Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (October 3-4)

With another international week ahead of us, the last Premier League weekend proved to be one filled with drama and big stories as the first two managerial casualties of the top flight were confirmed, while the top and the bottom of the Premier League has begun to take shape.

Are the Bottom Three in Danger of Being Cut Off From the Rest?
That image is of Marko Arnautovic celebrating his winning goal for Stoke City at Villa Park on Saturday which moved his side clear of the bottom three after opening the weekend in 17th place in the League table.

With a win over Aston Villa and both Newcastle United and Sunderland also failing to earn the three points over the weekend, all of a sudden there is a four point gap between 17th and 18th place in the Premier League.

Yes, there are still 90 points to play for this season so there is no immediate danger of the bottom three clubs being cut off, but that gap has to be a concern to Tim Sherwood and Steve McClaren in the bottom three.

It has been a competitive Division over the first couple of months, but only Newcastle United and Sunderland have yet to win, while Aston Villa haven't won since the opening day of the season. The fans of these clubs have to be a little worried over the next two weeks before the Premier League returns because I am not sure how much improvement those clubs will make in that time.

You can't be anything but worried when you're not too convinced about a club's chances of beating any other in the League and these three clubs in the bottom three don't inspire much confidence.

It is going to be a big month of football for Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Sunderland following this international break until the next month in the middle of November. They Tyne-Wear derby on October 25th looks huge too and I would already begin to consider two out of these three as being big favourites for relegation come May.

Dick Advocaat Unsurprisingly Walks Away from Sunderland
The first managerial casualty of the Premier League unsurprisingly came at the Stadium of Light where it was considered fairly certain that Dick Advocaat was going to leave Sunderland no matter what happened in the game against West Ham United.

Seeing his team blow a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw didn't do much for the Dutchman and I don't blame him for walking.

Sunderland have never been transparent as to who is running the transfers at the club but I think the previous comments from Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet suggest the manager perhaps doesn't have as much control as is needed. Advocaat's decision to walk might have been influenced by the lack of quality that was brought into the club without his go-ahead and I am personally not a big fan of 'committees' running the transfer side of a club because these people take little to no responsibility when things go wrong.

Fans and the media will look at the manager and the buck will stop with him and a manager that retired in the summer only to make a U-turn is unsurprisingly not wanting to deal with the pressure of a relegation battle.

I think it is also telling that someone like Harry Redknapp made it clear openly that Sunderland is not a job he would be willing to touch because of the quality of players at the club. He even suggested Sam Allardyce is unlikely to take on the job and all the Houdini acts Sunderland have committed to escape the drop looks unlikely to be repeated this season.

Sunderland simply haven't had the most taxing of fixture lists to be stuck on three points from a possible twenty-four and it will take something special for them to drag themselves out of the bottom three. Someone has to take responsibility for the shocking signings that have left Sunderland as a mess at the back and not being able to score enough goals to cover those issues.

This looks like it is going to be a long season for Sunderland unless they can find someone who can inspire a poor crop of players for long enough to bring in reinforcements in the January transfer window. Even those reinforcements might not be enough barring another miracle for Sunderland who have looked the worst team in the Premier League by a considerable distance so far.

When Will Chelsea Hit Rock Bottom in this Season?
I'll admit that I have thought Chelsea are about to turn the corner a couple of times already this season, but they continue to make the defensive mistakes that have prevented a consistent run.

Hands up if you picked Chelsea to be in 16th place in the Premier League table going into the second international break of the 2015/16 season... Not many hands that I can see!

Jose Mourinho is under immense pressure as his 'rant' to Sky Sports at the end of another poor home defeat showed, while the players look to have inexplicably downed tools.

Have they given up on the manager, something Mourinho said would be the only reason he would resign as manager of Chelsea? Some of them certainly look like they are not pulling their weight as expected, while there is no consistency to the team line up which isn't helping things.

Some have suggested the players aren't pleased with the tactics that Mourinho insists on playing and ex-England and AC Milan manager Fabio Capello went as far as saying Mourinho has worn out his players. Capello said the same was said after Mourinho's time at Real Madrid and perhaps that is a big reason that 'third season syndrome' affects Mourinho's teams as much as it seems to in seasons he has remained as long as that at one club.

It is baffling to perfectly honest because it looks like some of the veteran players have aged overnight and maybe Mourinho did get the best out of them last season and they have nothing left. John Terry was terrible in the loss to Southampton, Nemanja Matic was withdrawn in the game and Chelsea lack options up front with Diego Costa out suspended.

Games are not going to get easier for Chelsea once they are out of the international break. The face big trips to Dynamo Kiev, West Ham United and Stoke City (in the League Cup and the Premier League), while Liverpool visit Stamford Bridge and things may get worse before they get better for Mourinho.

One question remains though... Will Chelsea keep their 'full support' behind the manager if they lose two or three more games between October 17th and November 7th?

And Then There Were Three
Thierry Henry said in the wake of Arsenal's 3-0 win over Manchester United that Arsene Wenger won't have a better chance to guide his team to the Premier League title than he looks like he will have this season.

Chelsea are unlikely to defend their title with their continuing struggles and 10 points looks a lot to make up on Manchester City who lead the way.

Despite the loss to Arsenal, Manchester United remain in the thick of the battle to become title contenders although the next month will tell us a lot more about Louis Van Gaal's men once they play at Everton, Manchester City at home and Crystal Palace away.

Manchester City will be there or thereabouts as long as Manuel Pellegrini keeps them focused better than he has at times and also manages to get a full season out of Sergio Aguero and those three teams lead the way when it comes to potential winners.

With Chelsea struggling at the moment, a top four berth for a surprise contender is certainly up for grabs, while Liverpool might feel a big change in the manager's office potentially gets them back in the mix as they are only 4 points behind Arsenal and Manchester United.

If I am being honest, I am still expecting Manchester City to push clear in the coming months, but the Premier League certainly has an open look about it as we get closer to the ten game mark which is supposed to give us the clearest picture of how things will develop.

Brendan Rodgers' Time is Up at Liverpool
The rumours about Brendan Rodgers' future as Liverpool manager began as far back as April when his side limply went out of the FA Cup Semi Final to Aston Villa, but this still feels a strange juncture at which the decision was made to remove the Northern Irishman from his position.

There are definitely some arrogance around Rodgers and an almost undeserving belief that he has been surpassing expectations at Liverpool, but I also think he is a better manager than those who love revising history would care to admit.

He almost took Liverpool to the title behind some breathtaking football and while some will point to Luis Suarez being the main source for that, I would hesitate in diminishing Rodgers' role in the 2014 season. He got the best out of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge that season to complement Suarez and it was only a bit of naivety that prevented Liverpool winning the League in the final three games when they were big favourites to do that.

That game with Chelsea when Liverpool pushed on for goals when a draw would have sufficed is perhaps the one moment Rodgers would love to go back in time and adjust his own tactics you'd think and it would have made him virtually untouchable at Anfield right now.

He made mistakes- the signing of Mario Balotelli was never going to work as a replacement for Suarez, but a long-term injury to Daniel Sturridge was bad luck.

Liverpool are not that far off the top four places so I think the timing was strange, but I guess someone, Jurgen Klopp, has given the nod he is ready to return to management and the owners believe he can get more out of the squad that has been put together. Klopp looks the perfect fit for Liverpool as someone who made some impressive signings on a small budget at Borussia Dortmund, but was also capable of replacing big players that were sold.

