September 17, 2010

Keep an eye on: What our guys are watching

Each week,'s college football experts give fans things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend. Here are some key things to watch this weekend.

We're back with another season of trying to predict the big upsets -- or, at the least, pick teams that will cover the spread. The lone stipulation for our writers in choosing a game is that the spread has to be at least 7.5 points.
Olin Buchanan
Arizona State plus-14 at Wisconsin. Wisconsin has been good but not exactly overpowering, and Arizona State is the best opponent the Badgers will have faced so far. The Sun Devils as a two-touchdown underdog seems a bit extreme. They have a solid defense that should keep them in contention. The Sun Devils' offense appears improved, though they've not really been challenged yet. And Sun Devils QB Steven Threet led Michigan to a come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin in 2008. Maybe he can lead the Sun Devils to an upset.
Tom Dienhart
Maryland plus-10 at West Virginia. Yes, Maryland has struggled with West Virginia's speed of late (the Mountaineers have rushed for more than 300 yards in each of the past three meetings), but the Terps are hungry for a validating victory. And Ralph Friedgen thinks his 2-0 team has the resolve to do it in an intense rivalry that is resuming for the first time since 2007.
David Fox
Hawaii plus-11 at Colorado. The Warriors played a streaky game at Army, taking a 21-0 lead, falling behind 28-21, then finally prevailing 31-28. Hey, a win is a win. For all the talk about Hawaii being a tough road trip for opponents, I'm sure the Warriors going to West Point isn't all that easy, either. The Warriors stayed in Las Vegas this week and now make a relatively short trip to Colorado to face the Buffaloes, who are coming off a 52-7 loss to California. As USC learned, Bryant Moniz, Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares form an explosive offense. It will be too much for Colorado to handle.
Mike Huguenin
East Carolina plus-19.5 at Virginia Tech. ECU has adapted well to new coordinator Lincoln Riley's pass-first offense; it helped that former coach Skip Holtz left some good receivers behind. Winless Virginia Tech will play with some urgency, but ECU's passing attack will enable the Pirates to beat the spread.
Steve Megargee
East Carolina plus-19.5 at Virginia Tech. After scoring at least 49 points in each of their first two games, how are the Pirates 19.5-point underdogs against winless Virginia Tech? Does anyone remember that ECU beat the Hokies in 2008? The previously unthinkable possibility of a 0-3 start will inspire the Hokies to play better and ultimately prevail, but this won't be a blowout.
Last Week/Season Totals
Yikes -- none of our five picks (three different games) covered the spread. For the season, four of 10 picks have covered the spread, though none have won outright.

Arizona QB Nick Foles and how he'll fare against Iowa. Foles became the Wildcats' starting quarterback last season only after a 27-17 loss in Iowa City. He played well as the starter, and Arizona's offense improved. He also has played well this season, but hasn't faced anything close to the caliber of competition he'll see against the Hawkeyes. Arizona has gotten better under coach Mike Stoops but still needs a signature victory over a top-10 opponent (yeah, they beat No. 2 Oregon in '07, but that was because of Dennis Dixon's injury). Can Foles lead Arizona to that signature win?


Is Arkansas ready to be a legit SEC contender? Arkansas hasn't been tested during a 2-0 start. But the Hogs' game at Georgia will tell us if the Razorbacks are poised to turn the corner and be a legit SEC contender in their third season under Bobby Petrino. As a fun sidebar, it also will be Petrino's first visit to the state since he quit on the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the 2007 season, causing lots of bad blood. If Arkansas can beat a Bulldogs team that last week failed to score a touchdown and got run over on defense in a loss at South Carolina, it will set up a huge showdown next Saturday, when Alabama visits Fayetteville.


Taylor Martinez's first road start. Martinez, Nebraska's redshirt freshman quarterback, is relieving some doubts about the Huskers' offense ability to keep up with the defense. There's another big test this week as Martinez makes his first road start against the toughest opponent he has faced so far. Will he be able to outplay Washington quarterback Jake Locker, projected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the 2011 NFL draft? Washington has struggled recently, but the Huskies are a different team at home. All of Washington's wins under second-year coach Steve Sarkisian have come at Husky Stadium.


Georgia Tech QB Joshua Nesbitt. He is the key player in Tech's visit to North Carolina in an important ACC Coastal Division showdown. Forget his pitiful passing; he never is going to be even a mediocre passer. It's his running that folks need to watch Saturday. He has been held to below 50 rushing yards in a game eight times since he became the starter for the 2008 season -- and Tech has lost five of those games, including three of the past four occasions. One of those was last week's inexplicable loss to Kansas, when he had just 33 yards on 15 carries. He played a key role in helping Tech roll up 307 rushing yards against the Heels last season.


Will Texas struggle in Lubbock again? Texas' trips to Texas Tech rarely are easy. Everyone remembers Michael Crabtree's thrilling last-second touchdown that beat the Longhorns two years ago. Texas rallied from a 21-0 deficit to win 35-31 in Lubbock in 2006, and the Longhorns lost 42-38 at Texas Tech in 2002. Of the past four Texas-Texas Tech games in Lubbock, only the Longhorns' 51-21 triumph in 2004 failed to come down to the final minutes. Even though Texas is ranked fourth in the coaches' poll and Texas Tech is unranked, don't be surprised if this one goes down to the wire.


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