Rusty's Hits: Hawaii +17, Mississippi -11, Cal +11.5, Georgia -8, Louisville -3.5.
Rusty's Misses: Oregon -51, Navy +16.5, UCLA -21, Alabama -26, South Carolina -11, Washington State -8, LSU -5, Fresno State +22, Florida State -19.
Sean's Hits: Hawaii +17, Virginia +21, Texas A&M +11, Mississippi -11, Cal +11.5, Louisville -3.5.
Sean's Misses: Oregon -51, Navy +16.5, Alabama -26, Washington State -8, LSU -5, Fresno State +22, Clemson +8, Florida State -19.
A couple close calls (Oregon 2 point loss, Navy 0.5 point loss, LSU 1 point loss) combined with powerhouses not playing up to the hype (Alabama, Florida State) led to a - let's call it "tough" - week for both Sean and Rusty. Hope springs eternal!
The headliner of the week is obviously Michigan State at Autzen at 3:30 PT on Saturday. But there are a few more big games to look at, including a showdown between USC and Stanford in the Bay Area. Onto the picks!
The Picks (Home Teams in CAPS):
Sean: Washington State (-4) over NEVADA
I really, really hate this game. If this line were a few points higher, I would take Nevada in a heartbeat. Their QB, Cody Fajardo, has been basically a four-year starter and has some moxie. And I can't trust Wazzu's defense, like AT ALL. It might be the worst (!!) in the Pac-12. But I think Wazzu can outscore Nevada, and I was encouraged that Connor Halliday played with fewer mistakes (1 INT) in one of the most insane "in a losing effort" stat lines I've ever seen: 40-56, 532 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT. I hate picking this game either way. But I trust Wazzu to score points more than I trust Nevada to stop them from scoring points. (Was that a sentence?) Tread lightly, but take Wazzu and lay the 3.5 in this one.
Rusty: Washington State (-4) over NEVADA
The Wolfpack got out to a big lead last week against Southern Utah before allowing the Thunderbirds to make the score look respectable. There are seventeen starters back from last years 4-8 squad with ten of them on defense.
The Cougars showed that old habits die hard when they dropped a win in the fourth quarter to the struggling Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Blowing a fourth quarter lead is a teachable moment. I guarantee that Leach spent some time during the week on how to hold onto a fourth quarter lead.
Halliday had a hell of a day against the Knights and should have another awesome day against the Wolfpack. I like the Cougars to win comfortably for their first victory of the season. They also really need this win to stay in the hunt for a bowl game.
Sean: Fresno State (+10.5) over UTAH
Sean's new rule after last week's shenanigans: take underdogs until the favorites do something to merit double-digit-plus spreads. I know that Fresno got beat by 39 by USC last week. And I know that Utah put up 56 points last week. But Utah played Idaho State. And Fresno ran into a possibly-top-5 USC team hitting on every cylinder. Do I think that Fresno can play within a couple scores of Utah? Yes, yes I do. Would I put actual, real money on that? No, no I wouldn't. But I think this is a legitimately tough matchup for the Utes and won't lay 10.5 points on an unknown quantity just yet. Take the 'dogs (coincidentally, the 'Dogs) here, but not confidently.
Rusty: Fresno State (+10.5) over UTAH
USC is the real deal. The crushing loss to the Trojans says more about how good USC is than it does about how bad the Bulldogs might be. There will be a huge improvement over the last week and giving 10.5 points is too much for this situation.
The Utes return six starters on both sides of the ball and Travis Wilson had a great day at quarterback last week against Idaho State going 13/18 for 265 yards and a touchdown.
I like Utah to win in a game they control but not by enough to cover the large spread.
Sean: Usc (+2.5) over STANFORD
All in on the Trojans. I think they're as confident as can be, and for good reason. That defense started young, played young, and played a lot of downs for the past several years with little to no depth behind them. It's too experienced now to be intimidated by the bruising Cardinal attack. And USC's athleticism on offense looks more like the mid-2000s USC we all remember (and hate).
Stanford has a good shot in this game, just with their history in big games and good recruits on the lines. And if Stanford took on USC in six weeks once those young players get experience, it might be a different story. But they're breaking in three new OL starters against a talent-laden USC front. I think that's a tough chore. And I don't see how Stanford's new-look, Mason-less defense can defend all of USC's speed. USC outright.
Rusty: Usc (+2.5) over STANFORD
USC has the talent, no one can argue against that, and the pace at which Stanford plays won't force the Trojans to use a lot of depth on defense.
The Trojans ran over 100 plays against Fresno State and averaged nearly ten yards per play while Stanford held UC-Davis to less than 3 yards per play. I'm so excited for this game.
