NCF Nation: Week 4 picks 2009

Big 12 predictions

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I had my best week of the season last week by picking nine out of 11 games correctly, but assuredly I can do better. Hopefully this week's picks will continue my hot streak.

Missouri 38, Nevada 24: The Wolf Pack likely will stack the box and dare Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert to beat them by throwing the ball without much benefit of a running game. If the Tigers can do a good job of containing Nevada defensive ends Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, they should be able to dominate the offensive part of the game. Nevada has lost disappointing road games to Notre Dame and Colorado State, and Chris Ault’s team will be charged about its home debut in a rare national television game. And bet the Wolf Pack will be itching for revenge after last year’s 69-17 loss to the Tigers at Columbia. But Missouri still has too many weapons.

Kansas 31, Southern Mississippi 20: It’s been a trying week for the Fighting Manginos around Lawrence after some players were involved in a nasty brawl with the Kansas basketball team that splashed both programs on the front pages. They will be challenged to stop the Golden Eagles, who come into the game with an eight-game winning streak -- tied with Mississippi behind only Florida on the national list. The streak continued last week when the Golden Eagles rallied from an early 17-point deficit to claim a 37-34 victory over Virginia. The improving Kansas defense will be challenged to contain running backs Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison, who both gashed the Cavaliers for more than 100 yards. Both teams should be able to score points in bunches, but I’m thinking that Kansas has too much firepower with Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe, even with the status of leading rusher Jake Sharp likely to be a game-time decision.

Kansas State 31, Tennessee Tech 7: The Wildcats have started out slowly on offense, scoring the fewest points since Bill Snyder’s first season coaching them in 1989. And they will be playing an underrated Tennessee Tech team coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. The Golden Eagles were competitive against preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorite Eastern Kentucky last week before falling 17-7. But they’ll be stepping up in class against a Kansas State team hopeful of stopping a recent two-game losing streak. Look for Snyder to try to get tailback Daniel Thomas involved early and try to build some confidence for quarterback Carson Coffman to take into Big 12 play.

Texas 52, UTEP 10: Texas still hasn’t strung together a complete game this season. This might be the Longhorns’ opportunity. Colt McCoy struggled again last week in the first half, battling the vestiges of a flu attack. But he again rebounded in the second half, taking advantage of new offensive weapons in running back Tre’ Newton and flex receiver Dan Buckner. UTEP has been effective running the ball with Donald Buckram, who is averaging almost 7 yards a play. The Miners scored five rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory over New Mexico State -- their first victory of the season -- but will be supremely challenged against Texas’ massive defensive front.

Oklahoma State 48, Grambling 17: The Cowboys will be looking to build some momentum in their final nonconference game. Zac Robinson looked closer to his 2008 form last week against Rice, although the Cowboys’ struggling pass defense continues to be a concern. And Oklahoma State might have to play without top playmakers Dez Bryant (calf) and Perrish Cox (shoulder) in this game. Grambling has been plagued with 12 turnovers in its first three games and will be facing an opportunistic Oklahoma State defense intent to boost that total.

Iowa State 33, Army 21: This should be an intriguing battle as two 2-1 teams coming off impressive victories over Mid-American Conference teams will meet. Iowa State will be gunning to beat its 2008 season win total with a victory Saturday night. The Cyclones rebounded from a struggling performance against Iowa with an impressive victory at Kent State that snapped a nation-worst 17-game road losing streak. Austen Arnaud orchestrated a strong performance as Alexander Robinson rushed for 143 yards for his second straight 100-yard game. The key for the Cyclones will be to contain Army’s option-based attack and force quarterback Trent Steelman into long-yardage passing situations. This one will be won in the trenches, and I like Iowa State’s chances because the Cyclones are more multi-faceted.

