"I try not to read the negative comments, and when I do, I let it roll off my back. I remind myself that there will always be haters as long as you are in the public eye." - Ryan Lochte
This season hasn't started the way I wanted. I expected to win immediately and be rewarded for my hard work this offseason. Like UF graduate and renowned thinker Ryan Lochte, I've learned what it feels like to deal with scrunity under the public eye. Coming off a week in which my picks went 5-7 with the world watching, the last few days have been rough. I felt embarassed and ashamed. Luckily Roger Goodell and his web of lies has distracted readers, keeping attention away from my slow start. I'm now 12-16 overall and in dire need of some momentum. The Miami Hurricanes have also struggled early this season, leaving fans in a state of disappointment that wasn't cured by a win against FAMU. The negativity around my picking ability and Miami's coaching staff has gone far enough. Don't pay any attention to it and let's put the past behind us. It's time for both myself and the Canes to maximize our respective talents and perform to our full potential this weekend. Winning cures everything.
Before I get into this week's picks, here is a detailed look at my stats this season. If I suffer a few more losing weeks, my numbers will rival congressional approval ratings. Boxes that are in green indicate I have a winning percentage of better than 50% in that specific category. Boxes in red indicate a winning percentage below 50%. As you can see, my prowess in the SEC is the only thing I can brag about thus far. Tebow and Finebaum ain't got nothing on me. Unfortunately, my dreadful Pac-12 and Big Ten records will likely prevent me from being a grand marshal at this year's Tournament of Roses Parade. I still can't believe Stanford blew so many opportunities to score against USC. Following Michigan State's late game collapse from my phone in Sun Life Stadium, including the final late touchdown to lose my pick, made it hard to enjoy the final moments of Miami's win over FAMU. I won't be distracted this Saturday however. Do not sleep on Arkansas State and enjoy the special tributes to America you'll see all weekend. Follow me @JPickens15 for updates on my picks, Miami, and thoughts on #TapeGate.
MIAMI -16 vs Arkansas State 330pm - ESPNU
Stacy Coley is questionable for Saturday's game, but even without him, Miami should have a significant talent advantage on both sides of the ball. That being said, this Arkansas State team will challenge the Hurricanes and Miami must be focused. The Red Wolves have had incredible coaching turnover recently, but that's a result of continued success and a winning culture at the program. Coach Blake Anderson will have his guys ready, confident they can compete with the Canes after losing a somewhat competitive game with Tennessee last Saturday. Ark State's offense will be a good test to see whether Miami's defense really is as improved as I think. QB Fredi Knighten has led his team in rushing in both games this season and Miami has struggled to stop mobile QB's in recent years. Knighten throws a lot of short passes and utilizes the screen game often. It's critical that Miami is able to create some pressure up front, as well as stay disciplined to stop the spread passing game. Look for Arbrister, Kirby, and Perryman to continue to play well, helped by a stronger push from UM's front four.
Brad Kaaya has shown flashes of his talent in both games, but has looked like a true freshman at times. He'll keep getting better and I'm excited to see him improve this week. I expect James Coley to get a bit more aggressive this week, going downfield more than we've seen so far. WR Phillip Dorsett had a big game against FAMU and he'll need to step up if Coley can't go. In the end though, this game will be decided by Miami's ability to run the ball with Duke, Yearby, and Gus. The Canes offensive line needs better play at RG and RT to dominate Arkansas State and control the line of scrimmage. I expect Miami to solve some of their issues on 3rd downs and look the best we've seen in 2014. This game might be close at halftime, but talent and speed wins out in the second half as Arkansas State gets tired in the blazing South Florida sun. Bring your suntan lotion and watch the Canes win by three touchdowns.
HOUSTON +18 at BYU 9pm - ESPN - (THURSDAY)
BYU is getting all the hype this week. Can BYU run the table and make the playoff? Can QB Taysom Hill be a Heisman candidate? While I do like Hill and picked BYU to beat Texas last week, I think this talk is a little premature. I also think people are overreacting to Houston's loss to UTSA to open the season. Turnovers by QB John O'Korn doomed Houston in that 27-7 loss, but this team still has significant talent on offense. Houston and BYU played a thrilling game last season, with BYU holding on to win 47-46 in the final minute. Houston WR Deontay Greenberry will make a big play early and put some pressure on BYU. In the Battle of the Cougars, I expect Houston to keep this game closer than expected.
