Week 2 Picks

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It wasn’t the greatest start to the 2014 season for the old picks column. I went 2-5 in week 1 against the spread. The good news is that the only straight-up pick I would have missed was Texas A&M over South Carolina, which went the opposite of how everyone but Kevin Sumlin thought it would.

This week’s games have a distinct West Coast flavor as the Pac-12 hosts the two best week two match-ups.

Pittsburgh (1-0) at Boston College (1-0)- Friday 7 p.m. ET on ESPN: This won’t be a particularly compelling match-up in my opinion, but apparently Vegas knows something I don’t. Pitt is just a 4.5-point favorite over BC.

The two teams ran the ball a combined 117 times in their openers, with Pitt racking up 409 yards rushing to BC’s 338.

Prediction: The coastal is wide open, but I think Pitt could be a surprise team in the ACC. Tyler Murphy played well last week for BC, but I like Pitt 28-14.

No. 14 USC (1-0) at No. 13 Stanford (1-0) – Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC: Both teams cruised in their openers last weekend. Head coaches David Shaw (Stanford) and Steve Sarkisian (USC) claim they’ve buried the hatchet after a tiff following last year when Sarkisian was Washington’s head coach and he claimed Stanford was faking injuries in an effort to curb the Huskies’ hurry-up offense.

AP Photo

Against Fresno State the Trojans put up 701 yards of total offense in week one. Redshirt junior Cody Kessler tossed four touchdown passes, and 10 different players caught a pass in the game.

Stanford meanwhile posted a shutout against UC Davis, allowing just 115 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 75 percent of his pass attempts, with three touchdowns and one interception. The Cardinal are still looking for a featured tailback as nine different running backs carried the ball in the first game.

The best match-up in this game will be in the trenches, as Stanford’s offensive line looks to try and hold USC defensive end Leonard Williams at bay. Last week Williams had seven tackles and an interception.

Prediction: Being at home has given Stanford just a 2.5-point advantage according to Vegas. I think Stanford gets revenge on USC for last year’s upset thanks to their offensive line. USC did give up an average of 4.8 yards per rush last week. I think Stanford’s physicality is the difference in this game and they win 24-13.

No. 7 Michigan State (1-0) at No. 3 Oregon (1-0)- Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX: This is obviously the creme of the crop for week two’s slate of games.

It could turn out to be an elimination game for these two playoff contenders, and if you read by my playoff picks, then you know I think that Michigan State can win this one.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Autzen Stadium is an incredible atmosphere, and that’s why Vegas has the Ducks as a 12.5-point favorite. Both teams cruised in their openers over lesser competition.

Even if it was against Jacksonville State, Connor Cook showed in week one that the Spartans have more firepower on offense than last year’s unit that often failed to provide any sort of a spark. The junior QB completed 12 of 13 pass attempts for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

Marcus Mariota was equally impressive, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. The Ducks racked up 673 yards of total offense, and averaged 7.7 yards per rushing attempt.

Prediction: I think Michigan State’s defense is the difference here. Oregon traditionally struggles with physical defenses like the Spartans, and despite the fact that Mariota is the best passer the Ducks have had, I think Michigan State wins 28-24.

East Carolina (1-0) at No. 21 South Carolina (0-1)- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU: No rest for the Gamecocks as they lick their wounds from the Texas A&M thrashing.

ECU put up 52 points last week and South Carolina obviously has some issues on defense. The injury to Mike Davis’ ribs is another obstacle for Steve Spurrier to work around after a deflating loss.

Prediction: This pick is 100% influenced by years of listening to @MikeMcCall talk about the Purple Pirates and Bojangles being some of the South’s true treasures. South Carolina is favored by 16. I don’t think ECU actually wins this game, but they cover. I’m going South Carolina 42, ECU 31.

Michigan (1-0) at No. 16 Notre Dame (1-0)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC: Other than potential bowl games, this could be the last meeting between the two rivals for quite some time. The Fighting Irish claim the series is ending because of its new agreement with the ACC, but then they turned around and announced a home-and-home with Ohio State for 2022 and 2023 on Thursday.

Michigan’s offense looked impressive against Appalachian State with 52 points on 560 total yards. Both App State touchdowns came in the second half.

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson certainly doesn’t look like a guy who went a year without playing football, passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns against Rice.

Prediction: Vegas has Notre Dame as a four-point favorite. I’m inclined to go with that line, I’m just not convinced of Michigan just yet. I think Notre Dame wins the final match-up 28-17.