Nebraska 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 10: All things about Nebraska football will be celebrated in this game as the Cornhuskers toast their 300th straight home sellout. This game will be similar to many of the previous ones during the streak. Look for the Cornhuskers to mash the Ragin’ Cajuns at the point of attack with a potent running attack keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Roy Helu Jr. Quarterback Zac Lee sustained a splinter fracture on his left (non-throwing) thumb last week against Virginia Tech, but should play. More worrisome, the Cornhuskers' defense collapsed in last week’s disappointing loss, but won’t be tested that much by Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Chris Masson. Look for the Cornhuskers to empty the benches early, using youngsters like Cody Green and Rex Burkhead throughout much of the second half.

Texas A&M 38, UAB 24: The surprisingly potent Texas A&M offense will get its toughest challenge to date against UAB. A key for the Aggies will be to continue their explosive passing game that has helped quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who ranks third nationally in total offense and 20th in passing efficiency. Johnson should have a ready target in the UAB pass defense, which ranks 118th nationally and was blistered for 413 yards last week by Troy. The Aggies will have to play without leading receiver Jeff Fuller, but precocious freshman Uzoma Nwachukwu produced four touchdowns on four “touches” last week against Utah State. Texas A&M’s defense needs some improvement after struggling against Utah State’s option-based attack and UAB quarterback Joe Webb will test it. A&M should win this game if it can give Johnson enough time to hit his downfield receivers.

Baylor 48, Northwestern State 7: The Bears will be attempting to rebuild their confidence after a disappointing loss to Connecticut snuffed out much of the momentum after their season-opening triumph over Wake Forest. Quarterback Robert Griffin struggled through a miserable game with a career-low 139 yards of total offense. He needs to get his confidence back, hopefully by throwing the ball downfield to get David Gettis and Kendall White involved early. The Bears’ rush defense has to be a big concern after allowing 235 yards and two touchdowns to Connecticut last week. And they’ll be facing a competent Northwestern State rushing attack that dented Houston for 155 rushing yards in their first game of the season. But I’m expecting the Bears to rebound with a strong performance after last week.

Texas Tech 45, Houston 44: Get out your calculators and prepare to stay up late to watch the end of this one. It should be an entertaining contest between two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts and Houston’s Case Keenum. The Red Raiders stuck with Texas last week until deep in the fourth quarter when turnovers and penalties finally caught up with them. But Potts passed for 430 yards in an impressive road debut. He’ll be facing another challenge against Houston, which stunned then-No. 5 Oklahoma State two weeks ago before taking last week off. It will be the first matchup between the two old Southwest Conference rivals since the conference dissolved in 1995. The No. 18 Cougars will be playing as a ranked team for the first time since 1991 -- when David Klingler was their quarterback. The Red Raiders have a better defense than Oklahoma State and are familiar with Houston because they face a variation of the Cougars’ spread offense every day in practice. That should provide them with just enough of an edge to boost them to win a wild victory.

Last week: 9-2 (81.8 percent)

Season: 25-8 (75.8 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Went a mediocre 6-3 for the second consecutive week, and the season record stands at a tepid 19-7.

Yeesh.

The Pac-10 is presently 19-6 in all nonconference games. It's 15-6 vs. FBS schools and 6-4 vs. other BCS conferences.

Only the SEC has been better thus far --14-2 vs. FBS and 5-2 vs. BCS conferences.

Arizona State, by the way, visits Georgia on Saturday in the rubber-game of the conferences' three-game series.

To the picks.

California 30, Oregon 24: A big game for both teams with season-long ramifications. Cal is the new Pac-10 front-runner. Oregon would put the inglorious game at Boise State completely behind it with a win. The difference here is a mature quarterback Kevin Riley managing the game for the Bears -- and at least one big play for running back Jahvid Best.

Georgia 27, Arizona State 17: The Georgia offense has taken off of late with quarterback Joe Cox, but the Sun Devils will counter with the best defense the Bulldogs have seen. The bigger question is can the Sun Devils score on the road Between the Hedges? Even though the Bulldogs defense has been porous early, the guess here is those mental mistakes will get corrected and the crowd will make things tough for the young crew from Tempe.