Stanford is replacing a lot of experience on the offensive line. Defensive coordinating mastermind Derek Mason left for a head-coaching job at Vanderbilt. A lot of star power was lost in the defensive front seven. Tyler Gaffney, a 1750-yard rusher last year, is gone leaving a stable of unproven but talented running backs. Stanford has a lot of questions to answer and this USC team is going to test them early.
The early pressure is going to be a lot to handle for Stanford. They might finally show a regression to the mean. Or my prognosis could be because I want Stanford to lose.
Sean: Michigan State (+12.5) over OREGON
God I hate this job sometimes. I see the world through green-and-yellow glasses, but the practical side of makes me hesitant to call Oregon two touchdowns better than Sparty. I hope I'm wrong, but I think it's going to be really tough for the Ducks to blow out Sparty.
I'm really not that concerned about the Ducks secondary vs. Connor Cook, or even Marcus and the RBs vs. the MSU defense. I'm concerned about what we're all concerned about: 3.5 yards and a cloud of dust for 8 minutes straight.
Nevertheless, I think the Oregon defense has had this one in the front of their minds since after the Alamo Bowl, and I think they'll link together enough stops to give the offense chances. Ducks win, but 12.5 is a lot of points to lay when I don't really trust the defense yet. It feels like a 35-28 game, but again, I hope I'm wrong and the run defense does what it is capable of doing against a determined MSU front.
I would recommend that no Oregon fan actually bet on this game if he or she likes their current cardiac situation (unless it's on the "over 58" point total, which I think is probably a smart bet).
Rusty: Michigan State (+12.5) over OREGON
In the game of the week Michigan State brings its bunch of corn-fed physical players to take on the finesse, speedy Oregon players. At least that's what ESPN tells me.
Michigan State has questions at linebacker, which is a position stretched by their defensive strategies. Their defensive line is also significantly smaller than the Oregon offensive line. The secondary is the strength of the team and led by Trae Waynes at cornerback.
Quarterback Connor Cook is better than a lot of people give him credit for and will use play-action passes religiously in order to keep the defense honest.
The true test will be if Oregon's receivers can get open and if Oregon can get any running game going between the tackles. This war will be won in the trenches. I think Oregon has improved enough on both lines to have a slight edge and the speed of the skill players and tempo at which Oregon plays will be too much for the Spartans when it gets to be over 100 degrees on the field.
I like Oregon to win but 12.5 points is too big of a spread when you take into account the Michigan State coaching staff and older units on both sides of the ball.
Sean: Michigan +3.5 over NOTRE DAME
I literally had this the other way until I realized I was betting on Notre Dame and panicked. I don't trust either team. I'm taking the points. Michigan has more experience on defense and playmakers on offense. Notre Dame did beat the hell out of Rice, an actual FBS team that won 10 games last year. But I don't trust Notre Dame as a favorite. Take the points.
Rusty: Michigan (+3.5) over NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson looked significantly better last week when he led the Irish against the Rice Owls. Golson, who was not known for his passing abilities when he took ND to the national title game two years ago, went 14/22 for 295 yards and 2 touchdowns. He physically looks better and his fundamentals are much improved.
Michigan took care of business against Appalachian State. Quarterback Devin Gardner threw only one incompletion out of fourteen attempts and the rushing attack went for 350 yards.
This will be a telling game for both teams. A measuring stick of sorts. One thing Notre Dame hasn't been able to do is minimize the effect of Michigan quarterbacks. Notre Dame just lets crazy stuff happen when they take on Michigan. It took five turnovers by the Wolverines for Notre Dame to win by a single touchdown.
This game will be close. These games always are. I like Michigan to win and with the spread being more than a field goal it's an obvious selection to me to pick Michigan to cover.
Sean: TEXAS (-1.5) over Byu
Charlie Strong knows defense. While I grant you that North Texas is not exactly a powerhouse, the Mean Green were coming off of a 9-4, bowl-winning 2013. And the Longhorns held them to 94 total yards. I think Strong knows that the 2013 loss at BYU signaled the end for Mack Brown, and was a serious affront to Texas boosters' pride. He knows this is a big non-conference game. And I think he's going to win it.
Holes in the theory: QB Ash is out, which means it's the inexperienced Swoopes under center for Texas. Also, BYU looked pretty damn good at UConn last week. But.......UConn. I don't have a great feeling either way, but I trust Charlie Strong more than a BYU squad on the road. Horns win at home.
R: TEXAS (-1.5) over Byu
The BYU Cougars took on a UCONN team that basically imploded on itself. The Huskies couldn't seem to do anything right and only totaled 71 yards rushing. We don't know a lot about BYU.
Texas on the other hand had a convincing in over Northern Texas and look to have fixed some of the problems that plagued them last season. Quarterback David Ash is out, as are a couple linemen, but Texas is strong on defense. They'll turn BYU into a one-dimensional team. The Longhorns offense is based off two-headed rushing monster Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. I like Texas to win and cover.
