Last Week: 9-5
Texas at Nebraska
After a few Big 12 exhibitions, the Huskers get to compare themselves to the cream of the conference crop. The Huskers are bowl eligible at 6-1. but their best win is either over Kansas, Kansas State, or Iowa State--three schools that at best will go to forgettable bowls, or at worst finish with 4 or 5 wins. Until the Oklahoma game, Texas didn't have any wins to hang its hat on either (unless you're partial to Rice, North Texas, and Sam Houston). The Horns are coming off a 63-31 win against Baylor; a game in which they played only 3 quarters. A lackluster first period saw them fall behind te Bears 10-0 before flipping the switch. Nebraska's not the team they were under Osbourne or Solich for that matter, but falling behind early would not make for an ideal start.
Wisconsin at Purdue
After 3 non-descript wins over mid-major also rans, the Badgers played Michigan relatively tough in the Big House, and then fell off the national radar. Since that Michigan game, the Badgers have won 3 straight Big 10 games by an average of 34.3 points per game. True, none of the victims (Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern) are threats to win the league, but the Badgers offense has been dynamic rolling up 141 points in the 3 games. The offense should be licking its collective chops in anticipation of lining up against a Purdue squad currently ranked 101st in scoring defense (29.6 points per game).
UCLA at Notre Dame
Is an upset bruin in South Bend? UCLA is 4-0 at home and 0-2 on the road. Ah, the wonders of inexperienced starting quarterbacks. The four teams UCLA has beaten are a combined 9-20. The two teams who have beaten them are a combined 9-4. Notre Dame is 5-1 and playing at home.
Winner: Notre Dame
Washington at Cal
After a 4-1 start, Tyrone Willingham's Huskies have hit a rough patch losing two in a row. One is excusable, a road loss at Southern Cal. The other requires a bit more explanation. At home against a 2-3 Oregon State team, the Huskies managed only 17 points as the usually proficient passing game hit some snags and the team lost 27-17. With a probable home win over Stanford left on the schedule, the Huskies simple need to win one other game out of 4 (at Cal, at Oregon, at Washington State and home against Arizona State) to reach bowl eligibility. While a win here would be nice, the reality is that a bowl bid may come down to the Apple Cup against archrival Washington State. In their 4 home games this season, Cal has not scored fewer than 42 points. They may not get that many, but at least 35 and an easy win are in store for the Bears this weekend.
Boston College at Florida State
It's late October, and based on winning percentage, Florida State is tied for the Atlantic Division basement with Maryland. Besides Miami, the Noles have defeated Troy, Rice, and Duke. We'll get a real read on how good Florida State is after this game. After playing 4 nailbiters to start the year, BC has won two games rather handily (although one was against Maine) by a combined score of 44-3. The Eagles own several quality wins (Clemson, BYU, Virginia Tech, and even Central Michigan), but all save one have come at home. Even though they are ranked below Clemson, if BC wins out they will take the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC Championship Game. After this game, they will be halfway to their division title.
Winner: Boston College
Iowa at Michigan
This game looked mmuch better 8 days ago, before the Hawkeyes got ambushed by a fired up Hoosier squad in Bloomington. Iowa has been somewhat of a disappointment this season losing at home to Ohio State in a game that was never in doubt, losing at Indiana, and playing very sluggish against some of the weaker teams on the schedule. Part of the problem for the Iowa offense has been the play of quarterback Drew Tate. After throwing 7 interceptions all of last season, Tate already has 6 this season. If Iowa is to have any chance in the Big House, Tate has to play well. The Wolverines are tops in the nation in run defense allowing just over 32 yards per game. The Wolverines will shut down the run, and it will be up to Tate to lead the Hawkeyes down the field. Ultimately, Tate and the Hawkeyes will play much better than they did last week, but will still fall short.
Texas Tech at Iowa State
I hereby dub this game 'The Disappointment Bowl'. After a 9-3 season, Texas Tech is 4-3 with losses to TCU and an improving, but still bad Colorado team. After a 7-5 season, Iowa State stands 3-4 (0-3 in the Big 12) and is in danger of missing out on postseason play. The Cyclones 3 wins have come by 6 points or less against teams that are mediocre at best. Their 4 losses, while all to good teams, have not been close. What is prime culprit for each teams decline? After averaging over 39 points per game last year, the Red Raiders are down to 28 points per game. After averaging nearly 8 yards per pass in 2005, their average yards per pass has dropped by a full yard to 6.8 per attempt. The culprit is not completion percentage as it has slightly improved (from 66% to 67%), but yards per completion. Last season, the Red Raiders averaged about 12 yards per completion. That number is down to 10 yards this season. The Red Raiders have always utilized a short, high percentage passing attack, but this year their receivers are breaking fewer tackles and making fewer big plays. What about the Cyclones? Last year they averaged over 28 points per game. This season, that number is down to a shade over 20 per game. This includes an overtime affair against Toledo where the Cyclones managed 45 points in 3 extra periods. They have scored less than 20 in every other game except against Northern Iowa. Like Texas Tech, the culprit is the passing game. Cyclones quarterbacks threw 10 interceptions last season and already have 7 so far in 2006. So who gets out of Ames with a W and some momentum on Saturday? Take the home team.
