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Ducking the Odds: Week 5 of the CFB Season

Rusty and Sean pick the best games of the weekend and have a heavy emphasis on PAC-12 Conference games.

NCAA Football: Utah at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The fewer picks has really played out well for me. I get more time to spend on each game and it is clearly showing in the record. Now that Sean and I are picking different games around half the time it is pretty interesting how we have ended up with similar (winning) records each week.

There are a lot of double digit favorites this weekend. Last week there were a lot of highly ranked teams on the road and we had a couple upsets. This week we will probably have some more chaos. Also, there are a lot of games late at night in the Pacific Conference. #Pac12AfterDark will be in full force.


Rusty’s Record: 15-9

Sean’s Record: 15-9

Last Week

Rusty’s Record: 4-2

Sean’s Record: 4-2

Common Games

S: Cal (+13.5) at Oregon

Pretty damn baffled by this big line after seeing the Bears keep pace with USC. Without six turnovers (yikes), Cal may have actually won the dang game.

It was superbly concerning to see the Ducks' offense go 1-for-11 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down against the Arizona State defense, which, even if we are generous, is a below-average defense. I'm worried about what that means against a vastly-improved Cal defense that kept USC in front of it all game.

I like Oregon to win this one at home. But man, this is a tricky matchup for the Ducks. I'll take the points until the Ducks show the ability to hold off a Power 5 team into the second half. Ducks win a one-score game, mostly because I think our secondary gives freshman Ross Bowers some fits at Autzen.

R: Cal (+13.5) at Oregon

This line makes absolutely no sense to me. Cal has played well in every game. The only reason the USC got away from them is because of the six turnovers they had, and it was a late push at the end. Cal has a pattern of rough first halves before locking things down in the second half. Oregon is used to playing poorly in the second half anyways so maybe that mitigates the effects.

Oregon just looked flat out unprepared last week. Everyone knows Arizona State’s defense does one thing really well and the offense didn’t look like they were ready to handle it. There are two ways to deal with: get the ball out quicker or have enough people blocking. The offense did neither. Cal’s team is very well coached and they have a few Oregon alumni on the staff who I am sure are extra motivated for this game. I think there’s even a lot of value to take Cal on the moneyline. Again, this line is ridiculous.

S: Clemson at Virginia Tech (+7)

Wooo. This is a super, super matchup. Virginia Tech has reloaded on both sides of the ball after a surprisingly marvelous 2016 campaign. Clemson has looked very good so far this year, and in my mind is the #1 team in the country.

But man: you do *not* want to play at night in Lane Stadium. This feels like a fun shootout to me, with the game decided within the last few minutes. Would love to get that half-point hook to 7.5, but even still, I think this game is close, and I love taking a talented home underdog. Take the points, and get your popcorn ready.

R: Clemson (-7) at Virginia Tech

I am all in on Clemson this year. The Tiger defense is the best in the country. They are holding teams to 202 yards below their average yards per game. Clemson has also topped some top competition this season and Virginia Tech has played cupcakes. The offense also puts Clemson on its own level in the conference. Kelly Bryant has struggled through the air, throwing two touchdowns but three interceptions. Bryan has been lethal on the ground though, with seven touchdowns and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Bryant also leads the team in carries, rushing 25 times more than the next man on the depth chart.

The Hokies aren’t a bad team according to S&P+. Their overall rating is 20th, next to Louisville, Notre Dame, Washington State, and Ole Miss. The offense is the weakness, ranked 56th. So far I think the Hokies are a paper tiger. They’re undefeated by their lone quality win is a 7-point win over West Virgnia in a hotly contested season opener. Since then they have dominant wins. However, those wins came against Delaware, Eastern Carolina, and Old Dominion.

S: Mississippi State at Auburn (-10)

Tough to decide how to react to Mississippi State's drubbing at the hands of Georgia. My initial reaction was: "Ok, Georgia's defense is elite." I think that's correct, and I think it's also correct that Auburn's defense is elite. Auburn's defense has given up 7, 14, 10, and 14 in its four outings. Yowza. I don't expect too much different against Mississippi State, who only scored 3 points on Georgia's defense.

On the flip side, Auburn's offense looked pretty uncreative against Clemson earlier this year. (But, forreals, whose offense *doesn't* look uncreative against the Clemson murderers' row defense?) But they have diversified, evidenced by a thorough takedown of Mizzou. I think Auburn scores 28 points at home. I don't think MSU gets into the 20s. Lay those 10 on the home favorite, as Auburn's defense is among the best 5 or 6 defenses nationwide.

R: Mississippi State (+10) at Auburn

I don’t think the Bulldogs as bad as they looked last week against Georgia. Georgia was just a problematic matchup for them. They sold out on stopping the run and containing Nick Fitzgerald who has been the second-coming of Dak Prescott in terms of how much of the offense he creates for his team. The Bulldogs don’t have their backs against the wall yet but they’ll be extremely motivated to show that they are still a top team in the SEC.

The Tiger’s best performance was an 8-point loss to Clemson on the road but had wins over Georgia Southern and Mercer. Last week they beat Missouri, who looks just terrible so it’s hard to read too much into that game anyways. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham hasn’t been the dominant force that we thought he was going to be before the season started but Gus Malzahn has always favored moving the ball on the ground than through the air.

