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If this is the reincarnation of 2007, expect a couple of crazy upsets, a lot of close calls, and wild finishes.

NCAA Fact or Fanatic: Week Three Edition and Picks

fact-or-fanatic350pixels_use-this-oneWell, we told you guys that last week we’d be putting our perfect-pick record on the line. But honestly, we’d rather go 2-3 in order to gain the magnificent chaos that descended upon college football last week.

Louisville didn’t make a statement in its absolute decimation of Florida State; it made a Hannibal Lecter-approved buffet out of the woeful Seminoles. Ohio State didn’t upset Oklahoma, it exposed it. And Miami dismantled the upstart Appalachian State Mountaineers in a game we’d really hoped would be an upset of the highest order.

But our correct picks were interesting as well. Alabama finally shrugged off the Ole Miss jinx in a wild up-and-down affair that was tremendous fun.

The real jewel of the day, though – and of our picks – was North Dakota State’s absolute refusal to buy into the Iowa hype. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes must have believed their own press, because if they’d bothered to take the Bisons seriously they might not have gotten shocked at home. However, we did take NDSU seriously, and that pick is the feather in our cap. Overall, 12-3 on the season is still not that bad, and with a huge slate of rivalry games up this weekend we’ll take any cushion we can get.

As usual, though, we have a few myths to bust or confirm first. So let’s take a look at what we learned.

Notre Dame, Texas, Iowa, Oregon, USC, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss Are CFP Contenders

Nope, no, nada, uh uh, heck no, and ain’t happenin’. Fanatic.

Houston and Louisville Will Be Exposed

Cardinals wide receiver DeVante Parker completes a reception during the University of Louisville-Eastern Kentucky University football game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 7, 2013. Billed as Military Appreciation Day, the game featured a number of events to highlight the exceptional service of Kentucky Air National Guardsmen. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

This is fact. Houston and Louisville were both exposed as CFP contenders. Tom Herman has built a giant of a team that came back against a scrappy Cincinnati and mounted an oh-no-you-don’t 28-point dominant fourth quarter. Louisville under Rick Petrino absolutely dismantled a Florida State team that started the day by not showing up and gave up about two minutes into the third quarter in suffering the worst loss in program history. If Louisville can pull off the same kind of dominance over a Clemson team that’s looked sluggish so far this season, then the Houston-Louisville game later this season might be the game of the year. Make no mistake: That game will be winner-take-all.

2016 is the new 2007

Remember 2007? That was the year nobody wanted to stay ranked in the top 10. That was the year of the upset. Appalachian State took down Michigan in the Big House in the biggest upset in college football history to kick the season off. LSU was ranked #1 twice, and lost both of those weeks, to Kentucky and Arkansas. Ohio State was ranked #1 and lost to Illinois. Colorado beat #3 Oklahoma. Stanford beat #2 USC. And the BCS Championship game featured a one-loss Ohio State losing to a two-loss LSU. No one was safe. No one was dominant. Anyone could win. It might be early to call this fact, but if you’re a football fanatic, buckle up. It’s going to be a crazy year.

Class Act of the Week

We have several honorees this week. A couple of weeks ago we got all teary-eyed discussing the Nebraska missing-man punter formation to honor punter Sam Foltz, who was killed in a car accident this summer along with former Michigan State kicker Mike. LSU placekicker Colby Delahoussaye was also in the wreck, but survived. This season, he’s honoring Foltz and Sadler with a pair of cleats with “SAMIKE” on the bottoms, a tribute to his fallen friends and colleagues. Northwestern players are wearing helmet stickers for Foltz during their game against Nebraska this weekend. And in another eye-burning tribute, Oregon’s head coach and kicker placed flowers at their 27-yard line prior to warmups against the Cornhuskers last Saturday.

There are a lot of reasons to question the behavior of some players and teams overall in college ball in recent years, with athletes and schools getting into legal trouble. But we cannot help but applaud those moments when the game becomes secondary to humanity, so kudos to all.

Our second class act doesn’t have anything to do with college football, but high school football. It’s one of those moments that doesn’t need our words. Just the video. Brilliant, Michigan’s Novi Wildcats and senior Robby Heil. Just brilliant.

Trash Act of the Week

College football officiating, get your act together. Figure out what’s targeting and what’s not and stick to it. In the Alabama-Ole Miss game, both the Bama QB Jalen Hurts and the Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly were hit with vicious upper torso hits: helmet to the neck/shoulder region. Both players’ heads snapped back. Both players hit the ground hard. But only one foul was called targeting.

Yeah, yeah – there must be a huge statistical difference when a linebacker hits another player’s head and neck with 33% of his helmet vs. 40% of his helmet. Just huge. Let’s be for real here: if the NCAA is really serious about protecting the players, then protect them. A hit like that is either targeting or it’s not. There should be no gray area.

