Preseason Pick: USC
In the only Pac-10 game of the weekend, USC takes its show on the road to Seattle after a thrilling win at the Horseshoe to take on a Washington team that looks a whole lot better than it's been of late. With a competent defense, an improved offense with an actual running back, a solid home-field advantage, and of course Jake Locker, the Huskies will come into this game thinking that if the breaks go their way, they might actually have a shot at the upset, especially if USC quarterback Matt Barkley and/or safety Taylor Mays are hurt more than currently thought.
USC looks more vulnerable than usual this year, and could suffer a letdown after last week's big game, not to mention their near-annual struggle in Pac-10 road openers. If U-Dub can take the next step forward and improve some more this week, it's not crazy to think that this could be an upset.
On the Other Hand:
Even with an unusual (even for them) amount of youth in the roster, even with Washington's seeming resurgence, USC is still a much better football team. Also, LSU didn't look great last week against Vandy, taking much of the luster off of Washington's close game against them in week one. Also, LSU frequently made the Huskies pay with speed on the outside, and USC is capable of doing that even more than the Tigers did.
This shouldn't be a particularly close game, but USC is a bit banged up, it's another road game for them, and the Huskies will be very fired up for this game. It should be close for about a half before the Trojans make a few key plays and put the game away.
USC 31, @ Washington 17
Cincinnati @ Oregon St (+1)
This is probably the most interesting Pac-10 game of the weekend. Both teams come into this game with high-powered offenses, Cincy led by their quarterback Tony Pike and Oregon St led by the Rodgers brothers and QB Canfield. On paper, it's easy to see why Vegas likes Cincy enough to essentially have a pick'em despite the cross-country trip. The Bearcats have been on fire so far this year, and had one of the most impressive wins of the young season when they visited Rutgers and demolished the Scarlet Knights. Tony Pike looks even better than last year when he led the team to the Big East championship, and the defense looks surprisingly strong. Add in one of the nation's highest number of forced turnovers, and it's clear this will be a tough opponent for the home team.
On the Other Hand:
This is still a long, cross-country road trip for the Bearcats, which is tougher than the usual home-field edge to overcome. Throw in a solid home crowd at Reser, and home-field should be worth quite a bit for the Beavers. Moreover, they have a strong offense, and most importantly, they have yet to give up a single turnover, a huge advantage against a defense that lives off of forced turnovers (as Beaver fans will no doubt remember from the last time these teams met). The Beavers defense may be somewhat vulnerable, but as long as they keep up their turnover-free streak, Cincy's defense will be as well. And unlike Rutgers, Oregon St is capable of putting up points in a hurry if they happen to fall behind early.
I really like the Beavers in this one. Both teams will light up the scoreboard, but at home and with a great offense, I'd be surprised to see Oregon St lose.
@ Oregon St 35, Cincy 31
Cal (-14) @ Minnesota
Cal is a popular top ten team that has crushed their first two opponents; Minnesota is lucky to be 2-0 after winning at Syracuse in overtime and not taking control of Air Force until the fourth quarter. If Cal plays their best, this game won't be remotely close.
On the Other Hand:
So, does anyone actually think that Cal will play their best on the road, a long way away from Berkeley, especially given that it's their first road game of the year? Anyone? Nope, didn't think so. Kevin Riley will make a mistake or two, there will be some other execution problems by Bear players throughout the game, and a feisty Gopher crowd will make this a tough game for the Bears.
It's never, ever easy to back Cal on the road against anyone decent, and despite some early struggles, Minnesota definitely is decent. This will be close for a while, and it could potentially be the big upset of the week, but Cal is probably too good to let this one slip away. They'll struggle for a while but make the plays when they need to and come away with a hard-fought win.
Cal 31, @ Minnesota 21
Utah @ Oregon (-5)
This is a tough game to pick. Utah is still probably overrated, and hardly looked impressive in a close win at San Jose St. The Ducks should certainly be better than the Spartans, but have struggled so much that it's hard to have much confidence in them either. Since I can't really figure this one out I'll take the easy out and call for an extremely close win for the Ducks.