BYU (1-0) at Texas (1-0)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1: Sometimes you have to break something down to bring it back down.

Photo courtesy of BYU

Charlie Strong is burning it to the ground in Austin, Texas.

This week alone Strong has suspended (although some outlets are reporting it’s an indefinite suspension for the entire season) starting tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle.  Making matters worse, starting center Dominic Espinosa suffered a broken ankle against North Texas and is out for the year. Quarterback David Ash is also out this week after suffering a concussion.

Last year BYU defeated Texas 40-21, setting the gears in motion for Strong to take over at Texas. Cougars’ quarterback Taysom Hill ran wild last year, and last week he racked up 97 yards rushing with two TDs, but he did most of his damage through the air with 308 yards passing and three more TDs.

Prediction: Vegas has BYU as a one-point favorite with all the Longhorns’ turmoil. I think that Texas is still the better team in this one. I’m intrigued by Tyrone Swoopes and believe that Strong’s defensive principles will contain Hill. I think Texas wins 17-13.

Virginia Tech (1-0) at No. 8 Ohio State (1-0)- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ESPN: Ohio State had an impressive comeback victory over a good Navy team in week one. Yes you read that right. I think Navy is a good team and there’s no shame in how Ohio State played against the midshipmen.

The Hokies rolled by William & Mary 34-9. So in summation Ohio State may have learned something about itself in week one, while Virgina Tech is still a mystery.

One of the real mysteries is just how much of a difference quarterback Michael Brewer can be. The Texas Tech transfer was 23 of 30 for 251 yards, two touchdown and an interception in his Hokie debut.

The Buckeyes also have a new QB in J.T. Barret, who went 12 of 15 for 226 yards, a TD and an interception. He also added 50 yards rushing. While Navy is impressive, Bud Foster’s defense will be a better test for the redshirt freshman.

Prediction: Ohio State is favored by 11 points at home in this one. I think the Buckeyes are better, but wouldn’t be surprised to see VT keep it close. I’m going with an Ohio State win 21-16.

My Football Final Four Picks

For the first time ever, college football will have its very own playoff this season. A 13-member selection committee will pick the top four teams in all the land to compete in semifinal games in the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

The two winners will advance to the National Championship game in Dallas on January 12.

Now here’s the hard part, picking those final four teams before a single down has been played. Here are my predicted top four, with a few other teams who could make the committee ponder a little harder.

1. Florida State (2013- 14-0, National Champions): There’s no question who everyone’s number one is. The defending national champions (yeah I said defending Jimbo) are the most talented team in the country, and Jameis Winston is right at the center of that talent.

AP Photo/ Phil Sears

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will have to establish a second target at wideout, but he returns senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, nine TDs and 1128 yards) and tight end Nick O’Leary (33 catches, seven TDs and 557 yards). FSU also returns four of five starters along the offensive line.

Defensively replacing Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan and Lamarcus Joyner will be no easy task, but the cupboard is far from bare for new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. As long as Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. stay healthy, the Seminoles have plenty of athletes to overcome the inexperience on that side of the ball.

FSU does have a beefed-up non-conference schedule with the Cowboys Kickoff Classic against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a visit from Notre Dame on October 18 and its annual clash with Florida in Tallahassee on November 29.

The Biggest ACC games will be Clemson on September 20, but like Notre Dame and Florida the Tigers have to travel to Doak Campbell Stadium. The glaring ‘trap-game’ on the Seminoles’ schedule looks to be a Thursday night visit to Bobby Petrino and Louisville on October 30.

2. Alabama (2013- 11-2, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide finished last year with two straight losses, lost eight players to the NFL, including quarterback A.J. McCarron, yet I don’t think anyone will argue that Alabama is again one of the best teams in the nation.

AP Photo/ Butch Dill

Physically Jacob Coker is an upgrade from McCarron under center, but the question that needs to be answered is if the Mobile, Ala. native is ready mentally to be Alabama’s quarterback. Coker still hasn’t been named the starter over senior Blake Sims, but all indications from Tuscaloosa are that he will.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has plenty of weapons for either QB to utilize. Amari Cooper (45 receptions, four TDs and 736 yards) is fully healthy, and the dynamic duo of running backs T.J. Yeldon (1279 yards rushing, 12 TDs) and Derrick Henry (394 yards rushing and three TDs) will provide plenty of power on the ground.

