Hello again everybody...
Mid-week time once again, and while I don't want to put the cart before the horse, it appears there's at least an possibility of me resuming a normal working schedule. I don't want to say too much about it, since there are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place (not all of them pleasant) before that can happen. But I'm hopeful, and that's not something I've been able to say about my job in recent weeks. Suffice to say that when I know something definite, I'll be sure to pass it along to you, my dear readers.
In the interim, I'll be enjoying time away from the office today and tomorrow. And it looks like we're in for more of the same lovely weather we've had lately here in Minnesota. What, exactly, should this be called? It's too late and too cool to really be an “Indian Summer” (a quick Google search seems to indicate that the term doesn't hold any racially insensitive underpinnings... if anyone knows differently, please let me know). So what is this then? An “Indian Fall” perhaps? I'm not sure. Whatever it is, I'm enjoying it.
I'm trying to enjoy the college football season as well. Though, as I've mentioned previously, this season hasn't reached out and grabbed my attention the way other seasons have. Still, what am I going to do? Watch the NBA?! Come on now... it's not that bad!
One last thing before we get down to business. Happy Veterans Day to all that serve our country, and most especially to those who've made the ultimate sacrifice. None of our dithering about subjects as trifling as sports would be possible without their service. Thank you all!
I've got previous picks to break down and new picks to make, so let's get to it!
”Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 - 1930), Scottish physician and writer
Bet you didn't know he was a doctor too, did you? Okay, maybe you did, but I sure didn't before checking his profession.
I bring up this quote for two reasons. First, I couldn't be more excited to see Robert Downey, Jr.'s turn as the famed detective in the eponymously titled film headed our way Christmas Day. And in a way, the quote could refer to Downey directly. Any fan of acting can immediately recognize his immense talent when watching him perform. And while it conjures questions about the time lost to his battles with addiction, I wonder if those battles haven't in some way... informed... educated... enhanced... I'm struggling to find the right verb here... his talent. I guess I wonder if we'd be enjoying his renaissance quite as much if he hadn't gone through those dark times?
Secondly, obviously you all are talented individuals, because you've recognized the genius inherent in The Sports Take and have chosen to be regular readers.
Okay, I almost got through typing that with a straight face. It was close. I almost pulled it off. But hopefully, by now, you know me - or my writing style - well enough to recognize my faux-boastful/self-deprecating sense of humor!
In all seriousness, it's nothing short of shocking to me that in little over a one-and-a-half years, people have enjoyed my writing enough to hit the site over 5100 times. I wish I had better words to express it, but I honestly couldn't be more grateful. That anyone else gets enjoyment out of something I'm so fond of creating, and that some of you enjoy it to the point that you regularly write and point out what you like or think could be better, never ceases to amaze me. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times, thank you!
2009 College Football Picks: Week 10 Post-Mortem
First up, the games I let pass me by...
Minnesota -6.5 vs. Illinois: Final Score - Illinois 35, Minnesota 32
And all is right with the world. I said in the picks column that I thought the Illini had a chance at an upset here, and that turned out to be the case. Obviously I can't pat my back too hard, since I didn't actually make the pick. It's enough for me to know that Minnesota blew yet another exceedingly winnable game. Incidentally, if the Gophers don't get it together this week and beat South Dakota State in what should be a “body bag” game, they're at risk of not gaining bowl eligibility. Their last chance would be at Iowa, and Minnesota's record at Kinnick Stadium is less than impressive. And don't assume that SDSU will be a push-over for the Gophers. Remember all the troubles that Minnesota had with North Dakota State? A lot of those SDSU kids are Minnesota-natives, and for them, this is their Super Bowl. It'll be an interesting game on a lot of levels.
Wisconsin -10.5 at Indiana: Final Score - Wisconsin 31, Indiana 28
Trap successfully avoided! I don't want to step on Friday's DFTU column too much, so I won't go into great detail here. But the game unfolded about how I figured. Indiana's right on the cusp of being a decent football team. But they make too many costly errors to win consistently. Wisconsin didn't play their cleanest game of the year, but they did what they had to do to win. And when you're on the road in the Big Ten, sometimes that has to be enough. Especially with the Maize and Blue monster on the horizon. But more on that Friday...
So I successfully dodged a couple of bullets... but how did I do in the games I actually picked? Let's find out!
Boise State -21.5 at Louisiana Tech: Final Score - Boise St. 45, Louisiana Tech 35
*- This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week
I knew I was screwed on this one as I watched Sportscenter Friday morning and saw Pat Forde talk about how the Broncos traditionally struggle on the road against Tech.
“Traditionally struggle” are not words you want to hear associated with a team that you're laying 21.5 points with. That's not good, not good at all.
As it turned out, I thought I had a shot when Boise took a 27-7 halftime lead. 28 points from Tech in the second half shot that hope all to hell, however.