CINCINNATI -11 vs Toledo 7pm - ESPNU - (FRIDAY)
I know it seems crazy, but Cincinnati hasn't played a game yet. The Bearcats make their season debut on Friday night and are lucky to be facing Toledo without their starting QB Phillip Ely (suffered an ACL tear last week). Cincy will be starting the infamous Gunner Kiel and I expect him to have enough "chest" to lead his team to a win. Toledo has to start Logan Woodside to replace Ely and Nippert Stadium is a tough place to play. Toledo's defense struggled with Missouri's speed and size, losing to the Tigers 49-24 last week. Cincinnati comes into the game fresh and the extra time watching Toledo's film is an added benefit.
GEORGIA -6 at South Carolina 330pm - CBS
I'm on the Georgia bandwagon. The Bulldogs had a week off to prepare for this matchup and bring the nation's best backfield to Columbia. South Carolina was dominated by Texas A&M and outgained by East Carolina. The Gamecocks have looked lost on defense and will be worn down by Georgia's ability to keep bringing in fresh elite running backs. If USC loads the box, I have confidence in QB Hutson Mason's ability to make plays in the passing game. We saw what Georgia's defense is capable of when Clemson could barely get a first down in the second half of the season opener. UGA wins by double digits and continues to be the favorite in the SEC East.
MISSOURI -10 vs Central Florida 12pm - SECN
UCF lost a heartbreaker to Penn State in Ireland, but was encouraged by the play of QB Justin Holman, who came off the bench and nearly led the comeback. Holman will get the start on Saturday and will be experiencing a hostile atmosphere for the first time. The Knights won't be able to make enough plays on offense to stay with a Missouri team that's playing with confidence. QB Maty Mauk led the Tigers to a 49-24 blowout of Toledo, throwing for five touchdowns and 300+ yards. Mauk has some talented playmakers around him in WR Darius White, WR Bud Sasser, and RB Marcus Murphy. Look for Missouri to start fast and pull away in the second half.
LOUISVILLE -6.5 at Virginia 1230pm - ACC Network
Virginia is a difficult team to figure out. The Cavs played very well at home against UCLA, but had three disastrous turnovers that created UCLA defensive touchdowns. Against Richmond, UVA was outgained by nearly 100 yards, but was able to force seven turnovers on the way to a blowout win. UVA is still trying to solve the situation at QB, with Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns fighting for the fulltime starting job. Miami fans saw Louisville on Labor Day night and I expect the Cards' defense to be able to shutdown UVA's offense. Virginia relies heavily on short passes and plays very conservative on offense, much like Miami tried to do. We know how that turned out. The dramatic coaching edge goes to Bobby Petrino and I expect Mike London to look confused throughout the afternoon on the sideline. Louisville's offense will do enough to put this game away in the 4th quarter.
ARKANSAS +3 at Texas Tech 330pm - ABC
Texas Tech has struggled to beat both Central Arkansas and UTEP the past two weeks. UTEP ran for 277 yards against the Red Raiders, which is going to lead to problems for Coach Kingsbury this week. We know Texas Tech and QB Davis Webb can put up points, but if they can't control the line of scrimmage against a physical Arkansas team, the Hogs will win on Saturday. Arkansas has a powerful offensive line and a bunch of talented running backs, led by star Alex Collins. The Hogs put up a staggering 495 yards rushing on just 40 carries against Nicholls State last week. I look forward to this game featuring two completely contrasting styles. Bret Bielema's team wins a close one on the road by wearing down Tech's undersized defense.
