Midweek Report - Thursday's Previews




By Jim Hurley:

Hey NFL ... when will the madness end?

No need to go chapter-and-verse here into Monday Night's colossal disaster that should have been a 12-7 Green Bay Packers win against Seattle and instead turned into a 14-12 Seahawks win -heck, ESPN has shown the "game-winning" touchdown more than the Zabruda film!

Yet you do have to wonder heading into NFL Week 4 action -and it all kicks off with Thursday Night's AFC North battle between the winless Cleveland Browns at the Baltimore Ravens -whether the on-the-field action is gonna be the thing here or will it once again be all about the zebras -a/k/a the replacement officials.

Let's just say the NFL -quite frankly -cannot afford to have too many more of these games chock full of referee blunders (yes, more than a few folks are beginning to tune out even if the hotsy-totsy NFL folks claim that's not the case as per the TV ratings) and so it's cross-your-fingers time again for Commish Roger Goodell and his won't-back-down owners who are slowly but surely destroying this great sport before our very own eyes.

Let's have NFL Week 4 action be about the players, the games and the great endings that don't include the men in stripes, okay?


CLEVELAND (0-3) at BALTIMORE (2-1) -- 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Folks, you have to go back to the second meeting in the 2007 season to find the last time the Browns beat the Ravens (see 33-30 in a game played in Baltimore) and so it's not as if recent history has been on the side here of the now 0-and-3 Cleveland Browns.

Still, one thing that Pat Shurmur's squad is hoping for here is that rookie RB Trent Richardson (just 175 yards rushing on 50 carries so far; a pedestrian 3.5 yards-per-carry average) will get 20-plus carries and thus maybe keep QB Joe Flacco and that Ravens offense (one that is averaging nearly 33 points per game) off the field.

In last Sunday Night's wild 31-30 non-cover win by the Ravens against 2 ½-point underdog New England, the Ravens relied on the right arm of Mr. Flacco for 382 yards and three TDs and he'll really spread around the wealth as five different payers caught three-or-more balls including emotionally-drained WR Torrey Smith (6 catches for 127 yards and two TDs) who just hours before had lost his little brother in a motorcycle accident.

Gotta believe that Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta (5 catches for 50 yards and one score against New England) will be a central character here as Flacco knows his wide outs will be getting lots of double-coverage looks -might this be a 10-catch (or so) game for Pitta on this night?

Now back to Cleveland's starry rookie:

Richardson's 12-carry, 27-yard rushing game in last week's 24-14 home loss to Buffalo surely was nothing to write home about but that six-yard pinball-type touchdown run showed this kid has a great feel for the game -providing this shabby Cleveland O-line can open up some holes here.

Spread Notes -Baltimore has covered six of its last eight head-to-head showdowns against Cleveland and note the Ravens are 5-1-1 ATS (against the spread) in divisional tilts since the start of last season. The Browns, meanwhile, enter this clash at 1-1-1 against the odds this year and 7-2 spreadwise as twin-figure underdogs while dating back to the midway point of the 2009 campaign.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have all the NFL Week 4 winners beginning with the Browns-Ravens tilt on Thursday Night plus there are loads of NCAA Football and Major-League Baseball winners straight ahead too -- so go ahead and climb aboard right now with America's #1 Handicapper! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners and note the check-in times are after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday Baseball Winners and than after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight NFL, NCAA and MLB action and than after 11 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.


On Thursday Night, it's ...#8 STANFORD (3-0) at WASHINGTON (2-1) -9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Enough of those "Andrew Who" signs in the stands already!

The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up QB Andrew Luck was never a one-man gang at "The Farm" but now that he's playing ball on Sundays the focus of this here-and-now Stanford club has turned to a defense that's allowing just under 15 points a game (and is currently ranked #1 in the land in rushing defense while yielding 41.7 ground yards a game) and let's not forget new QB Josh Nunes (615 yards passing with 6 TDs and 3 INTs) has looked sharp after some dreary play in that season-opening 20-17 non-cover win against four-TD dog San Jose State.

One Stanford key for Nunes here is hooking up with TE Zach Ertz early and often against the Dawgs:

Ertz (9 catches for 146 yards and a score this year) is not only a true red-zone threat for head coach David Shaw's squad but he can break big plays down the middle of the field too and a Washington secondary that has vulnerabilities better watch him 20 yards down the pike.

