By Mitch Light(@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Washington (+21) at Stanford
Stanford is on an incredible roll. Dating back to last October, the Cardinal have won 14 straight games, with 11 of the last 12 coming by at least 27 points. This season, Stanford has scored at least 37 points in each game and has not allowed more than 19. Andrew Luck is the obvious star of the team, but the Cardinal are also very good at running the ball and tremendous against the run. Washington is also getting great play from the quarterback position. Sophomore Keith Price has thrown at least three touchdowns in all six games and ranks fifth in the nation (and second in the Pac-12 to Luck) in passing efficiency. The Huskies’ balance on offense will provide Stanford with its toughest test so far this season.
Stanford 41, Washington 27
Wisconsin (-7) at Michigan State
It’s been quite a two-game stretch for Michigan State, which has defeated Ohio State (in Columbus) and Michigan by a combined score of 38–21. The win over the Wolverines was the fourth straight — the first time that has happened at MSU since the early 1960s. Now, however, the Spartans must deal with Wisconsin, who has been as impressive as any team in the nation in 2011. The schedule hasn’t been overly taxing, but the Badgers have outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 40 points en route to a 6–0 start. The arrival of quarterback Russell Wilson, a post-graduate transfer from NC State, has give Wisconsin a huge spark in the passing game. The Badgers are the only team in the nation averaging over 250 yards rushing and passing per game.
Wisconsin 30, Michigan State 20
USC (+8.5) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame snapped an eight-game losing streak in this rivalry with a 20–16 win in Los Angeles last year. The Irish have not defeated USC in South Bend since 2001, Bob Davie’s last season as the boss. The 2011 edition of the Irish have rebounded from an 0–2 start by winning four straight games, three by at least 18 points. The 5–1 Trojans are coming off their most impressive performance of the season, a 30–9 rout at Cal last Thursday night. The much-maligned USC defense — which had given up 84 points in its two previous games — played its best game of the season. Stopping Notre Dame, however, will be far more difficult. The Irish have balance on offense and have scored 31 points or more in four of their last five games.
Notre Dame 34, USC 27
Georgia Tech (+2.5) at Miami (Fla.)
Georgia Tech’s run at perfection ended last Saturday in Charlottesville with a 24–21 loss to the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets’ option attack, which rolled up 400 yards or more in its first five games, was held to a season-low 296 yards. Miami is back at home after splitting a two-game road trip with Virginia Tech (38–35 loss) and North Carolina (30–24 win). The Canes are 3–3 overall but could easily be 5–1 or 6–0 had they made one more play in each loss. Jacory Harris, who threw 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, has been playing very well since returning to the lineup after missing the opener due to a suspension. The senior has only thrown three INTs in 22 attempts and is coming off an efficient 267-yard, three-touchdown effort in the win at Carolina.
Miami (Fla.) 31, Georgia Tech 27
Auburn (+22) at LSU
Auburn’s offense has hit the skids in recent weeks, averaging only 15.6 points in its last three games. The Tigers managed to win two of those three, thanks to a defense that gave up 13 to South Carolina and six to Florida last week. This week, the challenge is to slow down an LSU attack that methodically punishes opposing defenses with a power running game and an efficient passing attack. LSU’s defense gets most of the pub, but the Tigers’ offense is averaging 38.4 points and 369.1 yards per game. Auburn has made a habit of finding ways to win over the last few years, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Gene Chizik’s club sneaks out of Baton Rouge with a win.
LSU 41, Auburn 20
Oklahoma State (-6.5) at Missouri
This could be a tougher-than-expected test for Oklahoma State, which is ranked No. 4 in the initial BCS standings. Missouri is 3–3, but all three losses have come on the road against ranked teams (Arizona State, Oklahoma and Kansas State) and all three have been by 10 points or less. The star for the Tigers has been sophomore tailback Henry Josey, who has rushed for 717 yards on an amazing 9.7-yard average. Oklahoma State’s prowess on offense has been well-documented. The Pokes are averaging a shade under 400 yards passing per game but run the ball just enough (155.5 ypg) to make life very difficult for opposing defenses. Expect a good fight from Mizzou, but in the end, the Oklahoma State offense will be too much to handle.
Oklahoma State 41, Missouri 30
Wake Forest (-3) at Duke
The Deacons ran into a buzzsaw last week in a 38–17 loss at home to Virginia Tech, but this is still a solid team that is much-improved from last year. Wake is already 3–1 in the league, with wins over NC State, Boston College and Florida State. Duke saw its three-game winning streak come to an end last week with a 41–16 loss at home to Florida State. Statistically, Duke’s numbers on defense are better, but the Devils have had trouble stopping the only two quality teams they have faced — Stanford and Florida State. The Deacons’ balanced offense should be able to score enough points to win in Durham.
Wake Forest 34, Duke 21
Kansas State (-10) at Kansas
The surprising Wildcats are searching for their first 7–0 start since 1999. K-State has won the last four games as the underdog. That will not be the case this week against the struggling Jayhawks. Kansas has lost four in a row, allowing at least 45 points in each game. KU ranks last in the nation in both scoring defense and total defense. The offense has shown signs of life, with Jordan Webb leading the show at quarterback, but this team will not be able to compete in the Big 12 as long as the defense continues to struggle. Last year, K-State jumped to a 31–0 lead at the half and cruised to a 59–7 win over KU. It won’t be quite as easy this year.
Kansas State 41, Kansas 17
Penn State (-4) at Northwestern
Penn State continues to struggle on offense, but this team sure knows what it’s doing on the defensive side of the ball. The Nittany Lions rank sixth in the nation in both total defense (264.1 ypg) and scoring defense (21.7 ppg) and have only given up more than 18 points once this season — to Alabama in Week 2. Northwestern will test the Penn State defense with both Dan Persa and Kain Colter getting snaps at quarterback. The problem for the Wildcats is on defense, where they have given up an average of just over 40 points over the last three weeks. Penn State isn’t as potent as Northwestern’s previous three opponents — Illinois, Michigan and Iowa — but the Lions should be good enough to outscore the Cats in Evanston.
Penn State 28, Northwestern 20
Cincinnati (+3) at South Florida
Cincinnati is quietly having a very nice bounceback season under second-year coach Butch Jones. The Bearcats are 5–1, with the only loss coming at Tennessee in Week 2. UC has nice balance on offense with the passing of Zach Collaros and the running of tailback Isaiah Pead. South Florida’s season has taken a wrong turn in recent weeks. A 4–0 start has turned into a 4–2 record with back-to-back losses at Pittsburgh (44–17) and UConn (16–10). Already 0–2 in league play, this is a game that South Florida desperately needs to win if it hopes to remain relevant in the Big East race.
Cincinnati 28, South Florida 24
Last week — 8–2 (8–2 vs. spread)
Season — 46–24 (37–32–1 vs. spread)