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The Big E College Football Picks: Week Eleven; Plus Utah Preview

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It seems like a month has passed since Notre Dame has played a game, doesn’t it?

The Irish have been so destroyed by injuries that even a two-week layoff hasn’t done much to bring many players back into the fold. Theo Riddick is likely out for another week or two, while Carlo Calabrese and TJ Jones are questionable but should play tomorrow.

After an awful week of betting during Tulsa week, I bounced back with a very solid effort during Notre Dame’s bye week.

Let’s take a look back at week ten.

Games Missed

*After having second thoughts about picking Clemson as a curious 3.5 point favorite, the Tigers went ahead and beat the Wolfpack, but failed to cover. It’s been that kind of season folks.

*In another blow to the pride of the Big 12, a mediocre Texas A&M team roughed up top 10 Oklahoma, leaving the South portion of the conference standings without Texas or OU at the top for the first time in a long time.

They’ve been saying this is the worst Sooner defense of the Stoops-era, but should they be losing to the Aggies by two touchdowns? P-A-R-I-T-Y!!

*In another ACC-like move, highly ranked Missouri was toppled by a mediocre Texas Tech team. The Tigers are now 0-2 since I wrote that piece about how they rebounded from losing to Navy in last year’s bowl.

*I continued to stay with Texas this year and they really burnt me this time, getting absolutely bombed by a one-dimensional Kansas State team. Is it time to stop betting on the Longhorns when it looks like the team has all but quit?

*I thought Arizona was going to hang in there with Stanford, but the Cardinal just continue to impress each and every week, taking last week’s game by 25 points. It’s taken a while, but Stanford is now considered to be one of, if not the best one-loss teams in the country.

*USC went up 22-7 and made me think I was headed for a huge jackpot this weekend, but then the Trojans decided to let Arizona State score 26 points in the second half. USC still won, but needed a blocked extra point that was taken back for two points, plus a late field goal to pull out the one-point victory.

Games Correct

*Air Force easily beat Army to claim the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for the first time in six years. How long has it been since all three of the military schools were all pretty decent teams?

It should be interesting to see how Notre Dame plays against Army’s triple option. Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco has a huge bull’s-eye on him for that one.

*Miami struggled against Maryland, but was able to come back and pull out a win in the fourth quarter. However, they didn’t cover and I picked this one correctly.

*In the offensive game of the century, Michigan beat Illinois in overtime and celebrated like they’d just won the Rose Bowl. Too bad the Wolverines didn’t cover the spread.

*TCU put a world of hurt on a Utah team that is now gearing up to play Notre Dame this weekend. Some are saying that means the Utes aren’t very good, but I think it’s more that the Horned Frogs are a legit top 3 team right now.

*North Carolina edged out Florida State as the Seminoles made some mistakes that ultimately did them in. It’s been such an up and down year for FSU this year, I wonder how this team is going to finish the season.

*For a while it didn’t look like Oregon was going to cover that enormous spread against a Locker-less Washington team. By like always, the Ducks stormed through the second half and won by 37 points.

*LSU beat Alabama with an impressive display of defensive dominance and an offense that finally didn’t trip all over itself in a big game. Could you imagine someone like Cam Newton playing in Baton Rouge right now? I guess the money wasn’t good enough.

*Arkansas destroyed South Carolina as the Gamecocks annual collapse inside the SEC continues. South Carolina was never really THAT good this year, right? They played a perfect game to beat Alabama and we’re not even sure that the Tide are a top 10 team this year.

Now on to week 11…

Last Week: 8-6

Overall: 56-61

Utah (-5.5) at Notre Dame

Pick: Utah

I’ve gone from thinking "What if Notre Dame actually wins this game?" to unfortunately pondering, "What if this is a truly ugly loss?"

Now some people are saying that it can’t get any worse than losses to Navy and Tulsa, but what if the Irish really get outplayed badly against Utah?

I’m talking getting outplayed like the 2008 USC game where Notre Dame mustered 91 yards of offense and a grand total of four first downs. That’s the ugly I’m talking about.

Okay, Utah is clearly not as talented and dangerous as that ’08 Trojan team, but I’m very worried about how the offense will perform this Saturday.

