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Ducking the Odds: College Football Week 7 Picks

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I’m just glad I don’t have to pick the spread in a Ducks game this week.

NCAA Football: Lambeau Field College Classic-Louisiana State vs Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

LAST WEEK:

Rusty: 7-3-1

Sean: 4-6-1

This Season

Rusty: 21-38-4

Sean: 27-30-4

[Eds. note: we will not talk about the fact that Rusty was rational and picked the Huskies to cover last week, whereas I picked Oregon with a single line of all-caps analysis. That 70-21 fiasco was like an alternate version of Shawshank Redemption where Andy ever escaped and was trapped forever.]

[Am I supposed to write “spoiler alert” before or after I give a spoiler from a ‘90s movie?]

Rusty threw his gloves off and demolished the spreads last week, going 7-3-1. I, on the other hand, took the spreads out for a nice seafood dinner and never called them again, going a gentle 4-6-1. (Let’s pretend those metaphors made sense and move on.)

Now that we’re in the midst of the Pac-12 schedule, interesting matchups are all over the place. The South is essentially a mosh-pit where it’s a guess of who’s going to land a lucky elbow on the chin at the right time and sneak away with a W. And the North is - BREATHE DEEP YOU GUYS, BREATHE DEEP - run by the Washington schools. [SCREAMS INTO PILLOW.]

Evergreen State football dominance aside, we’ve also got some nice B1G games and some large matchups down South. Let’s get to it.

S: North Carolina at Miami (-7)

Out of all the units on the field, I trust Miami’s defense the most. North Carolina’s potent offense was completely stalled last week against an elite Virginia Tech defense in hurricane conditions. It’s not the failure of the offense in bad conditions that scares me, so much as the inability of North Carolina’s offensive staff to come up with a gameplan to match the situation or make in-game adjustments. I fear the same will happen against a very stout Miami defense.

Miami needs a big game to prove itself after failing to set itself apart with a loss to rival Florida State last week on a blocked PAT. I think they have the goods. And I think their offense will do enough to take a late lead and cover this thing with a 4th quarter touchdown. So roll with the Canes defense, which is sneakily elite - just like Virginia Tech’s.

R: North Carolina (+7) at Miami

Miami almost kept their undefeated record but were foiled by a 1-point loss to Florida State. The rivalry between Florida State and the Hurricanes may have been reborn with Mark Richt taking the reins in Miami. Keep in mind, Mark Richt consistently got 10-win teams but had to go against Saban in the SEC. Saban has pretty much single-handedly forced multiple coaches to leave because of how dominating the Tide is. Richt is no slouch and he will have this team well coached.

If you take out the loss to Virginia Tech, the North Carolina Tar Heels have kept every game close. Against VaTech the Tar Heels turned the ball over four times. Compared to the rest of the season, the game against the Hokies seems like an outlier. North Carolina can score points and I expect Miami to push them to the end in a close game.

S: Nebraska at Indiana (+8)

Indiana’s defense is secretly pretty good, and finally a worthy counterpoint to their attacking style of offense. The public has put a ton of money on the Hoosiers, betting this line down to 3. So, chyeah, I’ll take the 8 points. Indiana has been decent against the spread all year, and has a very good chance of winning this thing outright. If Nebraska wins, it’ll be tight. So I’ll take all those points and root for the Hoosiers.

R: Nebraska at Indiana (+8)

The Cornhuskers have slowly crept their way up the top-25 and are currently ranked tenth in the country. Oregon’s loss to Nebraska doesn’t look so bad in hindsight. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has thrown for 1151 yards, a modest 58.9%, and 9 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. He’s also averaging 4.9 yards per carry. I think Nebraska is a little bit of a paper tiger with only one game against a ranked team (at the time).

An underdog getting points at home is a good thing. Getting over a touchdown is a great thing. The Hoosiers toppled Michigan State and put up a relevant fight against Ohio State last week. The Buckeyes won 38-17, but given how good Ohio State is there is no shame in that score. I like Nebraska to win but the Hoosiers to cover.

S: West Virginia (-1) at Texas Tech

The Mountaineers won this one 31-26 last year at home. I foresee a similar result here. Texas Tech plays standard Big 12 defense, which I like to call The Clothesline Full of Sheets Defense: Yeah, there is something there obstructing the view, but if you walk toward it, you can kind of just go right through it and go wherever you want. WVU actually has a quasi-capable defense - a rarity in the Big 12 - and the Red Raiders may have a tough time scoring as they are accustomed to.

I do usually really like Texas Tech at home, but I get the feeling that West Virginia has the better roster and is in a spot to slow this game down more than TTU wants. So give me the Mountaineers in a road spot.

R: West Virginia at Texas Tech (+1)

West Virginia is ranked 20th in the country and are undefeated four games into their season. But they have played Missouri, Youngstown State, BYU, and Kansas State. BYU and Kansas State are good teams, but the Mountaineers have failed to exceed 38 points in a game this season.

