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We are finally getting into the meat of the season. Teams spent the opening four weeks warming up against the likes of Hawaii, South Dakota State (actually a state!), Troy (not the Greeks, the school; the school has fraternities and sororities but few actual* Greeks - let's call them Greek-Greeks - as it's in Nowheresville, Alabama**), Lamar***, and Illinois.
This week should separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were.
We will be closely monitoring three in-conference games this weekend. This early in the season, it's difficult to gauge the quality of teams like Washington and Missouri. UW's biggest win came against FCS representative Georgia State. We say this because the Huskies' only win to date against a Power Five team was . . . Illinois.
Yes, that's how little we think of Illiniwek & Co.
As for Mizzou, the Tigers beat South Dakota State, Toledo and UCF but fell to Indiana last weekend. (That must have hurt.) During that stretch, SC played Texas A&M (#21 at the time) and Georgia (#6). To their credit, Arkansas faced some legit opponents, losing to Auburn but winning easily over Texas Tech and Northern Illinois.
Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. #6 Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0)
Our pick: We don't love it, but the Hogs look frisky enough to cover the +9 spread.
Missouri (3-1, 0-0 SEC) vs. #13 South Carolina (3-1, 2-1)
Our pick: South Carolina is -5, which should pose no problem for the Gamecocks.
#16 Stanford (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) vs. Washington (4-0, 0-0)
Our pick: Is Stanford good? We can't tell. The trends point to the Cardinal (Wash was 1-3 as underdog in 2013) but the idea of getting more (+8) than a touchdown as a home 'dog looks intriguing. Tempting, but we'll pass.
Fourteen of the Top 25 teams enter Week Five undefeated with all but one in the Top 10 boasting perfect records. (#9 Michigan State is the lone exception at 2-1.) While conference play begins in earnest for many schools this weekend, most of those batting 1.000 have a bye week.
The few biggies in action don't face much risk of dropping a game: In addition to the Aggies (vs. Arkansas, above), #1 Florida State is heavily favored (by 19) against NC State, and 4-0 Nebraska takes on Illinois. Jameis Winston**** returns for FSU on Saturday, so you can bet the Seminoles will be fired up. Nebraska will face a U of I squad still spooked from last week's near-disaster against FCS opponent Texas State. Illinois surrendered 475 yards and 35 points in a narrow win, and only a breakout game from RB Josh Ferguson (190 yards, 2 TDs) prevented the upset.
Nebraska and Illinois have met just once in Big Ten conference play, a convincing 39-19 W by Nebraska last year. Very little points to an Illinois upset, much less a cover: the Huskers are 11-6 in recent games as the "chalk" in Lincoln, and 9-5 when laying double digits. Meanwhile, the Illini are a Zook-esque 1-8 as road 'dogs under head coach Tim Beckman. Which is why we're taking . . .
Illinois (+21) and the points!
Why? We don't know!
Call it a Costanza Moment.
Next week, look for the first edition of our postseason bowl projections, including the Pecan Bowl, Cashew Bowl, Macadamia Bowl, Walnut Bowl, and the Peanuts In The Bottom Of The Bowl Of Mixed Nuts Bowl.
The College Football Free Range Chicken has a record on the season. We don't know what that record is, because the Chicken can't count. Suffice it to say, there have been some wins and losses.
Baylor (-21.5) vs. Iowa State, 12:30 p.m.
Wake Forest vs. Louisville (-21.5), 2:30 p.m.
Texas vs. Kansas (+13), 3 p.m.
Rice vs. Southern Miss (+8), 6 p.m.
* Not to be confused with fake Greeks.
** Real name: Troy, Alabama. Fun fact: Troy was the home of Clarence "Pine Top" Smith, inventor of American boogie woogie and best known for his hit song "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." The name of the song clinches it: no one can argue against Smith having invented boogie woogie. It's right there in the title! Alexander Graham Bell should have called it "The Bellophone." That would have shut up Antonio Meucci.
*** Lamar celebrates the 50-year anniversary of the 1964 Southland championship this weekend. The Cardinals went undefeated in '64 in large part due to a stout defense, led by Southland Defensive Player of the Year Vernon McManus, allowing more than 20 points in only one game. Lamar went on to face Northern Iowa for the Midwest Region National Collegiate Small Conference Championship***** in the inaugural Pecan Bowl, losing 19-17 in a nail-biter.
**** If you're interested, and we won't be offended if not, this article details the latest chapter in the Winston drama.
***** We capitalized this to make it look more impressive. Also: can we footnote a footnote?
Mike Luce is our man on campus - every Friday and Monday. He welcomes your comments.