I’m also cognizant of the current quarterback situation and how this game (and the rest of the season) seems like a lose-lose situation. In my eyes, Tommy Rees isn’t the future at Notre Dame. I could be completely wrong with that assumption, but if he’s under center for the next three-plus seasons, I am pretty worried about where the program is headed.

With that in mind, if Rees plays well against Utah and closes out the season with a certain level of comfort and productivity, he’s going to be the unofficial starter heading into 2011. I’m not really crazy about that if I’m Brian Kelly and it puts the coach in a terrible bind.

This is why Andrew Hendrix should have never been redshirted, because I warned that this exact situation (late season injury to Crist) would put the team in a bind when it came to the quarterback situation.

What we know right now is that Rees understands the spread offense the best and is a pretty decent short-to-intermediate passer. He’s also shown a lot of poise being thrown into the Navy game late and taking over against Tulsa.

But, he’s clearly the least mobile QB and his downfield passing was erratic at best, and that was against the nation’s worst passing defense in Tulsa.

I fear the worst for Rees when Utah is thinking a lot of the same things that I’ve just described.

And what if Rees plays terrible against Utah or in any of the remaining three games? Suddenly the QB situation in South Bend is in dire straits with only the hope that Hendrix (my favorite horse in the race) will be able to take the reigns in spring ball and inject some hope into the situation.

This doesn’t even take into account if Crist will be healthy by spring, if he transfers, or ever shows the promise we all thought he was full of.

As to the actual game, I will be very interested to see how Kelly has drawn up a game plan against Utah. I am going to assume that there will be a ton of screen passes with an occasional long throw put in there, but I can’t see Rees attacking deep very often.

The other thing about this game that already bothers me is that Kelly will probably have to resort to a handful of "trick" plays to get the offense some big yards. Not that I’m against that, but it will only add more fuel to the fire about how the team can’t just line up and beat their man in front of them and it will only draw more attention to Kelly’s play calling, usually in a negative way.

We’ve been through this already with Charlie Weis, he could call four brilliant play calls, but if the fifth ended in a huge turnover or what have you, the hissing will become all the more vehement.

I’d really love for Cierre Wood to make a statement in this game and show everybody that he’s going to be the legit number one guy next year, but I don’t see it happening. Pitt tried to run the ball with a short passing game against Utah to start this season and the Utes completely controlled the Panthers ground attack.

I think the offense will do enough to get 300 yards and a couple touchdowns, but I don’t think it will be enough to bring home a victory.

This is a big game for the defense, because Utah has a decent amount of balance in their game and runs the same kind of spread that the Irish do, although with more emphasis on running the ball.

If Notre Dame can hold the Utes under 400 yards and 30 points, I would probably consider this game a success from that standpoint, especially if the offense doesn’t do much to help out the situation.

Maybe the Irish can get a pick six or a kickoff returned for a touchdown to win this one, but I think Utah has too much balance on offense and the Notre Dame offense isn’t potent enough to take advantage of an average Ute defense on the other side of the ball.

We’re approaching miracle victory territory I believe, with so many star players out of the lineup. It would be nice to see one of those big upsets, but this will probably be a defeat that certainly won’t feel great, but won’t damage our already fragile spirits too much.

Utah 29

Notre Dame 17

Miami (-3) at Georgia Tech

Pick: Georgia Tech

I liked the way the Yellow Jackets played against Virginia Tech last week even though they came up short in the win column. Now that Jacory Harris has been ruled out for this contest I'll take Georgia Tech and the points.

Michigan (-13) at Purdue

Pick: Purdue

Purdue has one of the Big Ten’s worst offenses, but even the Boilermakers should have some success moving the ball against Michigan. I’m not sure the Wolverines are getting any better as the year rolls along and for a team that beat Indiana by 7 at home, I think this spread is a little bit too big for my liking.

Virginia Tech (-3.5) at North Carolina

Pick: Virginia Tech

The Law of the ACC states that Virginia Tech, as the conference’s front-runner, is bound to lose a game in the immediate future. But I just can’t pick against the Hokies as they start to get healthy and gain momentum.

