Fourth and Inches
The first week of the 2004 College football season is now history. Each year the first and second week of the season always brings some big surprises. The biggest surprise of the first week this season has to be the Big Ten's eye-opening results. The conference was 9-2 straight up and 9-1 vs. the line.
Northwestern opened play with a very good showing against Texas Christian. The "Cats" lost a heartbreaker in double OT. QB Brett Basanez broke a single school passing yardage record, as he was 39-62 for 513 yards
The two schools that looked sharper than I expected were Penn State and Purdue. The Nittany Lions had a big win at home and I look for them to give Boston College all they can handle.
Purdue was the club that surprised me the most. I figured the "Boilers" would be strong on offense, but the young defense really surprised me as they completely shut down Syracuse. If that defense continues to improve, Purdue will once again be in a Bowl and will find themselves high up in the Big Ten. The "Boilers" have the worst schedule in the conference. However they do play Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State all at home. Mark my word, this club will pull some big surprises.
Minnesota looked awesome against Toledo, which came as no surprise to me. The Gophers just dominated and their running game was firing on all cylinders. As for myself, I won't go against the Gophers this year at home. We recommended a strong play on the Over 7½ total wins for the season.
A team that surprised me with a negative performance was Wisconsin. The defense looked sharp, however the offense struggled. The QB play has to improve immensely or this team will not be in a position to win a Big Ten title.
The Big Ten has always been known as a rushing conference. This week proved it as the conference had 485 attempts for 2503 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry compared to the opponents 339 attempts for 932 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per carry.
One has to wonder how long it will take for Notre Dame fans to again become restless. The 'Fighting Irish' opened the season with a loss to BYU. This week they will be at home against the Big Ten's best, Michigan. A 13-point underdog? One certainly has to look at the home puppy there! If they lose this one big, Notre Dame could be in the tank early.
As I look at the card this week, I really see some outstanding choices. I really love one underdog. This puppy played well last week and won. Back as an underdog this week, going against an over-rated team, looks like another point spread winner. A sizable underdog in fact, will win this game straight up. You will want to be on this one.
As I mentioned earlier, Wisconsin didn't look that impressive in the opener. This week the Badgers are back home playing UNLV. Wisconsin has this one circled on their calendar, as the Rebels kicked the Badgers' butts last year, 23-5 at Madison. One would have to think this would be a tough assignment for Vegas, traveling to Tennessee on Sunday and turning right around and coming to Madison. As of this writing, RB Davis is questionable for Wisconsin with an eye injury. We will find out the status on him as the week progresses.
I've spent more time writing in this column about the Big Ten than normal, however I really believe this is the week to jump on this conference with a selection.
Two teams that were expected to be in the bottom of the conference, Illinois and Indiana, are both underdogs this week. Although both played lightweights last week, both had impressive wins. Can they step up in class and handle the role? I believe one does and I will be on the wagon!
What a game it was between LSU and Oregon State. The 'Tigers' escaped with the win. One has to really feel bad for Alexis Serna, who missed three extra points. For a young lad, going to school, it must be extremely difficult. Hopefully he bounces back and wins a few for the Beavers.
The NFL kicks off this week and it is amazing how much parity there is in the league. Sixteen games on tap and in fourteen games the favorite is 5-points or less. Traditionally the season opens with the "dogs" having the upper edge. Sixteen games and I would predict it will be at least 10-6 "dogs".
Looking ahead to the Big Ten conference openers, September 25th, I see an excellent card:
Purdue (-12½) at Illinois
Michigan State (-7½) at Indiana
Northwestern at Minnesota (-12½)
Iowa at Michigan (-13)
Penn State at Wisconsin (-7)
I've put in parenthesis ( ) what I expect the line to be. I think we have some excellent choices here and I may go with the Big Ten Game of the Year this first week of conference play.
I just had a call in this morning from a guy from New York asking about our service. After explaining our seasonal package, his main concern was being on a call list. He stated that his phone has been bombarded with telemarketing calls. My only advice, refuse to talk to anyone calling you! It's that simple. 90% of them are telemarketers and know very little about handicapping football.
It looks like Boise State is back once again. Its high-powered offense scored 65-points against Idaho. They play this week against Oregon State. The game is scheduled for Friday at 10 pm Eastern time. I think the Beavers will make a game of it.
Another interesting game this week will be Georgia at South Carolina. Over the years I have found it very dangerous to give Coach Lou Holtz points at home. "Gamecocks" will be ready!
That's it for this week!