The cupcakes have been devoured and now it is time to get into the meat of the season—with conference games in which each win moves you closer to at least six wins, a possible bowl bid, or a conference title and a shot at a BCS bowl game.
Last week, I felt like the Joker picking Kentucky to upset Florida; of course, I also did not have enough faith in UCLA, who put a beat down on Texas.
On the season, I am now standing at 25-8 so I can still afford to take some risk to pick the occasional upset. Is USC on upset alert?
No. 16 Miami (Fla) v. Clemson
Recent history would suggest that this game is going to be extremely close; since Miami has joined the ACC, all three of the games between Miami and Clemson have gone into overtime.
Last year, Clemson’s Kyle Parker threw a career-high 326 yards and three touchdowns in engineering a 40-37 overtime upset of then No. 8 Miami (Fla). Parker is coming off a solid road game against No. 16 Auburn on September 18, in which he played through bruised ribs.
Miami’s defense is looking for a little revenge and they appear to be up for the challenge.
The Hurricanes are eighth in the nation in total defense, allowing 252.0 yards per game, and two of the three touchdown drives they've yielded came on drives of 19 yards or less.
Prediction: The road team in this series has won the last three games, the trend continues as the Hurricanes win a hard fought game over Clemson 28-20.
No. 21 Texas v. No. 8 Oklahoma
The winner of the Red River shoot out has gone on to claim the Big 12 championship, four of the past six years—the loser won the other two titles.
This year, however, might be different—both teams have struggled.
Last weekend, Oklahoma just got by Cincinnati 31-29 and three of their four wins this season have been decided by seven points or less.
The vaunted Oklahoma defense is giving up more than 420 yards a game and has surrendered 41 fourth-quarter points on the year.
Texas was embarrassed last weekend by UCLA 34-12 at home. Texas never threatened in the second half and was frequently booed by the fans in Austin, leaving Mack Brown "embarrassed" after his worst home loss in 13 seasons as Longhorns coach.
The Longhorns offense has been almost as bad as Oklahoma’s defense. Texas has failed to crack 400 yards of total offense in a game this season and in the last two games, the Longhorns committed nine turnovers while averaging only 89 yards on the ground.
Prediction: Oklahoma’s quarterback Landry Jones will likely be the difference; Jones has nine touchdowns and 1,221 passing yards on the season. Oklahoma 31-13 over Texas.
No. 11 Wisconsin v. No. 24 Michigan State
If you like smash mouth football, where teams grind it out on the ground with an occasional well executed play-action fake to keep you honest, then this is the game for you.
Michigan State has running backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell to chew up yardage. Baker is averaging 7.9 yards a carry and Bell is averaging 8.3. Baker and Bell have 12 rushing touchdowns between them.
Executing the play-fake is Junior Kirk Cousins, who has connected on 67% of his passes.
Wisconsin has Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and James White to carry the rock. Clay is coming off of his 10th straight game in which he has rushed for more than 100 yards; White had a nice coming out party last week with 145 yards and four touchdowns.
Scott Tolzien has been better than Cousins, completing 76% of his passes.
Prediction: Tough to root against Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio in his first week back with the team after suffering a mild heart attack, Spartans 27-24.
Tennessee v. No. 12 LSU
How bad is LSU’s passing attack?
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has 419 passing yards on 79 attempts; Jefferson has an anemic quarterback passer rating of 97. Running back Stevan Ridley has 434 yards on 75 rushes.
Fortunately for LSU, Tennessee has been porous in stopping opposing team’s ability to run the ball as they are allowing 142 rushing yards a game. LSU will likely start running the ball once they step on to the field.
Tennessee played a very inspired first half against Oregon before the game got out of control in the second half; in the next game, Tennessee played uninspired ball and almost was upset by UAB 32-29 in overtime.
Which Tennessee team will show up against LSU?
Prediction: The Tigers are too tough to beat at home, 27-10.
Virginia Tech v. No. 23 North Carolina State
The North Carolina State campus is in a frenzy over the Wolfpack's unexpected 4-0 start.
The 23rd-ranked Wolfpack find themselves in the Top 25 for the first time since 2003.
Of course, getting ranked among the top teams is only half the battle; the second half of the battle is staying there such that it becomes a tradition.
North Carolina State has to be careful to avoid getting caught up in the hype that playing in the ACC championship game is now a foregone conclusion.
Virginia Tech is coming to the game looking for some redemption and to reestablish themselves once again among the top ranked teams in the country after being upset by FCS School James Madison earlier in the year.
Prediction: Virginia Tech partially redeems its season with a big win 30-17 over the Wolfpack.
