Archive for the ‘handicapping’ Category

Picks Trying Not to Suck: Week One

September 3, 2009

Last year Homerism won the coveted chocolate martini in the popular sibling rivalry of Picks Trying Not to Suck. Despite the heartburn it caused him last year, The Skinny lobbied for the same ground rules this season, including the Lee Greenwood Special for our men and women in uniform. The stakes remain the same, a Christmas day choco-tini, with the added twist of The Skinny’s pride being on the line as well.

WEEK One–The Skinny

Skin won’t be attending this weekend’s game between OU and BYU. My absence is a protest against Jerry Jones and that ego-driven monstrosity he built in Texas. I despise that whole “everything is bigger and better in Texas” attitude. I’ve been to Texas many times, and in case you were wondering, it sucks.

OK, actually, I would sell out and go in a heartbeat, but I would rather save my football trips for the Red River Shootout.
Advice of the Week: If “regularity” is an issue for you, forget Jamie Lee Curtis’ laxative of choice, Activia. Try GNC herbal remedy ColonClenz instead.

Oregon at Boise St. (-4.5)

A contest between two legit top 25 teams is not a bad way to kickoff the season’s slate of Thursday night games. I still have a personal vendetta against Oregon for robbing my Sooners in 2006, but you have to give them credit for scheduling this game. There aren’t many schools who are lining up to open the season with a night game in Boise. It is really a no-win proposition for Oregon. If the Ducks are in contention for a BCS spot in December, win or lose on Thursday night, they won’t receive the credit they deserve. Despite Boise’s recent success, how will the pollsters view this contest in early September, as opposed to a game against Texas, Alabama, or even Oklahoma State? Give the Ducks extra credit for scheduling mid-majors this season. Oregon also plays Utah on September 19.
As for the game, I think this should be a fun matchup featuring a lot of offense. Oregon junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli accounted for nearly 2,500 yards of total offense last season, despite only taking half of the team’s snaps under center. Masoli’s supporting class is a bit green, losing last season’s leading rusher and top two receivers to graduation. Historically, Oregon has not been a good defensive team. It hasn’t needed to be with an offense that has averaged 40 points per game over the past three seasons. The D needs to improve if the Ducks want to be in Pasadena in January.

Boise St. has become the premier mid-major program in the nation. Over the past eight seasons, the Broncos are 54-2 against WAC opponents and have won the conference title seven times. As a freshman, QB Kellen Moore threw for 3,500 yards, completing 70 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It is clear the Broncos’ coaching staff is expecting big things from Moore this season. Believe it or not, running back Ian Johnson actually exhausted his eligibility after last season. Maybe it’s the countless number of times I have been subjected to Johnson’s game-winning TD in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but it seemed like he played at least nine seasons for Boise. More than any other mid-major program, Boise has proven it can compete with BCS conference teams, and the Broncos will be fired up for this opportunity to play Oregon at home.

The Skinny says: I see this game as a toss-up. Expect a high-scoring, back-and-forth contest. I will take Oregon with the points.

Nevada at Notre Dame (-15)

Pardon Skin if he thinks Lou Holtz’s national championship game prediction for the Irish is a bit optimistic. The last time I saw ND play–somehow the Hawaii Bowl was left out of my Christmas Eve activities–it lost at home to Syracuse. I do believe ND will be improved this season. The Irish have played a lot of freshmen and sophomores over the past two seasons, and that should pay dividends as they become upper classmen.
For the first time since Rocket Ismail, it seems the Irish have some legitimate playmakers at receiver. Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Duval Kumara are players that will concern opposing defenses. Jimmy Clausen is the guy everyone loves to hate, Skin included, but he has the ability to get the ball to his playmakers. He needs to cut down on his mistakes, though (17 INTs in 2008). The Irish also have a trio of capable running backs, and the offensive line should be improved with another year of experience.

Almost everyone returns on an ND defense that needs to beef up a bit against the run. In one of the stranger offseason nuggets I have read, it appears Charlie Weis and Albert Pujols struck up a friendship after a random encounter on a beach in Puerto Rico. That couldn’t have been a pretty site for Pujols, although it’s a pretty funny mental image for me. I see Weis dressed like John Candy in Summer Rental: sunblock-covered nose, under the shade of three umbrellas, mustard smudges around his mouth from that last corn dog he took down at the all-inclusive resort, out of breath from that long walk to the beach. You get the idea.

Many of the experts think Nevada could be this season’s Utah or Boise St. To be perfectly honest, I know very little about Nevada other than the Pistol offense and sophomore QB Colin Kaepernick. That’s it. Last season, the Wolfpack offense put up over 3,000 yards in both rushing and passing. That is production Notre Dame would kill for, even against WAC opponents.

Skin says: I think the Irish will win the game, but Nevada will put up points and keep the game closer than the line. With all the soft schedule talk around South Bend this offseason, I don’t think the Irish are taking Nevada as serious as they should be.

Minnesota(-6) at Syracuse
In week one, all the teams on the board are an unknown quantities, some more so than others. And then there is Syracuse, which not only has a new coach but a starting quarterback who was at Duke the last four seasons playing basketball. Transfer Greg Paulus is definitely an unknown quantity. For most programs that is a bad thing, but it might be just what the ‘Cuse needs.

After all, everything else we know about Syracuse is bad. It is hard to imagine that a guy who hasn’t put on pads in 5 years–against a high school opponents, mind you–will have much success, but I am willing to give him the slightest chance. At least he was pretty good in high school. I am searching for a glimmer of hope for the Orange this season, and all I can find is that the team’s leading receiver, Donte Davis, who had all of 312 yards receiving last year, is back. Oh, and the Orange were a perfect 25/25 in PATs when they did find the end zone last year. Paulus and first-year head coach Doug Marrone might be able to breathe some life back into the program, but they aren’t miracle workers.

Tim Brewster has done a respectable job at Minnesota the past two seasons, and the Gophers will finally have a home field this season at the newly built, on-campus TCF Bank Stadium. Junior QB Adam Weber returns after throwing for 2,700 yards and 15 TDs last season. However, look for the Gopher’s to work in prized recruit Moses Alipate this season. Alipate is a dual-threat quarterback and could be a nice change of pace for Brewster. Senior wide receiver Eric Decker is one of the better players you have never heard of, catching 84 passes for over 1,000 yards in 2008. Defensively, Minnesota gave up a lot of passing yards, even in the run-happy Big 10.

