2009 College Football Picks & Predictions: Week 6

No. 1 Florida (4-0) at No. 4 LSU (5-0), 8:00PM ET
The Gators travel to Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers on Saturday night in college football’s game of the week. Florida’s 14-game winning streak is in jeopardy because quarterback Tim Tebow hasn’t been medically cleared to play yet after suffering a concussion two weeks ago in a win over Kentucky. Another factor working against Florida is that LSU has won 32 straight Saturday night games and Baton Rouge has proven to be one of the more hostile environments in college football. But for betting purposes, something doesn’t feel right about this point spread. Why is Florida a 7.5-point favorite on the road against a Tiger team that hasn’t lost on Saturday nights in 32 consecutive tries and Tebow hasn’t been cleared to play? LSU’s offense has struggled so far this year and things won’t get any easier this week against a Florida defense that is the best in the nation. The game might be tight for a while, but the Gators cover in the end.
Odds: Florida –7.5.
Prediction: Florida 24, LSU 14.

Boston College (4-1) at No. 5 Virginia Tech (4-1), 12:00PM ET
The Hokies have won two straight ACC title games against the Eagles coming into this game, but BC holds a three-game regular season winning streak over VA Tech. While the Eagles have surprised many pundits this year, they’re likely to struggle this weekend in Blacksburg. VA Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor continues to improve as a passer and is starting to build a lot of confidence. Boston College doesn’t have the offensive weapons to match up with the a tough Hokie defense and the Eagles will struggle to contain Taylor for four quarters.
Odds: VA Tech –13.5.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 13.

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Michigan State needs to show more toughness

Michigan State fans will party in the streets tonight in East Lansing after Sparty knocked off rival Michigan in a thrilling 26-20 overtime victory. But sticking with one of their themes this season, MSU almost blew it after collapsing in the fourth quarter.

Thanks to a running game that racked up 197 yards on the ground, the Spartans controlled this game for three and a half quarters. But after building a 20-6 lead, Mark Dantonio’s team became complacent and showed their lack of killer mentality.

With four minutes remaining in the game, Wolverine freshman quarterback Tate Forcier flashed some of the magic that endeared him to fans a couple weeks ago in a win over Notre Dame. Forcier hit Darryl Stonum on a 60-yard touchdown pass to cut MSU’s lead to 20-13, then found Roy Roundtree in the end zone on a 9-yard TD pass with two seconds left to tie the game 20-20. Both touchdowns were aided by Sparty’s lackluster defensive effort.

On Stonum’s touchdown, the defender didn’t break down to tackle, he just ran by the receiver and put a hand out hoping that Stonum a stiff wind would knock him over. Then on the game-tying score, Forcier easily scrambled out of the pocket and found Roundtree, who was a step and a half away from all defenders, which is amazing considering it was a jam-packed end zone.

Not to take anything away from Forcier, because he toughed it out while playing banged up. And MSU’s defense did come up with a huge interception in overtime, which preceded Larry Caper’s 23-yard, game-winning touchdown run. But the Spartans should have never been in that position. A win is a win – I get it. And considering MSU lost three consecutive games coming into this matchup, this was a much-needed win.

But this isn’t the first time that Dantonio’s team took their foot off the gas when they had a victory wrapped up. In Week 2, they lost to Central Michigan in the final seconds when they should have won, then blew a great opportunity to beat Notre Dame in Week 3.

Michigan State has enough talent to be competitive in the Big Ten. But the Spartans need to show more mental toughness throughout games and learn to step on opponents’ throats in the fourth quarter or else they’ll continue to give away victories. (Or almost give away victories.)

Carlos Brown plays hero for Michigan this week

Last week, Michigan relied on emerging star, freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, to beat Notre Dame at the Big House. This week, it was a senior running back that stepped up.

In the Wolverines’ 45-17 trouncing of Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Carlos Brown had a career day, rushing for 187 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 90-yard rumble in the second quarter to put Michigan up 24-10. The 90-yard jaunt was the third-longest run in Michigan history.

Forcier, the hero last week, threw for only 68 yards on 7-of-13 passing. Of course, he didn’t have to do much as Brown (who had -3 rushing yards on four carries last week against Notre Dame) took over this game from the start.

Eastern Michigan actually hung with UM in the second half thanks to an 11-yard touchdown run by Andy Schmitt to tie the game at 10-10, and a 5-yard Dwayne Priest touchdown run with just over two minutes remaining in the first half to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 24-17.

