Plus-Two Picks: Cornhuskers, Spartans, and Tigers in week two

First, a quick rundown of the nationally televised games and who we pick to win each straight up, with a very short thought on why. Below that, we’ll look a little closer at any bets against the spread that look tasty.

Straight Up

Running total: 20-2 through one (admittedly easy) week.

Virginia over Penn State – Not picking Lions until they show something worthwhile.

Kansas State over Miami – Collin Klein rumbles over a still green Miami D.

Ohio State over UCF – Buckeyes have too many weapons but UCF will hang around into the third quarter.

Auburn over Mississippi State – Auburn looked solid in the loss to Clemson; jury’s still out on MSU.

Temple over Maryland – Maryland looked awful in week one; Temple looked to be holding form.

Michigan over Air Force – Look for Michigan to have a hangover from last week, but pull it out with a long Denard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Southern Cal over Syracuse – The Orange will put up some yards and points but not nearly enough to keep up with the Trojans.

Florida over Texas A&M – With a starter determined at QB, Florida’s offense should settle into its groove; A&M’s will need to find theirs in game one of Sumlin’s system.

Notre Dame over Purdue – Boilermakers will sling it but Brian Kelly’s offense might finally be clicking at Notre Dame.

Wisconsin over Oregon State – Badgers didn’t finish well in week one, but should handle the Beavers on the back of Montee Ball.

LSU over Washington – Huskies might be tempting if the game were in Seattle but night in Death Valley with LSU’s defense is too much.

Nebraska over UCLA – Bruins looked improved in week one, but so did Nebraska, and especially Martinez.

Missouri over Georgia – Bulldogs are missing four defensive starters; Mizzou’s offense won’t be forgiving.

Illinois over Arizona State – This is a weird game and last week’s results would point to the Sun Devils, but call this one a hunch.

Against the Spread

We aren’t bettors, but if we were, here’s where we’d put our money. Running total through one week: -$100 (1-2).

$100 on Auburn (+3) over Mississippi State

We’re not even sure why Mississippi State is favored in this one. Sure, the Bulldogs won big in week one while Auburn lost close to Clemson. But we put more stock in a decent performance against a good opponent. If Auburn can just play the way they did last week, they’ll hold Mississippi State under 20 points and win by a touchdown.

$50 on Nebraska (-5) over UCLA

Nebraska looked really good in week one. UCLA, we’re still not sold on. Even if the Bruins can score points, Nebraska’s defense should be able to slow them down much more than Rice could. The Cornhuskers’ offense shouldn’t have much trouble putting up their own points. This seems like at least a touchdown victory for Nebraska.

$50 on Michigan State (-20.5) over Central Michigan

It’s not that fun to pick on a big spread, but this line dropped to under 21 points over the course of the week and three touchdowns is too tempting. The Chippewas allowed 27 points to Southeast Missouri State last week, so Michigan State should have no trouble scoring, while the Spartan defense will hold CMU in check.

The Plus-Two Polls: Week Two

We have three rankings at the Plus-Two Blog: A tiered grouping (as described this summer), our ballot in the r/cfb poll (based on the tiered ranking described above but with an ordering within the tiers), and a computer-based ranking system (to begin midway through the season).

We’re resume voters here, so this ranking is going to be a little bit wonky. We’re attempting to order teams based on how just their week one performance, but we’re also trying to keep things as realistic as possible. It’s not pure resume yet, but we had some guiding principles: (1) if you lost, you’re not ranked; (2) if you played an FCS team, you’re not ranked; (3) quality of opponent matters more than margin of victory; (4) everything will be re-evaluated next week. The ballot, sorted by tiers, is below. Each tier is pretty closely clumped.

Tier 1: The Contenders

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. USC
4. LSU

These four went into the weekend as far and away the best teams, and none did anything to show otherwise. Quality of opponent and dominance of win were considered in sorting the teams, but they’ll further sort themselves out as the season continues.

Tier 2: Showed something

5. Michigan State
6. Clemson
7. Virginia Tech
8. Notre Dame
9. West Virginia

These teams all beat decent opponents. They are (roughly) ordered based on how good we considered their opponents to be. All of these teams impressed during week one and rose rapidly. They’re filling the void left by previously top-ten teams who dropped in our estimation. Generally speaking, these teams had the best wins outside of Alabama.

Tier 3: Climbing

10. BYU
11. Tennessee
12. Nebraska
13. Ohio State
14. Louisville

These are more teams that showed good performances that answered some questions we had coming into the offseason. These were teams that average to below-average opponents but definitely looked good in their games. These are, effectively, the “surprise” teams from week one.

Tier 4: A win is a win

15. South Carolina
16. Ohio
17. Nevada
18. Miami
19. Northwestern

These are teams that managed a win over a major-conference team. Most of the teams they beat are below average or downright bad, but they get credit for not scheduling a cupcake, or, for Ohio and Nevada, for being the rare expected cupcake who gets a win. This is where we get into teams who we don’t expect to stick around long, but still had better weekends than those who dropped out entirely.

Tier 5: Served notice

20. UCF
21. Duke
22. Texas State
23. Baylor
24. Georgia
25. Iowa State

Other than Georgia, these were all teams who did surprisingly well. Most of these teams were expected to flounder toward the middle of the pack, but big first-game wins will have people eyeing them for the next few weeks. Georgia is ranked in this group because their performance and opponent’s expected relative strength seemed roughly on par with this group.