The Skin says: I think Minnesota is the better team and I like their advantage at quarterback. I’ll take that experience in week one.

LSU (-17.5) at Washington
Something seems fishy with this line. Sure, LSU was down last year, but Washington couldn’t stay within 17 points of anyone last season. OU could have beaten the Huskies last season with my fashionista friend MoMo playing quarterback. (Does Prada make a football cleat?) You have to wonder if Vegas insiders see something we don’t.

Washington has better talent than they showed last season. They should have beaten a good BYU team in their opener. Then they were trounced by Oklahoma, like everyone except UT and Florida, in the second game. At that point it seems like the Huskies simply gave up on Willingham. Sarkisan’s arrival will pump new blood into the team this season, and Jake Locker, who only played in four games last season due to injury, is a talented quarterback.
LSU’s defense was bad last season, giving up an average of 38 PPG in the Tigers’ five losses. Will bringing in a new coordinator be enough to fix LSU’s defensive woes? Plus, LSU still doesn’t have a proven quarterback. Add all that together with the fact this game is in Seattle, which is a long way from Baton Rouge, and the oddsmakers see a closer game than most expect.

Personally, I have a bit of a different take. I think LSU, despite recent troubles on defense, has a level of talent that is better than Washington across the board. The Tigers have a ton of experience coming back on defense, which may not be a good thing considering how they have performed over the past two seasons. John Chavis is a good coordinator, however, the defense will be better this season. While I am uncomfortable with the situation at quarterback, I think Les Miles will see better play out of that position this season. If freshman sensation Reuben Randle or one of the other young receivers can provide a solid number-two option behind Brandon Lafell, the offense should be better this season.

Skinny says: I expect Washington to be better this season under Sarkisian, but he is unproven as a head coach. Willingham left the cupboard pretty bare. Forget all the talk of the distance LSU has to travel. It doesn’t matter… LSU rolls.

Georgia at Boone Pickens University (-5.5)
I have struggled with this game all weeks. Boone Pickens University should have one of the best teams in school history. The Corporate Raiders have as good an offensive attack as there is in the country, outside of maybe a couple other schools in the Big 12 South. Defensively, though, BPU was not great last season. I think new defensive coordinator Bill Young will improve that side of the ball.

Georgia lost a considerable amount of NFL talent off last year’s team including, Moreno and Stafford. The Raiders are at home, and for those of you who don’t understand the psyche of BPU fans, they are desperate to be relevant on the national level. Expect “The Pick” to be rocking for this game. All the factors add up to the Raider’s winning this game, and maybe winning big.

The Skin says: I am just having a hard time convincing myself that BPU can win this game. The Raiders are notorious for blowing these kinds of opportunities. But I am going to believe! The Raiders will win this game, but not by 6 points. I will take UGA with the points.

(Now if only Boone Pickens can find a way to recover the $65 million he “gave” his alma mater to build “the finest athletics facilities in the country.” In one of the most impoverished states in the nation, Pickens “gave” the largest monetary gift ever to a public university. Not one penny went to educate students or provide financial assistance to students. This is a school that desperately needs it. I hope you enjoy beating Georgia.)

UPDATE: Rumor has it Zac Robinson might not play in this game, and if he does, he won’t be 100 percent. Robinson has been dealing with a hamstring issue all summer, but it now looks to be more serious than we were first led to believe. UGA wins outright!

Lee Greenwood Special: Navy at Ohio State (-21)
In the LGS, heart counts. Never underestimate the tenacity and the fortitude of the football teams at our service academies. Ohio State will experience this firsthand this weekend. As for the Buckeyes, I am not sure I am buying them as a top-five team this season. I think Terrelle Pryor will be a great player with Vince Young-esque talent. But beyond that I am not sure what the Buckeyes have. They lost a lot of key pieces from a team last year that was very underwhelming. It seems like OSU always struggles with “cupcakes” in September. Navy isn’t your typical cupcake–at least when it comes to heart.

The Skin says: Navy scores a last second touchdown to keep this one within the spread!

WEEK ONE–Blatant Homerism

Homerism has been putting in Wolverine-like time this offseason crunching numbers and talking to my cadre of informants and associates across the country to bring you the very best in college football handicapping this season. Most importantly, Homerism and his lady have spent the last month catching up on countless hours of 2008 replays down in the depths of the digital cable channels–CBS College, Fox College Sports South, Big Ten Network, etc. “Romantic Saturday night” in Homerism’s house = Air Force-New Mexico circa 2007.

Anyway, know that these opening week picks come with some of the most thorough analysis available, all for free. Eat your heart out, Jim Feist.

Virginia Tech (+6.5) vs. Alabama
*Georgia Dome (Atlanta)

Homerism singled out this game months ago without even seeing the line, and actually knowing the number has done nothing to dissuade me.

By the end of 2009, I bet ‘Bama will be playing some great football. For a team that lost some key pieces from last season’s 12-2 team, though, this is a really tough way to get the party started. With a stout defense leading the way, the Crimson Tide O won’t need to produce too many points in this game to bring home a win. Unfortunately for Nick Saban’s crew, that’s still asking too much of new quarterback Greg McElroy. Even though the ‘Bama faithful will pack the joint, look for the first-time starter to struggle away from Tuscaloosa. (Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a Tide defensive end got shot this week. There’s also the matter of the swine flu scare in the ‘Bama locker room.)

A typically strong–and opportunistic–Hokie defense awaits, so watch for a Va. Tech defensive score to be the difference here.

Homerism says: Beamerball, outright.

Central Michigan (+14) at Arizona
Mike Stoops appears to have done just enough to hang on in Tucson after last year’s 8-5 finish. Whether or not the Wildcats can stay on the upswing is another matter altogether.

Losing a home opener to a mid-major certainly wouldn’t help, and the Wildcats enter this Saturday’s matchup with the Chippewas facing plenty of questions. For one thing, Stoops has yet to name a starting quarterback to replace departed veteran Willie Tuitama. Stud tight end Rob Gronkowski’s status remains up in the air as well.

