By Mitch Light(@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Oregon (+3.5) at Stanford
It’s the game of the year in the Pac-12, featuring two of the most statistically dominant teams in the nation. Stanford is 9–0 and has won those nine games by an average of 31.7 points. The Cardinal are balanced on offense and do a great job stopping the run (third in the nation). Oregon has won eight straight (all by 14 points or more) since opening the season with a 40–27 loss to LSU. The Ducks survived an injury to All-America tailback LaMichael James, who missed two full games with a dislocated elbow. James was at his best in last weekend’s 34–17 win at Washington, rushing for 156 yards on 25 carries. It’s dangerous to put too much stock in a game that was played last season, but Oregon’s speed overwhelmed Stanford in the Ducks’ 52–31 win in Eugene last fall. Stanford’s incredible run of 17 straight wins — all but two decided by 10 points or more — is in serious jeopardy.
Oregon 37, Stanford 31
TCU (+15) at Boise State
It’s the one and only meeting between TCU and Boise State as members of the Mountain West Conference. TCU is bolting for the Big 12 in 2011, and Boise State is potentially headed to the Big East. The Broncos are No. 5 in the BCS standings but are still a long shot to play for the national title. Their schedule, always an issue, is even weaker than usual. TCU is having a solid season at 7–2 overall and 4–0 in the MWC, but the Horned Frogs have clearly taken a few steps back in 2011. They don’t really have a quality win, and their two losses have come against teams (Baylor and SMU) not ranked in the top 25. The usually dominant TCU defense is giving up an average of 22.3 points, an increase of more than 10 per game from last season.
Boise State 37, TCU 24
Virginia Tech (-1) at Georgia Tech (Thu)
Virginia is still in the picture, but the winner of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech showdown on Thursday night will likely represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game. The Yellow Jackets recovered from a two-game losing streak by upsetting previously unbeaten Clemson, 31–17, two weeks ago. The option attack, which had been held in check in losses to Virginia and Miami, rolled up 443 total yards vs. the Tigers. Virginia Tech is also coming off a bye week. The Hokies struggled with Duke last time out, but prior to that had been playing their best football of the season. They feature an emerging star at quarterback in Logan Thomas and an established star at tailback in David Wilson. Georgia Tech has struggled to stop the run at times this season. That will be an issue on Thursday night.
Virginia Tech 27, Georgia Tech 22
Michigan State (-3) at Iowa
Both teams control their own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division. Just two weeks ago, Iowa did the unthinkable — lose to a Minnesota team that had lost its first three league games by a total of 110 points. But the Hawkeyes responded with an impressive 24–16 win over Michigan in Iowa City last weekend. Marcus Coker continues to shine for Kirk Ferentz’s club; the sophomore has rushed for at least 120 yards in each of the last four games and currently ranks sixth in the nation in rushing. Stopping Coker will be the top priority for the Spartans. Michigan State boasts some gaudy defensive numbers — No. 2 in the nation in total defense, No. 8 in scoring defense — but has not been as stout in recent weeks. Minnesota had Big Ten-season highs of 415 yards and 24 points in a 31–24 loss to MSU East Lansing on Saturday.
Iowa 24, Michigan State 17
Auburn (+13) at Georgia
Winners of seven straight games, Georgia can take a giant step toward its first SEC East title since 2005 with a win over Auburn Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs are one game up on South Carolina and have two league games remaining — Auburn and Kentucky, both at home. Georgia will be at close to full strength, with running backs Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas back from a one-game suspension and wide receiver Malcom Mitchell expected to return from a hamstring injury (though Richard Samuel remains out with an ankle injury). Auburn is 4–2 in league play but is likely headed for a fourth-place finish in the powerful SEC West. Cllint Mosely has played well at quarterback in his two starts, completing 24-of-35 passes for 305 yards in a loss at LSU and win vs. Ole Miss. He will have to play well to give the Tigers an opportunity to win in Athens.
Georgia 24, Auburn 20
Nebraska (-3.5) at Penn State
The national spotlight is on Penn State this weekend — and not because the Nittany Lions are 8–1 overall and 5–0 in the Big Ten. We have no idea how the players will deal with the firing of Joe Paterno, but the guess here is that we won’t see Penn State at its finest this week. It’s a shame, too, because this team is all alone in first place in the Leaders Division, two games up in the loss column on Ohio State and Wisconsin. Nebraska was in control of the Legends Division until Saturday’s loss at home to Northwestern. Now, the Huskers are in a four-team logjam and will need help to win the division. Getting a win in Happy Valley will certainly help the NU’s cause.
Nebraska 20, Penn State 10
Miami (Fla.) (+9) at Florida State
Florida State has played very well over the past month, winning four straight games by an average of 28.8 points. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, they lost three straight prior to this four-game hot streak. So, once again, a season that began with promise will fall short of expectations. Yes, FSU is still alive in the Atlantic Division, but for the Noles to reach the title game, they will need Clemson to lose its final two games (vs. Wake Forest, at NC State) and for Wake to lose at home to Maryland. Miami played its way out of the Coastal Division race with a shocking loss at home to Virginia two weeks ago. So, for the seventh time in seven years, we will not have a Florida State vs. Miami showdown in the ACC Championship Game.
Florida State 24, Miami 22
Texas A&M (-4.5) at Kansas State
What does Kansas State need to do to get some respect from the boys in Vegas? The Wildcats are 7–2 overall, with the two losses coming to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, yet find themselves as a 4.5-point underdog at home to a Texas A&M team that is 5–4 overall and has lost two straight games. I was a non-believer earlier in the year and picked against Kansas State in four straight games — and I lost four straight times. I’m on the Collin Klein bandwagon now. The Cats haven’t quite mastered the forward pass yet — they rank 112th in the nation in passing — but they rank 18th in rushing with 217.2 yards per game. K-State will have to score some points to beat Texas A&M. For all of the Aggies’ issues, this team still knows how to move the football.
Kansas State 37, Texas A&M 34
Washington (+11.5) at USC
Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, who were co-offensive coordinators at USC under Pete Carroll, meet as head coaches for the second time. Last year, Sarkisian and the Huskies edged USC, 32–31, at the Coliseum on a 32-yard field goal by Erik Folk at the buzzer. This year, the two teams meet in L.A. once again. USC, led by quarterback Matt Barkley and a host of talented receivers, has been on a tear offensively in recent weeks. That’s a bad sign for Washington, which ranks 101st in the nation in scoring defense. The Huskies are potent on offense — led by quarterback Keith Price and tailback Chris Polk — but there is no indication that they are good enough on defense to slow down USC enough to win this game.
USC 35, Washington 24
Texas (-1) at Missouri
Just when you thought that Missouri had righted the ship — after an overtime win at Texas A&M — the Tigers gave up an astounding 686 yards of total offense in a 42–39 loss at Baylor. Mizzou dropped 27 spots in the national total defense rankings in one week, from 62nd to 89th. That is very hard to do this late in the season. Now, Texas comes calling, fresh off an impressive 52–20 win vs. Texas Tech. David Ash is getting most of the snaps at quarterback, but the Longhorns are leaning heavily on their running game. Against Texas Tech, the Horns rushed for 439 yards and attempted only nine passes. This will be a huge test for the struggling Mizzou defense.
Texas 33, Missouri 24
Last week — 6-4 (4-6 vs. spread)
Season — 65–33 (50–48–2 vs. spread)