Wait right here

Out in the cold for now:

  • Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, and Stanford for poor performances against what should’ve been patsies.
  • FSU, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, and Utah for weak opponents, though they did dominate them thoroughly.
  • Anyone else was just not impressive enough in week one.

What did we get wrong? Tear us to shreds in the comments, or holler on twitter.

Who, what, when, where? The Plus-Two Saturday game plan, week one

This Saturday, as most weekends, we’ll be parked on the couch, remote in hand, “jump” button under thumb, and laptop front and center, swapping between the biggest games of each time slot. The plan is to stay home all day, from Notre Dame-Navy at 9:00am to the end of Arkansas State-Oregon around 2:00am, with only short breaks between time slots to refuel and refill. After such a long offseason, a 17-hour orgy of football is a glorious fountain at the end of a nearly interminable desert.

Be sure to check out our Storylines post for why you should care about each game, and our picks post so that you can ridicule us for our failed predictions.

Morning (9:00am – 12:00pm)

  • Primary viewing: Notre Dame – Navy
  • Secondary viewing: ESPN College GameDay
  • Food: cereal, spinach/mushroom/bacon/cheese omelette
  • Drink: orange juice, irish coffee
  • Online presence: twitter

So this is what it’s like to live on the west coast. Wake up, roll out of bed, and there’s already football on TV. Notre Dame-Navy should be enough to hold attention, but we’ll be eyeing the ESPN shows for preview, storylines, and recap from Thursday and Friday. We’ll need a bit of a pick-me-up in the morning, but what better time to Irish-up your morning caffeine fix than when Notre Dame’s playing in Dublin?

Noon (12:00pm – 3:30pm)

  • Primary viewing: Ohio at Penn Sate
  • Secondary viewing: Marshall at West Virginia
  • With an eye on: Northwestern at Syracuse, Western Michigan at Illinois
  • Food: bratwurst, potato salad, chips, wings
  • Drink: Guinness
  • Online presence: twitter, r/cfb and reddit irc

At this point in the season, we can’t really complain about the noon games. Ohio at Penn State is a chance for an upset, the Friends of Coal Bowl (terrible name for a rivalry, wethinks) will provide a good glimpse into one of the year’s premier offenses, and you can’t really complain about getting to see a few mid-level major-conference teams in action during commercial breaks. Food of choice is lazy man’s tailgate; drink of choice is Guinness, continuing the Irish theme from the morning (plus it’s a slow-sippin’ brew to continue easing our way into the day–it’s a marathon, not a sprint).

Afternoon (3:30pm – 7:00)

  • Primary viewing: Bowling Green at Florida
  • Secondary viewing: Southern Miss at Nebraska
  • With an eye on: Miami at Boston College, Iowa vs Northern Illinois
  • Food: chips, dips
  • Drink: Burnett’s Sweet Tea Vodka (the good stuff’s hard to come by where we live in Yankee land)
  • Online presence: Alligator Army game thread, twitter, r/cfb, reddit irc, and Solid Verbal live video feed

We’re Florida natives and alumni, so even without the Brent Pease experiment and quarterback question marks swirling around the program, the Gator game would be high on our list. There should be enough other storylines to keep our attention during the mid-afternoon time slot. We’ll be kicking the drinking into high gear with a nicely southern beverage (although not quite the level of similar liquors one can find in the southland) while slowing down the eating. We’re mere mortals; no matter how hard we watch, we can only burn so many calories.

Primetime (7:00-10:00)

  • Primary viewing: Alabama – Michigan
  • Secondary viewing: Clemson – Auburn
  • With an eye on: Hawaii at USC, North Texas at LSU
  • Food: Italian roommate’s homemade lasagna
  • Drink: Magic Hat #9
  • Online presence: twitter, r/cfb and reddit irc; also stalking liveblogs and game threads from teamspeedkills and MGoBlog.

The biggest matchups of the weekend are on during primetime. We’ve been waiting for months for these; this is where having two adjacent TVs or at least a laptop with streaming video is essential. You don’t want to be stuck flipping between Bama-Michigan and Clemson-Auburn, lest you miss an important play. This weekend we’ll be introducing our new Italian roommate to the glories of American football, and in exchange he’s cooking a delicious dish. Drink of choice is our favorite beer, because this seems like a perfect time to celebrate. As if we needed to subdivide our attention further, we’ll be lurking in a few live blogs for relevant teams during the big primetime games.

Late night (10:00-1:00)

  • Primary viewing: Arkansas State at Oregon
  • Secondary viewing: Toledo at Arizona
  • With an eye on: Oklahoma at UTEP, and college football final recap
  • Food: must we keep eating? Ugh, popcorn maybe
  • Drink: water
  • Online presence: twitter, r/cfb and reddit irc

This time slot is like browsing a curiosity shop for exciting offenses. Arkansas State – Oregon is a chance to see how one of the nation’s premier offenses finds its groove with some new cogs, and how one of the best offensive minds (Gus Malzahn) molds his own new players. The Arizona game is a chance to see how well the Wildcats’ returning players fit the RichRod ground-based spread-n-shred, while Oklahoma will be fine-tuning its already surgically precise attack against UTEP. At this point any ingestion of food will be a danger to everyone within the blast radius. As for drinks, well, an older brother once told us the secret to avoiding a hangover: “Before bed, chug water until you can’t drink any more. Then drink two more cups.”