Across the way, CMU star QB Dan LeFevour leads a battle-tested bunch into the desert, featuring a defense with 10 returning starters. I love how this sets up for coach Butch Jones’ Chippewas–a solid, experienced mid-major taking on an unsettled BCS-level program in its first game of the season. The only potential landmine Homerism can see here for CMU is next week’s date with in-state rival Michigan State.

Homerism says: ‘Zona will need to bear down to pull this one out. CMU covers, and a money line play for both the first half and the game look promising.

Maryland at California (-21)
At first glance, this seems like a ton of points. Three touchdowns is justified, though.

This game sets up very similarly to the Golden Bears’ recent home-and-series with Tennessee in 2006-2007. Cal went to Rocky Top in ’06 and got blasted, then did some blasting of its own in Berkeley the following season. Given how the Terrapins beat down Cal last season in that bizarre early kickoff in College Park, Jeff Tedford’s team should be out for blood this time around, and this time it’s Maryland making the cross-country trek. What could be Fridge’s final season gets off to an ugly start.

Homerism says: Cal, 40-14.

San Jose State (+33.5) at USC
Pete Carroll’s choice of Matt Barkley as his starting quarterback grabbed headlines across the country for the fact that it’s the first time in recent memory that a true freshman has started the season opener for such a highly regarded team. Presumably, however, it caught the attention of wiseguys in Vegas who were hoping it wouldn’t drive the spread down too far. The Trojans should win this game handily, but Barkley’s going to make some of the rookie mistakes. Savvy veteran coach Dick Tomey likely will have some defensive tricks up his sleeve to bait Barkley into a trap or two.

With a trip to Ohio State on the horizon, ‘SC should treat this one as tune-up. Plus, it’s tough to see Carroll pouring it on Tomey.

Homerism says: USC by 28.

Illinois (-7) vs. Missouri
*Edward Jones Dome (St. Louis)

On his podcast with Ivan Maisel this week, Beano Cook carried on about how much he loves this interstate rivalry. It’s crying a shame that it looks like it’s headed to the scrap heap soon, according to Cook. Homerism would guess Cook is the only person outside of Columbia and Champaign who feels that way. Who cares?

Earlier this summer, the Golden Nugget had Illinois giving a point in this game. How often do you see a line move six points? The smart money should make a killing here. Mizzou is in for a long season, starting Saturday.

Homerism says: Double-digit Illini victory.


LGS: Navy (+21) at Ohio State
The service academies are always focused. Ohio State has a big game with USC next week. Enough said.
Homerism says: Ohio State, 30-17.

Guest Column: Return of the Wang

September 2, 2009

by Buffalo Wild Wang, M.D.

Head of Urology
Blatant Homerism

(Editor’s Note: It has been a long, hot offseason. If you thirst for Big 12 picks, come sip from the Wang. That’s right, Buffalo’s best urologist, Buffalo Wild Wang, returns this season to satisfy your cravings for Big 12 picks, albeit in an abbreviated format.)

The Wang would like to take the chance to thank Homerism for the chance to come back this year and enlighten you with my weekly Big 12 picks. As the Buffalo urological world becomes busier and busier for yours truly, my precious free time is dwindling away. Sorry, Wang lovers, but I only have time to pry myself away from my craft long enough to offer my insight into the OU game and one special Big 12 game each week. Duty calls.

BYU at Oklahoma (-22)
*Arlington, Texas

This game promises to be entertaining as these two potent offenses meet in the new Cowboy Stadium. Something tells me Jerry Jones won’t have to worry about too many punts ricocheting off the scoreboard this Saturday. Both teams will be lighting it up the old-fashioned way.

The Wang gave his thoughts on this game earlier this offseason. Not much has changed since then. Everyone points the finger at the OU offensive line as the potential weak spot on a stacked team, but it should be noted that BYU brings in four new o-linemen as well. Look for the Sooners to spend a good amount of time in the BYU backfield and Max Hall’s face. Sam Bradford has a great chance here to kickoff his repeat Heisman campaign against a top-25 team on national television, and I don’t see him disappointing. In the end, the Sooners are just too deep, athletic and strong for the Stormin’ Mormons. The Cougars will find the end zone some, but they won’t keep OU out.
The Pick: Dr. Wild Wang’s diagnosis is pain for the boys from Provo. OU rolls, 65-23.
Big 12 Game of the Week: Georgia at Oklahoma State (-6)

An early treat for college football fans, as these two teams from power conferences meet to kick the season off.

There has been plenty of talk about OSU being this year’s version of Texas Tech. I assume this means the “team du jour” picked to finish third in the Big 12 South? It is too farfetched to envision last year’s odd scenario playing itself out again this season. The Wang wouldn’t be completely shocked to see the Pokes take care of Texas in Stillwater, the Longhorns to win in Dallas, and the Sooners to triumph over OSU in Norman. But wouldn’t this mean another three-way tie in the South? Not if OSU finds a way to blow another game along the way, as seems to happen every year.
This week, however, Georgia rolls into Stillwater a new quarterback in tow, as Matt Stafford has escaped to greener pastures in Detroit. Oklahoma State promises to put plenty of points on the scoreboard this year with what is quite possibly the best offensive trio in the country. The Boone will be rockin’ for this out-of-conference showdown, which I expect to provide a big advantage for the Cowboys.
The Pick: Stick a feather in the Big 12’s cap. OSU takes down the Bulldogs, 38-17.

Preseason Prognostication: Wilde Picks

August 31, 2009

If, as Oscar Wilde said, experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes, we’d be wise to look back at Homerism’s 2008 preseason predictions before delving into 2009.

