(Note: This is usually a Friday post, but because one of the games picked is tonight, I have published this post this morning.)
Game of the Week: Arizona State at Stanford. The Cardinal host the weekend’s only matchup of ranked teams. Stanford is an 8-point favorite at home, coming off a game at Army that was too close for comfort. The Sun Devils are looking for their second straight upset win, after beating Wisconsin at home in a controversial finish. On paper, these teams are pretty even. Both are 2-0, and both quarterbacks have 5 TDs and 1 interception. While Stanford has outrushed Arizona State, the Sun Devils have more passing yards than the Cardinal, and actually have more overall as well. Expect this game to be close late. In that situation, I give the edge to Stanford; they are at home and they’ve got experience in big games going down to the wire. Stanford 34, Arizona State 27.
Big Game Guarantee: Michigan State at Notre Dame. The Irish are favored by a touchdown at home, and are coming off a come-from-behind win at Purdue. The Spartans lost to the Irish last year, after coming in ranked 10th in the nation, when the Notre Dame defense held Michigan State to 50 rushing yards in a 20-3 upset win. You could make a case that it was that game a year ago that got the ball rolling for the eventual Notre Dame run to the National Championship game. Notre Dame is 2-1, with the loss coming at Michigan. Michigan State does come in 3-0, although South Florida is the best team they’ve beaten. Like the Arizona State-Stanford game, look for home-field advantage and experience to be a big factor. Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 7.
Upset of the Week: Clemson at NC State. Go ahead and call me crazy. Actually, my gut tells me Clemson, a 14-point favorite, should win this game somewhat easily. It is statistics that tell me otherwise. The Tigers come in ranked 3rd in the nation, exactly where Florida State was ranked when they were stunned in Raleigh last year, 17-16. That game saw the Wolfpack down 16-0 at the half, but they came storming back in the second half and shocked the world, winning on a last second touchdown. In 2011, Clemson came to Raleigh ranked 7th, but NC State captured an upset win, blowing out the Tigers, 37-13. NC State has defeated a ranked team every year since 2005, going back into the Chuck Amato era. Looking at the history of this series, known as the “Textile Bowl,” Clemson has dominated, with a record of 52-28-1. However, going all the way back to the late 1970s, Wolfpack wins have tended to come in pairs. While they didn’t win last year to back up that 2011 win over Clemson, a win Thursday night would be back-to-back at home. Finally, while everyone talks about Clemson’s superior offense, NC State actually averages more yards per game so far than the Tigers (493 against 490). The Wolfpack led 24-13 in the second quarter of last year’s game in Death Valley; look for them to finish the job. If nothing else, Dave Doeren will have his team fired up and ready. NC State 31, Clemson 30.
Closer Than the Experts Think: Auburn at LSU(-18). Something’s got to give, as both of these teams come in at 3-0 on the year. Statistically, these teams are fairly similar. LSU has the edge in passing yards, as Cam Cameron has introduced a new offense that features a more lethal passing attack than in years before, and QB Zach Mettenberger has done well in the first 3 games. Auburn has looked pretty good in close wins against Washington State and Mississippi State. If this game is close, late, Auburn has been there before, coming from behind in the closing minutes last week. Auburn does have some motivation; in this battle of Tigers, the ones from the Yellowhammer State have lost 5 out of 6 (the lone win was in Auburn’s championship year), and their last win in Baton Rouge was in 1999. LSU is an 18-point favorite at home, and will eventually be too much for Gus Malzahn’s up-and-coming Auburn team, but Auburn should beat the spread and make the game a little interesting. LSU 27, Auburn 16,
BONUS NFL Pick: The Stanford Bowl: Indianapolis Colts at San Francisco 49ers. When the Colts take on the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday, former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers will face of against his former Stanford QB Andrew Luck of the Colts. To give the game even more meaning, Harbaugh was the Colts’ QB from 1994-97. How will Harbaugh draw up a gameplan to defend the QB he was coaching just three years ago? How well will Luck dissect a defense coached the same way as the ones he spent three years practicing against? As for these two teams, both are 1-1 and coming off losses last week. The Colts lost at home to the Dolphins, 24-20, while the 49ers were embarrassed by the Seahawks, 29-3, on Sunday Night Football. Offensively, these two teams are practically even in yards per game, while the Colts have outrushed the 49ers. In addition, their rushing game will improve after the acquisition of Trent Richardson on Wednesday. Defensively, the Colts have given up 50 more yards per game, but the 49ers have given up 10 more points per game. Comparing QBs, Colin Kaepernick has thrown for more yards, but also for more interceptions and a lower completion percentage. Both QBs have thrown 3 TDs in their first 2 games. The 49ers are 10-point favorites. I wonder how many of those points are included in the spread as a result of the game’s location: Candlestick Park. The ‘Niners are very hard to beat at home. 49ers 31, Colts 23.