Observer Roundtable: ND-Clemson, Cocktail Party and Michigan looking to rebound
Last week saw a lot of blowouts, and as such, upset picks were difficult to come by. None of our writers successfully notched an upset prediction, leading to a low scoring week. For the second straight week, Nate Moller was our highest scorer, collecting nine of 12 possible points outside the upset prediction. He’s challenging for second place on the leaderboard behind Liam Coolican, while Patrick Gallagher has opened up an 18-point advantage heading into the penultimate week of the Observer Roundtable. Our final edition will have a lot of points available, so maintaining that advantage will be key in this final regular Roundtable piece.
Patrick Gallagher — 91 points (6)
Liam Coolican — 73 points (4)
Nate Moller — 72 points (9)
Aidan Thomas — 62 points (n/a)
Dominic Gibson — 60 points (n/a)
No. 1 Clemson (-5.5) @ No. 4 Notre Dame
No. 8 Florida @ No. 5 Georgia (-3.5)
No. 23 Michigan (-3.0) @ No. 13 Indiana
Seattle Seahawks (-3.0) @ Buffalo Bills
Baltimore Ravens (-1.5) @ Indianapolis Colts
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4.5)
While five-star freshman D.J. Uiagalelei played very well in his first start under center for Clemson, throwing for 342 yards, I think that the Irish’s defense will pose a tougher challenge than Boston College. Notre Dame ranks fifth in the country in lowest points allowed per game while also holding each of their last three opponents under 100 rushing yards. These statistics might be an indication that Travis Etienne will struggle, which would put more pressure on the Tigers’ young quarterback. The key for the Irish will be to establish their elite rushing attack, and, since they were able to accumulate 115 yards on the ground against Pitt’s top ranked rush defense, I am confident that Notre Dame will succeed in this endeavor and win by a slim margin.
After watching the Bulldogs’ offense stagnate against Kentucky, I am now convinced that junior quarterback Stetson Bennett is not the answer at quarterback. He threw two interceptions last week and led his team to score a mere 14 points against the Wildcats, a mark that even Missouri was able to top. Georgia’s defense is among the best in the country and will force redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask to be less effective; however, the Bulldogs will not be able to keep up with Florida’s offense which has scored at least 38 points or more in every game this season. Expect the Gators to win outright.
In its first game of the year, Michigan seemed to fool everyone by looking elite against a mediocre Minnesota team. Michigan State was able to expose them last week; however, I think the Wolverines will get back on track against the Hoosiers. While he has to work on converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns, Michigan junior quarterback Joe Milton appears to have some real talent as he has thrown for 525 yards in his first two games. I believe that Milton will play his best game yet against Indiana leading Michigan State to win and cover.
While the Bills hold a nice lead in the AFC East, quarterback Josh Allen’s recent fall from grace is certainly alarming. Allen has really struggled to convert in the red zone and has thrown four interceptions in his last four games. On the other hand, Russell Wilson is as elite as ever and even converted on four passing touchdown attempts last weekend against San Francisco. I believe that Wilson’s consistency will give the Seahawks the edge as they win and cover.
Lamar Jackson really had a tough time dealing with the Steelers’ defense as he threw two interceptions while completing an abysmal 46% of his passes. Fortunately for him, the Colts just allowed Matthew Stafford to throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, so I do not think that Jackson will have too much difficulty in bouncing back. Indianapolis has also played poorly against both the Browns and Bengals, two teams that the Ravens have crushed in earlier matchups, so expect Baltimore to achieve victory and cover.
In a matchup that might ultimately decide the race for dominance in the NFC South, I am trusting in Tom Brady to perform at a high level for the Buccaneers. Brady has not thrown a single interception in his last four games and has converted on nine touchdowns during that period. He will be highly motivated to rectify his terrible play against the Saints in week one, and while his team will not cover, Brady will be the difference as Tampa gets an important victory.
For my upset pick, I think Kansas State will hand No. 14 Oklahoma State their second consecutive loss. Many people are counting the Wildcats out after West Virginia obliterated them last week; however, they forget that Kansas State had won four straight before that unfortunate matchup. By defeating Oklahoma, the Wildcats proved they can compete against more talented Big 12 programs, and, as the Cowboys may be looking ahead to their own matchup against the Sooners, they might not be prepared for a closer than expected game against the Wildcats.
I may be the lone pessimist here, and I desperately hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see the Irish winning this one. Notre Dame hasn’t played against a defense the caliber of Clemson’s yet, and while I think their offensive play calling has been much improved, it still will be tough to score against the Tigers. Additionally, the success of Notre Dame’s offense often relies on dominating the line of scrimmage, and they won’t be able to do that consistently against Clemson. The defense will keep Notre Dame in the game, and I’ll predict a tight, low-scoring contest. However, even missing three starters on defense and the best quarterback in college football, Clemson is just too talented. Clemson wins but doesn’t cover.
