College Football Picks: Week 9 Predictions for Every Game

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2014

College Football Picks: Week 9 Predictions for Every Game

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    It's a relatively light week in college football, with only 48 games on the schedule between Thursday night and early Sunday morning. And at first glance it doesn't look like a particularly awe-inspiring slate, with only two games pitting ranked teams.

    But we've been down this road before. No matter what things looked like going into a weekend, every one so far this season has been wonderful once it's gone down. That's what we're expecting this time around, too.

    Four unbeatens, but two of them are on the road this week against five-win teams. And several other games will have major impacts on conference and division standings, not to mention all of the contests featuring teams a win away from bowl eligibility.

    Check out our predictions for Week 9 of the 2014 season, as well as our experts' picks for some of the weekend's top game, then give us your guesses in the comments section.

    Last week: 37-16 (.698)

    Season: 371-121 (.754)

Connecticut at No. 18 East Carolina

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    When: Thursday, Oct. 23; 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Connecticut (1-5, 0-3 American) has the third-worst offense in the country, averaging 256.2 yards per game. No running back has reached 200 yards on the season, and switches at quarterback haven't resulted in any production, with the Huskies' lone win coming only because they managed to hold off an FCS team at home.

    East Carolina (5-1, 2-0) ranks third best on offense, gaining 564.7 yards per game behind a senior-laden lineup of skill players led by senior quarterback Shane Carden. He has two big-play receivers in Justin Hardy, who could end up as the all-time FBS receptions leader by season's end, and Isaiah Jones.

    There are few games that are more a mismatch on paper as this one. And with the host Pirates looking like a strong bet to get the group of five's spot in a major bowl game, don't look for any slippage.

    Prediction: East Carolina 48, Connecticut 14

    Final: East Carolina 31, Connecticut 21

Miami (Florida) at Virginia Tech

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    When: Thursday, Oct. 23; 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Trey Edmunds rushed for four touchdowns, and Logan Thomas threw for 366 yards and two scores as Virginia Tech capitalized on a pair of Miami special teams turnovers for a 42-24 road win last November.

    What to watch for

    The ACC Coastal was one of the most wide-open divisions in FBS entering the season, with four of the seven teams getting a good share of votes to win by conference media in July. Yet halfway through the season, two of the top three projected teams are tied for last place and essentially playing an elimination game here.

    Miami (4-3, 1-2 ACC) is 1-3 against power-conference programs, with all of those losses on the road. The Hurricanes offense is far less impressive outside of south Florida, averaging only 20.3 points and 343.7 yards per game, with quarterback Brad Kaaya throwing only five touchdowns against six interceptions on the road.

    The venue hasn't really mattered for Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2), as it's been inconsistent on offense everywhere. The Hokies are averaging only 394.1 yards per game, which ranks 83rd in FBS, and their run game is managing only 3.89 yards per carry. This has prompted some changes up front, according to Norm Wood of the Daily Press.

    "Tech's most prominent offensive adjustments will be on the line, with Wyatt Teller getting his first start at left guard and David Wang shifting from starting left guard to center to replace Caleb Farris," Wood wrote.

    Tech has managed to fare well stopping the run, despite not having defensive tackle Luther Maddy the past three games because of a knee injury. He was expected to be back soon, but Tuesday the school announced Maddy would have surgery and was done for the year. 

    That's one less person trying to stop Miami's Duke Johnson, but he won't be enough for the Hurricanes to win in Blacksburg. 

    Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 20

    Final: Miami 30, Virginia Tech 6

South Florida at Cincinnati

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    When: Friday, Oct. 24; 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: South Florida knocked off visiting Cincinnati 26-20 last October without scoring an offensive touchdown, getting scores on fumble and blocked field-goal returns and four field goals. 

    What to watch for

    South Florida (3-4, 2-1 American) mounted a huge comeback to win at Tulsa last week to surpass last season's victory total, though the Bulls are still suffering from the same offensive problems as a year ago. They average 311.3 yards per game, which is 120th nationally, though freshman running back Marlon Mack has run for at least 100 yards in each win.

    Cincinnati (3-3, 1-1) ended a three-game losing streak by romping at winless SMU last week, with quarterback Gunner Kiel getting back on track. Yet it was the Bearcats' ability to run the ball, gaining 240 yards, that was most promising. For the season they've averaged only 120.2 yards per game.

