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College Football Week 1: Rise of the Tech-ola Crap, the Fall of Big Schools #2’s

Around the country, top teams struggled with lesser competition. I’m not even going to count Ohio beating Penn State and Nevada downing Cal in new Memorial Stadium-Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Georgia all struggled on some level to put away lesser, unheralded mid-majors at home. Pitt lost to FCS Youngstown State-by two scores at home, and Maryland barely got by William and Mary. Of course, Duke went out and crushed upstart Florida International, so who knows.

As I reflect on this phenomenon, I’d cite two reasons, beyond the Appalachian State effect. First there’s the super-conference effect: teams in every conference, not just the SEC are playing tougher conference schedules and can only count on so many carries from their stars in early season games (Rex Burkhead not coming back for Nebraska against Southern Miss, for example.) Depth has been depleted not just by scholarship reductions, but transfers. Two, all the mid-majors know they are going to have chances to move up, and need to showcase themselves in these games.

Florida, if you wanted an easier week one opponent, you should have scheduled a Big 10 team. But let’s not scorn Michigan-they took on the challenge of Alabama and there isn’t as much shame in being humbled by the nation’s best program and coach happens. The serious causaulty is that Dennard Robinson got hurt again. And speaking of the ‘Nard Dawg, shouldn’t Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez be even more commended for sliding and getting help with his passing game in light of Robinon’s constant injuries?

Big 10 teams exhausting lead backs in Week 1. Le’Veon Bell, Damon Bullock, and Montee Ball all needed to tote the rock more than thirty times to lead their teams to victory. Meanwhile, Nebraska lost their workhorse back Burkhead and thrived on offense. With all these teams exhausting their running backs with big games still to come, it could be long years in East Lansing, Madison, and Iowa City. Iowa has the most to be concerned about, with their losses at tailback in the off-season. But Michigan State and Wisconsin have new quarterbacks who should help shoulder the load as the season goes on.

The biggest assistant coaching gain and loss may have been on display in the Georgia Dome Saturday night, as Clemson’s defense, now under the leadership of Brent Venables, stopped Auburn’s offense, now minus Gus Malzahn. Nothing made me happier last year than watching Clemson revive their tradition behind a funky offense with Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins; with Venables, they could shoot into the stratosphere.

It’s only one loss, but the slow trot toward exile begins at PSU. The Nittany Lions are going to get every teams best shot, as teams know they are down. And judging by Bill O’Brien’s press conference, he doesn’t have the personality of an elite recruiter. Ouch. With games at Virginia, and home against Temple and Navy, Penn State is going to struggle to get a win in September.

Final point: great to see Erin Andrews hosting on Fox, but seriously, could ABC or Fox have a competitive game to switch to at least?

Betting thoughts on Notre Dame, and two ACC games

Boston College at Notre Dame (-24): This game is simple. Boston College, even though they’re 3-7 is still somewhat overvalued in the public’s mind, given how frequently they go to bowl games. Even though they’ve won a lot the past twenty years, it has been mainly because they’ve been able to recruit good quarterbacks (the Hasselbeck brothers, Matt Ryan, Brian St. Pierre).

This will be BC’s Super Bowl, for sure, but this is the new Notre Dame. Brian Kelly comes from the school of thought that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to run the score up on anyone, as we’ve seen. Yes, there will be 20mph winds in South Bend, but I still think the Irish can lay thirty or more on BC. It’s always smart to bet Notre Dame early because most their line come out a bit under, knowing that they will get Notre Dame money from the people who always bet Notre Dame. Get the 24 while you can.

Virginia at Florida State (-17): When I first saw that the spread in this game was 17, I thought I would instantly play Virginia. From a motivation standpoint, the Cavaliers on the surface should have more to play for in this game. They are a young team who is just now seeing how much better they can be. They came out hungry in a nationally televised game at Miami earlier this year. Florida State, while they are riding a five game win streak, had their goals for the season shattered back in late September and early October with consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest of all teams. Now they are officially out of the ACC title chase, while Virginia would get into the ACC title game by winning its last two game. The Cavaliers would surely be my bet.

But then I dug deeper into the game. Yes, Virginia has improved significantly from the last three non-bowl teams and is motivated to perform well on a big stage (remember, Florida is a huge recruiting state for a team like Virginia). They have stopped rotating players, and have improved greatly since Mike Rocco has taken the majority of snaps at quarterback. They are run based team though, and run based teams usually struggle once they get behind.

But I found that Florida State doesn’t seem to lack a motivational edge in this game. Yes, they may not have met their biggest goals, but they are still hoping for a 10-win season and a good bowl game. This is the Senior Day for a class that underachieved in their first few years, and they want to go out the right way. The most points Florida State has allowed at home this season is 19, a back door cover by rival Miami last week. The second most points they’ve allowed at home were 16 by Maryland, a team with a passing spread offense. Virginia is a run-reliant team who only averages 26 points per game. Florida State averages 34 points a game, so Virginia would like have to score at least 17 to cover.

This feels like a classic dog or pass situation, but if the line drops to -15.5 I’ll take Florida State.

Clemson (-8) at North Carolina State: Like the previous game, I thought for sure I would bet Clemon when I saw the 7.5 which has now gone up to 8. But of course, books give you that line for a reason. They want you think that getting a top-10 as only a touchdown favorite on the road against a team that has four horrible losses (blown out by Cincinnati, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and lost at woeful Boston College) would be an automatic play on the favorite. But there are some caveats here. First, Clemson has reached most of its goals for the year. They are in the ACC Title game, and next week they have their rivalry game with South Carolina, a game they will have to win big if they hope to make a statement for the BCS Title game or an at-large BCS berth. North Carolina State has to win this game and against Maryland next week to become bowl eligible. (2 of their wins are against FCS schools, so only one counts toward bowl eligibility.) Like Iowa State did last night against Oklahoma State, a team on the brink of bowl competition may throw everything and the kitchen sink at the other team. Get a win here, and everyone might just forget about the Tom O’Brien chasing off Russel Wilson. Clemson has done a good job of covering the spread this year, save its last two games. In many instances, even Clemson fans have expected their team to disappoint them, but Clemson has persevered, outside the road loss at Georgia Tech. I’m going to wait until game time to bet this one, hoping to get a few more points on Clemson.

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