After 17 hours on the couch, there’s almost no chance we won’t have a college football hangover, but we’re just trying to avoid any other kinds.

Where will you be on the first Saturday of college football? What games will have you glued to the TV, and which time slots will you tear your eyes away? Tell us in the comments or hit us up on twitter!

Plus-Two Picks – Spartans, Huskies, and Cardinals lead the way in week one

First, a quick rundown of major games and who we pick to win each straight up, with a very short thought on why. Below that, we’ll look a little closer at any bets against the spread that look tasty.

Straight up:

Tennessee over NC State (sloppy but a big pass in the 4th quarter tilts it to the Vols)

Michigan State over Boise State (Spartan D hounds Boise O all night)

Notre Dame over Navy (Gholston struggles early but shows flashes of brilliance in 2nd half)

Northwestern over Syracuse (reliable beats unreliable)

Ohio over Penn State (first big upset of the season)

Ohio State over Miami U (Meyer offense is a little disorganized but has several exciting quick strikes.

Illinois over Western Michigan (closer than the experts think)

West Virginia over Marshall (this is a laugher)

Florida over Bowling Green (neither UF QB stands out and controversy continues)

Miami over BC (this game will be unwatchable)

Nebraska over Southern Miss (closer than the experts think)

Iowa over Northern Illinois (nation’s longest active winning streak ends)

Colorado over Colorado State (this is almost a toss-up)

Auburn over Clemson (close but a late sack of Boyd seals it)

LSU over North Texas (yeahhh)

Southern Cal over Hawaii (target practice)

Alabama over Michigan (Denard has a few beautiful plays but UM defense can’t penetrate Alabama’s O-line)

Rutgers over Tulane (Rutgers D flexes its muscles)

Arizona over Toledo (RichRod offense bumbles through 1st half but runs away in 2nd)

Oregon over Arkansas State (soooo much offense…)

Louisville over Kentucky (no offensive touchdowns for UK, many for the ‘Ville)

Virginia Tech over Georgia Tech (low-scoring but Thomas runs for what turns out to be the winning touchdown sometime in the 3rd quarter)

Spread:

We aren’t bettors, but if we were, here’s where we’d put our money this week:

$100 on Michigan State (-7) vs Boise State.

The Spartans defense is too good, and will give Boise’s inexperienced offense tons of trouble. This is will be the first big early-season matchup for Boise where the Broncos are just plain outclassed. Michigan State’s offense should be able to score 24-28 points without too much trouble, but Boise will struggle to hit 17. We’ll put the big money play on the Spartans.

$50 Washington (-14.5) vs San Diego State

Washington is on their way up in the Pac 12, and San Diego State, seems to be coming back to earth after a period of much higher than average success. The talent gap along seems like it would be worth two touchdowns, and coaching should be worth another one or two. Look for the spread here to be closer to 20 or more.

$50 Louisville (-13) vs Kentucky

We have a lot of faith in Charlie Strong’s ability to turn Louisville’s defense into a force of nature, and almost no faith in Kentucky’s ability to move the ball against even a competent opponent. Louisville’s offense should have no trouble scoring 14 points, which may already be enough to cover the spread.

Week One Storylines: What to watch for in this Saturday’s (and Sunday’s and Monday’s) games

As if you needed some kind of motivation to watch college football, here are the storylines attached to each of the major televised Saturday (and Sunday and Monday) match-ups. Think of it as a cheat sheet for when your significant other/roommates/family ask why you’re watching that game. (We’ll try to stick to the major networks and standard cable channels; all times eastern. Predictions coming tomorrow.)

Notre Dame vs Navy (Saturday, 9:00am, CBS)

First off, it’s a game in Ireland. So just observing the local spectators and hearing and seeing the crowd reactions should be interesting in and of itself. Second, it’s the earliest game we’ve had, possibly ever, so you can just wake up and start watching football. Third, it’s a rivalry that’s heated up lately after Navy wins in 2007, 2009, and 2010 following a 43-game Notre Dame streak.

Notre Dame is always going to be an interesting team to watch because of their polarizing nature. Fans either love them or hate them, which gives everyone a rooting interest here. Be on the lookout for the Irish quarterback situation. There was a lengthy battle for starter all offseason, and Redshirt Freshman Everett Golson ended up getting the nod, although two former starters in Tommy Rees (suspended for the first week) and Andrew Hendrix are waiting in case he tanks. Brian Kelly found a lot of success with various quarterbacks at Cincinnati and Central Michigan, but hasn’t worked his magic with the Irish yet. Could Golson be his man?

With all the talk about Notre Dame, don’t forget that Navy’s triple option attack is always one of the most entertaining offenses in college football. Given the venue, the kickoff time, the offenses, and the teams involved, there’s plenty to watch here.

Marshall at West Virginia (Saturday, 12:00pm, FX)

To see the Dana Holgorsen offense really clicking in year two. To see Geno Smith, Heisman candidate. To see Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey each top 100 yards receiving. To see if West Virginia’s defense can complement their offense. To see an underrated in-state rivalry. To see…Marshall play?