Texas Tech, on the other hand, has scored 38 points or more every game. Texas Tech can score a lot of points with Patrick Mahomes II slinging the ball. He’s thrown for nearly 2500 yards, 20 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 72.8% completion rate. The Red Raiders are going to get their points and I don’t think West Virginia can make enough plays over the course of sixty minutes.

S: Alabama (-9) at Tennessee

This line has quickly climbed to 13, and it’s no wonder: the Vols are beat up. Problems with defensive depth and running back health are going to plague Tennessee with ‘Bama coming to Neyland Stadium. And also the fact that Alabama is essentially doing whatever it wants on offense to anyone on its schedule. The Tide has to be the quietest #1 team in a long while, but they deserve the ranking. They have yet to even be in trouble in any of their matchups. So it pains me to say it, but I think Alabama runs all over Tennessee and posts a 20-point win.

R: Alabama (-9) at Tennessee

The Tennessee magic ran out late against Texas A&M last week. The Volunteers have made a habit of having terrible starts and then having a miraculous comeback. Texas A&M is a great team and are currently ranked in the top-10, but Alabama is a different beast.

The Tide are still coached by arguably the greatest coach in college football history and I have serious doubts that the Volunteers are going to be able to claw their way back into a competitive game if down early. Alabama will take the air out of the ball and shorten the game. However, Alabama does struggle against spread teams with a quarterback that can extend plays. Tennessee is one of those x-factor teams that can cause problems. I’ll stick with the result that is more likely, but this game could get wild.

S: Ole Miss (-6.5) at Arkansas

I seriously have no idea what to make of Arkansas. I can’t tell if they’re actually good, or just in the SEC.

Ole Miss can score in bunches. Arkansas only thinks it can. I just trust Ole Miss’s offense more than any other unit on the field. The Rebels have overcome their penchant for second-half collapses, and I think they boatrace the Hogs at home.

R: Ole Miss (-6.5) at Arkansas

My concern with Arkansas is that they are still one-dimensional. Razorback QB Austin Allen threw three interceptions last week against Alabama. Arkansas’ offense inches their way down the field. They had 25 first downs against Alabama while Alabama only had 16.

Ole Miss is maybe the most talented team in the SEC, especially on the landshark defense. The Ole Miss offense is very dangerous with Chad Kelly at quarterback and I think the Rebels are going to be able to score a lot of points and limit Arkansas’ effectiveness on offense.

S: Arizona State at Colorado (-8)

This line has also climbed to 13, due to injuries to ASU’s top three quarterbacks. It’s pretty certain that the Sun Devils will have a true freshman quarterback out there, and that might be trouble for ASU.

Rational me says that 8 is a lot of points to lay in a crazy Pac-12 South matchup. (See mosh-pit analogy above.) But my gut says that Colorado is playing well, and that ASU’s young quarterback may have issues at elevation with a revved-up home crowd in Boulder. So lay the 8. I hope I’m right, as college football is better when the Buffaloes are good.

R: Arizona State at Colorado (-8)

The Sun Devils are coming off a huge win over pre-season favorite UCLA at home. That performance can take a lot out of a team. Arizona State has had difficulties getting their offense running at full strength. That is noticeable in their losses to USC and near loss to UT-San Antonio.

Colorado was neck-and-neck with Michigan until their starting quarterback left the game with an injury. With a full week of practice the quarterback started against Oregon and played great. He didn’t look like a backup. The win over Oregon gave this team a ton of confidence and lost to a USC team that simply has more talent. At some point the Jimmies and Joes matter more than the Xs and Os. Colorado has the advantage in more facets of the game than Arizona does. Especially at altitude, the Buffs will pull away late.

S: Stanford (+3) at Notre Dame

If you were to have laid down a bet in August that by their game on October 15, neither team would be ranked, I think you’d pull down a pretty penny. Both squads find themselves in odd places, and have each been listless for a few consecutive weeks.

So how do we pick this one?

In lieu of literally just flipping a coin, I’ll take the cooler-headed team. Notre Dame has been a mental wreck from top to bottom all season. Their defense is atrocious (and thin), their play-calling is perplexing and they seem to be unable to make in-game adjustments. Stanford has its own issues at this point after getting blown the effff out by both Washington schools, as we are not used to seeing an underperforming Cardinal line. But I just trust Stanford more from a mental perspective. Nothing has gone right for the Irish really at all this year, and I think they are looking all over the map for answers. Stanford at least knows its identity, and can execute a game plan if they set their minds to it. Take the points.

R: Stanford (+3) at Notre Dame

I think this is an overreaction line. Notre Dame is sitting with a 2-4 record with losses to Texas, Michigan State, Duke, and NC State. Their wins are over Nevada and Syracuse. Both of those teams aren’t good. Head coach Brian Kelly has also replaced their defensive coordinator. When they aren’t playing a game during a literal hurricane they have given up 36 or more points.

Christian McCaffrey may not play but the Stanford line is responsible for most of McCaffrey’s successes. They open up large holes and let McCaffrey get 3-4 yards before he even has to take on a potential tackler. Stanford has dropped their last two games to Washington and Washington State, who are playing as two of the best teams in the country thus far. Quarterback Ryan Burns hasn’t been able to keep Stanford too far out of a hole the way that Kevin Hogan did last year. The Stanford line is going to make big enough holes for Stanford to get the win.

