Another big week of college football is upon us, except this time, 2 of the biggest 3 games of the weekend are on a Thursday night. Therefore, so this post is out in time to analyze and predict those 2 huge contests, in addition to some of Saturday’s bigger games, I have written it a little early. Here are my picks for a week that includes 6 of the top 13 in the BCS playing games against one another.
Game of the Week: #3 Oregon (8-0) at #5 Stanford (7-1). This is probably the game of the year in college football, being played tonight at 9:00 on ESPN. Oregon is an 11-point road favorite, which is an understandable spread because of how the Ducks have played all of their opponents so far. However, Oregon had a similar résumé going into the Stanford game last year in Eugene, when they lost 17-14 in overtime. That is Oregon QB Marcus Mariota’s only loss in 21 career starts. Speaking of Mariota, he has thrown 20 TDs and no interceptions this year. Stanford, on the other hand, has forced a turnover in 33 straight games, the second longest streak in the country. The key matchup will be the Oregon offense, averaging 55.6 points per game, against Stanford’s defense, giving up just 19.4 points per game. Although Oregon’s defense is allowing even less scoring, that isn’t their strength, and isn’t part of the matchup of strength vs. strength. I believe Mariota won’t have his best game, but will play well enough to give Oregon a slim victory. Oregon 24, Stanford 17.
Big Game Guarantee: #13 LSU (7-2) at #1 Alabama (8-0). This is a series that has perennially produced some of the best and biggest games of the year in the SEC. This year is no different. Although the Tide come in as 13-point favorites, many around college football acknowledge the teams are probably a little more even than that. Both secondaries are expected to struggle as quarterbacks AJ McCarron of Alabama and Zach Mettenberger of LSU do battle. LSU’s offense, in fact, has outgained Alabama this season, but Alabama has scored more points per game. The Tide have the game at home, after last year coming from behind in the final minute to win 21-17 in Baton Rouge. The last meeting in Tuscaloosa was won by LSU in overtime, 9-6, in 2011’s “Game of the Century.” This game will have a little more scoring, and will be close late, but the best team in the country will find a way to win. Alabama 45, LSU 38.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Virginia Tech (6-3) at #11 Miami (FL) (7-1). Miami is a touchdown favorite at home in a game that may decide the ACC Coastal division title. The Hurricanes are coming off a tough loss at Florida State, in a game in which they also lost RB Duke Johnson for the season with a broken ankle. While that injury may hurt Miami in the long run (particularly should they play Florida State again if they reach the ACC title game), I expect backup Dallas Crawford to have a breakout game, like he did against North Carolina when Johnson was banged up. While Miami has struggled, with the loss to Florida State and close calls against Wake Forest and North Carolina, Virginia Tech has gone through similar struggles, with consecutive losses to Duke and Boston College. Now they play on the road against a Miami team I believe is ready to explode after the loss to Florida State. I think that test will be too much for the Hokies. Miami 28, Virginia Tech 17.
Upset of the Week: #22 Arizona State (6-2) at Utah (4-4). The Sun Devils travel to Salt Lake City, and are a 7-point favorite coming off their first road win last week. They also control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South division race, and can win out to play in the conference championship game on December 7. Utah, on the other hand, has played noticeably better at home than they have on the road, even considering they’ve lost two close games to tough opponents at home (to Oregon State, in overtime, and to UCLA by 7). The highlight of the Utes season is a 27-21 upset win over Stanford at home on October 12. This Saturday’s game will be their first home game since that big win, and QB Travis Wilson had an extra week, thanks to a bye, to get completely healthy (he’s been playing with an injured throwing hand). It is certainly feasible the Sun Devils will get complacent, coming off of 3 consecutive blowout wins, including one over then 20th-ranked Washington, and slip up against a Utah team that is certainly better than their 1-4 conference record. Utah 28, Arizona State 25.
Closer Than the Experts Think: #10 Oklahoma (7-1) at #6 Baylor (7-0). The spread for this game surprised me a bit, as the odds-makers give Baylor a 15-point edge. Here’s probably the reason why: Baylor is hosting this big game in Waco, and Baylor has the nation’s top-ranked offense in both points scored and yards gained by a wide margin. Here’s the problem: Baylor hasn’t played a ranked opponent, and their biggest test was against Kansas State. In that game, they were held to 35 points, and won by 10. The weak schedule they’ve played so far is why they are 6th, and not higher, in the BCS, and why QB Bryce Petty isn’t in the Heisman conversation (although he should be). This game begins an extremely tough stretch of games for the Bears, who after this week play Texas Tech (neutral site), at Oklahoma State, at TCU, and Texas. Oklahoma, on the other hand, beat Notre Dame by 2 touchdowns, in South Bend, earlier in the year, and is coming off a bye week after beating previously unbeaten Texas Tech. While the Sooners have an average offense, which can’t possibly match up to Baylor’s offense, their defense may be able to stop the Bears a couple of times. In other words, Oklahoma may not have to score 70 to keep pace with Baylor. In addition, Baylor’s defense is 6th in points allowed, but gave up 42 and 25 to the best two offenses they have faced, so they could be vulnerable. In the end, considering this is perhaps the biggest game in Baylor program history, I think the crowd will be a factor in a close game late. The Sooners will beat the spread, but will fall just short of pulling the upset. Baylor 42, Oklahoma 35.