2008 Preseason Predictions

  • BCS Championship: Florida over USC (actual: Florida over Oklahoma)
  • ACC: Florida State over Virginia Tech (actual: Virginia Tech over Boston College)
  • Big East: West Virginia (actual: Cincinnati)
  • Big Ten: Wisconsin (actual: Penn State)
  • Big 12: Oklahoma over Missouri (actual: Oklahoma over Missouri)
  • Pac-10: USC (actual: USC)
  • SEC: Florida over Auburn (actual: Florida over Alabama)
So, what should I have learned?
1. These picks are as worthless as Web page they’re written on.
Wisconsin? Auburn? Florida State? Sheesh.
2. Beware the cult of the coordinator.
Auburn’s hire of Tony Franklin to take over its offense had Homerism all fired up this time last year. Six games into the season, it was if Franklin never even set foot on The Plains. Franklin received his walking papers, the Tigers were running some kind of scheme that looked nothing like Franklin’s version of the spread, and they were sucking at it.

3. Don’t disregard quarterback play.

Last season, the shaky play of Todd Boeckman scared me off of Ohio State in the Big Ten. Right on, but then why back Allan Evridge-led Wisconsin instead? I actually singled out the Badgers as a national championship dark horse!
4. Like the rest of the country, I know nothing about the Big East.
With all that in mind, I will now attempt to create another learning experience for next season.
BCS Championship Game
Florida over Ohio State
The Gators are a given. To be honest, I could see this team contending for a national title even if Tim Tebow ascended into heaven in the middle of the third quarter of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. As for The Ohio State University… Look, I don’t like the idea of picking a team that I don’t consider one of the two or three best in country any more than the rest of you. Unfortunately, I think the Buckeyes will be the only undefeated team besides Florida left standing when the music stops. Right now, the USC game doesn’t look as daunting as it usually would. Plus, the only difficult road game for the Buckeyes appears to be Penn State on November 7, and OSU will have more talent and the best player on the field, Terrelle Pryor.

Conference Champs
ACC: Virginia Tech over Florida State
Quietly–or should I say “boringly”–this conference has turned into a (very) poor man’s version of the Big 12. I think the two divisions are called the “Coastal” and the “Atlantic;” all I know is that the one with Virginia Tech in it looks much stronger on paper than the other.
Big East: Pittsburgh
Why not?
Big Ten: Ohio State
The Badgers burned me last year, but Wisconsin could be a sleeper here. Bret Bielema’s squad misses the Nittany Lions this year, and 50-50 games against Michigan State, Iowa and the hardest working team in college football, Michigan, are in Madison.
Big 12: Oklahoma over Kansas
OU will win the South, but drop a game somewhere in what is a very trying schedule. Up north, despite the tough talk from coach Dan Hawkins about Colorado winning 10 games this year, this is a two-team race: Kansas and Nebraska. Yes, the Jayhawks have the harder schedule of the two. They also have the only proven commodity at under center. I’ll go with KU by virtue of a head-to-head win over the ‘Huskers.
Pac-10: California

Pete Carroll has proven that it’s never wise to bet against his teams. And no one ever said Homerism was wise. Truth is, I love this Cal team. Watching the Golden Bears last year, I couldn’t help but think they were better than their record. The defense, led by the best cornerback in the country, Syd’Quan Thompson, will be the best in conference. On the other side of the ball, QB Kevin Riley has to avoid mistakes and let Jahvid Best do the heavy lifting. If Best stays healthy all year, this is a national title dark horse.
SEC: Florida over Alabama
I went back and forth between Alabama and Ole Miss in the SEC West for the last month before settling on the Crimson Tide. The Rebels have a great schedule to go along with a great quarterback in Jevan Snead. ‘Bama, on the other hand, may be the most talented team in the country behind UF and USC. Here’s the kicker: these two teams are scheduled to meet in what will be the Tide’s sixth game of the season. By then, the ‘Bama newcomers will be battle-tested, and junior QB Greg McElroy should have his sea legs.

Linking Up: August 17

August 18, 2009
Here’s what running through Homerism’s head as I await Rhett Bomar’s (legitimate) professional debut:

*Carey Murdock, editor of SoonerScoop.com, looked into Mike Balogun’s former semi-pro league, inspiring him to write this missive to the powers that be at NCAA headquarters.

Unfortunately for Balogun, the NCAA typically doesn’t allow much latitude in these types of situations. It would shock Homerism if The Bricklayer was reinstated. Pretty sad state of affairs.
*Chad Millman, ESPN’s new “sports wagering” writer, has a pretty cool article on the latest rage in football handicapping.
*Saw Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story this weekend. I just don’t get these spoof flicks. Plus, is there a more blah actress than Jenna Fischer in the business today?
*Florida’s Brandon Spikes says OU plays dirty. This is like all the complaining you hear from Florida fans about OU supposedly holding the whole time during the national championship game. You won the game, Gators. Move on.
*Sports bloggers have seemingly made an entire niche industry out of rankings and lists, so I’m well aware that this complaint is rife with irony. Homerism is as guilty of it as anyone. However, today’s deluge of pontificating on college football’s top “villains” is the kind of just-skirting-the-line-of-news junk from ESPN that really rubs Homerism the wrong way. Instead of actually trying to do some research and reporting that might produce some semblance of insight into the great game of college football, we’re treated some pointless, warmed-over drivel that puts the Worldwide Leader right in the middle of the conversation.
The most infuriating part is how the rest of the sports media helps perpetuate the ESPN monolith. Note, for instance, this recent blog post from Guerin Emig, OU beat reporter for the Tulsa World: “ESPN, Sooners off to a rough start.” Every Mickey Mouse–get it?–college football writer with an Internet connection is out there posting predictions on 2009 season. Yet, when ESPN does it, somehow it becomes news?
(And, yes, as I previously mentioned, the irony isn’t lost on Homerism.)
*Wow, listening to Jon Gruden talk about the Wildcat on Monday Night Football is making me a little uncomfortable. He’s going to need a cigarette when he’s done. Meanwhile, Jaws sounds like a spurned schoolgirl with Chucky in the booth.
*Couldn’t you see something like this happening at OU during the Howard Schnellenberger days?
*A young black football player giving a “shoutout” to Mike Vick… AND he never paid a parking ticket?! Draft at your own risk, NFL!
*Hope you’ve been keeping up with the ongoing 2009 season preview project the good guys over at GatorsFirst are working on. It’s interesting to see how a bunch of other blatant homers view college football at large.

Can You Feel It?

August 10, 2009

The college football season kicked off in earnest this week with the start of two-a-days. Now, in another important sign the clouds are breaking, online sportsbook The Greek has released the point spreads for the entire first week of the season.

