We're just about halfway through the College Football season, and I can proudly say that I was half right in my prediction for the campaign.
I believed we would see a season much like 2007, when no juggernauts existed and every week was a carousel of highly ranked programs going down in flames to inferior opponents.
Well, at least I was close. There is a good amount of parity in 2010, but the difference between this year and 2007 is that as we stand today, up to seven teams can be considered elite. Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Boise State, Nebraska, and perhaps TCU as well as Oklahoma have provided plenty of evidence that each could run through the season unscathed with their play on the field.
I believe this is the case for two reasons. First, it is clear that the top seven are coached by seven of the top 10 coaches in the country (Harbaugh, Meyer, and Brian Kelly being the others).
Maybe Bob Stoops hasn't won a big game in a while (same goes for the Sweater Vest), but when it comes down to the final minutes of a close game, I trust these coaches to prepare their players to come out on top (see, Alabama at Arkansas). For the record, Les Miles comes in 120th on this list.
The other important factor to consider is that in 2010, parity is alive and well in the level underneath the elite group. There seems to be a clear distinction between the first group and the second (Nebraska to Auburn, seventh and eighth in the AP Poll, seems like a natural separating point, right?), so that as we enter the second week of October, it becomes easier to pick some of the games.
The rule for the rest of the 2010 college football season will be, until proven otherwise, that one should ride these top seven teams unless under unique circumstances (see below) until each proves to be unworthy of such consideration.
Consider: the Elite Seven as I will now call them are a combined 22-10 against the spread this season. If you exclude TCU and Oklahoma, the two fringe elites, the top five are a combined 19-4.
I suppose better names for the top teams this year are the Elite Seven and the Transcendent Five (because they transcend the betting lines...no, not funny? Oh well. Good effort.).
With this information in hand and almost half a season behind us, it's time to make some moves. Picks in bold.
Nebraska (-11) at Kansas State. This was too easy last night, and Taylor Martinez looked as if he were playing in a high school game. It makes me laugh that, after how much my Nebraska fan friend loathed the sight of Zach Lee and cursed his name all of last year, Cornhusker fans are able to enjoy watching him from the bench as a third stringer now.
Connecticut (-5) at Rutgers. Let's see. Rutgers lost their Homecoming game to Tulane last week. They also have struggled to beat such titans as Norfolk State and Florida International. Finally, the only Rutgers fan I know described them thusly: "They suck." Well then. Greg Schiano, how's that Miami job looking now?
Michigan State (+4.5) at Denard Robinson. This is a huge game for both schools, even leaving out the instate rivalry. Although the Wolverines are at home, the Michigan defense is bad enough that I don't feel they deserve to be mentioned in the title of the school. A well balanced team will knock UM off the list of the unbeatens, but Robinson will continue his march to the Heisman. Unless he gets hurt again.
By the way, there are decent odds on MSU with the moneyline (+165 most places), so that's probably the way to go if you like Sparty.
Alabama at South Carolina (+7.5). I'm glad I wrote an article specifically telling everyone to ride the Tide until they show me any reason to do otherwise, only to pick against them that exact week. I really like South Carolina to cover in a game very similar to Alabama vs. Arkansas. The Gamecocks will have a chance to win, but Saban's boys will scrape by in the end. Although, not by more than a touchdown.
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (-6). I think we're on our way to a 6-3 Notre Dame team squaring off against an 8-1 or 9-0 Utah team in South Bend in November. If it comes to fruition, that game will have major bowl implications and may be one of the surprisingly better match ups of the season.
Not surprising to me, of course, since I've been trying to get tickets since August, but I digress. Oh, and since I should probably say something about this particular game, I think Pitt's quarterback stinks enough that ND can shut down the running game, a la last week against Boston College.
Texas A&M at Arkansas (-6). This is actually a neutral site game being played in Dallas. Mallett missed his chance to win the Heisman and vault his team into the National Championship picture against Alabama, but I believe the Razorbacks are right at the top of the second level of the rankings. In terms of recreational gambling, I think this game is a stay away. I just kind of felt like making a pick. So there.
Oregon (-36.5) at Washington State. This spread could be 55 and I'd probably pick the Ducks. Poor Washington State; this is their Homecoming game. Remember when this program used to be solid and the Apple Cup meant something?
Utah (-6) at Iowa State. Well, if I think Utah is going to be 8-1 or 9-0 heading into South Bend in November, I suppose I have them winning in Ames.
Oregon State (+8) at Arizona. The Beavers are a very good football team, and they will prove it in Tucson on Saturday night. If you're feeling bold (perhaps you have a Guinness in hand), take the moneyline. If you get drunk off that Guinness, parlay the Michigan State moneyline with this one and enjoy the evening.
The Civil War for the third straight year is going to decide the Rose Bowl berth, except this year the Beavers will be playing to knock the Ducks out of the National Championship game. By the way, the Pac-10 is the best conference in college football this year.
Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, and Arizona are all first and second tier teams, while USC, Arizona State, Washington, Cal, and UCLA are right behind. Only Washington State stinks in that whole conference. These games are the ones to watch as we go forward.
LSU at Florida. I don't want to pick either of these teams, so I won't. I just want to give room to anyone who would like to make fun of Les Miles. I can't decide whether Michigan fans are now happy with Rich-Rod because the Wolverines are winning, or because they know they could have had Les Miles. Goodness knows they're still praying for Harbaugh to move back east.
USC at Stanford (-9.5). Speaking of Jim Harbaugh, this game shapes up as a dominant Stanford performance for two reasons. The Cardinal are a very good, angry team that simply ran into a buzz saw against Oregon last week. That game was much closer than 52-31.
I'm inclined to think they come back quite strong, especially against a USC team that Harbaugh takes particular pleasure in destroying. USC's season has been driving toward a cliff since the opening week against Hawai'i. Last week, the front tires started leaning out over the ledge. This week, Stanford gives them the push that sends the Trojans into free fall.
Season to date: 8-8