IOWA STATE +10 at Iowa 330pm - ESPN
The Cy-Hawk Series has been decided by a touchdown or less in each of the last three seasons. I realize I'm a glutton for punishment by picking Iowa State, but I have to go with my gut. Iowa State bounced back from a disappointing loss to NDSU by taking Kansas State down to the wire and nearly upsetting the Wildcats. The Cyclones head to Iowa City desperate for a win to turn around their season. Due to injury, Iowa will be without star OT Brandon Scherff, one of the best players in the nation. Even with Scherff, Iowa hasn't been able to run the ball with the consistency it needs to be successful later in the season. QB Jake Rudock played well against Ball State, but the Hawkeyes couldn't finish drives and needed two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull out the win. This game will be ugly and low scoring, with Iowa State hanging around long enough for me to win my pick.
UTAH STATE -14 vs Wake Forest 7pm - CBSSN
Wake Forest's offense has struggled this season with true freshman QB John Wolford at the helm. In the opener at ULM, Wake had just 94 yards of total offense. Against Gardner Webb, Wolford had three interceptions and Wake didn't take full control until the second half. This is a long road trip for the Demon Deacons and their young QB, who doesn't have many playmakers around him. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton really let me down against Tennessee, but I expect him to get back on track at home. Utah State will be able to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball effectively. Romney Stadium (Yes it's called that) is a tougher place to play than people think. Keeton leads the Aggies to a blowout win.
KENTUCKY +18 at Florida 730pm - SECN
Sorry Florida fans, I'm not a believer in your new offense just yet. Eastern Michigan isn't exactly a good test of Kurt Roper's new system, although I was impressed by the 65-0 final score. QB Jeff Driskel played well and UF made some big plays in the passing game that were lacking in 2013. This Saturday will be a bigger test for the Gators, with the 2-0 and improved Wildcats visiting Gainesville. Kentucky allowed just 3 points in a win over Ohio on Saturday, giving up just 223 yards of total offense. I'm a little concerned with QB Patrick Towles making his first road start in the Swamp, but I still think his offense is capable of leading a few scoring drives. Florida wins on Saturday night, but only by 7-14 points. Kentucky and Mark Stoops will leave Gainesville with their heads held high after a strong effort.
PENN STATE -3.5 at Rutgers 8pm - BTN
This pick is based on my faith in QB Christian Hackenberg. Penn State received amazing news that the NCAA is dropping the final two years of bowl bans. The program has been given new life and I expect to see this team play with a new sense of excitement on Saturday night. Penn State's defense has been stout against UCF and Akron and will be able to slow down the power running game of Rutgers and RB Paul James. This is a huge primetime opportunity for Rutgers on a big stage in the Big Ten opener, but don't expect QB Gary Nova to rise to the occasion. Rutgers gave up 25 points to Howard last week and was outgained as well. Hackenberg is an elite NFL type talent and he'll lead his team to victory on the road.
UCLA -7 vs Texas 8pm - FOX - (Game in Arlington)
This game is technically being played at a neutral site, but clearly UCLA fans will be outnumbered. That will likely be the only advantage for the Longhorns on Saturday night. Texas is in trouble after numerous dismissals, suspensions, and key injuries. Already without starting QB David Ash, UT might be without their most reliable WR Jaxon Shipley who is questionable for Saturday night's game. Texas couldn't run the ball at all on BYU and the inexperience up front will lead to problems against UCLA. The Bruins defense was embarrassed by their performance against Memphis and I expect Myles Jack and his teammates to be more aggressive this week. Despite sluggish showings in two wins this season, I'm not ready to give up on UCLA. Brett Hundley has a big night and the Bruins beat the shorthanded Longhorns.
NEBRASKA -10 at Fresno State 1030pm - CBSSN
Don't be fooled by Nebraska's struggles with McNeese State. The Cornhuskers have a very talented offense and won't be sleepwalking again. Star RB Ameer Abdullah will make sure his teammates are ready to play and should have a monster game against the train wreck that is the Fresno State defense. It's usually tough to play at Fresno State, but Derek Carr isn't playing quarterback anymore. Fresno State can't decide on a fulltime starter at QB and has scored just 40 points total this season. The Bulldogs gave up 52 to USC and 59 to Utah and won't get a break on Saturday night. Huskers' WR Kenny Bell will get behind Fresno's beleaguered pass defense. Bo Pelini's team will be angry and motivated to prove last week was just an issue of a lack of focus.