Oct. 9 is here at last, and it shapes up as the single best college football Saturday of the season. There are big games in every region, and after Saturday, the ranks of BCS contenders will be considerably thinner.
There are seven biggie games on Saturday:
Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas): The Longhorns have been waiting for this game since last year. Oklahoma isn't maiming its opponents this year, but Texas also has its weaknesses. The upset is no sure thing. This game promises to be a balanced one, not dominated by any one aspect. I look for a total score in the low 50's, with the winner coming out on top 28-24, or something like that. The major key to this game will be how well the OU defensive line handles the UT offensive line. If the Longhorn blockers can push back the Sooners with any success, then Mack Brown finally wins the big one. I think Texas will have trouble stopping the Sooners' passing game, but Oklahoma has been running the ball more this year, which may actually aid the Longhorns. My gut instinct says Texas finally wins, but my comparison ratings say Oklahoma will win by 5. I think it will go down to the wire either way.
Wisconsin at Ohio State--The Badgers are walking into an angry hornet's nest Saturday. Ohio State has circled this game for a year, after the Badgers ended the Buckeyes' winning streak last year. Wisconsin is one of three teams limiting opponents to a touchdown or less per game (Miami & Louisville are the others). If the weather is anything but picture-perfect, the score could be 10-7 or lower. If you ever had to pick a game to go to overtime and still beat the UNDER (35 1/2), this one is it.
Minnesota at Michigan: The Battle for the Little Brown Jug (neither little nor brown) could be the battle for the big Tournament of Roses invitation. The Gophers have the best one-two running punch among the BCS conference schools. The two-headed monster of tailbacks Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney may just be the best "defense" among the Big 10 schools not wearing a 'W' on their helmets. Minnesota is outrushing its opponents by a 323-98 yard per game margin. Michigan is starting to reach its peak though, and the Gophers will have to play an error-free game to pull off the upset. Minnesota hasn't won at the Big House since 1986. By the way, it was the 1960 10-0 win at Ann Arbor which put Minnesota in the driver's seat for the national championship. Could history repeat itself? My ratings call this game too close to call. The spread is Michigan -3 1/2, and my comparison says Michigan by 3.
Tennessee at Georgia: Tennessee has lost to Alabama and Florida several years in a row in the past. Georgia is going for consecutive win number four in this series. The Bulldogs may have been sandbagging a little prior to the LSU game, or it may have taken a big game to wake them up. Nevertheless, I think Georgia eliminates the Vols from SEC East contention this week. Look for a two-touchdown win, something like 31-17. Georgia is this decade's Alabama/Florida for Tennessee.
Purdue at Penn State--Kyle Orton has to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy so far. The Boilermakers look like the top team in the very strong Midwest region after five weeks. I still think Penn State will upset someone this season, but I don't think it will be this week. After Saturday afternoon, Purdue should be 6-0 for the first time since 1943. That 1943 team went undefeated, with one of the most bruising power running games in Big Ten history. My, how times have changed in West Lafayette.
Oklahoma State at Colorado: I wasn't going to call this game a biggie, but the Cowpokes are forcing their way into the Big XII South race. This group of Buffalos may eke out a winning mark before the year is out, but CU is not in the class of the biggies. OSU should win a critical road game and force Texas and Oklahoma to take them seriously.
California at Southern Cal: This just may be the best game of the entire season, including the Orange Bowl. 92,000+ fans will be attending a game at The L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the first time since the Dodgers and White Sox played in the 1959 World Series. Give me a 50-yard line seat to this one, and I'd be satisfied to go shopping with my wife and forego watching six TV games per week the rest of the season.
I am a big fan of the former American Football League. This game may resemble a San Diego Chargers vs. Houston Oilers matchup c. 1962, or better yet a Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders game between 1966 and 1969. The college ranks haven't seen a game like this since Nebraska and Oklahoma played in 2001. The energy emanating from this one may cause the San Andreas Fault to hiccup.
I actually consider the contest a 50-50 tossup. The Bears have a swagger similar to Miami in the late-80's / early-90's. Cal Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is another outstanding signal caller developed by Coach Jeff Tedford, who has tutored the likes of Trent Dilfer, Billy Volek, David Carr, A.J. Feeley, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller. Southern Cal will have to play its best game of the year, or the Trojans could be upset for the second year in a row. Reggie Bush and LenDale White have to bring their A-games, or Matt Leinart will get massacred by the Bears' vicious growl. The USC Wild Bunch defense will not prevent Cal from scoring 25 or more points, so it should be a shootout.