Oregon State 24, Arizona 21: Switched this pick twice. Final verdict: Go with the home team. That said, the Wildcats' defense will give the Beavers loads of trouble. Curious to see if Arizona's passing offense will advance much after the switch from Matt Scott to Nick Foles. Probably some but just not enough.

Stanford 31, Washington 28: Another tough one to get a feel for. Now Washington is the team on let-down alert, while Stanford probably feels a sense of urgency with a game that looked like a gimme for its bowl hopes during the preseason. Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, plus running back Toby Gerhart plus the Huskies making their first road trip will make the difference.

USC 44, Washington State 10: Both teams have injury issues, but the Trojans are just a wee bit deeper. And they should be angry about how things went last week at Washington. Still, doubt this one will be anything close to the 69-zip Coug nightmare in Pullman last year.

SEC picks: Week 4

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Well, I’m 22-5 on the season (.814) and not especially proud of my performance from last week.

I was 7-2, missing Mississippi State’s win over Vanderbilt and Georgia’s win over Arkansas. But I was also battling flu-like symptoms. I just want to get that out there.

Wearing a mask and my hands dripping in sanitizer, here are my picks for Week 4 in the SEC:

THURSDAY

Ole Miss 24, South Carolina 21: You keep waiting for the Head Ball Coach to win one of these games and notch that signature win that has escaped him at South Carolina. The Rebels are ripe for an upset after playing a soft schedule to this point. But Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead isn’t going to stay average for much longer, and South Carolina has some guys banged up on defense. Until the Gamecocks win one of these, it’s just hard to pick them.

SATURDAY

Tennessee 31, Ohio 13: Remember the days when a 10-point loss to Florida had everybody calling for the coach’s job at Tennessee? Well, it’s a different day on Rocky Top. The Vols are trying to work their way back to elite status under Lane Kiffin and hope to build off their hard-fought 23-13 loss to the Gators. The best way to do that is play with the same pride, purpose and toughness they played with at the Swamp from here on out ... regardless of the opponent.

Auburn 42, Ball State 10: A year later, the euphoria is gone for Ball State. The Cardinals had a memorable run last season, but lost just about everybody from that team. They limp into Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 0-3 record, including a loss to the same North Texas team that was trounced last week by Alabama. Look for the Tigers to go to 4-0 and pour it on in this game, almost as hard as the rain poured last weekend on the Plains.

Vanderbilt 27, Rice 20: If the Commodores ever needed a win, they need one now. They were able to get by last season with a strong defense and key plays on special teams, which masked a limited offense. There’s been no masking that offense this season, but a simplified attack and a few big plays from sophomore quarterback Larry Smith should be enough to keep the Owls winless. They’ve given up 140 points in their first three games.

Georgia 34, Arizona State 17: With all the grumbling about Georgia’s porous pass defense, gone virtually unnoticed is the fact that the Bulldogs are 2-0 in the SEC. They step back out of conference this week and face another stiff challenge in Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils. Georgia’s schedule gets harder every time you look at it. But this is a team that has rallied around each other and will find a way to get it done again Saturday, setting up what will be a huge showdown with LSU in two weeks at Sanford Stadium.

Florida 42, Kentucky 14: The Gators have scored at least 45 points in three of the four games in this series since Urban Meyer arrived in 2005. The Wildcats had serious problems hanging onto the ball last week in their win over Louisville. If you turn the ball over against Florida, what happens is what happened to the Wildcats last season when they were clobbered 63-5. It won’t be that bad this time around, but the Gators will still take out a little frustration after not having their "A" game last week against Tennessee.

LSU 21, Mississippi State 16: This is a dangerous game for LSU. The Bulldogs are a confident bunch after winning at Vanderbilt last week, and senior running back Anthony Dixon is running like he means business. This is also Mississippi State’s first game back home after two straight games on the road, so the cowbells will be ringing with renewed vigor. The difference will be an LSU defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the past six quarters and appears to be rounding into shape under first-year coordinator John Chavis.