    Neither team is particularly strong on defense, but Cincinnati's passing acumen gives it a distinct overall edge. 

    Prediction: Cincinnati 40, South Florida 24

    Final: Cincinnati 34, South Florida 17

Troy at South Alabama

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    When: Friday, Oct. 24; 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Eric Thomas caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Corey Robinson with seven seconds left to give Troy a 34-33 home win over South Alabama last October. 

    What to watch for

    Troy (1-6, 1-2 Sun Belt) lost at home last week to Appalachian State, a team that had yet to beat an FBS team this season, and it wasn't close. That's how this year has gone for the Trojans, who are allowing 40.7 points per game and appear destined to miss a bowl for the fourth straight year. 

    South Alabama (4-2, 3-1) is on its way to a possible first bowl bid and could win the Sun Belt as well. The Jaguars' early losses to Mississippi State and Georgia Southern, when their offense was absent, have served as learning lessons, and three straight wins have resulted in an average of 37 points per game. 

    South Alabama gets one game closer to bowl eligibility. 

    Prediction: South Alabama 37, Troy 14

    Final: South Alabama 27, Troy 13

BYU at Boise State

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    When: Friday, Oct. 24; 9 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Taysom Hill had 408 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in BYU's 37-20 home win over Boise State last October. 

    What to watch for

    BYU (4-3) hasn't been the same since Hill was lost for the year with a broken leg. Though it was losing badly to Utah State during that game, his absence has taken a toll on all facets of the Cougars' game. Three straight losses put bowl eligibility into question, even though backup quarterback Christian Stewart is coming off a 408-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in the home loss to Nevada.

    Boise State (5-2, 3-1 MW) needs both quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi to perform well, but that hasn't always happened at the same time. Although Hedrick didn't turn the ball over, he had only 190 passing yards last week in the win over Fresno State, while Ajayi ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Broncos have been up and down this year, mostly because of turnovers, with their 27 giveaways the third-worst total in FBS.

    Hold onto the ball, and Boise wins easily. 

    Prediction: Boise State 41, BYU 24

    Final: Boise State 55, BYU 30

No. 6 Oregon at California

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    When: Friday, Oct. 24; 10 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Oregon jumped out to a 41-0 lead and cruised to a 55-16 home win over California last October. 

    What to watch for

    Oregon (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) has regained its mojo after losing at home to Arizona, winning the past two games convincingly over UCLA and Washington. Its offensive line has become more solid with the return of left tackle Jake Fisher, which has enabled quarterback Marcus Mariota to do his thing without worrying about getting constantly knocked down.

    The Ducks have also seen freshman running back Royce Freeman emerge as a superstar. He had four touchdown runs against Washington last week, and he now sits with 636 yards and 11 TDs for the season.

    Oregon's defense still has some work to do, allowing 448.4 yards per game to rank 101st nationally. That drops to 110th against the pass, which could be troubling when facing Cal's pass attack.

    California (4-3, 2-3) sports the nation's third-best pass offense, with sophomore quarterback Jared Goff throwing for 2,482 yards and 24 touchdowns with only four interceptions in 273 attempts. The Golden Bears have managed at least 31 points in all but one game, topping 50 points three times. 

    This will be a high-scoring affair, and Cal's offense will keep the team in the game. But Oregon's too strong and will win by at least two scores. 

    Prediction: Oregon 41, California 28

    Final: Oregon 59, California 41

UAB at Arkansas

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    UAB (4-3, 2-2 Conference USA) is averaging 477.9 yards per game, thriving in new coach Bill Clark's uptempo offense that is very balanced behind Cody Clements' passing and a run game that has scored 19 rushing touchdowns. The Blazers managed 548 yards and 34 points in a loss to top-ranked Mississippi State. 

    Arkansas (3-4, 0-4 SEC) got roughed up by Georgia last week, its first non-competitive game of the season. The Razorbacks have shown a lot of improvement this year, but haven't been able to turn that into key wins. Their run game has dropped to 18th in FBS after gaining only 215 yards on the ground the last two weeks. 

    Arkansas probably won't get to six wins this season, but it will take this one in a high-scoring affair.

    Prediction: Arkansas 46, UAB 30

    Final: Arkansas 45, UAB 17

Memphis at SMU

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: Garrett Gilbert threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in SMU's 34-29 win at Memphis last October.