I’ve picked Florida from the beginning of the season to win the SEC East, and I’m going to stick with the Gators here. Florida’s defense certainly has problems, as shown in the loss to Texas A&M, but their offense is one of the best in the country. Georgia’s offense has struggled at times even in their wins, and I expect Florida to turn in one of their best defensive games of the season. Kyle Trask and Co. are too much for even the elite Georgia defense to stop. Florida wins outright.
Jim Harbaugh struggles to win games against his biggest rivals, but against other opponents, they always show up to play. Based solely off that, I would pick Michigan, but I also think Joe Milton is one of the best quarterbacks Harbaugh has had in his tenure in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s defense is also very talented, even if they haven’t shown it through two games. While I’m not sure there is anything Harbaugh could do, short of a major scandal, that would put him on the hot seat, he knows the pressure is mounting. This is a game Michigan can’t afford to lose, and they won’t. Wolverines win and cover.
The win over the 49ers last week restored my faith in the Seahawks. Their defense was dominant, even without the injured safety Jamal Adams and the newly acquired defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Russell Wilson has continued to play like the best quarterback in the league, and the run game was serviceable even absent the top two running backs. The Seahawks get Adams, Dunlap and potentially Chris Carson back this weekend. That’s a bad recipe for the Bills, especially offensively. Seahawks cover easily.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are due for a huge game, and I think they get it this week. The Colts record has been inflated by playing one of the softest schedules in the league so far. Jackson is too good of a player to play this poorly for so long, and the Ravens defense will bottle up the Colts offense. The Ravens need a win if they want to stay in the hunt for the division, and I expect the offense will put up big numbers this week. Ravens win and cover.
The Saints, however poorly they have played at times this year, are only half a game behind the Bucs for the division lead. In what should be a great game, I think Drew Brees will out-duel Tom Brady, and the Saints defense will step up and make some big plays in the fourth quarter. Saints win this one outright and show who really is the best team in the NFC South.
Both Minnesota and Illinois have had rough starts to the season. Redshirt junior quarterback Tanner Morgan and the Golden Gophers really miss wide receiver Rashad Bateman, and they haven’t had the same flair offensively this year, even as they scored 44 points in last week’s loss. Their defense is also one of the worst in the Big Ten, and the Illini should be able to take advantage. Illinois wins this one at home as seven-point underdogs.
This is probably a poor decision, but I am going to go with the Irish in this one. It seems like every year the Irish start off well and then choke in the big game, but this year feels different with how the Irish and Tigers are playing right now. I anticipate the Irish defense to be able to hold the Clemson offense to some extent with junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence out and freshman D.J. Uiagalelei in his spot. The Irish will be able to have decent production on the ground too and take the game out of Ian Books’ hands at times. Irish win this one on a last-second field goal and prove themselves as national contenders.
Stetson Bennett has made a plethora of mistakes for the Georgia Bulldogs lately, and he will need to be much better if they are going to beat a solid Florida Gators team. I think Bennett is up for the challenge, especially against a Florida defense that has been surprisingly vulnerable this season. The Bulldogs’ defense will limit Kyle Trask’s production enough throughout the game, and the Bulldogs will cover easily in this one.
Michigan was shocked last week by a Michigan State team that most people had written off after their stunning week one loss to Rutgers. Although Joe Milton and the Wolverines struggled to find a real rhythm last week, I expect them to bounce back against Indiana. I think Indiana is a really solid team, and I anticipate them being competitive throughout most of this game, but in the end, Michigan is just too talented. Look for the Wolverines to play like they did against Minnesota in the first game of the season. The Blue and Maize win and cover.
This one figures to be a shootout with the Seahawks and Bills being two of the NFL’s most explosive offensive teams this season. The Seahawks’ running game will be up in the air with running back Chris Carson questionable to play, but they can make up for that in their passing attacks with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf at the receiver positions. The Bills will definitely be able to put up points as well, but I like the experience of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to take care of business. Seahawks win and cover.
Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson just has not been the same for the Ravens this year. Last week against the Steelers, he completed just 13 out of 28 passes and threw two interceptions. He will face a stiff challenge this weekend against a Colts’ defense that has given offenses trouble all year. The Colts are less than stellar on offense, but I think their defense gets a couple of turnovers, allowing Indy to win this one outright.
I’m really excited to see the Buccaneers play against the Saints again. The Saints owned them in week one, but the Bucs have improved throughout the year, and they look like they might be the team to beat in the NFC at the moment. The Bucs will add wide receiver Antonio Brown this week to an offense that already has receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight end Rob Gronkowski in their passing attack. Tom Brady has proven he is still one of the best in the game, and I think he finds a way to lead the Bucs on a game winning drive in this one. Bucs win but don’t cover.
