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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Updated: September 5, 1:28 PM ET
College Pick 'Em: Florida clear favorite in rivalry game

By Will Harris
Special to ESPN.com

College Pick 'em is a pick-the-winner game with a twist: Players must rank their picks in order of confidence. It's not as easy as it looks, so I'll weigh in every Thursday to help you make those tough decisions. Be sure to log in to the College Pick 'em page on Mondays for the upcoming week's matchups and previews, and don't forget to check the message boards for plenty of chatter about all the week's action.

Florida versus Miami (10 points)

In-state rivalries are a common breeding ground for big upsets, but Randy Shannon's Miami reclamation project is a year or two away from being competitive with the likes of the Gators. The talent level in Coral Gables had dropped a bit from its usual standards during the past two seasons, but this year's recruiting class was arguably the ACC's best. The Canes boast a nice one-two punch in running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James, but otherwise this is an offensively challenged team. Florida has too many weapons and too much depth for Miami to match, and while the jury is still out on the Gators' much-maligned pass defense, Florida is strong against the run, which will be the key for teams facing Miami and its inexperienced stable of quarterbacks and receivers. Miami will get back to a bowl in 2008, but this team isn't yet ready to be a viable upset candidate against top opposition.
Florida 38-10

Arizona State versus Stanford (9 points)

The USC upset last year announced to the world that Jim Harbaugh has Stanford's program on the upswing, and the win over Oregon State in the 2008 lid-lifter was a harbinger of further improvement this season. However, the Cardinal aren't ready to take down an Arizona State squad that is taking up residence in the league's upper division. The Sun Devils have pass protection issues, but the offense will still be potent. Stanford will need to throw more than last week against the Devils' solid run defense, and the Cardinal are ill-equipped to trade blows with Rudy Carpenter & Co. Stanford looks a lot like the improving Colorado team that took a beating in the desert in the second week of the 2007 season. The Buffs acquitted themselves reasonably well in a 33-14 loss. Stanford will, too, but it will be obvious that Arizona State is still a cut above.
Arizona State 38-14

South Florida versus Central Florida (8 points)

George O'Leary's UCF squad will be well-motivated after being thoroughly embarrassed in last year's 64-12 debacle. Unfortunately, the Knights just don't have the horses to exact revenge. South Florida is positively loaded, and the Bulls' ferocious front seven will feast on a UCF offense that lost 2,500-yard rusher Kevin Smith and three first-team all-conference linemen. This is Jim Leavitt's best team yet at USF, and if the Bulls have a weakness it's at cornerback, where two NFL draft choices must be replaced. A Central Florida squad that threw for just 177 yards per game last year and now features a new quarterback will not be able to capitalize on the Bulls' inexperience in the secondary. George Selvie and his mates will be in the UCF backfield all day in an easy win.
USF 31-3

Penn State versus Oregon State (7 points)

Oregon State returned just three starters on defense this year and the inexperience showed in the opener as Stanford's Toby Gerhart ripped the Beavers for 147 rushing yards in a 36-28 upset. This week's assignment is a tall order for an OSU team that has been noncompetitive in several recent early-season nonconference road trips. Penn State has few weaknesses outside of inexperience at quarterback, and it's unlikely that new signal-caller Daryll Clark will be called upon to put the game on his shoulders. A road win against a fairly loaded Penn State team is too much to ask of the retooling Beavers.
Penn State 35-13

West Virginia @ East Carolina (6 points)

Skip Holtz's East Carolina teams have had mixed results versus West Virginia, nearly pulling the upset in his first season, hanging tough at home in 2006, then getting blown out in Morgantown last year. The Pirates are a developing C-USA powerhouse, and must be considered the current league favorite. However, this team's best chance to unhorse West Virginia is by surprise, and such conditions are unlikely now that ECU's trap has been sprung. Not only are the Mountaineers on full alert after watching the Pirates beat Virginia Tech last week, but there are signs that the Mountaineers were already affording the Pirates plenty of respect. This is one of several games that could feature really bad weather courtesy of Tropical Storm Hanna. West Virginia unveiled a new pass-heavy look on offense last week in the opener, but the Mountaineers will be just as comfortable letting Pat White and Noel Devine run if the weather turns ugly. A muddy track could certainly help negate West Virginia's speed edge, but playing in the muck requires teams to be even more physically determined, especially in the trenches. ECU came away from last week's contest with some nagging injuries, and the team as a whole spent a lot of mental capital. It's doubtful that the Pirates have enough left in the tank to beat a more talented team for the second straight week.
West Virginia 27-14

Michigan versus Miami (Ohio) (5 points)

Michigan's loss to Utah revealed more about how good the Utes can be than it did about the home team. For Michigan, the game merely confirmed what was already known, that the Wolverines are in a major rebuilding year and that it will take some time for Rich Rodriguez to craft a productive offense in Ann Arbor. Miami was shredded for 166 rushing yards by Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson last week, but the Redhawks have the MAC's best linebackers and what should be a solid defense overall. That won't be enough to prevent Michigan from scoring, though, and a Miami offense that's still finding itself isn't likely to have much success against a Wolverines defense that put the clamps on Utah's proficient attack for most of the second half. RichRod gets his first win as a Michigan man.
Michigan 24-10