    What to watch for

    Memphis (3-3, 1-1 American) has seen its offense improve drastically from last year, but the Tigers' strong defense has faltered in losses to Houston and UCLA. Memphis hasn't managed to put together a win streak this year because of this inconsistency.

    SMU (0-6, 0-2) is the only winless team in the country, bringing an eight-game losing streak into this one. The Mustangs lost their coach, June Jones, to resignation after just two games, and they sport both the country's second-worst offense and worst overall defense.

    The Mustangs may have a winnable game on the schedule later on, but not this one. 

    Prediction: Memphis 31, SMU 14

    Final: Memphis 48, SMU 10

North Carolina at Virginia

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: North Carolina scored on punt and fumble returns in a 45-14 home win over Virginia last November. 

    What to watch for

    North Carolina (3-4, 1-2 ACC) ended a four-game losing streak with a 48-43 home victory over Georgia Tech last week, a game that fit with most of its results this season in which its porous defense couldn't be relied on. The Tar Heels have allowed at least 29 points in every game, and for the year rank 122nd in total defense. 

    That's taken the shine off a big year from quarterback Marquise Williams, who has 2,224 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns.

    Virginia (4-3, 2-1) fell late at Duke last week to join the rest of the Coastal Division with at least one ACC loss. The Cavaliers scored a season-low 13 points despite quarterback Matt Johns throwing for a season-high 325 yards. 

    Virginia has played much better at home, winning its last four in Charlottesville. Carolina has won the last four meetings in the game known as "The South's Oldest Rivalry," but Virginia takes this one.

    Prediction: Virginia 34, North Carolina 20

    Final: North Carolina 28, Virginia 27

Texas at No. 11 Kansas State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: Johnathan Gray ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns in Texas' 31-21 home win over Kansas State last September.

    What to watch for

    Texas (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) just had its best offensive performance of the season, but also saw its normally strong defense give up 45 points and 524 yards at home in a win over lowly Iowa State. Not the best situation to be in heading on the road against a hot Kansas State team coming off a big win of its own.

    The Longhorns are slowly making strides under first-year coach Charlie Strong, but this past game was a step back for their best unit. 

    Kansas State (5-1, 3-0) pulled out a win at Oklahoma thanks to some poor kicking by the home team, but describing the victory as lucky would be taking away from what the Wildcats accomplished. They won thanks to big plays on defense, efficient offense and minimal mistakes, a formula that's borne out in five of six games.

    K-State's lone loss, by six points to Auburn, saw it unable to avoid miscues and have offensive balance. This will be its biggest challenge in terms of the opponent's defense, as Texas has 23 sacks and 46 tackles for loss.

    Look for the home team to get its sixth win in the last seven meetings with Texas and remain atop the Big 12 standings.

    Prediction: Kansas State 28, Texas 17

    Final: Kansas State 23, Texas 0

Minnesota at Illinois

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: Donnell Kirkwood ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota's 17-3 win at Illinois in November 2012. 

    What to watch for

    Minnesota (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) had to rally late to beat Purdue at home, but being able to make the late comeback shows how much this Golden Gophers team has come. Despite injuries on both sides of the ball and a weak passing game, they've managed to come out ahead except for when they were blown out at TCU.

    David Cobb has led the way on the ground, rushing for 1,013 yards, part of a run game that's averaging 222.4 yards per game with 16 touchdowns.

    Illinois (3-4, 0-3) is the fourth-worst rushing defense team in the nation, giving up 271.4 yards per game, which doesn't bode well for an upset bid here. The Fighting Illini have won only one Big Ten game in its last 25 dating back to October 2011. The continued shake-ups at quarterback because of injuries and effectiveness have sapped them of any offensive consistency.

    Illinois will put up a fight but won't be able to take this one.

    Prediction: Minnesota 30, Illinois 26

    Final: Illinois 28, Minnesota 24

Maryland at Wisconsin

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Maryland (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) rallied to beat Iowa last week, but injuries again got in the way of having a complete game. Quarterback C.J. Brown has suffered numerous ailments, and with backup Caleb Rowe done for the year the Terrapins are becoming thin again.

    Ranked 102nd overall in total defense and 104th against the run, Maryland can't afford to get slowed down when it has the ball.

    Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) sports the nation's top running back in Melvin Gordon, who is averaging an FBS-best 174.3 yards per game and accounts for more than half of the country's No. 2-rated run game. But Gordon needs to get more help from the Badgers' passing game, which manages only 141 yards per game and has seen both Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave struggle.

    The Badgers have played to the level of competition during most games this season, and with their biggest opponents yet to come, the team will look to this matchup to get more balanced. Expect big numbers from Gordon, but also more of an emphasis on effective passing.

    Prediction: Wisconsin 40, Maryland 24

    Final: Wisconsin 52, Maryland 7

Rutgers at No. 16 Nebraska

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Rutgers (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten) continues its tough slate of opening opponents during its first run through the conference, following a blowout loss at Ohio State with a trip to the westernmost Big Ten school. The Scarlet Knights began the season with a big win when heading west, but that was Washington State.

    Gary Nova threw for only 192 yards last week against the Buckeyes. In three Big Ten games he now has tossed six interceptions with only three touchdown passes. He's the main piece of the Knights offense, and when he struggles Rutgers can't move the ball. 

    Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) looked sharp at Northwestern last week and now returns home knowing that the West Division is up for the taking with every team sporting a loss. Ameer Abdullah had four rushing touchdowns, and he now has scored 14 times on the ground and 16 times overall.

    Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the Cornhuskers' X-factor, though, because when he struggles the offense isn't as efficient. He's tallied 2,028 yards of total offense, and as long as he can avoid Rutgers' decent front seven, he'll have a big game.

    Nebraska wins its fifth home game in as many tries this season. 

    Prediction: Nebraska 38, Rutgers 20

    Final: Nebraska 42, Rutgers 24

North Texas at Rice

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; noon ET

    Last meeting: Antoinne Jimmerson scored rushing and receiving touchdowns in North Texas' 28-16 home win over Rice last October.

    What to watch for

    North Texas (2-5, 0-3 Conference USA) has lost three straight, dropping its last four games against FBS teams, as its defense has broken down and allowed 32 points per game. The Mean Green have failed to pass the ball well and are averaging 18.6 points per game in their losses.

    Rice (3-3, 1-1) has won three in a row since a disastrous start, and the defending C-USA champs are starting to play like a team that has a chance to repeat. The Owls have averaged 38 points per game over their last four, and the defense has given up only 308.3 yards per game during the win streak.

    Rice has lost twice at home this season but will handle North Texas without much trouble.

    Prediction: Rice 33, North Texas 20

    Final: Rice 41, North Texas 21

Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 1 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Jordan Lynch had 322 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in Northern Illinois' 59-20 home win last October.

    What to watch for

    Northern Illinois (5-2, 2-1 Mid-American) continued its recent struggles by having to outlast lowly Miami (Ohio) in a shootout at home last week. The Huskies have traded wins and losses since a 3-0 start, and though they ran for 433 yards, their defense was shredded. The run game has been NIU's strongest suit, ranking 16th at 260.4 yards per game.

    Eastern Michigan (2-5, 1-2) failed to top 14 points for the fifth time this season in a loss at Massachusetts last week, with quarterback Reginald Bell Jr. managing only 40 rushing yards after rushing for 202 the game before. Bell has been the lone offensive bright spot for the Eagles, while their defense has given up at least 537 yards in each of the last three games.

    Playing at home won't change the outcome for Eastern Michigan.

    Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Eastern Michigan 21

    Final: Northern Illinois 28, Eastern Michigan 17

San Jose State at Navy

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 1 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Navy's Keenan Reynolds set the FBS record for rushing TDs by a quarterback in one game, scoring seven times on the ground in a 58-52 triple-overtime win at San Jose State last November.

    What to watch for

    San Jose State (3-3) earned a big overtime win at Wyoming last week, its first away from home this season. Joe Gray had all three of the Spartans' touchdowns, throwing two TD passes and running for a score in his best performance since taking over as starter three games ago.

    Navy (3-4) was off last week, giving Reynolds extra time to heal from mounting injuries. He didn't play in the Midshipmen's last game, against FCS opponent VMI, and also missed the game at Texas State, but he told Bill Wagner of The Baltimore Sun, "I'll be where I need to be on Saturday."

    Having Reynolds around makes this a much more likely win for Navy, which plays Notre Dame next week and needs three more wins to lock up a spot in the Poinsettia Bowl.