It is much harder to see where Rodgers goes from here- perhaps he takes the David Moyes approach and look to manage abroad because the only way is down from Liverpool in the Premier League. He is still young enough to come again, but not many managers get more than a single shot at the very big clubs in a single country and Rodgers might be best to rebuild before returning to England.

You can understand his disappointment- he was three games away from becoming a Liverpool legend yet eighteen months later is out of the door at Anfield and now being widely criticised for his tenure.

I think it is harsh that his performance is being downplayed in hindsight, but that is football these days when managers go from one extreme to another in a very short period of time. Rodgers can just make a quick call to his friend Jose Mourinho to understand that as he exits the limelight for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (October 7th)

It was a shame that Sam Groth had to retire from his match with Jeremy Chardy when he was down a set and a break as that would have made it a very good start to the week, but two winners and one loser still means it is a positive beginning.

The matches in Beijing and Tokyo are taking place in the very early hours in terms of British time, but there is television coverage of the former tournament as the preparation for Shanghai continues which is the penultimate Masters event of the season.

That will mean the likes of Andy Murray and Roger Federer will join the big names who are out on the court this week with both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal winning in Beijing and Stan Wawrinka winning in Tokyo on Monday.

The WTA event in Beijing also has most of the top names out on court, but that is no surprise with the China Open being the biggest tournament left on the calendar ahead of the WTA Finals in Singapore which will begin at the end of the month. The WTA Finals might not be the huge event most would have expected because Serena Williams is out, and I wouldn't be surprised if Maria Sharapova soon joins her on the sidelines, while the likes of Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza and Lucie Safarova currently occupy one of the top eight places but have injuries that have restricted them on the court or kept them off the court altogether.

While the Finals might be a more competitive affair, I don't think Singapore will be too pleased they have paid the money to host the end of season event only to perhaps seen as many as six of the top eight missing through injury. It has led to talk of perhaps changing the calendar again, although the lack of injuries on the men's side is perhaps showing a deeper issue and perhaps the top female players will need to adjust training regimes to ensure they are still able to go at this time of the year.

It might just be a 'freak' year in terms of injuries to the top players and one that is not revisited in twelve months time, but definitely something to keep an eye on especially as the women don't play the best of five set matches at the Grand Slams yet seem to have been a lot harder in terms of injuries than the men.

Feliciano Lopez - 2.5 games v Joao Sousa: I am a big fan of any player that gets the best out of their ability through sheer hard work so I have to admire Joao Sousa and the season he has had. He might not have reached his career high of Number 35 in the World Rankings, but Sousa has surpassed his best year in terms of wins on the main Tour and has certainly gone further than I would have imagined.

There isn't a lot in Sousa's game except a work ethic to use his speed and movement to try and defend effectively and force mistakes from opponents. The serve can be a weakness and he does have a really hard time matching up with the very best players on the Tour, and Sousa has reached three Finals this year which doubles his career total in just one season.

Sousa will look to exploit any tiredness that Feliciano Lopez may feel having played in the Final in Kuala Lumper on Sunday and then travelled to Tokyo for this First Round match on Wednesday. However, Lopez is in very good form and backed up a strong run at the US Open with the run to the Final in Kuala Lumper last week.

The Spaniard has a serve that can make life easier for himself by earning cheap points and I think that has been a big difference between these players in their two previous matches. If the first serve is working, Lopez will keep the scoreboard pressure on Sousa and he will know that he will get some chances to break serve through the match.

Fatigue is hard to judge and how much Lopez has in the tank with Shanghai next week, but I think a big first serve can see him steal the first set on a tie-breaker and then pull away from Sousa in this First Round match. I like Lopez to move through in this match with a 76, 64 win as he continues a strong end to the season even if a place at the World Tour Finals is likely beyond him.

Marin Cilic - 3.5 games v Donald Young: It has been a difficult 2015 season for Marin Cilic as he has struggled to shake off an injury earlier in the year and then to deal with the expectation that comes after winning a Grand Slam title. It is going to take a big effort in the last month of the season for Marin Cilic to return to the World Tour Finals where he made his debut last season, but it is not an impossible task just yet.

After reaching the Semi Final in Shenzhen last week, Cilic has to back that up with strong weeks in Tokyo and Shanghai to give himself an opportunity to get to London. The likes of Richard Gasquet, Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic are ahead of him in the 'Race' but all three have already lost this week so Cilic has a chance to make a move if he can see off Donald Young.

The American had a very good run at the US Open and has come through Qualifiers here so Young can be a dangerous opponent for Cilic. There is no doubting that Young has some natural talent that he is yet to harness into a consistent performance on the court, and his left handed serve could also cause Cilic some problems.

However, Cilic has a very strong record against left-handers through his career and his return of serve can give Young something to think about. While Cilic hasn't been as consistent with his aggressive returns as he was when he won the US Open in 2014, he can still push Young backwards and the latter doesn't protect his serve as effectively as he should.

The long week in Shenzhen might have taken something out of the Cilic tank, but I still think he has too much for Young and wins this one 64, 64.

Sam Querrey + 4.5 games v Kei Nishikori: Playing at home has proved to be very productive for Kei Nishikori who is getting close to returning to the World Tour Finals following his debut season last year. Nishikori has won two of the last three titles in Tokyo which have sandwiched a Quarter Final defeat and he will be very comfortable in these conditions.

Even with that in mind, he can't afford to take Sam Querrey lightly as the latter has given Nishikori plenty of challenging matches in the past. Nishikori has needed three sets to see off Querrey in their last two meetings and that might not be as surprising as it may initially feel to be.

As well as Nishikori returns serve, which should keep Querrey from too many cheap service games, his own service games can be inconsistent and give the American a chance to break serve. Giving Querrey that confidence can see him serve out a set and he is unlikely to give away too many breaks of serve which makes this number of games very appealing.

It might not have been a great season for Querrey who might have found his level these days outside of the top 40 in the World Rankings, but he can still be a dangerous customer when bringing his 'A' game. That doesn't happen often enough, but Querrey enjoys the match up with Nishikori and this number of games might be too many for the home favourite to cover even if I do expect him to move into the next Round.

Madison Keys + 2.5 games v Agnieszka Radwanska: Madison Keys had suffered a couple of very narrow losses to Agnieszka Radwanska in recent matches, none more so than the narrow defeat at Wimbledon. However, Keys finally broke through the mental barrier in a convincing win over the Pole at the US Open last month and I like her to keep this one competitive too.

You can't doubt the form that Radwanska showed to win the title in Tokyo last month, but she suffered an early loss in Wuhan and has had to dig deep to move into the Third Round here.

Madison Keys remains a little too inconsistent to really push up the World Rankings, but there is no doubting the talent she has at her disposal. The power will be on her side of the court and she can punish the Radwanska serve, but the key is to keep control of the unforced errors that Radwanska thrives upon by getting as many balls back in play as possible.

It has been those unforced errors that cost Keys in her early matches against Radwanska, but she played the big points really well in the win at the US Open. You can't always trust Keys to be able to do that, but she will have her chances to break serve and I think the American can take at least a set, if not win the match outright, which will give her a chance to cover even with a small number of games being given to her.

MY PICKS: Feliciano Lopez - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sam Querrey + 4.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Madison Keys + 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-1, + 0.96 Units (6 Units Staked, + 16% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2015 (October 6th)

Two positive weeks have pulled the season total out of a really poor position and there is every chance I can end with another winning season, although not likely one that matches the success of the last few years.

