Believe it or not, there was a time when ESPN presented enjoyable, reliable sports coverage. Cook was a big part of that. The well traveled commentator brought insight and perspective to the sport with point of view that reflected the big picture. Cook was a native of San Francisco who earned his famous nickname from a stint in Boston and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. His career in sports dates back to 1956; 30 years later he would join ESPN and become a notable television personality.
In 2010 he won the Bert McGrane Award for outstanding contributions to the Football Writers Association of America.
What I remember about Cook, having watched him growing up, is that he could recall seemingly any fact or figure at well. Of course, he, like all tv analysts, surely had an army of researchers at his disposal, but with Cook that hardly seemed necessary. Some called him an encyclopedia of football knowledge, and that probably wasn’t much of an exaggeration.
In 2012 we have all the information we want whenever we want it, courtesy of the Internet. A quarter century ago things were different, and guys like Beano actually provided the service of informing the average fan. For that, he will be missed.
Moving into week 7, the crew is hanging in there, hovering around the .500 against Vegas’ often brutal spreads.
Zach Bigalke: 25-26 (5-4)
John Mitchell: 25-26 (6-3)
Matt Strobl: 24-27 (6-3)
Week 7 Picks
Conference races began to resolve themselves last week, but we have a long way to go before anything is decided. Week 7 should be revealing, however; South Carolina will be tested on the road at LSU, and Texas must get past arch-rival Oklahoma in order to bounce back from the loss against WVU. We’re about to find out just how seriously we should be taking the Duke Blue Devils (although we’re staying way from that particular matchup to avoid any jinxes), and the last two one-loss teams in the Big Ten face off in Minnesota.
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. Norman, OK
Texas Loghorns @ Oklahoma Sooners (-3.5)
Strobl: It’s difficult to predict what will happen in this traditional Big 12 matchup. We’ve seen Texas win a shootout with Oklahoma State and lose one with West Virginia, but the Red River Rivalry is usually a different type of game than others featured in conference. I think that despite their last two weeks, the ‘Horns aren’t as bad defensively as they’ve seemed. And while the OU offense seems to be rounding into form, stomping Texas Tech isn’t quite the same thing as besting Texas. The Sooners could very well win, but I’m betting on a close game or a Texas win. PICK: Texas
Mitchell: I was set on picking Oklahoma when the line was 3, but now that the line has moved to 3.5, I’m going with the Longhorns because I think this game will be close regardless of who comes out on top. Texas’ defense has been a major disappointment to this point, but so has Oklahoma’s offense outside of their performance against Texas Tech last week. Both teams enter the Red River Rivalry with one loss with the Sooners losing at home to Kansas State, and Texas losing at home to West Virginia. Oklahoma has struggled against the run so far in 2012, and Texas is averaging 209 yards per game on the ground led by Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown. This game will likely be lower scoring than your typical Big 12 contest, but it should be a very close game. PICK: Texas
Bigalke: The Sooners are simply NOT impressive this year. Landry Jones is giving new meaning to the word “regression”, and the offense is simply mediocre (in a league where offense is king). Texas has looked far better offensively than the post-Colt era. Oklahoma has a stout defense; the Longhorns do not. What does this all mean when the two teams square off in Dallas? It means that Oklahoma can’t score like West Virginia, who Texas lost to last week by only three. The Longhorns should keep this within a field goal… in their favor. PICK: Texas
Saturday, 3:30pm. Minneapolis, MN
Northwestern Wildcats @ Minnesota Golden Gophers (+3.5)
Strobl: It amuses me that Vegas saw fit to give this game the same line as Texas-OU. The difference between these two teams is far greater; while both come in with one loss, Minnesota hasn’t played the same caliber of opponents that the ‘Cats have. I think that Northwestern’s level of preparation, not to mention its superior talent level, will win out on the road. PICK: Northwestern
Mitchell: After a 5-0 start, Northwestern suffered their first loss of the season last week in Happy Valley against Penn State. Minnesota had a strong start to the year as well winning their first four games. But, the Gophers proved to be pretenders when they were routed by Iowa two weeks ago. Neither of these teams are serious contenders for the Rose Bowl, I don’t think, but they are both solid teams that are much better than the pundits predicted in the preseason. In Minnesota’s lone loss of the season, they allowed Iowa running back Mark Weisman to gash them to the tune of 177 rushing yards and a touchdown. Those numbers should leave Northwestern running back Venric Mark licking his chops. The Wildcats should win this one by a touchdown. PICK: Northwestern