Auburn’s defense is on a similar level to UGA’s. However, I don’t think they’ll be able to slow Fitzgerald the same way that Georgia did. Mississippi State has covered double-digit wins more often than not. Auburn is likely to win but they won’t be able to pull away and win by more than two scores.

Wild Card Games

NCAA Football: Nevada at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

S: USC at Washington State (+3.5)

Man. I am surprised to see the line this low. I really thought it would be 6.5 or 7. To take a line this small, you have to believe that Wazzu can win this thing outright. Well, I do.

USC has looked impressive in exactly one game: a home win over Stanford. Sure, they are talented and fast, but they are also pretty banged up. Sam Darnold has elite skills, but is also good for approximately four boneheaded plays per game.

Granted, Wazzu hasn't played any legitimate defenses so far, but they've scored 31, 47, 52, and 45 points in their four outings. Luke Falk has thrown 14 TDs against only 1 INT. The Cougars defensive front is surprisingly good at rushing the passer.

Overall, from a mental perspective, USC has been in four straight dogfights in four straight weeks. They have eight more weeks before a bye. I thought it would take longer for that pressure to weigh on the Trojans, but I think it already is. Going on the road to the Palouse for a Friday, late-night, #Pac12AfterDark kickoff is not a fun prospect for any squad, and certainly not one as tired and beat up as the Trojans.

Take the points. This line is weird enough that I'll take the underdogs here.

S: washington (-26.5) at Oregon State

The poor Beavers are 0-4 against the spread. They've been beaten by at least 29 points in all of their losses. The way washington's defense creates turnovers, and then turns those turnovers into points, I don't expect much difference here. washington wins 42-14.

R: washington (-26.5) at Oregon State

Oregon State is on a similar level to Chip Kelly’s Duck teams. The line just can’t be high enough without them covering. The Beavers struggle on both sides of the ball and are ineffective most of the game. Their front seven is a major weakness and lost their starting quarterback for the season two weeks ago. Oregon State is coming off of a bye week but I don’t think that matters in this situation. Chris Petersen is as good of a game planner as anyone else in the country so the Huskies will be ready.

washington’s defense lost a lot of NFL talent in the offseason but don’t seem to have missed much of a beat. They struggled against Rutgers in the season opener but after their win over Colorado they’ve shown they can close out games. Pettis is probably going to get a few fantastic punt returns, one going for a touchdown, and the Huskies are going to find themselves with a lot of three and outs on defense, giving their offense short fields to work with.

S: Georgia (-7.5) at Tennessee

Haven't seen much to be impressed by out of the Volunteers so far. I think we have some good evidence now that (as discussed above) Georgia finds itself in the conversation for best defense in the country (along with Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, and Michigan). Aside from the incredible running back John Kelly, Tennessee has serious offensive problems, starting with their lackluster pass game. Georgia can take advantage. And Georgia appears to have the best quarterback group in the SEC East. That's enough. Georgia can definitely win this game by 10, and will hold onto a double-digit lead on the road at a deflated Neyland Stadium.

R: Colorado (+6.5) at UCLA

A team that does have their back against the wall this week is UCLA. They’re not going to be able to mentally up for this game and rise to the occasion. This is a soft team. Stanford lost their starting quarterback and had to replace him with a quarterback whose ceiling is so low that the coaches just had him hand off to Bryce Love nearly every play. This was the type of workhorse game I wanted to see from Stanford. The Trees dropped 58 points and 405 rushing yards and averaged 9 yards per carry. After playing Memphis it could be argued that UCLA has the worst run defense in the country.

Jim Mora is unlikely to get fired because the administration doesn’t seem to care too much about football and his buyout is pretty large, but he’s shown that he cannot get the job done and I wonder if the team is going to give up on the season. They got bruised by Stanford, which is a team notorious for taking a lot of out their opponents given their offensive style.

Colorado kept it close against Washington until the second half and this is certainly not the same Buffaloes team that pushed Washington in the PAC-12 Championship Game. This is a team that gives the ball to running back Phillip Lindsay a lot. He’s rushed 90 times this season and is averaging 5 yards per carry. Quarterback Steven Montez has been accurate, completing 70.3% of his passes and brings a second dimension to the offense that Stanford didn’t even have last game. Colorado is going to be able to run the ball at will and then keep the defense honest with Montez turning some short passes into longer gains by getting the ball to his receivers as quickly as possible. I think the Buffs have a good shot to win and I would feel comfortable picking the money line.

R: Mississippi at Alabama (-28.5)

As usual, picking Alabama is never going to make you look dumb. The Crimson Tide definitely made a statement against Vanderbilt. They felt they weren’t getting the respect they deserved and wanted to take it to a team that a lot of the public felt could pull the upset.

The Crimson Tide have leaned more on Jalen Hurts’ running ability, giving him more carries than anybody else. Tua Tagovailoa has also gotten reps at quarterback, giving the defense a different look and different skillset. Hurts has also made some really impressive throws that he wasn’t making this time last year. He’s by no means a great passer, but he has shown some improvement.

Ole Miss became Cal’s statement win in week 3 after having less than impressive wins over University of Tennessee-Martin and the South Alabama Jaguars. Alabama’s got the advantage in talent, the advantage in coaching, and the home field advantage. The multiple looks that Alabama is able to give on offense is going to cause fits for the Rebels and this is going to get out of hand.