Ohio at Penn State (Saturday, 12:00pm, ESPN)

This will obviously be an emotional game for Penn State: first game after Sandusky scandal, first game after Joe Paterno, first game after massive sanctions, first game after player exodus, first game under new coach. The whole community will be using football for catharsis. Unfortunately, this Ohio team could be pretty good. Emotions will play a major role in this game: if Penn State can use all the turmoil as motivation, then they could knock Ohio out in the first quarter; if the distractions show in their play, Ohio could steal a big win as a springboard to much bigger things.

Northwestern at Syracuse (Saturday, 12:00pm, ESPN2)

Because Northwestern is always fun to watch. They seem to play to their competition, which means they’re in entertaining games more often than not. And Syracuse? Well, they’ll probably be interesting, right? Well, it’s football, anyway.

Miami at Boston College (Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2)

Miami is in a very bad place right now, so it’s a good thing they’re taking on Boston College out of the gates. The Eagles are just really, really bad. They were really, really bad last season, but they still managed to beat Miami in the season finale. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, have a lot of rebuilding to do, with only 9 starters returning. This could be a can’t-look-away train wreck of a game.

Southern Miss at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30pm, ESPN2/ABC)

You want to see what Southern Miss looks like in the first year post-Fedora. You definitely want to see Nebraska’s defense in the one-Pelini era (Carl Pelini, brother of head coach Bo, left to take over at Florida Atlantic). You want to know whether Taylor Martinez can be a reliable passer. You want to see a massive crowd of passionate fans. You want to watch a halfway-decent 3:30 game.

Bowling Green at Florida (Saturday, 3:30pm, ESPN)

The biggest storyline for this game is the Florida quarterback situation. The coaches have been claiming all along that there’s no separation between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, and have yet to name a starter. The two options will each play one quarter in the first half, and the coaches will assess from there. What’s that? Bad idea, you say? Why yes, you are correct, everyone does know that two quarterbacks really equals no quarterback!

Additionally, the Brent Pease era begins in Gainesville with this game. If he can make the Gators’ offense look anywhere in the same time zone as the Kellen-Moore led Boise teams of the past four years, this Florida team could be dangerous. The Florida defense will be one of the best in the country, and will be playing for a shutout here. Also, Bowling Green technically has a team.

Clemson vs Auburn (Saturday, 7:00pm, ESPN)

This will be the third early-season meeting in a row for this pair of Tigers, and they split the previous two. Each of the previous winners went on to win their conference; the losers had disappointing seasons. The game should be relatively exciting, but it will suffer due to a few suspensions.

Clemson has a lot of excellent flashy pieces back from last year’s offense, but will have an inexperienced line that could spell doom against what should be a good Auburn defensive front. Both teams have new defensive coordinators, and Auburn is also breaking in a new OC. This game should be exciting and will tell a lot about both teams’ prospects for the upcoming season. At the very least, you’ll want to be watching when the Tigers from the ACC have the ball.

Hawaii at USC (Saturday, 7:30pm, Fox)

Lane Kiffin, everyone’s favorite enemy, now a steady leader. Matt Barkley, Heisman frontrunner and golden boy USC Savior. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, two 1,000-yard receivers from last year. Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd, two 1,000-yard rushers from last year. This offense would be fun to watch play against air, which is essentially what you’ll see on Saturday. Also keep an eye on the USC defensive line, which is their biggest (only) question mark. Also, Hawaii might do that Haka thing, which is entertaining.

Alabama vs Michigan (Saturday, 8:00pm, ABC)

You really shouldn’t need any help explaining why you want to watch this, so let’s keep it short. The school with the most wins against the school with the most national championships. The Brady Hoke resurgence against the Nick Saban Process. Scrambly, exciting, dreadlocked Denard Robinson against stationary, reliable, ‘Bama-banged A.J. McCarron. Michigan reaches for the top of the mountain, Alabama tries to hold steady there.

This is must-watch TV when either team has the ball, and is the first game of the season between two teams with legitimate national championship aspirations. Close the blinds, lock the doors, put tape over the mouths of everyone else in the house. Don’t blink. You need to see this.

Kentucky at Louisville (Sunday, 3:30pm, ESPN)

Two basketball schools that hate each other in every sport. The Governor’s Cup is an underrated rivalry that brought us this epic finish five years ago (watch for the hilarious guy with the clipboard at :14). Louisville’s defense should really be clicking in year three under Charlie Strong. The Cardinals return a lot from a young offense that took some lumps last fall and switched coordinators midway through the season.

Kentucky won’t be very good, but it’s a rivalry game and anything can happen. This is your chance to get on the Louisville bandwagon early, because they may be a big deal come November.

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (Monday, 8:00pm, ESPN)

It’s day five of an orgy of football. At this point you’ll have almost completed the marathon, so why stop just before the finish?

Georgia Tech’s offense is fun to watch when it’s clicking. With a senior quarterback and an excellent offensive line, it should be clicking for much of the season. Unfortunately, this is a just the type of situation that can give the Yellow Jackets fits. Virginia Tech’s defenses are always great, and this year with eight returning starters they should be one of the best in the country. With a lot of time to prepare, the Hokies have a real chance to shut down the triple option.