And for the record, we’re seeing a nasty trend where officiating mistakes are affecting the outcomes of games. The most egregious, of course, was Oklahoma State’s loss to Central Michigan with a crazy lateral on an extra down.

An extra down?

Let’s make a new rule. If you can’t count to five, you can’t be a referee. Period. And think about digitizing the down marker; that way we’ll know that some idiot on the field isn’t going to mess up a team’s chance of winning the game through a “mistake” a four-year-old wouldn’t make.

And yes, we know it was a “misapplication of the rules” that caused that extra down, but permit us a moment of hyperbole to make our point. The officiating crew has one job: to apply the rules to the field of play. If the officials can’t be trusted to do that one thing without subjectivity or accuracy, then they are in the wrong field. The teams need to decide the outcome, not the refs.

And while the officiating crew responsible for the debacle of OKST-CMU was suspended for two weeks, they’ll be back working a game next week. We hope they’ll learn the rules and apply them equally from here on out, because the past couple of weeks have raised a nasty, still-unspoken suspicion that perhaps there’s subjectivity at work in some of these instances. So we’ll be the first to say what everyone is wondering.

Nothing would destroy the game and season faster than the suspicion of cheating by the officials. Straighten it out, NCAA. Now.

On to the Picks

We were surprised as much as anyone last week, and our 2-3 record demonstrates that. But at 12-3 for season, we’re still doing okay. And that leads us to this week’s picks.

There are some huge rivalry games coming up, and all the records and common wisdom goes out the window when two teams that hate each other go at it on the field. It’s just like watching The Voice: you know the singer should pick Adam Levine, and yet somehow Blake Shelton always gets him. (Yes, we are binge-watching the new season as we write this.) And this year in particular, be prepared for anything to happen.

#7 Stanford at UCLA: Before the season began, this was generally figured to be a huge ranked-vs-ranked conference game in the PAC-12. And it would have been if Texas A&M hadn’t managed tobruin_on_bruin_scrimmage_ucla just scrape by UCLA in double OT.

The keys to the game are simple: can the Bruins stop Christian McCaffrey, the one-man wrecking ball of the Stanford offense; and can Stanford find a way to bottle up Josh Rosen, who had a barnburner of a game last week against BYU. So yes, we’re looking at the defenses instead of the offensive stars, and that makes us lean toward UCLA, who absolutely destroyed BYU’s rushing attack last week. The wild card here and the potential difference comes in the kicking game. UCLA, listen to us. Do not kick to #5. Do not punt to #5. Do not put any ball in McCaffrey’s hands in the kicking game, period. If you’re listening, Bruins, we’ll go with you for the upset. UCLA 38 Stanford 35

#18 LSU at Auburn: A few weeks ago, this seemed a no-brainer. Now it still is, because it’s impossible to predict with any certainty what either offense will do, with both Les Miles and Gus Malzahn teetering on the edge of “off with his head!” pitchfork mob hot seats.

LSU has Leonard Fournette and Auburn has Kamryn Pettiway and both have really helped to keep some of the pressure off uncertain QB situations. Both LSU and Auburn have strong, scrappy defenses going up against offensive lines that have both been, at times, just awful.

In the end, it comes down to which team stops the other on the line and which coach keeps his cool long enough to orchestrate a win. Auburn took Clemson and A&M both to the mat, but LSU’s QB, Purdue transfer Danny Etling, seems to be taking command of his offense. It’s a total tossup, but whichever team pulls off the win can save its season. The other can’t. We’ll probably regret this, but – Auburn 28 LSU 27

#11 Wisconsin at #8 Michigan State: One of these teams is fibbing to us. Wisconsin took out LSU on opening weekend and then probably should have lost to Georgia Southern. Michigan State probably should have lost to Furman and then slashed Notre Dame’s playoff hopes decisively.

With Iowa reeling after last week, the winner of this game is the only team capable of knocking off Ohio State and Michigan from the B1G title picture. This is an offensive rebuilding year in East Lansing, but coach Mark Dantonio is the kind of coach who makes his players supersede themselves.

In Wisconsin, coach Paul Chryst benched QB Bart Houston when the Badgers were down to Georgia Southern and brought in freshman Alex Hornibrook, who gave them a strong finish and won the game. But where Michigan State took a step forward since the Furman near-disaster, Wisconsin took a step back from the big win at Lambeau Field over LSU. We have to think that’s a trend and momentum shift that spells success for Sparty at home. Michigan State 35 Wisconsin 24

arkansas_at_texas_am_2012#17 Arkansas at #11 Texas A&M: Pay close attention to this game. Not just because it’s going to be a fantastic one, but because you will be watching the emergence of one of these middle-of-the-pack SEC West teams into the forefront of the division and conference contention.

