2009 College Football Picks & Predictions: Week 5

No. 4 LSU at No. 18 Georgia, 3:30PM ET
Last year, Georgia rolled into Tiger Stadium and laid a 52-38 beat down on LSU as they forced three turnovers and running back Knowshon Moreno (now a Denver Bronco) racked up 163 yards on 21 carries. After an ugly 24-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the opening week of the season, the Bulldogs have rattled off three straight wins and will now face a Tiger team that struggled a bit offensively last week in a narrow 30-26 win over Mississippi State. LSU was outgained 374-263 and only rushed for 30 yards in the victory. The Tigers usually feast on pro-style offenses, so UGA quarterback Joe Cox can’t force throws in attempt to make something happen down field. That said, the Tigers haven’t been tested yet and needed a goal line stand to pull off the win last week. Georgia, on the other hand, has already faced a ranked OK State team and beaten competitive SEC foes South Carolina and Arkansas. The Bulldogs are more battle tested and will overcome a stiff Tiger defense.
Odds: Georgia –3.
Prediction: Georgia 24, LSU 20.

No. 7 USC at No. 24 California, 8:00PM ET
Don’t everyone break your legs jumping off the Cal bandwagon after Oregon smacked the Golden Bears 42-3 last week. Heisman candidate Jahvid Best rushed for only 55 yards in the loss and will face another tough challenge this week against a USC defense that held him to only 30 yards last season. The Trojans have the sixth best defense in the nation and the fifth best scoring defense. They have limited opponents to only 59.5 rushing yards per game and only 95 YPC threw the air. That said, Cal has played USC close over the years and the Trojans have kept things rather conservative offensively with freshman Matt Barkley under center. I see this game being close, although I don’t know if Kevin Riley can beat USC through the air if the Trojans’ front seven takes away Best.
Odds: USC –4.5.
Prediction: USC 20, Cal 17.

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Jahvid is the Best Heisman candidate nobody is talking about

While unranked Minnesota did its best to try and knock off No. 8 California at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, the Golden Gophers eventually fell victim to a 35-21 defeat and another dazzling performance by Bears running back Jahvid Best.

While players like Florida’s Tim Tebow, Texas’ Colt McCoy and before he was injured, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford are receiving more Heisman attention, Best remains the one candidate that nobody seems to be talking about, yet could emerge out of nowhere to win the award in 2009.

Best was outstanding in Cal’s win on Saturday, racking up 131 yards and five touchdowns on 26 carries. While Minnesota did a great job bottling Best up in the second half (he only rushed for 17 yards in the second half, compared to the 114 yards he produced first), his two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter sealed the victory for the Bears.

What’s most impressive about Best is his patience. He allows running lanes to appear and once they do, he uses his quickness and explosion to get up field and into open space. And once he does reach open field, he’s virtually impossible to catch unless defenders take the right angles.

Another thing that’s so impressive about Best is that even when he’s bottled up, he still finds ways to gain positive yards. There were several times throughout the game on Saturday where he could have been held for no gain, yet he fell forward for two or three yards to set his team up in a positive situation for the next play. He’s fun to watch and he’s going to give Tebow and McCoy a run for their money in this year’s Heisman race.

I can’t talk about this game without mentioning how impressive Minnesota receiver Eric Decker is. He was the Gophers’ offense today, hauling in eight passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. His touchdown grab early in the second quarter when he leaped in the air and managed to get one foot down knowing that he would take a hit (and he took a massive hit) was incredible. When he left the game due to an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter, Minnesota QB Adam Weber was completely lost.

If Decker can stay healthy, he’s the type of receiver that pro teams love to place in the slot. He fits that Brandon Stokley, Brian Finneran mold to a T.

2009 CFB Preview: California Golden Bears

Check out our other 2009 college football previews.

Preseason Ranking: No. 12 in AP Top 25; No. 12 in USA Today Poll.

Key Returning Players: Jahvid Best (RB); Shane Vereen (RB); Kevin Riley (QB); Nyan Boateng (WR); Verran Tucker (WR); Donovan Edwards (OT); Mitchell Schwartz (OT); Mike Mohamed (LB); Tyson Alualu (DE); Syd’Quan Thompson (CB); Marcus Ezeff (S); Darian Hagan (CB); Derrick Hill (DT); Brett Johnson (S); Cameron Jordan (DE); Eddie Young (LB).

Key Losses: Nate Longshore (QB); Alex Mack (C); Noris Malele (G); Cameron Morrah (TE); Worrell Williams (LB); Anthony Felder (LB).

Player to Watch: Jahvid Best, RB.
Best is not only the Bears’ best player, but he’s easily one of the top 5 players in the entire country. Best is coming off a 1,580-yard, 15-touchdown season and he should become a household name this year given his outstanding playmaking ability. He reminds some pundits of Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson given how explosive he is and what he can do in open space. As long as the losses of Alex Mack and Noris Malele along the offensive line don’t hurt his production, Best is set to explode in ’09.

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