Alabama 38, Arkansas 21: Watching Ryan Mallett go up against Alabama’s defense will be a treat, although it might not seem that way to Mallett when he’s got Marcell Dareus, Dont’a Hightower and Rolando McClain chasing him. The Hogs’ passing game is the real deal, but so is Alabama’s defense. The Crimson Tide will get Mallett out of the pocket, where he didn’t look quite as effective throwing against Georgia last week.

Big East picks, Week 4

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


I didn't do as well as the Big East did when the competition increased. I went 5-3 last week, though I did correctly predict Cincinnati to win as an underdog and called the Syracuse game as a thriller -- just with the wrong outcome. Enough justifying. Let's get to this week's picks.
  • Florida State 35, South Florida 20: You'd have to have a lot of gumption to pick the Bulls on the road, starting a new quarterback, against a Seminoles team that looked so impressive last week at BYU. Talent for talent, this isn't that big of a mismatch. But given South Florida's incredibly weak schedule to this point and B.J. Daniels' inexperience, I think this is the only reasonable outcome.
  • Pittsburgh 24, NC State 14: I know Russell Wilson is good, but he's not good enough to lead an average-at-best offense to a breakout game against Pitt's defense. This will be a down-and-dirty, physical game, which suits Pitt just fine.
  • Rutgers 9, Maryland 6: Two bad offenses and two struggling teams. This one won't win any beauty contests. I've just got to believe that Rutgers, with or without Tom Savage, is good enough to beat the Terrapins, who might not win an FCS conference at this point.
  • Utah 28, Louisville 16: Fun fact: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe each grew up around the BYU program when their dads were coaches there at the same time. Not so fun fact for the Cardinals: The Utes are mad after seeing their 16-game winning streak snapped last week, and they'll be whipped into a frenzy for this home game.
  • Cincinnati 48, Fresno State 27: Running back Ryan Mathews will cause problems for the Cincinnati defense. But I didn't see a lot of great defense from Fresno State last week when it played Boise State. That's not good news for the Bulldogs against Tony Pike and the Bearcats' buzz saw of an offense.
  • Syracuse 35, Maine 14: Lo and behold, we have spotted that rarest of species: A Syracuse winning streak!
  • Connecticut 38, Rhode Island 10: This should give the Huskies a good chance to work on their passing game.
Last week: 5-3

Season results: 18-4 (.818)

Big Ten picks: Week 4

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:02
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


It was another mostly forgettable week for the Big Ten and my picks, as I went 7-3. At least the Iowa-Arizona and Minnesota-Cal scores were close.

As Big Ten play kicks off Saturday, here's hoping for better results all around.

Michigan 33, Indiana 17 -- The Hoosiers' improved defense could keep this close for a while, especially if defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton put pressure on Tate Forcier. But Indiana hasn't faced a team boasting Michigan's talent and speed, and the Wolverines have too many playmakers. Running back Carlos Brown has another big day as Michigan pulls away in the second half.

Michigan State 30, Wisconsin 27 -- A tough call here, but I'm going with the more desperate team. Michigan State simply can't afford to start 1-3, and the Spartans' defense will pick things up behind linebacker Greg Jones after two lackluster performances. Kirk Cousins comes back strong after last week's late stumble and leads Michigan State to the game-winning touchdown in the final minute.

Northwestern 26, Minnesota 24 -- This could be the week that the Gophers' offense catches fire, especially against a suspect Northwestern defense. But Minnesota's continued problems in the run game are a red flag, especially on the road. Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker has another huge day, but Northwestern gets a little healthier on defense and contains the run. Quarterback Mike Kafka leads the decisive drive after falling short last week.

Ohio State 31, Illinois 20 -- The Illini will finally have their entire offense together, but Ohio State's defense seems to be hitting its stride. Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn make plays, but Terrelle Pryor has a bigger day against an Illinois defense missing Martez Wilson. Ohio State beats Illinois at home for just the fourth time in the last 11 meetings.

