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Mitch Light takes a look at 10 of the biggest games of the week.
Ohio State (-3.5) at Wisconsin
The nation’s new No. 1 team heads to Madison for its most difficult test to date. Wisconsin, as usual, boasts one of the league’s top rushing attacks, but the Badgers can throw the ball around the field, as well. Senior quarterback Scott Tolzein has thrown for 190 yards or more in all but one game and has only been intercepted two times in 132 attempts. This week, however, Tolzein & Co. must solve an Ohio State club that ranks third in the nation in total defense and sixth in scoring. The Buckeyes’ defense has only allowed one team — the mighty Eastern Michigan Eagles — to score more than one offensive touchdown.
Ohio State 20, Wisconsin 10
Arkansas (+4) at Auburn
Auburn improved to 6–0 by winning its third game of the season by exactly three points. Once again, quarterback Cam Newton was the hero, throwing for 210 yards and rushing for 198 and four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 37–34 win over Kentucky. This week, Auburn will face an improved Arkansas defense that held Texas A&M to 324 yards last week (186 below its average) in a 24–17 win in Dallas. The key for Auburn will be Newton’s ability to run the ball and make the big plays in the passing game when the opportunity presents itself. The Tigers’ magical ride continues.
Auburn 34, Arkansas 27
California (+2.5) at USC
USC has lost consecutive Pac-10 games — both on a field goal in the final seconds — for the first time since September 2001. And unless the Trojans can make dramatic improvements on defense in one week, that losing streak figures to hit three games. USC ranks 100th in the nation in total defense and an unthinkable 116th in pass defense, allowing 287.5 yards per game. California, which improved to 3–2 with a 35–7 win over UCLA, does most of its damage on the ground, but the Bears are good enough in the passing game to take advantage of the Trojans’ weaknesses.
California 30, USC 24
Iowa (-3.5) at Michigan
For the first time this season, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson failed to take over a game. Sure, the man they call Shoelace threw for 215 yards and rushed for 86, but he tossed three costly interceptions in the Wolverines’ 34–17 loss to their “little brothers” from East Lansing. Now, Michigan will face one of the premier defenses in the nation. Iowa is allowing only 10.2 points per game (fewest in the country) and has held four of its five opponents to seven points or less. Robinson will find a way to move the football, but Iowa, like Michigan State, will force some turnovers and keep the Wolverines from scoring too many points.
Iowa 30, Michigan 17
South Carolina (-4.5) at Kentucky
We’ll find out this week how well South Carolina can handle prosperity. Fresh off the biggest win in school history, the Gamecocks head to Lexington to face a Wildcat team that is good enough to pull the upset if South Carolina does not play well. Kentucky, however, might not be at full strength; senior tailback Derrick Locke is doubtful with a stinger in both shoulders and an injured elbow. His absence will put even more pressure on do-it-all-threat Randall Cobb. To beat Kentucky, you have to contain Cobb.
South Carolina 34, Kentucky 27
Texas (+ 9.5) at Nebraska
The rematch of the 2009 Big 12 title game has lost some luster thanks to Texas’ surprising struggles. The Longhorns, a preseason top 10 team (again), have lost two in a row — and have not looked good doing so. Nebraska, meanwhile, continues to dazzle. Led by dynamic quarterback Taylor Martinez, the Cornhuskers are 5–0 and have two breathtaking wins, a 56–21 victory at Washington and a 48–13 beatdown at previously unbeaten Kansas State last Thursday night. Martinez ranks fourth in the nation in rushing (147.4 ypg) and has scored 12 touchdowns. That could spell trouble for a Texas defense that has allowed a total of 388 rushing yards the past two games.
Nebraska 24, Texas 16
Oklahoma State (+3.5) at Texas Tech
In what was expected to be a rebuilding year, Oklahoma State has jumped out to a 5–0 start and is ranked in the top 25 in every poll. But take a look at the Pokes’ schedule: They have wins over Washington State, Troy (by three), Tulsa, Texas A&M and UL-Lafayette. Not exactly the most grueling slate. They will be tested this week in Lubbock, though Tommy Tuberville’s first Texas Tech team is far from a well-oiled machine. The Raiders can’t run the ball on offense and can’t stop the pass on defense. This one should be entertaining.
Texas Tech 44, Oklahoma State 37
Kansas State (-2.5) at Kansas
Kansas State was embarrassed at home last Thursday night, losing 48–13 to the red-hot Cornhuskers from Nebraska. But this is not a bad football team. The Wildcats jumped out to a 4–0 start due in large part to the play of tailback Daniel Thomas, the nation’s seventh-leading rusher. Expect a heavy dose of Thomas this week in Lawrence against a Kansas defense that has had trouble stopping the run. With the exception of a surprising 28–25 win in Week 2 over Georgia Tech, Turner Gill’s first KU team has not played well this season. Look for K-State to snap a three-game skid at KU.
Kansas State 20, Kansas 10
Illinois (+7) at Michigan State
The Fighting Illini have been playing very good football in recent weeks, starting with a solid showing in a 24–13 loss vs. Ohio State followed by last week’s dominating 33–13 win at Penn State. Led by tailback Mikel Leshoure and run-first quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois rushed for 282 yards on 54 attempts against the Nittany Lions. Michigan State is solid defensively, but both Wisconsin and Michigan were able to run the ball relatively well against the Spartans. This is a big test emotionally for Michigan State, which is back home after last week’s huge 34–17 win over hated Michigan. This one could be a struggle, but Sparty should move to 7–0.
Michigan State 27, Illinois 21
Pittsburgh (+1) at Syracuse
These are good times at Syracuse. Fresh off their rather shocking 13–9 win at South Florida, the Orange find themselves as a favorite against a Big East foe for the first time since the penultimate game of the 2006 season. Syracuse is 4–1, but two of the wins are against FCS opponents Maine and Colgate and another is against Akron, one of the worst teams in the FBS ranks. Pittsburgh, at 2–3, has been a disappointment, but this is a battle-tested team that has already played Utah, Miami and Notre Dame. Syracuse is improved, but Pitt is still the better team.
Pittsburgh 28, Syracuse 17
Last week: 2–8 overall (1–8–1 against the spread)
Season: 41–19 overall (29–27–4 against the spread)