It’s a five-star weekend in college football. Three games could carry top billing (I am partial to the matchup in Austin) and there are a number of other intriguing games throughout the day. Some folks are billing this week as “Separation Saturday,” and needless to say there will be much fewer questions about this week’s winners. The question “Are these guys for real?” won’t apply to any of the victors this week, though it might apply to some of the losers. Last week’s picks were almost good as gold, going 7-3 (24-16 on the season). On to this week’s selections.
12 PM – PENN STATE (-2.5) over #24 Northwestern
The Nittany Lions have looked like a top 25 over the past three weeks. Good teams dominate inferior opponents, and that is what they have done over their current 3-0 run (none more impressively than last week’s win at Illinois). Northwestern is ranked because they have taken care of inferior opposition for all five weeks of the season, though sometimes the Wildcats have been pushed a bit more than they should have been. Northwestern is making a two quarterback system work, but their defense, though improved over last year’s version, is still prone to lapses. Penn State’s offense will take advantage. Although the Lions still have some issues in their secondary, they will get enough push from their front seven to bottle up the Wildcats and knock them from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Final Score: Penn State Nittany Lions 28, Northwestern Wildcats 23
3 PM – Arizona (+9.5) over #18 STANFORD
Stanford lost to Washington last week because their offense just isn’t very good. The Cardinal beat USC three weeks ago because their defense is pretty damn good. Arizona can score points in bunches, but QB Matt Scott is interception-prone. The Wildcats also might be a year or two away from having all the necessary personnel to run the 3-3-5 Stack defense, which has led to issues on that side of the ball. Both teams’ strengths and weaknesses are apparent, and they will be apparent in this one. The Cardinal have already played in three one-possession games. Expect another one here. Arizona will be in this one until the final whistle, but Stanford will have just enough offense to take this one down on The Farm.
Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 24, Arizona Wildcats 20
3:30 PM – #4 LSU (-2.5) over #10 FLORIDAHere is the first of this Saturday’s marquee games. The atmosphere in the Swamp will be electric in what is the most underappreciated cross-division rivalry game in the SEC. The Gators have improved each week, which is the hallmark of a quality club and a testament to the good job Will Muschamp is doing in Gainsville. The Bayou Bengals, on the other hand, have been lackadaisical the last two weeks. Perhaps they were looking ahead to this four-game stretch, or maybe LSU just isn’t as good as advertised. Both teams have elite defenses. Both teams also have suspect passing games. Although LSU’s passing game has been disappointing, my hunch is that there is something there. UF’s aerial attack, however, is an unmitigated disaster. Expect the Tigers to put eight in the box to neutralize Mike Gillislee and dare the Gators to throw. LSU will set the pace in this one, and although the scoreboard won’t scream “blowout,” the visitors will dominate this one.
Final Score: LSU Tigers 21, Florida Gators 10
3:30 PM – #15 TCU (-7) over Iowa State
This game became interesting when Horned Frogs starting QB Casey Pachall was indefinitely suspended earlier this week. The point spread has dropped 7.5 points as a result. Although TCU’s results so far don’t merit the team’s ranking, the Horned Frogs do have one of the Big 12’s best defenses (Baylor-WVU notwithstanding, this isn’t intended as a backhanded compliment). Also consider that TCU’s underwhelming performances have come on the road, and this game is taking place in the friendly confines of Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. Add in the fact that Iowa State is not a very good team, who will be lucky to win two more games this season. The Cyclones don’t pack punch offensively, and their defense hasn’t been tested all that much. This one won’t be pretty, but TCU will easily cover.
Final Score: TCU Horned Frogs 21, Iowa State Cyclones 3
3:30 PM – #17 Oklahoma (-4.5) over TEXAS TECHMuch has been made of OU’s recent struggles in Lubbock. No doubt the Sooners are disappointed with how they have played so far this year. The off week might be just what the doctor ordered. Texas Tech’s defense has been highly praised, but those impressive stats have been the result of favorable scheduling. The Sooners will explode Saturday afternoon, dominating every facet of this game.
Final Score: Oklahoma Sooners 45, Texas Tech Red Raiders 14
7 PM – #5 Georgia (+1) over #6 SOUTH CAROLINA
This is a program-defining game for the Gamecocks. That statement isn’t meant as hyperbole; it is a fact. South Carolina will enjoy a tremendous home field advantage in this one. The question is whether the crowd, combined with a tenacious defense, will be enough to get the Georgia offense off kilter. The Bulldogs passing game took a big blow when they lost leading receiver Michael Bennett for the rest of the year to a knee injury earlier this week. But don’t be fooled about the Dawgs. They still have plenty of weapons on offense. The key to this game will be whether the UGA defense rebounds from a lackluster performance against Tennessee last Saturday. I am expecting a big bounce back from that unit, as they will muzzle Marcus Lattimore and keep Conor Shaw from making big plays through the air. Georgia will leave Columbia victorious, and will have a great chance to go on a run that takes them to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with an undefeated record.
Final Score: Georgia Bulldogs 28, South Carolina Gamecocks 21
7 PM – #8 West Virginia (+6.5) over #11 TEXASHere comes the third of this week’s premiere games. And this is the one that excites me the most. It also has the most questions surrounding the game’s principals. The Longhorns are supposed to have a strong defense, but they have given up a lot of points in their last two games (against Ole Miss and Oklahoma State). Anyone who watched the Mountaineers last week knows they are going to put points on the board. The UT defense will manage a few more stops than Baylor did, but their offense is not quite as potent as the Bears, either. Although the Longhorns will force a couple turnovers, David Ash won’t have enough ammo in his six shooter to keep up with Geno Smith and company. The Mountaineer fans who made the trip to Austin will have a night on 6th Street they won’t soon forget.
Final Score: West Virginia Mountaineers 41, Texas Longhorns 38
7:30 PM – #9 Notre Dame (-14) over Miami (in Chicago)
It’s hard to believe, but the U is 4-1. When you look at those wins, however, none of them inspire much confidence. The Hurricanes are terrible defensively. The only time they played anyone decent (Kansas State), they got run over. Notre Dame is not an offensive juggernaut (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSuvOVH0aSQ) but they will put some points on the board. Combine that with a defense that doesn’t have a glaring weakness and it adds up to a cover.
Final Score: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 28, Miami Hurricanes 10
8 PM – #21 Nebraska (+3.5) over #12 OHIO STATEYou just don’t know what you are gonna get from the Cornhuskers this year. Last week’s comeback against Wisconsin could either inspire confidence or cause worry. They won’t want to find themselves down three scores against the Buckeyes in Columbus, as Urban Meyer would put the game on ice. The Buckeyes are still having issues playing a full four quarters. It will catch up to them sometime soon, but not on Saturday night. This will be a solid back-and-forth contest with a lots of yards churned on the ground. In the end, the Buckeyes will score a late to pull out a nail biter.
Final Score: Ohio State Buckeyes 31, Nebraska Cornhuskers 28
10:30 PM – #2 OREGON (-25) over #23 Washington
The Huskies come to Eugene on the heels of an upset win over Stanford last Thursday night. The Ducks, meanwhile, hung another half a hundred on the board up in the Palouse. Oregon is planning for a track meet under the lights in Eugene. I just don’t know if UW will be ready for it. Washington has had problems generating offense this year, and those woes will continue this week. Oregon will spread the wealth on Saturday, having at least five different Ducks hit pay dirt on their way to breaking the 50 point mark yet again.
Final Score: Oregon Ducks 52, Washington Huskies 14