For my upset pick this week, I am going to the Pac-12. It’s the first week, so anything can happen, and I really like Arizona State to knock off USC. The game is being played at 9 a.m. Pacific time, so I expect both teams to start off slow. This will prove costly for USC, as they allow the Sun Devils to hang around too long. Head coach Herm Edwards has pulled off some surprises so far while at Arizona State, and I expect him to pull off a big one this weekend.
I echoed this in my predictions for the Irish Insider, but I like the Irish here. They have more at stake in this game, given that they aren’t guaranteed a spot in the ACC championship as a one-loss team, due to no head-to-head matchup with Miami. A win Saturday all but secures that for Notre Dame, barring late-season upsets, and so adding in the fact that Notre Dame enters healthier and motivated to defend their 22-game home winning streak with a chance to take down the No. 1 team in the nation … I’m rolling with the Irish outright.
In another key conference showdown, I’m not ready to trust the Gators in this matchup. My preseason SEC East champion pick was Georgia, who I said was going to finish 9-1 with a loss to Alabama. I’m sticking with that, as I think the Georgia defense limits Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Co., winning and covering the spread at home.
Is it disrespectful to make Indiana three-point underdogs at home as an unbeaten and top 15 squad against a Michigan team that just lost to Michigan State? Probably. Regardless, I’m still picking against the Hoosiers. I anticipate this one being close, but calling for Indiana to be 3-0 in the Big Ten feels weird, and I’m not ready to do that. I think Michigan is a good but not great team, and I don’t anticipate them losing two in a row early in the year.
The Bills have not impressed me this year, and if you read my Sports Authority today, you know I think their second half will be a mess. That starts in this home clash with the Seahawks, a team that will torch Buffalo’s mediocre defense. Seattle to win and cover.
Lamar Jackson is 3-0 in his career coming off a game with multiple turnovers, and I anticipate him to start a second-half surge with a big road victory in this game. I think the Colts’ defense will keep it close, but ultimately Baltimore wins while not covering the spread.
This spread feels really big for a Brady-Brees clash involving two divisional teams separated by half a game in the standings. The Bucs are winners of three straight, while the Saints are on one of the most unconvincing four-game winning streaks I’ve ever seen, escaping their last three by a field goal. I think Tampa Bay’s defense will play a lot better in this one, while Tom Brady’s offense — minus a shaky first half on Monday Night Football — has been clicking. I’m going with Tampa Bay to win but not cover at home.
I’ll get my upset pick out of the way early this week by going for a Friday night game. NC State has performed very well as an underdog this season, and they enter a home game against Miami as 10.5-point ’dogs. Miami has won twice in unconvincing fashion since falling to Clemson, and I think they drop this one to the Wolfpack.
I hope this pick turns out to be incorrect here, but I am going to go with a Clemson win on the road against Notre Dame. D.J. Uiagalelei certainly stepped up to the plate in a big way last week against Boston College and appears to be a very solid option behind Trevor Lawrence as he sits out this game. Notre Dame has a very solid pass defense but will need to be at a different level in order to stop the Tigers. Clemson wins but does not cover.
The Florida secondary is certainly an issue that has the potential to cost them games. Even so, Kyle Trask has the Gator offense running smoothly and consistently. Though Georgia may have the better defense, I do not think Stetson Bennett and their offense can keep pace. Florida will need to remain steady and should be able to win outright.
Last week was a disaster for Michigan. After coming off a big prime time win against Minnesota, it seemed almost a guarantee they would cruise past Michigan State. After the 27-24 upset at home, the Wolverines will be looking to rebound. They certainly have the weapons to do so, especially in quarterback Joe Milton. Indiana will be no easy task, but I think Michigan wins and covers.
The Seahawks finally won a game in convincing fashion against the 49ers last week. Their pass rush seemed to be an effective piece of the game plan and Russell Wilson was performing at an MVP level once again. The Bills are a solid team no doubt, but I have a feeling they will struggle trying to slow down the Seattle offense. Seahawks win and cover.
Both the Colts and the Ravens have extremely solid defenses. The Colts were able to put up 41 points last week against the Lions, but consistency is something they have struggled with. While Lamar certainly isn’t on the same pace as he was last year, he can still find ways to take over games with his talent. Coming off a loss against Pittsburgh, this is the perfect rebound game for Jackson and company. Ravens win and cover.
It is very difficult to beat a team twice in the NFL. Since the week one loss to the Saints, Tom Brady and the Bucs have found their stride, winning six of the next seven they’ve played. I think Tom will certainly be out to prove something here in round two, especially with the prospect of a bigger NFC South division lead on the table. Tampa wins but does not cover.
For my upset pick, I am going to go with Stanford over Oregon. The Ducks have had several key pieces opt out while Stanford has become a much stronger team with one of the better offensive lines and a solid receiving group. The Ducks certainly have more talent to work with but the first game of the season is always tricky. Stanford narrowly pulls this one off.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.