The tournaments have moved to Beijing, where both ATP and WTA events are being held, as well as Tokyo before the final leg of the Asian swing takes place in Shanghai next week. There are some big names out on the Tour this week too, especially with four places in London still up for grabs although the most excitement might be for the player who fights into the ninth position as Andy Murray might seriously consider pulling out of the World Tour Finals.

Otherwise you would think the top eight players already have big advantages barring some very early exits in the coming few weeks and someone like Richard Gasquet putting together some really strong weeks to make up the deficit. We will know more after this week and there are plenty of points still to play for over the last month of the season to perhaps see some things change going forward.

Caroline Garcia v Sara Errani: Caroline Garcia beat Sara Errani last week in Wuhan and I think she can frank that form by battling through in three sets this week too. Both players have won their first match in Beijing in relatively straight-forward fashion, although Errani's win over Petra Kvitova is far more impressive than the one Garcia put together this week.

The Italian may also point to having had a long week prior to the defeat to Garcia in Wuhan, but that also means Garcia has improved to 3-1 in the head to head against the veteran.

You'll always have a chance to create break points on the Errani serve so it won't be a surprise if Garcia can keep her under pressure on that aspect of her game. The key for Garcia in this match is to serve well and make Errani feel the scoreboard pressure and it is Garcia who has created more break points in two of their previous four matches with one seeing them create the exact same number of opportunities.

I do believe Garcia will have more break points in this one, but she has to make sure she punishes the weakest shot that Errani possesses and then get in enough first serves to win her own service games. Doing that should see her edge out Errani in three sets and I will back to do that.

Jeremy Chardy - 2.5 games v Sam Groth: It might be a harsh description, but I can understand why some people are down on Sam Groth and dismiss him as little more than a big server. There isn't a lot more to his game and I think Groth will be the first to admit that he is all about getting pressure on opponents by attacking the net where possible and using a very big frame to put away volleys.

It might not be to everyone's liking, but Groth has made some leaps in the World Ranking and can't be underestimated especially if his opponent is not serving effectively.

He plays Jeremy Chardy who has a decent serve of his own, but who is off a disappointing loss in Kuala Lumper last week. However, I think Chardy is capable of getting enough balls back in play to negate the Groth serve and perhaps force him to try and make some awkward volleys which leads to a victory in the match.

Groth hasn't been in the best of form over the last couple of months and I like Chardy wearing him down in a 76, 64 win.

Stan Wawrinka - 3.5 games v Radek Stepanek: Stan Wawrinka admitted that he isn't feeling the pressure of playing at this time of the year with his goals for the season already achieved. He believes it will help him bring his best tennis to the court over the last six weeks of the season which will culminate in another appearance at the World Tour Finals in London.

He has a terrible record against Radek Stepanek which can be turned around here though as the veteran really hasn't been himself after injuries have affected his entire season.

While he can still be an awkward customer on the court, Stepanek has lost a lot of matches that he might have expected to win even twelve months ago. Last week he played David Ferrer tough for a set before falling off that level and I am expecting a similar thing to happen against Stan Wawrinka.

One concern is Wawrinka pulling out in Metz which might be a lingering issue here, although I think that had more to do with the Davis Cup exploits just days earlier. As long as Wawrinka is focused on the task at hand, I think he wins this one 75, 63.

Novak Djokovic - 5.5 games v Simone Bolelli: This is the first match that Novak Djokovic will play since winning the US Open, but Beijing has proved to be a very happy hunting ground for him in the past. Djokovic has won the event five times in the past, including in each of the last three years and he has made a very strong start here each time.

Some players love certain conditions and while the World Number 1 is comfortable on most courts around the world, he seems particularly at home here. This is also a portion of the season where Djokovic doesn't take his foot off the gas and he enjoys his time on the courts.

Djokovic has won all four previous matches against Simone Bolelli although they haven't played one another since 2009. The Italian has been playing some good tennis through 2015 but he is inconsistent and he might have given Djokovic more motivation to really bring his best tennis to the table in this one.

That is because Bolelli came through the Qualifiers to reach the main draw, although one of the players he beat was Novak's younger brother Djordje. The fact he handed out a bagel in that defeat might not sit well with the World Number 1 and can prove to be a reason why his focus is completely on winning this game by a big margin to make a point.

I don't expect Djokovic to go rashly looking for the winning points as soon as possible, but I also don't expect him to give much away and win this one 63, 62.

MY PICKS: Caroline Garcia @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Jeremy Chardy - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Stan Wawrinka - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 5.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Weekly Final9-6, + 4.10 Units (30 Units Staked, + 13.67% Yield)

Season 2015+ 0.55 Units (1610 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)

Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (October 3rd)

The tournaments from this week are wrapping up and that means we are down to the last couple of days in Shenzhen, Wuhan and Kuala Lumpur before we head to Beijing and Tokyo for big events next week.

Friday was a good day for the picks as all four made came into the winner's enclosure to turn around the week from the negative into a positive. I will make a couple of picks from the Semi Finals to be played on Saturday with the hope that these two will confirm a positive result for the second week in a row and get the season totals back into the positive too.

Tomas Berdych - 4.5 games v Tommy Robredo: These two met in Cincinnati in what was a one-sided win for Tomas Berdych and I do wonder if the big hitters have a little too much in their game for Tommy Robredo these days. It would be no surprise that the Spaniard has lost perhaps a little bit of speed around the court and perhaps that means his defensive skills have just eroded to the point that the heavy hitters are able to puncture his defences a little more frequently.

It isn't just the battering Robredo took at the hands of Berdych in Cincinnati, but Milos Raonic has also beaten the Spaniard twice this season for the loss of five games and then three games in St Petersburg last week.

While the likes of Berdych and Raonic can keep the pressure on Robredo with their serves too, the latter has to work hard for the points he earns and that once again leads to the possibility that these players get the edge in the rally to the point they are able to hit through Robredo.

Berdych has also been in the better form this week and I expect he will have a little too much for Robredo and the best I can see for the latter is a 63, 64 defeat in this Semi Final.

David Ferrer - 4.5 games v Benjamin Becker: It was not surprise that David Ferrer had to ride out some tough moments in his first match here, but he looked a lot more comfortable in the Quarter Final win over Mikhail Kukushkin. I fancy he can back up his sole previous win over Benjamin Becker despite the latter earning a very good win over Grigor Dimitrov on Friday.

However, that win isn't as a good as it might have looked twelve months ago as Dimitrov puts the finishing touches on a poor 2015 season. There is every chance that Dimitrov will finish outside of the top 20 in the World Rankings and Becker will have to dig deep to see off David Ferrer in a similar manner.

Becker hasn't done a lot of winning prior to this week and Ferrer is going to make him play a lot of balls and expose his consistency. If the German serves well this could be a difficult match for Ferrer, but I would fancy his defensive skills to force enough balls back in play to extract errors and earn more break point chances than he gives away.

Of course the Ferrer serve can be vulnerable, but he served well against Mikhail Kukushkin and I think the Spaniard moves into the Final after a tight 75, 63 win.

MY PICKS: Tomas Berdych - 4.5 Games @ 1.95 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 Sporting Bet (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 8-5, + 4.20 Units (26 Units Staked, + 16.15% Yield)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (October 3-4)

The final rounds of the European Championship Qualifiers will be played after this weekend so that means the weekend football is condensed into a two day period to ensure all players picked for international duty can head off in time to join their national teams.

That doesn't mean it isn't an important weekend as the games on 'Super Sunday' show with the likes of the Merseyside derby and Arsenal vs Manchester United in England, while in Germany Bayern Munich host Borussia Dortmund and it is the Madrid derby in Spain.