Logan Thomas is the big name at quarterback for the Hokies, but his supporting cast is very raw this year. Georgia Tech’s defense will be hoping for improvement in year three under Al Groh. When Virginia Tech has the ball, it’s weakness against weakness in this game.

Both teams have legitimate goals to win their division and, by extension, the conference title. This game could end up being the deciding factor for who faces FSU or Clemson in the ACC Championship come November.

What other games will you be watching? What other storylines will you be following this weekend? Hit us up in the comments, or on twitter.

Week One Storylines: Why you should be watching the Thursday and Friday games

As if you needed some kind of motivation to watch college football, here are the storylines attached to each of the major televised Thursday- and Friday-night tilts. Think of it as a cheat sheet for when your significant other/roommates/family ask why you’re watching that game. (We’ll try to stick to the major networks and standard cable channels; all times eastern. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday games coming soon.)

South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Thursday, 7:00pm, ESPN)

It’s the first college football game of the season. Spurrier has built the Gamecocks from laughingstock to legit in his time there. This may be his best team yet, and they will be a serious threat in the SEC and nationally if they can find consistency. For this game the stage is all theirs, with a chance to make a statement while all eyes are on them. With star RB Marcus Lattimore back to take the load off finally-entrenched starting QB Connor Shaw, Carolina has the offensive stars to match their defensive teammates Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is trying to make their own resurrection story (or perhaps just surrection story, as there’s no “re” for Vandy). James Franklin has created excitement over the Commodores for the first time in ages, and this year could be a springboard for them if things continue trending upward. Vandy has their own name recognition, thanks to QB Jordan Rodgers, brother of famed NFLer Aaron Rodgers.

Both teams will be wanting this win badly. For South Carolina, it’s a chance to stake their claim on the SEC East and show that they’re ready for a real challenge. For Vanderbilt it’s an opportunity to make a splash and show they’re ready to play with the big boys.

Washington State at BYU (Thursday, 10:15pm, ESPN)

The Most Interesting Coach in the World returns to the sideline. Mike Leach’s teams are always entertaining, and Wazzu should be no different. He has decent tools to work with in the passing game, so the Cougars should be able to move the ball from day one. Expect to see a lot of Tuel-to-Wilson passes this game and all season long.

BYU (incidentally Coach Leach’s alma mater) have plenty of their own intrigue to follow. After striking out on their own as an independent, these Cougars suddenly have a very tough schedule without the creamy center that the Mountain West provided. Riley Nelson took over as QB last season and his play was a major reason BYU was able to turn the season around and reach ten wins. With seven returning starters on both sides of the ball, they should be much improved. However, with a tough schedule coming up, they need this win over a major-conference team to pad their résumé.

Two Cougars. Two pass-happy schemes. A late kickoff. This could be a late night, and we wouldn’t have it any other way on the first day of the season. There should be plenty of fireworks to hold your attention, and if not, Mike Leach’s halftime and postgame interviews should be entertaining at least.

NC State vs Tennessee (Friday, 7:30pm, ESPNU)

This Chick-Fil-A kickoff game is like a little brother to some of the epic match-ups we’ve seen lately on the opening weekend in Atlanta. Both of these teams are trying to take a step forward from middling to good. Tennessee, in year three after Kiffin, have rumors of an explosive offense. Tyler Bray has a big arm needs to find some reliable targets to hit (other than cars, with beer bottles). NC State is in a very similar situation, with a surprisingly good returning quarterback in Mike Glennon, and an unproven set of receivers.

Both of these teams could turn out to be anywhere from great to bad, and this one game might not tell us much either way. But it’s intriguing none the less, and it’s unusual to get such a seemingly even early-season non-conference match-up. There’s also the conference war between the SEC and the ACC as an added storyline.

Boise State at Michigan State (Friday, 8:00pm, ESPN)

Boise is the winningest program over the last four years, and everyone is familiar with them by now. Chances are you either love the Boise underdog-makes-good storyline, or you hate them for not playing in a major conference. Either way, this season is Boise’s chance to prove that they can reload with the best of them and continue their streak of incredible success after losing almost their entire cast of stars on both sides of the ball. The tone for the season will be set in this game.

Michigan State, however, is looking to prove that it’s reached the top of the Big Ten and is ready to contend nationally. Because like it or not, Boise State is now a national brand, and beating them will do wonders for Michigan State’s credibility. The MSU defense should be scary, but Chris Peterson’s Boise offense has been one of the most reliable since before departed starter Kellen Moore arrived. The Spartan defense against the Bronco offense will be the match-up to watch.

Both teams break in new quarterbacks. Michigan State can show it’s reached elite status with a win here; Boise State can show it never left.

Why are you watching these games?

The season starts tomorrow, so here are our last-minute season-long predictions

It’s finally here. All the anticipation, prognostication, and expectation will be over on Thursday night, when we all shift from guesswork to damage control. But since we’ve got one more night to wait, here are a list of predictions–some overly broad and some overly specific–that cover every conference. If you don’t see your favorite team mentioned here, they’re either too hard to predict or we didn’t think they were interesting enough.

LSU and Alabama both lose an SEC game, but the winner of that game wins the West only to be upset by the SEC East representative, which isn’t Georgia.

