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Ducking the Odds: 2016 CFB Week Nine

Our only promise is that we won’t throw an interception in the Red Zone.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona State
Let’s hope an ASU victory doesn’t take five hours, several overtimes, an end-zone interception, and an ulcer.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Rusty and I each made the mistake of trusting Ohio State and Arkansas. As the Donald would say: “Wrong! Sad.”

Last Week:

Rusty: 4-6-1

Sean: 4-6-1

This Season:

Rusty: 32-47-6

Sean: 40-37-6

This Week:

Not controversial to say this is a week full of very, very nice matchups. Unfortunately, because this is an Oregon Ducks blog (correct?), I keep having to take a position on Oregon Ducks spreads. And, to be honest, taking position on spreads with the Ducks with an emotional investment in the game has been a trying experience this year.

But we are nothing if not professional writers (read: amateurs with access to the “Publish Now” button on a website), and so we will forge ahead. Onto Week 9!

S: Cal at USC (-13.5)

This game screams “take the points in a shootout.” But I like to live dangerously. Cal’s defense, in honor of Halloween, is doing a great ghost impression (get it? like, they’re not there) and will allow too many yards to pretty much anyone. They are also super beat up at all levels on defense, and have a lack of depth on offense right now alongside an anemic running game (unless Oregon’s defense is out there).

And Sam Darnold, to his credit, is quietly one of the more efficient passers in all of college football. All that combined spells trouble for Cal. I see this game as tied (or close to it) at half, but then USC takes a late 14-point lead to cover, barely. So give me the Trojans here, who are talented enough defensively to keep Cal in check in the second half.

R: Cal (+13.5) at USC

The Trojans have improved a lot since their terrible performances against Alabama and Stanford. They would have beaten Utah if PAC-12 refs had called Utah offensive pass interference that occurred on nearly every play. The offense also looks significantly better with Sam Darnold at quarterback. USC has won three straight and have won their last 12 contests against Cal. Playing at home is a big factor for USC as Cal has lost all their games on the road this year.

Cal’s rushing attack has been an added dimension to the office that was missing last year. Cal is also coming off a double overtime win over Oregon so the Golden Bears could have an emotional hangover against USC. But the offense has too much firepower to be outscored in a shootout and if it’s a low scoring affair that means the Cal defense has really stepped up. Graduate transfer Davis Webb has been fantastic this year throwing for 27 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. USC will win and look good doing it but Cal will keep it closer than Vegas thinks.

S: Miami (-1.5) at Notre Dame

This is the best matchup of the week, if this week were in 2003. These teams have both been pretty disappointing this year. Miami has failed to capitalize on opportunities and lost a few games in a row, but Notre Dame is just a straight up tire fire in all three phases. Lay the 1.5. Miami by 7.

R: Miami (-1.5) at Notre Dame

Notre Dame is an absolute mess. They are 2-5 with losses to Texas, 2-5 Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina State in a hurricane, and Stanford. Brian Kelly’s team really can’t be trusted to win these types of games.

Miami’s offensive line gave up 8 sacks to Virginia Tech but the Fighting Irish defensive line has their own issues, which offsets both teams’ weaknesses. The Hurricanes’ three losses have come in the same number of weeks to Florida State on a missed extra point, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech. Brad Kaaya will be the difference in this game.

S: West Virginia (-2.5) at Oklahoma State

Rolling with the hot hand until it goes cold. West Virginia has a truly elite defense (nationally, not just in the Big 12). They have a steady offense that runs well, and has the ability to go ahead early. If that happens, and Okie State has to throw a bunch, that plays right into the hands of WVU’s speedy and opportunistic secondary. So lay those few points on a road favorite here. Defense travels, and I think the Mountaineers go to Stillwater and impress.

R: West Virginia (-2.5) at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State is a good team. There is nothing that stands out as being a weakness. In their 11-point loss to Baylor the Cowboys turned the ball over 4 times. In their pseudo loss to Central Michigan early in the season Oklahoma State went 1-11 on third downs.

