I received a comment late last week regarding my lack of success with Wisconsin this year, and it got me thinking. Is it appropriate to simply give up on a team when you just can't seem to figure them out?
If you've followed this column over the years, you probably recall that I used to devote an entire section to teams that I was going to avoid for a time. Unfortunately, there was no way to track the success of that section because, well, I was avoiding said team, therefore I was no longer taking sides in those match-ups.
I have to assume that avoiding those pesky teams was a wise move, however, because it certainly seemed like once you got on the wrong side of a team, it became more difficult to correctly pick them.
The question, though, is why? Why would it be more difficult, for myself, to pick the correct side of the Wisconsin game? After giving it some thought I think the answer is just that. Too much thought.
When you focus so much on picking the right side, it leaves the door open to overthink everything. You also tend to insert yourself into the mix, which is just ridiculous.
Seriously, why would it matter that I picked for or against Wisconsin, that has no bearing on the outcome, yet if you've ever said to yourself, "I bet they won't cover if I pick them this week" then you know exactly what I am talking about.
With all that said, I'm not going to officially avoid teams this time around, but I'll certainly be more cautious when prognosticating their games.
As for my picks, the slight upward trend continued last week and, more important, I was again above .500 combined in my top-two categories.
Let's look at the card this week.
Cream of the Crop: (Week: 2-2-0/Season: 8-22-0)
Massachusetts at Vanderbilt: I know, this looks like a strange game to have in this category, but stick with me. Vandy is coming off a nice win against Auburn last week, and although this looks like a letdown spot, the Commodores simply can't overlook this game if they want to be bowl eligible at the end of the season. As for Massachusetts, well it's been a terribly long year already and it's not about to get any better this week. Expect another blowout loss for the Minutemen this week.
Side: Vanderbilt -32.5
Ball State at Army: Ball State was very impressive last week as it dispatched a decent conference foe in CMU, but that wasn't much of a surprise as the Cardinals have been pretty solid on the road all season. Army, on the other hand, has only one win on the resume this season and that was against the worst team in the ACC. I don't see how the Army defense can slow down the Ball State offense this week, so unless the Black Knights can keep up, I don't think they can cover.
Side: Ball State -4.5
Louisiana Tech at New Mexico State: Louisiana Tech is a scoring machine this season, averaging more than 56 points per game. The defense hasn't held up its end of the bargain, but this might be the worst team it's faced all season. New Mexico State is miserable once again. In its two most recent home games, the Aggies have lost by an average of 17 points. Now, that's nowhere near the number this week, but consider those two losses came against New Mexico and Texas-San Antonio, and you understand why this one looks like another blow-out.
Side: Louisiana Tech -30.5
Notre Dame at Oklahoma: Notre Dame is seven games into the season, undefeated and yet we still aren't sure how good this team can be. We'll find out this week as the Irish head to Norman to take on the Sooners. Oklahoma has looked really sharp the last few games, but this is usually about the time that the Sooners lay an egg. I'm taking the points here, but it's not just because of "Big Game Bob's" track record in spots like this, it's because of the Notre Dame defense. I don't expect the Irish to score many points this week, but they won't have to if the defense plays like it has for much of this season.
Side: Notre Dame +11
Best of the Rest: (Week: 3-1-0/Season: 20-18-0)
Cincinnati at Louisville: This pick is as much based on the teams as the conference itself. Let me explain. There is no standout team in the Big East. Sure, there are two undefeated teams, for now, but no team will make is through the season unbeaten. Cincinnati picked up its first loss last week, and now it's Louisville's turn. I doubt you like that reasoning, but that's how things work out most often. Besides, I thought Cincinnati was the best team in the conference before last week, and my opinion hasn't changed because of a tough loss to a decent Toledo team on the road.
Side: Cincinnati +3.5
Baylor at Iowa State: Baylor has more than enough firepower to hang with just about anyone in the country, but its defense refuses to improve. Some would look at last week's game at Texas and say, "If Baylor can hang with Texas, why can't they beat Iowa State"? Simple, Texas doesn't have much of a defense either, but Iowa State does. The Cyclones held KSU under 30 points earlier this season, and I expect a similar effort this week.
Side: Iowa State -2.5
USC at Arizona: Since its de-pantsing at the hands of the Oregon Ducks a month ago, the Wildcats have actually played some good ball. They hung with Oregon State and Stanford and they whooped Washington last week. USC still doesn't look like the machine that we all expected this year. Don't expect a breakout performance this week.
Side: Arizona +6.5
Kent State at Rutgers: Rutgers is the surprise of the Big East this year, and I don't want to take anything away from the Scarlet Knights, but it's not like they are torching the competition. Most of their games have been within 10 points, and considering this is a non-conference game slipped into the middle of the conference season, I can only assume that they might have a hard time getting up for this one. Kent State comes in on a five-game winning streak, albeit against MAC competition, and I fully expect the Golden Flashes to keep this one close, for at least three quarters.
Side: Kent State +13.5
PASSing Thoughts: (Week: 2-4-0/Season: 15-25-0)
Clemson at Wake Forest: Clemson has suddenly become a reliable team, but this could be a tricky spot. It all comes down to the focus level of the Tigers this week. If they come prepared, they should win this one going away, if not, it could be a long night. Considering the national spotlight will be on them, I expect a solid effort from the Tigers.
Side: Clemson -12
Purdue at Minnesota: Purdue may be back on track after the OT loss at Ohio State last week, but this game is just too big for the Gophers. The Gophers played Northwestern pretty close at home a couple weeks ago, so we know they can hang with Purdue. I also expect the team to play better with its new starting QB.
Side: Minnesota +3
Iowa at Northwestern: Northwestern is certainly the better team in the matchup, but considering the Wildcats inability to hold a lead, I would have a hard time laying six points against anyone right now. Iowa looked horrible last week, but that just means we should see a good effort from the Hawkeyes this week.
Side: Iowa +6
Texas A&M at Auburn: On paper, this one looks pretty easy, but I think the Aggies might have a tough time getting up for this game. Sure, Auburn is brutal, but this might be its best chance at a conference victory this season. At the very least, I would hope the Tigers can stay within two touchdowns.
Side: Auburn +15.5
Georgia vs. Florida: Georgia looked impressive earlier this season, but when I looked back at its wins, there really isn't much to brag about. Florida, on the other hand, has passed every test with flying colors this season, and the Gators seem to be getting better each week.
Side: Florida -7
Ohio State at Penn State: Still no love for Penn State from the public as this line opened at -2.5 for PSU and quickly dropped to a pick'em. I've been slow to come around to PSU this season, but I think the Lions come up big in this spot. This is their bowl game.
Side: PSU even
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