It was more disappointment for the English clubs in European competition this week which returned a 2-2-2 record from the six games played. Of course the focus will be seeing how the Italian clubs did when it comes to the four places being given to the Premier League in the Champions League and their sides were 4-0-1.

Not good news for the Premier League, especially as Arsenal look in a difficult position to get of their Champions League Group, although the concern will only increase if another English club goes out of the Champions League Group Stage and one of Tottenham Hotspur or Liverpool fail to get through to the Last 32 in the Europa League.

It is a picture that will become a lot clearer in December, although I think three English teams in the Champions League will get through to the Last 16 and I wouldn't rule out Arsenal just yet despite being in a very awkward position.

Last weekend I put a few thoughts down about the stories that came out of the Weekend Football which can be read here.

A number of positive results during the week at least pulled the September final tally around into a positive, but there is still work to do to get back on track after another disappointing August. I have included the Europa League Picks from the Thursday football in the final tally for September despite being the 1st of October and the October tally will begin from this weekend.

It is a big month upcoming with the two rounds of European Championship Qualifiers as well as Match Day 3 in European competition and four rounds of Premier League and domestic European League football.

Crystal Palace v West Brom Pick: Tony Pulis makes his second return to Selhurst Park since leaving Crystal Palace and he has continued to hold the Indian Sign over his two previous Premier League clubs. Tony Pulis has moved to four wins out of four in games against Stoke City and Crystal Palace since leaving those clubs and will be looking to continue that run on Saturday as he takes West Brom to Selhurst Park in the live Saturday lunchtime game.

I really do think West Brom can get something out of this game despite blowing a 2-0 lead in a 2-3 defeat to Everton on Monday night. West Brom were so much the better team in that game when they moved 2-0 up, but conceding literally seconds later turned the game on its head.

Pulis might be more comfortable setting his team up away from home at the moment as that is where the majority of their points have come in the first two months of the season. West Brom can defend better than they did on Monday and the onus is on Crystal Palace to get forward and to push the tempo in this game.

I am not convinced that is where Crystal Palace are at their best and is a big reason their home form is not as effective as their away record under Alan Pardew. This is a Crystal Palace team that wants to hit teams on the counter-attack, but West Brom won't fall into that trap and instead will sit deep and look to do that to the home team with Saido Berahino back and scoring goals.

Crystal Palace just don't seem as comfortable at home despite the passionate support they receive here as they don't strike the right balance between attack and defence as they do on their travels. They don't get the same room to use the pace in the final third that they have when teams are not committing men forward as they almost have to do in front of their own fans.

The stats back up the feelings about Crystal Palace- they have won 9 of their last 12 away games in the Premier League, but just 4 of their last 12 at Selhurst Park. With Tony Pulis finding the right formula to take down his last two teams managed and West Brom only losing 1 of their last 7 away games in the Premier League, I wouldn't rule a line through backing The Baggies to win this game.

However, I think backing the away team to avoid defeat at odds against is a big price and certainly worth backing here.

Aston Villa v Stoke City PickI wouldn't go as far as describe this as a 'six pointer' as it would be described had the fixture been in April and both Aston Villa and Stoke City are still in the positions they are in, but I would think both Tim Sherwood and Mark Hughes have targeted a win from the game to ease some pressure.

It would be a big surprise if either club was thinking about making a managerial change at this stage of the season, but it can be a vicious circle for some clubs if they can't get out of the spiral of negative results.

Aston Villa haven't won a League game since the opening day of the new season and they have some concerns at both ends of the pitch. On the other hand, Stoke City might just see recent results as a sign they are getting out of their slump and the win over Bournemouth last week is a huge result for them. 

It was a nervous win, but the three points might just spark Stoke City who have plenty of talented players in the squad.

I do believe Stoke City have the more quality, but they have looked vulnerable at the back without Ryan Shawcross' experience and Aston Villa can exploit that. However, I am not convinced Aston Villa can keep a clean sheet having done so once in their last 12 Premier League home games and backing both teams to exploit the nervousness in the other's defence looks the call.

Manchester City v Newcastle United PickI think it was Jose Mourinho who recently said something along the lines of playing Newcastle United at St James' Park is always a difficult task, but hosting them is usually a lot more of a comfortable game for the big teams.

That came out after a defeat to Newcastle United last season, but Manchester City have had little problems against this club and generally thump them when they visit The Etihad Stadium.

Results haven't been the best for Manchester City over the last half of September, but some of that has been down to the injuries they have suffered and some of it down to bad luck. The defending has lost some shape with Vincent Kompany missing a few games, while the absence of David Silva would be a blow to many teams and Sergio Aguero is yet to click into top form.

I don't believe they are going to continue being on the wrong end of some smash and grab raids nor do I think Manchester City will continue producing the chances in front of goal without have the clinical finishing to put them away. This looks the perfect game for them to go into the international break and I think Manchester City win this comfortably.

Newcastle United have impressed in patches this season which are signs Steve McClaren can get things turned around, but this team has struggled away from home. They have yet to score and both Swansea City and West Ham United beat Newcastle United comfortably and could have won by a much larger margin than the 2-0 final scores.

If Manchester City get their noses in front early in this one, I fancy they win by three at least on Saturday.

Norwich City v Leicester City PickAt the start of the season, both Norwich City and Leicester City were amongst the favourites for relegation from the Premier League, but results over the first seven games suggest they may be able to raise expectations. It is still early in the season and every point earned at the moment can be crucial in May as teams like this will be expected to go through lean times in terms of points being accrued.

The fixture has all the makings of one of the more entertaining ones in the Premier League this weekend.

Leicester City have been involved in plenty of high-scoring games through the season as they have the pace in the forward areas to hurt teams, but have never looked secure defensively. They have both scored and conceded in all 9 games played in all competitions this season and I can see this fixture continuing that sequence.

I think Leicester City have the players that can give Norwich City problems, but they are also facing a team that has scored in all 4 home games this season and scored at least three goals in back to back games at Carrow Road. Like Leicester City, Norwich City have yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League this season and they only failed to score in one game at Southampton when reduced to ten men after half an hour.

I can imagine plenty will include Norwich City versus Leicester City in the both teams to score accumulators but that looks very likely with the way both teams have attacked and defended this season. The layers continue to underestimate the chance of seeing at least three goals in a game involving Leicester City, although they are catching on a bit now, and that looks the way to go forward with both teams confident in attack and willing to go for the three points when they feel they are there for the taking.

Chelsea v Southampton Pick: This has been a difficult match for Chelsea since Southampton have been promoted back to the Premier League and The Blues have won just 2 of their 6 Premier League games against them. That reads 1 win from 3 League games at Stamford Bridge so I can imagine there will be a few people queuing up to back the away side to perhaps deliver another body blow to Jose Mourinho and the English Champions.

It is unlikely that Chelsea have gone into any of their last 6 Premier League games against Southampton in a more vulnerable position than they go into this one. Another week has seen the side draw at Newcastle United and then lose in Porto in the Champions League and clean sheets just don't seem to be forthcoming which is causing a lot of nerves through the side.

Big names are not responding to setbacks in the way you would expect, Eden Hazard has yet to really fire and John Terry continues to watch from the bench. Diego Costa is missing from this game and Southampton have pace to burn in the final third that will give this Chelsea defence plenty to concern themselves with.

However, I think Chelsea might be a big price to earn the three points this weekend as Southampton have failed to win any of their last 10 away Premier League games. They have drawn the last 3 in a row, but overall Southampton have lost 6 of those 10 games mentioned, while goals have been a problem with only five scored and four failures in their last 5 games.