No. 9 Florida v. No. 1 Alabama
The last two seasons when these teams played in December, the winner went on to claim the National Championship.
Losing this game tends to stay with the players on the losing team.
"Ever since that game, it's unexplainable. I wanted it back so bad," Florida linebacker Brandon Hicks said of last December's meeting. "That game hurt so bad because we felt we were good enough, we had the team to win. But we didn't execute everything that we were supposed to and we took it on ourselves that our preparation wasn't right."
"I just remember the year they beat us," said Tide running back Mark Ingram. "All we could think about for an entire year was getting back to that game and playing them again. I'm sure they have the same type of attitude since we beat them. They don't have to wait until the SEC championship. We have them halfway through the season. It's going to be a real intense game."
Prediction: Florida will likely have the bitter taste of defeat to deal with for the rest of the regular season as Alabama takes care of business at home, 31-21.
Washington v. No. 20 USC
This will be the toughest game to this point for USC’s Lane Kiffin, who worked with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian with they both were with the Trojans on former coach Pete Carroll’s staff.
Sarkisian earned a marquee win in his first season with the Huskies with last year's upset, and is aware that USC is eager to return the favor.
"I'm sure there are a couple of other teams on their schedule that they circled too from last year," Sarkisian said. "To me this is the Pac-10 opener and why we play the year and what we are striving for. It's a tremendous challenge."
The challenge for the Huskies will be to forget what happened in their last game.
Jake Locker, Washington’s quarterback, had the worst game in his career connecting on only 4 of his 20 passes for 71 yards in Washington 56-21 loss to then No. 8 Nebraska.
Prediction: Washington an experienced senior quarterback and an extra week of preparation, the Huskies upsets the Trojans 27-24
No. 23 Penn State v. No. 18 Iowa
Iowa bounced back from a painful non-conference loss with an easy victory last week, while Penn State had its hands full for four quarters against Temple, an opponent it has traditionally dominated.
Coach Kirk Ferentz showing deference to coaching legend Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions said earlier in the week, "I'm not sure why they'd be considered the underdog, I'm looking at a team that's won 51 games over five years, one that doesn't give up points."
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Ferentz’s teams are 7-1 against Paterno since 2000.
Or maybe it is because of the strength of Iowa’s defense and the lack of Penn State’s ability to run the ball. Penn State is averaging 160 yards a game on the ground; Iowa’s defense is only allowing 66 yards on the ground and just 228 yards.
Prediction: Penn State’s offensive tackle Lou Eliades is out with a knee injury which means Adrian Clayborn and Iowa’s defensive line is going to have a big game, Iowa exposes Penn State and wins, 31-14.
No. 9 Stanford v. No. 4 Oregon
This match-up will likely be the most entertaining game of the weekend, as both teams feature high powered offenses.
Oregon is averaging a ridiculous 57.8 points a game, generating 560 yards of total offense and 322 yards of rushing.
Stanford need not make any apologies for its offense, as the Cardinal are averaging 48 points a game with a balanced attack that is resulting in more than 220 rushing and passing yards a game.
Stanford’s Andrew Luck passed for 251 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions as Stanford ended their seven-game skid against Oregon with a 51-42 win last year.
Oregon’s LaMichael James is second in the nation with 475 rushing yards this year. James ran for 125 yards and a TD while catching four passes for 89 yards in last season's meeting.
While everybody is going to tune in for the offensive fireworks, don’t forget the defensive side of the ball.
Oregon’s defense is only allowing 11 points a game; Stanford’s defense is only allowing 14 points a game.
Prediction: The winner is positioned well to get to the BCS Championship game, Oregon gets the benefit of doubt being at home in close one 31-27.
No. 19 Michigan v. Indiana
Michigan Quarterback Denard Robinson has been cleared to play and is expected to start against Indiana which is bad news for the Hoosiers.
Robinson leads the nation in rushing with 688 yards and has accounted for 10 touchdowns.
The Wolverines have won the last 16 meetings against Indiana by an average of 21.5 points; though they needed a late TD pass from Tate Forcier to pull out a 36-33 win in Ann Arbor last year.
While Robinson's rushing has sparked the Wolverines' hot start, Ben Chappell’s passing has done the same for the Hoosiers. The senior has thrown nine touchdowns without an interception, and his 296.7 yards per game through the air are tied for 10th in the nation.
Which defense will rise to the occasion? Indiana is allowing 177 rushing yard a game and Michigan’s defense is allowing their opponents to tally 400 yards of total offense a game.
Prediction: Upset? Michigan’s defense will be tested but Robinson should be able to finish off Indiana, 31-21.
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