West Virginia is quietly the best team in the Big-12. Their defense is solid and their offense has rederfined the last few years as being a spread offense powered by old school run blocking. They’re going to limit the Cowboy offense and score enough to win the game. With the spread this small I like the Mountaineers to cover.

S: Baylor (-2.5) at Texas

As of this week, I live by one rule: Do. Not. Bet. On. Texas.

Baylor is undefeated, and surprisingly they’re doing it with defense and a running game. Seth Russell is still playing very well, and Baylor’s balanced attack should be able to knock off a Texas team whose pride is hanging on by a thread.

R: Baylor (-2.5) at Texas

The Longhorns are a different team at home. They also put up 40 against Oklahoma in what was a competitive game throughout. I think they found a good balance between using Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes as quarterbacks. Charlie Strong might be coaching for his job.

Baylor has looked good in many of their games. The Bears have definitely outperformed expectations after Art Briles was fired as head coach in the wake of the sexual assault scandals. They have scored and executed well in a variety of ways and will be able to adjust over time to what Texas is doing. I like the Bears to win and cover.

S: Washington State at Oregon State (+17.5)

I love the Cougs this year, but 17.5 is just a lot to lay on a road favorite. Oregon State has been improving week to week, and is prepared to play tough at home. I tell you what, I am not excited for the Ducks to play a Week 14 Beavers team. Washington State is in for a test. Cougs win, but not by 18.

R: Washington State at Oregon State (+17.5)

Don’t sleep on Oregon State. The Beavers are ahead of schedule in the rebuilding process and have covered more often than not this season. Their rushing attack is what spurned the upset win over Cal and the challenged Utah even though they went 3-16 on third down conversions. Oregon State just finds a way to keep it close and competitive.

Washington State is the second best team in the conference, in my opinion. This year they can throw and pass. They have looked good in all their games except for the first two games of the season, but then again that’s all part of Mike Leach’s plan. Luke Falk has been outstanding and will lead the Cougs to a win, but it will be closer than the experts think.

S: Stanford (-6) at Arizona

Stanford’s record looks really bad, but their losses are to decent-to-good teams. Arizona has been garbage against really everyone. Stanford, to its credit, has played defense against spread teams really well this year, and I’m just not scared of any offensive group for Arizona, least of all its offensive line. This game feels like a weird, 23-14 game. So I’ll lay the 6 on Stanford and expect the Cardinal’s ship to somewhat right itself.

R: Stanford at Arizona (+6)

The Cardinal simply can’t score points. Their highest point total was 27, which was in the second game of the season against a USC team that didn’t know who it was and were nowhere near where they are playing now. Christian McCaffrey has struggled but that is largely a result of the offensive line and issues on offense as a whole.

Arizona does score points and they have the potential to score a lot of them. Stanford’s defense is not what it was the previous few years. The Wildcats do oscillate a lot in their effectiveness. Two weeks after struggling against Grambling State in what could have been the biggest point spread upset in college football history, but then two weeks later took Washington to overtime off of quarterback runs. Arizona will score a lot of points and I love taking the points in this situation.

S: Nebraska at Wisconsin (-6.5)

If this line were a bit higher, like 8.5, I’d be tempted to take Nebraska. But, as it is, I take Wisconsin. Why?

i) The game is in Camp Randall. “Jump Around” is no joke.

ii) The Badgers are battle-tested like few other teams nationally.

iii) Wisconsin’s defense has the ability to chew up the Huskers’ offense.

iv) I promised last week in this very column to pick Wisconsin the rest of the year, and unlike every politician asking you to vote for them right now, I keep my freaking promises.

R: Nebraska at Wisconsin (-6.5)

Nebraska is undefeated headed into Madison. They have beaten one ranked team, Oregon at the time, but have beaten the teams that were in front of them. Mike Riley’s squad struggled against Purdue. Nebraska is good but they are a bit of a paper tiger.

I love the Badgers. Their only losses were to Michigan and Ohio State, losing by a touchdown in both games. Wisconsin pushed both teams to the edge but weren’t able to finish. Now that they are hosting Nebraska the experience they gained from their two losses will pay dividends in a solid win over the Cornhuskers.