Safe to say Stanford's do-it-all RB Stepfan Taylor (averaging 112.7 yards per game rushing so far) is an early-season Heisman Trophy candidate and love the way Stanford's "fed" him for nearly 23 carries per game so far this season 

Meanwhile, what's happened to Washington's passing offense as the Huskies rank 92nd in the land in passing offense while averaging 199.7 yards a game ... oh yeah, that's what happens when your team plays a game against LSU!

Spread Notes -Stanford is an electric 28-12-1 ATS overall since the start of the 2009 season (that's a neat .700 winning rate) and the Cardinal is 7-1 versus the vig in its last eight showdowns against Washington. On the flip side, the UW Huskies have failed to cover six of their last eight overall games but they do own a decent 15-12 ATS mark in conference games dating back to the start of the 2009 season.

In other College Football News & Notes ...
Quick: What NCAA Football team that started the season outside the Associated Press Top 25 poll now sports the highest ranking?

If you said the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0) than give yourself a cookie!

The 10th-ranked team in the land surely has done it with defense so far as Brian Kelly's club has allowed a mere 46 points in its first four outings -they rank inside the FBS top 30 in both rush defense (112.5 yards a game) and pass defense (178.8 ypg) and now Kelly's club gets to rest up, figure out its current quarterback situation and gear up for the Oct. 6th game at Soldier Field in Chicago against the Miami Hurricanes.

No question that Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o has put himself firmly in the early-season conversation for this year's Heisman Trophy but it's the whole ND defense that deserves to take a bow as this year's club ranks 5th in the country in turnover margin and no doubt Michigan QB Denard Robinson (among others) knows just how tough the South Bend guys can be in the red zone.

Maybe all the criticism Kelly and the Irish dealt with the past two years has steeled this crew -and if Te'o and Company keep the Irish on the plus side of the turnover margin than maybe we will be seeing Notre Dame in one of the BCS big bowls at year end ...

Finally, the Big 10 surely has been taking its share of criticism in recent weeks with last weekend's non-league losses suffered by Iowa and Michigan further sullying the conference's reputation but did you realize that right now the highest-ranked Big 10 team out there is #14 Ohio State and the Buckeyes have barely squeaked past California and UAB the past two weeks at home.

Meanwhile, there are five SEC teams that currently rank above Ohio State -go ahead and look it up!

The biggest league game for the Big 10 guys this weekend is that Ohio State at Michigan State tilt in East Lansing (a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff) and from a pointspread perspective do take note that the Buckeyes are a collective 37-17-2 against the odds in all Big 10 games since the start of 2005.






By Jim Hurley:

It's safe to say that UL-Monroe, Oregon State and - yes - the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rank among the top "feel-good" stories of this still-young 2012 NCAA Football Season but you know us media folks:

We like to accentuate the negative (not really all the time!) ... and so let's trot out the season's  "Biggest Losers" so far through the first four weeks of this gridiron year:

ARKANSAS (1-3) - Who else but these here-and-now Hogs as the country's "biggest loser" with a reminder that this SEC West crew began the year ranked #10 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and now couldn't bribe their way to even getting a single top 25 vote! No doubt that the stunning early-season overtime loss to aforementioned UL-Monroe started to spin this season in a downward spiral plus the head injury suffered by outspoken QB Tyler Wilson didn't help matters but keep in mind the Razorbacks rank 107th in the land in rushing offense and 111th in passing defense and that's no way to win games. Hard to believe that Arkansas is allowing 36.3 points a game thus far and we can only wonder if that would have been the same had one-time head coach Bobby Petrino not decided to take his motorbike (and his mistress) out for a country ride. Now, Arkansas heads to Texas A&M this Saturday and we gather you've already noticed the Hogs are two-TD underdogs ... gulp!

HOUSTON (0-3) - Wasn't it just a year ago that the Cougars were torching opponents left-and-right en route to a scintillating 13-1 SU (straight-up) season?
Now here's what Houston fans have been "privileged" to watch in Year One of the Tony Levine Era: The Coogs have fallen to the likes of five-touchdown underdog Texas State, Louisiana Tech and UCLA right out of the proverbial starting gate and they've been outscored 123-to-68 in these three games. Don't look now but city rival Rice is the next challenge this Saturday at Reliant Stadium and if the Coogs lose here than the whole program could be up in flames. Keep in mind that Houston's been to a post-season bowl game in six of the last seven seasons but when you sport the country's 107th-best rush defense (allowing 247 yards per game) and 107th-best pass defense (yielding 290 yards per game) than it's tough to get into that win column.

