In one of the biggest games of the weekend, highly ranked Iowa takes their show on the road down to Tucson to take on a Wildcat team looking to prove themselves to the country and get a little payback for last year's loss. This is an interesting matchup of strength against strength. Arizona's biggest strength is throwing the ball, led by Nick Foles and a good group of receivers. Meanwhile, Iowa's biggest strength is defense, and they look like one of the Big Ten's best pass defenses. On the other side of the ball, Iowa has moved the ball well, but hasn't played anyone particularly good (Iowa St might be decent, but right now who knows?). And Arizona's defense has looked great, but again hasn't played anyone particularly good. In terms of the actual matchups, there's a slight edge to Iowa here.
Also worth noting is that last year Iowa consistently played a lot better away from Kinnick. Maybe that was just a statistical fluke (usually they play a lot better at Kinnick), but it's at least worth noting, since they have yet to go on the road in 2010. That could potentially be a relevant trend in this game.
On the Other Hand:
In terms of overall talent and team quality, I think this matchup is actually pretty close. Yes, Iowa is ranked higher, but this was the same team that nearly gagged over and over and over again last year. Yes, they're better than 2009, but they haven't done anything to earn that top 10 ranking yet this year, and it's very reasonable to question how long they'll stay on that perch.
Meanwhile Arizona has just looked fantastic. Yes, it's just Toledo and a AA team, but they've still played lights out, in a way that few really expected. Nick Foles has taken another solid step forward as a quarterback, and until proven otherwise needs to be in the discussion for the best QB in the league. He's the sort of quarterback who is capable of carrying his team to a win in a big game like this. And, of course, having a solid home field advantage will help too; expect the home crowd to be especially fired up for this big matchup (and it's not like Ricki Stanzi is Mr. Reliable, given his poor 17:15 ratio last year).
This looks like the best game of the week. To be honest, it absolutely could go either way. However, I think that Arizona is still a bit underrated, and that at home they'll find a way to pull off the win.
@ Arizona 28, Iowa 24
Cal (-2.5) @ Nevada
At first glance, this looks like an extremely easy pick. Cal has been dominant so far, looking very good on both sides of the ball and seems to have the potential to be a surprise Pac-10 contender.
More importantly, Nevada has racked up a decisive history of getting waxed by AQ teams, losing seven straight by over 20 points on average, and that includes games against mediocre teams like Notre Dame (35-0) and Missouri last year (double digit loss at home). That kind of streak of consistently getting dominated is extremely hard to ignore. Part of the reason for this streak is that Nevada's defense simply hasn't been good, and while it was nice to see them shut down Colorado St last week, don't forget that so did Colorado (who Cal just hung 52 on). In other words, the Wolfpack defense remains a huge question mark.
And on the other side of the ball, teams that have had extra prep time seem to consistently do well containing Nevada's offense (Notre Dame blanked them in week 1, SMU contained them in the bowl game, and CSU shut them down after a game against a AA team the week before). Considering that Cal's first two games were against a AA team and Colorado, I would have to expect that they'd have also put in substantial extra prep time for the Nevada offense. And given how well Cal's defense has played so far, that's a very bad sign for the home team.
On the Other Hand:
Before last week, this game was basically rated as a tossup, with Cal favored by just one point. Part of it is that Nevada has consistently enjoyed a solid home field advantage; other than a couple AQ teams and Boise, opponents have really struggled to play well on their stadium. Moreover, this is still Cal, who has been consistently vulnerable on the road to teams with a pulse. Nevada isn't fantastic, but they're still better than 2008 Maryland, 2007 Washington and Stanford, etc. You simply can't assume a win here given Cal's track record, even if you do think they enjoy a good talent advantage.
Another factor at work here is that Cal may simply not be good at defending this type of attack. Remember, last year they went up to Oregon and got flat-out destroyed. And while Nevada's offense isn't the same as Oregon's, there are still some similarities, especially a quarterback who is VERY good at running the ball. Until Cal's defense shows that they can stop this, it's a dangerous situation for them.
Nevada's offense could light up the scoreboard or completely get shut down. Cal's offense, though, should come up with a very strong showing (unless Riley just plays horribly). I'll take the "highly likely to do well" offense over the "who the heck knows" one.
Cal 38, @ Nevada 27
Nebraska @ Washington (+3)
This line has just tumbled and tumbled this week, going from a high of 4.5 to now just 3 points. 3 points is a really small number for a team that's as good as Nebraska is supposed to be. The Huskers come in with better talent at virtually every position other than quarterback, along with a much better defense. It's going to be tough for the Huskies just to hang with Nebraska, much less knock them off.
On the Other Hand:
When Washington is decent, Husky Stadium is a really tough place to play. Given that this is Nebraska's first road trip of the year, that's a nice edge to have. And while Nebraska may have the better team, when Jake Locker and the Husky offense get hot, they have a chance against almost anyone. And don't forget, this isn't exactly a must-win for Washington, but with a very tough conference schedule ahead, it's pretty close. This game means more to the Huskies than it will to Nebraska, so that may be a slight edge for the home team.
Looking at this game, it's really hard for me to see the Huskies having a serious chance to win. On the other hand, Nebraska hasn't played anyone decent enough to really gauge them, and it's not like I've been doing well picking Washington so far. So while I like Nebraska here, I could certainly be wrong.
