We learned last week that this weekly post of mine, or others like it, are just simple predictions that can be wrong in a heartbeat. But, in the spirit of the game, and in preparation for another big week of college football, those like me who think they can predict the future continue. That being said, here are my picks for Week 9.
Game of the Week: #10 Texas Tech (7-0) at #15 Oklahoma (6-1). Texas Tech come into this game as a touchdown underdog, even though they are one of 10 remaining undefeated teams. Oklahoma’s loss came to Texas in the Red River Rivalry, and they’ve had a couple of other upset scares as well. The only games remotely close for Texas Tech were against TCU (which was an upset at the time), and the last 2 games against Iowa State and West Virginia, but they haven’t really been threatened. That may change against the Sooners. The last time Texas Tech was undefeated this late in the season, they lost to Oklahoma in 2008. Then again, the last time the Red Raiders visited Norman, they left with an upset victory over the then 3rd-ranked Sooners. Oklahoma won last year’s meeting, 41-20, but Texas Tech has changed dramatically since then. Oklahoma’s biggest problem is offensive consistency, but I think when the bright lights are on, they will be able to put some points on the board. The key matchup will be Texas Tech’s 2nd-ranked passing offense against Oklahoma’s top-ranked passing defense. I expect a high-scoring game, and I give the edge to the home team, in a close game late. Oklahoma 48, Texas Tech 45.
Big Game Guarantee: #21 South Carolina (5-2) at #5 Missouri (7-0). Missouri is a 3-point home favorite, which is usually the odds-makers way of saying the teams are even (and giving the home team a very slight edge). The main difference in the two teams is that Missouri has outscored the Gamecocks by almost 12 points per game, while the defenses are almost even and the Tigers have outgained the Gamecocks by only a slight margin in both the rushing and passing categories. One stat the Missouri defense does have an advantage in is sacks, with 23, which leads the SEC. That may very well come into play against South Carolina’s offensive line, which has struggled at times, and backup QB Dylan Thompson, who will play due to Connor Shaw’s knee injury. That’s a big blow, as Shaw had perhaps the best game of his career last year against Missouri in a 31-10 win. Then again, this is a much better Missouri team. A backup QB will also be playing for Missouri, with Maty Mauk making his second career start due to James Franklin’s shoulder injury. He led the Tigers last week on 8 scoring drives (even though 5 of those resulted in just a field goal) in his first career start. The last two times Missouri was undefeated this late in the year, they lost two in a row coming off big wins the week before. If that happens, I don’t believe it will be this week. If Missouri can win, they will almost guarantee, barring an unforeseen upset, the SEC East division title. Missouri 31, South Carolina 21.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Penn State (4-2) at #4 Ohio State (7-0). The Buckeyes come into this conference matchup with the Nittany Lions undefeated, but feeling underappreciated by the media. They probably have the most to prove out of the major national title contenders, if they want to play in Pasadena on January 6, as the result of a down year in the Big Ten and some close calls that threatened their unbeaten record. Yet, Urban Meyer still hasn’t lost a game at Ohio State as head coach (19-0). This week, they play a pretty big game against Penn State, who upset Michigan two weeks ago, and had a bye last week, giving them an extra week to prepare for a trip to The Horseshoe. Penn State’s losses are to UCF and Indiana. While the UCF loss doesn’t look as bad as the season continues, the Indiana loss, which was by 20 points, is certainly a head-scratcher. Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg has played superbly for the Lions, particularly in the win over Michigan in 4OT. Penn State has only won 2 of the last 5 meetings in this series, but both of those wins were in Columbus, including their first win after the firing of Joe Paterno in November 2011. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat in Big Ten Leaders divisional race. In the end, although Penn State has a good team, and I like what Bill O’Brien is doing there, I think with all that Ohio State needs to prove, and with the media saying they need to start demolishing opponents to have a shot at the title, they will shine on a national stage in a primetime game on network TV. Ohio State 34, Penn State 24.
Upset of the Week: #6 Stanford (6-1) at #25 Oregon State (6-1). Stanford has won 3 straight in this series, and they are 4-point road favorites. Neither team is undefeated, although both probably feel they should be. Stanford lost 2 weeks ago to unranked Utah, 27-21, in a game in which they had a good chance to score in the final seconds, but failed to do so. Oregon State’s loss was in a very odd, high-scoring game on the season’s opening weekend against FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington. Since then, they’ve reeled off 6 straight wins, including an overtime victory against that Utah team that beat Stanford. After their loss, Stanford won a top-15 showdown against UCLA last week, 24-10, moving themselves back into the top 10 in the polls, and ranking 6th in the BCS. I believe this will be a good game regardless, and I believe the Beavers win for a couple of reasons. Stanford struggled against Utah, which has an average offense and an average passing attack. Oregon State, however, has the 9th most points per game in the nation, and the nation’s top-ranked passing offense, led by Sean Mannion, who leads the nation in TD passes, and is threatening to break into the Heisman conversation. Secondly, Stanford won a big, in-state rivalry game against a top-10 team last week when they beat UCLA, and their next game after the Beavers will be a Thursday night showdown with Oregon on November 7. This schedule allows the Oregon State game to look light, compared to the Bruins and the Ducks, even though the Beavers are in the top 25 in the BCS (although they’re just short of being ranked in the polls). Oregon State also has the crowd working in their favor, which is often a factor in upset bids. Oregon State 45, Stanford 38.
Closer Than The Experts Think: #12 UCLA (5-1) at #3 Oregon (7-0). This was an easy pick for this category because Oregon is favored by 23 points against a pretty good and hungry UCLA team. For perspective, that’s the same spread as the Miami-Wake Forest matchup. While Oregon is 3rd in the BCS and 2nd in both polls, UCLA won’t roll over too easy, coming off a 24-10 loss to Stanford last week. These two teams haven’t played since the 2011 Pac-12 Championship Game, which Oregon won 49-31. UCLA has improved vastly since then, however, with the addition of coach Jim Mora Jr., and the emergence of QB Brett Hundley. ESPN showed a graphic this afternoon showing how even these two teams are offensively, in terms of plays run per game, how many seconds they average in between plays, etc. The only stat that jumped out as a real advantage for Oregon was turnover margin, as the Ducks are at +13 and the Bruins are at +3. One stat I’ve discovered, however, points out a bigger difference in the two teams, and it’s a very simple stat: points per game. Oregon averages 57.6, while the Bruins average just 39.8. Both sides have good defenses, so I don’t think there will be quite that much scoring, but these offenses will certainly have their highlights. I don’t see UCLA threatening Oregon, but I do think they beat the spread. Oregon 42, UCLA 24.