September 29, 2011
Scanning the weekly odds for a straight-up shocker or two. For entertainment only, of course.
CHRIS BROWN, Smart Football: Arkansas (+3) over Texas A&M.
Take away one horrendous third quarter against Oklahoma State, coupled with the Razorbacks' getting destroyed last week at Alabama, and Texas A&M looks every bit the better team than Arkansas. But I expect the Razorbacks to pull this one off. Nick Saban's blue-chip-studded defense may have been able to shut down Bobby Petrino's offense — and not for the first time — but it's not clear that A&M's Tim DeRuyter, although an excellent coordinator, has quite the same caliber of player to be able to do the same. And A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill has to rebound from a brutal, multiple-interception second half.
I think Arkansas gets out early on the Aggies, and I'm not sure Tannehill and the Aggies can pull off against the Aggies what Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State did to them in the second half in College Station.
MATT HINTON: Northwestern (+8) over Illinois.
Illinois has quietly looked like one of the better teams in the Big Ten (for whatever that's worth this year) during a 4-0 start, including a quality win over Arizona State. Northwestern lost its last game to Army. But the Wildcats are getting All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa back for the first time since he ruptured his Achilles' tendon last November, and… well, we're talking about a Ron Zook-coached team with an opportunity to clearly establish itself as a conference frontrunner — a prime "things fall apart" moment if ever there was one. The Zooker has never been 4-0 before in a decade as a head coach; I wouldn't put money on him getting to five.
Bonus pick! Washington (+8) over Utah. The Husky defense is still nothing to write home about, but sophomore quarterback Keith Price has already thrown for almost as many touchdowns in four games — 14, tied for the national lead — as ballyhooed predecessor Jake Locker did in his entire senior season (17). With Price's sky-high efficiency and Chris Polk churning out yards in the backfield, Washington has a great chance to get to 2-0 in Pac-10/12 play for the first time since 2006.
GRAHAM WATSON: Clemson (+7) over Virginia Tech
Despite back-to-back wins over Florida State and Auburn, Clemson still isn't getting the respect it deserves, and that's evident as the Tigers head into Virginia Tech a touchdown underdog. Sure, Virginia Tech is undefeated, but the Hokies have played uninspiring opponents Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall. This will be Virginia Tech's first real test and the Tigers are a handful.
Clemson hasn't left home, which raises some questions about whether it can continue its winning ways on the road, but quarterback Tajh Boyd is playing as well as any QB in the country: During the past four games, he's passed for 1,255 yards, a new Clemson record over any four-game stretch. He threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns against a Florida State defense that came into the game ranked fifth nationally and had largely handcuffed Oklahoma's high-flying attack the previous week. Everyone has been doubting Clemson this year, I think playing the underdog role heading into Blacksburg will only fuel the Tigers fire.
This week's guest…
TIMOTHY BURKE, Mocksession.com and SportsGrid: Florida (+6) over Alabama
A few blocks away from where I write this, a massive and crooked facility that served host to one of sports' most extraordinary upsets Wednesday night casts a shadow in the morning sun upon me, and makes me ponder what other Sunshine State upsets might take place. Not that Rays-over-Red-Sox has much in common with Gators-over-Tide, but in reality my girlfriend — a lifelong Gainesville resident and two-time Gator alumna — "strongly recommends" I pick Florida.
When a TV reporter asked Will Muschamp if the Gator head coach had a "Jedi Master-Padawan" relationship with Alabama's Nick Saban, she not only left Muschamp befuddled but also mixed up her space movie metaphors. It's more accurate to seek understanding through Star Trek, not Star Wars, as Muschamp has through the first several weeks of the season accomplished a Vulcan-esque mind-melding with his defense. Operating as a unit, for once, they'll offer the Tide the same discipline and preparation Alabama faced three weeks ago against Penn State coupled with SEC SPEED, the likes of which have gotten so ludicrous the physics could only exist in a sci-fi universe.
Will Muschamp has made his name as a personality. This weekend, he makes his name as a football coach.