As poor as Chelsea have been for much of the season, they don't seem that far away from turning it around as the media thinks. They have won their last couple of games at Stamford Bridge and I think Southampton might have been found out away from home if their recent run is anything to go by.

It's not likely that Chelsea will be such a price at Stamford Bridge against a team unlikely to finish in the top six again this season and they are worth backing.

Everton v Liverpool PickThe Merseyside derby is the final game before the international break and it is a game that Brendan Rodgers dare not lose else he might find Liverpool making a managerial change before the next Premier League game is played. There is little doubt that Rodgers is under immense pressure as the fans have seemingly turned against him and Liverpool have to stay in touch with the top four to at least keep the wolves from the door.

A defeat to Everton, who are already above Liverpool in the Premier League table, might be the final straw for the owners as the latter would be left in mid-table and there are two big name managers out there. Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp have both been linked with the job at Anfield so Rodgers has to find a way to keep those stories out of the dressing room and focus his team.

Daniel Sturridge is a huge returning figure for Liverpool and his two goals last week proved to be the difference in the game against Aston Villa. They have lacked a clinical striker in his absence and he should be well-rested for this game at Everton.

The short trip across Stanley Park has been a difficult one for Liverpool in recent years as an improving Everton have proved tough to beat. They had a couple of high-scoring Merseyside derbies at Goodison Park before the goalless draw last season and Everton have conceded a fair few goals this season which should give Liverpool a chance.

However, Everton showed against Manchester City and Chelsea that they can create chances at home against the best teams so Liverpool won't intimidate them with the injuries in the visitor's squad. Everton have pace which is a problem for the Liverpool defenders and this is a team that showed the kind of character and belief they have when coming back from 2-0 down to beat West Brom on Monday Night Football.

I can see both keepers having plenty of work to do in this game and this is a game that could produce goals, even if recent years the Merseyside derby has been a fiery affair without the clinical finishing in front of goal. This time both teams look to have players in form to perhaps take those chances and seeing at least three goals scored wouldn't be a huge surprise to me.

Arsenal v Manchester United PickThis is the biggest game of the weekend for the neutrals as two teams who finished in the top four last season and are hoping to push on this time around meet in North London. Arsenal and Manchester United might both believe they can get amongst the Premier League title challenge with Chelsea struggling and Manchester City off the pace and so both teams will know how important earning the three points will be.

There have been some positives from Arsenal in the new season, but their Champions League performances have been far below par, while they have also struggled at The Emirates Stadium. It is surprising considering the quality they have in the forward positions, but naive decisions from the manager and defensively at big moments have been difficult to overcome.

Now they face a Manchester United team that have been playing with confidence even if they have yet to truly convince they can challenge for the Premier League title. Manchester United have won games while not playing brilliantly, but that can be a sign of a Champion in waiting, while the 2-3 win at Southampton was arguably the best performance of the season after a torrid opening thirty minutes.

Louis Van Gaal has proven to be a big game manager for Manchester United too and it was this club that won the most points in the head to head between the top six last season. Manchester United won at Arsenal and Liverpool last season and they do have a very good record at The Emirates Stadium which can't be ignored.

I really do fancy Manchester United's chances of winning this game on current form and with the slightly better defensive performances compared with Arsenal. They look a big price too, but it might be better to focus on at least three goals to be scored as Arsenal are a side that certainly has goals through the squad.

My feeling that Manchester United win suggests backing goals as all five previous wins at Arsenal have come when at least three goals have been shared by the teams. That isn't an event that is mutually exclusive, but I think Arsenal will score at least once and I think Manchester United win so it feels the 'safer' way to play the game because I can certainly envision a situation where the game is poised at 1-1 and both teams having chances to win it.

It feels like the Swansea City versus Manchester United game when I had a feeling it was going to end 2-1 either way and while the gut feeling is Louis Van Gaal finds a way to get his side to the three points, Arsenal have every chance of coming out firing after Champions League disappointment. The chance for goals looks a big price considering both teams recent results in the League and Europe so backing that to happen looks the 'smarter' option.

MY PICKS: West Brom + 1 English Handicap @ 2.05 Stan James (2 Units)
Aston Villa-Stoke City Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Norwich City-Leicester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Everton-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Arsenal-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)

September Final29-30-3, + 4.18 Units (117.5 Units Staked, + 3.58% Yield)
August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/1616-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2015 (October 2nd)

It hasn't been a week to match the last one, but a couple more winners on Thursday at least got this week going back in the right direction.

On Friday we have reached the Semi Finals in Wuhan and the Quarter Finals at the two ATP events in Shenzhen and Kuala Lumpur, but I still have a few picks out of the ten matches that have been scheduled across those three tournaments.

Venus Williams - 2.5 games v Roberta Vinci: Johanna Konta has made life very tough for plenty of players over the last couple of months, but it says something about Venus Williams that she rode through the storm to win the match. It looked like the American was out of it when Konta served for the match in the third set, but Venus Williams won the final three games and now faces the player who ended her younger sister's calendar Grand Slam hopes.

It would have been easy for Roberta Vinci to perhaps have a poor end to the season having put in so much effort physically and mentally into the US Open. She reached her maiden Grand Slam Final as a Singles player, but the Italian is clearly not resting on her laurels with a strong run to the Semi Final here in Wuhan.

Vinci has dropped one set so far this week and beaten players Ranked higher than her in Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova in the last couple of Rounds. She has come through first set tie-breakers in both before taking the second set easily and Vinci won't be intimidated by Venus Williams even if she hasn't beaten her before.

Can Vinci bamboozle Venus as she did Serena in the final two sets of their Semi Final at the US Open? There is every chance Vinci can do that, but I think Venus Williams is in fantastic form at the moment and I expect she punishes the Vinci second serve and will be able to break her down in this Semi Final. It might take three sets, but I like Venus Williams to win this one 63, 57, 64.

Garbine Muguruza-Angelique Kerber Over 21.5 Total Games: Angelique Kerber was well on the way to the Semi Final before Coco Vandeweghe retired from their Quarter Final, but now she runs into a player in Garbine Muguruza who is in fantastic form herself.

It is no surprise that the layers are having such difficulty splitting Muguruza and Kerber in terms of a winner, especially as both have had similar weeks. Neither player has dropped more than a single set to a former Serbian World Number 1 and they haven't dropped too many games outside of that set dropped.

Even the head to head suggests this will be a close match with their three meetings in 2015 all needing a final set decider although it is Muguruza who leads 2-1 thanks to wins at the French Open and Wimbledon. Kerber won't be lacking confidence considering her win came on the hard courts and she has been in the better form of the two in recent weeks.

I don't think anyone would be shocked if this one goes three sets two, while this number of games has every chance of being surpassed in a competitive straight sets win. While Kerber is the more consistent, Muguruza has the higher level when she peaks and it is easy to see this match developing in that way which produces a high chance of three sets being needed. The total games is probably two games too low and I will back this number to be passed.

Tomas Berdych - 4.5 games v Jiri Vesely: It looks like another season where Tomas Berdych will finish in the top eight positions in the World Rankings and make an appearance at the World Tour Finals. However, it is another season when he failed to win one of the really big tournaments out there although consistently performing at those events.

He doesn't clean up in the lesser tournaments as much as you might think either and Berdych is a player that is never too far away from a disappointing defeat. That's how it feels anyway and you would make him a big favourite to win in the field put together in Shenzhen although I wouldn't be backing him at the start of the week at short prices.

