Updated on 09/15/2011 1:10PM

Power shift leaves big programs in the cold


A pair of traditional college football powerhouses, Penn St. and Notre Dame are taking their lumps this year, while other teams not normally associated with football success such as Fresno St. and Northwestern, are taking their places at the top of the polls. The Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions are a combined 0-6 (1-5 against the spread this season), and it's clear that they are a far cry from the great teams of yore from both of those colleges.

The free fall is in its second year at Penn St., which actually began its decline at the end of the 1999 season. The Lions were ranked No. 1 when back-to-back-to-back losses at the end of the season sent them to the Alamo Bowl. Since then, Penn St. is 5-10 in its last 15 games, and no improvement appears immanent. Their spot atop the Big Ten has since been taken by Northwestern, a school normally known for academics and not football. The Wildcats are 3-0 this season and could well be on their way to a conference title.

The Decline at Notre Dame has been more sudden, and more dramatic. The Irish went to the Fiesta Bowl last season, but have lost their first three games this year by a combined score of 68-23. Instead of Notre Dame going to a BCS Bowl game this season, we might be seeing Fresno St. heading in that direction after the Bulldogs started their season 5-0 (4-1 against the spread) against teams like Colorado, Oregon St., and Wisconsin.

Look for many more losses this season from Penn St. and Notre Dame, and big things ahead for the little guys.


Northwestern (+2 1/2) at Ohio St.

Northwestern ran its record to 3-0 in last week's wild and wooly game against Michigan St. The Wildcats actually outplayed the Spartans by more than the 27-26 score would suggest, as Michigan State's cause was benefited by points on special teams. Northwestern is a veteran team on both sides of the ball and has a legitimate BCS chance this year. At the beginning of the season, running back Damien Anderson was considered by most to be a prime Heisman candidate, but it has been quarterback Zak Kustok who has emerged as a contender for that honor by running wild on defenses that focus too much on stopping Anderson. Either way, the Wildcats (averaging 36 points per game) are going to carve up defenses all season. Ohio State's D has allowed only 14 points per game in three games (2-1) so far, but that average is about to go up, and the concern is that the Buckeyes will not have enough offensive firepower to retaliate. Steve Bellisari has failed to develop into a quality quarterback, and the Buckeyes' offensive line is not good enough to facilitate a decent running game. Northwestern has already covered twice on the road this season, and Ohio St. is only 2-5 against the spread at home dating back to last season. Play: Northwestern for 3 units.

East Carolina at North Carolina (-7)

North Carolina has emerged from its hellish early season schedule with two wins and a pointspread record of 3-2 - not bad considering Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida St. are now all in the rear-view mirror. First-year head coach John Bunting can now concentrate on a winning season with five of his team's final seven games at home. The Tar Heels destroyed Florida St., 41-9, two weeks ago, and then avoided a letdown in last week's 17-9 victory over N.C. State. This week they face, by far, their weakest opponent of the season so far with East Carolina coming in with a record of 1-2 against Div. I-A competition including a home loss to lowly Wake Forest. The Pirates normally solid defense proved not so reliable in last week's 44-30 loss to Syracuse. This week, the D will be faced with stopping the multi-dimensional Tar Heels quarterback Ronald Curry. On the other side, East Carolina's David Garrard has no quality receivers to throw to and won't have a lot of time to camp out in the pocket with North Carolina's all-American defensive end Julius Peppers bearing down on him. Play: North Carolina for 1 unit.

New Mexico St. at Tulsa (-3 1/2)

The Golden Hurricane are off to a slow start thanks in part to a tough schedule that has already featured games against Oklahoma and Fresno St. Last week's road game at UTEP was no picnic, either. Tulsa returns home this week, however, and things are beginning to look up as the Hurricane plays its most winnable game since their opening week 51-0 victory against Div. I-A Indiana St. Tulsa has covered five of its seven games at home under coach Keith Burns, and will now seek revenge against New Mexico St. for last season's 42-28 road loss to the Aggies. New Mexico St. is playing its third straight road game after trips to Kansas St., and Louisiana-Monroe, and the road-weary Aggies may have their work cut out for them on this artificial surface after going 3-7 against the spread on turf the last four years. Play: Tulsa for 1 unit.

Temple at Boston College (-13 1/2)

This is considered to be a rebuilding year for Boston College, but don't tell that to the Eagles who've started 3-1. Granted, the wins have been against Army, Navy, and West Virginia, but they've done it with ease as new starting quarterback Brian St. Pierre has proven to be a suitable replacement for Tim Hasselbeck. This week's opponent, Temple, lost its first road game of the year two weeks ago to Bowling Green by a score of 42-23, and now must play on artificial turf where it has gone 9-15 against the spread the last three years. The Owls had expected improvement this season, but that potential growth has been stunted by a defense that has allowed an average of 33 points a game. BC has outscored its opponents 65-20 in two home games so this year, and has covered seven of it's last eight games at home including six out of seven as home favorites. Boston College is a terrible team to play for teams that don't fare well on artificial turf. The Eagles are 9-3 against the spread on turf going back to last season including their 31-17 win over Arizona St. in last year's Aloha Bowl. Play: Boston College for 1 unit.

Georgia (+12) at Tennessee

Tennessee is having its problems on offense as quarterback Casey Clausen is not developing into a top-class quarterback as hoped. The offense has sputtered repeatedly in recent games against LSU, and in particular against Arkansas when the Vols failed to cover a similar pointspread. Injuries are also mounting to Tennessee's defense, and offensive line which is heavily relied upon to produce a running game. The Bulldogs are playing their first road game, but the offense may have woken up just in time judging by last week's 34 point outburst against Arkansas. Georgia is certainly capable of an upset here, at least against the spread. Last year, the Bulldogs beat the Vols outright in Athens, 21-10. Play: Georgia for 1 unit.

Houston at Army (+1 1/2)

Army is used to losing, so revenge really doesn't come into play very often for them. However, this week's game is an exception following last season's 31-30 heartbreaker at Houston cost them a rare and precious Conference USA win (on the road no less). The Cadets have been drilled twice in a row on the road, but their one home game so far this season wasn't bad - a 24-21 loss to Cincinnati the first game of the year. Army returns to West Point for just its second home game this season, and actually gets to play a team as bad as they are with the Houston Cougars coming to town. Houston is 0-3 straight up and 1-2 against the spread despite the benefit of three home games to start the season. This is the Cougars' first road game of 2001. Last year, they went 1-6 against the spread on the road including a 0-3 mark when playing on artificial turf. The Cougars are undervalued mainly due to their game effort against Texas two weeks ago. However, that was a game the Houston players were pumped up to play after feeling that the Longhorns taunted them too much in last season's blowout. No such motivation this time around. Play: Army for 1 unit.