It was a very solid week for Big E last Saturday, and the march continues to obliterate last year's memory of a sub-500 final record.
After this week I am hoping to be 10 games over the hump and in position to dominate down the stretch.
This 2011 season has brought a lot of great games, and this week might offer the best yet from top to bottom.
As always, a look back at week four before this week's scintillating picks.
Last Week: 8-4
*Michigan continues to spurn changing their offense drastically from last year and is allowing Denard Robinson to run freely over the FieldTurf of the Big House. Once again, Shoelaces was the offense for the Wolverines as they beat San Diego State by three touchdowns. Not a great game for Michigan, but their defense has to be happy keeping the Aztecs to just 7 points.
*It wasn't much of a blowout, but Georgia was able to hang on and cover against Ole Miss in Oxford. The Rebel Bears are likely looking at a 2-10 season, which could seal Houston Nutt's fate. I'm still not convinced that Georgia is very good---they should have rolled easily in this game.
*Ohio State got 2 touchdowns on just 7 completions on their way to a 20-point victory over Colorado. That was just enough for the Buckeyes to cover. Even though they covered, it looks like Ohio State is going to be pretty terrible on offense this year. Only 336 total yards of offense is not good against a bottom BCS team.
*Alabama dispatched Arkansas with ease, although the Razorbacks scored the most points the Tide have given up this year with 14! Any time you beat a ranked team by 24 points you're damn good. Arkansas probably isn't going to end up ranked this year, but still. Alabama is a monster right now.
*Oklahoma State looked dead in the water at College Station but came back to life and pulled out a squeaker against Texas A&M. If Oklahoma ends up dropping a game in the Big 12, this win by the Cowboys will have far reaching consequences.
*Leave it to LSU to give up 533 yards and still demoralize an opponent with a 26-point victory on the road at West Virginia. I would give anything to see both LSU and Alabama undefeated when they meet later this year.
*As I surmised, Oklahoma wasn't able to cover a 20+ point spread against a gritty Missouri team. This is starting to feel like it's not a national title team for the Sooners, even though they are still undefeated. Would anyone take them to beat Alabama right now? Yeah, didn't think so.
*Oregon added to Arizona's woes with a 25-point win, easily covering the spread. Is Oregon flying under the radar right now after that season opening loss to LSU? That's probably a good position for the Ducks to be in right now, but I'd be a little concerned about their defense giving up 31 points to Arizona and 40 to LSU. That doesn't smell like a championship defense.
*Notre Dame couldn't cover a pretty reasonable spread against Pittsburgh. Vegas wins again.
*Florida State got a pretty good game out of Clint Trickett, who started in place of the injured E.J. Manuel, but it wasn't enough to beat Clemson---who were favored in the game anyway. I thought Florida State would win this, but now their season has gone into a bit of a tail spin.
*Vanderbilt has been playing really well this year and I thought they'd cover against South Carolina, but they missed it by two points. How much of a pretender is South Carolina at 4-0? For some reason it already feels like they've lost a game this year.
*So much for USC coming to South Bend undefeated in a few weeks. The Trojans were playing a tight game with Arizona State, but turnovers ultimately killed their chances as they lost by a rather shocking 21 points. This puts even more pressure on Notre Dame to beat Southern California this year. It must be done.
Now on to the picks for week five, WITH AP RANKINGS INCLUDED!!!
Notre Dame (-12.5) at Purdue
Pick: Notre Dame
See post, Irish Big Favorites in West Lafayette
#18 Arkansas (+2.5) at #14 Texas A&M
Pick: Texas A&M
This is the rematch from last year's Razorback victory in Cowboys Stadium, and again the teams will play at Jerry World. Both clubs are coming off deflating losses which has knocked the luster off some of this game.
But you know A&M wants this game BAD as they lost last year and they will be moving into the SEC next season. There's no way they want back-to-back losses at this point in the season and drop another one to Arkansas.
So, I think the Aggies pull this one out and also cover. They are the better all around team, they have more to play for, and I'm not really sure this Arkansas team is very good---just not feeling too good about the Hogs after last week's performance against Alabama.
Mississippi State (+7) at Georgia
Pick: Mississippi State
Color me a little skeptical about a 2-2 Georgia team being this much of a favorite, but I'm sure Mississippi State's 6-point win over Louisiana Tech last week has something to do about it.
Obviously a lot of people like Georgia in this one, but I like the way Mississippi State plays---they're tough, gritty, and they play solid defense. I fear the Bulldogs (from Athens) might build a lead on offense and the Bulldogs (from Starkville) will sputter trying to play catch up, but I bet this is a very close game for four quarters.
Air Force (+3.5) at Navy
Pick: Air Force
Before the season started Air Force looked like the Commander-in-Chief Trophy favorites and also likely to beat Navy again this year after winning at home against the Middies in 2010. Navy lost a couple really key players and the Falcons returned nearly everyone. Yet, here is Navy favored to win in 2011.
