two straight road teams against what ought to be upper-division MAC teams, while Purdue beat Ball St (worse than Toledo) by 11, a AA team by 10, and lost to Notre Dame by 11.
Fresno +2.5 @ Ole Miss
Over the years, Fresno has made a living beating vulnerable AQ teams. Ole Miss is pretty much the definition of that.
Idaho -7.5 @ Colorado St
So far this year the Rams have simply been horrific. Idaho should win by double digits.
San Jose St +31 @ Utah
Is Utah really THAT much better than Wisconsin? (the Badgers only beat the Spartans by 13). 31 points in a game Utah really isn’t going to care about is probably a good touchdown too high.
Pac-10: 25-3 SU, 11-10 ATS
National: 7-3 SU, 5-4-1 ATS
Bad Lines: 2-3-2
Mr Pac-10's 2010 Blog
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