Be sure to check back on Sunday to see whether I blew it or knew it and please comment accordingly.
Here are my picks for Saturday, 09/05
Navy @ Ohio State –22.5 O/U 47.5 12:05 ET
Navy returns seven on defense with 4 SR LB’s, including Clint Sovie and Ross Popisil. The Navy secondary is a weakness and with OSU’s increased emphasis on the pass game, expect them to be tested early and often.
Last year was the first year without Paul Johnson as head coach, who implemented the wildly successful triple option, and the points/game dropped from 39.3 to 27.2—and that was with the 3-headed monster of Kaipo-Noa, Shun White and Eric Kettani. They also only returned 4 starters to OFF last year, which hurt the production as well.
This year they also only return 4 and lose the 3 stars who ran the triple option so well last year, so expect the offensive production to drop even more.
The Navy offense does not throw the ball as evidenced by the 61, 95 and 56 yards/game the past 3 years (starting 3 yrs back going forward), but they might attempt more passes this year with their best RB’s gone.
Ohio State has excellent LB’s and a nationally top 5 D-line and runs a base 4-3 DEF, which will match up well to the Navy offense.
Navy typically plays a schedule consisting of the other independents, the Big East and the ACC, so they don’t get much chance to play an Ohio State-caliber team. The closest last year was ND, who had a down year, and had it not been a 14 point surge late in the 4th the 21-27 loss would have been much different.
Navy benefited from +15 in TO margin while OSU was +16. That high TO margin usually signals a downturn of some sort. In 2006, when OSU went down field a lot more, they averaged 34.6 points/game, 2007 was 31.4 and last year was 27.6. Expect an increase in points/game to around 30-34 range.
The OSU DEF has been consistently good allowing points/game of 12.8, 12.8 and 13.9 the past 3 years. Last year, Ohio State was 1-4 ATS as a home favorite and 1-3 vs. non-conference. Navy was 3-2 as an away dog, but 4-6 vs. non-service academies.
Ohio State has a tendency to focus on getting a comfortable lead and then ball-controlling and field-positioning teams to death. Against Navy should be no different, and considering the Bucks have USC to look forward to the following week, they don’t want to risk injury so I expect to see plenty of 2nd and 3rd stringers in throughout the 2nd half.
This might allow the Navy OFF to get a late 4th quarter TD when the game is already out of reach, but it might also affect the ATS cover. WhatIfSports has Ohio State winning 95% of the time by an average score of 33-9.
34-13 Ohio State
Too close for me and if I don’t think the Bucks can cover, I never take the points with any team.
Missouri @ Illinois –6.5 O/U 60.5 3:35 ET
When Chase Daniel took over as QB for Mizzou in ‘06 they put up 30.1 points/game, then 39.9 in ‘07 and 42.2 last year. Chase Daniel also had Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman who combined for 192 receptions, over 2200 yards receiving and 23 TD’s.
Maclin also added 293 yards rushing with 2 scores and was their only kickoff and punt returner for last season. All 3 of these stars are gone and only 5 return to the OFF.
The best OFF weapon is their RB, Derrick Washington, who had 1036 yards with 17 scores. The replacement at QB will be Blaine Gabbert who has 13 career pass attempts. The OFF will attempt to rely on the ground game to set up the pass.
The DEF returns just 4 with their best player being their leading tackler from last year, LB Sean Weatherspoon. The last time Mizzou had just 4 returning to the DEF, their points/game allowed went from 19.5 to 29.2 in ‘05.
Over the past 3 seasons, the DEF has gone from 19.5 to 23.3 to 27.2 points/game allowed last year and I expect it to get even higher this year. Also, several members of the Mizzou coaching staff, including the OC and DC, left the program to move on to bigger and better gigs.
Maybe they believe it’s time to capitalize now why the program is hot—or maybe they know it might just go cold after losing all of their star power.
The Illinois OFF looks scary good with talent at all the skill positions including QB Juice Williams, who led the Big 10 in total OFF last year with nearly 4000 total yards and 324.3 yards/game and is Phil Steele’s Big 10 1st team choice.
Also back are WR Arrelious Benn, who’s being heralded as the next Anquan Boldin, Florida transfer and five star recruit, WR Jarred Fayson, Senior TE Mike Hoomanawanui, and even RB’s Jason Ford and Daniel Dufrene.
Just like Mizzou, Ill’s O-line returns 3 starters, but the Mizzou D-line loses 2 DT’s to the NFL and another DE, so they’ll definitely be less experienced. The Illini DEF returns just 5 and will be led by outstanding athlete and LB Martez Wilson, who is a beast with 4.5 40 speed.