I will back him to win this match against Jiri Vesely who is still finding the right formula to win matches consistently at the main Tour level despite having plenty of skills. He has the big first serve and heavy groundstrokes, but mentally it is still a struggle for Vesely and playing his higher Ranked compatriot might be too much for him to handle.

Berdych was serving well in his first match in Shenzhen and doing that here will give him every chance of covering this number. He will know that he can create chances against the Vesely serve, particularly when the scoreboard pressure is on the younger Czech player and I like Berdych winning this match 64, 63.

Marin Cilic - 2.5 games v Hyeon Chung: There is no doubting that Hyeon Chung is one of the young players on the Tour who is expected to have a big impact in the coming years. He has begun to produce more consistent results on the main Tour as well as proving too good for tournaments in events lower than the top level and this all bodes well for his development.

He gets a quick chance to see how much his game has developed over the last couple of months as he faces Marin Cilic for the second time in his career. They met in Washington in August and Cilic won that match 76, 63, while the Croatian had a strong run at the US Open which shows he is perhaps returning to form.

It has been a difficult year for Cilic as injury and expectation have just stunted his progress and it is no surprise he has dropped out of the top ten in the World Rankings. However, that run to the US Open Semi Final was a real positive for Cilic and he battled through his Second Round match here.

Chung is a quality player, but has played a lot of tennis over the last two weeks having won a Challenger last week and needing to win two matches here. To be fair to him, he has won matches very easily so I am not worried about physical fatigue, but the level of competition has gone up markedly compared to the players he has beaten the last couple of weeks.

I can see him forcing another tie-breaker against Cilic, but ultimately I fancy the Croatian will prevail 76, 64 and move into the Semi Final here.

MY PICKS: Venus Williams - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza-Angelique Kerber Over 21.5 Total Games @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 4-5, - 2.76 Units (18 Units Staked, - 15.33% Yield)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

College Football Week 5 Picks 2015 (October 1-3)

With the extended Play Off format, I do actually think the College Football regular season has become a lot more exciting as even one loss teams know they are not out of contention when it comes to making the final four. That makes games like Alabama's visit to Georgia Bulldogs that much more important for BOTH teams while prior to the four team format it would have had to have been said that Alabama are relying on too many other factors to have a chance of playing for the National Championship.

Alabama will likely need the SEC West to see the likes of the LSU Tigers and Ole Miss Rebels fall off to have their chance to make the final four, but running the table will give them every chance if the other Conferences don't have one loss or fewer teams to make it.

My updated Play Off Ranking is below:

1) Ohio State Buckeyes- many have jumped off the bandwagon, but I think the Buckeyes have plenty in the tank and are the best team in the Big Ten.

2) TCU Horned Frogs- barely hanging on ahead of the Baylor Bears because of a tougher schedule negotiated, but I am looking forward to seeing how the Bears handle the Texas Tech Red Raiders this week.

3) Florida State Seminoles- barely got the ACC defending Champion ahead of the USC Trojans because they remain unbeaten and that should be enough to see them edge a one loss Pac-12 Champion.

4) LSU Tigers- The Ole Miss Rebels have the better win over the LSU Tigers, but I still think the latter are the better team.

Looking In- Ole Miss Rebels, Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs, Baylor Bears, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Michigan State Spartans, Clemson Tigers.

As you can see, there are going to be some moves in this list after Week 5 with a couple of teams perhaps falling off the 'Looking In' list and every chance that my top four changes depending how teams perform this week. It all doesn't matter too much at the moment with plenty of weeks to go before the end of the regular season and Championship Games to be set, but it is going to be fun finding out which four teams are left standing at the end of the season.

Week 5 Picks
Week 4 has proved to be the best week of the season for the picks so far, but importantly also means the first four weeks of the College Football season have produced winning weeks in each one.

That is very positive, but maintaining that run won't be easy although I am trying to stay with the methods that have worked effectively so far, while also getting a touch of luck on my side as the Florida Gators pick against the Tennessee Volunteers proved last week.

Miami Hurricanes @ Cincinnati Bearcats Pick: This is a revenge game for the Cincinnati Bearcats who were blown out at the Miami Hurricanes last season and now they get them at home. However, Gunner Kiel is missing at Quarter Back and the Miami Hurricanes are coming off a bye so should be well prepared to improve their 3-0 record ahead of the big game against the Florida State Seminoles.

There is the potential for them to look ahead in this one, but that game is ten days away so I don't think it is as 'in the face' as it would be if this game was played on Saturday.

Miami have scored at least 36 points in all three games they have played this season and I fully expect the Offense to continue rolling against the Bearcats Defense. The Hurricanes will be able to run the ball effectively and that should just make life that much more comfortable for Brad Kaaya who is one of the better Quarter Backs in College Football.

The question for Cincinnati is whether they can keep up without their star Quarter Back, although it didn't affect them in a shoot-out against the Memphis Tigers last week. A defeat to a Conference rival is a disappointment, but Hayden Moore was a revelation at Quarter Back and Cincinnati will get their points against this Miami Defense that almost fell apart against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fourth Quarter two weeks ago.

Establishing a running game is important for Cincinnati as the Miami Hurricanes Secondary has played well outside of that Fourth Quarter meltdown. The Hurricanes can get to the Quarter Back with pressure from the front seven, which has also led to crucial Interceptions in the Secondary and an extra possession or two could be vital in a potentially high-scoring game.

The Hurricanes are just 3-2 against the spread ahead of the game with Florida State over the last five years and Cincinnati can be a very good home underdog. However, I like Miami to win this by a Touchdown or more as they earn a couple more turnovers, while I think their Offense will be very difficult for the Bearcats to stop as they found against Memphis last week.

South Carolina Gamecocks @ Missouri Tigers Pick: The Missouri Tigers have won the SEC East two seasons in a row, but a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats last week has put them in a difficult spot in the Division. Another defeat would likely end their chances of a three-peat in the SEC East and they are facing a desperate South Carolina Gamecocks team who have lost two Conference games already this season.

It is unlikely that either team is going to be involved in the SEC East hunt this time around, but another blow to the Missouri Tigers has to be the suspension of starting Quarter Back Maty Mauk. Drew Lock is the back up who will take over for the Tigers as he looks to spark an Offense that has struggled this season although they aren't exactly facing the usual Defense that the South Carolina team would put on the field.

The Missouri Defense remains a strength for the team and has been the foundation for their success in the last couple of years, and I think they give South Carolina some problems. However two Offenses that might struggle means a low-scoring game is likely and so the points being given to South Carolina could be a key.

South Carolina have been a solid road underdog under Steve Spurrier down the years even if they were blown out by the Georgia Bulldogs. The key for the Defense is to rattle the inexperienced Lock at Quarter Back and the Gamecocks will want revenge for a one point home loss to Missouri in the 2014 season.

The last two games have been won by a combined four points and the road team has won both- I think South Carolina have a chance to win their first Conference game here and I will back them with the points to keep it close. The public are on the home team but the spread has come down which suggests the sharp side might be on the road team too and I am comfortable with that.

Michigan Wolverines @ Maryland Terrapins Pick: People should be aware that this game has been moved to a noon kick off rather than the 8pm scheduled start because of the threat of Hurricane Joaquin which is expected to hit the American East Coast at some point this weekend.

Michigan were beaten by the Utah Utes in the opening game of the season and first game under Jim Harbaugh, but how good does that loss look now? The Wolverines were unfortunate losers against a team that blew out Oregon on the road and is potentially going for the Pac-12 title and Michigan have responded to that loss by winning three games very easily.

