Posted by Walter
While we here at the323 do not encourage gambling on football, we certainly condone it inasmuch as it is incredibly fun (and potentially rewarding) to pick winners. Each week I intend to pick the winners, against the spread (USA Today), for some of the more notable games in America. I won't be picking all games, and I won't waste my time on picking the winner of North Texas +40.4 vs. Texas. If the spread is above 20, forget it. But remember, these picks are intended to be for recreational purposes only.
Boston College -13.5 over @ Central Michigan
Thirteen and a half seemed like an awful lot to lay on the road the first time I took a look at this spread, especially given the fact that BC lost 3 first day draft picks from their 2005 squad. That said, this is a very poor matchup for Central Michigan and while I think they can keep it close early, look for BC to pull away late in the game. Though BC QB Matt Ryan has proven himself more than capable as a starter, and displayed some big play ability against Boise State in last season's finale, BC is going to ultimately win (and dominate) this game with their running game. Look for BC's tremendous offensive line and one-two tailback punch of LV Whitworth and Andre Callender to grind on an overmatched Central Michigan defensive line. Though the Chippewas boast one of the best DE in the college game in Dan Bazuzin (269 lbs.) the interior of their defensive line will be outweighed and outplayed by their BC counterparts. I would not be suprised if this were a 10-7 game at halftime, with BC rolling to something along the lines of a 30-14 win.
South Carolina -6 over @ Miss. State
Another road favorite picked to cover. Well, this is more an idictment of Mississippi State than it is laudatory of South Carolina. Actually, to be more specific, this is an indictment of the Mississippi State offense. Their defense actually registered as one of the top units in America last season, finishing at 29th overall. Though they return star linebacker Quinton Culberson, the unit will be severely tested by the best offensive mind in the game today (Spurrier), a QB who should be much improved with a year in the fun 'n gun under his belt (Blake Mitchell), and one of the top 5 wide recievers in the nation (Sidney Rice). Even with a Herculean effort by the Miss. St. defense, you've got to figure the 'Ol Ball Coach can find some way to put up 20 points with the talented combination of Mitchell and Rice. And while the South Carolina defense isn't one of the conference's best, they should be able to hold perhaps the worst offense in the BCS conferences to under 2 touchdowns. This game looks like a 21-10 stinker, that isn't as close as the score indicates.
Nevada +11 over @ Fresno State
Get used to hearing about the MWC, because I am quite close to annointing it the official conference of the323 (although I am sure Frazier will have something to say about that). And driving the MWC bandwagon....nope, not Fresno State but Nevada (and Boise State of course). While Fresno has played the role of sole MWC pipeline to the NFL over the past few years, they may have to share that title with Nevada in 2006. Nevada returns 7 starters from an offense that really found itself in the 2nd half of 2005 (they averaged 40 points a game over their last 5). Most importantly, Nevada returns QB Jeff Rowe (learn the name) and tailback Robert Hubbard. On the flip side is Fresno, who return a boat load of line talent, but look to replace its QB and top 2 rushers. In the first game of the year it is imperative to have experience. Simply put, Nevada does, Fresno does not. While Fresno has the clear edge on defense (they seem to be the only MWC team that knows the meaning of the word), Jeff Rowe and company looked like men among boys at the end of 2005 and I expect they will pick right up where they left off. This game features two outstanding coaches in Pat Hill of Fresno, and hall of famer Chris Ault of Nevada. We know it will be a well played game so do youself a favor and watch this game this weekend because it should be one of the best of week one. And like I said, learn the name Jeff Rowe now because by Monday morning everyone else will know it. Nevada prevails 35-31.
Northern Illinois +18 over @ Ohio State
For two weeks now I have been telling everyone who will listen (and even some who won't) about Northern Illinois. Evidencetly, the oddsmakers in Vegas don't read the323 (shocking I know). This line is way too high to even think about laying the points, no matter how talented the Buckeyes are, or how difficult it is to play in the Horeshoe. With Northern Illinois being a relatively obscure team from the MAC, and Ohio State opening their season after what has become an annual exodus of NFL talent, both teams present various unknowns. So let's take a look at what we know for sure. (1) We know that Northern Illinois has a veteran offense featuring an all america caliber RB in Garrette Wolfe, an all-MAC caliber QB in Phil Horvath, and a potential NFL first round calibe tackle in Doug Free. (2) We know that Ohio State lost 9 defensive starters from last season, including 5 taken in the first round of the NFL draft. (3) We know that Northern Illinois has a very undersized defensive line. (4) We know that Ohio State has a very big and strong offensive line. (5) We know that Northern Illinois returns most of its secondary from last season when it was the teams biggest defensive strength forcing turnovers. (6) We know that Ohio State traditionally gets off to a slow start offensively, and that the next season Troy Smith and Ted Ginn play up to their potential in every game will be their first. I'm not saying Northern Illinois is going to win, but I am saying that given the youth on the OSU defense, it would not be surprising to see the Huskies put up some points. And if the Buckeye's offense is forced to grind out the game on the ground because the passing game struggles as it traditionally does, this could be a very close game which is decided by one or two plays. Oh what the hell, give it to Northern Illinois in an absolute shocker 21-20.