He’ll be relied on heavily as the other 2 LB’s on each side of him are brand new. The secondary returns a lot of experience minus CB Vontae Davis, who left early for the money
Both DEF’s are suspect, but with the lack of proven playmakers on the Mizzou OFF, particularly at QB, the Illini DEF will be loading the box to force them to throw and to stop Mizzou’s best OFF weapon, which is RB Weatherspoon.
The Illini dropped 42 points on Mizzou last year despite losing and was simply outscored by Chase Daniel and the Mizzou OFF. With Juice Williams’ mobility as well as their total package on OFF, and with Mizzou’s weaker DEF and new DC, the Illini will score at will.
The Illini will probably turn the ball over a couple times setting up field position and points for Mizzou and the Illini’s DEF will be just weak enough to give up a few scores as well, but noting like the 52 from last season.
It should still be a high scoring game as Illinois doesn’t tend to slow the game with the run and they have the ability to score quickly putting their DEF out there too soon as well.
The Illini will put up the points, but Mizzou won’t be able to keep up. The Illini DEF will stop Mizzou more so than the other way around. A one TD spread is a joke and will be covered easily.
For the unknowing betting public, this one may look like another high-scoring too-tough-to-call matchup, but the odds makers aren’t dumb. Expect the line to go above 7 points before kickoff to try to sway some money back to the Mizzou side. WhatIfSports has ILL winning 72% of the time by an average score of 34-25.
Take Illinois -6.5
Minnesota –7 @ Syracuse O/U 48 12:05 ET
Syracuse has replaced all 3 major coaching positions: HC Doug Marrone, who was the former OC for the NO Saints the past 3 seasons, OC Rob Spence, who was the OC at Clemson the past 3.5 seasons and DC Scott Shafer, who was Michigan’s DC last year and Stanford’s DC in ‘07.
Minnesota replaces the OC, who is now Jeff Fisch, former WR coach for DEN Broncos, and their DC, whose role will be shared by Wisky DB coach Ronnie Lee and Kevin Cosgrove, also from Wisky, but formerly the DC with Nebraska.
While both teams will have new schemes to adjust to, Minnesota has the advantage of more experienced players on both sides of the ball. MN returns 9 on OFF and 8 on DEF while SYR returns 7 on each side.
MN’s DEF made huge improvements last year posting 24.8 points/game allowed, 384 yards/game of total OFF allowed and 34 sacks after allowing 36.7 points/game, 519 yards/game of total OFF with just 11 sacks in ‘07. The MN OFF production went down as there are moving away from the spread.
The O-line gave up 30 sacks last year, but should be much improved with only 1 LT w/ 8 starts lost. All of the MN skill players return including one of the best QB/WR tandems in the Big 10 of QB Adam Weber (2761 yards, 62.2% completion, 15-8 TD-INT) and WR Eric Decker (84 rec, 1074 yards, 7 TD’s).
MN also has 3 solid RB’s and an increased emphasis on the power run game—something Syracuse has struggled with recently having given up no less than 185 yards/game and 4.3 yards/carry on average of the last 5 seasons.
Syracuse averaged 18.1 points/game, 270 yards/game of total OFF, gave up 29 sacks, allowed 32.7 points/game, 415 yards/game of total OFF and posted just 16 sacks last year. SYR has less experience overall, which is why so many positions were open for competition throughout the offseason.
The O-line has 2 significant losses at G and RT—both 3-yr starters. The QB position is a big question mark as they’ll start former Duke PG, Greg Paulus who hasn’t played football in 4 years but was a HS All-American, so I would expect better production than 122 pass yards/game they averaged last year—that is if the holes at the O-line can be filled.
The RB position is a concern as starter Delone Carter has been injured the past 2 seasons, they lost their 1000+ yards rusher, Curtis Brinkley, and don’t have a lot of experienced depth. The secondary loses/returns 4 of 8 with starting experience, but the LB’s may be thin depth-wise.
The D-line should be the strength of the DEF anchored by DE Jared Kimmel and NT Arthur Jones, but both are questionable for this game as Kimmel had knee surgery and Jones tore a pectoral muscle. Both have participated in fall camp and should start, but may not be up to speed yet.
Minnesota will look to throw the ball with several short passes over the middle with the occasional down field bomb in an effort to establish the run, so their OFF should be well-balanced. Syracuse will look to throw down field much more to keep the MN DEF honest and to open up run lanes for Carter as well as the mobile Paulus.
It remains to be seen what type of passer Paulus will be at this level having no real game experience. I think this game will be closer than I originally thought with more DEF than expected, but the advantage has to go to MN possessing much more experience with better and proven skill players on OFF.
MN was 1-0 as an away fav. 2-2 vs. non-conference and 4-3 SU (4-1 vs. non-conf.) on the road. SYR was 2-2 as a home dog and 1-3 vs. non-conf. last year. WhatIfSports projects MN winning 90% of the time with an average score of 24-11.