My ratings say USC by 4. Don't miss this one, folks; you don't get to see these games very often. Remember the name Chase Layman. If Cal wins, this receiver will be placed in the national spotlight as the next Michael Irvin / Randy Moss.
Last Week's Vandy Game:
What a difference it makes when your team controls both sides of the line of scrimmage. Vandy's offensive line deserves lots of credit for this win. They beat State off the snap and opened the holes needed to make the running game successful. Once the running game was clicking, Jay Cutler had more space to exploit the Bulldogs' below-average secondary. Defensively, the Commodores aren't ready to shut down anyone, but every unit is improving. With the SEC at its weakest in several years, Vandy actually has a chance to win one or two more in the conference. I cannot see a rebound to 6-5, but 4-7 is highly probable if the Commodores can stay healthy. 4-7 is considerable progress. Remember 1981? Vandy jumped to 4-7 after five straight years of two wins or less, and it set the table for 1982. By the way, recall Mississippi State's touchdown (96-yard pass that would have put it up by double digits) that was called back? Didn't it remind you of the many times Vandy has had the big play called back and then lost all its momentum?
This week's Vandy-Rutgers game:
On paper, this is the closest match Vandy has played in a long time. I have studied my figures at length and keep coming up with a dead even game at 31-31. Whichever team gets a big break while the score is tied or close should emerge the victor. I don't see either team winning by more than a touchdown.
Rutgers can be exploited by Jay Cutler and the offense. The Scarlet Knights play a gambling defense and will dog and blitz on several plays. Let's hope the offense is devoting more time to the blitz pickup this week. Matthew Tant could be an important key this week as well, as the inside trap could provide a long breakaway run. Another stellar offensive line effort could give Vandy back-to-back wins for the first time in five years.
This week's picks:
I just missed out on a 3-0 week, but Northwestern did the unthinkable and beat Ohio State for the first time in decades. So, that left me at 2-1 for the week and 21-6 for the season against the spread. It is still too much rarefied air, so I am staying conservative until I can find the right week to go crazy.
Penn State vs. Purdue: The Boilermakers are favored by 12 1/2, and I think that is too much here. Penn State is one half of a good team; their defense is still a quality unit. The Lion offense is sub-par, but one of these weeks, they will put up some good numbers. I think there is a small shot at an upset here, but even if Purdue wins, I believe it will be by 10 or less. I'm picking Penn State to beat the spread.
Baylor vs. Missouri: I am playing the role of contrarian here. Baylor is considered pathetic by a large chunk of the betting public. Hence, I think the number is wrong. Missouri will be looking ahead to next week's Texas game, and it could get stung in Waco. The line is 20 1/2, and I see Baylor not only covering but challenging to win the game outright in the fourth quarter. Call me a kook, but I cannot see Mizzou winning by more than 14.
The Orangemen are coming back from the dead. Syracuse is still much weaker than the Donovan McNabb teams, but at the Carrier Dome should not lose big to Florida State. I have some doubts about the Seminoles; I think they will lose one or possibly two more games this season. The spread is 19, and with the 13-point tease making it 32, I feel safe to put Syracuse in the parlay.
Arizona is quickly becoming a media darling. One sports analyst after another keeps talking about the job Coach Stoops Lite has done so far in Tucson. Nobody has mentioned how good a job Coach Karl Dorrell is doing in Westwood. After losing to Oklahoma State to start the year, UCLA has been playing exceptionally well, winning two road games and blowing out the same San Diego State team which took Michigan to the final gun at Ann Arbor. UCLA is favored by 11, and I think it will cover. At +2 on the tease, this is a near "gimme" on the parlay.
Lou Holtz was once an assistant to Woody Hayes at Ohio State. This week his USC Gamecocks will utilize ole Woody's philosophy against The Johnny Rebs. Carolina will steamroller Ole Miss into submission and win by two or three touchdowns. The line is 17, and with the 13-point tease, USC is -4 at home.
Hawaii got off to a rough start, but June Jones has the Rainbows back on track. Tulsa has dropped off the map this year. This game looks like a major blowout, and the spread is Hawaii -18. With the 13-point tease, it is Hawaii -5. If they played this game 100 times, Hawaii would win by more than five points 97 times. That's good enough for me.
Remember on this great weekend of TV to be considerate of your remotes. Give them fresh batteries, and they will treat you kindly.