Texas A&M struggles and doesn’t make a bowl, but does scare some teams with their offense. Missouri makes a bowl, but doesn’t realistically contend for the East after October. Arkansas disappointingly loses three or four games and finishes in a tie for third in the West. Vanderbilt and Tennessee are better than their record makes them look.

FSU disappoints and doesn’t finish in the top ten, Clemson doesn’t disappoint and lives in the top ten until losing to two- or three-loss Virginiaa Tech in ACC Championship Game.

Virginia continues to improve, while Miami tanks. Duke makes a bowl, Georgia Tech can’t get a reliable receiving threat and BC is terrible.

Louisville loses only two games, wins the Big East and finishes in the top 12, one of two Big East teams in the top 25. Big East is happy to get rid of Syracuse, but sorry to see Pittsburgh go. Temple struggles. South Florida makes an appearance in the polls around midseason, then immediately loses and remains unranked the rest of the season.

Michigan State‘s defense is dominant and they run over the Big Ten, but a frustrating loss to Notre Dame has them wondering what if. Michigan and Wisconsin regress slightly, Penn State crumbles, and Ohio State looks much better at the end of the season than the beginning. Illinois is a surprise. Iowa and Northwestern are Iowa and Northwestern.

USC and Oregon play two epic, high-scoring, back-and-forth games. The double-digit loser in the regular season wins the rematch and goes on to the BCS Championship game.

Washington passes Stanford for next-best in the North, while Utah is second in the South. Among the teams with new coaches, Washington State and Arizona are exciting in 5-7 seasons, while UCLA and Arizona State are boring. Either Cal or Oregon State fires their long-tenured, well respected coach.

The Big 12 is the deepest conference in the country but suffers for it. The top 5 teams beat each other up and none are in contention for the BCS Championship by December. Oklahoma has two conference losses but gets the BCS bid on a tiebreaker (a three-way tie is not out of the question, inciting controversy a la 2008).

West Virginia has no trouble adapting its offense to the new conference, but its defense struggles. Kansas State and Baylor regress slightly, Oklahoma State regresses drastrically. TCU and Texas climb. Iowa State upsets a highly ranked team, and Paul Rhoads says something dramatic in the postgame locker room.

Notre Dame finishes with 8 or 9 wins and it’s considered a massive success. Expectations are high for 2013. BYU quietly has a very good season but has trouble getting recognition until they get their tenth win in the bowl game.

Louisiana Tech make waves with a couple of high profile early-season wins and finishes atop the WAC and in the top 25, but loses a game it shouldn’t in conference.

Ohio goes into the last week undefeated in conference and just inside the top 25, but loses in the MAC championship.

Arkansas State has a good offense, Florida International has a good defense.

Three of the four best C-USA teams in 2012 will be teams moving to the Big East (Houston, SMU, Central Florida), one of whom will win the conference. Memphis also technically fields a team.

Boise State‘s losses meet or exceed the previous four seasons’ losses combined, but they still win the MWC on their way out.

The Heisman is not won by Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson, or Montee Ball.

The BCS Championship is not won by the SEC.

The Plus-Two Polls – Preseason/Week One

There are a lot of top 25 polls out there. Here at the Plus-Two Blog we’ll bring you a few more.

First, we’ll attempt a less exact but more meaningful ranking, as described in our post about the ideal selection committee from earlier this summer. This tiered system is the “ranking” that we care most about. Here’s the relevant quote:

a few groups, based on accomplishments up to that point, and ordered as if the season were to end at that moment. Tier I: Would definitely be in the playoff (contains 0-4 teams); Tier 2: Under strong consideration for the playoff, definitely in a major bowl (2-6 teams); Tier 3: Needs some help for the playoff; strong consideration for a major bowl (4-8 teams); Tier 4: Outside the playoff picture, needs some help for a major bowl (6-10).

We’ll also be taking part in the r/cfb poll (username: ExternalTangents), organized by the college football subreddit of the same name. Each week we’ll include our r/cfb poll ballot, which will be based on the tiered ranking described above but with an ordering within the tiers.

Last, we’re working on developing a computer-based ranking system. It’s rankings won’t be meaningful until around mid-season, so we won’t bother publishing them until then.

The Plus-Two Poll

Teams are grouped into tiers; ordering within tiers represents ordering for r/cfb poll.

The Contenders:

1. Alabama
2. USC
3. LSU
4. Oregon

The teams that have the best shot at making the national championship. These four teams look like easily the most complete teams. There are two pairs of conference-mates here whose fates are tied to each other. We’re expecting a Pac 12 – SEC match-up for the national championship, but choosing which pair is beyond our abilities. If we had to pick it would be the Tide and the Trojans, but that’s far from a certainty.

Waiting in the wings:

5. Oklahoma
6. South Carolina
7. Georgia
8. Florida State
9. Michigan State

The teams with the best shot to rise should the top tier falter. These five teams have serious potential but also some sort of glaring flaw or uncertainty. All of these teams have the ability to finish undefeated and play for the championship, but even if they do they’ll need a few teams in the top tier to lose. South Carolina and Georgia are lucky in that they control their own fate, since they would face either LSU or Alabama in the SEC Championship.