What Dan Learned: No cover for the Broncos. No Flier Pick goodness for me.
0-0 and hoping this wasn't indicative of how my “lesser undefeateds” theory is going to go.
Iowa -16.5 vs. Northwestern: Final Score - Northwestern 17, Iowa 10
Instead of “What Dan Learned”, I should really have sections here that are titled, “When Dan Knew His Pick Was Screwed”.
In this game, it was right about when Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi came up lame with an apparent ankle injury. Stanzi's not going to win many awards for his quarterbacking, but he's at least been in there and knows how the offense is supposed to work. When you go from him to a red-shirt freshman who is seriously lacking in game reps, the odds of covering a 16.5-point spread decrease dramatically.
So why not put the icing on this craptastic cake by having the dog win outright on me?
What Dan Learned: The “lesser undefeateds” theory isn't dead, but it's on life support. And not just regular life support. I'm talking 6-million Dollar Man-style life support. What? That reference is more dated than William Shatner's hairpiece? Yeah, you're probably right. Let me try this... And not just regular life support. I'm talking “Tony Stark hooked up to a car battery"-style life support. Better? You're absolutely right.
0-1 and starting to wonder if I'm going to backslide again...
TCU -24.5 at San Diego State: Final Score - TCU 55, SDSU 12
Okay, maybe this doesn't vindicate my theory in and of itself. But at least I know I'm not going 0-fer this week. At this point in the season, that's not insignificant.
I'd love to tell you something about this game, but I honestly didn't see a second of it.
So I'll say this... I don't harbor any delusions about TCU actually getting a shot at the title if they run the table (and that will be tested greatly this weekend as they face Utah). But they've looked about as dominant as you could ask a team in a conference that's not one of the Big 6 to look.
Wouldn't it be great if there was some system by which we could see teams like TCU, or Utah last year, or Boise State in years past, take on the big boys and see if over the course of 3 or 4 games they could hang with the traditional powerhouses? Oh, if only there were some magical construct by which that could be accomplished!
What? They do it in every other sport known to mankind?! Surely this must be some form of devilry! My poor brain is befuddled by the complexity!
(Snarky rant, fin.)
What Dan Learned: Extending the previous metaphor further than I really should... this would be the part where Tony builds the mini-Arc Reactor and replaces Yinsen's crude electromagnet/car battery set-up with the uber-techy beginnings of what would become the metaphorical heart of Iron Man. (Yes, I just got done watching the movie for the upteenth time.)
1-1 and hoping to ride this theory to yet another 2-1 week!
Cincinnati -16.5 vs. Connecticut: Final Score - Cincinnati 47, Connecticut 45
Could I get screwed by a second half again? Yes, yes I could.
Cincy jumped out to a 30-10 halftime, which naturally induced me to believe I had achieved another solid cover a'la TCU/SDSU... alas, I was mistaken.
UConn tallied an eye-popping 35 points in the second half to deny me my cover and finally put a stake in the heart of my “lesser undefeateds” theory.
I'd curse them for it, but after the month they've had? I'll leave the Huskies be, thank you.
What Dan Learned: This isn't right?! Iron Man doesn't die at the end?! Okay, so I've stretched that metaphor further than Jerry Jones' facelift. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.
1-2 and disappointed again.
That sinks me even further below the .500-mark and virtually kills any chance I had of bettering last year's record. I'm now 16-18 (.471). Now I'm just trying to avoid having my worst year yet! Can I do it? You just gotta believe folks!
So let's get after it with this week's picks!
2009 College Football Picks: Week 11
First up, some games I looked at but ultimately decided to pass on...
Cincinnati -9 vs. West Virginia (Friday, 7pm): I was tempted to go with the Bearcats at home in prime time. But after they let me down versus Connecticut, I just couldn't do it. The “lesser undefeateds” bit is dead. Long live... um... some other theory!
Wisconsin -9.5 vs. Michigan (11am): I want to jump back on the Bucky Bandwagon. I really do. But they couldn't cover against Indiana (granted, that was on the road, and this game's at home), and I don't care how lousy Michigan has looked of late, they're still Michigan. Again, I like Wisconsin to win here, but I'm just not sure I can give the 9.5.
Stanford +10.5 at USC (2:30pm): Stanford's coming off a big win over Oregon. USC already has two losses and needs help to end up in the Rose Bowl. This sort of sets up for another Cardinal upset. But I think it's a trap. I think the let-down after the Oregon win is inevitable, especially on the road. Plus USC is kind of due for one of those games where they jump up and say, “Hey, we're still USC dammit!” I'm tempted, but I'll pass.
TCU -19.5 vs. Utah (7:30pm): The Horned Frogs have been good to me the past couple of weeks. But as with any team that's blowing people away, eventually they'll run into a line that's too big for the opponent. And I think this might be the one. Utah's no slouch. And even though the game's at TCU, I have a difficult time laying 19.5 to the Utes. That being said, I can't bet against TCU at this point. So again, I pass.
