PiRate picks for Thursday and Saturday.

VandyMania's Howell Peiser picks this week's top national and SEC games.

PiRate Picks For November 5, 2005
The Autumn Wind by Steve Sabol (from NFL Films)
Queue the Music; Queue John Facenda
"The Autumn wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea
With a rollicking song he sweeps along
Swaggering boisterously
His face is weather beaten
He wears a hooded sash
With his silver hat about his head
And a bristly black moustache
He growls as he storms the country
A villain big and bold
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake
As he robs them of their gold
The Autumn wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun
He'll knock you 'round and upside down
And laugh when he's conquered and won"
What can beat football when the weather begins to get nasty?   The autumn winds indeed have many tales to tell.  This is the week where the NCAA football season enters the home stretch.  Teams will begin clinching conference championships or at least divisional titles.  More teams will become bowl eligible, while other teams will see their hopes shattered.
SEC Games
South Carolina @ Arkansas
Arkansas has a 2-5 record.  The two wins came at the expense of Louisiana-Monroe and Missouri State.  South Carolina has won three straight games, and is on the verge of earning a late December game.  So, why are the Razorbacks favored by four points?
Let's look at a few comparative scores.  Both teams played Georgia; USC lost by two, while Arkansas lost by three.  Both teams played Alabama: USC lost by 23, while the Hogs lost by 11.  Auburn beat the Gamecocks by 41 and the Razorbacks by 17.  South Carolina beat Vandy by a touchdown, while Arkansas lost to the Commodores by four.  That sums to a 24-point difference in Arkansas's favor for the four games, or an average of six points.
Do I think Arkansas will win this game?  No!  The Gamecocks are rolling, and Arkansas will not stop Air Spurrier II.  USC will surrender 250 yards rushing, but they will outscore Arkansas just like Vanderbilt did. 
PiRate Prediction: South Carolina 28  Arkansas 23
Alabama @ Mississippi State
It's been 25 years since Mississippi State pulled off one of the biggest SEC upsets in years.  The Bulldogs ended a long Alabama winning streak with a 6-3 win over the 7-0, top-ranked Crimson Tide.  That ‘Bama team came into the game with an average scoring margin of 37-8.  This year, Alabama is 8-0 and washing opponents away by an average score of 25-9. 
That's where the similarities end.  The 1980 Mississippi State team was an emerging power under Coach Emery Bellard.  The Maroons won nine regular season games.  Sylvester Croom's 2005 edition could lose nine games.  One of them will be this week, when Alabama wins game number nine.  Alabama is favored by 17, and that's a tricky line.  My ratings are close to the predicted spread.  In a low-scoring game, look for the Crimson Tide to win a not-so-pretty contest.
PiRate Prediction: Alabama 24  Mississippi State 3
Auburn @ Kentucky
This game has been bugging me this week.  Auburn should win this one in a cakewalk, but I have one of those gut feelings.  Kentucky just barely beat lowly Mississippi State last week to improve to 2-5.  In past history, when a team has picked up a fifth loss and then won, they have frequently gone on a roll trying to miraculously salvage a winning season.  Can The K-Cats possibly challenge Tommy's Tigers?  I'm guessing they will actually keep this game close for a half.  It should be enough for the Wildcats to cover the 23-point spread. 
PiRate Prediction: Auburn 30  Kentucky 12
Tennessee @ Notre Dame
This game is going to surprise some people.  Notre Dame has not faced a defense as good as Tennessee's this season.  The Vols' stop troops are better than Southern California and Michigan.  Michigan held the Irish to 244 total yards and 17 points.  Since then, Notre Dame has averaged 541 yards per game!
Tennessee's anemic offense wouldn't look so bad if not for several costly fumbles.  The coaching change this week will play a psychological role, and the players will get their minds into this game.  I'm not saying the Vols will win, but I wouldn't discount their chances and call this a definite loss.  The line is nine points, and my ratings actually call for the Irish to win by 13.  The ratings don't normally factor in certain intangibles, so I must give two separate predictions to differentiate my personal beliefs from the actual rating.
