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Mitch Light predicts the big games of the holiday weekend
By Mitch Light
Auburn (+4.5) at Alabama (Fri)
For only the second time in 35 years, the Iron Bowl features a matchup of top-10 teams. Alabama, the defending national champs, has an opportunity to play spoiler against its hated rivals from Auburn, ranked No. 2 in the latest BCS Standings. Alabama is one of the top defensive teams in the nation — ranked No. 7 (293.5 ypg) — but the Tide have yet to face an offense as explosive as Auburn’s. Usually, a good defense can stop a good offense, but consider the following: Auburn has averaged 471 yards of offense in its three games against top-25 defenses (Clemson, LSU, Georgia).
Auburn 28, Alabama 20
Boise State (-14.5) at Nevada (Fri)
Boise State is two wins away from completing its third straight undefeated regular season. The Broncos have been on cruise control the past two months, but this weekend’s trip to Reno could end up being their toughest test of the season. Nevada is 10–1 overall and features one of the most potent offensive attacks in the nation. The Wolf Pack have not beaten Boise since 1998 but have been able to score some points in this series, averaging 37.0 points in regulation in the last three meetings. Nevada will need to put a big number on the board to keep this interesting. Boise is averaging 48.0 points per game and has scored at least 33 in all 10 games.
Boise State 48, Nevada 24
Texas A&M (-3.5) at Texas (Thu)
Texas A&M, which improved to 8–3 overall and 5–2 in the Big 12 with a 9–6 win over Nebraska last week, has now won five straight conference games for the first time since 1998. Texas, meanwhile, has lost four straight Big 12 games — its longest conference losing streak since 1997. The Longhorns did win a game last weekend for the first time in over a month, but beating Florida Atlantic isn’t exactly what gets the folks in Austin fired up. A win over A&M? Now that would do the trick. But beating this Aggie team won’t be easy. Texas A&M is balanced on offense and much-improved on defense.
Texas A&M 27, Texas 17
LSU (+3.5) at Arkansas
The SEC West title has been decided (Auburn is heading to Atlanta), but there is still plenty at stake in this underrated rivalry. LSU can wrap up an at-large invitation to a BCS Bowl with a win, while Arkansas is trying to play its way into consideration for a coveted BCS invite. Keep in mind that Arkansas, with a win, would have victories over LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M, and its only two losses would be against Alabama and Auburn. But first things first: Arkansas must beat a talented LSU team that is playing much better offensively in the latter half of the season. The Tigers rolled up 433 yards against Alabama two weeks ago and had 470 in the win over Ole Miss on Saturday. The Razorbacks might give up some points, but they know how to score, as well. They rank second in the SEC in both total offense and scoring offense behind Auburn. Arkansas is 4–2 in its last six vs. LSU in Little Rock. Make it 5–2.
Arkansas 31, LSU 24
Oklahoma (+3) at Oklahoma State
It’s the biggest Bedlam Series showdown in recent memory. Oklahoma State, one of the nation’s biggest surprises, can secure its first-ever trip to the Big 12 title game with a win; Oklahoma will head to Arlington, Texas, with a win as long as Texas A&M doesn’t beat Texas and pass OU in the BCS Standings. The Sooners have played well the past two weeks, beating Texas Tech and Baylor by a combined score of 98–31, but this is far from a vintage Oklahoma team. The defense has been very un-Sooner like, ranking 62nd in the nation overall and a very surprising 64th against the run. O-State leads the nation in total offense, thanks in large part to the terrific trio of quarterback Brandon Weeden, tailback Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Only once this season have the Pokes been held to under 33 points.
Oklahoma State 35, Oklahoma 30
Florida (+2.5) at Florida State
Florida State is favored in this Sunshine State showdown for the first time since 2004, the final year of the Ron Zook era in Gainesville. The Seminoles are 8–3 overall, with a blowout loss at Oklahoma in Week 3 and a pair of late-season ACC losses to NC State and North Carolina by a combined six points. This is a very good team that could be ranked in the top 10 had the ball bounced a bit differently. Florida, on the other hand, isn’t much better than its record. The Gators are 7–4 overall and 4–4 in the SEC and have looked rather mediocre throughout much of the season. Florida State is the better team for the first time in several years. Now, the Seminoles need to play like it.
Florida State 27, Florida 17
NC State (-2.5) at Maryland
NC State is one win away from its first trip to the ACC Championship Game. It’s quite an accomplishment for a team that went 2–6 in the league last season and lost four of those six games by 20 points or more. Nothing really jumps out at you statistically about this team, but NC State has been receiving tremendous play from junior quarterback Russell Wilson. Maryland has also been a surprise this season, carrying a 7–4 record into the finale this weekend vs. the Pack. The Terps have improved on both sides of the ball — averaging about 10 more points per game while allowing about 10 fewer points. Here’s one statistical oddity about the Terps: They rank 119th in the nation in kickoff returns yet third in punt returns. Strange.
NC State 27, Maryland 21
West Virginia (+2.5) at Pittsburgh (Fri)
There’s plenty on the line in the latest edition of the Backyard Brawl (maybe my favorite rivalry name). Pittsburgh, leading the Big East with a 4–1 record, is two wins away from its second-ever BCS bowl; West Virginia is also in the mix, but the Mountaineers do not control their destiny. Pitt was the clear favorite in the preseason, and the Panthers have been the best team in the league throughout the year. As expected, this team has been stout on defense and has leaned on its running game, with Ray Graham and Dion Lewis taking turns as the featured back. West Virginia’s defensive numbers look good (No. 4 overall; No. 4 scoring), but the Mountaineers have only played one team (Cincinnati) that is ranked in the top 65 in the nation in total offense.
Pittsburgh 27, West Virginia 17
Michigan (+17) at Ohio State
Ohio State has won six straight and eight of nine in this classic rivalry. The Buckeyes have been especially potent in Columbus of late, averaging 40.3 points in the last three games vs. Michigan at the Horseshoe. And with the current state of the Wolverines’ defense — No. 112 in the nation — it won’t be a surprise if the Buckeyes top the 40-point mark once again. Ohio State has won four straight since its loss at Madison, none more impressive than last week’s 20–17 victory at Iowa. Ohio State is simply too good on both sides of the ball to lose this game.
Ohio State 44, Michigan 21
Cincinnati (+1.5) at Connecticut
It’s been a strange season at UConn, but the Huskies have persevered and remain in the hunt for a Big East title. Randy Edsall’s team is 3–2 in the league and already has wins over Pittsburgh and West Virginia. If WVU wins the Backyard Brawl on Friday, and UConn wins its final two games (Cincinnati, at South Forida), the Huskies — a team that lost by 14 points to Temple this season — will be heading to a BCS bowl. Cincinnati busted out with a stunningly easy, 69–38, win over Rutgers last week, but this has been a disappointing season for the Bearcats under first-year coach Butch Jones. UC can still become bowl-eligible, but it must beat UConn and Pitt to do so. Not going to happen.
Connecticut 28, Cincinnati 20
Last week: 8-2 overall (6–3–1 against the spread)
Season: 82–38 overall (61–54–5 against the spread)