Lots of passes today. Will I regret them? We'll find out next week! For now, it's time to get on to the real (fake) pickin'!
As always, were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on:
Georgia Tech -12.5 at Duke (11am): The Yellow Jackets are 9-1 (6-1 in the ACC). The Blue Devils are 5-4 (3-2 in the ACC).
Had anybody else missed the fact that Tech had run its record to 9-1? I sure had. They've beaten Clemson. They've beaten Florida State. They've beaten Virginia Tech. Sure the Seminoles are schizophrenic this year, but those aren't minor wins!
As a football school, Duke makes a really good basketball school. With 5 wins, I'd compare them to Indiana in a lot of ways. They have just enough talent to be dangerous, but not enough to win consistently.
So why do I like the Jackets on the road here? Simple. The Triple-Option. Yes, my favorite offense in college football, when executed properly against an inferior opponent chews up clock like crazy. I see Tech getting out to a two-touchdown lead early and grinding Duke down over the course of 60 minutes.
I'll give the 12.5 and pull for a 1-loss team this week!
Ohio State -17 vs. Iowa (2:30pm): The Buckeyes are 8-2 (5-1 in the Big Ten). The Hawkeyes are 9-1 (5-1 in the Big Ten).
I know what you're thinking. Iowa screwed me last week, so this week I'm revenge-betting against them.
I'm man enough to admit that perhaps there's a small element of that in this pick. But it's far from the only reason.
Iowa's season, in many ways, went up in smoke last week when their quarterback got hurt. Ricky Stanzi's already been declared out for this game in Columbus, so it's freshman James Vandeburg at the helm for the Hawks come Saturday.
Undefeated season, dead. On the road at perhaps the toughest road-venue in the Big Ten. Freshman quarterback at the helm. I trust I don't have to do the rest of the math for you?
The only hesitation I had in making this pick comes from the chance that the Buckeyes might be looking past this game a touch to the Michigan game next week. But considering the quality of their coach, and the knowledge that beating Iowa allows them to control their own destiny for a Rose Bowl berth, I think they'll be plenty focused on the Hawkeyes.
17 is a lot to give. But after the whipping Ohio State gave Penn State last week, I think they can do it. Sorry, Hammer. I like the Buckeyes this week.
Mississippi State +12.5 vs. Alabama (6pm): The Bulldogs are 4-5 (2-3 in the SEC). The Crimson Tide are 9-0 (6-0 in the SEC).
*- This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week
Really? I'm going to bet against an undefeated team who's in line for a National Championship spot?
I fully expect Alabama to win this game (though if they were going to have a late-season trip-up game, this would be it). But I think it's going to be a lot closer than 12.5 points.
Bama's offense hasn't scored more than 30 in a game since October 3rd when they were at Kentucky. Mississippi State's defense hasn't given up more than 30 since October 10th versus a high-octane Houston offense.
Believe it or not, the Bulldogs have actually won two out of the last three match-ups in this series, including the last time the game was played in Starkville in 2007, when they beat Alabama 17-12. Plus Mississippi State has had two weeks to prepare for this game.
Again, I'm not saying the Bulldogs will win. But I think they'll keep it close. And if the odds-makers are going to give me 12.5 when those conditions apply. I'll take it and thank them very much.
Pittsburgh -7 vs. Notre Dame (7pm): The Panthers are 8-1 (5-0 in the Big East). The Fighting Irish are 6-3 (and too snooty to reside in a conference).
The entire key to this game is how Notre Dame responds to last week's crushing loss to Navy.
On the one hand, they could fold like a cheap suit. On the other, they could get really fired up and run off a big performance against a quality rival.
Me? I'm going with the former. I haven't seen anything from this team to make me believe that they're going to do anything other than pack it in and wait for the announcement of who their next head coach will be. Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd are all eying careers in the NFL, and I don't think they're going to lay it all out for this bunch of stiffs.
That may sound a little harsh, but sometimes in cases like this, that's exactly what happens.
And don't sleep on Pittsburgh. They're no slouch. They also own a 13-point victory over the Navy team that just got done beating the Irish in South Bend.
I think Notre Dame comes out flat here, and Pittsburgh puts the nail in the coffin of Coach Weiss's career with the Irish. I'll give the 7 and hope my dad isn't too annoyed that I'm going against his favorite college football team!
So there you have them. Four more picks for your perusal. Thoughts are always welcomed, either via the comment button below, or via email. Whatever's easiest for you!
That's going to (finally) put a bow on today's column. I'll be back on Friday with some Updating, including a special re-appearance of a team I thought I'd put to bed for 2009. Who is it? Tune in Friday and find out!
Until then, thanks for reading!