But the more physical Michigan program started to wear Eastern down in the second half and the Eagles could do nothing to slow the Wolverines in the third quarter. By the time Denard Robinson scored on a 36-yard touchdown run with seven minutes left in the fourth, the game was already over.

No. 25 Michigan (3-0) will open its Big Ten schedule next week at home (what schedule-maker did Rich Rodriguez have incriminating photos of to get four straight home games to open the 2009 season?) against Indiana before playing Michigan State and Iowa in back to back road games to kickoff play in October.

Welcome to college football, Tate Forcier

Those that had followed Rich Rodriguez’s coaching career knew that his success at Michigan would be ultimately tied into whether or not he could find a quarterback. He didn’t have one last year and the Wolverines were an embarrassment week in and week out.

But this year, Rodriguez has found his signal caller of the present and the future in the impressive Tate Forcier.

The freshman signal caller was dazzling on Saturday, completing 23 of 33 pass attempts and racking up 310 total yards of offense as Michigan knocked off No. 18 Notre Dame 38-34 at the Big House. Forcier also threw two touchdown passes (including the game winner to Greg Mathews with under 15 seconds left to play) and ran for a score.

Forcier reminds me of a better, stronger-armed version of Jeff Garcia. Both do a great job of gliding around the pocket in order to buy more time to pass and both can throw while on the run. They’re always extremely aware of their surroundings and can also make plays with their legs. (Forcier’s juke of a ND defender on his 31-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter was freaking sweet.)

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Forcier up to this point (he had a nice game against Western Michigan in the opener, too) is that he doesn’t have a great offensive line in protecting him. He hasn’t been able to take three or five step drops (not that that’s a big part of Rodriguez’s offense anyway) and fire the ball into open receivers. He’s largely had to make plays on his own and he’s been creative while getting the ball into his wideouts’ hands.

Forcier has made Michigan relevant again and at least for now, Rich Rod can take a deep breath because he’s found his quarterback.

As for Notre Dame, they shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with stupid penalties. They had nine infractions for 75 yards, most of which wiped out offensive gains that could have kept drives moving. Their offense could have racked up nearly 550-plus yards today, but Charlie Weis’s team severely lacked fundamentals and it cost them big.

Are Notre Dame and Michigan back?

Like every other college football game on this weekend’s schedule, the Notre Dame-Michigan contest will take a back seat to the USC-Ohio State battle on Saturday night. But after convincing wins over Nevada and Western Michigan, respectively, some fans want to know whether or not the Irish and Wolverines are getting back to their winning ways.

Scout.com’s Richard Cirminiello answers the very question:

Hey, I was as impressed as anyone with the Wolverines’ opening day performance, but back? Not quite. As long as the two quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, are true freshmen, the program is going to be vulnerable to some un-Michigan-like performances, especially when the schedule toughens and the team ventures outside the campus. That said, it’s clear that Rich Rodriguez has his kids in a far better position to compete for a postseason game than he did in his debut season. And that’s still a reason to celebrate around Ann Arbor after last year’s implosion.

Notre Dame is closer to being back than Michigan, largely because the coaching staff has been in place for longer and the quarterback is on the brink of a Brady Quinn-like ascent. I’m not interested that Jimmy Clausen’s last two monster games were against WAC defenses. The strikes he’s thrown would beat Big Ten defenses as well. Just go back and check the film. He’s always had the talent, but his confidence took a beating in 2007 and 2008. That’s no longer a problem. A third year with Charlie Weis and a dynamite ensemble of receivers could be just what the junior needs to get on the tarmac. Plus, if the effort from the young Irish defense in Saturday’s shutout of Nevada is a harbinger of things to come, the program has the potential to win double-digit games and bowl in January.

I couldn’t agree more. While it was encouraging that they didn’t allow another MAC opponent to beat them on their home turf last Saturday, Michigan is still going to experience plenty of rocky moments this year. It’s just something a team deals with when its starting two freshmen under center. The Wolverines will be better, but as Cirminiello points out, they’re still going to have their bad moments this season.

The key for Notre Dame this year is whether or not they can employ a consistent running game. With Clausen and Golden Tate, the passing game is going to be pretty good. But the offensive line has to make room for ND’s backs to have success or else Charlie Weis’ offense is going to be one-dimensional and even though the Irish defense is solid, it can win games on its own.

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