@ Oregon 28, Utah 27
Arizona (+5.5) @ Iowa
Arizona has shown some signs that they might be much better than expected, especially after Central Michigan went into East Lansing and won. And Iowa showed massive issues when they nearly got knocked off by Northern Iowa of all teams. However, week 2 made me think that the Hawkeyes have put their issues behind them and are focused and ready to battle, and I just don't think Arizona is good enough to seriously compete with a team as good as I think Iowa ought to be.
@ Iowa 28, Arizona 17
Kansas St @ UCLA (-12.5)
If Kevin Prince was healthy I think this line would be reasonable, but without him, it's harder to back. UCLA doesn't have a very good offense even with him, and now that they need to plug in the backups, they figure to have some issues. Just as importantly, Kansas St probably isn't as bad as they looked last week, and will give the Bruins a game until the UCLA defense makes a couple of key plays to give the home team the win.
@ UCLA 23, Kansas St 17
SMU @ Washington St (+6)
At this point, I simply have no faith in the Cougars. If they can play a game without overloading on turnovers, it could be competitive, but I don't see much of a reason to expect such an outcome. SMU probably isn't quite as good as Hawaii, but I doubt they're much worse, and until I see something positive from the Cougars, I just can't give them the benefit of the doubt. Not after last year's disaster and early signs that it's happening again.
SMU 35, @ Washington St 17
San Jose St @ Stanford (-17)
This line looks a touch high. The Spartans look like a team that can get throttled by teams much better than them, but I'm not convinced Stanford is good enough to meet that standard. They should win without too much trouble, but Kyle Reed will throw for a bunch of yards and put enough points on the board to cover.
@ Stanford 28, San Jose St 17
UL-Monroe @ Arizona St (-19.5)
Arizona St has a tendency to lay beatdowns on over-matched opponents, and ULM has a tendency to put major scares into BCS teams that think they're playing an over-matched opponent. With Georgia coming up next week, I think ASU doesn't lay it on as thick as they might normally do, and that this turns into a halfway decent game.
@ Arizona St 28, UL-Monroe 13
National Games of the Week:
Georgia Tech @ Miami (-5.5)
This is the most important ACC game so far this year, featuring two Coastal Division teams that have already picked up a win against upper-level Atlantic teams. The winner becomes the team to beat, and the loser takes a big step back in the division race. With home-field advantage and a week off (especially useful to prepare for Tech's option attack), Miami should be able to pull out this game, perhaps even easier than most people expect.
@ Miami 28, Georgia Tech 17
Florida St @ BYU (-7.5)
BYU -7.5 is one of the most obvious picks I've ever seen. Virtually every obvious indicator supports it; BYU beat Oklahoma and was able to run it up on Tulane, and now gets their home opener; Florida St couldn't even beat Miami at home, nearly lost to Jax St at home, and is now in their first road game of the year; and BYU really wants a commanding win for national respect. However, the fact remains that pretty much everyone is going to like BYU -7.5, and that makes me nervous as hell. What also makes me nervous is how BYU struggled for a while against Tulane, and how Florida St has plenty of talent, especially on defense, but just hasn't been able to put it together yet. It's a gut feeling as much as anything else, but I'm going the other way here and taking the points (though I still like BYU to win).
@ BYU 28, Florida St 24
Pitt -7 vs Navy
Pitt is simply a much better football team than Navy. 7 points at Pitt is just too small of a line.
Tennessee +29.5 @ Florida
Yes, the Gators are much better, and yes, they'd love to run it up. However, the Vols have a legitimately good defense, and Florida will struggle a bit to put points on the board. It should still be an easy win, but more likely to be on the order of 24-3 or so rather than an offensive explosion.
UConn +10.5 @ Baylor
Baylor is a better team, and they're at home, so the line isn't totally crazy, but the UConn defense has shown itself to be pretty strong so far, and ought to keep it within a reasonable margin.
Notre Dame -10 vs Michigan St
Just like against Nevada, the Irish are at home against an overmatched opponent and should blow them out of the water. They'll be especially motivated to win this game due to Michigan St's winning streak in this series, both overall and especially at South Bend.
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