Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/12/14
Wisconsin-michigan

It only took four weeks to get there, but finally we had a majority of the Tailgater trio enjoy a winning week against the spread.  Better yet, despite our different picks we’ve achieved identical records through the first month of the year.  There’s still work left to do; this unpredictable business has all of us scratching our heads.  And you actual gamblers out there have to be wondering whether Vegas is going to keep abusing your wallets.  Hey, if this week’s Thursday game was any indication (Washington 17, Stanford 13), the answer is a resounding yes.

Zach Bigalke: 15-18 (5-4)
John Mitchell: 15-18 (4-5)
Matt Strobl: 15-18 (5-4)

*****

Week 5 Picks

With fingers crossed that we can continue this trend of success, let’s jump into week 5.  It’s September’s swan song if you can believe it.  The season still feels brand new, but October is knocking on the door, and conference play begins in earnest all around the nation.  There are key matchups is the Pac 12, Big Ten, SEC, and Big 12.

Here’s what the Tailgater crew is predicting. Rankings are according to the AP Top 25 poll. All times are eastern. All picks are against the spread as defined by Yahoo! Sports’ final lines.

Saturday, 12:00pm. Morgantown, WV
Baylor Bears @ West Virginia (-11.5)

Strobl: I switched my choice three times on this one, unsure as the line fluttered around the 13-point mark before dropping to its current 11.5.  It still gives me pause.  WVU showed some weaknesses last Saturday and Baylor is no pushover.  Still, this will be the Bears’ toughest test of the year, and I suspect that West Virginia coach Dana Holgersen will have his team fired up.  The Mountaineers need a rebound performance in this conference clash that serves as their welcome to the Big 12.  PICK: West Virginia

Mitchell: This would have been a no brainier for me before West Virginia seriously struggled against Maryland last week. I’d take the over in points in this one regardless of where the number is at now because neither defense is going to be able to stop the opposing offense. I think the Mountaineers are a little bit better on defense than the Bears, and I do think Baylor is a little bit overrated. This is a long conference road trip for Baylor as they make the 1300 mile trek to Morgantown. Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith will be waiting and he is licking his chops to face the 90th ranked total defense in the country. Nick Florence will help Baylor’s offense stick around for a while, but West Virginia should pull away and win by two touchdowns. PICK: West Virginia

Bigalke: I understand that this game is in Morgantown; the Bears have their longest conference road trip ahead of them this weekend, and the Mountaineers are never an easy draw. But while West Virginia plays better defense than Baylor, neither could be considered a legitimate championship-level defense. Art Briles’ team has survived after the graduation of Robert Griffin III, a guy who seemed to be in Waco for a lifetime, with new QB Nick Florence leading the nation in total offense with 388 yards a game. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is just eight yards behind him, ranked 2nd in offensive production. I’d rather pick the over, no matter what they give you… but that’s what many said about last week’s game between Oregon and Arizona, and look where that got you. Now you’re a degenerate gambler looking for some edge, and here’s what I’ll tell you. I think this is a shootout in the making, one of those instant classics that people talk about for years, and that means it’ll come down to who scores last. Either way… PICK: Baylor

Saturday, 12:21pm. College Station, TX
Arkansas Razorbacks 
@ Texas A&M Aggies (-14)

Strobl: Ok, so I was wrong about Arkansas beating up on the Big East’s little Rutgers.  And the Hogs have looked awful this season, both with and without Tyler Wilson.  But there’s simply too much talent on the squad for me to think that the program is really as dysfunctional as it seems.  Texas A&M is nothing special, though the Aggies did hang tough with Florida.  While I wouldn’t be surprised to see A&M win one for the 12th Man, I think this big spread gives Arkansas ample room to cover. PICK: Arkansas

Mitchell: This will probably blow up in my face, but I’m looking for Arkansas to show a little bit of pride this week. They came out swinging against Rutgers last week and lost by double digits at home. The Arkansas defense has been terrible so far this year, and Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has looked very good this year. Tyler Wilson returned last week and looked good against Rutgers, but outside of Cobi Hamilton’s 300+ yard receiving day, he didn’t get much help. For some reason I think the Hogs are going to come out and play really hard in a must-win game on the road in College Station. It’s probably going to be a shootout, and Texas A&M will probably win, but I think Arkansas will keep it within two touchdowns. PICK: Arkansas