IOWA (2-2) - What exactly has happened to this once-proud program that's been to nine bowls in the past 10 years? Kirk Ferentz's squad already has lost to 3 ½-point dog Iowa State and 14 ½-point pup Central Michigan and no need to inform handicappers that the Hawkeyes enter this Saturday's Homecoming Game against new-and-improved Minnesota with four spread setbacks in as many tries this year. Burn, baby, burn! Among Iowa's woes include offensive ineptitude as the 'Eyes rank 89th in the FBS in both passing offense and overall offense and note QB James Vanderberg - who we thought would have a big-time season in Iowa City this year - instead has been a major flop and note he completed just 7-of-16 passes after a perfect 9-for-9 start in last weekend's 32-31 last-second loss to the CMU Chippewas. Check out the Iowa sked and you'll notice the Hawkeyes must play Big 10 road games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan ... might this be a sub-.500 team when all the dust finally settles in late November?

Now, let's spend a moment on the Friday Nite TV Preview ...
HAWAII (1-2) at BYU (2-2) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Hey, we don't want to say that the BYU Cougars need to play on prime-time TV every week but they're on the tube more than the Kardashians!

In fact, this is the fourth time this year that BYU finds itself on the "ESPN family of networks" but even we can't admit that this is "must-see TV" considering the Coogs are a healthy four-TD betting favorite against the gang from the 50th state.

If you want to track something of interest here, than let's see if BYU quarterback Riley Nelson - benched in last Thursday's 7-6 loss-but-cover at Boise State -- stays in the lineup here after he was picked off three times (and fumbled once) against the Broncos.

Spread Notes - BYU has split its first four out-of-the-chute pointspread results this year but the Cougars do own a solid 18-11 ATS (against the spread) log since the start of the 2010 season and that includes last year's 41-20 at 8-point home dog Hawaii. Note that the visiting Warriors, meanwhile, enter this clash at 4-10-1 spreadwise overall while tracing back to the start of last year but Hawaii is a respectable 6-5-1 spreadwise in its past dozen games as underdogs.


The Northwestern Wildcats (4-0) are nowhere to be found inside the AP Top 25 right now but that's okay with seventh-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

The under-the-radar 'Cats already have beaten three BCS teams (see Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College) and now Northwestern is a double-digit betting favorite this weekend at home against enigmatic Indiana in the team's Big 10 opener.

Northwestern's defense has been the major scene-stealer so far as the Evanston gang has allowed just 33 points in its last three games following that wild season-opening 42-41 win at 'Cuse and keep a close eye this weekend and beyond on DE Tyler Scott who has three sacks already ...

Are the Georgia Bulldogs the "forgotten team" among the college football elite this year?

No doubt the 4-and-oh Dawgs have plenty of bite with the nation's 13th-best overall offense and what can you say so far about junior QB Aaron Murray who sports some dazzling numbers including 1,092 yards passing with 10 TDs and 2 INTs while Georgia has won its first four games by a per-game average of 31 points!

The Bulldogs host two-TD dog Tennessee this Saturday (kickoff's at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS) and Murray would love to get the country's fifth-ranked team some more "love" but the real key for Mark Richt's team is offensive balance and how about the fact Georgia rushes for 242 yards a game and throws it for 287 yards a game?

The next "real" test for Georgia is Oct. 6th at South Carolina - that's the inside-track game if you want to be the champ of the SEC East

Finally, let's show a little "love" to the little guy here and what about 4-0 Texas-San Antonio? The UTSA Roadrunners - one of the new teams in the now 124-team FBS - is a national unknown but we're here to tell you QB Eric Soza (695 yards passing with 7 TDs and 1 INT) is the real deal and that San Ant defense ranks 8th overall in the land and is allowing a meager 63 rushing yards a game (also good for 8th-best in the country).

Next up for the Roadrunners: Back-to-back road games at New Mexico State this weekend and than - following a bye - an Oct. 13th road game at Rice. Keep any eye on this Lone Star State team that may be a real national gem in a couple of years ahead.

NOTE: Get our NCAA Football Saturday Key Previews in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez.


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