A case to be made:

10. West Virginia
11. Wisconsin
12. Clemson
13. Michigan
14. Utah
15. Arkansas
16. Texas
17. TCU

Teams that could have a magical run if the pieces fall into place just right. Unfortunately, they each have some major hurdles to climb and some major question marks to answer on their way. All could be in contention for a BCS bid come November, and in a dream season could contend for the national championship. A few of these teams will score a major upset over a top-ten team and a few may drop from the rankings entirely.

Hanging in there:

18. Louisville
19. Ohio State
20. Virginia Tech
21. BYU
22. Notre Dame
23. Kansas State
24. Nebraska
25. Florida

These teams are all major toss-ups. In reality, they’re just our best guesses for who might fill out the bottom of the poll or could have an outside shot at climbing the rankings with some lucky breaks. They’re more likely, though, to fall out of the rankings as some unexpected teams rise up.

After teams have played games, we’ll reset the rankings based entirely on teams’ résumés to that point. This means our first few weeks will be a little wonky, but that’s what makes it fun! For now, we’re just making our best guess for how the teams will shake out this season. Next week will be completely different.

What did we get wrong with our preseason rankings? Tear us to shreds in the comments, or holler on twitter.

Monday Pollgaze: Preseason/Week One

Teams have played a whopping zero games so far, but that doesn’t stop the college football prognostoscenti from pumping out top 25 ballots by the dozen. Today we’ll try to parse the particularities and peculiarities of the preseason polls, then we’ll revisit the rankings each week as the season progresses.

There are two basic ideas for what a preseason poll represents.

Predictive polls attempt to rank the teams by likelihood of winning the national championship. Power polls attempt to rank teams based on how good the voter thinks the teams are relative to each other, in an absolute sense.

Unfortunately, most people tend to assume these are the same, and voters are called out or congratulated based on how “accurate” their preseason poll was. This leads voters to attempt to make their polls more accurate respsentations of the end-of-season results, and thus incorporate things like schedule difficulty. Thus, most preseason polls end up being predictive polls by default.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if all pollsters immediately scrapped their preseason ballot after the games were underway and voted based on actual results. Instead, these expectation-based preseason ballots continue to hold residual influence as the season unfolds, which is a major travesty.

We don’t put much stake in preseason polls here, so let’s keep our analysis brief.

Most likely to fall

Oklahoma (4th in AP poll, 4th in Coaches poll). The Sooners have a lot to be excited about and we don’t think they’ll drop out of the polls by any means. But a top-five preseason ranking assumes at most a single loss, with a conference championship an expectation, not a goal. The Big 12 is too deep with too many dangerous teams, and OU has too many question marks to sustain such a lofty ranking. They may well win the conference, but it’ll be with two losses on their ledger.

Michigan (8th in AP, 8th in Coaches). Extremely lucky in 2011 to have the season they did. Expect regression to the mean in 2012, in addition to a tough non-conference slate, to drop the Wolverines out of the top ten for most or all of the season. The opener against Alabama will tell us whether Michigan is ready to return to glory or if they’ll be stuck in neutral.

Oklahoma State (19th in AP, 19th in Coaches). Too much turnover on offense. Losing the mastermind of last season’s scheme was mitigated by the experienced players they returned. But this season the Cowboys will be starting a freshman quarterback who learned the offense from an offensive coordinator who learned it from last year’s starter who learned it from Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach of West Virginia. That’s too far removed from the Holgo mastermind for us to maintain any confidence with the new skill position starters.

Most likely to rise

Louisville (25th in AP, unranked in Coaches). Charlie Strong has the defense firing on all cylinders. The young offense came together toward the end of last season and should be improved in 2012. The Big East should be ripe for the Cardinals’ picking, with only Rutgers and possibly USF or Pitt giving them trouble. The non-conference slate is manageable but with enough recognizable foes to give Louisville the credibility they’ll need to rise in the polls. Louisville will likely be favored in all but one or two games this season; even if they finish with two losses, they’ll be a solid top-15 team.

TCU (20th in AP, 17th in Coaches). After last season’s torchings in the early season against Baylor and SMU, the Horned Frogs’ defense regrouped and started to return to the form we’ve come to expect from Gary Patterson. Last year’s offense turned from a question mark to a revelation with Casey Pachall as quarterback, and should maintain that in 2012 if the offensive line can hold up. The schedule is very heavily back-weighted, with five ranked conference foes to close out the season. This is perfect for TCU, who was been known to improve over the course of the season under Patterson. TCU is in great position for double-digit regular season wins and a real shot at the Big 12 championship.

Ohio (Unranked in both polls). The Bobcats had a breakout 10-4 season in 2011 and would already be pegged to improve in 2012. But the real story here is their schedule, which, after an opener at Penn State, has little in the way of speed bumps. If Ohio can manage an upset over a devastated and reeling Penn State, they should be favored in the rest of their games and have a real chance of going undefeated through the MAC. Even with one loss, the Bobcats should finish 2012 ranked, which is a big improvement over receiving no votes in either preseason poll.

Other thoughts and notes

The SEC has seven teams — half its membership — in the coaches poll (six in the AP), while the Big 12 has more than half (six of ten) ranked in both polls. Both of these numbers seem untenably high. It’s almost certain, just based on pure math, that both conferences will finish with fewer ranked teams. Chalk this up to voters’ willingness to rank based on name recognition and comfort, and unwillingness to look deeper into the teams that didn’t do so well in 2011. Expect a few risers from the non-AQ conferences, and probably an unexpected team or two from the Big East and Pac 12 to come into the picture in October.

