September 16, 2010
Perusing the weekly lines in search of a shocker or two – for entertainment purposes only, of course.
The Line: Texas (–3) at Texas Tech.
History says: If the spread on this one looks a little a low for Longhorns-Red Raiders, consider the track record: Mack Brown is only 3-3 in Lubbock, all three losses costing Texas the Big 12 South title, most memorably (and painfully) on its last visit in 2008:
Lubbock is a surreal place, an outpost of a college town dropped in the middle of the West Texas moonscape, where surreal things happen on a regular basis: Oklahoma has lost three straight trips there, and Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have combined to win one of their last fifteen. On top of that, first-year coach Tommy Tuberville was the master of the top-10 ambush at Auburn, as Alabama (2002, 2005), Georgia (2004, 2005), LSU (2002, 2004, 2006) and especially Florida (2001, 2006, 2007) can attest.
I'm feeling lucky. The Raiders are still gunning it in the passing game under new offensive coordinator Neal Brown as hard as they did under Mike Leach, with familiar results against SMU and New Mexico: Quarterback Taylor Potts is averaging 326 with seven touchdown, no interceptions and nine different receivers who have already hauled in multiple receptions. The leaders of that group, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall, hooked up with Potts last year for 15 catches, 169 yards and three touchdowns in a high-scoring loss in Austin.
Reality check. Potts was nearly killed in that game and if Sergio Kindle isn't around anymore to deliver borderline decapitations, some other blue-chip executioner – Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Jackson Jeffcoat – will be. The Longhorn secondary will roll out three All-Big 12-caliber vets, Blake Gideon, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams, who have come a long way from the pups that got posterized here two years ago. And whatever the issues on offense, Tech's perennially sketchy defense has only held a Mack Brown team under 33 points once – a 29-17 Longhorn win in Lubbock in 2000.
Oh, and some significant portion of Texas Tech's student section may be attempting something called a "silent scare," which will amount to a "really quiet" stadium for the Longhorn offense.
Straight-up, against the spread or take the chalk? Whatever the environment, Garrett Gilbert has obviously experienced much worse situations in his young career. But his first two starts were nothing to write home about – just one touchdown pass in potential pheasant shoots against Rice and Wyoming, the most forgiving secondaries he'll see all year – and there's still no reliable, go-to playmaker among any of the running backs or receivers. Lubbock doesn't seem like the place to suddenly find a rhythm, especially when you're trying to keep pace with an opposing offense that seems to have it. With a wider spread, it would be easy to take the Raiders just to keep it close, but at –3, it's worth the risk to take Texas Tech straight-up in the usual shootout.
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Kansas (+5½) over Southern Miss. The Jayhawks seemed to veer back on track last week against Georgia Tech, and Southern Miss was basically run out of South Carolina before halftime two weeks ago. With the over/under at 49, certainly take the over: These two combined for 63 last year in Lawrence and have no reason to slow down.
Maryland (+10) over West Virginia. If the Mountaineers needed a debilitating collapse by Marshall just to take the Herd into overtime, there's no reason to think Maryland can't keep it close with a chance to win late in the usual, inexplicable Maryland way.
Northern Illinois (+7) over Illinois. It's just about that time for a devastating MAC loss to roll the guillotine into place for the Ron Zook era.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.