Tide-Tigers Tangle in Death Valley
College football’s Week 10 slate is highlighted by the Alabama-LSU clash in Baton Rouge and Oregon’s visit to USC. The Trojans have played their way out of the national title race with two losses in league play, but this is still a very talented team that is capable of winning the rest of its games.
Week 10 Predictions
Alabama (-10) at LSU
Maybe it’s because Alabama is so good. Or maybe it’s because LSU isn’t quite as formidable as we expected (though the Tigers are ranked fifth in the BCS standings). But this game just doesn’t feel as big as it should. Alabama has raced out to an 8–0 start with an efficient offense and a dominating defense. The Crimson Tide have won every game by at least 19 points and have not led by less than 13 points at any point in the second half. LSU is 7–1 overall and 3–1 in the SEC, but the three league wins have come by a total of nine points. The Tigers rely heavily on their rushing attack, which could be a problem on Saturday night. Alabama leads the nation in total defense and has been especially stout against the run, allowing an average of 57.3 yards per game and 1.9 yards per carry. The Crimson Tide will make it very difficult for LSU’s one-dimensional offense to put points on the board.
Oregon (-7.5) at USC
Here’s another game that isn’t quite as big in November as it was back in August. Oregon has done its part, winning its first eight games by an average of 34 points. USC, however, has lost two games, at Stanford in Week 3 and at Arizona last Saturday. The Trojans recorded some gaudy stats in Tucson — Matt Barkley threw for 493 yards and Marqise Lee had 345 receiving yards — but the defense had no answer for Arizona, against the pass (369 yards) or the run (219 yards). Arizona is very good offensively. Oregon is much, much better. The Ducks lead the nation in scoring (53.4 ypg) and are the only team in the country that averages over 300 yards rushing and 200 yards passing.
Texas A&M (-6.5) at Mississippi State
This will be a great barometer for both teams. Mississippi State is no longer undefeated, but the Bulldogs are eager to prove they should be considered among the top teams in the SEC. Texas A&M is 6–2 overall and has already won four road games. Last Saturday, the Aggies rolled up 671 yards in a 63–21 win at Auburn. Johnny Manziel was back to his old playmaking self, throwing for 260 yards and two touchdowns and running for 90 yards and three scores. The key to slowing down A&M — and it’s easier said than done — is keeping Manziel in the pocket and forcing him to make plays in the passing game. The strength of the Mississippi State defense is the secondary; if the Bulldogs’ front seven can stop the run, the onus will be on Manziel to win this game with his arm.
Texas A&M 30–24
Oklahoma State (+9.5) at Kansas State
Kansas State climbed to No. 2 in the BCS standings after Florida lost to Georgia and the Wildcats disposed of Texas Tech 55–24. The Wildcats don’t quite control their own destiny, but they are obviously on the short list of teams that are in position to play in the BCS national title game. The first hurdle to clear is Oklahoma State, which beat TCU 36–14 on Saturday to improve to 5–2 overall and 3–1 in the Big 12. True freshman Wes Lunt, the opening day starter, returned after missing three full games with a knee injury and threw for 324 yards and one touchdown. The schedule hasn’t been too taxing, but Oklahoma State has topped the 600-yard mark four times and leads the nation in total offense (586.1 ypg). K-State is the better team, but the Cats will have to play well to win this game.
Kansas State 34–30
Nebraska (+1.5) at Michigan State
Nebraska took a huge step toward winning the Legends Division title by beating Michigan in Lincoln last week. The Huskers got it done on the defensive end, holding Michigan to 188 total yards and no touchdowns. That’s not good news for Michigan State, which continues to struggle on offense. The Spartans have only topped 330 yards in Big Ten action once this season, in a 31–27 win at Indiana. Last week, they did just enough to beat Wisconsin 16–13 in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium to improve to 2–3 in the league. This team has been about what we expected on defense — the Spartans lead the Big Ten in total defense and scoring defense — but the offense has been a disappointment. A team that gives up 15.0 points per game should be better than 5–4.