Bigalke: So neither team is undefeated, as it once looked like they might be. Whose winning streak to open the season was more of a mirage? Northwestern’s defense is stronger against the run; Minnesota’s is better in pass coverage. The Wildcats have a far better offense, led by do-it-all SlashBack Kain Colter. That ought to make the difference for Pat Fitzgerald’s team, who will be fuming after throwing away their chance at a 6-0 start against Penn State and should take it out on the Gophers this Saturday. PICK: Northwestern
Saturday, 3:30pm. Lubbock, TX
West Virginia Mountaineers @ Texas Tech Red Raiders (+4)
Strobl: Vegas would have you believe that a team that beat Baylor by 7 and Texas by 3 (keep in mind that game wasn’t quite as close as 48-45 suggests) will have an equally tough time against Texas Tech. And maybe Vegas knows something I don’t. Maybe there’s an advanced stat out there about Dana Holgorsen’s performance in back-to-back road games in the state of Texas. Sure, this is another long trip for the Mountaineers, but West Virginia has been devastating offensively this year regardless of the venue. The team’s lone hiccup came at home against Maryland, and while another stumble is possible, it seems unlikely. Texas Tech was brutalized by Oklahoma, and WVU is better than the Sooners. I suspect there’s a theory that both Kansas State and West Virginia are looking ahead to their week 8 head-to-head contest, but even if that’s true I can’t bet against Geno Smith. PICK: West Virginia
Mitchell: This is my dumbest pick of the week. Seriously, don’t listen to me right now. Vegas is in my mind. The line for this game makes absolutely no sense. Texas Tech is only a four point underdog at home against West Virginia, when this spread should probably be around 10. Vegas is begging you to take the Mountaineers here, and that’s a red flag for me. Despite the fact that 93% were picking West Virginia, the spread actually dropped, which is another red flag. Also, consider that this is the second straight road game for the Mountaineers in which they had to travel at least 1400 miles. Also, their big matchup with Kansas State is next week, so this is a potential look-ahead scenario. Texas Tech has the offense led by Seth Doege to keep up with Geno Smith and the Mountaineers in a shootout. I’m sure I’m over-thinking this, and West Virginia is going to win by 30. PICK: Texas Tech
Bigalke: Look, I know that Texas Tech’s defense has been classified as one of the stingiest in the country. It doesn’t matter… the Red Raiders haven’t yet dealt with an offense as good as the Mountaineers bring to Lubbock. And as good as Seth Doege and the Tech offense might be, are they good enough to keep up in a shootout with WVU? I have my doubts. Tommy Tuberville has reengineered the Raiders as a defensive stalwart, an odd sight indeed, but they’re just not good enough yet to stall the Mountaineer train for four quarters. PICK: West Virginia
Saturday, 3:30pm. Provo, UT
Oregon State Beavers @ BYU Cougars (-5.5)
Strobl: Oregon State shocked nearly everyone in college football with an undefeated start that included wins over Wisconsin and UCLA. Now the Beavers are in a tough spot, having lose their starting QB. So the question is whether the Beavers are a good team, or whether they were simply one guy with adequate support. There’s no question that having to replace Sean Mannion will be a tall task, and any team undergoing that kind of change is liable to struggle. But Mannion alone can’t explain this team’s record. There’s a defense here too, and last time I checked, BYU can’t score points against legitimate opponents. After managing a whopping 21 in their loss to Utah the Cougars have managed only 6 points in two of their last three. The intervening week was a 47-0 thumping of Hawai’i, but with or without Mannion, OSU is not Hawai’i. BYU is also undergoing a QB change as Taysom Hill is out for the year. Re-enter senior Riley Nelson, but that sounds like a better situation than it actually is. Oregon State has to find a way to win if it wants to continue to be taken seriously. PICK: Oregon State
Mitchell: I liked this spread a lot more when it was around three, but I’ll stick with BYU at 5.5. This was another spread that raised a red flag for me with the Cougars opening up as a 3-point favorite, a large majority of the money going toward the Beavers, and then the spread abruptly raising to 6 points despite that. Oregon State will be without starting QB Sean Mannion, who has been the Beavers offense this year. Oregon State ranks 8th in the nation in passing yards, but just 105th in rushing offense, and they are going up against a BYU defense that ranks 5th in the country. The Cougars have had trouble scoring points this year, but they shouldn’t need many to pull off the win in Provo. PICK: BYU
Bigalke: If Sean Mannion was in this game for the Beavers, my pick might be different. Oregon State has jumped to an undefeated start after flying completely under the radar in the preseason. Mike Riley has done a masterful job restoring the winning ways in Corvallis. But can he keep it up without his starting QB? The Cougars have one of the stiffest defenses in the country, and even with Mannion this was going to be a tough matchup. Without Mannion, BYU’s top-five defense should be able to key in and stifle the OSU offense whether they run or try to pass. PICK: BYU
Saturday, 3:30pm. South Bend, IN
Stanford Cardinal @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-7)