Take Minnesota -7
UL Monroe @ TX –41 O/U 62.5 7:00 ET
The TX OFF returns nearly everyone with 9 coming back, the biggest loss perhaps being WR Quan Cosby, who led the team with 92 REC’s, and 1123 yards.
Seven starters return on DEF, however the D-line seems to have taken the biggest hit losing their Big 12 Player of the Year, DE Brian Orakpo, who also won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks awards, as well as their other DE and 2 DT’s.
However, much like OK, TX also brings in a strong recruiting class year after year so, they’ll definitely be able to fill those voids with some talent, inexperienced as it may be.
The middle of the D-line will have 2 300 lb seniors, but the DE spots are in question. Otherwise, the LB unit and secondary should be solid. TX scored 42.4 points/game last year and gave up just 18.8 despite playing in the offensively potent Big 12. Their rush DEF was great allowing just 84 yards/game.
Last year the Warhawks led the nation in starts lost to injury with 54 and still managed to be very competitive in most of their games. Even though the Warhawks went just 4-8, they lost to FL Atlantic by 1, Arkansas by 1, Middle TN St by 3 and even beat Troy by 1.
This year should be a different story as 17 starters return and mostly everybody is back healthy. The leading rusher Frank Goodin returns, but 3-year starting QB Kinsmon Lancaster is gone as well as the top 2 WR’s, which makes for the biggest question mark for the Warhawks this year. The replacement will JR Trey Revell who played sparingly the past 2 seasons.
The O-line should be good—with 4 returning starters—despite the loss of 4-year starter, RT Larry Shappley. The DEF returns 9 and will be solid up front in their 3-3-5 scheme with DE Aaron Morgan and NT Aaron Williams.
The LB unit loses just 1 starter, but the secondary returns in tact. The DEF should be a strength of the team, and they’ll need to be considering the lack of proven skill position players on OFF.
Overall, the experience should go a long way and the DEF should improve. But, unless the pass game develops, RB Frank Goodin won’t have the run lanes, the OFF will be stagnant and will cause the DEF to wear down from being on the field too much.
The OFF factored 23.7 points/game with 153 rushing yards and 185 passing yards/game. The DEF gave up 31.2 points/game and 445 yards/game of total OFF to their opponents.
TX has won 9 straight season openers by an average score of 49-6. TX started the season against a Sun Belt team each of the past 5 years and have won by an average score of 51-7. TX went 9-4 ATS, 5-2 as a home fave and 4-1 vs. non-conference last year.
ULM was 6-5 ATS, 4-3 as an away dog, but 1-3 vs. non-conference. ULM lost in the opener last year to then No. 10 ranked Auburn on the road 0-34. That was the same Auburn that was horrible the rest of the season and had no idea how to score points.
TX will come out jacked up at home looking to make a statement to remind everyone they should have played for a championship last year. The ULM DEF won’t exactly lay down as they do have play makers, but Colt McCoy is just too good as he can get it done any way necessary.
Colt was not only the team’s leading rusher, but he completed a ridiculous 76.7% of his passes, many of which while scrambling. Even if ULM is somehow able to play at mid-season form, Colt will still pick them apart.
ULM might be too one-sided on OFF, relying too much on the run to be effective. ULM will put together one good drive, but will be stalled and have to settle for a FG.
They’ll get a junk-time TD to get to 10, but by that time TX will have covered by a lot. WhatIfSports has TX winning 95% of the time by an average score of 65-5.
Take Texas –42
Other Juicy Matchups I like:
Western Michigan +13 @ Michigan
Michigan is just too disorganized and will start a freshman QB. W. Mich QB Tim Hiller will be very good this year and will keep this game competitive.
Baylor +2.5 @ Wake Forest
Baylor QB Robert Griffin was fantastic as a freshmen last year and should be that much better this year. WF loses most of their DEF, but returns a potent OFF. Baylor will make waves in the Big 12 this year.
Baylor/WF O 54.5
Nevada +14.5 @ ND
Nevada is loaded on OFF, including QB Colin Kaepernick, 1 of only 2 QB's to rush for 1000+ yards and throw for 2000+ yards last year. ND QB Jimmy Clausen will have a breakout season and ND should be vastly improved this year.
Nevada/ND O 61.5
OK State -5.5 vs. Georgia
Should be lots of points, but OK State has the advantage of returning all of their skill players from a season ago. Georgia will be very good this year, but has lost several key players from last year's team.
BYU/OK O 68
One Heisman QB and a Heisman hopeful should set the air on fire. Should be similar to the classic Big 12 shootout's from last year.