Penn State 21, Iowa 17 -- Both teams have accomplished quarterbacks, suspect offensive lines and ferocious defensive fronts. Iowa has been tested more than Penn State, but the Lions are at home at night, which usually works in their favor. This was a very tough one to call, but I just can't see Daryll Clark letting Penn State lose this one, especially after how he struggled last year in Iowa City.

Purdue 35, Notre Dame 31 -- I can't really figure out Purdue, but the Boilers have weapons on offense and Notre Dame's defense is nothing special. Plus, the Fighting Irish will be without standout wide receiver Michael Floyd, while Purdue's secondary gets healthier with the return of cornerback Brandon King. The Boilers' season gets wackier as Ralph Bolden runs wild in a fairly major upset.

Season record -- 25-7 (.781)

Non-AQ picks, Week 4

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson


I went 7-3 last week, which makes me 19-11 on the season. Not a bad start. There are a lot of tough games to pick this week, especially since we’re beginning to start conference play. Just because a team struggled in its nonconference season doesn’t mean it’s going to struggle against teams it’s used to. That’s where the challenge lies in picking winners. There are a lot of good contests, especially in the Mountain West and Conference USA.

Missouri 41, Nevada 21: Nevada hasn’t been the team many expected at the beginning of the season and even though this is the Wolf Pack’s home opener, I think those struggles are going to continue against a 3-0 Missouri team. Nevada should be able to move the ball, but it’s going to have a tough time keeping up with Missouri’s high-powered offense.

Cincinnati 27, Fresno State 24: Fresno State’s mental toughness seems to be tested every weekend during this young season and this trip to Ohio won’t be any different. The Bulldogs are going to need a good game out of quarterback Ryan Colburn because Cincinnati will be keying in on the run and Ryan Mathews, who had a breakout game last week.

Kansas 34, Southern Miss 28: I thought about revising this pick, especially in light of all the drama that’s gone on between the Kansas football and basketball teams. If there are some major suspensions, I might look at this game again on Friday. As it stands, this is a tough first road game for Southern Miss, but one that could pop the Golden Eagles into the national rankings. Both teams should be able to put up points, but I’m not sure Southern Miss will be able to do it with the same consistency as the Jayhawks.

TCU 19, Clemson 13: I called this game back in the spring, so there’s no backing off of it now, even if TCU did struggle a bit against Texas State. However, with both Utah and BYU suffering losses last week, TCU has a chance to notch a quality AQ win and continue to track down Boise State. The key in this game will be stopping Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. Look for defensive end Jerry Hughes to have a big game while disrupting the Clemson backfield.

East Carolina 21, Central Florida 20: East Carolina has struggled some during the nonconference season, but this week kicks off the Pirates defense of their Conference USA championship. The difference in this game is going to be the second half. In each of UCF’s wins, it’s mounted a second-half comeback. ECU, on the other hand, has been outscored 41-5 in the second half this season.

Troy 37, Arkansas State 35: This is a tough game to pick because neither one of these teams have played well during their nonconference seasons. Granted, they’ve played some tough teams, but it’s still hard to determine if one is better than the other. Troy is the defending conference champion, which gives it the slight edge, but Arkansas State is highly motivated, especially after missing out on an opportunity to go bowling after a loss to the Trojans last year.

BYU 30, Colorado State 26: I'm believing in Colorado State and its turnaround, but I don’t think that’s going to make up for the discrepancy in talent between the two teams. For the second consecutive season, BYU meets CSU after a tough loss, and this is definitely a more skilled, motivated and competitive CSU team than it was a year ago. It could be interesting, but I think the Cougars rebound at home.

Boise State 35, Bowling Green 21: Full disclosure, I think this game could be a blowout, especially since Boise State has nothing to look ahead to like last year with Oregon. As I’ve written all year, there’s not a team on the Broncos schedule that should beat them this season, but this Bowling Green team is definitely better than the one that played in Boise a year ago. I just don’t know if the Falcons can keep up with the Broncos.