Bigalke: It’s this simple. The Aggies have a top-12 defense in the country, fitting right in with the mold in which the SEC’s champions are forged. They’re not going to be a champion this year, mind you, but they’re on their way toward developing the right schematic advantage (given the state they call home and their new conference affiliation) to compete with Alabama and LSU in the West. Right now they’re at least two touchdowns better than a dysfunctional Arkansas team. I could yammer on about how QB Johnny Manziel generates over 300 yards of offense a game, making the folks in College Station wonder Tannewho?! But the big line shouldn’t be overthought.  PICK: Texas A&M

Saturday, 3:30pm. East Lansing, MI
Ohio State Buckeyes
@ Michigan State Spartans(-2.5)

Strobl: I desperately want to be wrong here and feel like a traitor for going against the Buckeyes.  But having watched nearly every minute of OSU’s first four games, I’ve seen too many weaknesses.  The passing game has yet to develop, Jordan Hall needs to emerge as the team’s leading back, and the secondary is full of holes.  Michigan State hasn’t been any prize either, but at home with a conference win on the line, I expect Sparty to eke one out. PICK: Michigan State

Mitchell: Michigan State has looked like anything but the Top-10 team they were after beating Boise State in the opener over the last two weeks. They were absolutely picked apart by Notre Dame and struggled to beat Eastern Michigan last week. Even in East Lansing, I don’t buy them being a 2.5 point favorite over the Buckeyes. Granted, Ohio State has struggled the last two weeks and got a scare from both California and UAB. Michigan State’s offense has been one-dimensional so far this year with Andrew Maxwell struggling at QB. Le’Veon Bell will be going up against an imposing Ohio State defensive front. Braxton Miller should be the difference in this one as he makes plays through the air and on the ground. In what should be a pretty low scoring game, I look for Miller to make a big play or two to lift the Buckeyes to the victory. PICK: Ohio State

Bigalke: The Buckeyes are underdogs for the first time this season. They allow just over 17 points a game… but Michigan State allows 5.5 fewer points a game, and the Spartans play at home. They’ve been pushed already at home by Boise State and Notre Dame, barely escaping the former and losing the latter. So you can’t say that there’s a decided home-field advantage in East Lansing. Urban Meyer is still finding his new team too dependent on Braxton Miller to generate all the offense (Jordan Hall, the senior RB, is ranked 2nd in total offense with just 64 yards a game… nearly five times less than Miller’s gains passing and throwing. New Spartan QB Andrew Maxwell hasn’t been spectacular, but this will be a low-scoring affair that I have a feeling is going to swing in the home team’s favor by at least a field goal. PICK: Michigan State

Saturday, 3:30pm. Athens, GA
Tennessee Volunteers 
@ Georgia Bulldogs (-13.5)

Strobl: It seemed like Derek Dooley had finally turned things around in Knoxville.  Tennessee football felt relevant again.  But after the Vols were blasted by Florida and struggled against Akron, it’s hard to have much faith in Orange.  The Dawgs, meanwhile, has lived up to and even exceeded early expectations. PICK: Georgia

Mitchell: I was high on Tennessee coming into the season, and they seemingly were living up to it after dismantling NC State in Atlanta to open the season. But then the second half happened against Florida, and the Vols were exposed as a very flawed football team. It took them a lot longer than it should have last week to put away a bad Akron team at home, and I just don’t see anyway they go to Athens and keep this one within two touchdowns against Georgia. Aaron Murray is dialed in and young running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley have made Dawg fans forget all about Isaiah Crowell. Tennessee’s tissue paper defense should be no match for the Georgia offense. PICK: Georgia

Bigalke: Like the A&M-Arkansas game, one could be at risk of overthinking this one due to the rotund line handed out by Vegas. The Bulldogs are a top-30 team both rushing and passing the football, and their defense allows nearly eight points less a game than the unit fielded by Tennessee. In every way Georgia is the better team here. And they’re playing between the hedges, which adds another few points to their score right there. They’re at least two touchdowns better than Tennessee. PICK: Georgia

Saturday, 3:30pm. Landover, MD
Virginia Tech Hokies
@ Cincinnati Bearcats (+6.5)

Strobl: I’d need a few more points to side with my Bearcats here.  VT has shown that it isn’t as dominant as in previous years, but Munchie Legaux and company simply aren’t dependable enough to warrant a pick away from Nippert Stadium.  Butch Jones hasn’t yet matched Brian Kelly’s level of success, and one has to wonder if Cincy’s fifteen minutes of fame came and went.  I believe the the Bearcats can continue to compete in the Big East.  But VT has more talent and that should show on the field.  Even in this “road” game. PICK: Virginia Tech