Not a whole lot has changed since the Golden Nugget teased us in June with some early lines for the season’s “big games.” Oklahoma remains a three-touchdown favorite over the Fightin’ Mormons.
Here are some of the games that jumped out at Homerism:
*Boise State is up 1.5 points from the early number against Oregon.
*Oklahoma State is up to a 5.5-point favorite over Georgia in that key opening week clash. Everyone I’ve talked to just loves the Pokes in this one. In my short time in this world, they’ve made such a habit of dropping games like this one that I just can’t buy into it.
*Illinois-Missouri in The Loo went from the Illini -2.5 to -6.5. Looks like the oddsmakers are coming around on my opinion: the Tigers are going to stink this year.
*I realize it’s a long road trip for LSU, but only giving 15.5 to Washington? Even stranger, it’s actually down a half-point from the Nugget’s June spread.
*Again, this is a long road trip, but is Maryland really 21 points worse than Cal? Actually, I suspect so.
*Texas A&M is favored in week one. Enjoy it while it lasts Aggies, because you won’t be seeing that too often this year.

Picks Trying Not to Suck: Offseason Special

August 7, 2009

(Editor’s note: The Skinny is back! And he dragged his feet long enough to get the early spreads. Thankfully there isn’t a delicious dessert-in-a-cocktail on the line. Skin has taken some time out to reflect in the offseason. Is he truly the changed man he claims to be? Tune in this fall to find out.)

It’s late July and Skin’s got the “itch”… for football. It took seven long months for Skin to get over the Sooners’ crushing defeat to Florida in the national championship game (at least enough to write this column). In the end, I guess it’s pretty tough to beat a team with Jesus playing QB.

In all seriousness, this was an offseason of perspective for Skin. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself as big a college football and Sooner fan as the next guy, but it is just a game, albeit a damn fun one. In between the endless drivel about Brett Favre (does anyone really care if he comes back?) and reruns of House (I hope he never leaves!), Skin caught the soap opera that was the SEC this summer. Watching the behavior of the conference’s coaches this spring looked more like an episode of The Hills. The endless media coverage coming out of the South seems to view these childish antics as cute or funny. I was waiting for the first writer to coin the phrase “that’s just the SEC being the SEC.”
After attending two title games against SEC opponents–both played in their home states–it’s hard to view the SEC antics as cute or “boys being boys.” SEC fans wear their “passion” as a badge of honor. “We’re the most passionate fans in the country,” they proudly proclaim. And they might be correct, if passion = being an ass. I once thought that drinking myself to oblivion and dropping f-bombs at the opposing teams’ fans was cool, too. When I was 18.

I know what you are thinking: “Sour grapes, Skin.” Maybe some, but there is no excuse for a Florida fan old enough to be my grandfather to offer me an unsolicited “go f- yourself.” Or for an LSU fan to talk trash to children simply because they are wearing the colors of the other team. That’s not passion; that’s pathetic. I know this isn’t indicative of all of the conference’s fans and there are plenty of good, decent SEC fans out there. (This is Skin back tracking in case Mrs. Homerism reads this).

Maybe this newfound perspective means Skin is actually growing up. Anyway, on to the picks.

(Disclaimer: These aren’t Skin’s favorite plays on the board. In the interest of avoiding giving you picks like Notre Dame over Nevada or Tulsa over Rice, I tried to handicap some of the bigger games coming your way this season. I’ll dazzle–or bore–you with my Navy-Buffalo pick in the regular season.)

Virginia Tech (+4) versus Alabama
*Atlanta (Georgia Dome)
Many preseason pundits like the Hokies as a top-five team this season. I’m not feeling that much love. Va. Tech seems to have what it has every season: good talent, great coaching, average league. Hence, Orange Bowl. Once again, the Hokies will have a nice defense, and their disciplined style of play rarely allows them to beat themselves. I think the Hokies will see better QB play now that Tyrod Taylor has the position all to himself. Sophomore Darren Evans doesn’t wow you with big plays but he is a solid back for Beamer to hang his hat on this season.
Last year, Alabama shot out of the gate with a big win over Clemson in the Georgia Dome. Don’t expect the same this season. Bama’s defense will be one of the best in the country, but the Crimson Tide offense loses the key pieces from a group that was suspect last season. Julio Jones is a superstar in the making, but Greg McElroy sure isn’t Joe Namath, or even John Parker Wilson. Here’s hoping McElroy can keep the signature “Bama Bangs” hairstyle alive and well in Tuscaloosa. It’s a great look, and it just wouldn’t be Alabama without it.
The Skin says: The key to beating quality SEC teams is line play. The Hokies have the horses in the trenches to get it done. Tech by 1.
Michigan State (+7) at Notre Dame
Reserve a seat for Skin on the Irish bandwagon this season. ND should be better this season, if no other reason than a pedestrian schedule–Nevada, UConn, Navy, Purdue, Washington St. The Irish should be favored in every game except for USC. It is put up or shut up time for Weis and his golden boy Jimmy Clausen. ND’s young talent will now be sophomores and juniors; Weis is out of excuses. Unfortunately for the Irish nation, this season won’t be an accurate barometer of the program’s improvement due to their weak schedule.
Michigan St. enters the season with many questions on offense. Gone is all-everything back Javon Ringer, who bailed the Spartans’ offense out on countless occasions last season. But the cupboard isn’t completely bare at running back, as the Spartans will platoon several capable backs to replace Ringer. State also has to replace long-time starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. OU transfer Keith Nichol and sophomore Kirk Cousins will battle it out for the starting position. Skin was impressed with Nichol’s physical attributes at OU. He is a mobile quaterback with a rocket arm. Expect Nichol to win the job. With a capable group of receivers returning, the Spartans passing game should be much improved. Also, Sparty’s defense will be one of the best in the Big Ten.
Skin Says: The Irish haven’t exactly been unbeatable at home as of late, especially against MSU. The Leprechaun rejoices as ND pulls out a close one.