Utah 28, Louisville 17: Recovering from the first loss since 2007 might be devastating to some teams, but for Utah, I think it’s motivating especially to its defense and new quarterback Terrance Cain. The Utes defense hasn’t lived up to expectations, and Cain has been hit and miss. Cain might have some trouble against a passing defense that ranks No. 12 in the country. If the Utes can pull out the win, it might put them back in the Top 25.

Houston 45, Texas Tech 41: There are few games I’m looking forward to more than this one. After watching Houston withstand Oklahoma State’s comeback and come away with a win, I was impressed by the Cougars and like their chances especially in front of the largest crowd in their stadium’s history. There will be offense, but look for the Houston secondary to be very active against Tech quarterback Taylor Potts, who’s already thrown four picks.

ACC's week 4 predictions

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


Florida State and Maryland, for entirely different reasons, proved me wrong last week, but they were the only ones. Heading into this week, I’ve picked 24 of 31 games correctly for a 77.4 percentage. I'm 2-0 with my Miami picks. The more conference games that are played, the tougher it gets. Virginia has a bye week. Here are this week’s picks:

Miami 24, Virginia Tech 21: Miami’s offense is more prolific, but Virginia Tech’s defense will at least slow the Canes down enough to make this a wildly entertaining and close game. If it were a night game, this might be a different pick, but the Canes are too calm, composed and confident to let a 3:30 p.m. crowd at Lane Stadium determine the outcome.

North Carolina 24, Georgia Tech 14: The Yellow Jackets have too many problems up front -- on both sides of the ball -- to overcome the Tar Heels’ stingy defense and rapidly improving offense. UNC proved last year it can contain Paul Johnson’s offense in a 28-7 win, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t do it again.

Duke 35, N.C. Central 7: Not even the Blue Devils should fall to an FCS school twice, especially one four miles away that is 0-3. This should be a final tune-up for Duke heading into ACC play which begins next week against Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest 17, Boston College 14: This is the kind of game that will involve something along the lines of a blocked punt for a touchdown, or some other non-offensive way of scoring. BC’s defense isn’t the problem, but the issues at quarterback will be too much to overcome.

TCU 14, Clemson 10: TCU will stifle Clemson’s offense, starting up front, where defensive end Jerry Hughes will have his way with the Tigers’ offensive line. Clemson’s defense will rise to the challenge, though, and will set up a touchdown or a field goal. C.J. Spiller will get them good field position, but it won’t overcome TCU’s outstanding coaching.

Florida State 31, South Florida 10: Bulls’ starting quarterback Matt Grothe is out, and that will be the difference, but South Florida will hang in for some time because many players will be playing with a recruiting chip on their shoulder. The Noles say they learned a lesson from their near letdown against Jacksonville State. They should be able to handle their recent success.

Rutgers 20, Maryland 17: It’s not like Rutgers is the “Ray Rice Rutgers.” It’s an average team, but the Terps have played below average, and so the Scarlet Knights get the edge.

NC State 24, Pittsburgh 21: This has the last-play-of-the-game kind of feel to it. Pitt’s program is on the rise, and the run-stuffing defense will pose problems for the Pack up front, but Russell Wilson is the difference, as is coaching in this one.

Pick o' the Irish: Week 4

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
8:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Like Notre Dame itself, we're 2-1 here on our weekly Irish picks, one play away from being 3-0. Let's see if we can't build some momentum:

Notre Dame 38, Purdue 27: Yeah, it will be a raucous crowd with the night game, and yes, Michael Floyd's injury and Jimmy Clausen's turf toe may slow down the Irish. But that doesn't change the fact that Purdue lost to Northern Illinois at home last week. OK, it was a classic trap game between the Oregon loss and Notre Dame coming up, but it was still Northern Illinois. At home.

The Boilermakers can score and running back Ralph Bolden should test the Irish's weak defensive front. But Notre Dame owns an overall talent advantage that can't be ignored. For the first time in three weeks, Charlie Weis won't have to sweat out the final minute.

Last week's pick: Notre Dame, 28, Michigan State 23

Actual score: Notre Dame 33, Michigan State 30.

Season results: 2-1.

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