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Pregame stretch, 10.21.11

October 21, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode
Penn State (6-1) vs. Northwestern (2-4)

7 p.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network

Announcers: Tom Hart (again), Derek Rackley (again) and Lisa Byington (again)

Annoyance factor: This. Cannot. Be. Happening. Ugh. Perhaps by the second quarter of this game, Hart will notice that Iowa guy running out of the end zone and down the field with the ball in his hands. On the bright, side there’s no way this crew can be as abysmal as they were last week, right? Right? Also, billing this as a “prime time game” as Penn State is doing on its web site is somewhat disingenuous, isn’t it?

Line: Penn State -4

Smarts say: A week after losing their collective shirts on the Iowa over/under, Vegas settled the PSU-Purdue o/u at 41 and you know how that ended up (23-18 in case you’ve forgotten). The moral of the story? Fool Vegas once … quit. It looks to us like this week’s over/under of 47.5 means Vegas thinks Dan Persa is worth an extra touchdown (if we assume Purdue and Northwestern are pretty much the same team (sorry Walter) with the exception of the QB position). Put it all together, we’re talking the always popular 26-22 Penn State victory.

Quick hits:

+ An Indiana University (not of Pennsylvania) finance professor recently published a 242-page study that places valuations on college football programs as if they were businesses for sale. Not surprisingly, the Penn State program’s economic value is much higher than the level of play has been for the past five years.

According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, which published excerpts of Ryan Brewer’s study, college football franchises were valued the way a Wall Street analyst would value a business operation, based on cash flow history and a myriad other factors.

Penn State was ranked third in the study with an estimated valuation $446.9 million. PSU’s valuation was just below #2 Georgia’s at $483.6 million and well below the top school, Texas, which has a valuation of $848.3 million, according to Brewer. (Note: A link to the full Top 100 appears at top right.)

For comparison, Forbes magazine’s latest valuation estimates on NFL franchises ranked the Jacksonville Jaguars as the lease valuable at $725 million. The Steelers were valued at $996 million and the Cowboys were the top-ranked pro team at $1.8 billion.

It should also be noted that Brewer’s study did not include private schools, such as Notre Dame or Southern Cal. Brewer guesstimates that Notre Dame would jump to the top of the list if it had been included, with a valuation near $1 billion.

Brewer ranked some schools with negative valuations, meaning their football programs use university funding to support operations. The surprise on that list for us was Rutgers which Brewer values at -$19. In other words, if college programs were businesses, the trustees in Piscataway would give you an Andrew Jackson to take the football team off their hands. That’s pretty amazing – and not in a good way.

The Southeastern Conference has six teams in the top 10 of Brewer’s rankings. The Big Ten had six schools in the top 15.

Also, Pitt's program is valued at a pedestrian $44 million, so the next time that argument comes up about the difference between Pitt and Penn State, you can chime in, "$402 million."

+ Why is Penn State 6-1 despite its QB woes and generally inept offense? One word: Turnovers. The Lions are 10th in the country in turnovers caused with 17 and are a +5 having given up six fumbles and six INTs. However, turnovers might be hard to come in Evanston as Northwestern has only surrendered three fumbles and three interceptions on the year.

The pick: This is a much scarier proposition than people are realizing. Purdue provided a blueprint for moving the ball on the Penn State D. Add the playmaking ability of Dan Persa and the formidable option Northwestern can run as a changeup and you’ve got the potential for the Wildcats to score 27 points. That means Penn State would need to score 28 and, yes, Northwestern’s defense is terrible, but you’re still talking about RELYING on the Lions’ quarterback(s) to win. As we said, a scary proposition.…. PSU 28-27.

Last week: We were double right last week in picking PSU to win, but not cover. That brings us to 5-2 against the spread and 6-1 straight up.


Pittsburgh (4-2) at Arizona (1-4)

4:05 p.m. Saturday, CBS

Announcers: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

Annoyance factor: After our comment last week that “anything is better than Dierdorf again” we’re getting Dierdorf again. We’re totally out of material here. If you have Sirius, you could switch back and forth between the two feeds and listen to both Wolfley brothers. THAT would be better than Dierdorf again.

Referee: John Parry

Competence factor: Generally considered to be one of the best young officials working, Parry has done the Super Bowl as a side judge and should be very close to landing one as a white hat. His father, Dave, is the Big Ten’s director of officiating, but don’t hold that against the son.

The line: Pittsbugh -3.5

Smarts say:For the second straight week, the Steelers opened as a favorite (this week at -4) and the line dropped by a half-point almost immediately. This likely means Pittsburgh’s “public” appeal is waning. “Public” bettors are those that don’t really know what they’re doing and bet for certain teams out of loyalty or out of an impression those teams always win. For example, the Packers and Cowboys are two teams that have large public followings. Bookies have to try and counteract public betting but giving the public teams’ opponents an extra half point or so. The Steelers have also been a pretty strong public team in the past, but the speed at which they’ve dropped a half-point the past two weeks indicates that more “smart” bettors are grabbing that extra half point on the opponent (in this case, the Cards) when the line opens than there are public bettors taking the Steelers. Got it? Oh, the over-under here is 42, meaning something like Steelers 23-20.

Quick hits:

+ Two weeks ago, we pointed to LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons as two Steelers (both of whom signed big offseason contract extensions, btw) who were underachieving. Since then, Woodley has been on a rampage of sacks, stuffs and big plays. Timmons has somehow become less of a factor. When James Harrison was injured and Timmons moved back to his “natural” position of outside linebacker there was real optimism the former first rounder (No. 14 overall) would finally come into his own. Instead, he’s disappeared to the point that his name does not appear on the official defensive stat sheet from last week’s game at all. Not. At. All. As in zero tackles, zero assists, zero sacks, zero passes defensed. It’s almost to impossible to fathom that someone playing outside linebacker in the Steelers defensive scheme would register such a stat line.

+ (Blogger’s note: If you’re sick of our jaded point of view on drug use in the NFL, skip this item.) It’s not a mystery to us why the NFL Players Association is still stalling on the implementation of blood-based testing to detect the use of Human Growth Hormone. Now that the testing is inevitable, the union is trying to create as much time as possible for its membership to get as clean as possible before it’s administered. HGH itself leaves the bloodstream in a couple hours, but it leaves several systematic “markers” behind for 2-4 weeks. We’re guessing there will be a deal on blood tests by the middle of November.

The pick: We hate this matchup, hate it, hate it. If we were a betting man, we’d stay a million miles away from it. We’ve already seen plenty of evidence that Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals both elevate their level of intensity when the opponent is wearing black and gold. Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald are so overdue for a big game that it’s not funny. If the Ben Roethlisberger who played the final three quarters last week shows up, Pittsburgh is doomed here. It is with great trepidation that we predict that won’t be the guy we see Sunday… Steelers 27-24.

Last week: We correctly called the Steelers winning but failing to cover against the Jags, moving us to 4-2 straight up and 3-3 vs. the spread.

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