The secondary was Alabama’s biggest chink in the armor last year (OK that and it’s field goal coverage unit), but a year to marinate and work with DB-whispers Nick Saban and Kirby Smart should make that a much-improved unit. Alabama also has the preferred cure to any ailing secondary, a massive defensive front. Senior nose tackle Brandon Ivory weighs in at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. Defensive ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan are both over 290 pounds, while sophomore A’Shawn Robinson checks in at a measly 6-foot-4 320 pounds.

An SEC West schedule is never a favorable one, but Alabama gets three very big games at home this year, Florida on September 20, Texas A&M October 18 and Auburn on November 29. The Crimson Tide will have to travel to LSU on November 8, and like every year that game could determine the division and league champion.

3. Oklahoma (2013- 11-2, Big 12 Champions): Trevor Knight- not a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl- is the reason for all the Sooners’ preseason love. Yes the fact that Knight’s ah-hah moment happened to come against a team of Alabama’s caliber didn’t slow the hype train.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Knight’s athleticism and development has forced senior Blake Bell to switch to tight end, and given Bob Stoops and company and extra bounce in their step around Norman, Okla. The Sooners return four starters up front on offense, and nine defensive starters.

Last year Oklahoma was susceptible to the run, but if the boys up front hold their position, linebacker Eric Striker (50 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks) is as good as they come in one-on-one match-ups.

The Sooners will be tested in the third week of the season as Tennessee comes to town on September 13. They then have to turn around and travel to West Virginia the following week.

Oklahoma travels to Texas Tech (November 15) and TCU (October 4), but they host Baylor on November 8 and Oklahoma State December 6. The Red-River Rivalry will take place as always in Dallas on October 11, but with Charlie Strong cleaning house in Austin it looks like the Longhorns won’t be able to catch OU by surprise like they did in last year’s 36-20 thrashing.

4. Michigan State (2013- 13-1, BIG Ten Champions): Speaking of teams who finished 2013 with momentum, the Spartans went 8-0 in the BIG Ten, defeated Ohio State 34-24 in the championship game and took down Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. All without much offensive firepower… to put it kindly.

Al Goldis/AP

Quarterback Connor Cook showed he can make plays when called upon in the wins over Ohio State and Stanford, but Michigan will rely heavily on running back Jermey Langord (1422 yards and 18 TDs) for its offensive firepower. Cook returns his top target in Tony Lippet (44 catches, two TDs and 613 yards), but Sparty will have to replace three starters along the offensive line.

Week two will go a long way towards determining if Michigan State will be one the last four standing as it travels to Eugene, Orgeon to take on the Ducks. Oregon has struggled with physical defensive fronts like Michigan State in the past, but they’ve never had as polished a passer as Marcus Mariotta before. It may just be week two, but if Oklahoma and FSU go unblemished (Even if they have one loss the SEC champ will get in), then the September 6 match-up could turn out to be an elimination game for a playoff spot.

After the trip out west Michigan State hosts its three toughest opponents the rest of the way with Nebraska (October 4), Michigan (October 25) and Ohio State (November 8) all coming to East Lansing. Michigan State misses Wisconsin in the regular season, but the two could meet in the conference title game.

Just Missed

Oregon (2013- 11-7, 7-2 Pac-12): Like I said the week two match-up is almost an elimination game for Michigan State and Oregon, so if the Ducks win they’re in great position to make the playoff. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the best player in the country not named Jameis Winston or Todd Gurley.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Oregon not only hosts Sparty, but they also get Stanford (November 1) and Washington (October 18) at home. Even if Oregon loses to Michigan State, if it beats Stanford, UCLA on the road (October 11) and wins the PAC-12 then the Ducks likely would be in the final four, unless the others go unbeaten.

Ohio State (2013- 12-2, 8-0 BIG Ten): Certainly without Miller the Buckeyes have a large uphill battle ahead of them in 2014, but the good news is that Ohio State still has more talent at the skill positions than the rest of the conference.  New signal caller, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was four-star recruit in high school despite tearing his ACL his senior season. Urban Meyer’s new athletic defensive front will get a challenge right out of the gate with a trip to Baltimore on Saturday to face Navy’s triple option. Things don’t get much easier for OSU in the non-conference schedule with visits from Virgina Tech (September 6) and Cincinnati (September 27). An offensive line with four new starters and an inexperienced quarterback are why I don’t anticipate the Buckeyes getting by Michigan State in the BIG Ten.

Auburn (2013- 12-2, SEC Champions): The Tigers schedule are the reason I went with Alabama in the SEC. Auburn travels to Kansas State (September 18), Georgia (November 15) and Alabama this season, while hosting LSU (October 4) and South Carolina (October 25). The Tigers will have one thing in 2014 that has been sparse in recent seasons at Jordan-Hare- continuity. Nick Marshall is the first returning QB Gus Malzahn has had in his nine-year college coaching tenure, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will be the first Auburn DC to return for a second season in three years.

