College football week 9: Tailgater picks of the week

The chit-chat this week revolves, primarily, around who should be numbers two through five behind Alabama.  It’s sort of moot at this point seeing as how such granularity means nothing in week 9.  But arguing about college football is almost as much as watching college football.  Also reported this week was Tyrann Mathieu’s drug bust, but anyone who didn’t know Honey Badger was smoking dope is a dope.

Week 8 was strong for us, and after nearly two full months we’re all square with Vegas:

Zach Bigalke: 35-33-1 (6-3)
John Mitchell: 35-33-1 (7-2)
Matt Strobl: 34-34-1 (6-3)


Week 9 Picks

This week features a potential knockout blow for either Notre Dame or Oklahoma; the one-loss Sooners probably can’t weather two defeats with the way Kansas State and Texas Tech are playing.  Notre Dame might be able to handle one stumble, but there’s no guarantee.

We also have a battle of the unbeatens in the SEC West, but…sigh…one of them is Mississippi State.  Alabama is favored by more than three touchdowns.

Here’s what the Tailgater crew is predicting. Rankings are according to the AP Top 25 poll. All times are eastern. All picks are against the spread as defined by Yahoo! Sports’ final lines.

Saturday, 3:30pm. Tallahassee, FL
Duke Blue Devils @ Florida State Seminoles

Strobl: At the beginning of the year, this line might have made sense.  But anyone who has watched college football over the past few weeks has to be scratching his or her head wondering what the deal is here.  Florida State hasn’t looked good in some time, with the exception of a win over Boston College.  The ‘Noles are undoubtedly the better team and are likely to win, especially at home.  But assuming a four-touchdown difference just seems excessive. PICK: Duke

Mitchell: Despite the fact that they beat a very solid North Carolina team to get bowl eligible in October, the Blue Devils still aren’t getting any respect. This isn’t the same Duke teams we have seen in recent years as David Cutcliffe has done a masterful job resurrecting the program and getting them bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. I don’t really think Duke has much of a chance in this game because Florida State just has way more talent on both sides of the ball. I do think they can keep the game within four touchdowns though.  PICK: Duke

Bigalke: What a run David Cutcliffe’s crew has been on so far this season. Leading the ACC Coastal Division, bowl-eligible for the first time in a generation, Duke football is on a hot streak for the ages. What does that mean as they travel to Tallahassee? Well… everyone is still sold on the Seminoles far more than I am; their offensive AND defensive numbers have been built up against the 96th-strongest schedule (according to Sagarin), skewed by two season-opening games against mediocre FCS competition. The advantage for Duke here is that they don’t have to win this game for you to win; they merely have to keep this one within four touchdowns. And only Stanford has managed to score four or more touchdowns on the Blue Devils this season.  PICK: Duke

Saturday, 3:30pm. Manhattan, KS
Texas Tech Red Raiders @ Kansas State Wildcats

Strobl: I like Kansas State to win this- I’ll make that point up front.  But that little half-point has gotten into my head.  I remember a game two weeks ago in Ames that featured KSU giving 6.5 but saw the Cyclones cover.  I also rememebr Texas Tech from week [INSERT WEEK HERE] in which they played [INSERT TEAM HERE] extremely well.  Ok, the Oklahoma loss is an obvious exception, but aside from that misstep, the Raiders have been in close games or delivering blowouts of the own.  Kansas State is the best team TTU has face, so it comes down to this:  Do these big offenses simply swap scores all day, or does one defense or the other find a way to earn a couple of stops, and thereby some scoreboard separation?  I’m betting the former. PICK: Texas Tech

Mitchell: It’s time you start believing in the Red Raiders. Speaking of masterful coaching jobs, how about the job Tommy Tuberville has done in Lubbock? He has changed the culture and has Texas Tech focusing on defense more than ever before. It is working as Tech is off to a 6-1 start with their only loss coming to Oklahoma. If this game were being played in Lubbock rather than Manhatten, I’d be tempted to take Tech straight up. But, Collin Klein and company will be a bit too much for Seth Doege and the Red Raiders to overcome. K-State wins a close one. PICK: Texas Tech