Mitchell: I’d probably pick Cincinnati if this was actually a home game for the Bearcats in the Queen City. Instead, this game is being played in Landover, Maryland which has been a home away from home for the Hokies. Any spread under seven in college football and I usually resort to just picking winners. Logan Thomas hasn’t lived up to his enormous hype so far this year and he played very poorly against Big East opponent Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. He’s going up against a stout Cincinnati defense that is giving up only 8.5 points per game this year. Of course, this is the first real test for the Bearcats. I look for Virginia Tech to get back on track and get a nice win over Cincinnati by a touchdown or so. PICK: Virginia Tech

Bigalke: The Hokies are road favorites against the undefeated Bearcats. Why? They’ve even got a common opponent… where Cincinnati beat Pitt by 24, the Panthers in turn knocked off Virginia Tech by 18. Even given that Cincy got to play Pitt at home and Tech had to play them in Pittsburgh, it’s a wide enough disparity to make you wonder just what Vegas sees in Beamer’s crew. Despite not being held in Nippert Stadium, the Big East won all three head-to-head matchups against ACC schools last week. I’m leaning not just against this line but picking the Bearcats outright.  PICK: Cincinnati

Saturday, 7:50pm. Stillwater, OK
Texas @ Oklahoma State (+1.5)

Strobl: I’m not prepared to say that Texas football is “back”, but the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.  Or so they say.  The Longhorns have been consistent and solid all year, while Oklahoma State has swung like a pendulum from dominant to dominated.  In what amounts to a pick ‘em situation, I’ll bet on the bull, not the cowboy. PICK: Texas

Mitchell: This spread is lower than I think it should be, and Oklahoma State actually opened up as a favorite before Vegas quickly wised up. Both teams have had a bye week to prepare for this game, but Texas has clearly looked like the better team to this point. They haven’t really been tested so far, but they did go on the road and beat an improved Ole Miss team by 35 points. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, failed their lone test of the season as they were beaten soundly by Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona. That loss looks even worse now that Oregon completely exposed the Wildcats last week. The Longhorn defense is strong as advertised, and the offense looks better than it has since Colt McCoy left Austin. David Ash has been one of the most efficient passers in the nation, and Texas is averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the ground so far this year. PICK: Texas

Bigalke: Ol’ Tejas has surprised me this season. The boys in Austin have gelled to the point where they are scoring at their old Big XII levels, when Vince Young and Colt McCoy were captaining the offense. (Not to say David Ash is at that level… yet.) The defense is playing at least at a respectable level for the league, a top-35 unit nationally in a league of suddenly stout defenses. Oklahoma State, though, is not among those stout defenses. Texas should win this game, and they should win it comfortably enough that it doesn’t come down to a single poin. PICK: Texas

Saturday, 8:00pm. Lincoln, NE
Wisconsin Badgers @ Nebraska Cornhuskers (-11.5)

Strobl: Few teams have looked worse relative to expectations than have the Badgers.  This team could easily be winless on the year despite an eviably easy schedule; instead their lone loss was to a surprisingly good Oregon State team.  Maybe the Badgers luck has finally run out and they’ll get stomped by Nebraska.  On the other hand, maybe this early-season slump will give way to the type of football we’re used to seeing in Madison.  The fact is, Nebraska has its own issues to resolve, and UCLA isn’t quite the upstart it appeared to be.  That makes the ‘Huskers’ upset loss in Pasadena look even worse.  Wisconsin will probably lose on the road, but I like the odds of this one finishing with a small margin of victory. PICK: Wisconsin

Mitchell: Wisconsin has looked nothing like their Rose Bowl selves from a year ago, and it appears the loss of Russell Wilson was a much bigger loss than many expected. The biggest surprise has been how poorly the Wisconsin offensive line has played, which has kept record-breaking running back Montee Ball from doing much of anything so far this year. The Badgers lost on the road to Oregon State, and had narrow margins of victories against the likes of Northern Iowa, Utah State, and UTEP. So why am I picking Wisconsin? A hunch really. Big Ten games are a different animal, and it’s not like Nebraska has looked like a Rose Bowl threat this year either as they lost their lone test so far this season. Nebraska appears to have the better team on paper, and Taylor Martinez has shown a lot of improvement this year, but I think the Badgers can keep this in single digits. PICK: Wisconsin

