LAST WEEK: 5-1
Maybe a week off was just what the doctor ordered after all — I bounced back with a strong 5-1 showing last week. Now let’s try to make it two in a row…
#16 TEXAS A&M (6-2, 3-2) VS. #15 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-1, 3-1)
12pm ET, ESPN
LINE: TEXAS A&M -7.0
A&M’s debut in the SEC has been smoother than expected, thanks in part to a weaker-than-expected SEC West, but also in part to the brilliance of freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel and the Aggies are two blown leads (against Florida and LSU) away from being undefeated and being one of the biggest shocks of the season. Mississippi State actually was undefeated… at least, right up until they went to Tuscaloosa last week and met another undefeated team. Against top-tier competition, A&M has acquitted itself well — taking early leads against both Florida and LSU before eventually wasting them and losing close games — while MSU has not — Alabama wiped the floor with them for the better part of sixty minutes. Granted, both of A&M’s near-misses came in the friendly confines of home and the Bulldogs’ pratfall came in a brutally tough road environment, but still: MSU built a 7-0 record by beating up weak competition, A&M is no 98-pound weakling and Johnny Football is going to carry the Aggies to a close win.
THE PICK: TEXAS A&M 34, MISSISSIPPI STATE 24
#23 TEXAS (6-2, 3-2) VS. #18 TEXAS TECH (6-2, 3-2)
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2
LINE: TEXAS TECH -7.0
It’s been kind of a crazy month for Texas Tech. Get their brains beat in at home by Oklahoma? No problem, they’ll just turn around and demolish a red-hot West Virginia team, then follow that up with a wild 3OT shootout win over TCU. But last week the beatdown shoe was on the other foot, as Kansas State handed Tech a West Virginia-style pummeling of their own. They get to regroup against a Texas team that’s had a pretty mystifying month of their own. After winning a shootout over Oklahoma State, Texas dropped a tight one to West Virginia (also known as the last time the West Virginia offense had its swagger; if found, please return to Morgantown ASAP), then got eviscerated in a not-even-that-close 63-21 loss to Oklahoma. They’re currently riding a two-game winning streak, but the wins themselves have hardly been convincing. They’ve won by a total of 10 points over Baylor and Kansas, two teams who are a combined 0-9 in Big XII play. The Texas defense still isn’t very good, while the Texas Tech defense will rebound after getting picked apart by K-State.THE PICK: TEXAS TECH 38, TEXAS 28
#20 NEBRASKA (6-2, 3-1) VS. MICHIGAN STATE (5-4, 2-3)
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2
LINE: NEBRASKA -1.5
Bizarrely, every Nebraska result in Big Ten play this year has been the reverse of their game with the same opponent last year. A year ago, they lost to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Northwestern and beat Ohio State; this year they’ve avenged all three of those losses but gotten trounced by Ohio State. That streak will doubtless come to an end at some point — if it doesn’t, they’re about to end the season on a four-game losing streak — and this week seems like as likely a time as any. A week after wresting control of the Legends division title race away from Michigan, Nebraska can firm up their control of the division by winning their toughest-remaining game. Sparty ended their own hard-luck streak (three agonizingly close losses in four games) with an OT win over Wisconsin last week, but their anemic offense still looks like it will be their undoing. Michigan State has a championship-caliber defense paired to an absolutely dire offense (they’ve only topped 20 points in three games this year). Nebraska’s defense has been improving since getting torched by Ohio State and they should be able to bottle up the weak MSU offense. The Spartan defense will be the toughest yet for Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense, but they’ll do enough to win.
THE PICK: NEBRASKA 20, MICHIGAN STATE 10
#4 OREGON (8-0, 5-0) VS. #17 USC (6-2, 4-2)
7:00pm ET, FOX
LINE: OREGON -8.5
A year ago, USC went into Eugene and handed Oregon a shocking loss. Oregon heads to Los Angeles in search of revenge — and a signature win. Oregon has utterly dominated their opposition this year, but unfortunately none of those wins have come over marquee opponents. Their best wins are whitewashings of Arizona and Washington. Of course, even a rout of USC wouldn’t have as much luster as it would have in the pre-season — the Trojans have already lost twice this year and with Oregon and Notre Dame still on the schedule, they could easily find themselves with four losses — at least — before bowl season even gets here. That won’t help Oregon’s standings in the BCS anyway. Still, a primetime dissection of USC would be good for style points if nothing else. Meanwhile, USC’s goals have been reduced to being a spoiler — well, that and maintaining their slim hopes of getting to the Rose Bowl (which would probably entail beating Oregon not once, but twice). USC’s explosive offense, particularly the fearsome WR duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, will be a big challenge for Oregon’s overlooked defense, but even if the defense concedes a few scores to USC, it won’t matter — the Oregon offense is going to mangle the USC defense.
THE PICK: OREGON 48, USC 28
#1 ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0) VS. #5 LSU (7-1, 3-1)
8:00pm ET, CBS
LINE: ALABAMA -9.0
For the third time in the span of a year, it’s time for a good ol’ Saban Bowl. We know what to expect from these games by now: lots of defense, lots of brutally hard hits, lots of struggling offenses. Of course, even if we know what to expect, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be fun. Despite the game featuring five field goals and no touchdowns, last year’s regular season tilt between these two teams was as fun as defense-first football gets. (The national title game rematch, on the other hand, was a bore, with LSU’s offense being completely overwhelmed by the Alabama defense.) You might not want a diet of nothing but scoring-deficient games like that, but they can be ferociously entertaining at times — especially when the atmosphere of the game is as charged as it figures to be Saturday night in Death Valley. LSU had better hope that their crowd intimidates Alabama or inspires LSU into a greater performance than we’ve seen from them at any point this year, because on paper Bama has far more consistent and assured this year. Even with a host of new faces, the defense was been outrageously good and the offense has been both explosive and balanced. LSU has been a quirky, inconsistent team and that will ultimately be their undoing. The crowd and an inspired defensive effort will keep it close, but the inability of the LSU offense to do enough against the Bama defense will doom them.
THE PICK: ALABAMA 17, LSU 10
#24 OKLAHOMA STATE (5-2, 3-1) VS. #2 KANSAS STATE (8-0, 5-0)
8:00pm ET, ABC
LINE: KANSAS STATE -9.0
Kansas State has put together two virtually flawless performances in back-to-back weeks, mangling West Virginia on the road (55-14) and then coming home and doing the same to Texas Tech (55-24). Now Oklahoma State comes to town. The Cowboys are riding a three-game winning streak, but none of those victims (Kansas, Iowa State, TCU) are anywhere near Kansas State’s caliber. K-State probably won’t be as razor-sharp as they’ve been the last two weeks (it’s hard to maintain that level of performance week in and week out), but against this Okie State team, they probably don’t need to be quite as sharp. The defense will stymie Oklahoma State’s offense enough and Collin Klein will lead the offense to some second half touchdown drives to put the game away.
THE PICK: KANSAS STATE 34, OKLAHOMA STATE 21