S: Georgia (+7.5) at Florida

Every instinct I have, along with every available objective statistic, says that Florida should win this game big. So, naturally, I will George Costanza-it and pick Georgia. This is a rivalry game, and I just KNOW that it’s going to be a 24-21 game either way. Take that touchdown-plus spread against the Gators.

R: Georgia at Florida (-7.5)

Both teams are coming off a bye heading into the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Georgia has been one of the bigger disappointing teams this year after starting strong against North Carolina. Running back Nick Chubb has struggled with injuries this year and only rushed for 40 yards on 16 carries in the Bulldogs’ upset loss to Vanderbilt two weeks ago.

Florida has shown that they can excel in games and put teams away. The same cannot be said of Georgia who struggled against Missouri. I think the Gator defense will shutdown the Georgia rushing attack and force Jacob Eason to win the game for Georgia. Florida will score points and come away with a win and cover the spread.

S: Michigan (-1000) at Michigan State

I take Michigan to win by 1000. You read that right. I think Jim Harbaugh scores as many points as he probably can and try to embarrass Sparty in East Lansing. Lay em and laugh. This is my lock of the week. Can’t you just see Harbaugh doing something dick like going for 2 when up by 30+ points? Or throwing a dagger deep post on 3rd and 15 in the fourth quarter?

(For record-keeping, I in fact accept the 18.5-point line for this game.)

R: Michigan (-18.5) at Michigan State

Michigan State’s wins are over Furman and fellow 2-5 team, Notre Dame. Against four of the other teams they’ve lost by double digits and to teams that are not exceptional on defense. The Spartans are another example of how no team other than Alabama is good this year.

The Spartans have been giving up points this year and even though Michigan’s offense has big limitations, they will be able to take advantage of the opportunities they get. Also, the Michigan defense is putting up absurd stats through the halfway point of the season. Michigan is going to slowly pull away throughout. You’ll look up in the third quarter and realize that they’re up 35 points.

R: Washington at Utah (+11.5)

Bet against Utah at home at your own risk. Washington is trying so hard to protect its undefeated record, and coming to Sack Lake City is probably the dumbest thing to do if you are trying to do that. Utah gives up 21 points per game on defense, and I think they can score that many points on offense. Look for a weird special teams play or defensive score in the second half to improve the Utes’ fortunes. Very fun game, and Huskies fans should be afraid of this Utes team and its fervent home crowd at altitude.

R: Washington at Utah (+11.5)

Utah is a scary place to play. Their third down sign is weird, the students get rowdy, and the altitude must be extremely difficult to mentally deal with. The Utes’ offense is very balanced with 1749 yards coming through the air and 1715 coming on the ground. Quarterback Troy Williams is a 20-20 passer, he’s good between the red zones, but once you’re inside a running back needs to punch it in.

As much as I hate to say it I think the Huskies will win the PAC-12 and go undefeated headed into the college football playoff. Jake Browning is a great quarterback and has taken it to every team they’ve played not named Arizona. Arizona’s quarterback runs caused problems for the Husky defense but that weakness has probably been corrected by now. I like Washington to win but Utah getting 11.5 points at home is a great value pick.

S: Arizona State (+7.5) at Oregon

Yeah so I keep emotionally picking Oregon and keep getting it wrong. I don’t trust either defense in this game (which should not be construed as a hot take in any way). I mean, this is going to be a 59-55 game and take 5 hours, so let’s just take the points and move on.

Now, for reals, I hope that I’m wrong. I was very encouraged by Justin Herbert’s progress in the second half in Berkeley last weekend. I hope that continues.

R: Arizona State (+7.5) at Oregon

Arizona State blitzes a lot, which could pose problems for Justin Herbert. Helfrich said that the Sun Devils don’t blitz as much as they did last year, but they still rush extra more than any other team in the conference by a wide margin. Arizona State has wins over Cal, UCLA, and Texas Tech, but has losses to USC, Colorado, and Washington State

Oregon has yet to cover a game this year. This game could really go either way so I will take the points on the right side of a significant number. This line also seems extremely high. Suspiciously high. Vegas probably knows something that we don’t. I like Oregon to win but Arizona State to cover.