Winner: Iowa State
Alabama at Tennessee
There are very few sure things in sports, and in life in general. But I guarantee this game will have more than the 9 combined points last year's game featured. 4 easy steps to picking the winner of this game.
1) Alabama won by 3 last year
2) Tennessee's offense is better this season
3) Alabama's defense is worse than last seson
4) The games in Knoxville instead of Tuscaloosa
Oregon at Washington State
In a bit of a coup, the Cougars get the Pac 10's top 3 teams (Southern Cal, Cal, and Oregon) in Pullman. Unforunately, having already lost to 2 of those teams, the Cougars appear to be on the road to pissing away that advantage, And then, gulp, they have to go on the road to return the favor next sseason. Give the Cougars credit, they do seem to be able to hold pretty good offenses down in Pullman. The Bears have averaged 39.5 points in their other games, but managed only 21 at Washington State. The Trojans averaged 30.4 points in their other 5 games, but only scored 28 at Washington State. Oregon is currently averaging 35.8 points per game. Put they down for either 21 or 24 and a hard fought Pac 10 win.
Rutgers at Pitt
The winner of this game is a darkhorse contender for the Big East title. This is easily Rutgers biggest game since they played the first college football game against Princeton in 1869. There hasn't been much to get excited about in the following century and a quarter, but things seem to be changing in Jersey. They travel to Pennsylvania to face a Panthers team that has already surpassed last season's win total. Before the beatdown of Navy, Rutgers had struggled on the road, barely surviving North Carolina and South Florida. Pitt is the best team Rutgers has faced, and Tyler Palko is the best quarterback they have faced. Pitt gets the win and stays on track for a mid-November showdown with West Virginia.
UTEP at Houston
The winner of this game will be Tulsa's biggest challenger in Conference USA's Western Division. The loser is likely out of title contention. Since upsetting Oklahoma State 4 weeks ago, the Cougars have lost 3 close games in a row to Miami, Louisiana-Lafeyette, and Southern Miss--alll likely bowl teams. The Miners have won 3 in a row since starting the season 1-2. If nothing else, this should be an entertaining game as both teams can put points on the board. Kudos to Mike Price and Art Briles for their respective rebuilding jobs in college fooball outposts.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Steve Spurrier has coached against Vanderbilt 13 times and has 13 victories. Surprisingly though, 5 times the Commodores have come within one score of upsetting Spurrier's team. In chronological order.
1987: In Spurrier's first season at Duke, the Blue Devils beat the Commodores 35-31 in Vanderbilt.
1988: The Blue Devils won 17-15 in Nashville.
1996: I watched this game as a freshman in high school as Vanderbilt played a spectacular defensive game against the eventual national champion Florida Gators before falling 28-21 in Nashville. The only team to hold the Gators to fewer points that season was Florida State (in the first game between the two).
1999: Spurrier's worst (record wise at 9-4) team in Gainesville, survived a defensive struggle in the Swamp 13-6.
2005: Spurrier's first Gamecock team held on to defeat the 'Dores 35-28 in Columbia.
Spurrier will get his 14th win over Vandy, but it won't be easy.
Winner: South Carolina
Southern Miss at Virginia Tech
Despite their reputation as giant killers, this game looked like a good mid-season break for the Hokies. Now, Beamer's boys look to be in for a real fight. Quick, what's Virginia Tech's best win? Cincinnati? Not a lot to hang your hat on. VT will get the win most expected before the season began, but it won't be easy.
Winner: Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech at Clemson
Since Florida State joined the league in 1992, only one ACC old-timer has won an outright title. And you could make the argument the winner wasn't the leagues best team that season (the Terps lost to FSU by 21 in their title season). Now barring some unforeseen events, an old-timer will at least play for the title this season. I still think Miami has a chance to win the Coastal division, especially if the Jackets fall in this game. Death Valley will be rocking with the Gameday crew in town, and the Tigers won't choke this game away like they did two years ago.