Clemson (2013- 11-2, 7-1 ACC): If Clemson gets by Georgia on Saturday the Tigers have a favorable schedule. Clemson does travel to FSU, but they host Louisville (October 11), N.C. State (October 4) and South Carolina (November 29). It will be tough with a new quarterback, but if Dabo Swinney can defeat UGA again and finally beat South Carolina, then the Tigers deserve to be in the discussion as long as their only loss is at FSU.

Final Four picks

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Here is my billion dollar bracket ladies and gentleman. No way does this not make me rich enough to buy a private island.

My Final Four is Florida, Duke, Arizona and Iowa State. I feel least confident in the Cyclones obviously, but Duke is far from a lock as well. I think that the Gators truly are the best team in all the land, and with Billy Donovan on the sideline they’re my pick to cut down the nets.

I can’t wait until 3 p.m. tomorrow when like the rest of you, my dreams of being a billionaire are dashed again. Enjoy the madness everyone.

Five Strange Signing Day Stories

Every year National Signing Day provides us with almost as much drama as an entire college football season. 2014 was no different.

Personally I didn’t get a chance to cover any of the drama this time around. I spent the morning at Georgia Tech, who’s class was all but wrapped up by 10:30 am. Paul Johnson did have a nice rant about how he feels about recruiting rankings though.

Here is a look at five of the stranger Signing Day stories I came across.

5. Premature Profiles:

Two schools posted signee profiles of prospects who ultimately signed with other schools. Auburn, Ala. linebacker Rashaan Evans got the most attention as the Auburn Tigers posted his signee profile, only to have Evans announce on ESPNU that he was actually headed to the University of Alabama.

Auburn wasn’t the only school quick on the trigger. LSU posted a profile for Adoree’ Jackson, who ended up signing with Southern Cal instead of the Tigers.

Here is a full story from CBS on the premature profiles: Oops: Auburn posts Rashaan Evans profile, but five-star picks Tide

4. Eastern Michigan gets the Lion King:

Eastern Michigan signed a defensive end from Southfield, Mich. named Lion King Conway. There are reports that he has changed his name to just Lion King, because it would be silly to not to at this point.

Full Story: Eastern Michigan Signs DE Named ‘Lion King’

3. James Willis leaves UL for less than 24 hours:

Paul Kieu, The Advertiser

UL Defensive Coordinator James Willis told his players on Wednesday night (after all the faxes had been received of course) that he was leaving the school to take a position as the linebackers’ coach at Florida State.

But after sleeping on it, Willis decided on Thursday morning to not leave for FSU and stay put as the Ragin’ Cajuns defensive coordinator.

That’s a strange case of buyer’s remorse, but perhaps Seminole fans will now forget just how short Billy Napier’s stay in Tallahassee was.

Full Story: James Willis changes his mind, will stay at UL

2. Mother of top Michigan State recruit won’t sign LOI

This seems to happen at least once every year.

Last year it was Arkansas running back Alex Collins’ mother who ran off with his letter of intent, and the year before that Josh Harvey-Clemons’ grandfather didn’t want his grandson to sign with Georgia so he withheld his signature.

This year Malik McDowell’s mother won’t sign the five-star defensive end’s’ LOI to Michigan State. As of 7 p.m. ET on Thursday this matter still hasn’t been resolved.

I always hate situations like this. Picking a school should be the kid’s choice with the parents serving as a sounding board more than anything. McDowell’s mother, Joya Crowe, has been rather vocal during the whole recruiting process on social media and even doing local radio interviews.

Hopefully the kids gets to be a Spartan, since you know that’s what he wants and all.

Full Story: Southfield lineman Malik McDowell commits to Michigan State, but mother still hasn’t signed letter

1. D.J. Law signs with three schools:

BayNews9.com

Haines City running back D.J. Law signed with not one, but three schools on Wednesday. Ole Miss, Utah and East Mississippi Community College all received letters of intent from Law.

Ole Miss reported the LOI at 9:22 a.m., while Utah announced it later in the day. The Rebels have decided to release Law from the LOI and he will be free to play at Utah.

“Our compliance department is cooperating fully with the NLI office on this matter,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said in a release. “We are completely certain no wrongdoing occurred by our coaching or compliance staff. Regardless of the outcome of the findings, we want the young man to attend the school he wants. After talking with D.J. and his family, we are releasing him from his NLI and wish him the best. We have put this matter behind us and plan to make best use of that scholarship.”