Strobl: 7 is a big spread here given that, one tof these weeks, Notre Dame is going to be Notre Dame and botch a game hard. On the other hand, Stanford isn’t very good this year. The Cardinal haven’t been able to build on their upset of USC, instead regressing in recent weeks and looking darn mediocre. If the Cardinal can barely hang with the likes of Washington and Arizona, Notre Dame should have an eay time taking this by a touchdown. I remain wary about this Irish team, but have to pick them here. PICK: Notre Dame
Mitchell: Did Josh Nunes turn the corner last week in Stanford’s come from behind victory over Arizona or was that a misnomer? We’ll find out this week as Nunes leads the Stanford offense against Notre Dame’s stout defensive unit, which has been one of the stingiest stop units in the country through five games. I think the Fighting Irish are the real deal, and with the spread just seven points, it’s hard not to take them at home. Stanford was overrated by the pundits after their win over USC, but they seemed to show their true colors against Washington. This should be a defensive struggle and a low scoring game, but look for Notre Dame to win by around 10 points. PICK: Notre Dame
Bigalke: Only Alabama allows fewer points than the Fighting Irish this season. That doesn’t bode well for a Jekyll-and-Hyde offense like Stanford’s, which has put up 50 points twice already this season… but also has scored three touchdowns or less in their other three games. (They scored at least four touchdowns in every game last season, and were held under that mark just once in the previous two years.) Notre Dame certainly isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but they won’t have to be as long as they key in on Stepfan Taylor and force Josh Nunes to throw. PICK: Notre Dame
Saturday, 8:00pm. Baton Rouge, LA
South Carolina Gamecocks @ LSU Tigers (-3)
Strobl: This is exactly the kind of game that I hate picking. My gut tells me LSU will win, not just because of the venue but because South Carolina has the well-established pattern of choking mid-season. And it would be just like the SEC to have one team looking so awful and one team looking so good yet have a total role reversal in a game of this magnitude. If I’m being honest withself, I pick the Mayou Bengals and move on…but then my brain kicks in. LSU struggled badly against Auburn, needing a lucky play or two in order to escape. LSU struggled badly against Towson- TOWSON!– and LSU was thoroughly controlled by Florida. South Carolina finally looks like a complete team. Based on performance, I’ve got to go with the Gamecocks. That the Tigers would need to win by more than three to avoid a push or worse makes this a little easier, but not much. PICK: South Carolina
Mitchell: South Carolina looked extremely impressive last week in their 35-7 win over Georgia, but we’ve seen this song and dance before from Spurrier’s Gamecocks. They beat #1 Alabama 35-21 in 2010 in impressive fashion, but they followed that up with a loss to Kentucky the very next week. Can the Gamecocks string it together for multiple weeks? We’ll find out as they travel to one of the most hostile road environments in college football: Under the lights at Tiger Stadium. On paper, South Carolina matches up very well with LSU. The Gamecocks have a fierce defensive line led by Jadeveon Clowney, and LSU’s offensive line has struggled this year with various injuries. But, it’s very tough to beat LSU at home at night, and the Tigers know this a must win if they want any chance of getting back to Atlanta this year. PICK: LSU
Bigalke: I understand that this is a night game in Death Valley, where the Tigers have been dominant over the years. But this is a different Gamecocks team than the ones that would wilt at such an opportunity. Vegas thinks they will, but with a QB that Les Miles would love to have in his huddle and a stable of skill players that put LSU’s crew to shame this season, they are going to put heavy pressure on a defense that was exposed by a far less-skilled team in Florida last week. Expect a big game for Marcus Lattimore and the other USC. PICK: South Carolina
Saturday, 9:00pm. Shreveport, LA
Texas A&M Aggies @ Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (-7.5)
Strobl: It amuses me that the ESPN SEC experts give Louisiana Tech virtually no chance. The line that jumped out me had Chris Low referring to A&M’s “high-powered offense”. Ignoring the obvious fact the A&M has feasted on defenses like South Carolina State, SMU, and Arkansas, and ignoring the other obvious fact that Florida held the vaunted Aggie attack to 17 points in College Station, offense is only half the game. Louisiana Tech is no Florida, but the Bulldogs aren’t softies either. On the road in as big a night game as Shreveport has seen in some time, A&M could find the sledding to be just a bit tougher than it’s been in recent weeks. The Aggies’ struggles against Ole Miss in week 6 don’t exactly inspire me with confidence either. PICK: Louisiana Tech