Two option teams means this game should be close. Navy really has played better this year and has the added advantage of having a bye last week. There's a lot pointing to a Navy win here, but I'll take Air Force to win or cover---I think they'll have a good shot after winning this game last year.
Nevada (+27.5) at #4 Boise State
Pick: Boise State
It's been a while since Boise State blew out Nevada, then again it's been a while since the Wolf Pack were without quarterback Colin Kaepernick too. This is a huge spread for a game that Nevada won last year, but there are just too many personnel losses for the boys from Reno.
Nevada is probably going to fall back to 7 or 8 wins this season, and we know Boise State eats teams up like that. I also like the revenge factor and wouldn't be surprised to see the Broncos really pile it on through 3 quarters. It's a large spread, but it's a home game for Boise and they always roll there.
Michigan State (+3) at Ohio State
Pick: Michigan State
Michigan State tied for the Big Ten title last year, but they didn't play Ohio State. Now they get a Buckeyes team that is a shell of their former self. No Tressel, no Pryor, and no offense.
Ohio State is probably going to eat the Spartan offensive line for lunch, but what will the Buckeyes do on offense themselves? That means this will be a very low scoring game, and there's no way you can trust OSU's offense to try and win a game down the stretch. I'll take Sparty in an outright upset.
Arizona (+12.5) at USC
Finally Vegas and the betting public have given up on Arizona, so much so that they are getting a crap ton of points to a USC team that was semi-blown out by Arizona State last weekend. As Irish fans, we've grown accustomed to not trust these large spreads for USC against any decent opponent.
I mean, this is basically the same spread as the Notre Dame-Purdue game---is anyone willing to bet that USC covers this? I'm certainly not. I think there's just enough juice and talent in the Wildcat tank to keep this game close into the fourth quarter.
Auburn (+10) at #10 South Carolina
You could just tell that Vegas, voters, and the rest of America didn't trust Auburn at all. Now, once they've lost they get a nice big spread like this on the road at South Carolina.
Here's the deal: South Carolina's defense has been porous and Auburn is going to be able to move the ball. Come to think of it, Auburn's defense is probably worse but I don't trust the Gamecock quarterback situation. Plus, you know Spurrier will run the hell out of Marcus Lattimore and eat up a lot of clock.
That likely means not a ton of points for South Carolina, and just enough for Auburn to cover.
#13 Clemson (+7) at #11 Virginia Tech
I saw something scroll across the bottomline at the gym saying that Clemson has never beat 3 ranked teams in a row. Can they do it this year? Probably not, but what do we know about Virginia Tech yet?
We know this could be Tech's biggest game of the year given how snuggly soft their schedule is---so I'm assuming they will be well prepared. I really, really, really want to take the Hokies here, but this is just too many points. I have a feeling I'll regret this pick, but I can't give Virginia Tech this much clout.
#17 Texas (-9.5) at Iowa State
I haven't had the opportunity to watch much of the Longhorns this season, but from the glimpses I've seen and the reports I've read, they seemed to have left a lot of last year's debacle behind. Now, they are back to winning games and even doing so with comfort at times.
A lot is being made of this game because of the Cyclones win at Texas last year, and Iowa State seems pretty decent this year after beating Iowa and UConn. They are also coming off of a bye week as well. But sign me up for Texas to quietly win this game pretty easily---the talent disparity is quite large and the Horns have their screwed on straight right now.
#8 Nebraska (+9.5) at #7 Wisconsin
This is a really tough game to pick mainly because both teams' stocks are really high, but neither has played a good team yet. Nebraska has played 3 patsies and a terrible Oregon State team, outscoring their opponents 194-34 so far. Nebraska has played a slightly tougher slate of Chattanooga, Fresno State, Washington, and Wyoming.
There are some whispers throughout the country that Nebraska's defense isn't up to par this year (67 points given up between Fresno State & Washington) and that concerns me here. I'm also concerned that calling Taylor Martinez an average passer is being incredibly kind.
This is one of those games where nearly all the signs are pointing to a Wisconsin victory---but can we expect them to win by 10 points? I generally think Wisconsin's annual soft schedule makes them look a little bit better than they are, and Nebraska coming to Madison for the first time in almost 40 years is going to be a big challenge.
I like T-Mart and Burkhead to run around just enough to keep this game close.
#3 Alabama (-3.5) at #12 Florida
These two teams have played against each other in the SEC championship game 7 times since 1992 (including 2 out of the last three seasons) but Alabama has only played inside the Swamp twice since 1991, and it's been 5 years since their last visit.
I'm skeptical of Florida at this point---yes I know their running game has looked incredible and the offense as a whole has looked a lot better, but I don't trust John Brantley at quarterback. I especially don't trust him going up against an Alabama defense that is going to smack him in the mouth upon arrival.
I still think that pound for pound Alabama is the best team in the country and a 3.5 point spread is foolish to pass up against a Gator team with a shaky offensive line. The Tide roll in Charlie Weis' first wake up call in SEC football.
Enjoy the weekend!