College Football Picks: Three Top 25 Matchups Highlight Week Five Schedule

Midwest Sports FansAnalyst ISeptember 30, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 17:  Players from the Wisconsin Badgers celebrate with the Paul Bunyan trophy following their victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome November 17, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 41-34.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

In what has seemingly been the year of upsets in college football, it’s been almost a guarantee that a highly-ranked team will go down every week.

With three matchups between ranked teams this week, we know for certain that at least three ranked teams will lose. But again, that doesn’t mean the other ranked teams are safe, and more than one should be on upset alert this week.

No. 15 Penn State should have no problem rebounding from last week’s upset loss to Iowa, but the Nittany Lions are on the road against a talented, though underachieving, Illinois team.

The three remaining unbeaten non-BCS schools should have no problem this weekend against lesser opponents, but the games still merit monitoring.

Fifth-ranked Boise State isn’t doing itself any favors in terms of strength of schedule by playing host to UC-Davis. But, hey, No. 1 Florida played Charleston Southern, right? And North Carolina has two I-AA teams on the schedule in The Citadel and Georgia Southern.

No. 12 Houston, which has knocked off a pair of Big 12 teams, including last week’s one-point thriller over Texas Tech, steps back into Conference USA play with a cross-state road trip to El Paso to face UTEP.

No. 11 TCU plays host to a Conference USA foe in Forth Worth when it welcomes in SMU from Dallas.

Again, all three unbeatens should have no problem, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed.

With that being said, here are this week’s three marquee games:


No. 7 USC at No. 24 California

  • Date: Saturday, Oct. 3
  • Kickoff Time: 8:00 ET
  • TV: ABC (regional)
  • Spread: USC -5.5

Cal was riding high less than two weeks ago. The Bears were ranked sixth in the country, had just picked up a road victory in Minnesota, and Jahvid Best was a top-notch Heisman candidate.

Oh, how things change quickly.

The Bears got a punch in the mouth and a heavy dose of reality last week in Oregon.

The Ducks dished out a 42-3 beatdown inside Autzen Stadium, and Best was limited to 55 yards on 16 carries. This was an Oregon defense that had allowed 79 points in its previous three games.

Whether Cal was looking past the Ducks to USC is uncertain, but now the Bears must face a USC defense that held Cal to three points last year.

Many of those players are gone, but the Trojans are still talented on that side of the ball. USC is allowing just nine points per game, and rebounded from its 16-13 upset loss in Washington to knock around Washington State, 27-6.

It will be understandable if USC is distracted in this game with running back Stafon Johnson in the hospital with a crushed throat following a weightlifting accident.

Still, the key in this game will be whether Cal can get Best going or not. If Best has a good game, the Bears send USC south with a loss. If not, the USC defense will feast on Cal quarterback Kevin Riley.

USC-Cal free pick: USC 27–Cal 16 | USC -5.5


No. 4 LSU at No. 18 Georgia

  • Date: Saturday, Oct. 3
  • Kickoff Time: 3:30 ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Spread: Georgia -2.5

The Tigers barely escaped an upset bid from Mississippi State last week, needing a goal line stand to preserve a 30-26 victory. LSU has been largely unimpressive in its 4-0 start, and are ranked where they are based on the preseason polls.

Still, LSU has done enough to win, although 31 rushing yards on 30 attempts last week against the country’s No. 88 rush defense is an eye-popping stat.

It’s hard to figure out how LSU is unbeaten, but one thing the Tigers don’t do is beat themselves, and that starts with quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who has seven touchdown passes to just one interception. Brandon LaFell has been his favorite target, catching five scoring tosses.

LSU is dead-last in the SEC in total offense, something the Georgia defense hopes to capitalize on.

Georgia lost its opener on the road to Oklahoma State, but has since rattled off wins over South Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona State.

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 20-5 against SEC West opponents and 9-1 over the last four years. As long as Richard Samuel continues to run the ball well, he has 281 yards on 62 carries with two scores this season, the Bulldogs should be able to wear down a good LSU defense.

If Georgia can force Jefferson into a couple of mistakes, they could be partying in Athens on Saturday night.

LSU-Georgia free pick: Georgia 23–LSU 17 | Georgia -2.5


No. 8 Oklahoma at No. 17 Miami (FL)

  • Date: Saturday, Oct. 3
  • Kickoff Time: 8:30 ET
  • TV: ABC (regional)
  • Spread: Oklahoma -7.5

Just like Jahvid Best, remember how Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was being touted as a Heisman candidate? Well, one lackluster performance in a road beatdown on national television will nip that talk in the bud quickly.

Following impressive outings against Florida State and Georgia Tech, Harris looked uncomfortable in his team’s 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech. The Hokies confused the sophomore quarterback, who completed just 9-of-25 pass attempts as Miami was just 1-for-11 on third-down conversions.

Oklahoma quarterback, and reigning Heisman winner, Sam Bradford may return to the Sooners’ lineup on Saturday night. He has not played since being knocked out of the season-opening loss to BYU with a shoulder injury.

If Bradford can’t go, Landry Jones has done well in his stead.

The freshman quarterback has completed 43-of-69 passes for 622 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions in his first two starts. He even set a school record with six TD passes in a 45-0 win over Tulsa.

The Sooners have had two weeks off to prepare for their first real road game, and Land Shark Stadium will be no easy place for Jones or Bradford to play.

The difference could be the OU defense, which has not allowed a point since the 14-13 loss to BYU in Dallas.

Oklahoma-Miami free pick: Oklahoma 31–Miami 20 | Oklahoma -7.5


One other game of interest is Wisconsin-Minnesota, which begins Saturday at 11:00 CT.

College football’s oldest rivalry renews itself Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis. On the line is the best rivalry trophy in the country: Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

The Badgers have a five-game win streak in the rivalry, which dates back to 1890, when the Gophers won a 63-0 contest. While the Gophers own a 59-51-8 overall advantage in the 118-game rivalry, since the introduction of the Axe in 1948, Wisconsin owns a 34-24-3 edge.

Minnesota’s last win came in 2003 when Rhys Floyd kicked a last-second, game-winning field goal. The game has been won on last-minute blocked kicks, big plays and defensive stands, and is one of the most heated rivalries in the country.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened to cancel the game because of deaths and other injuries on the field in the first 15 meetings.

This year’s game has extra intrigue because both teams are actually good.

The Badgers are 4-0, but will be leaving the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium for the first time this season. The Gophers are 3-1 on the year, and coach Tim Brewster is still searching for his first victory against Wisconsin in now his third season as head coach.

The Gophers must shore up a run defense that allowed Cal tailback Jahvid Best to rush for five touchdowns. Wisconsin comes in with a solid offensive line capable of plowing holes for a pair of good backs in John Clay and Zach Brown.

Minnesota-Wisconsin free pick: Wisconsin 38–Minnesota 34 | Wisconsin +2.5


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