Patience is a Virtue : How to win NCAA Football.That is a phrase preached by many but practiced by few. For example, total belief in what alleged pundits profess pre-season can prove to be disastrous, if you are inclined to invest a few quid on the outcome of a game, particularly in college football.
And, there is no rule in the gaming gospel that says you must look at every game or concentrate on those carried on television. A win you cannot see is much better than a loss you can watch unfolding over three hours in front of the tube. So, you pick out a few teams and know them as well as you do anything else with which you are involved these days….any days.
A case in point is Penn State. They and their coach were written off as having a better future on TV as part of the cast of "Lost." But, they now have eight straight wins dating back to last year and have gone 5-3 ATS in that span.
The Nittany Lions, were probably the unluckiest team in the country last season and for the last couple before that. But, how many checked stats to find out that their dismal 4-7 in '04 was accompanied by being outscored by just 2.4 ppg thanks to stellar play on the defensive side of the ball. And they had been outscored by just 1.9 ppg in '03, going 3-9. Legendary head coach Joe Paterno was not about to step down. The second-winningest coach in major college football history is back for his 40th year at the helm.
Despite scoring at least 37 points in two of its first three games, the PSU offense was almost anemic last year, averaging a mere 17.7 ppg and scoring seven points or fewer five times. But, sophomores Tony Hunt and Austin Scott are back for their junior years and should be better, particularly when you consider they'll be running behind an offensive line that boasts all five starters back in the fold. Senior, Michael Robinson under center is as athletic and versatile a player as there is in the country. Sophomore Anthony Morelli at 6-4, 215 pounds, is the guy most PSU fans believe gives the team the best shot to win every week, and the Lions' top pass catcher will likely be sophomore Mark Rubin. Mark, at 6-3 and nearly 215 pounds, is big and physical, while a guy like speedy freshman Derrick Williams is probably the best athlete of the bunch.
The Penn State defense was one of college football's best last season and this year features nine returning starters, of which a few have All-Big Ten and even All-America potential.
The last couple of years have been tough ones for the Penn State special teams, but a turnaround could be in the works. The Nittany Lions got off to a fast start and the team will need to build up a head of steam as it pulls into Ann Arbor for a clash with the Michigan Wolverines. A relatively easy game follows as the Lions head to Illinois, but bouts against Purdue and Wisconsin at home, followed by the regular season finale at Michigan State could very well determine the Lions' post-season fate.
Right now, they are a player's pal.
Alabama finished the 2004 season 1-4 but they are hot right now. Another historical fooler. One injury after another made the Crimson Tide an average, middle of the road team in 2004, very deceiving.
When healthy, as they are now, quarterback Brodie Croyle and tailback Ken Darby are among the SEC's best at their respective positions. The offensive line features a few new faces but has performed well. Alabama ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense in 2004, second in total defense, and the fact those nine starters are back in place is reason to back them up, without giving up the farm in doing so.
Special teams give Alabama a major advantage over many of its foes. Few college programs are as accomplished and proud as Alabama in regard to success and following, so mediocrity is not met with indifference by anyone associated with the Tide. It is hard to imagine any SEC team challenging for the national championship this year, because of the abundance of top-quality teams around, but Alabama has as good a chance as any. That makes them a team to watch every weekend.
Head coach Mike Bellotti has transformed Oregon into one of the best football programs in the nation in his 11 years in Eugene. However last season they finally took a step backwards and netted only five wins (5-6) overall and just four in conference action (4-4). Many grasped that stat but it is wrong to do so. It was their first losing season since 1993 and, this season, the Ducks' offense is in good hands.
Seven starters return on the defensive side of the ball for Oregon, and there is no doubt that the defensive line is the strength of this year's unit.
The Ducks have experience at the three major offensive positions and seem primed to make a run at second place in the Pac-10 behind USC. They are a team to watch at the tail end of the Pac-10 slate, sporting a schedule that is much more manageable for Oregon with Washington, Arizona, Washington State and rival Oregon State their opponents. That is when you could be shouting, "Go Ducks, Go!"
Mike Leach continues to turn Texas Tech into quarterback university, as Sonny Cumbie became the third quarterback in three years to shatter NCAA and school passing records for the Red Raiders. Kliff Kingsbury was one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history three years ago and B.J. Symons threw for more yards than any quarterback in the nation in 2003. How much advice do you need to watch the "over" ever time this team takes the field?
Leach can only hope that Cody Hodges is ready to become the fourth straight Red Raider to lead the nation in passing. Building quick and enormous leads has been the trademark of Texas Tech over the past half a decade, which has left the defense in a position to be attacked, often by passing attacks trying to catch up to Leach's offensive powerhouse. Who they are playing is important as the defense was surprisingly outstanding last season, especially against the pass. In fact, the Red Raiders finished 46th in the nation in total defense and this season they could be even better. You need both teams for the "over" to be as easy as it looks at first glance.
Make sure you know who is hot and who is not when the Red Raiders finish with matchups against the Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma State Cowboys on the road and the Oklahoma Sooners in Lubbock on November 19th.
So far UCLA has won all five games this year and are 4-1 against the odds. Sounds good to me.
Last year, Karl Dorrell's squad won four of its first five games to start the season, but proceeded to lose five of the next seven tilts, including a disappointing 24-21 setback to mid-major Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Bruins were hit with a plethora of injuries in 2004 and still managed to go 6-5 in the regular season and nearly upset the National Champion USC Trojans in Los Angeles, 29-24.
Their offense is solid this year and their defense, nothing short of terrible against opposing rushing attacks last season, accompanied a pass defense that wasn't scaring anyone either. This season should be different. Not great, just improved and different. They will win when least expected to and are a great dog or small favorite.
The Bruins have skilled players at nearly every position and should contend for second place in the Pac-10 along with California and maybe Arizona State. Dorrell has not really wowed anyone in Westwood with his recruiting or coaching ability, but players play hard for him and will hand the coach at least seven wins this year and a bowl trip. Make sure you have the right side in those seven. UCLA will struggle on defense, but its offense is so good that it might just be enough to mask the problems on the other side of the ball.