Stanford (-7.5) headlines top plays for Halloween weekend
Welcome to this season's third "weekend prediction" slideshow, with each of the first two slideshows bringing home the bacon.
This week's feature prediction comes out of Pasadena, with additional commentary for Thursday night across the country in Miami, along with a big NFL underdog.
College football just got a lot more interesting with Oklahoma's loss to Texas Tech, which opens the door for teams like Oklahoma State, Boise and especially Stanford.
With Boise idle until next weekend at UNLV and Oklahoma State having the pressure of Oklahoma looming on the schedule, Stanford is the team that needs to win, especially to keep pace with the dynamic offense of Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State.
With 41 prediction articles in the books over the last 13 months and a record of 28-12 with one tie, I'll put these three selections to the test and look to cash in on two of them.
Read on for the reasons why, starting with the "Luck-y" pick...
Andrew Luck came back to school for one reason: to win a championship
Sometimes the best things in life aren't things.
Sometimes it's a feeling.
It's not always money. Lots of people have money.
Far less have millions of dollars.
But only a handful have a national championship to their name.
For Andrew Luck, it's that motivation to do what only one man can do in a given year, and it's far more valuable than a multi-million dollar contract.
Sometimes the best things in life really are free.
This one takes hard work.
And with Oklahoma's loss to Texas Tech, a game at USC is just one of two, or maybe three road blocks left for Andrew Luck to achieve that goal.
It's the goal that made him decide to forgo the NFL draft, risking injury and passing up the early chance at a big paycheck to come back to Stanford for one more season.
It would have been easy to take the money, but he wanted something priceless.
Had Oklahoma remained undefeated along with Oklahoma State, the winner of that game likely would have ended up playing the winner of Alabama/LSU.
But now it's probably Stanford who controls their own destiny, knowing Boise State, Kansas State and Clemson won't pass them in the BCS standings provided the Cardinal win their remaining games.
Andrew Luck will win the vote.
The star quarterback, who can zip a 35 yard out pass between the numbers with ease, is a shoe-in to be the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
He is so highly regarded, even Colts owner Jim Irsay admitted on October 10th what I predicted in my October 8th article NFL Prediction Against Spread: Chiefs (+2) at Colts Could Be the "Luck-Y" Choice that detailed some interesting information from 2009 and this season that many people may have overlooked.
"Guys like that come along so rarely," said Jim Irsay in the NFL's annual fall meeting in Houston. "Even if that means that guy sits for three or four years, you'd certainly think about taking him."
Irsay said his team would consider drafting Andrew Luck if they had the chance.
Consider? How about: It's a done deal!
That is, as long as the Dolphins don't "beat" them to it, or should I say, "lose" them to it.
USC is coming off a nice win over Notre Dame, taking control early and capitalizing on a key play in the third quarter. With Notre Dame threatening to tie the score at 17, Dane Crist, who temporarily replaced Tommy Rees who was nursing an injured leg, fumbled the ball at the USC one yard line.
Instead of a 17-17 game, it became a 24-10 lead when Trojans defender Jawanza Starling scooped up the fumble and returned it 80 yards to the end zone.
But USC is still a very young team, and they were (+6) in turnover margin in their last two wins. They had a relatively easy schedule this season, with the only loss to the best team they played (Arizona State).
USC has the players to compete, but Stanford has the motivation to win.
Sam Bradford by passed the NFL draft and came back to Oklahoma for his senior season to get to the national championship, and he did it with one loss.
Stanford must likely go undefeated.
With that in mind, look to the Cardinal to take no chances, and continue their "luck-y" streak of double digit wins, running their consecutive ATS winning streak to 11 games as odds makers seemingly forgot to take that into consideration for this game.
Last season the Trojans had a bye week to prepare for Oregon's high potent offense, and had their scout team simulate the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that Oregon employed.
It didn't work.
As a seven point home underdog, the Trojans gave up 52 points and lost the game by three touchdowns.
It's anybody's guess as to what idea Lane Kiffin has to stop a Stanford team that is perfect in the red zone and allowed just two sacks all season.
I have an idea:
Take Stanford to cover 7.5 points
Virginia coach Mike London has a better QB plan for Miami
Head coach Mike London did a decent job in his first year at Virginia last season as the team at least improved statistically from 2009, but he's been screwing up this season and finally realized it.
Trying to do what Texas is doing with Case McCoy and David Ash, London was rotating quarterbacks in, with Mike Rocco starting and a freshman stepping in after a few series.
Problem is, just when Rocco was finding his rhythm and taking Virginia on scoring drives, he'd get pulled.
Then when he went back in, like in the North Carolina State game, he went zero for his next 10 attempts.