They play with revenge this week after being beaten by Maryland in the Big House last season and the Terrapins have been inconsistent at best this season. Two big wins have been matched by two heavy losses for Maryland and now they face an under-rated Defense that could be amongst the very best in the nation.

Maryland called a players-only meeting after being blow out by West Virginia in Week 4, but they need Caleb Rowe to not make the big errors which have blighted his game. Too many turnovers have cost the Terrapins and I am not sure they will be able to slow down De'Veon Smith.

The Terrapins are just 3-7 against the spread as the home underdog with Randy Edsall as Head Coach and Stanford were a solid road favourite in Jim Harbaugh's previous College Head Coach job. With Michigan likely able to shut down the Maryland Offense for much of the game, the Wolverines could be come the third team in four weeks that have beaten Maryland by a large number and I like them to cover this number.

Purdue Boilermakers @ Michigan State Spartans Pick: The Michigan State Spartans are a genuine National Championship contender, but their biggest win of the season against the Oregon Ducks took a hit with the way the latter were blown out last week. They have also failed to cover in any of their four games played this season as they pace themselves for bigger tests ahead, but they can't overlook the Purdue Boilermakers.

This has been a team that has given Michigan State some problems in the last couple of years despite Purdue only having won four games in total in that time. Both defeats to the Spartans have come by 14 points in those games and Purdue have made enough plays through the air to think they are being given too many points in this one.

Michigan State haven't beaten any team by more than 20 points this season so Purdue being given more than three Touchdowns worth of points has to be seen as a very big task for the home team. The Spartans are 8-15 against the spread as the home favourite over the last three and a bit seasons and they might have some time consuming drives as they should be able to run the ball effectively.

The Boilermakers may also have some key stops as they have an effective pass rush and Connor Cook's Offensive Line is banged up, while the Spartans Secondary are giving up too many yards at the moment. Michigan State themselves have a pass rush that could get to David Blough who is making his first road start at Quarter Back in a very tough environment which is a big concern for me.

All the public seems to be backing the Michigan State Spartans, but the spread has moved down from the opening line, although not far enough to put me off.

Ohio Bobcats @ Akron Zips Pick: The Ohio Bobcats have beaten the Akron Zips seven times in a row, have started the season at 3-1 and are 'only' needing to cover a small spread so no surprise the public are pounding them this week. But why hasn't the spread moved off and why do I like the Akron Zips to reverse that losing run and at least get within this number if they don't?
Ohio's close loss at the Minnesota Golden Gophers has been the most impressive performance either of these two teams has produced, but Akron winning as a big road underdog at the ULL Rajin' Cajuns in Week 4 was mightily impressive too.

The winner of this game could easily be playing for the MAC Championship at the end of the season and I like the fact that the Akron Defense is perhaps still a little under-rated by the majority of people. The Secondary might not be preventing teams completely from throwing the ball against them, but the Defensive Line has stopped the run and get pressure up front which can lead to mistakes.

I also believe Akron are going to be capable of running the ball in this one which should keep the team in third and manageable spots and I like the Zips being able to control the clock.

The Bobcats are 6-1 against the spread in the last seven in the series, but Akron won't have a better chance to beat them having come close last season and I will take on the public with the points.

FIU Golden Panthers @ Massachusetts Minutemen Pick: This is a non-Conference game between two teams from the Conferences that are perhaps less well known, but I am surprised the road team are being given as many as points as they are in this game. Yes, FIU are off a close Conference defeat to one of the top teams in the Conference-USA, but they have shown they can bounce back and be competitive off a loss.

They are also facing one of the weaker teams in College Football when they travel to the Massachusetts Minutemen who might also be focused on Conference play which opens up next week. The fact they are playing the current MAC East Division Champions Bowling Green is a further distraction for a team that have been a decent home favourite in the past.

Why do I like the road underdog in this one? I think the FIU Golden Panthers have the edge on the Defensive side of the ball and I think they are going to force more stops than Massachusetts in this game and that is a key factor at play.

The Golden Panthers and the Minutemen have been competitive in games and have some solid performances under their belt already this season. However Massachusetts have been outgained in terms of yards in every game, while the Golden Panthers have a big win at the UCF Knights which is the most impressive result either team has.

Getting a Field Goal start with the FIU Golden Panthers looks too many points in a game that should be tight, but one in which I like the road team to move the ball more consistently and improve their 6-3 record in their last nine games after a loss.

Alabama Crimson Tide @ Georgia Bulldogs Pick: It seems the public are behind the unbeaten Georgia Bulldogs and the experts are behind the one loss Alabama Crimson Tide... I am with the defending SEC Champions as the underdog too and I think they are going to make this a very competitive game if not win outright.

A loss to the Ole Miss Rebels is a blow to Alabama's chances of getting back into the National Championship Play Off, but they have certainly had the much tougher tests through their first four games compared with the Georgia Bulldogs. The question I ask is does anyone think the Bulldogs would still be unbeaten if they played the Wisconsin Badgers on a neutral field and the Rebels at home rather than a road game at Vanderbilt and a home game with South Carolina?

The underdog is actually 3-0 against the spread in the last three games in this series and I think the Crimson Tide Defense is easily the biggest test this new-look Georgia Offense has had to face.

It is going to be tough, it will be ugly and it will be a defensive battle, but Jake Coker might have enough experience at Quarter Back to avoid the big mistakes for the Crimson Tide compared with Greyson Lambert and I can't stop thinking the latter will commit a crucial turnover to lose this game.

The game undoubtedly means more to Alabama who can't afford another loss, whereas Georgia might be able to overcome the defeat by winning the SEC East and then the SEC Championship Game. Alabama have to feel disrespected after being set as the road underdog for the first time in SEVEN years (they covered at Georgia ironically in that game) and the Crimson Tide haven't lost more than one regular season game since 2010.

I am looking for the desperate Alabama Crimson Tide to come out and earn a statement win, but will take the points in a game that could literally come down to the final seconds.

North Carolina Tar Heels @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Pick: I really expected Georgia Tech to bounce back from their loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish by beating the Duke Blue Devils in Week 4, but the team suffered another setback. Now they are being favoured by over a Touchdown against the North Carolina Tar Heels and I like another road underdog to get the job done this week.

This is the fifth road underdog I am backing and I know many out there will be expecting the Yellow Jackets to have a response to consecutive road losses. Georgia Tech simply don't lose many home game, but they are only 4-3 against the spread as the home favourite and face the Clemson Tigers in a big Conference game next week.

The Yellow Jackets have also beaten North Carolina in the last five in the series by an average of 11 points per game so it is understandable that they will be favoured by the public, albeit not with a big edge. Georgia Tech will be able to run the ball with their triple option Offense a big problem for the Tar Heels, but I also expect North Carolina to run the ball effectively and that shortens the game while it could develop into a shoot-out decided by the team that holds the ball last.

Georgia Tech are 0-1 in the Conference so need to win if they are going to reach the ACC Championship Game for the third time in four years.

North Carolina have built some momentum after a disappointing opening game defeat to South Carolina, and they might be catching Georgia Tech at the right time with confidence at a low ebb. Their last two visits here have ended in 7 point and 8 point defeats, but I think North Carolina keep this one closer with a bye week to come so I expect a full effort from the Tar Heels to keep within the number.

Florida State Seminoles @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons Pick: Any time there is a big rivalry game on deck, you can be forgiven for thinking a team's attention might be distracted from the next game. The Florida State Seminoles do play the Miami Hurricanes next week in a big Conference game, but they can't overlook the Wake Forest Demon Deacons with Championship aspirations and Florida State had covered the week before the Miami game in four consecutive seasons before the 2014 season.