Wyoming versus Air Force (4 points)

Joe Glenn's defense has held the Air Force option attack in check as well as any Mountain West team during the past few years, and this year the assignment should be a little easier, as the Falcons are minus 2007 backfield stars Shaun Carney and Chad Hall. Air Force will try to become the first team to win three straight in this annual series since 1988, but Laramie is a difficult place for a young team to make its first road trip. Wyoming will need better production from new quarterback Dax Crum in order to take full advantage of a suspect Falcons back seven, but the Cowboys have enough in the running game and along the defensive front to atone for last year's defeat. Home field and the Cowboys' overall edge in experience will ultimately be the difference-makers.
Wyoming 31-20

Northwestern at Duke (3 points)

Another game played under the threat of Tropical Storm Hanna, the Duke-Northwestern tilt is a rematch of Duke's lone 2007 victory. Duke looked good in a 31-7 win over James Madison, and is set to be much improved with new boss David Cutcliffe at the helm. Northwestern is tougher this year as well, as the Wildcats return 15 starters from a team that reached bowl eligibility for the fourth time in five years. The Cats' spread offense might not look good in bad weather, but otherwise the advantages are mostly with the visitor here. Northwestern will be properly focused, given that last year's loss kept the Wildcats from the postseason. The Blue Devils, however, must prove that they can handle the prosperity of their fifth win in five years. Cutcliffe wasn't happy with practice this week, saying that his team looked fatigued. Expect a big step up in competitiveness from Duke this season, but this team is a year away from the improvement really registering in the win column.
Northwestern 27-20

Mississippi @ Wake Forest (2 points)

This year's Wake Forest team has a chance to be even better than last year's, and in a weak ACC it has to be considered at least an outside contender. In 2007 the Deacons felt a lot of pressure to prove that their magical ACC championship season the year before was not a one-time affair. With that mission accomplished, this year's veteran edition is more relaxed and confident. Standout wide receiver Kenny Moore will be missed, but triggerman Riley Skinner and his 72 percent completion rate have done so much for the passing game that Jim Grobe is gradually moving the offense farther and farther away from the school's familiar misdirection ground game. Skinner is still searching for a new go-to guy, but the cornerbacks are the chink in Mississippi's armor and the Deacons could take to the air frequently, especially since an inexperienced offensive line struggled with run blocking in the opener at Baylor. The problem for Wake this week is that aside from the corners, Ole Miss is an opponent with few weaknesses. The defense returns nine starters from last year's solid unit, and Houston Nutt has revitalized an offense that features a fantastic offensive front and plenty of talent at the skill positions. The Wild Rebel (nee Wild Hog) formation used so effectively with Darren McFadden at Arkansas last year produced 148 yards on 10 plays. The special teams also looked radically improved against Memphis. Nutt is the perfect coach at the perfect time for this program, and optimism is high in Oxford. The Rebels have been awaiting their first test versus a ranked team all offseason, and if there's one thing that was evident in Week 1, it's that the SEC is looking good and the ACC is, well, not. Ole Miss has a real shot of not only winning this game, but of proving to be the better team this season. Tropical Storm Hanna is expected to move through North Carolina on Saturday, wreaking havoc at several ACC venues. Ferocious weather conditions won't overwhelmingly favor either team, though. Ole Miss could make plenty of hay running the ball behind star left tackle Michael Oher and his underrated mates. However, if a field goal in a hurricane is called for, who better than Wake's inimitable Sam Swank? The rapid growth in the Ole Miss program is still a bit under the radar, and Rebels have a chance to ambush an unsuspecting Wake team. The Rebels will play with abandon; they have naught to lose, and the same cannot be said of Wake. If Jevan Snead and the other youngsters show enough poise in a potentially stormy first road start, the Rebs will pull this one off. Expect a low-scoring affair controlled by the defenses and maybe the weather as well.
Ole Miss 20-14

Boston College versus Georgia Tech (1 point)

These ACC foes are teams full of question marks, with Tech ushering in the Paul Johnson era and the Eagles trying to replace all-world signal-caller Matt Ryan. Johnson's triple-option looked good in the opener against Jacksonville State; now it gets a chance to strut its stuff against ACC competition. Boston College will not match last year's success in Jeff Jagodzinski's second season. In addition to breaking in a new quarterback, the Eagles lose 2007's top four rushers and star left tackle, along with seven defensive starters. Johnson's offense scored more than 30 points per game against BCS competition in 29 games while he was at Navy, and he has enough talent on hand in Atlanta to offset some of the growing pains of learning utterly new schemes. Boston College didn't impress in a 21-0 win over Kent, but the Eagles didn't commit a single turnover or penalty. Both programs are in transition, but the home team is more comfortable with its identity right now while the visitors are teaching new schemes to a roster that includes 75 freshmen and sophomores.
Boston College 24-21

Will Harris is a college football and fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.