PiRate Prediction: Notre Dame 27  Tennessee 14
My personal beliefs: Notre Dame 20  Tennessee 17
Vanderbilt @ Florida
The last time Vanderbilt left Gainesville, Florida, with a football victory:
            World War II had just ended
            Harry Truman had just become President upon the death of FDR
The Chicago Cubs were three days removed from losing Game 7 of the World Series
There were no interstates.  You drove to Florida by using "The Short Route" through Alabama or The Dixie Highway
Gasoline prices were 17 cents per gallon—for full service
The average salary was between $4,000 and $5,000, but you could buy a new home for less than $10,000.
Bing Crosby was the star of the top-grossing movie—The Bells of St. Mary's
If you turned on your radio, you heard The Andrews Sisters sing "Rum and Coca-Cola, and excellent big band music from Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Less Brown, with his top hit "Sentimental Journey"
Let's end the sentimental journey there.  Suffice it to say, it's been 60 years since Vanderbilt won their one and only game at Florida.
Will history be made Saturday?  I cannot think of any scenario where I could say, "yes."  The Gators are superior at every position on offense and defense.  Whereas Jay Cutler may be a better NFL prospect than Chris Leak (and some might debate that), Leak gets the advantage at the collegiate level, especially when he will have one to two additional seconds to spot two future NFL receivers in Chad Jackson and Dallas Baker.
Florida will run the ball consistently well this week, and Leak will hurt the Commodore secondary when he does throw.  The Gators should accumulate 150+ yards on the ground and 200+ yards through the air.  Vanderbilt will struggle to top 100 yards on the ground and 200 yards through the air.  Florida is a 19-point pick in Las Vegas, and my ratings say that is honest.
PiRate Prediction: Florida 28  Vanderbilt 10
Other Games Involving Top-Ranked Teams
Miami (F) @ Virginia Tech
The Atlantic Coast Conference should know which two teams will play in the inaugural championship game by late Saturday night.  Florida State will clinch the Atlantic Division title with a win over North Carolina State, while the winner of this game will earn the other half of the invitation.  I don't think this game will be that much of a challenge.  Virginia Tech is favored by 6 ½ points, and they should cover here.  Miami will have a tough time moving the ball with any consistency.  The ground game will come to a halt, and the passing game will be interrupted by the Hokie pass rush.
Marcus Vick should complete enough passes and the Tech ground game should rush for at least 175 yards.  It adds up to a double-digit win for the home team in Blacksburg.
PiRate Prediction: Virginia Tech 31  Miami 20
Stanford @ Southern California
The Cardinal came as close to beating UCLA as they could without actually doing so.  They led the Bruins by three touchdowns after 3 ½ quarters.  They won't be so fortunate this week.  Southern Cal finally put it all together last week.  Have the Trojans emerged from their little malaise and will no longer win by just 25 points?  We'll find out Saturday; Stanford is a worthy team that still has bowl hopes.
Thanks to a 312-yard rushing and 433-yard passing day last week, the Trojans are now averaging more than 600 total yards per game.  How can a team lose with that type of offensive production?  The Trojan defense held Washington State to just 89 passing yards and 284 total yards.
The line is 33 points.  My ratings say 32 points, so lay off this one.
PiRate Prediction: Southern Cal 49  Stanford 17
Texas @ Baylor
Guy Morriss cannot pull off this miracle.  Baylor has been threatening to upset a Big 12 team this season, but don't even think of it this week.  Texas had their bump in the road against Oklahoma State.  Their path to the Rose Bowl should be as easy as General Sherman's march through Georgia.  The Longhorn interior lines will once again dominate this game.  Mack Brown shouldn't have to go deep into the playbook.  Simple straight-hitting plays should do the job.
PiRate Prediction: Texas 45  Baylor 14
UCLA @ Arizona
I was burned by the Wildcats last week.  Maybe Arizona does deserve some of the respect they have been giving.  Then again, maybe it was an aberration.  UCLA has more lives than Morris the Cat.  Even the 1967 Indiana Hoosiers didn't cut it that close that often.  Of course, that Hoosier Big Ten title team finally met its match in game number nine, when Minnesota blew them off the field 33-7. 
This is game number nine for UCLA.  Will history repeat itself and cause the 21st century cardiac kids to bite the dust in the Tucson desert?  I doubt it.  Arizona may give the Bruins a good game, but UCLA should prevail.