If your sad this story appears to be over- don’t be.

From the sounds of things Law has some academic issues that will make him playing at Utah an unlikely scenario, which means he’ll head to JUCO and get to do the recruiting process all over again. That is assuming he makes it out of the Bermuda Triangle that is East Mississippi C.C.

Week 4 Picks

Photo from N.C. State

Lets just be honest about this week’s slate of games. It’s not one that inspires much enthusiasm. I mean College Gameday is in Fargo, North Dakota for North Dakoka State and Delewarte State.

With that, I’m not going to bore you with the usual breakdown of the top three match-ups of the weekend and just give you seven short picks this week. Last week I was 6-1 against the spread, but I’m only giving myself credit for a 5-2 week since I said Texas A&M would win outright. That puts me at 14-7 for the season.

Now lets get into this week’s picks.

No. 3 Clemson at North Carolina State- Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: Clemson is a 13.5-point favorite on the road, on a Thursday night. That’s usually a recipe for disaster, but I think the Tigers are talented enough to win by two touchdowns in Carter-Finley Stadium. N.C. State hasn’t found much rhythm on offense since Brandon Mitchell went down in week one against Louisiana Tech. Junior Pete Thomas threw two picks as the Wolfpack escaped Richmond 23-21 last time out.

Prediction: Clemson rolls to a 35-17 victory.

SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily

No. 23 Arizona State at No. 5 Stanford- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on FOX: This only the match-up of the weekend that features two ranked teams. Arizona State is fresh off a bizarre win over Wisconsin. Stanford again looks like it will battle with Oregon for Pac-12 supremacy. The spread is the Cardinal by six and I like them to cover that home.

Prediction: Standford wins 24-13 over Arizona State.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech: Saturday Noon ET on ESPN: The Yellow Jackets are 6.5-point favorites over the Tar Heels. Last year these two teams combined for 118 points as Tech won 68-50. GT looked impressive last weekend in its 38-14 win over Duke in Vad Lee’s homecoming. I think that UNC has to play better on defense if they’re going to challenge Tech and Miami for the Coastal Division title.

Prediction: Georgia Tech continues to roll at home and wins another shootout over UNC, this time 42-35.

Michigan State at No. 22 Notre Dame- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC: Notre Dame just escaped Purdue last weekend with a comeback 31-24 victory. Michigan State has been a disaster on offense this season, but scored 55 points last week against Youngstown State. The Spartans have scored just nine offensive touchdowns this year, but the defense has scored four times in addition to allowing just 10 points per game. Tommy Rees avoided turning the ball over against Purdue, which allowed the Irish to come from behind. If he can do that again on Saturday then Notre Dame will be in good shape against Michigan State’s anemic offense.

Prediction: Notre Dame is favored by five points and I think the Irish win by less than that. I think Michigan State’s defense keeps it close in a 17-14 loss.

Tennessee at No. 19 Florida- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Both teams enter this SEC opener with bruised egos. Florida looked awful in a sloppy 21-16 loss to Miami two weeks ago, while Tennessee is fresh off a 59-14 thrashing from Oregon. Ultimately I think that Florida’s defense will be able to control this one. The Gators are favored by 17 points, but we’ll see if they can even put that many points on the board.

Prediction: Tennessee covers but it’s an ugly 17-10 victory for the Gators.

Utah at BYU- Saturday 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN: The Holy War should be an entertaining ending to the fourth week of the season. The Utes are averaging 49.3 points per game this year and are fresh off a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State. BYU had last week off, but ended Manny Diaz’s career at Texas in a 40-21 win in week two. BYU is a 6.5-point favorite, and I think the Cougars rushing attack will be more than enough to cover that.

Prediction: Maybe I’m underselling Utah here but I think that Taysom Hill and BYU cruise to a 49-28 victory at home.

Boise State at Fresno State- Friday 9 p.m. ET on ESPN: This game likely will decide who wins the Mountain West. Boise State has bounced back nicely from a loss to Washington in the opener with wins over Tennessee-Martin and Air Force. Fresno State is 2-0 and I’ve already written this year that I think with Derek Carr the Bulldogs have a chance to be the final BCS-busters. Plus they ran the most amazing play of all-time (posted above) two weeks ago against Cal-Poly, allowing lineman Austin Wentworth to score. Fresno State is a 3.5-point favorite.Prediction: I’ve got to keep riding with Fresno here. I think the Bulldogs win 35-28.