As we enter week five of the 2011 NCAA football season, I thought it would be fun to start making some picks each week. We know a bit more about where some of these teams are, although I'm sure we have a few shocks and surprises in store for us. And that could just be this weekend.
Each week we'll put together a rundown of picks against the spread as that can be a little more fun. And considering how lop-sided some of these games can be, picking against the spread adds a bit of a degree of difficulty. Picking Stanford to beat UCLA is one thing. Deciding whether they will cover is a bit more valuable.
Each week we'll pick all the Pac-12 games and then we'll mix in some other intriguing matchups. I happen to be from Las Vegas originally so when my UNLV Rebels are playing I'll throw in a pick there as well. They are on a bye so they won't be on the list today. But we do have a host of interesting matchups around the country featuring some solid ranked opponents. With the help of an unnamed source (I'll take the egg on the face when these are all wrong), we provide a run-down of the Pac-12 slate as well as key matchups around the country (home team in CAPS):
Arizona (+12) over USC: The Wildcats run an offense similar to Arizona State, which spreads Trojan defenders out and forces them to defend in space. I suspect this should give USC trouble on Saturday. Throw in USC's offensive inconsistencies and the Wildcats should at least be able to hang around for the cover.
COLORADO (-3) over Washington State: The Cougars should hit the Pac-12 wall this weekend against a fairly solid Buffs defense. Tyler Hansen should be able to rip apart a pedestrian WSU pass D. The combination of those two and Colorado should be able to cover in victory.
UTAH (-10) over Washington: Washington is riding high after the Cal victory and I think they're likely to get tripped up by the Utes. Everyone's underrating Utah, but they have a very solid defense that's held USC and BYU to almost nothing in their second half performances. Additionally, Keith Price is likely due for a bit of a reality check if the Utes can contain Chris Polk.
Oregon State (+18) over ARIZONA STATE: The Beavers are desperate for a victory. With running back Malcolm Agnew making his return, they could make this game really interesting. Arizona State had a 21-point victory over USC, but it was disguised by colossal turnovers.
STANFORD (-21.5) vs. UCLA: The Cardinal run defense should shut down the Bruins for the second year in a row. By forcing Richard Brehaut to pass a lot, UCLA will into some serious trouble. They do not want to have to win this on Brehaut's arm.
Alabama (-3.5) over FLORIDA: While I would like an Alabama loss to Florida to mix up the national title race early on, I just don't see it happening. The Florida offense could do some great things this season, but the Alabama defense is going to give it too much trouble. The Alabama offense may not blow the doors off with their performance, but it will be more than enough to take advantage of another strong Bama defensive performance.
Nebraska (+9.5) over WISCONSIN: The Badgers have looked quite impressive in non-conference place. Of course when UNLV might be your best non-conference opponent, that's saying something about the level of competition. The Badgers start up conference play and I guess it's just a gut-feeling that I think the Cornhuskers can shake things up at Camp Randall. Maybe they can't win, but I think they can hang with them.
VIRGINIA TECH (-7) over Clemson: The Tigers are coming off back-to-back significant home wins over ranked Auburn and ranked Florida State that resulted in students rushing the field. There are plenty of analytical reasons to pick Virginia Tech (stout defense, strong home crowd) but I'm going with the Tigers simply running out of gas after such a huge two weeks. Of course, they say to stick with the streak and they've got a modest little streak of upsets going. We'll see what prevails on Saturday.
ARKANSAS (+2.5) over Texas A&M: The Aggies had a brutal choke performance at home while the Razorbacks were manhandled by Alabama. One of these two teams will bounce back with a win. I suppose I just think A&M will have a hangover from that game that'll cost them against Arkansas.