Ole Miss (+14) at Georgia
Georgia seized control of the SEC East with a surprising 17–9 win over Florida in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs now must beat Ole Miss at home this weekend and Auburn on the road on Nov. 10 to make their second straight trip to the SEC title game. Ole Miss won’t be heading to the SEC title game, but the Rebels are only one win away from becoming bowl-eligible. Not bad for a team that went 0–8 in the SEC last season and was outgained by an average of 174.2 yards in league games. Last weekend, the Rebels knocked off Arkansas 30–27 in Fayetteville for their first SEC road win since 2009. Hugh Freeze now has to be in the discussion for SEC Coach of the Year honors.
Texas (+7) at Texas Tech
Here’s something that we didn’t expect to see back in the summer: Texas is a seven-point underdog to Texas Tech. Texas Tech has no doubt exceeded expectations, but the betting line is a strong statement on the state of Texas football. The Longhorns, who gave up 161 points in a three-game stretch in October, avoided complete disaster by scoring in the final minute to beat Kansas 21–17 in Lawrence on Saturday afternoon. Texas’ defense finally played well, but the offense struggled mightily — gaining only 342 yards against a KU defense that was giving up an average of 428.4 yards per game. Texas Tech was manhandled in Manhattan by Kansas State, but the Red Raiders still have to be considered among the most improved teams in the nation. They padded their stats against a very soft non-conference schedule, but it’s still noteworthy that they rank in the top 12 nationally in both total offense and total defense.
Texas Tech 30–27
Arizona at UCLA
What was once considered a forgone conclusion — USC winning the Pac-12 South title — is now very much in doubt. The Trojans have two league losses and still have to play Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. USC’s unexpected struggles have opened the door for either Arizona, Arizona State or UCLA to win the South. Arizona already has three losses, but the Cats have a key head-to-head win over USC and a relatively soft late-season schedule. UCLA is 3–2 in the league after its upset at Arizona State. The Bruins have been one of the most entertaining teams in the Pac-12, ranking third in the league in total offense (502.9 ypg) and fifth in scoring offense (33.4 ppg). Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has made some mistakes — four picks in the loss at Cal — but there is no doubt that he has energized a fanbase that needed something to get excited about.
Virginia Tech (-2.5) at Miami (Fla.) (Thu.)
Virginia Tech and Miami have a combined eight losses, yet the winner of this game likely will be the Coastal Division’s representative in the ACC title game. Duke is still in the race, but the Blue Devils have the most difficult remaining schedule. Virginia Tech hasn’t played since losing 38–17 at Clemson two weeks ago. In their three true road games, the Hokies have given up 35, 48 and 38 points — all in losses. In those three games, they have allowed an average of 242.7 yards rushing. That is very un-Bud Foster-like. Statistically, Miami is in the middle of the pack in the ACC in rushing offense, both overall (seventh, 126.8 ypg) and in league games (sixth, 135.0 ypg). The Canes do boast one of the league’s top running backs in Duke Johnson, but the true freshman is splitting time with Mike James and has not gotten more than 14 carries in any game.
Miami (Fla.) 24–21
TCU (+7) at West Virginia
The two new members of the Big 12 get together for a game that isn’t quite as important as most had expected when the schedules were releasted. West Virginia climbed into the top five of the national polls after winning its first five games, but the Mountaineers have been exposed on defense over the last month. In Big 12 action, WVU is allowing 564.8 yards per game and a staggering 7.7 yards per play. It doesn’t matter how good you are on offense — and the Mountaineers are very good — competing for a conference title is nearly impossible with defensive numbers that bad. TCU’s first season in the Big 12 has been a bit of a disappointment, but the Horned Frogs have had significant personnel issues. They lost starting linebacker Tanner Brock over the summer (drugs) and have dealt with other injury issues at linebacker. Offensively, they have been without tailbacks Ed Wesley (all season), Waymon James (all but two games) and quarterback Casey Pachall (all but four games). It would have been interesting to see this team with all of its pieces.
West Virginia 37–33
Last week: 4–6 overall (3–7 against the spread)
Season: 58–32 overall (46–44 against the spread)