A fascinating week one in college football

It's an off-week for Vandy, but mathematician and diehard Vandy fan Howell Peiser takes a look back at week one in college football, and identifies some of the more attractive point spreads as the grand old college game heads into week two.

My only comments about last Saturday's debacle at Dudley concern the area of play I warned about earlier: Vanderbilt's offensive line has beef but lacks quickness. South Carolina controlled the gaps, and the Commodore running game had no chance. A stronger and equally quick Gamecock offensive line overpowered our defensive line. When The Gamecocks meet Georgia Saturday, it will show us how strong they are or how weak we are; let's hope Lou Holtz has a powerhouse in Columbia.

Notes on college football, week one:

- LSU had better hope JaMarcus Russell is a Steve McNair clone. Marcus Randall looked more like Tony Randall against the Beavers.

- Three future Vandy opponents looked mighty impressive Saturday: Navy's new QB Aaron Polanco ripped Duke to shreds both on the ground and through the air, while Kyle Eckel showed he hasn't lost a beat. The Mids' defense looks improved.

Rutgers football is the hot ticket in the Garden State. Pulling off the upset at home in front of a record crowd has rekindled the flame in New Brunswick. The Scarlet Knights could venture into Nashville Oct. 9 without a loss if they can top a weak Syracuse team at the Carrier Dome the week before. Could the Oct. 30 game against West Virginia actually have Big East championship repercussions? It's still too early, but it's something to think about.

Sylvester Croom's version of the Bear Bryant no-nonsense philosophy brought out the best in his Maroon Bulldogs. That one conference game thought to be an "easy" win for Vandy could just as easily be a repeat of the last time Mississippi State came to Nashville.

- Ole Miss looked considerably weaker losing to Memphis, and Kentucky looked anemic Sunday getting overwhelmed by Louisville. Don't discount either team too much. Memphis and Louisville might both contend for the Citrus or Cotton Bowl if they were in the SEC this year.

Look for Ole Miss to give Alabama a good game Saturday, and then be ready for blood on Sept. 18. Ah, the schedule is so unkind for Vanderbilt; the Rebels could be 0-2 and would be in the same position Auburn was last season when they played Vanderbilt in week three.

- North Carolina almost lost to William & Mary last week. After getting drilled by Virginia this Saturday, the John Bunting unemployment watch should begin. If the Tar Heels return home after the Oct. 6 Utah game 1-6, I think UNC will make a change heading into an off-week before homecoming against Miami. Syracuse's Paul Pasqualoni lost too often with Donovan McNabb at QB; Joe Fields may seal ol' Paul's fate (maybe he can borrow Coach Bunting's classified ads).

- The new-fangled picket fence punt protection that is becoming prevalent in college football isn't really new. Several teams tried this in the 1960's, and they eventually gave it up once their punt return coverage weakened by about 10 to 15 yards.

- I'll bet Northwestern kicker Brian Huffman knows how Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna feels.

- The Big Ten takes the early lead for most exciting conference this year. Michigan looked like a BCS title contender in their opener, but Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, and even Penn State will have something to say about the race for the Rose and/or Orange Bowl. Keep an eye on the Gophers; they just might have their best team since Sandy Stephens guided them to a surprise national championship in 1960 (although most Southerners thought Ole Miss was the nation‘s best that year.) I'll be in the Twin Cities in a few weeks and should get some added perspective on the Big Ten race.

- How much could you get today for a 50-yard line seat to the Oklahoma-Texas game? How about Southern Cal and California, or Michigan and Minnesota? It might be a better investment than Wall Street or real estate.

The picks: Last week, that awful windbag Frances may have been all wet, but she blew some good vibrations my way. By postponing the Miami-Florida State game, that three-team teaser was cancelled. That one included Baylor covering at +24 against UAB. I won the other three-point teaser parlays. Ohio State, Clemson (by the hardest), and Minnesota covered, and so did Michigan, Texas, and Purdue. 2-and-0 isn't half bad. The other four teams I mentioned also won, but they were not official picks.

Now for this week's games: I usually disdain following the money lines, unless I am 100% confident that there is no way I can be wrong (about as often as Halley's Comet returns). This week I see a few money line games that look good, and that is what I'm going with. The money line means you are picking a team to win outright without any mention of point spread. Picking the favorite means you are playing at odds less than 1-1, and going with the underdog means you get much better odds, sometimes as high as 15-1.

UNLV at Wisconsin: The Runnin' Rebels have to make another long cross-country trek this week. The weather will be brisk for the desert gridironers. Wisconsin looked impressive on both sides of the ball and stays at home for the second week in a row. There's also revenge to factor in here. The line is Wisc –900, UNLV +600, and I like The Badgers to handle this one with ease.

Southern Mississippi at Nebraska: This is game one for the Golden Eagles, while the Huskers have had a breather game already. Teams playing at home after winning easily at home in the prior week usually continue to play well the next week. Nebraska isn't about to go 11-0 and may struggle to reach 7-4, but they should be 2-0 after this week. I take Nebraska –700 vs. USM +500.

North Carolina at Virginia: This is a huge risk here, because Virginia is –1500 to North Carolina +1000. Miss with one here, and you could be crying for weeks. The Tar Heels trailed William & Mary for 25 minutes last week, while UVa ran every which way over Temple. The Cavs are not far behind Florida State and Miami, so they should have a 99% chance of winning. That's good enough for me; take Virginia –1500.

Marshall at Ohio State: Marshall lost at home to Troy State and has to venture to the Horseshoe this week. Ohio State wins ugly most weeks, but against Cincinnati, they displayed some Woody Hayes tendencies. I think this one could get ugly, but I'm only concerned with outright winners with the money line. Take Ohio State –900 vs, Marshall +600

Texas at Arkansas: This one is a bit risky, but I think Texas is primed for a 10-1 season with only a loss to Oklahoma. The Horns rushed for over 500 yards last week, and they might be held to less than half of that this week, but that should still be more than enough. Arkansas scored 63 against New Mexico State, but I see them scoring only 10 this week, while Texas wins by 17 or more. I take Texas –11.


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