USC at California (+8.5)

Questions abound at USC this preseason. For most other programs that means a 4-6 record, but at SC that is code for Rose Bowl or BCS championship game. The Trojans lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft, but Pete Carrol’s team won’t lack for players this season. On offense, USC’s stable of running backs all return behind a more experienced offensive line. Damein Williams is a stud out wide. Quarterback actually may be a concern for the Trojans, though, as it appears to be a two-player battle between sophomore Aaron Corp and true freshman Matt Barkley. Both young QB will struggle some this season, at least early, which doesn’t bode well for ‘SC in some tough early season matchups. The defense was decimated by departure from last season, but Taylor Mays and Everson Griffin are nice pieces to build around.
Cal returns eight starters from a defense that held opponents to just under 20 points per game last season. Syd’Quan Thompson is a lockdown corner and could be a first round pick in next year’s NFL draft. On offense, Cal might have the “Best” tailback in the country. Suprisingly, Jeff Tedford hasn’t had an all-conference caliber QB since Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think Kevin Riley is the answer, but I do think he will improve this season.
The Skinny says: This game is at Cal. Jeff Tedford is a master at scheming for opponents, and he will use Best to gash the soft spot of the Trojan D, controlling the clock. Cal’s D will be able to hold down SC offense just enough for the Bears to win the game. (Bonus: This spread will be higher by the week of the game. Cal could easily lose at Oregon the week before. The Trojans will most likely be undefeated, including a win over Ohio State.)

Florida at LSU (+11)
Ok, so I just finished ragging on both these teams and their fan bases, but Skin has to admit he will be glued to this game. (Unless, of course, OU is on at the same time.) I hate the argument often espoused by college football fans that SEC teams are somehow faster than other teams. What is the logic behind this? My favorite is “the weather is warmer, so people are more active.” If true, the real reason is that fast players are good, good programs recruit good players and there are a lot of good programs in the SEC.

Florida’s defense, particularly the front seven, present a tough matchup. They are big, physicaland quick. However, LSU is one of a handful of teams that can match Florida’s athleticism up front. I think this game will be won on the other side of the ball. Florida’s offense will lose a step without Percy Harvin. It was Harvin, not Tebow, that kept OU’s defense off balance last year. With Harvin gone, teams will be able to key more on Tebow running the ball.
Skinny says: At home in Baton Rouge, LSU will win this game straight up.

Texas at Oklahoma State (+7)
The 2009 version of the Oklahoma State Cowboys might be the best team in school history. Of course, that isn’t saying much. The Cowboy offense will be explosive behind the menage a trois of Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter, which may be the best QB-WR-RB combo in the country. OSU put up big numbers on offense last year, and you should expect more of the same this year.

The Cowboy defense was bad last year, and, again, you should expect more of the same this year. With one exception: Bill Young. Young is a good defense coordinator who ran the defense under the man who we will simply call “Bob Stoops’ predecessor.” Those were lean years in Norman, and Young was one of the few bright spots. Unfortunately, he won’t have much to work with this season. Still, the unit will improve.
Texas will be a BCS contender this year, but outside of Colt McCoy, the Longhorns seem to be lacking in star power at the skill positions. The Longhorns’ defensive line, the strength of UT’s defense in 2008, will be rebuilding this season.
The Skin says: The Cowboys are notorious for choking away big games at home. (See: Texas in 2005.) They’ve never beaten the ‘Horns in the history of the Big 12. Call it a feeling, but I think Mike Gundy and the Cowboys get over the hump this time.

More Blue Horeshoe

August 6, 2009

As promised earlier this week, Zach Rosenfield of AccuScore graciously agreed to enlighten us–with 79 percent accuracy–about how the 2009 season will play out. It’s long, but well worth the read.
Blatant Homerism: Before we discuss your outlook for the season, why don’t you tell us a little bit about AccuScore? What exactly does your firm do, and how do you put together your projections?

Zach Rosenfield: AccuScore.com is a premium site that is designed to give fans or sports investors every bit of information they might need. We are a statistical game-forecasting company that uses past performances and statistical history to forecast games. We built a simulation engine that simulates games one play at a time under real game conditions (110-plus variables) and then re-simulate the game 10,000 times. With that, we are able to get a complete forecast of players’ stats, final scores and the probability of various outcomes and margins of victory. In straight-up winners, we had 79 percent accuracy in college football last year and 67 percent in the NFL, which made us champions of the ESPN NFL Expert Pick Em League.

Our current partners include ESPN, Yahoo!, The Wall Street Journal, The Sporting News, NBC Sports, Versus, NY Post, San Diego Union Tribune, as well as more than a dozen local television affiliates nationwide.

We are a small company, which is a lot of fun because I get to wear many hats. I am an analyst for multiple sports, but college football is my primary focus. I oversee AccuScore’s various media campaigns, our editorial content that gets licensed and/or syndicated to multi-media outlets. I also work with Stephen Oh on the day-to-day business and strategies behind AccuScore.com.

BH: With all the annual turnover in college football as opposed to pro sports, it seems like it would be harder to put together accurate forecasts. Do you find this to be the case? Why or why not?

ZR: This is a good question and very fair. Although it would seem harder to forecast college games, turnover is not as high as you would think. Most players play a full three years before they move on to the next level. Also, very few players are original. Because of that, we can do an analysis to see what a player’s expectation is. We match that up with players from the past who are identical. It’s also important to remember that this is our business; it is what we do year round.

With quarterbacks changes, it is more challenging in the early part of the season to put together a projection. Quarterbacks play such a vital role in a game. But, if you look at the rest of the position players, most running backs average in and around the same yards per carry. Elite wide receivers are all living in the same statistical neighborhood. Our biggest challenge is to consistently improve our projections with conferences like the MAC, where data are harder to come by.

BH: Let’s get to your forecasts for the upcoming season. You recently said Oklahoma and Texas are your two favorite bets among the national championship futures. What stands out about these two plays?

ZR: Although things rarely go according to plan, if you are going to play “futures,” you have to really spend time looking at the landscape. And in doing so, you have to take a look at each conference and how things will most likely play out within them.