Both the Razorbacks and Aggies have pulled off stunning upsets and equally shocking losses in the past few seasons, a parallel that has kept both teams from rising to the top. Both have hungry fanbases and equally hungry coaches. Both have good quarterbacks and offensive stars. Both have absolutely vicious defenses. And both have everything to gain.

So the real question here is: Which team is hungrier? Which teams wants it more? Because on paper these teams match up with near-identical attacks.

The key here is whether the speedy Aggies can get around that line of Hogs and pressure QB Austin Allen. If they can manage that, their secondary might have a field day. But if Bret Bielema’s beloved o-line protects its young quarterback, it’ll be Woo Pig Sooie (yes, that’s how you spell it) in Jerry World.

This is allegedly a neutral site game, and it will be decided by one mistake. The Arkansas defense has been forcing those mistakes all season. Arkansas 38 Texas A&M 35

#19 Florida at #14 Tennessee: Make no mistake: This is the biggest game of the year for both teams. Neither squad has looked very impressive so far this season. Tennessee has come out flat in all three of its games, relying on a hardcore defense and the rushing attack to defeat its foes. Interestingly, its only big-time win was in its only big-time game, jacking up Virginia Tech with an absolute evisceration of the Hokies’ accident-prone offense during the Battle at Bristol.

Florida looks great – when it’s playing hopelessly outmatched teams. But even so, the Gators barely scraped together a victory over the abysmal UMass Minutemen, who were ranked 128th of 128 D1 teams. Dominating Liberty and Kentucky makes for great stats, but that’s about it.

On the line is the fast track to the SEC East title and the streak. Florida has beaten Tennessee 11 years in a row, as everyone’s been reminding the Vols for months. But there’s a notable difference in this year’s game, and not on the field. For some reason, the Gators have been talking and talking and talking about Tennessee. Just this week, Florida players were delivering insults like newspaper boys. But the response in Knoxville has been silence. Aside from a couple of social media exchanges all the way back in March, the Vols have ignored all the baiting and have not said a word back to the Florida bad boys.

Forget the stats, forget the records, forget the streak. When the Volunteers and Gators take the field on Saturday, there’s nothing else to consider but how much these schools really hate each other. It’s our experience that the teams that don’t respond to trash talk are the ones who do their talking on the field, and the Volunteers’ relatively quiet offensive play selection to date makes us suspicious. Full disclosure: we’re one hundred percent Tennessee Volunteer and have been since birth. So we’re not picking the score or the winner, but have every expectation of saying “we told you so” on Saturday afternoon.

#12 Georgia at #23 Ole Miss: It’s hard to believe Ole Miss is still ranked after going 1-2 to start, but look who the Rebels lost to and how. This team would be 3-0 if it had played the same three teams that Georgia opened its season with, make no mistake. And if it weren’t for a couple of costly mistakes, the Rebels would be 3-0. Late-game defensive collapses against Florida State and Alabama put senior QB Chad Kelly in the underdog position as his team welcomes the Dawgs to Oxford.

Georgia, on the other hand, is 3-0. But its defense is suspect and its offensive line terrible. Nick Chubb ran for over 200 yards against North Carolina in the opener, but has been held under 100 yards in back-to-back games against Nicholls State and Missouri. It may sound strange to say that a 1-2 team is much more impressive than an undefeated team in the same conference, but there it is. And since the UT-UF game is a mulligan, we’ll give you a bonus game to sink your teeth into.

But it won’t be the Dawgs with the teeth on Saturday. Ole Miss finally remembers who they are, and teaches Georgia who they are in the process. Ole Miss 42 Georgia 21

Well, we’ll see how our record looks next week as we head into what should be a fun weekend. Just remember: If this is the reincarnation of 2007, expect a couple of crazy upsets, a lot of close calls, and wild finishes. If you want to argue, call us crazy, or just get your two cents out there, tell us all about it in the comments. If you want us to pick your game in coming weeks, let us know.

Oh, and by the way: We warned you that North Dakota State was going to shoot down Iowa. Welcome to the season’s first NCAA Fact or Fanatic We Told You So.


About Celina Summers

Celina Summers is a speculative fiction author who mashes all kinds of genres into one giant fantasy amalgamation. Her first fantasy series, The Asphodel Cycle, was honored with multiple awards--including top ten finishes for all four books in the P&E Readers' Poll, multiple review site awards, as well as a prestigious Golden Rose nomination. Celina also writes contemporary literary fantasy under the pseudonym CA Chevault. Celina has worked as an editor for over a decade, including managing editor at two publishing houses. Celina blogs about publishing, sports, and politics regularly. A well-known caller on the Paul Finebaum Show and passionate football fan, when Celina takes times off it's usually on Saturdays in the fall. You can read her personal blog at www.kaantira.blogspot.com and her website is at www.cachevault.org

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