The spread is a little high at 10 points, and I almost like the underdog enough to recommend them.  When a team pulls off a big road upset and plays at home the next week, the momentum usually carries over.  Call it another nail-biter with the same results.
PiRate Prediction: UCLA 34  Arizona 28
Wisconsin @ Penn State
How often do you see two ranked teams with 8-1 record and who are tied for first place in a BCS conference square off this late in the year with the point spread in double digits?  It doesn't happen often.  Penn State is a 10 ½-point favorite in this game.  Look at how both teams fared against common opponents.  The lone Badger loss came against Northwestern 51-48.  Penn State barely edged Northwestern in the final minute 34-29.  The lone Nittany Lion loss came at the hands of Michigan 27-25.  Wisconsin pulled off a late fourth quarter comeback to beat Michigan 23-20.  Wisconsin beat Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota by a combine score of 110-78, while Penn State beat the trio by a combined score of 140-39, about 10-13 points better each game.
Do those three wins and home field advantage provide enough evidence to justify a 10 ½-point line?  Not quite.  I think this game will be a close, hard-fought affair with Joe Pa's troops having a slightly better than 50-50 chance to win.  I don't see this one being a double figure victory.
PiRate Prediction: Penn State 28  Wisconsin 24
Games Where I Think The Point Spread Is Off
Pittsburgh @ Louisville (Thursday)
Louisville is a 20 ½-point favorite, and I think that is too much.  The Panthers are not the same team that was embarrassed on national television by Ohio U.  Louisville has defensive holes than can be exploited.  Good running teams can outmuscle the Cardinals at the point of attack and control the ball, keeping the U of L offense on the bench.
Dave Wannstedt teams historically are rather decent at running power plays inside.  They haven't always been winners, but they rarely get blown out.  I see the close loss scenario playing itself here.  Pitt is the pick.
PiRate Prediction: Louisville 34  Pittsburgh 21
Northern Illinois @ Central Michigan
Trying to win by picking MAC teams this year has been about as risky as playing Russian Roulette.  CMU is a hot team; included in their four-game winning streak are wins over Toledo and Akron.  
Northern Illinois lost at home to lowly Ball State last week.  Earlier this season, they lost to Akron.  Yet, the Huskies are a field goal pick over the streaking Chippewas in Mt. Pleasant? I think CMU will win this one outright.  The MAC title game is within their grasp.
PiRate Prediction: Central Michigan 31  Northern Illinois 26
California @ Oregon
This is the best game out West this week.  Oregon must only lay two points at Autzen Stadium to a Cal bears team that has not played as well as last year.  Guess who Cal gets next week?  It's Southern Cal.  Might the Bears possibly overlook this game, even just a little bit? 
I like Oregon for those reasons and a few more.  Quarterback Kellen Clemens should tear the Golden Bear secondary to shreds in this game.  If Washington State was able to pass for over 400 yards against Cal, then Oregon should as well.  Also, the Cal ground game will be held well below its normal 250 yards.  The Ducks should cover at home.
PiRate Prediction: Oregon 35  California 27
A Few Others That Look Beatable
BYU – 11 ½ over UNLV:  PiRate—BYU 34  UNLV 16
Tulsa +9 vs. UTEP: PiRate—UTEP 35  Tulsa 30
Arizona State -3 over Washington St.: PiRate—Arizona State 35  Washington St. 26
For the season, the PiRate ratings have successfully picked the winner in all I-A games 75% of the time.  The record for all games against the spread has been mediocre at best at 53%.  When the PiRate spread has differed from the real spread by five or more points, the spread record has been 58%, and when the spreads differed by 10 or more points, the spread record has been 83.3% (but that's been  a small sample of just 12 games).
The Autumn winds are blowing.  You better go home and get some hot soup in you.  And, for those wanting an excellent beef stew recipe with a black and gold theme, be sure to read this week's tailgating recipe for Commodore Beef Stew and help out a great cause as well.
Note: If you wish to hear John Facenda read the Raider Poem Autumn Winds with the original NFL Films music, click on this link:  http://www.silverandblackattack.com/autumn_wind.mp3

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