Stanford +11.5 over @ Oregon
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Stanford is not a good football team. They can't run the ball, they play poor defense, their offensive line has given up 83 sacks in the past two seasons, and their coach has always been knocked for his failure to get his team up for games they should win. But they do have absolutely dynamic players at the passing game skill positions in QB Trent Edwards (another name to learn), and WR Evan Moore and Mark Bradford. Oregon, on the other hand, is a much more balanced team. While I do believe they are incredibly overrated this season (they just lost too much talent), Mike Belloti is a great college coach and has built himself a nice program. So why pick the Cardinal? Well it all comes down to matchups, and Oregon just doens't have them in its favor. The strength of this Ducks team will be its offensive line (the Pac-10's best) and running the football. Its weakness will be the secondary where they have to replace last year's two starting corners. Trent Edwards is a legitimate NFL caliber passer and he should have little problem picking apart a Ducks secondary that simply is not ready to compete with Moore and Bradford. While the O-Line has been terrible the past two seasons, it is extremely experienced in 2006 which at least raises the possibility of improvement. Overall Oregon may win this game on the strength of its aforementioned running game, but 11.5 points is too much to lay. Call it Oregon 31-28.
California +2 over @ Tennessee
Simply put, California is the better team in this game. They have more talent, more gamebreakers, a far better coach, and all of the matchups favor them. All that said, the next easy game at Neyland Stadium will be the first, and home field is worth at least a touchdown for these Volunteers. This hold particularly true against the Cal Bears, who have been a pedestrian 14-8 in road games in the past 4 seasons under Jeff Tedford. Having to fly all the way across the country will not do them any favors in trying to reverse this trend. What will help, though, is the personnel the two teams will field. California can make a legitimate claim to possessing the most game breaking offensive personnel in America. They have the best set of tailbacks in the country in Marshawn Lynch (who is absolutely dynamic) and Justin Forsett. And with Nate Longshore finally healthy, 2004 #1 recruit WR Desean Jackson should finally be able to shine. One the other side, as I have stated several times on this site the Volunteers do not have the kind of talent we are used to seeing from them in 2006. Erik Ainge has been maddeningly inconsistent, and with the departure of Brent Schaeffer to Ole Miss. the Volunteers have absolutely no depth behind him. If Ainge doesn't play well, the Vols have no plan B to turn to. Up front, the Vols have plenty of talent on the O-Line, but are very inexperienced. Look for the vastly underrated Cal defense to play well led by all america tackle Brandon Mebane. As I said, the personnel and matchips favor Cal, the location favors Tennessee. I am banking that the talent disparity is too much for a couple thousand miles to overcome. Cal takes it 24-17.
Utah +3.5 over @ UCLA
Boy did I drop the ball by not including UCLA on my preseason overrated list. UCLA was more lucky than they were good last season. True they finshed with a dandy 10-2 record, but anyone who follows the Pac-10 knows there was more to this story. UCLA played with fire all season, needing four 4th quarter comebacks, and a lot of luck, to save their season. While they beat up on Northwestern in the Sun Bowl (50-38) the enduring images of UCLA's 2005 season were the two games where they were exposed as the frauds they were: (1) a 52-14 pasting by an inexperienced Arizona team, and (2) a 66-19 drubbing against USC. After all of that, the Bruins lost easily their three best offensive players in Drew Olson, Maurice Drew, and Mercedes Lewis. If the team wasn't any good to begin with, how can they even compete in 2006 without such star power. Well, as you can probably tell, I don't think they can compete, especially with a team as good as Utah. This game should be laugher folks. Utah QB Brett Ratliffe became a star when he took over last season, and he runs the spread offense with surgical precision. [on a side note, if Brett Ratliffe were the QB at Florida with Urban Meyer, the Gators would be a unanimous #1] UCLA's defense was a joke last season, even by Pac-10 standards as they gave up at least 35 points a ridiculous 6 times! Gone are all of the starting LB, and much of the beef up front. Honestly, the only thing that will stop the Utes in this game is the clock running down to zero. Let's call it 45-20 Utah.