Bigalke: It sure feels like a trap, doesn’t it? Kansas State could have a direct path ahead of them to the BCS Championship Game, but first looms a visit from the giant-killing Red Raiders. The thing going against Texas Tech is that the Wildcats actually know how to play defense — while the Raiders allow fewer yards per game, Kansas State allows 5.4 fewer points per game. And remember, kiddies, it’s points and not yards that win games (see: Florida last week). Tommy Tuberville will have a solid game plan for this one, but Bill Snyder has a crew that is both talented and disciplined and that knows everything available to it if it continues to take care of business for the next six weeks.  PICK: Kansas State

Saturday, 3:30pm. Stillwater, OK
TCU Horned Frogs 
@ Oklahoma State Cowboys(-7.5)

Strobl: This scenario looks familiar.  Just like the TTU-KSU matchup, this game features two stout offenses and a road team with a strong defense.  We’ve got the same line here, and I’m inclined to make the same argument.  TCU is good enough to keep this close, and even if the Frogs falter on the road, I expect a battle. PICK: TCU

Mitchell: Oklahoma State looked strong last week against Iowa State, but TCU is getting better every week with Trevone Boykin under center. People forget how great of a coach Gary Patterson is, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Horned Frogs win this game straight up. In any case, I expect them to keep it within a touchdown against an inconsistent Oklahoma State team. PICK: TCU

Bigalke: This isn’t the 2011 vintage of Oklahoma State, let’s make that perfectly clear right away. Yet the Pokes still sit atop the total offensive output rankings, and are fourth nationally in scoring offense. This provides another good test of the Horned Frogs in their inaugural Big XII season. Gary Patterson’s crew lost a heartbreaker last weekend, while the Cowboys beat an Iowa State team that dealt TCU one of its two losses so far. Are these teams trending in different directions? I have a feeling Patterson has something up his sleeve schematically to contain Joseph Randle and the dual-threat ability of sophomore QB J.W. Walsh. This one feels like it ought to be a lot closer…  PICK: TCU

Saturday, 3:30pm. Jacksonville, FL
Florida Gators 
@ Georgia Bulldogs (+6.5)

Strobl: The @ here is just for show; with a fairly neutral site in Jacksonville, neither team will enjoy the intimidating atmosphere of its home turf.  Evening things out in that regard certainly doesn’t put these squads on equal footing, however.  Florida has proven, week by week, that it can not only be a dominant team, but that it can and will beat opponents in a variety of ways.  Georgia, which struggled to beat Kentucky in Lexington, is likely to be overwhelmed by a stifling Gator defense. PICK: Florida

Mitchell: Blame it on looking ahead all you want, but Georgia looked downright terrible last week as they squeaked one out against SEC bottom-feeder Kentucky. Frankly, Georgia has looked ordinary all season long, a far cry from the East champions of 2011. Florida, on the other hand, has looked as good as anybody in the country in 2012 and can wrap up the SEC East with a victory in the World’s Greatest Outdoor (NAME REDACTED). The Gators have owned the Bulldogs for quite some time, and last year’s Georgia victory seems like ages ago. Driskel and the Gators clinch the East title in Jacksonville. PICK: Florida

Bigalke: It’s time once again for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, folks, as Georgia hopes to derail the Gator train that’s been rumbling through the SEC and restore itself atop the SEC East hierarchy. The Bulldogs have a well-balanced offense; the Gators are a run-first, run-second, and run-third type of team. Will Muschamp’s crew more closely follows the SEC blueprint for championship success, fielding a top-five defense that has allowed 20 points only once this season. Georgia, on the other hand, has held opponents under 20 points just once this season… and that was against Vanderbilt. As much fun as it would be to see an upset throw a wrench in the standings, Florida has the recipe for success to win by at least a touchdown.  PICK: Florida

Saturday, 5:30pm. State College, PA
Ohio State Buckeyes
@ Penn State Nittany Lions (push)

Strobl: Vegas has washed its hands of this matchup, either because the game is too close to call or because the schools’ unsavory pasts are too unpleasant (I’m guessing it’s the first one).  Ohio State is boasting a perfect record, but good grief…has any 8-0 team ever been closer to multiple losses?  With the way OSU has been playing, and with Penn State’s five-game winning streak, it’s not hard to see why the betting line is stuck on 0.  Unless the Buckeyes figure out a way to resume playing defense, PSU could earn its sixth straight in front of what would be a very appreciative home crowd. PICK: Penn State