That's something you might be able to pull off on a play-by-play basis, like when LSU puts Jordan Jefferson in for a play to make a running attempt, but it's foolish to pull a hot starter just in order to get the freshman some playing time. It was probably the main reason the Cavaliers lost by 14 points at home in the last game.
Several key passes from Rocco were also dropped.
So a change is planned for this game.
Jake Harris was not good in the win over Georgia Tech. He completed just eight of his 23 pass attempts but it was Miami's defense that was the deciding factor. Impressively, they held Tech to just 211 yards of offense and scored a TD on a fumble recovery in the end zone.
But Virginia defeated Georgia Tech too, and its defense is better than Miami's on paper by 64 yards. Actually, its offense is statistically better as well, averaging 40 yards per game more than Miami's.
Why is Al Golden's team a 13.5- or 14-point favorite?
This is the third consecutive time the Cavaliers are a 14-point underdog against Miami, with the Hurricanes owning a blowout in 2009.
Last season, Virginia won outright in Charlottesville.
If there's one thing that's been a model of consistency about this Virginia program in the last 10 years, it's bouncing back from a bad loss as it has suffered consecutive 14-point blowouts just once in the last 124 games.
Coming off the 14-point loss to North Carolina State, take the points in a game that oddsmakers really could have had in the high single digits instead.
Take Virginia to cover 14 points
The Saints are a 13 point favorite at St Louis, but failed to cover 14 points there in 2009
Much like last week in the NFL, the Saints are once again featured in the (seemingly) mismatch game of the day after a blowout of a Colts team that was set up to lose games this season.
This week's recipient is the Rams on the receiving end of upwards of 13 points for the underdog.
It looks like a mismatch on paper, and it is, but per oddsmaker probability, all systems point to the Rams on this one.
It's the third consecutive game the Rams are a 13- to 14-point underdog, and they failed to cover the first two.
That doesn't necessarily mean they can't cover the big number, but rather, it's the third time that is usually the charm—especially when it's three of the same things in a row.
For an illustration of this, look no further than these very St. Louis Rams.
In 2009 the Rams were the worst team in the league and went 1-15. After getting blown out by Minnesota as a 10-point home underdog, they got blown out again by Indianapolis as a 14-point underdog.
Two games later, with a record of 1-7, they found themselves a 14-point underdog once again.
Ironically, it was against the New Orleans Saints.
The result was just a five-point loss.
The moral of the story: If you sat back and watched the Rams get blown out as 10- and 14-point underdogs, that's great, but jump on for the ride in that third time.
Later that season, the Rams were coming off a 40-point blowout at Tennessee as a 14-point underdog and surprised fans once again the very next week when they lost by just three points to Houston as a 14-point underdog with little known Keith Null, who didn't even attend a Division I college, starting at quarterback.
It's not a great idea to simply count on bad teams to cover big spreads consistently (unless you're talking about the 2009 Detroit Lions, who went 0-16 but covered seven of eight games as a double digit underdog). But if you sit back and wait, and watch any team get blown out twice in a row as a 14-point underdog, and they are a 14-point underdog for a third time, take them then.
And let's not forget it was these Saints who lost outright last season at Arizona with Max Hall making his first start as a rookie for the Cardinals.
Anything can happen.
So if you sat back and watched the Rams fail to cover 14 points at Green Bay and 13.5 points at Dallas, step in for that third chance, and try it here.
The Rams are the worst offensive team in the league and are averaging less than 10 points a game.
The question is: Having scored no more than one touchdown in each of their first six games, will the trend continue, or are the Rams due for some scoring?
The Rams have been able to move the ball at times, but penalties and dropped passes have crippled the offense. With the addition of veteran Brandon Lloyd, who led the team in receiving yards at Dallas, there's only one way to go, and that's up.
Unlike the Colts, at least the Rams are taking steps to improve the offense with acquisitions.
Teams coming off 28-plus-point losses are a winning proposition against the spread in the NFL as an underdog in the following week, especially when the next game has them as a double digit home underdog.
Minnesota is a perfect example of this last weekend, and the Vikings achieved it with a rookie quarterback making his first start against the best team in the league.
The Saints are coming off a 62-7 win, but last season they defeated Tampa Bay 31-6, then lost by 13 points at home to Cleveland as a 12.5-point favorite.
There's no question they are a superior team to the Rams, but also consider New Orleans failed to win on the road, by as many points as it is favored by here, against a pair of rookie quarterbacks (at Carolina and Jacksonville).
Sam Bradford is doubtful for this game, but whoever starts at quarterback for the Rams will be inferior to Drew Brees.
Still, look for St. Louis to stay within the big number, as that third time could be the charm.
Take St. Louis to cover 13.5 points
Follow Mark all season at www.TheFallMiracle.com