Here are my picks ...
USC (-3) at California
This is my buddy Mike Curto: Cal alum, voice of the Rainiers, semi-professional hold’em player and hopefully future radio broadcaster of the Mariners.
This is his nemesis: Giorgio Tavecchio, kicker of average merit of the Cal Bears.
It wasn’t that long ago that Curto sat cross-legged on the floor of my house watching “our Italian kicker” blow an upset bid against Oregon. While most of us were wrapping a long day of football watching by enjoying pizza and beer and debating about all things sports, Curto was having his hopes and dreams crushed like a young actor in a Fox pilot by Tavecchio, who missed a big fourth quarter kick in that 15-13 loss.
Curto, normally the most amiable of men, even when he’s getting a run of bad cards, was as bitter as I’ve ever seen him. And that bitterness has remained.
Giving her a hearty second on that count is kicker Giorgio Tavecchio. He's the only player on the football team with a Vespa, in a nod to his Italian roots (he was born in Milan). He calls his sky-blue beauty "Maria."
"A good Italian woman's name," Tavecchio said. "My dad said, 'If you get a scholarship, I'll get you a Vespa.' I said, 'OK, Papa.' "Maria? I bet he listens to this as he drives ...
This development hasn’t exactly inspired Curto with confidence.
Why do I say this? Because Curto is in Vegas, and he’s going to bet on this game. And it will likely come down to Maria, er, Tavecchio.
I know people have cried at the poker table at the Bellagio. But I guarantee you it isn’t because of an Italian, Vespa-driving kicker.
The pick … USC had a bye week, they have a great passing combo in Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. Cal has not been particularly great against the pass this season. So, I’m going to go with USC in this game.
If I were a betting man … I would probably tease this game for USC and the over at 55.5 getting the line to +3 and the over/under down to 49.5. But in the interest of playing it normal, give the three points, Tavecchio won’t be the only problem for the Bears.
Utah at Pittsburgh (-6.5)
So it’s a rematch of the 2004 Fiesta Bowl where the Utes – the first non-BCS bowl team to play in a BCS bowl hammered the Pitt Panthers, who it could be argued were a BCS team in name only The Utes came in to the game undefeated and were led by Alex Smith back when he was good. Yes, he was once good. It was before he’d been emasculated by Mike Singletary and his huge wooden cross he wore on his neck. Speaking of Singletary …
Between the postgame pressers and the lack of understanding of the clock, he was gold.
Maybe Arizona can bring him in.
Anyway, Smith was good. Utah was good.
Notice, I’m saying “was.” This year Utah is not good. Even if quarterback Jordan Wynn hadn’t gotten hurt, I still don’t think they compete for the NFC West, er, Pac 12 South title. With Wynn, the Utes had a chance, albeit, minimal to win games. With back-up quarterback Jon Hays? Not so much. Hays was headed to Division II University of Nebraska-Omaha, but then that school dropped football. So he ended up at Utah to provide depth. Now, he’s the starter.
Has he been awful? No.
But the Utes need someone more than just a game manager to win games. They need someone that can make plays. Wynn for all of his faults, his funky throwing motion and his inaccuracy, he did make a few plays to keep the Utes in it. That threat is gone.
The pick … Despite the 100-plus word lead-in, it wasn’t an easy pick. Why? Because can you really trust Pitt? I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the Panthers were supposed to be good this season and have underachieved. Remember the Dave Wannstedt era? Well, Maybe it wasn’t all Wannstedt’s fault the last few years?
Okay, maybe it really was his fault. Look at that mustache. Still, the Panthers have looked mediocre despite having some of the better talent in the Big East – though that isn’t hard to do. I think Pitt, playing at home in Heinz Field will find a way to win this match of underachievers, and playing a noon start on EDT will make a difference.
If I were a betting man … I think I will give the points and go with the Panthers. If the Utes get behind early, they will be forced to pass more than they want and that won’t be a good thing.
BYU at Oregon State (-3)
Remember when local/Husky fans were debating about whom would be better: Jake Heaps or Nick Montana?
This began shortly after Heaps spurned Washington and committed to BYU and then Montana committed to UW. To stoke that inconsequential debate, the two players squared off in a game up on the plateau at Skyline High School, where there are two tiny parking lots and they are filled with students’ Escalades and BMWs. If you think I’m kidding, I’m not.
Anyway, so there was some debate as to who would be better in college. There were a few people with microphones and platforms that actually thought Montana would ultimately be the better player. This was ludicrous and purple-sided on so many levels.
But now, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Neither of them play.
Montana has yet to take a game snap, despite Keith Price’s myriad of leg injuries. And there has been constant debate as to whether Montana will eventually transfer after this season. Has he hinted to such a course of action? No. Would it surprise me? No.
As for Heaps, well, he looked like he was star in the making after finishing last season strong as a true freshman, including a stellar performance in a win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. But thanks to a porous offensive line and a tough schedule, Heaps was beaten and battered and became a turnover machine – five interceptions and two fumbles. He was benched in favor of Riley Nelson and hasn’t played since. So when BYU goes to Corvallis, it will be Nelson starting and not Heaps.