The Seminoles were struggling to cover most spreads as a big scalp thanks to being the defending National Champions in 2014, but a new look team has played well under the radar this time around. They improved to 7-3 against the spread in their last ten games as the road favourite by beating Boston College and now come off a bye to face a team they have dominated in recent years.

Florida State have won their last three games against Wake Forest by at least forty points per game, but this Demon Deacons Defense has played well in the early games. They are allowing fewer than 20 points per game, but the competition hasn't exactly been up to the standards of Florida State whose own Defense will expect to have a lot of success.

Kendall Hinton played at Quarter Back for Wake Forest last week as John Wolford continues to struggle with injury and that is a big problem. Florida State will get a lot of pressure on the inexperienced Quarter Back against this Offensive Line and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes some mistakes, while I also think the Seminoles Offense has had an extra week to get in sync with one another.

Wake Forest are 3-8 against the spread against Ranked opponents since upsetting Florida State in 2011 and they come off a disappointing Homecoming loss. It might be close for a while, but I expect Florida State to pull away and win this one by at least three Touchdowns.

Ohio State Buckeyes @ Indiana Hoosiers Pick: A lot of people seem to be jumping off the Ohio State Buckeyes bandwagon at the moment as the defending Champions have produced similarly poor performances as Florida State did as defending Champions in 2014. I am of the belief that the motivation hasn't been high in non-Conference games but I am expecting Big Ten play to inspire this team unless they are simply not good enough to defend their Championship.

A few uncertainties around the starting Quarter Back isn't helping while some are second guessing Urban Meyer's play-calling, but I think a game at the Indiana Hoosiers can get this team putting in their best performance since Week 1.

That win in Week 1 against the Virginia Tech Hokies is about as inspired as Ohio State have been as they earned revenge for their only loss in 2014. They will know that their 20 game winning run against Indiana doesn't mean anything considering how close some of the recent games have been although I expect the Buckeyes to be able to score plenty of points against this Defense.

While the Offense is yet to click, the Defense has certainly been in top form to open the season and they should be able to slow down Indiana's rushing attack. Nate Sudfeld is an experienced Quarter Back for the Hoosiers and I think he will have some success in this one, although now facing a pass rush that will give his Offensive Line some problems.

I have little doubt that Indiana will score points in this one too, but I just believe the Ohio State Defense knuckles down to allow their team to pull away and put up a victory that will remind people why they are the defending Champions. Indiana were blown out as a double digit home underdog by the Michigan State Spartans last season and I will back Ohio State to cover the points this week.

Georgia Southern Eagles @ ULM Warhawks Pick: I am pretty high on the Georgia Southern Eagles and I think the October 22nd game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers will determine the winner of the Sun Belt Conference. The Eagles battered the Idaho Vandals last week and I think they might be a little short in number of points being given to them by the ULM Warhawks.

I don't want to read too much into the statistics from the ULM Warhawks games considering two of their three games have been at the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide. However, the Defensive Line will have been battered around by those two SEC teams and now face a triple option Offense that could be the best in the Sun Belt Conference.

I fully expect Georgia Southern to have their success on the Offensive side of the ball while I also believe the Defense is under-rated. The Eagles dominate the clock with the way they run their Offense, and that means the Defense is well rested and able to make big plays on that side of the ball.

The ULM Defense is better than they have shown so far so they might have more success against the triple option than many, but it is going to be difficult having had those tiring games I mentioned. Georgia Southern are playing back to back road games which is tough, but the Warhawks haven't been the best home underdog and I like the Eagles to wear them down and win this one by a Touchdown at least.

Mississippi Rebels @ Florida Gators Pick: It was no surprise that Ole Miss had to battle past Vanderbilt the week after knocking off Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but importantly they won and can go again this week. The Florida Gators are coming in off a much more emotional victory over the Tennessee Volunteers and there is no doubt they could come out a little flat in this one.

Both teams are unbeaten this season and are 2-0 in Conference play which sees them lead the SEC East and West Divisions, although not many would have picked them to win either at the start of the season. Games between the schools have been close in recent meetings with the last four all decided by six points or fewer, but the Mississippi Defense might have the most success in this game and that can give them the edge.

Emotion should be on the Rebels side of the field too as they had a flat performance last week against Vanderbilt, a game they were heavily favoured to win and one sandwiched between road games at the Crimson Tide and the Gators. They should be ready while Florida have to try and pick themselves up from coming back from a large Fourth Quarter deficit to beat the Tennessee Volunteers who missed a last second Field Goal to win the game.

It can be difficult for these young kids to pick themselves up from that kind of victory and I do think the Rebels Offense has more consistent success. Florida also have a big game against the Missouri Tigers next week, while Ole Miss essentially go into a 'bye' with a non-Conference game scheduled against New Mexico, no disrespect to them.

Florida improved to 2-3 against the spread as the home underdog in their last five games, but the SEC West teams have proven a little too good for them in recent games. The Gators are 3-9 in games against SEC West teams recently and the last three have been lost by an average of 12 points per game.

I will look for Ole Miss to have a little more in the tank mentally and I like them to cover what looks a big spread on first glance.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ Clemson Tigers Pick: I backed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as the home underdog against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and they look a generous underdog in this game in Clemson too.

Both teams are unbeaten and Clemson are coming off a bye, although Notre Dame didn't have to dig too deep to knock off the Massachusetts Minutemen last week. There is no doubting the Fighting Irish have had the tougher schedule to negotiate to get to 4-0 and both teams are genuinely challenging for one of the four Play Off places for the National Championship with the loser likely out of contention after this game.

This is one of three remaining games for the injury hit Notre Dame team where they might be underdogs, but win all of those and I expect them to run the table and perhaps be nominated as one of the four Play Off teams. Even through the injuries, Notre Dame haven't missed a step and their talent depth is better than Clemson's whose best win at the Louisville Cardinal hasn't stood up as well as the Fighting Irish's wins.

I would guess this is the hardest game that either has played this season, but I do think Notre Dame have the edge on both sides of the ball and so it is nice to be able to get them as the underdog. They are 10-6 against the spread as the underdog under Brian Kelly as Head Coach, while the Clemson Tigers are 3-4 against the spread when favoured by three or fewer points in recent years.

Home crowd will make this close, but Notre Dame are 10-4 against the spread against Ranked teams in recent seasons and I just think the better team is getting the points here and have to be backed.

MY PICKS: Miami Hurricanes - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
South Carolina + 3 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Michigan Wolverines - 15.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Purdue Boilermakers + 21.5 Points @ 1.91 Coral (1 Unit)
Akron Zips + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
FIU Golden Panthers + 3 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide + 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
North Carolina Tar Heels + 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Florida State Seminoles - 19.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Ohio State Buckeyes - 21.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Georgia Southern Eagles - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Betway (1 Unit)
Mississippi Rebels - 7 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

Week 4: 8-4-1, + 3.26 Units (13 Units Staked, + 25.08% Yield)
Week 36-4, + 1.57 Units (10 Units Staked, + 15.70% Yield)
Week 25-4-1, + 0.68 Units (10 Units Staked, + 6.80% Yield)
Week 17-6, + 0.48 Units (13 Units Staked, + 3.69% Yield

Season 201526-18-2, + 5.99 Units (46 Units Staked, + 13.02% Yield)
Season 201475-82-2, - 13.39 Units (172 Units Staked, - 7.78% Yield)
Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)