Nebraska 27, @ Washington 17
Houston @ UCLA (+3)
The problem with Houston is that they're basically the Case Keenum show. There's little reason to believe the defense is any good, and the run game remains questionable until they can play a decent defense. Since Keenum is (probably) out, UCLA has a very reasonable shot at this game. This is the softest D they've faced yet, which will give them a chance to put points on the board, while their own D could definitely force some turnovers from the Houston backup.
@ UCLA 24, Houston 21
USC (-11.5) @ Minnesota
The fact that the line has dropped under two touchdowns (it was at the full 14 at one point) seems like an overreaction to Kansas's surprise win last week against Georgia Tech. Minnesota was bad against Middle Tennessee (who nearly won despite not being able to play their best player), and bad against South Dakota (who got lit up by UCF in week one). It's at least conceivable that USC was victimized by the always tougher than it seems trip to Hawaii and a Virginia team that was just better than anyone thought (and don't forget, they still won both games), or that they'll simply start playing up to their talent level sooner or later. It's a hell of a lot harder to look at Minnesota and see signs of hope. And because of that, a 12-point line just looks too low.
USC 31, @ Minnesota 13
Arizona St (+13) @ Wisconsin
This line seems about right to me, presuming Toon is going to be out for the game. I don't really buy Wisconsin as an elite team this year, and while ASU definitely has issues, they ought to be able to make a few plays here and there on offense to put at least some points on the board, and as long as Toon is out, their defense ought to be able to contain Wisconsin's run game enough to make it a respectable effort. An upset would be a big surprise, but a blowout seems fairly unlikely to me.
@ Wisconsin 24, Arizona St 13
Wake Forest @ Stanford (-17.5)
To be honest, even a line as high as this looks low to me. Stanford has rolled twice already, and ought to be able to do it again in a payback game against what should be one of the ACC's worst teams, going cross-country and dealing with a very late kickoff. Wake's defense got consistently shredded last week by Duke, and now they're dealing with a much tougher opponent. Unless they can take major advantage of Stanford's still-questionable secondary (Wake's offense has looked solid so far, but again it's a step up in competition), it's hard to see this as much of a game.
@ Stanford 42, Wake Forest 17
Louisville @ Oregon St (-19.5)
This is a tough one to peg. On the one hand, Louisville lost to Kentucky, has looked unimpressive so far, and is travelling cross-country. On the other hand, Oregon St has struggled so far as well, and could very well be looking ahead to Boise. 19.5 points looks a touch too high to me, though to be honest I think it's close to right.
@ Oregon St 35, Louisville 17
Washington St (+23) @ SMU
At this point, I simply have no faith in the Cougars. After getting shelled at Oklahoma St, they barely held off a AA foe while that same Oklahoma St struggled heavily against Troy. Given that SMU has shown signs of life, and will be fired up to pay back last year's upset, it's hard to see this one being competitive.
@ SMU 38 @ Washington St 10
Portland St @ Oregon (NL)
@ Oregon 45, Portland St 3
National Games of the Week:
Texas (-3) @ Texas Tech
Tough game to peg. Texas certainly has more talent, but Tech has played solidly so far (presuming SMU is good) while the Longhorns haven't really looked as good as they ought to. I liked this line more when it was at 4, but to be honest I find myself leaning towards the upset. It's close to a tossup, but I've got a feeling that Tech will do well in this one.
@ Texas Tech 28, Texas 24
Arkansas @ Georgia (-2.5)
This is absolute desperation time for Georgia if they want to be any kind of factor in the SEC East race, but Arkansas just looks like the better team, especially with A.J. Green still out. Georgia is also in a tough spot since they've just had to deal with a tough game at South Carolina (who was pretty clearly the better team that day), while Arkansas has had a pretty easy opening slate, with a AA team and then ULM. The Hogs are better rested, a better team, and will win.
Arkansas 31, @ Georgia 28
Tennessee +14 vs Florida
It seems like the Gators have been exposed a bit the first couple weeks; yes, their defense has been great, but their offense has been very hit and miss. Now they need to go on the road into an extremely hostile environment against a team that has lost five straight to them, has a defense good enough to largely contain the Gators, and that will be fired up both to end the streak and make up for the awful second half they had last week against Oregon. Yes, there's some danger the Vols fall apart again, but if they don't (and I don't think they will), anyone over 10 points seems like a bit of a reach.
Notre Dame +3.5 @ Michigan St
Honestly, these teams are probably pretty close, but I do think that Notre Dame is a bit better football team. Also, after watching the tailspin Cincy has entered so far this year, it's absolutely fair to give the Irish an extra point or two just from having Brian Kelly. Ultimately, this game is a tossup, maybe Michigan St should lay a point. But over a field goal is just too much.
East Carolina +19.5 @ Virginia Tech
This line is saying that Tech's AA loss was a total fluke, and that they really are a legit top 15 team (ECU isn't great, but it's not like they suck). To be honest, I'm just not sold. No, Tech isn't awful, and yes, they're still top 40, but I'm skeptical they're much more than that. And if so, even 17 points (opening line) was too much, and now that it's higher it's even worse.
Pac-10: 16-2 SU, 5-7 ATS
National: 6-2 SU, 4-3-1 ATS
Bad Lines: 1-2-1
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