By Mitch Light(@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Michigan (+1.5) at Michigan State
Michigan State is in the midst of its longest winning streak (three games) against the boys from Ann Arbor since the mid-1960s, when Duffy Daugherty & Co. outscored the Wolverines 78–14 in a three-game stretch. For the streak to reach four games — something that hasn’t happened since the early ’50s — the Spartans will have to find a way to slow down Denard Robinson. The junior quarterback was terrific in Michigan’s win at Northwestern last weekend, throwing for 337 yards and two touchdowns and adding 117 yards and two scores on the ground. Last year, State limited Robinson to 86 yards rushing, a season-low at the time, and forced him into three interceptions in a 34–17 MSU win in East Lansing. The guess here is that the Spartans will do just enough to slow down the Michigan attack.
Michigan State 28, Michigan 24
Arizona State (+15) at Oregon
ESPN College GameDay will be making a rare appearance on the West Coast for a clash between two of the elite teams in the Pac-12. Arizona State, with its slick new uniforms, is in complete control of the South Division with a 3–0 record that includes a win over USC. Oregon will be in a battle with Stanford and possibly Washington for the top spot in the North. The Ducks’ chances at the title, however, took a hit last Thursday when star tailback LaMichael James was sidelined with an elbow injury. He is hoping to play some this weekend, but he could also be out for several weeks — it’s too early to tell. Oregon is deep at running back, but James is a true difference-maker who is very difficult to replace.
Oregon 35, Arizona State 24
Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Texas
Oklahoma State and Texas have met 25 times. Oklahoma State has won only three of those games — in 1944, 1997 and 2010. The Pokes are favored to pick up win No. 4 in this series— and it’s easy to see why. Led by quarterback Brandon Weeden and wideout Justin Blackmon, O-State boasts arguably the nation’s most explosive offense. Last week, the Cowboys led Kansas 56–7 at the half before cruising to a 70–28 win. Texas is solid on defense, but the Horns are fresh off of a humbling 55–17 loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. OU quarterback Landry Jones had little trouble picking apart the Texas defense. Not a good sign with Weeden & Co. coming to town.
Oklahoma State 38, Texas 24
Virginia Tech (-7) at Wake Forest
Clemson is still the frontrunner in the Atlantic Division, but this clash in Winston-Salem this week could possibly be a preview of the ACC title game. Wake Forest is 3–0 in the league after last week’s impressive 35–30 win over Florida State. The Deacons, known as a rushing team early in Jim Grobe’s tenure, are getting it done through the air thanks to the emergence of quarterback Tanner Price. Virginia Tech has a fine quarterback of its own. Sophomore Logan Thomas, a first-year starter, played his best game last Saturday, throwing for 310 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Hokies’ thrilling 38–35 comeback win over Miami (Fla.). The key to the game, however, could be Wake’s ability (or inability) to slow down Tech tailback David Wilson. If he runs wild, the Hokies should win the game.
Virginia Tech 34, Wake Forest 24
Baylor (+9.5) at Texas A&M
Texas A&M got back on track last weekend, holding on for a 45–40 win at Texas Tech in what could be the Aggies’ last trip ever to Lubbock. A&M once again jumped out to a big lead at the half (31–20), but this week found a way to hold on — though there were definitely some tense moments in the fourth quarter. Baylor, too, rebounded from a difficult loss two weeks ago. The Bears rolled past Iowa State 49–26 behind another strong performance from Robert Griffin III, who threw for over 200 yards and rushed for over 100. These two programs have played every year since 1945, but A&M’s departure to the SEC most likely means the end of the rivalry.