Mitchell: I really like this spread. The Bulldogs haven’t gotten a lot of respect this year despite their 5-0 start that included wins over Illinois and Virginia. Now, they get a shot to really make a statement on the national stage in Shreveport as they host Texas A&M. The Aggies have looked good in their first year in the SEC led by freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. Their only loss this year came against undefeated and Top-5 Florida. Manziel has received all the praise, but Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron has quietly been one of the best signal callers in the country with 1456 passing yards and 13 touchdowns without a interception. Take the over for sure in this one, as both offenses rank in the Top-10 in the country in scoring. If you don’t believe in Louisiana Tech, I have a feeling you will after Saturday night. PICK: Louisiana Tech
Bigalke: The Bulldogs are this season’s best hope at a BCS Buster; there are just two seasons left for that opportunity. But this goes beyond merely a good Cinderella story. Louisiana Tech has a potent offense, and one that not only scores prolifically but one that also protects the football phenomenally. Texas A&M has been better than might have been expected in their first SEC season. But we’ve seen SEC teams struggle against mid-majors already this season, and even if LA Tech loses they’re bound to keep it closer than a touchdown PICK: Louisiana Tech
Saturday, 9:00pm. Starkville, MS
Tennessee Volunteers @ Mississippi State Bulldogs (-3)
Strobl: I’ve ranked Mississippi State as one of the nation’s better teams based on their undefeated record and, well, attrition. Other teams have tumbled after losing, in many cases to talented foes. MSU hasn’t played anyone. When your best win of the year is a tossup between Auburn and Kentucky, you simply haven’t been tested. Now that weak schedule might mean absolutely nothing. After all, the best thing any team can do is win every game on its slate, and that’s what the Bulldogs have done. On the other hand, we don’t yet know how good Dan Mullen’s team really is. We know more about the Vols, who have yo-yoed through the season looking alternately good and lousy. This week, with the pressure squarely on MSU, I think the good Vols show up. At least enough to keep this one very close. PICK: Tennessee
Mitchell: Mississippi State is off to a 5-0 start, but they have yet to be tested. According to Sagarin’s rankings, the Bulldogs strength of schedule to this point ranks 136th in the nation, and there are only 124 teams in the FBS. Mississippi State’s best win to date came at home against 1-4 Auburn. Tennessee is off to an 0-2 start in the SEC, but they were competitive in both games. They were leading Florida for a while until the Gators kicked into another gear in the second half, and the Vols pushed Georgia to the brink before falling 51-44. It’s time that Tennessee gets a win over a ranked opponent, and I think Tyler Bray will lead the Vols to victory in Starkville. PICK: Tennessee
Bigalke: Still the Bulldogs get no respect. Sure, they’ve played something decidedly less than a Murderer’s Row of opponents to start their season. But it isn’t as though all the other top-tier teams have played nothing but powerhouse opponents, and the goose-egg in the loss column is certainly worth plenty. Tennessee has looked more competitive this year than they have in the past. But while Tyler Bray and his stable of receivers has been adept at beating secondaries, the Bulldogs should be able to clamp down. PICK: Mississippi State. PICK: Mississippi State
Picks of the Week: Our Favorite Point Spreads
Strobl: Kansas State (-6.5) over Iowa State
Again, Vegas must like the “looking ahead” argument just as in the WVU game. How else can one justify K-State gving less than a touchdown? The previews I’ve read on this game cite recent years’ matchups between these two teams and the physicality of those games. But college football is extremely dynamic from year to year. These teams are different from their respective 2011 editions, and drawing such comparisons seems unwarranted here. The Wildcats could certainly be caught off guard in Ames, but if you go with the numbers and with what we’ve all seen on the field, K-State by a touchdown feels like a darn good bet.
Mitchell: Baylor (-7) over TCU
Without Casey Pachall, I’m seeing rough times ahead for TCU and after a two touchdown loss at home against Iowa State a week ago, I don’t see things getting much better for the Horned Frogs on the road against an explosive Baylor offense. The Bears have had two weeks to prepare for this game after their seven point loss on the road to West Virginia, and quarterback Nick Florence has picked up right where Robert Griffin III left off last season as he is off to a spectacular start to 2012. Baylor doesn’t have much of a defense, but TCU’s offense probably won’t be able to exploit it as much as they could with freshman Trevone Boykin leading the charge. This one will be close for a while, but the Bears should pull away in the second half and win by a pair of touchdowns.
Bigalke: Vanderbilt (+8.5) over Florida
Should the Gators be considered a top-ten team? Sure, they’re undefeated… but have they REALLY looked like a top-ten team? We’ll find out soon enough. The Commodores gave South Carolina fits, and they won last weekend at Missouri. Vanderbilt isn’t a team to be taken likely, and while Florida might prevail this line gives too much credit to the Gators while ignoring just how improved Vandy is this season. Expect a close tilt in Nashville on Saturday, far closer than Vegas wants to believe it will be.
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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