S: Ohio State at Wisconsin (+9.5)

Ohio State’s young offensive talent scares me, but Wisconsin’s defense just keeps covering spreads. Ohio State has had issues at Camp Randall in recent years, and I think the Badgers’ defense can do enough against the Buckeyes to really mix things up. Mostly, I’m concerned with how much Urban Meyer is asking his quarterback, JT Barrett, to do on the ground. Wisconsin won’t let him loose. This feels like a tight game. Call it 24-20 Buckeyes on the road.

R: Ohio State (-9.5) at Wisconsin

Wisconsin had an ugly game against Michigan last week. Other than the Badgers have played well in most games. They had a nail biter against Georgia State but at some point a win is a win. Wisconsin lacks a quality starting quarterback and haven’t had an imposing rushing attack. This year there are only a few teams that are clearly better than everybody else. Wisconsin is one of those teams that has some serious flaws and those will be hammered by a team coached by Urban Meyer.

Ohio State is a death machine. The teams to win a national title in the last 10 years are made up of either a Heisman winner or are coached by Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. The scary thing is that this team’s production is made up mostly of underclassmen. Ohio State hasn’t had a close game this year and I don’t expect that to change this weekend. The Buckeyes have the second best coach in college football, are loaded with talent, and execute at a high level.

S: UCLA at Washington State (-2)

Wazzu is on a freaking roll. Their defense is more than just competent: it’s a playmaking defense that is keeping them in games. The Cougar defensive line is fresh off of a dominating performance on the road at Stanford, and now they come home to play a beleaguered Bruins squad that has had major issues protecting the quarterback. Josh Rosen is very banged up, and the Bruins defense has not weathered graduation well at all. Give me the Cougs. I think they pass all over these guys and get after the quarterback, whoever that may be given Josh Rosen’s uncertain status.

R: UCLA at Washington State (-2)

UCLA’s Josh Rosen was injured in the game against Arizona State. The Bruins went on to lose by 3 points and it is not yet determined if Rosen will play Saturday. If Rosen doesn’t play, then Washington State will have a multiple score win. Josh Rosen has also been underwhelming so far. His completion rate is 59.3%, thrown for 1915 yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions. The Bruins haven’t reached their potential and I don’t know if they will this season.

I’m all in on Washington State right now. They’re defense has been great and their offense seems unstoppable. Quarterback Luke Falk is basically thrown passes before receivers are out of their route for easy first downs. They held Stanford to 10 points in the game until the very end when Stanford scored a touchdown with no time left on the clock. With the combination of an excellent offense a defense that gets enough stops during the game I like the Cougars in Pullman.

S: USC (-7) at Arizona

The Arizona offense has underwhelmed, scoring only 23, 24, and 28 points in Pac-12 play. USC has found its stride offensively with Sam Darnold at quarterback. Granted, USC hasn’t looked great either, but I think the matchup is a bad one for Arizona. This is a day game, and so the Zona Zoo won’t be fully - how should i put this? - hydrated (?) for the game, which lessens the chance for momentum to take over and doom the Trojans. I feel good about USC’s talent vs. Arizona’s lackluster offense, and think it’s time for Clay Helton to start beating up on some lesser Pac-12 teams to please the Trojan boosters.

R: USC (-7) at Arizona

The Wildcats’ only wins are over Grambling and Hawai’I, two really bad teams. I have to give credit to almost topping the Huskies at home. It’s tough for visiting teams to have to play in the desert. Last week Arizona played Utah whose line is bruising and I expect a small dropoff in performance this week.

USC beat a solid Colorado team last week. They have only lost to ranked teams this season also. Adoree Jackson has been fantastic both on defense and special teams. He is one of those innate players who can see opportunities to make plays that is on another level from most players. USC’s quarterback Sam Darnold has helped improve the offense. He has posted a 165 QB rating, which is excellent compared to the 111.9 QB rating that the previous starter recorded. I like USC to win big.

S: Utah at Oregon State (+14)

Rooting for the Beavers bigtime here. What a time to show up last Saturday, with a dominant offensive performance against Cal. Here’s hoping they can parlay that into a good performance in Reser versus the Utes. Utah has played very consistently this season, but they’re not going to blow anyone out. This feels like a 34-24 type game, and so I’m going to take all those points. (The public agrees with me, by the way: this line is down to 9.5.)

R: Utah at Oregon State (+14)

The Utah football program is well known for its ability to turn out solid, physical lines every year. Their lone loss is to Cal. The rest of their wins against Power 5 opponents are by 14 points are less. I think they struggle to close games out. The Utes have committed to the run game but also execute run-pass option plays at a high level.

Oregon State took Cal to overtime last week and they put up a lot of points to get there. You can either interpret last week’s game as a sign that the Beavers have turned the corner on the season or if they just had one good game that is not indicative of how good they actually are. Gary Andersen is a great coach so I think more of the former has played a bigger part. Utah’s inability to separate themselves from their opponents and close out games makes me think that this line is too big. I’m expecting a backdoor cover.