Preparing Wednesday FEPO is always an adventure. It was difficult finding five games worth talking about today; Colorado State-Wyoming isn't televised, all the other mid-major games are sort of awful this week, and Luke begged me not to pick Minnesota-Illinois (thereby throwing away a shot at free, um, victory, because this is after all For Entertainment Purposes Only).
So what we have here today are three expected blowouts east of the Rockies and two absolute WTF moments out west. To wit:
ARKANSAS (-23) over Alabama-Birmingham, 11 a.m. SEC Network
Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville AR
JM: This game may not appear all that interesting at first glance, but there are a couple of factors which make it intriguing from a prognostication standpoint. The first, obviously, is the state of the Arkansas program. Despite playing some decent football this year, they're still mired in failure. The Blazers, meanwhile... well, what do you know? They're 4-3! They gave the #1 team in the nation a serious fight in week two, finally losing 47-34. UAB is in the top 40 nationwide in both rushing and passing and in passing defense, and Arkansas isn't very good at throwing the ball.
So where's the problem? It's when Arkansas has the ball and runs with it. The Hogs are averaging over 250 yards a game. UAB's rush defense is not terrible; it's right around the middle of the pack. But competition comes into play here. UAB has achieved what it has, statistically, against teams which just aren't that good. Arkansas has done so against four SEC teams and Texas Tech and Northern Illinois. This game might tell us a lot more than we want to know about Arkansas. Maybe UAB keeps it close, and suddenly the SEC West as a whole looks a lot worse. But I think the Hogs are going to cover here, even with that steep line.
LT: I realize Georgia's 13-point win at Arkansas last week will hurt this argument, but I still think the Razorbacks have the talent to compete for an SEC East title. Instead, they're stuck in college football's toughest division and struggling mightily. Now they've got a chance to take out some of those frustrations against a team with inferior athletes and depth before hitting the grind again with Mississippi State, LSU and Ole Miss. Sure, there's a chance Arkansas could look ahead, but I think we'll see something more like the 21-point win they got at Lubbock earlier this year. That's a large spread, though, so I'm going to say UAB gets a backdoor cover.
MICHIGAN STATE (-17) over MICHIGAN, 2:30 p.m. ABC
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing MI
JM: This is it, folks. I would be utterly unsurprised to see Brady Hoke fired on Sunday, because for all the other nonsense surrounding the Wolverine program this fall getting brutally beaten down by their little brother could very well be the final straw. There has been absolutely nothing whatsoever this season to suggest that Michigan will even keep this game close. When your once-great program has descended so far that a tweener who beat you in the non-conference (Utah) can't even hold you up as a decent win, you're doomed. Sparty covers.
LT: It's kind of surprising to me this line is as low as it is. We've all heard about how great Michigan State's defense is, but did you know the Spartans rank third in the country in scoring? They've done it with a remarkably balanced attack, and Michigan can't seem to stop anyone, last week's 18-13 win over Penn State notwithstanding. I don't know about Brady Hoke getting fired Sunday, but I'm fairly certain MSU covers here.
Arizona (-2.5) over WASHINGTON STATE, 5:00 p.m. Pac-12 Network
Martin Stadium, Pullman WA
JM: This is a joke, right? We have two of the top seven teams in the nation in passing offense, and they're also both among the worst pass defense units in the country -- Arizona is 109th, Wazzu 112th. The difference here is that Arizona runs for 200 yards a game. Washingon State averages 44.7. That is not a typo; K-State has three players who each individually average more yards per game on the ground than the Cougars. Washington State is so bad at running the ball that they don't even show up on ESPN's team rushing offense page, because it still only includes 124 teams rather than all 128 FBS squads. (WSU is 127th.) And since Wazzu gives up 163 per game on the ground... look, Arizona is going to throttle these guys. Not even a contest.
LT: You sound surprised that a Mike Leach team doesn't run the ball. Granted, that's a little extreme, and their 2.4 yards per carry on the ground is somewhat appalling. Remarkably, though, they've managed to keep a lot of games close this season, so it's tempting to project they pull off an upset on their home field. In the end, though, that line is a little too small and frankly, too insulting to Arizona for me to pick against them. Wildcats cover.
Alabama (-17) over TENNESSEE, 6:30 p.m. ESPN2
Neyland Stadium, Knoxville TN
JM: The best part of the day for Vol fans is going to be getting absolutely hammered on their boats outside Neyland, because the Saban has awakened his team. Alabama put on their big-boy pants and just destroyed Texas A&M, and now it's time to crush their true most-hated rival. Tennessee looked like they were improving, but it's clear that they've still got a long way to go. Tide covers, spread be damned.
LT: Poor Tennessee. While SEC East leaders Georgia (4-1) and Missouri (2-1) both get a shot at Arkansas, the Vols play at Ole Miss and host Alabama in back-to-back weeks. Last Saturday didn't go so well, and it's hard to believe this week will be much better, even in Knoxville. 'Bama won't be overlooking this one. Tide covers easily.
Arizona State (-3) over WASHINGTON, 9:45 p.m. ESPN
Husky Stadium, Seattle WA
JM: Another "are you kidding" Pac-12 line. This line hasn't changed much despite the announcement that Sun Devil starting QB Taylor Kelly should be back in the saddle this week, and it makes no sense to me at all. Although Arizona State fell apart at home against what is now an obviously average UCLA team, they then turned around and beat USC on the road before taking care of Stanford. You know who didn't take care of Stanford? Washington, that's who. In fact, Washington has not beaten a good team all year unless you count Eastern Washington. The Eagles are a good team, but (a) they are a good FCS team and (b) Washington won that game 59-52. Washington is 106th in the nation in passing yards, and only average running the ball. They're also 115th in the nation in passing defense; Arizona State is 11th in passing offense. You can do the math there, and then ask yourself why in god's name the Sun Devils are only three point favorites. Arizona State covers.
LT: All of what Jon just said makes a lot of sense, and this does seem to be a somewhat puzzling line considering Arizona State is ranked and Washington didn't even get a vote in this week's AP Poll. However, to borrow a phrase, there seems to be one "are you kidding" Pac-12 upset every week, and what Jon neglected to mention is that Washington doesn't really have any bad losses this season. Combine that with the fact that I'm still wary of the Sun Devils because of the UCLA game, and I'm ready to take a chance here. Washington pulls off a stunner in Seattle.