Sean: Virginia Tech (+11) over OHIO STATE
Upset alert. OSU looked very shaky last week. They obviously have superior talent, but still need to find an offensive identity without Braxton Miller. Va. Tech's identity over the Beamer era has been disciplined defense and smart special teams. And now they've got a Texas Tech transfer at QB who can actually stretch the field. Not saying they win, but they can certainly keep it close. Doesn't 31-21 feel about right here? Take the points.
Rusty: OHIO STATE (-11) over Virginia Tech
The Hokies didn't blow an early season game to FCS William & Mary, so that's an improvement from the seasons where they lost to James Madison. Virginia Tech has been sliding. They were once the most consistent team, pulling out ten-win seasons with ease while playing Beamer ball, which is code for relying on special teams plays and good field position.
Ohio State got off to a slow start against Navy, but Navy is always a tricky team to play. JT Barrett played well against the Midshipmen, going 12/15 for 226 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing.
I just don't think that the Hokies have the magic to pull off a win in the Horseshoe. Only five starters are back on defense. Quarterback Logan Thomas has graduated but he was somewhat of a disappointment last season. The Hokie offense has been dreadful the past two seasons and they won't score enough points to keep pace with Ohio State who is sure to rack up some explosive plays.
Sean: Memphis (+24) over UCLA
Keeping with the theme: taking the dog here unless UCLA proves itself worthy of being favored by 4 scores. Memphis put up 63 points and pitched a shutout last week over Austin Peay allowing only 146 yards. I know, it's Austin Peay, but a 63-0 pasting doesn't just happen in a vacuum. UCLA's offense looked awful last week. Part of that may be due to UVA's defense being better than advertised. But that doesn't mean that UCLA solved their OL and WR problems over the past 6 days. UCLA's defense is, all agree, a scary beast. But I think if Memphis can score just 10 points on offense, they'll cover this spread. Cautiously take all those points, until UCLA shows it's ready for the spotlight.
Rusty: UCLA (-24) over Memphis
Last year the Memphis Tigers went 3-9 but this year they return nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense. Last week they topped Austin Peay 63-0, but UCLA is a very different monster than the Governors.
The Cavaliers were very aggressive against the Bruins and pushed the Bruin offensive line around. The UCLA offensive line coach apparently ripped into his unit after the game and I expect to see a more spirited effort this week.
Most of all, Virginia had the talent and players to take advantage of the Bruins' weaknesses. Memphis doesn't. I like UCLA to win big and rebound enough for sports commentators to hype the hell out of the Hundley Heisman train.
Sean: HAWAI'I (+10.5) over Oregon State
Last week, the Beavs CAME FROM BEHIND to beat an FCS TEAM by FIFTEEN POINTS. AT HOME. ALL CAPS. I think Washington saw that Hawai'i ain't as bad as their 2013 record would suggest, and were lucky to escape with a 1-point win. Any reason to think the Beavs waltz into Honolulu and beat the Warriors by 2 TD? Take. The. Points.
Rusty: HAWAI'I (+10.5) over Oregon State
Running back Joey Iosefa had a day against Washington, carrying the ball thirty times for 143 yards. It was a couple of explosive plays that undid the Rainbow Warriors against the Huskies.
Oregon State struggles like no other team struggles against FCS teams when they squeaked out a win over Portland State. The Beavers have been notorious for slow starts and that will continue when they travel to the islands Marcus Mariota calls home.
The Beavers are still lacking a running game and I think they're going to really struggle on the ground against Hawai'I. Sean Mannion will lead a one-dimensional offense to a close win over a team on the rise, but the spread is too much to overcome.
Sean: VANDERBILT (+20) over Ole Miss
This 20-point line is an overreaction on both sides. Ole Miss didn't look as good as the 35-13 win over Boise State would suggest, and Vandy maybe didn't look as bad as that shellacking by Temple would suggest. The 'Dores had 7 (7!) turnovers, one if which was a botched punt attempt that turned into a Temple TD. I don't really know what to think about these teams, but I think Vandy will have a better showing than last week, and can keep it to less than three scores at home.
Rusty: Ole Miss (-20) over VANDERBILT
It's tough to not overreact to Vanderbilt's opening week loss to Temple. The Commodores lost 37-7 to the Owls, were outgained 351-278, and committed seven turnovers. The seven turnovers give me reason to believe that this week's score will remain closer than we think, but Vanderbilt has still got a lot of problems to take care of.
Bo Wallace of the Ole Miss Rebels through the ball around, for better and for worse, against the Boise State Broncos in a 35-13 win. This game was much closer than the score would lead you to believe. The Rebels didn't pull away until three consecutive touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
Ole Miss' defense is going to cause a lot of problems and create short fields for the offense. I expect to see a Vanderbilt team that shoots itself in the foot enough times and quarterback Bo Wallace to overcome only a few bonehead plays for Ole Miss to win and cover.