Mitchell: A lot of people were surprised to see this game as a pick em this week. The undefeated Buckeyes have been bet hard all week by those people. Those people haven’t watched the Nittany Lions play over the last five weeks. Bill O’Brien has done a masterful job after the 0-2 start by leading them to five straight victories and a 3-0 start in Big Ten play. Ohio State has been living dangerously this year with close wins over California, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue. I think it catches up with them this week with Braxton Miller almost certainly less than 100%. PICK: Penn State

Bigalke: Look, Penn State has had a hell of a redemption story this season. In the wake of some truly crippling sanctions, the Nittany Lions have responded under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien and are playing inspired football after an 0-2 start. But it feels like they’ve reached 5-2 largely thanks to a back-loaded schedule. Ohio State comes to Happy Valley neither spotting nor taking points, despite a 7-0 record, despite a Heisman dark-horse in Braxton Miller (who is healthy after last week’s early exit against Purdue and should start for the Buckeyes). What Vegas sees in Penn State that I’m not seeing, I can’t say… but this feels almost like an insult to Urban Meyer’s team, and you can bet he’ll use that chalkboard material to his advantage.  PICK: Ohio State

Saturday, 8:00pm. Lincoln, NE
Michigan Wolverines
 @ Nebraska Cornhuskers (-2.5)

Strobl: Believe it or not, Michigan is still undefeated in Big Ten play.  It’s easy to forget that, after two tough losses against Alabama and Notre Dame sandwiched a pair of non-conference wins, the Wolverines reeled off three straight league wins.  Those include last week’s triumph over Michigan State, and make Michigan the only eligible Big Ten team left that is prefect in-conference.  All that being said, the Wolverines still look beatable.  They barely excaped the Spartans, and I’m unable to block out that game against Air Force in week 2.  Nebraska has been equally shaky, if not moreso, making the venue a potentially deciding factor.  This could go either way, but I’m leaning Red. PICK: Nebraska

Mitchell: This is a tough pick with the game being played in Lincoln, but the Wolverines have looked like the class of the (eligible) Big Ten this year. Nebraska has looked solid, but they haven’t fared well defensively against dual threat quarterbacks, and Denard Robinson is a tough matchup for anyone. I keep looking back at the way Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes eviscerated the Huskers defense and that causes me to lean toward the Wolverines. Plus, Michigan’s defense has been playing at a very high level lately. PICK: Michigan

Bigalke:Good but not great Big Ten teams meet in a divisional showdown in Lincoln. It’s another showdown between Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson, quarterbacks that seemed capable of revolutionizing the position when they first took the reins at their respective schools but now just seem like electric-but-flawed talents plodding through one cold-weather outpost after another on Saturdays. The Wolverines have survived thanks to their defense, while the Cornhuskers have resorted to trying to outscore opponents. Nebraska gives less than three on home turf — three is usually the base for home-field advantage — which shows just how little confidence Vegas has in the Huskers. You probably should temper your confidence as well…  PICK: Michigan

Saturday, 8:00pm. Norman, OK
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ Oklahoma Sooners (-11)

Strobl: I hate this line.  I think that Oklahoma will win, and I think it will be by double digits.  But pulling the trigger on anything bigger than ten is difficult.  If the Irish play like they’ve been playing in recent weeks, the Sooners could win by 30.  On the other hand, the ND defense could rise up and keep this game within a single score.  Regardless of how the spread goes, I expect OU to emerge with the win and the Irish to suffer their first loss of the year. PICK: Oklahoma

Mitchell: Some Vegas doesn’t seem to respect the Fighting Irish as they list them as 11 point underdogs to the one loss Sooners in Norman. Notre Dame’s defense is one of the best in the country, but their offense is way too inconsistent for me to think they can go on the road and knock off a team as good as Oklahoma. After losing to Kansas State, the Sooners have looked as good as anybody in the country as they have cruised to victories over Texas Tech, Texas, and Kansas. Oklahoma is the more complete team, and I think they take care of Notre Dame by two touchdowns. PICK: Oklahoma