Texas A&M 38, Baylor 34
Ohio State (-4) at Illinois
Illinois is favored over Ohio State for the first time since 2001, when Ron Turner’s Illini won the Big Ten title with Kurt Kittner at quarterback. The 2011 Illini, predicted by most to finish no better than fourth in the Big Ten Leaders, are one of the more surprising teams in the nation with a 6–0 overall record and a 2–0 mark in league play. Sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase is playing very well at the quarterback position, and Ron Zook’s club is making the right plays at the right times to win games. Ohio State, on the other hand, is not winning games; the Buckeyes have lost three of their last four (their worst stretch since 2004) due in large part to poor play at the quarterback position. True freshman Braxton Miller was showing signs of life Saturday night at Nebraska before going down with an ankle injury. Miller is expected to play this week — which is a very good sign. Joe Bauserman, the Buckeyes’ other option at quarterback, completed only 1-of-10 attempts for 13 yards in relief at Nebraska.
Illinois 24, Ohio State 21
Florida (-2) at Auburn
It’s safe to say that a defending national champion has never been a home underdog to a team that is coming off consecutive losses of at least 28 points. But that’s what we have this weekend at Auburn. The Tigers, fresh off a 38–14 loss at Arkansas, return home to face a Florida team that has been thoroughly beaten the past two weeks by the elite in college football, Alabama and LSU. Jeff Driskel is expected to be back at quarterback after missing the LSU game, but he is still just a true freshman, and he has yet to start a game in his career. That’s hardly comforting — even against a Tiger defense that has given up 34 points or more in four of six games this season. Auburn is having quarterback problems, as well. Junior Barrett Trotter completed only 6-of-19 attempts for 81 yards against Arkansas last week. Don’t expect to see the forward pass too much in this game.
Auburn 28, Florida 23
Miami (Fla.) (+3) at North Carolina
The Hurricanes are a few plays away from being 4–1 or even 5–0. Their three losses have come by eight points (Maryland), four points (Kansas State) and three points (Virginia Tech), with none of the games decided until the final minute. Instead, Al Golden’s team finds itself 2–3 overall and 0–2 in league play with two crucial ACC Coastal Division games looming, this trip to UNC and a home date with Georgia Tech. Had the Canes come out on top in a few more of the games, tailback Lamar Miller might be receiving some Heisman buzz. The sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the first five games, including 184 vs. Ohio State and 166 vs. Virginia Tech. Carolina is 5–1, with the only loss coming by seven points at undefeated Georgia Tech. Interim coach Everitt Withers has done a solid job keeping his team focused. This is a key game for Carolina, which hits the road for three of its next four games. A win here keeps the Heels in the Coastal Division race.
Miami (Fla.) 27, North Carolina 20
USC (-3) at California (Thu)
Cal shocked USC, 34–31, in 2003 in what was the first big win of the Jeff Tedford era. The Bears have lost seven straight in the series since that breakthrough victory in Berkeley, with the last two being decided by an average of 30.5 points. The 2011 Bears jumped out to a 3–0 start but have lost back to back games at Washington and Oregon. They led Oregon 15–14 at the half last Thursday night before getting ambushed in the final two quarters en route to a 43–15 loss. USC hasn’t been overly impressive this year, but the Trojans are 4–1 with all four of the wins coming vs. BCS conference foes. The offense has been productive, but Monte Kiffin’s defense has been torched for a total of 84 points the past two weeks. Cal, which is playing its games at AT&T Park in San Francisco, won’t have a boisterous home crowd, but Bears are ready to end their losing streak vs. USC.
California 31, USC 24
South Carolina (-2.5) at Mississippi State
It’s been an interesting week at South Carolina. First, Steve Spurrier refused to address the media while a columnist from Columbia was in the room because of something that columnist wrote several months ago. Then, a few hours later, the school announced that Stephen Garcia had been kicked off the team. All this came a few days after the Gamecocks’ dominating 54–3 win over Kentucky in which USC rolled up a Spurrier-era high 639 yards of offense. Yards and points have been hard to come by at Mississippi State, which is off to a disappointing 3–3 start. The Bulldogs have totaled less than 220 yards in each of their past two SEC games and struggled to score in their non-conference wins over Louisiana Tech and UAB. No announcement has been made, but there is a strong possibility that Tyler Russell will get the start at quarterback over Chris Relf.
Mississippi State 21, South Carolina 13
Last week — 7–3 (3–7 vs. spread)
Season — 38–22 (29–30–1 vs. spread)