Bigalke: My, oh my, what has happened in Madison? Bret Bielema is dealing with a new coaching staff on offense, new cogs on an offensive line that seems suddenly shaky, and a quarterback situation that deteriorates by the day. Things seem better in Lincoln, but are they really? The Badgers actually have a better defense statistically than the Blackshirts, and that despite Wisconsin’s seeming ineptitude in 2012. I have a feeling the home side is going to win this game, but unlike the other double-digit lines above this one gives me pause. Nebraska could easily win this one 38-28, but I don’t see it turning into any more of a blowout than that. PICK: Wisconsin

Saturday, 10:00pm. Tucson, AZ
Oregon State Beavers @ Arizona Wildcats (-2.5)

Strobl: This isn’t exactly the same threat the Wildcats faced last week, but Arizona was absolutely throttled by the Ducks while Oregon State beat a solid UCLA team on the road.  So maybe the ‘Cats need to worry about the entire Beaver State.  Somehow, ‘Zona is favored– the win over Oklahoma State must be lingering in the minds of many a bookmaker.  Unfortunately everything that’s happened since that victory points toward Oregon State winning on the road. PICK: Oregon State

Mitchell: This line scares me. Arizona has no business being favored in this game, which makes me think Vegas knows something we don’t. I’d stay away from this one. Still, the Beavers have looked VERY impressive through their first two games this season and already have two quality wins on their resume after beating Wisconsin and UCLA. Arizona has a nice win over Oklahoma State, but they laid an egg last week against Oregon. I think the Beavers’ defense should be up to the task against an explosive Arizona offense. Oregon State has completely shut down the run the last two weeks against top-notch running backs Montee Ball and Jonathan Franklin. Offensively, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion has been very good, and Arizona has been pretty bad defending the pass in 2012. PICK: Oregon State

Bigalke: Still the only love the Beavers can get is courtesy of Kenneth Massey, whose computer algorithm keeps spitting out Oregon State as the top team in the country. After upsetting Wisconsin at home in their season opener, Mike Riley’s crew went to the Rose Bowl and dismantled the team that had held UCLA’s top-15 offense in check. Arizona returns home after getting goose-egged by the Ducks in Eugene and falling out of favor in the polls. Momentum is on Oregon State’s side here, and their defense should be able to withstand Matt Scott, Ka’Deem Carey and company. PICK: Oregon State

*****

Picks of the Week: Our Favorite Point Spreads

Strobl: Arizona State (0) over California   I’m trying to figure this one out.  The line went from being in Cal’s favor (-2.5) before dropping to 0 late this week.  What exactly were the bookmakers looking at from Monday through Thursday?  The Golden Bears don’t have a single FBS win to their credit afte starting 1-3.  Beating Big Sky Southern Utah doesn’t tell us much, and the Berkeley advantage didn’t work so well in Cal’s 31-24 loss to Nevada.  Yet Vegas is accepting that the Bears are on even footing with the Sundevils?  Arizona State isn’t a powerhouse, but wins over Utah and Illinois are worth far more than anything Cal has done.  One halfway decent game at Columbus and a friendly venue gives the Bears a push line, but ASU is the better team.   Mitchell: Louisiana Tech (-3) over Virginia   Louisiana Tech gets my kiss of death this week as I’ve gone 0-4 in these picks so far this year. I almost got last week’s pick correct, but Louisville yielded a late touchdown to Florida International to allow them to cover the 13.5 point spread. This week, Louisiana Tech finds themselves only a three point favorite on the road against Virginia. The Cavaliers have been beaten soundly in their last two games against Georgia Tech and TCU, and the Bulldogs have looked very impressive in their three games this year. Louisiana Tech took Illinois to the woodshed last week, and I don’t see much chance of Virginia’s defense slowing down this well oiled machine. Colby Cameron has been unbelievable this year with 913 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. Louisiana Tech is legit, and they’ll take another step toward proving that with a win over Virginia.   Bigalke: Minnesota (+7) over Iowa   Really, Vegas? You have a 2-2 Hawkeyes team that lost to Iowa State and Central Michigan as a touchdown favorite over the undefeated Golden Gophers? Jerry Kill’s team has a legitimately nasty defense and two solid QBs in MarQueis Gray and Donnell Kirkwood. Iowa has… a slumping James Vanderberg. And yet, in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale — one of the weirdest trophy games in college football, as the neighboring states duel for a bronze pig — it’s Minnesota that’s the underdog. Don’t just take the points… take the Gophers outright. Time for Kill’s squad to go to 5-0 and start to make the Big Ten wonder if they have the stamina to muscle their way into the league championship.   ***** Join us in the coming weeks as Tailgater continues to present its weekly picks and previews along with reactions to the best and worst of what college football has to offer.
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