I’m still waiting for the Tar Heels to completely collapse and this game might be the one that does them in for the year. UNC has been fighting pretty admirably this year though, you have to give them credit for that much.

Penn State (+18) at Ohio State

Pick: Penn State

Penn State is a lot like LSU in that they should just stick to recruiting solid drop back passers and work a nice balanced offense. Now that the Nittany Lions have a steady hand in Matthew McGloin back there, the PSU offense has made some strides this year.

If this was the same Penn State team that played like they did against Illinois a few weeks back I’d understand this spread, but I think the Lions have just enough fight in them to keep this one a little closer as they have a lot of confidence coming off three straight wins.

Texas Tech (+14.5) at Oklahoma

Pick: Texas Tech

Is there any chance that Tech comes into Norman and breaks that long winning streak that Stoops has built? What are the odds that the streak is still alive when Notre Dame pays a visit in 2012? How great would it be if the Irish ended that one?

I like the Tech offense against the Sooner defense that has proven it has a hard time stopping the passing games that spread them out. I’m sure Landry, Murray and Co. will put some points on the board, but I think this game stays close.

Georgia (+7.5) at Auburn

Pick: Auburn

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Auburn and Cam Newton are going to come out all kinds of pissed off and really lay all of their frustration into Georgia.

The Bulldogs have rebounded nicely from a terrible start to their season, but they still haven’t beaten a quality team yet and I don’t think they are ready to hang with a national contender right now.

South Carolina (+6.5) at Florida

Pick: Florida

As previously stated, South Carolina is on its season-ending slide and now Florida is gaining some steam as the favorite to represent the SEC East in their conference championship game.

We were all laughing amazed when Florida was struggling earlier in the season, but I believe they will have things turned by the end of the year where we’ll be rather surprised when they end up with nine or ten wins in 2010.

Mississippi State (+13) at Alabama

Pick: Alabama

One half of my brain is telling me that this spread is too high, but even though Mississippi State is in the SEC, they are nowhere near as talented as Alabama. Coming off a pretty devastating loss, I expect Nick Saban to have his team fully prepared for a beat down against the Bulldogs.

Roll Tide.

Oregon (-19.5) at California

Pick: Oregon

I am absolutely shocked that the spread is this low.

Is Vegas and the betting public looking too much into Oregon’s first half against Washington? I’m aware of the Ducks poor history at Berkley, but Cal is without their starting quarterback and the Bears haven’t been all that good this year to begin with.

Unless Oregon plays without half of their starters, this should be an easy three touchdown victory for the Quack Attack.

Stanford (-5.5) at Arizona State

Pick: Stanford

Arizona State has played some good teams really tough this year (Wisconsin, USC, Oregon), but they haven’t really notched any quality wins and did get their doors blown off by Cal back in October.

With that in mind, I think Stanford is on a mission to go to the Rose Bowl (assuming Oregon goes to the BCS title game) and finish with perhaps its best season of the modern era. I can see the Sun Devils giving the Cardinal defense some problems, but I also think Andrew Luck is going to march Stanford up and down the field all day long.

Oklahoma State (-5) at Texas

Pick: Oklahoma State

I’ve finally decided not to pick Texas, right when they are no longer favored for a game. With my luck, they’ll come out and destroy Okie State.

But, all indications are that there are some serious problems in Austin and that the players might have given up on this season. When that is coupled with their general tomfoolery on offense and Oklahoma State’s explosiveness on offense, it could lead to some bad results for the guys in burnt orange.

10 months removed from a national championship appearance, Texas is about to suffer their sixth defeat of the year in early November. No one, not even the most adamant Texas-hater in the world could have thought that would be true.

USC (+4.5) at Arizona

Pick: USC

I think Arizona is officially in the pretender category now after getting smacked up by Stanford last week. Suddenly, that loss to Oregon State comes into focus and a likely three game losing streak could propel the Wildcats from the top ten earlier in the season to unranked by the end of the year.

I’m still a believer that this will be a successful season for USC (given their current probation) and their offense is still one of the nation’s best.

Enjoy the weekend!