Peiser's Picks: AP, ESPN polls a big joke

It's time for Howell Peiser's weekly look at college football around the country. Peiser takes a look back at last week's games, and looks ahead to the coming weekend's smorgasbord (including Vanderbilt-at-Navy). Also included: a myriad of tantalizing picks against the point spread from games across the nation.

I am writing this from above the 45th parallel in New Richmond, Wisc., so please forgive me if today's article has a "cheesy" slant to it.

Even in the great white North, Vanderbilt cannot get any respect. Driving up here between Madison and Eau Claire, my wife and I were listening to a sports talk show. The co-hosts were talking to Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove about the upset over Mississippi State in Starkville. The first comment at the beginning of the interview was something like this, "Congratulations, Coach Cosgrove. You went on the road and upset a biggie from the SEC. And we're not talking about Vanderbilt, we are talking about a real team." It's as if the famous comedian was named Vandy Dangerfield.

Speaking of no respect, can we really trust CBS Sports when they tell us State beat Tech 24-10, or do we need to investigate to see if some State fan working at CBS faked the story?

Another lighthearted piece getting lots of play up here is the website It's a comical anti-John Kerry parody site showing all of Kerry's guffaws while talking about sports. Believe me, he's made quite a few funny mistakes. No matter whom you support on the real issues, it's a funny website to look at.

Now from funny to ridiculous. The AP and ESPN college football rankings are a big joke. It's pathetic that they are now the dominant source for deciding the BcS representatives. LSU loses at Auburn by 1-point on a controversial (but correct) call against a defender who blocked a kick. They drop out of the Top Ten! Do the voters in these polls think Jordan-Hare stadium imposes no home field advantage?

My ratings gave LSU additional strength for losing by 1 at Auburn. In my mind, Auburn has a 6-point home field advantage, so LSU is 5 points better than the War Eagles.

There are many more examples. The NCAA keeps making mistake after mistake in choosing its championship game. How about doing the right thing and having a playoff? Or at least, go back to the old system and have the big four bowls with conference champions and the occasional split title. There used to be six recognized NCAA national champions in the good ol' days. AP, UPI, Football Writers Association, the Helms Foundation were equally important for many years. Some years four different teams could claim the national championship.

Jay Cutler (AP / Kevin Bain)
The Vandy-Ole Miss Game

I don't think the coaches are as much to blame as several others believe. They have suffered through two seasons and realize that in order to win, they may have to gamble with unorthodox methods. The time-outs at the end of the game were gambles, and they knew the consequences of not converting first downs. In the past, coaches have been criticized for playing not to lose and not playing to win. Vanderbit's coaches were playing to win.

My only qualm was abandoning the option game during the last 20 minutes. It appeared this was done to save Jay Cutler from continued pounding. Midway through the fourth quarter the Ole Miss defensive linemen were visibly fatigued, and Vandy's offensive line was beating them on the snap every play. Running to both perimeters looked to be the best choice at the end, but that is hindsight. The game is over, so let's hope Vandy's players and coaches can learn something and improve this week.

Saturday's Vandy-Navy Game:

On paper, this looks like a miserable mismatch. Navy's offense hasn't missed a beat in 2004, and it may be a little better than last year, even though there's a raw quarterback steering the ship. The Mids' defense posted a goose egg on a Tulsa team which runs an offense almost identical to Vandy.

Two more factors weigh negatively here for against Vanderbilt: (1) When a team wins big on the road and returns home the next week, its momentum almost always continues into that game; (2) when a team loses a heartbreaker on the road and plays another road game the following week, it almost always lays an egg and plays flat and without emotion.

Looking at these factors, you get the idea that Navy might win in a slaughter, something like 41-17. I don't think this will happen. Although I would lay off this game entirely, a weird gut instinct tells me Vanderbilt's players and coaches are about to burst out like a bull that has been caged all day.

I think Jay Cutler is primed for a 300-yard passing day, and we will see a shootout in Annapolis on Saturday. My gut instinct says the winner will score more than 35 points and win by 10 or less.

There is one factor in Vandy's favor. Navy's defense has to practice against Vandy's passing offense. Its offensive players are recruited to play in a triple option with limited passing. Its blockers rarely practice pass-blocking. If Vanderbilt decides to come out and throw the ball all over the field, at least 50 to 60 passes, I don't think Navy will have an answer. Unfortunately, the Commodores' two critical injuries will play a major role in that plan, so I cannot pick Vandy to pull the upset this week.

My Picks For Saturday

I have a plethora of games to pick this week. First for the previous week. 3-2 is just above the break even line, and that pushes me to 9-3 for the season. At 75% accuracy, I may be setting myself up for a Maalox Moment of a weekend.

Army +22 1/2 vs. Connecticut: Army won't break their long losing streak this weekend, but the Cadets are much improved under Bobby Ross. They have scored 21 points in each game so far, and they can do that Saturday as well. UConn won't score 45, so I pick Army to cover.

Wisconsin -3 vs. Penn State: The Badgers defense should contain the Nittany Lions enough to let their dinosaur offense win the game. I'm picking the Badgers to win 17-13.

Stanford +22 vs. USC: This one could be much closer than people think. The Cardinal will score points in this game. They even have a very slight shot at pulling off the huge upset. I don't see USC blowing them off the field. I'm looking at a score in the 38-24 range, so I think Stanford covers.

Buffalo +13 vs. Ohio U.: Teams as weak as Ohio U. rarely cover as double-digit dogs even against weaker teams. The Bulls played Eastern Michigan close, and EMU is better than Ohio. Buffalo should cover and could be the top pick of the week.

Southern Miss. -13 vs. Tulane: The Green Wave lost big to Mississippi State, while Southern won at Nebraska. "Nuf Ced" USM by 28.

Tennessee -23 1/2 vs. La. Tech: I see this game being one where the Vols use their power to steamroller the Bulldogs. Speed will kill LaTech as well. UT should cover by halftime.

Money Line Picks:

I know this is Russian roulette here, but I think there are five sure things for Saturday.

Michigan -550 vs. Iowa: The Wolverines are ready to put the bite on someone. Iowa is an intimidated puppy with its tail stuck under its body. Michigan wins at the Big House.

Purdue -1500 vs. Illinois: 1500 is the highest the moneyline usually goes. I am shy to take Purdue and give the points, but brave enough to risk 15-1 odds against me here. I don't see any way the Illini can win.

Utah -1500 vs. Air Force: The Utes host the Falcons. Utah is on a mission (no pun intended). The Utes have the best shot at breaking into the BCS. Utah wins by 2 touchdowns.

Florida State -1100 vs. Clemson: Baby Bowden is in a heap of trouble, and he cannot go to Papa for help this week. While the score may be kept down, FSU wins with no trouble.

Minnesota -800 vs. Northwestern: Two of the best running backs in the nation will display their talents in this game. Marion Barber will have the better game, and the Gophers will assert themselves as a top 10 contender. Minnesota by 17.

Finally, one 10-point, 3-team teaser parlay: Southern Miss -3 vs. Tulane; Michigan -3 vs. Iowa; and Minnesota -5 vs. Northwestern.

With the holiest holiday of the year coming for me this weekend, I will not be able to watch or listen to any games. I'll be relying on the members of this board to give me the poop about the Vandy game, when I next find a computer up here. Top Stories