Bigalke: The undefeated team in this scenario is going on the road as a double-digit underdog to face a one-loss team that has reinserted itself into the national title discussion. One of these teams is going to be regarded as a preeminent contender after this contest. Sure, Notre Dame doesn’t have an offense anyone wants to talk about… but then, their defense has been more than up to the task of saving their season from blemishes. Oklahoma has made a mockery of Texas and Kansas the past two weeks, but we also saw what an elite defense can do to Landry Jones and the Sooners’ offense when K-State shut them down. Will Notre Dame win? I can’t say… but I can say with confidence that the Irish defense will keep this one in reach all day long.  PICK: Notre Dame

Saturday, 7:00pm. Tuscaloosa, AL
Mississippi State Bulldogs @ Alabama Crimson Tide (-24)

Strobl: I made the mistake of picking Tennessee to cover against ‘Bama last week and got burned for it.  Should I learn from it?  Perhaps, but while I fully expect the Tide to stay undefeated, it wouldn’t surprise me to see this game finish within three touchdowns.  This might be the biggest spread I’ve ever seen featuring two unbeaten teams from the same conference this deep into the season. PICK: Mississippi State

Mitchell: Don’t get me wrong, I think Alabama is the far superior team in this matchup, but 24 points is a ton when we are talking about two teams that are undefeated entering the final weekend of October. Mississippi State is a little overrated thanks to a ridiculously easy schedule, but you do’t get to 7-0 by accident. The Bulldogs have earned their way to where they are. That being said, I think Alabama wins by a comfortable margin on Saturday night, but 24 points seems a bit too high to me. PICK: Mississippi State

Bigalke: Undefeated SEC West foes square off in Tuscaloosa for pole position in the division race… and the defending champions are spotting three touchdowns (complete with two-point conversions) to the visitors. Everyone is quick to jump on the lackadaisical schedule Mississippi State has played so far, but the Tide haven’t exactly rolled back endless waves of powerhouses themselves. This will be a great litmus test for a balanced, efficient Alabama offense as they take on a defense allowing just more than two touchdowns a game. Can the Bulldogs spring the upset? It’s unlikely, that’s for sure, but we still have a lot to learn about both of these teams. Knowing how they’ve looked defensively so far, here’s guessing Dan Mullen’s crew finds ways to keep it within 20 points.  PICK: Mississippi State


Picks of the Week: Our Favorite Point Spreads

Strobl: Western Kentucky (-7) over FIU
On October 6th of 2011, Western Kentucky started a five game win streak.  Since that point, the Hilltoppers have three losses in 15 games: one to LSU, one to Alabama, and an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe that featured a gutsy two-point conversion (for the win) by the Warhawks.  Point being, WKU is legitimately good.  FIU?  Not.  At 1-7, the Golden Panthers aren’t quite the pleasant surprise they were last year.  Mario Cristobal’s 8-4 season is a faded memory and his stock may have reached its peak last year.  Either way, I like the Hilltoppers to take this by a full TD or more.
Mitchell: Texas A&M (-15) over Auburn
I hate to kick Auburn when they are down ….nevermind I love it actually. Auburn is awful. Awful. They are a halftime hail mary against Louisiana Monroe from 0-7. They aren’t going to win an SEC game this year and at best they will finish the regular season at 3-9. They aren’t good on either side of the football, and I suspect Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s hotshot freshman quarterback, has been licking his chops to get a go at Auburn’s defense. Manziel should have his way against the Tigers defense, and I don’t see Auburn’s offense doing much against an underrated Texas A&M defense..
Bigalke:  USC (-6.5) over Arizona
The Trojans played a team last week that allows over 40 points and nearly 500 yards a game. This week they face a team that allows only 30 points and 465 yards. Let’s face it… the only way USC does not beat Arizona by more than a touchdown is if they’re looking too far ahead to next weekend’s clash with Oregon in the Coliseum. The Trojans have won by double digits in all six of their victories so far, and a trip to Tucson shouldn’t faze Lane Kiffin’s crew. The defense gets a chance to prepare for the Ducks against a Duck-like offense, and should be able to maintain top-20 defensive status with ease. Vegas must really like Rich Rodriguez or winning against Oklahoma State or something…
Join us in the coming weeks as Tailgater continues to present its weekly picks and previews along with reactions to the best and worst of what college football has to offer.