So who won the debate? Does it really matter? I’m certain Heaps will regain his starting job at some point, and he will be solid. He’s too good not to.
The pick … So I spent the better part of 200-plus words talking about two quarterbacks - one of which isn't on either team playing and the other that has a slim a chance to play. My ADD is on Brendan Ryan levels. One thing I know is that Mike Riley coached teams get better as the season goes on. The Beavers are not only getting better, they are getting healthier. They are playing at home. And that’s good enough for me to take OSU.
If I were a betting man … I’d take OSU and tease it along with Washington and Stanford. But since we are playing in a straight bet, I’d give the three points and hope that OSU’s special teams or defense adds a touchdown as well.
Arizona State at Oregon (-14.5)
There seems to be a growing sentiment among some people that Arizona State can somehow upset the Ducks in Eugene. I don’t think I’m one of those people.
Does ASU have the talent and speed to play with Oregon? Yes.
Do the Sun Devils have the discipline and control needed to beat a team that challenges those aspects? Do I really need to answer that?
Last year, ASU was able to move the ball up and down the field – 597 yards of total offense to be exact - on Oregon in a 42-31 loss. But the um, SEVEN, turnovers were kind of a problem. SEVEN?!?! You know the same number that George Costanza was going to name his first-born son.
This year the Ducks’ defense is worse and ASU’s offense is better. QB Brock Osweiler has matured. Did I mention he’s from Kalispell, MONTANA!
Of course, Oregon will be without LaMichael James, who is out for the game. It definitely hurts the Ducks offense. He’s an impact player. But how bad does it hurt the Ducks? Well, it’s nowhere near a knife wound, and probably worse than a bee sting. Losing James hurts, but probably no team – besides maybe Alabama or possibly USC – could withstand losing its top running back the way Oregon can. They have Kenjon Barner. They have DeAnthony Thomas. They have Chip Kelly. And it doesn’t take Chip Kelly to remind you that having Chip Kelly is important to the Ducks success.
The pick … It’s one thing to play right with Oregon when you are at home. But doing it at Autzen Stadium? That’s a whole different scenario. Speaking of Autzen, can you imagine the vitriol coming from the fans directed at Vontaze Burfict? It won’t be pretty. It won’t be PG. It won’t be something they would ever say face to face with him. There’s a chance ASU could be doing the same thing again come December for the Pac 12 championship game. This time around, I’m taking Oregon at home. The Ducks may have lost LaMichael James, but their real MVP is 100 percent and ready to go.
If I were a betting man … I wouldn’t think of betting on this game. I wouldn’t even feel good teasing either side. It’s so unpredictable. But I don’t make the big bucks, and waste 10,000 words not to make picks. So I will take ASU and the points and hope Burfict doesn’t go charging into the stands to assault some drunken, unwashed sophomore in a “O” shirt, or they don’t commit SEVEN turnovers again.
Stanford (-21.5) at Washington State
So Paul Wulff went on KJR and told my good buddies – Ian Furness and Jason Puckett – that Jeff Tuel will play on Saturday. He didn’t come out and say Tuel will start. But if you listen closely, he sort of does …
There is some debate as to whether Wulff should play Tuel against perhaps the most physical team in the conference, if not the country. Tuel is going to get hit. Stanford’s defense is that good, and WSU’s offensive line isn’t good enough to stop the Cardinal.
So some people would think, “Hey, we are going to lose this weekend, anyway, why get Tuel hurt before Oregon State, don't play him.”
But think about this, what does that say to the other 45 or 50 players that are going to suit up and play against the No. 7 team in the country.
“Hey go out there and give us everything you have, but since we don’t think we have a chance, we are going to leave our best player on the sidelines to protect him for later. But you guys can take the physical beating. ”
Fans think this way. Players do not.
As former Colorado head coach and possible future WSU head coach Dan Hawkins said, “This is Division I football! This ain’t intramurals.”
If Tuel is healthy enough to play, he should play. You don’t want set that precedent. I will give Paul Wulff credit, he’s tried to build the program the right way. It may not have yielded the best results at times, but his intentions and beliefs were right.
So if Tuel does play, he needs to learn a little self-preservation. He needs to learn how to protect himself and avoid being hit. He needs to call this guy ….
Nobody knew how to avoid contact like Shaun. Wait, I think I can still hear the boos.
If Tuel had been healthy, WSU would be 5-0 right now. I truly believe that. He’s that good. His receivers are that good. Instead, the Cougs are 3-2 and I can only find two more wins on their schedule. And I don’t think that will be enough for Wulff to remain employed.
The pick … Stanford is winning this game. I don’t think there are too many people that would think otherwise. The Cardinal is good. Andrew Luck is going to throw for 350-plus.
If I were a betting man … I think I’d grab all those points and hope that Tuel stays upright, and he and his receivers are able to exploit Stanford’s defense through the air. If you look, the Cardinal really hasn’t played anybody good this season. And Arizona and Nick Foles were able to move the ball through the air.