Fourth Down and Inches
by Doc - 09/24/2008
Even after 37 years, having a Saturday as rough as we had last weekend is still very hard to swallow and digest. I never had a problem with losing a game when our team just got outplayed or failed to show up. Our selection on Florida Atlantic certainly fell into that category, as the Owls never got off the plane in Minnesota and went down in defeat, 37-3. But what I do have a problem with is a game like North Carolina/Virginia Tech, our College Football Game of the Year. Carolina looked sharp for 40 minutes, leading 17-3 with complete control of the game. Moments before their second touchdown, their QB T.J. Yates went out with a fractured ankle and his departure completely turned this game around. He will be out for six weeks and I look for Carolina to struggle in the upcoming weeks.
This defeat was the biggest of a string of selections on Saturday where everything seemed to go wrong. Ole Miss outgained Vanderbilt, 385-202, but was done in by six turnovers. Utah missed covering the spread by one point despite outgaining Air Force, 440-191, and actually just scored the go-ahead touchdown with under one minute to play. The two before-mentioned games were never in control score wise, but that certainly cannot be said for our Auburn/LSU pick on Saturday night. Auburn was up by one point and getting three when LSU marched down the field with just over one minute to play. Conventional coaches would have just played for the field goal and thus LSU would have won 23-21, but that is not how Coach Miles operates and he continued to attack and scored a touchdown to win, 26-21, and thus cover the spread. Heck, during the late night hours our pick of UNLV almost went down when Iowa State scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass with three second left and no time outs, but Vegas was able to regroup and win the game in overtime.
What really hurts the most about our performance was that I really liked the card and still believe, with the exception of one game, we were on the right side. Another thing that I have learned in my 37 years of running a handicapping service is, "Cry as much as you want, but it will not change the results." I have accepted these defeats and will now move forward knowing that with hard work, good will always triumph over evil. I have the upmost confidence in this.
Most of the BCS conferences open up play this week and I am ready to attack the slate in the Big Ten, the conference this company is founded upon. Two of the games I will be looking at will be Minnesota at Ohio State and Michigan State at Indiana. The Buckeyes have been a big disappointment thus far and they may have been reading too much of their press clippings. That being said, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that is QB Terrelle Pryor. He has taken over behind center for Todd Boeckman, a quarterback that led his team to the title game last year. Pryor's presence in the backfield makes defending the Buckeyes much more difficult. With Beanie Wells likely to play this week, look for a breakout performance by Ohio State this week at the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes had two bad performances sandwiched in between the USC game but they will certainly not be looking past Minnesota, as their main goal now is to win the Big Ten. Minnesota comes in sky high after posting a 4-0 record and this is already three games more than they won in 2007. Is Minnesota for real in 2008? I would say NO, as they are improved but not up with the big boys in the conference. They have given up lots of yards to bad teams in their first four games. An interesting angle in this game is that the Buckeyes are 7-0 straight-up and against the spread when opening up conference play at home against a team with a winning record. I certainly would not bet against them to cover this week.
One of the interesting matchups outside the Big Ten this week is Virginia Tech at Nebraska. As we all know, the Hokies had a big emotional victory last week in Chapel Hill and now must hit the road again in a much tougher test against a rested Husker squad. Virginia Tech has improved each week with their young team but this may be more that they can handle. An interesting angle is that since 1980, in their fourth game of the season, any team off of a week's rest playing a non-conference opponent as a favorite is 19-2 against the line. Will I be going against the Hokies this week? I would not bet against it!
I am the first to admit that Iowa is a better team then I envisioned them to be in 2008. However, you will not see me riding them too often during Big Ten play. The Hawks should have no problem beating Northwestern this week but looking ahead to Oct. 4, they must travel to East Lansing. This will tell how far Iowa has come, as Michigan State is my sleeper team to win the Big Ten. Since 2004, Iowa and Michigan State have met just once, but Iowa traditionally plays Sparty tough. Assuming both clubs win this week, I will be very interested in the opening line.
Much of the talk in 2008 continues to decide what constitutes excessive celebration. If you go by the letter of the law in the rulebooks, throwing the ball up in the air or diving into the end zone will draw a hankie. I fully believe that officials need to use judgment and ref accordingly. The call against Washington was terrible and will likely cost Coach Willingham his job, since UW was not able to take that game into overtime. John Madden coined the term "over officiating" and more often then not that is where problems with the zebras occur.
For those of you that listen to Papa Joe's Sports Talk Show in Las Vegas or on satellite radio, I will be on his show each Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CST. In Vegas, it can be found on KLAV 1230 am (Sirius 122) and I am looking forward to talking a little college football.
So how much do injuries really affect a team's chances to win and cover each week? Sounds like a dumb question but I have always felt in most cases injuries are one of the most overrated factors in handicapping a game. One game this week you might want to check on injuries in Northwestern playing Iowa. Cats QB Bacher and RB Sutton plus other key defensive personal are questionable. The Cats are off to a 4-0 start but have played four cupcakes (yes Syracuse is now a sweet). If these injuries stand up, the Hawks will roll in this one and throw in revenge and you get the picture of which side I will be backing. It's time for us to bounce back and look for it to come this week in a big way. If you ever want to discuss football with me please give me a call at (800) 356-9182 during weekday mornings.
Best of Luck this week