October 29, 2010

Keep an eye on: What our guys are watching

Each week, Rivals.com'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
Washington State plus-21 at Arizona State. Just in case no one has noticed, Arizona State doesn't have the most explosive offense and QB Steven Threet has been struggling. True, Washington State typically is the cure to whatever ails any Pac-10 team, but the Cougars are showing gradual signs of improvement. Of course, these days, that means not getting beaten as badly as usual. Washington State has been relatively competitive in October. In fact, the Cougars stayed within 20 points of Oregon, Arizona and Stanford -- and all of those teams are better than Arizona State. In addition, during Washington State's struggles the past few years, one of the biggest problems has been pass protection. Arizona State doesn't have a strong pass rush. I'm not ready to say the Cougars will beat the Sun Devils, but I think it will be a competitive game.
Tom Dienhart
Tulsa plus-8.5 at Notre Dame. Tulsa could knock off the Fighting Irish in South Bend with an offense that ranks 13th in the nation in scoring (38.4 ppg). If this turns into a shootout, Notre Dame may be in trouble. Neither team has a good defense (Tulsa is 81st in the nation in scoring defense; ND is 63rd), but the Golden Hurricane have the superior offense. And you have to wonder about the Fighting Irish's fragile psyche. If they get behind or are in a close game, will the Irish have the moxie to pull out the win?
David Fox
Wyoming plus-10 vs. San Diego State. It has been a dismal season for Wyoming, but look at that schedule: Boise State, Texas, Air Force, TCU and Utah. San Diego State hasn't been as sharp on the road. Now is the time for Wyoming to turn its season around.
Mike Huguenin
Missouri plus-7.5 at Nebraska. Both are coming off impressive wins. A lot of folks still doubt Mizzou -- I'm one -- but I think the Tigers' defense will do a solid job against the Huskers' rushing attack and keep this one extremely close.
Steve Megargee
East Carolina plus-7.5 at UCF. The Knights have played well this season -- their only losses were close decisions against N.C. State and Kansas State -- but they shouldn't be favored by this much over the two-time defending Conference USA champions. This game looks more like a toss-up to me. It wouldn't surprise me if Dominique Davis directs the Pirates to a game-winning score in the final minutes.
Last Week/Season Totals
One of our five picks (four games) covered the spread. For the season, 18 of 35 picks have covered the spread and eight have won outright.

Can Oregon remain unbeaten? The Ducks are trying to avoid becoming the fourth team with a No. 1 ranking to lose in as many weeks. I'll be watching to see if the Ducks' offense, led by LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, can continue their season-long streak of scoring at least 42 points; this week, they'll be going against a USC defense that has had an extra week to prepare after appearing to solve its defensive issues two weeks ago in a 48-14 win over California. Oregon's offense may need to have another 42-point outburst against the Trojans, who also have an offense capable of scoring in bunches. - OLIN BUCHANAN

Can Michigan State run against Iowa? If the Spartans can't, they will have a diminished chance to remain unbeaten and to stay in the national title race. MSU ranks fifth in the Big Ten in rushing (193.5 ypg). The Spartans struggled to run last week in a near-loss at Northwestern, finishing with just 105 yards. The week before, Michigan State rushed for just 93 yards against Illinois. Running room figures to be scarce against Iowa, which has the nation's No. 8 rushing defense (92.1 ypg). The Hawkeyes limited Wisconsin's strong run game to 142 yards (3.7 ypc) last week. Keep an eye on the Spartans' offensive line against Iowa's defensive line. That matchup will decide if the Spartans win or not.


Will the real Nebraska defense show up? I had trouble believing those who said Nebraska's defense would maintain the high level of play it displayed last season with Ndamukong Suh leaving for the NFL. Still, I expected the Huskers to be an imposing defensive team with the amount of talent in the secondary and at linebacker. But the past two weeks haven't even been average performances by the defense -- and, yes, I consider allowing Texas to rush for 209 yards and two touchdowns to be "below average" this season. Taylor Martinez and the offense rebounded last week. It's time for the defense to follow suit.


The SEC East. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still are in the running for the division title, and while the division isn't that good, the race is intriguing because of the remaining games. The stretch run begins this week with South Carolina playing host to a bad Tennessee team and with Florida and Georgia getting together in Jacksonville for their annual bacchanal. There aren't many teams Steve Spurrier enjoys beating more than Tennessee, and the Gamecocks should prevail, setting them up for showdowns against Arkansas and Florida. Meanwhile, the "Cocktail Party" loser is out of the division title hunt, which should add even more intensity to the rivalry this season. Georgia still has Auburn, and the Gators still have Vanderbilt and South Carolina, so there are some big games remaining for the winner. In addition, East Division also-ran Kentucky travels to Mississippi State in what should be an entertaining SEC pecking-order game.


Will Auburn slip up at Ole Miss? Cameron Newton's emergence as the Heisman front-runner has helped make Auburn's rise to the top of the BCS standings one of the biggest stories of the season, but the Tigers have endured a couple of close calls on the road. They failed to score in the second half of a 17-14 victory at Mississippi State and needed a field goal as time expired to win 37-34 at Kentucky. Although Ole Miss is one of the SEC's weakest teams, Jeremiah Masoli is accustomed to playing big games and Houston Nutt frequently does his best work when he isn't expected to win. I'm interested in seeing how well Auburn responds to the pressure of the No. 1 ranking on the road.



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