I know everyone loves USC, but if there is a sucker bet this year, that’s it. ‘SC starts a guy named Aaron Corp at quarterback who is very similar to what Jason White was before his first knee injury. (I live in L.A. and am very familiar with Corp’s game.) The Trojans also bring in a completely new set of linebackers and have two games where that will be a big issue–Ohio State and Oregon. Younger players like to go for the highlight hit and often lose their assignment when a quarterback scrambles. (Think Travis Lewis 3rd and 4 late in the fourth quarter last year against Texas.) Moreover, they have a very tough schedule, with road games at Ohio State, Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and Arizona State. Assuming the Trojans are 80 percent favorites in all of those games, their probability of going undefeated is under 30 percent.

Oregon will not run the table, but the Ducks will be very good. Cal will be strong, but not elite. So I think it is safe to say the Pac-10 is eliminated and will not produce an undefeated team.

The same can be said for the ACC, where mediocrity will once again rule the day. Alabama can do us all a favor by beating Virginia Tech on September 5th to eliminate the ACC from the race. I am not going to waste your, my or your readers time talking about them… or the Big East. They are out.

The Big 10 is once again going to annoy everyone, and with good reason. Behind only Florida, Penn State is the team with the highest probability of going undefeated, and it’s not because of they are talented. The Nittany Lions have a schedule that is just god awful, but if the giants start falling, there could be room for them in Pasadena. Personally, Penn State is not going to be that good, but neither are the majority of teams it plays. Ohio State poses the biggest threat.

(Speaking of the Buckeyes, Sooner fans should be rooting hard for USC when the Trojans go to Columbus. A USC victory knocks OSU out, and remember that USC is not good enough to run the table this year. Bank on it!)

Where does that leave us? SEC and Big 12. Although Sooner fans hold Tim Tebow in the same regard as Gordon Reese, we all must come to terms with the reality that Florida beat OU because Tebow was unflappable when it mattered most. Looking at 2009, the defense is back and even better. The Gators also got a gift on the schedule, not having to play Ole Miss or Alabama. Only a road game at LSU stands in their way, and we already project Florida as a 10-point favorite in that one. We think Ole Miss comes out of the West and could even be 12-0. The Rebels are winning our preliminary simulations against LSU and Alabama. By the way, Alabama is really going to struggle at quarterback.

So that leaves us with the Big 12. OU and Texas both control their own destiny, even though we are still in two-a-days. Take a look at UT’s schedule. If the Longhorns beat OU, then their game at OSU is their national semifinals. They get Tech early and have nothing late. Moreover, with the same cast of characters back in Austin this year, they are going to get a lot of PR. If Florida, Texas, USC and a Big 10 school go undefeated… Florida and Texas are in.

Oklahoma sets up perfectly, though. A non-conference schedule just tough enough to get attention, but not tough enough to bring a loss. OU and Texas will most likely be undefeated in Dallas, and the winner is a firm number two in both the human and computer polls. If OU wins, then we will once again be grateful that Mike Gundy has done a great job in Stillwater, because OSU will be a top-10 team–no matter the outcome against Texas. A win against OSU will propel OU in the BCS rankings in the exact same way it did in 2008.

BH: Are the Sooners going to go undefeated this year?

ZR: I can’t stress how hard it is to go undefeated mathematically with 13 games on the schedule, factoring in the Big 12 championship. However, behind Florida and Penn State, the Sooners have the best chance in our simulations to do so. This is where the math and the eye test collide. The reason why Texas is not higher is because both their games against OU and OSU are virtual toss-ups, give or take a percentage point either way. Two 50-50 games really hurt UT’s chances from a mathematical point of view. Our preliminary simulations show OU as an 81 percent favorite at home against OSU, thus bolstering their probability to third best among BCS conference teams.

BH: Any idea how this year’s OU team will perform statistically compared with last season?

ZR: It’s kind of fun to go back to the 2008 stat sheet and get misty eyed over the numbers Sam put up. I am not sure you will see numbers like that again for a long time. What was great about it was that the visuals matched the stat sheet. It’s important for Sooner fans to understand the reality of three new offensive linemen and a new wide receiving corps. It is going to take time to gel, and I imagine Kevin Wilson is going to use a lot of Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray to offset those growing pains.

For OU to have a real chance to play for it all, Brown and Murray must show up for all 12 games, not just the Saturday night games in early November. It is imperative that they run against Texas if they want to win in Dallas. As we saw last year, Sam can’t do it himself.

No running game = Praying OSU beats Texas.

BH: As an OU fan, I think depth at quarterback and offensive line are major causes for concern this season. How do your forecasts account for that?

ZR: Regarding QB, the Sooners are all in with Bradford. Period. Lose Sam and it’s basketball season. We are posting modest number from the running game based on the new offensive line. They will have to show us they can: 1) protect Sam; 2) open holes for the running backs. If OU outperforms its projected rushing yards in the their first four games, it might be on to something.

BH: Looking at the rest of the country, did anything really surprise you–teams you’re projecting to be better or worse than the average person would expect?

ZR: Penn State is one team, based on schedule and schedule only. We love Boise State. Also, expect big things from TCU and Ole Miss. Especially Ole Miss.

Georgia and Clemson will both be down, and we are projecting Virginia Tech to go 8-4.

BH: Have any futures or plays out there caught your eye in terms of sucker bets?

ZR: This is a fun question. I feel like Clark in Clear and Present Danger telling Jack Ryan to “try the Lindo brand.”

If by “sucker bets” you mean the player is a fool for betting on it, as I mentioed before, I urge you to take USC at 8-1 to win the national championship. If you enjoy ripping your tickets mid-race and muttering, then you will just love that USC future.

I also think Florida at +175 is a lame bet designed to lighten your wallet. You might as well bet on a lightly raced three year old to win the Kentucky Derby at 2-to-1 while breaking from the 20 hole…. Oh, wait… Nevermind!

If you are talking about “Oh my God, that must be a mistake,” I would take a look at OU -125 for over 10 wins. Ten wins is a push! Basically, you are getting odds that the Sooners will go better than 9-3.

The other is Texas -150 for over 10 wins. I mean this has to be a mistake, right? But it’s not. Texas is not going 9-3, and I don’t mind laying the odds on this gimme.

For all of our sweet future over-under win total picks, we wrote a pretty detailed article. This is valuable AccuScore information, so you have to be a member to read it in its entirety.