Especially in the coaches poll, the last seven or eight spots seem to be a dumping ground for teams with massive question marks and little to recommend their success beyond their name brands. Most of these will drop by mid-October.

The way the top of the rankings are set up, there seems to be an expectation that Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, and Georgia will play off in the SEC for a spot in the BCS championship, while USC and Oregon play off in the Pac 12 for the other seat. If either of those conferences fails to come through, then Oklahoma and FSU are waiting in the wings.

But as we all know, the season never works out so cleanly. Most of those teams will drop a game to a lower-ranked opponent, opening the door for a surprise riser.

As the 2012 college football season begins, here’s why CFB is better than the NFL

The following is mostly taken from a post we made on r/cfb.

We like the sport of football in general, but why is it that we like the college version so much more than the professional version?

We have a handful of reasons:

Proximity. In the most college football-crazed regions, there are not (or were not until relatively recently) professional teams for the locals to root for. Anyone who grew up in a big city with professional teams is going to have childhood memories rooting for the pros. If you grew up in a smaller area, particularly near a college town, you’re going to have those same feelings toward the college team.

Traditions. The fight songs, the cheers, the hand signs, the game day rituals, the school band, the cheerleaders that are closer to cheerleaders than a provocative dance team. All of these things give the atmosphere around college games a much more emotional feeling. You get the sense that you are taking part in a lasting tradition that links you to many generations before you and many more that will come after you.

Familiarity. If you are a student, then the people on the field are your peers. They may be in some of your classes, or live in your dorm, or maybe you just see them roaming the campus. But you see them amongst you, doing a lot of the same things you do, so there is a special familiarity and relatability that isn’t present with millionaire professional players. And if you’re not a student, then you probably were at some point, and you remember that feeling.

College Students. It shouldn’t be under-stated that a lot of the amazing atmosphere surrounding the gameday experience, and especially the stadium during a game, can be attributed to the fact that a large number of the fans are young, wild, horny, recently liberated, probably drunk, easily excitable people in their late teens and early 20s who in many cases live within easy walking distance of the stadium. This is a recipe for the kind of crazy loud atmosphere you can’t get from the pro’s.

Variety. The actual on-field product is so much more varied than what you find in the pro game. So many different schemes and formations and tempos and skill sets on both sides of the ball. In the NFL all the players are so athletic that all you can hope for is a minor edge over your opponent. In college, the much wider variation in talent level means teams can exploit each others’ weaknesses and match-ups more varyingly, or ride a particularly dominant player to a victory.

Parity. In the NFL, there is much less separating the top teams from the bottom. This means fewer epically dominant teams that you remember for generations. It means standings with lots of teams bunched together with records near the .500 mark. It means champions that lost a third (or more) of their games.

Team Goals. In the NFL, it’s pretty much Super Bowl or nothing. Yeah, you can be the conference or division champion, but nobody really gives a shit about those. In college, there are so many more tiers of achievement that teams can play for. So even though your team may be out of the national championship discussion after week two, you can still have very tangible conference championship aspirations. When those fall by the wayside, you can be still play for a major bowl bid, a minor bowl bid, or a winning season. Even a team with a losing record and no chance at a postseason can still get satisfaction from their season by upsetting their rival. Everyone has something to play for in college football.

Postseason. The NFL has a quarter of the teams that college football has, but they play 25% more games before the postseason. This means win-loss records are a lot more representative of how good teams are relative to each other in the NFL than in CFB. So in reality, the NFL could be forgiven for having a relatively small postseason and only inviting the clear top-quality teams to play in it. Instead, the NFL postseason dips so far down into the pool of teams that it’s not uncommon for a team with a losing record and two games left to still have a shot at the playoffs. And once you’re in the playoffs, more often than not you end up with a team that hasn’t performed nearly as well during the season winning the Super Bowl. In college, there is almost no room for error. Every game is must-win; if you lose even once, then your championship aspirations are out of your hands. Even if you don’t lose at all your championship aspirations are probably out of your hands. There is something much more compelling about the necessary pursuit of perfection in college football. The regular season’s games have a more desperate feeling from the very first kickoff, and the eventual champion is much more reliably the most deserving team at the end of the season than in the NFL.

Transience. In college football everything is fleeting. Players only get four years, and most play fewer than that. Coaching staffs move up and trade jobs around every offseason. With so much turnover in players and staff, every season is much less predictable, so every team can always hope for major improvements thanks to those changes. Going hand-in-hand with that is the yearly improvement that you can reliably see among the best players; these are young talents, and most don’t start their career off ready to play at the top level. With limited practice time and just plain physiological maturation, these players are growing before your very eyes season by season. When all of these different pieces come together, it’s lightning in a bottle. In college football more than any other sport, you’re going to lose key cogs in the offseason after any championship. You can fall from the top in just a year (look at Texas and Florida) and you can rise to the top almost as fast (look at Stanford and Kansas State). At any school, it’s possible–probable, even– that there is literally no one from the kicker to the head coach that was there six years ago. The transient nature of the personnel makes the traditions, colors, jerseys, and rituals that much more permanent to make up the difference.

Did we miss anything? Why do you like college football more than the NFL?