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Auburn is one win away from BCS title game.
Auburn (-5.5) vs. South Carolina
The Tigers passed their most difficult test of the season last week — and did so in dramatic fashion. Auburn rallied from 24–0 deficit in the second quarter to stun rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Now, Gene Chizik’s club turns its attention to South Carolina in a rematch of a game played in late September won by Auburn, 35–27. The Gamecocks had leads of 20–7 in the second quarter and 27–21 in the third but made too many mistakes in the second half. The key for Auburn was limiting Marcus Lattimore’s effectiveness. South Carolina threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, but the running game was not a factor. And that has been the theme in South Carolina’s three losses — Lattimore had 33 yards vs. Auburn, did not play in the second half due to injury against Kentucky and had only 30 yards against Arkansas. Auburn isn’t known for its stout defense, but the Tigers held Alabama’s dynamic duo in check last week; Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram combined for 60 yards on 20 carries.
Auburn 28, South Carolina 20
Oklahoma (-4.5) vs. Nebraska
Nebraska fell a bit short of its ultimate goal (a shot at the national title), but the Huskers would love nothing more than to win the Big 12 title in their final season in the league. There is no doubt Bo Pelini will have his team ready to play. Nebraska should have Taylor Martinez back at quarterback after he sat out the Colorado game with various injuries. The Huskers survived without him, but this team needs a healthy Martinez running the show to beat a team as good as Oklahoma. The Sooners are playing their best football at the right time of the year. They have won three straight games, topping Texas Tech, 45–7, Baylor, 53–23, and outlasting Oklahoma State, 47–41, in a classic Bedlam Series Showdown. The key matchup in this game will be OU’s offense vs. the stout Nebraska defense. Oklahoma is scoring a ton of points, but the Huskers are allowing only 16.8 points per game.
Oklahoma 27, Nebraska 20
Virginia Tech (-4) vs. Florida State
It might not be the title game the ACC had hoped for (NC State playing in Charlotte would have been a huge draw), but this is still a solid matchup between two very good teams. Virginia Tech has won 10 straight games since its inexplicable loss to James Madison in Week 2. The Hokies are getting very good play from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the defense, as usual, has been outstanding. Florida State lost two league games by a total of six points and had the ball in the red zone in the closing minutes in each game. The Seminoles are two plays away from being 11–1 overall and 8–0 in the league. Florida State will be the best offense Virginia Tech has faced since its Week 1 showdown with Boise State. The Noles are balanced and have a savvy senior running the show in quarterback Christian Ponder. This game is taking a backseat to the marquee showdowns in the Big 12 and SEC, but the ACC title game should be very interesting.
Virginia Tech 27, Florida State 24
SMU (+9) at UCF
SMU secured its first trip to the Conference USA title game by beating East Carolina on the road, 45–38, in overtime last weekend. The Mustangs have made a rapid ascent under June Jones, who went 1–11 in 2008 and 8–5 in ’09, his first two seasons on the job. UCF is making its third trip to the conference title game under George O’Leary. The Knights have been explosive on offense in 2010, especially in the last two months of the season. Led by true freshman quarterback Jeffrey Godrey, UCF has scored 35 points or more in seven of its last eight games. This team is 9–3 overall, with two of its losses against BCS conference teams (Kansas State and NC State) by an average of 6.5 points. SMU is good, but UCF is better — and at home.
UCF 38, SMU 30
Miami (Ohio) (+17.5) vs. Northern Illinois
They’ve been flying under the radar in the MAC, but Miami is arguably the most improved team in the nation in 2010. After stumbling through a 1–11 record in Mike Haywood’s first season, the RedHawks have increased their win total by seven games and captured the MAC East title with a 7–1 record in league play. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, was expected to be good — and the Huskies have more than lived up to the hype. Jerry Kill’s club is 10–2 overall and a perfect 8–0 in the MAC. The Huskies won at Minnesota and lost by six at Illinois and 17 at Iowa State. This is an explosive club that has outgained its opponents in league play by an average of 200 yards per game. Miami is a nice story, but Northern Illinois is a dominant team.
Northern Illinois 40, Miami (Ohio) 14
Nevada (+9) at Louisiana Tech
The Wolf Pack, fresh off their monumental win over Boise State, need one more win to wrap up a share of their first WAC title since 2005. There is potential for a letdown, but with so much at stake, veteran coach Chris Ault will have his team ready to play. Louisiana Tech has proven it can move the football and score some points; the Bulldogs have scored at least 34 points in four of their past five games. But this team really struggles on defense. Louisiana Tech ranks 114th in the nation in yards allowed (456.9) and has been torched by every decent team on its schedule — Texas A&M (48 points), Navy (37), Hawaii (41), Boise State (49) and Fresno State (40).
Nevada 44, Louisiana Tech 20
Oregon (-16.5) at Oregon State
In each of the past two seasons, Oregon State needed to beat Oregon in the Civil War to advance to the Rose Bowl. Didn’t happen. The Ducks won 65–38 in Corvallis in 2008 and 37–33 in Eugene in ’09. So can Oregon State return the favor and crush Oregon’s national title hopes? Not likely. The Ducks are simply too good, and the Beavers are simply too mediocre. Oregon State is 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-10. The Beavers have lost three of their past four games, including a stunning 31-14 setback at home to Washington State and a 38-0 shutout at Stanford last week. There is nothing on this team’s resume that suggests they can hang with the powerful Ducks.
Oregon 41, Oregon State 20
Connecticut (+1.5) at South Florida
The Huskies are one win away from securing a spot in the first BCS bowl game in school history. This team has come along way since mid-September, when it dropped to 1–2 after a troubling 30–16 loss at Temple. UConn has since won six of eight games, with one of the losses by one point (at Rutgers). South Florida, too, is playing its best ball in the latter half of the season. The Bulls have won four of five, though all four wins have come by eight points or less, including three by three points or less. South Florida is having issues at quarterback. Sophomore B.J. Daniels is questionable; he returned to practice this week, but his availability is not known. If he can’t go, true freshman Bobby Eveld (8-of-15, 120 yards vs. Miami) will get the call. The uncertainty at quarterback is a concern, but I like USF.
South Florida 24, UConn 14
USC (-6.5) at UCLA
Has a UCLA-USC game been less intriguing? Not since I’ve been following college football. But the game is on the schedule, so I figured I’d go ahead and add it to the list. USC seemed to gain some momentum in the middle the season, but that was lost with consecutive losses to Oregon State and Notre Dame. The Trojans do expect to get quarterback Matt Barkley back this week, which should help. UCLA has been struggling in the last half of the season, losing five of six games — and looking bad doing so. The Bruins have been dreadful on offense, ranking 101st in total offense and 103rd in scoring offense. It will be difficult for UCLA to score enough to win this game.
USC 24, UCLA 10
Washington (-6) at Washington State
Washington State is an improved team, but it’s an indictment on Washington that the Huskies are only a six-point favorite against the Cougars. Wazzu did win its last game — a stunning 31–14 victory at Oregon State — but this has been the worst BCS conference program in the nation over the last three years (and it hasn’t been close). Washington is 4–4 in the league, but due to a tough non-conference schedule (BYU, Nebraska, Syracuse) the Huskies are only 5-6 overall and need to beat Wazzu to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2002. Think about that: A program that won a national title as recently as 1991 is in the midst of a seven-year bowl drought.
Washington 30, Washington State 14
Last week: 7–3 overall (7–3 against the spread)
Season: 89–41 overall (68–57–5 against the spread)