BH: If you had to pick a team to make it to the championship game other than Florida, OU or Texas, who would it be?

ZR: Gee, thanks for mucking up my rhythm with this one. I was in a nice groove prior to that question…(long pause)…USC. They would be the most likely one-loss team to make it to Pasadena if Florida, OU or Texas work really hard to screw it up.

Blue Horseshoe Loves the Sooners

August 4, 2009

As if all you blatant homers out there need any more reason to throw down some hard-earned cash on your beloved Sooners, Zach Rosenfield, an analyst with “sports forecasting service” AccuScore, offers his favorite national championship futures for 2009. The top two: Texas (+800) and Oklahoma (+500).

Fans of ESPN’s Dave Dameshek may know Rosenfield as frequent guest “Blue Horseshoe.” (Sorry, he won’t disclose how much he pulled down on Anacott Steel.) And if you’re not familiar with AccuScore, here’s a quick primer.
Anyway, Rosenfield is an admitted OU diehard. However, that doesn’t make his argument in favor of the Big 12 South champ any less compelling. Give it a thorough read and check back again later this week, as Homerism has an interview tentatively scheduled with the ‘Shoe in the next couple days in which we’ll get his take on the upcoming season. (Obviously, you should check back frequently anyway.)

Not So Easy Money

July 22, 2009

We’ve reached the magical point in the preseason where the bookies let us know what they expect out of our favorite college teams in the upcoming season.

Based on the win total set for Oklahoma–9.5–it would seem Vegas’ initial assessment of the Sooners jibes with my own. Keep in mind that the threshold for hitting the over is 10-2, which, if looked at as a best-case scenario, would almost certainly take the Sooners out of the national championship race. (It should be noted that the odds on the over are -150 in this case.)
While Homerism doesn’t think any of the projections seem particularly off-base, a few opportunities did catch my eye.
Take the Over
*Arkansas (7)
In case Homerism’s loyal readers haven’t figured it out by now, I’m big on the pig this year. I’ve previously discussed all the reasons to love this team: great coach in his second year, a talented quarterback and 18 starters returning from a 2008 team that finished strong down the stretch. Homerism thinks nine wins is possible.
*North Carolina (8)
Big ups to Homerism associate P$ for putting the bug in my ear on this one. The Tar Heels should contend for the ACC title in Butch Davis’ third season. The non-conference schedule is more than manageable: Citadel, Georgia Southern, East Carolina and a trip to Storrs to take on rebuilding UConn. Virginia and Duke come to Chapel Hill, and both show no signs of sucking any less than usual. Assuming those are six wins, two wins out of the following six games would be a push: Miami, at Virginia Tech, at Georgia Tech, at Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State. Works for me.
*Stanford (5.5)
Homerism buys into the buzz surrounding Jim Harbaugh and his Cardinal reclamation project, which has even caught the eye of talent evaluator extraordinaire Al Davis. “Captain Comeback” has upped the talent level in Palo Alto considerably. Witness standout quarterback recruit Andrew Luck, who will be piloting the offense this year. A loss to USC is a given, but I can’t find another game where I’d count the Cardinal out right away.
Go Under
*Alabama (9.5, Under -140)
Nick Saban’s team oozes talent. Yet, the Crimson Tide lost experienced standouts at important positions–quarterback, left tackle, running back and free safety. (OK, it’s a stretch to call Sunshine Wilson a standout, but you get my drift.) Hence, Homerism expects ‘Bama to struggle early on, so a couple losses in the first half of the year–probably Virginia Tech and at Ole Miss–wouldn’t surprise me. Working in the Tide’s favor, though, is the fact that Florida isn’t on the regular season schedule. This is the shakiest out of all of these picks.
*Missouri (6.5)
With all the losses this team sustained in the offseason, a few steps back is inevitable. Out-of-conference matchups against Illinois and Nevada are dicey, while the Tigers draw Texas and Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 South. A .500 record would be an accomplishment.
*West Virginia (8.5, Under -150)
If I gave a flip about the Mountaineers, I’d shudder for their football future. With Pat White last year, WVU won eight regular season games. Why should we believe a White-less team will win nine this year?

Catching Up

July 7, 2009

Homerism has come across a few items in the last couple days that I thought were worth passing along.

*This will be Urban Meyer’s final season in Gainesville.
We know this “because his lips were moving” when asked about his interest in taking over at Notre Dame, per noted SEC authority Paul Finebaum.
In his weekly column that ran in the Mobile Press-Register today, Finebaum postulated–with curious certainty–that Meyer will light out for the greener pastures of South Bend after the season. Seeing as Charlie Weis’ ample frame is still keeping the coach’s seat plenty warm at ND, this seems just a bit premature. But that’s not the most shocking revelation in Finebaum’s missive; Meyer apparently slept with Finebaum’s wife!
OK, so we don’t know that for sure, but what else could have spurred Finebaum’s vitriolic hatred for arguably the best college football coach in the country?
*Texas, West Virginia have the right stuff; OU doesn’t.
The good people at Doc’s Sport Service have identified five criteria shared by all BCS champions. They eliminate all but six schools from competition this year: Florida, Iowa, Ole Miss, Texas, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. What’s wrong with OU? The Sooner defense finished outside the top 20 in scoring defense last season.
Oh well, I used to think my life had some kind of meaning. Cancel the season. Thanks for ruining the party, Bin Laden.
*Sports information directors, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose.
SIDs usually are quick with a stat sheet or directions to a press conference. So imagine Homerism’s surprise when he came across this insightful take on college football scheduling from Oklahoma SID Kenny Mossman. By the way, if you’ve never seen “the little Chinese gal” Mossman references in action, it’s breathtaking. (Few halftime acts could top this one, although Quick Change would give her a run for her money. Also, Homerism’s mom claims to have seen “Little E,” a midget Elvis impersonator, perform during a college basketball game once. Sounds spectacular, but I have yet to find evidence of his existence online.)
*The season seems so close.
In addition to the season preview stuff I’ll be writing for BH, I’m also going to be contributing to Tilting at Windmills’ ongoing Big 12 preview series. Somehow I drew Baylor and Colorado. Anyway, check it out if you have time.