@Auburn -15 over Washington State
I'm not sure if I even believe that the Tigers can cover such a high spread, but I picked them as my preseason national champions so daggonit I'm picking them to cover in week one. Washington State is a perennially underrated team and this year appears to be no different. Though they lost all america RB Jerome Harrison, the Cougard return what might be the Pac-10's best passing offense outside of USC. QB Alex Brink is as good a bet as anyone to throw for 3000 yards and 30 TD especially since he has WR Jason Hill and Chris Jordan to throw to. Really, this game will come down to the Auburn pass defense against Brink and Co. Auburn cornerback David Irons has the ability to lock down Hill. If he does, this one could be over quickly. While Washington State has a veteran O-Line, they lost their top two backs from last season and have no clear choice to replace them. On the flip side, Auburn has a phenomenal running game with Kenny Irons running behind a mammoth, but inexperienced, O-Line. You want another name to remember? Try King Dunlap, the heir apparent to Marcus McNeil's left tackle throne at Auburn. Auburn almost got burned in their opener last season, it won't happen again. Tommy Tubberville has proven himself a worthy SEC coach and will have his troops ready. Though the spread seems a point or so too high, Auburn should roll 30-14.
@ Georgia Tech +8 over Notre Dame
Adding to Northern Illinois over Ohio State, this would clinch opening weekend 2006 as the most shocking weekend in college football history. Now don't get me wrong, by no means am I done drinking the Charlie Weis Kool-Aid (after all I am a Patriots fan), but this edition of Notre Dame just doesn't see to have enough to meet the wild expectations it faces. Georgia Tech is a nightmare matchup for the Irish, and the Yellow Jackets have all the personnel to exploit the holes in the Irish. First and foremost is one Calvin Johnson. Johnson is the most talented WR in America and this game could really be his coming out party. The Irish pass defense couldn't stop anyone last season, getting repeatedly torched by mediocre offenses like Michigan State and Ohio State. Calvin Johnson will be the biggest test the secondary faces all season, and week one is not a good time to have that. Furthermore, the biggest strength of the Irish defense should be their pass rush. However, in Senior QB Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech has a player who can significantly mitigate the effects of the Irish rush. On the other side of the ball, the Notre Dame talent is undeniable. They will put up points on anyone, but it is worth noting that this Georgia Tech defense could be one of the strongest the Irish face all season. The secondary needs work (which could mean a huge day for Quinn) but the front 7 are experienced and solid, led by Sr. LB KaMichael Hall. If Notre Dame can't run the ball, the pressure will fall on Quinn to win the game himself in a hostile, and more importantly, loud stadium. A Notre Dame win is not out of the question, but for now let's say Tech prevails 33-31.
USC -8 over @ Arkansas
I really like what the Arkansas program has done over the past year, and I think big things are on the horizon for them. In fact, a win against the Trojans would not be out of the question if the Razorbacks had star RB Darren McFadden available for the contest (he has been suspended). USC will be breaking in a new QB, and several new RB's in 2006, so early is when you want to get them. Arkansas does play the type of physical defense (remember the name Sam Olajabatu when you watch this game) and pound the ball offense that could really slow this game down in their favor. That said, I am not certain I see enough playmakers on the Arkansas offense to put points up against the ever improving Trojan defense. The Razorback O-Line is very strong so they will commit to the run even without McFadden, but unless prized Freshman QB Mitch Mustain makes his way into the game, the Arkansas passing offense will be nonexistent. On the USC side, its more of out with the old and in with the new. They lose Leinart, Bush and White and simply replace them with more top recruits in John David Booty and Chauncey Washington. Not to mention the best WR tandem in America in Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Bottom line, Arkansas just can't score enough to win this game. They will play hard and make it close at some point, but eventually USC prevails something like 33-17.
FSU +4 over @ Miami
Frankly, it didn't matter to me who was favored in this game I was taking the points either way. While both offenses should be much improved from last season, this game will once again be dominated by defense. It appears fairly clear to me that Miami has the best defense in America, and frankly, it's not close. The Hurricanes possess the best secondary in the nation, featuring the best safety tandem in recent memory in Kenny Phillips and the323 favorite Brandon Merriweather (who is always at his best against the Seminoles). I don't care how sharpe Drew Weatherford has looked in practice, its a whole new ballgame when you step on the field against Miami. To be honest, the same could be said for FSU. Miami will be without RB Tyrone Moss and WR Ryan Moore for this game, and that hurts them quite a bit. Still, QB Kyle Wright showed flashes of brilliance last season and should be poised for a big second season. I find the comparisons between him and Weatherford interesting because they are so similar. Weatherford is the better QB right now, but Wright has the better skill set. Another thing Wright has going for him is TE Greg Olsen. Olsen torched the 'Noles last season and he represents the most dynamic offensive player for either side (just edging FSU WR Greg Carr). In a game that is always as tight as Miami-FSU, having the best playmaker on the field can be all the difference in the game. But I don't want to lose sight of the defensnes, because defense will dominate this game. I count as many as 15 potential NFL draft picks on these two defenses combined. In case you are wondering, there is one, maybe 2 at most that I count in the UCLA-Utah matchup. In a game that close it's easy to take the points, regardless of who you think is going to win (it should be clear that I think Miami will win at home) so I am going with FSU getting the points but still falling to the Hurricanes 13-10.