    Prediction: Navy 31, San Jose State 21

    Final: Navy 41, San Jose State 31

Ohio at Western Michigan

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tim Hiller threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns in Western Michigan's 41-20 win over Ohio in October 2008.

    What to watch for

    Ohio (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American) has one of the worst turnover margins in the country, but a late fumble recovery last week sparked a 23-20 home win over Akron. That ended a two-game losing streak and kept the Bobcats in contention for a sixth straight bowl game.

    Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1) could be on its way to a bowl itself, a year after going 1-11, as its young stars are coming into their own. Freshman running back Jarvion Franklin, the FBS leader in rushing touchdowns with 16, ran for 149 yards and a score in an upset win at Bowling Green last week.

    Most MAC games have been a toss-up this season, but Western Michigan is playing with momentum and will be playing just its third home game of the year. Look for the Broncos to triumph.

    Prediction: Western Michigan 33, Ohio 21

    Final: Western Michigan 42, Ohio 21

Massachusetts at Toledo

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Toledo beat Massachusetts 24-3 in 1999, when UMass was an FCS program.

    What to watch for

    Massachusetts (2-6, 2-2 Mid-American) is riding a two-game win streak, its first ever since moving into the FBS in 2012. The Minutemen have averaged 39.8 points per game over its last four, with Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel thriving at quarterback by tossing 18 touchdown passes against just six interceptions this season.

    Toledo (4-3, 3-0) is the only team in the MAC yet to lose in conference play, but those victories have come by only 8.7 points per game. Running back Kareem Hunt has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, and he had rushed for 100-plus yards in every game before that.

    The Rockets won't need Hunt to beat UMass, but it would make it a lot easier.

    Prediction: Toledo 41, Massachusetts 27

    Final: Toledo 42, Massachusetts 35

Akron at Ball State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Keith Wenning threw five touchdown passes in Ball State's 42-24 win at Akron last October.

    What to watch for

    Akron (4-3, 2-1 Mid-American) stumbled late and lost at Ohio last week, ending a three-game win streak. The Zips have held all but one of its opponents to 20 points or less this season, and give up only 4.99 yards per play.

    Ball State (2-5, 1-2) pulled off a surprise by winning at Central Michigan last week, its first victory against an FBS team this season. The Cardinals took advantage of five turnovers and still needed a 55-yard field goal from Scott Secor with 17 seconds left to secure the 32-29 triumph.

    Akron hasn't defeated the Cardinals since 2004, and this looks to be the year to break that skid.

    Prediction: Akron 27, Ball State 21

    Final: Ball State 35, Akron 16

Georgia Southern at Georgia State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    The first meeting between Georgia's two newest FBS programs finds them going in opposite directions, with Georgia Southern looking like its transition from the FCS ranks was no sweat.

    Georgia Southern (5-2, 4-0 Sun Belt) has two close losses on the road to ACC teams, otherwise it would be unbeaten this season. The Eagles' run game leads the nation with 370 yards per game, with Matt Breida's 831 yards and eight touchdowns leading the way.

    Georgia State (1-6, 0-4) won its opener over FCS Abilene Christian and has dropped six straight, still without a win over an FBS school in its second year at this level. The Panthers have lost three of those games by only a field goal, yet have also allowed at least 30 points in every outing this season.

    The newcomers will beat down on the home team.

    Prediction: Georgia Southern 41, Georgia State 21

    Final: Georgia 69, Georgia State 31

No. 25 UCLA at Colorado

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 2 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Brett Hundley had 345 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in UCLA's 45-23 home win over Colorado last November.

    What to watch for

    UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) narrowly avoided a three-game losing streak by outlasting California on the road. The Bruins haven't been the same since destroying Arizona State on the road, losing at home to Utah and Oregon despite quarterback Brett Hundley doing whatever he can to lead them on the field.

    Hundley has managed 2,161 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns despite getting sacked 24 times. UCLA has also gotten strong running from Paul Perkins, who has 813 yards and at least 80 every game but injured his wrist late last week and could be limited at Colorado.

    Colorado (2-5, 0-4) is the only winless team in Pac-12 play, and after coming close against Oregon State and California was destroyed on the road at USC last week. The Buffaloes have one of the best receivers in the country in Nelson Spruce, who leads FBS in receptions (71) and touchdowns (11), but he's not able to help them overcome a poor defense.

    The Buffaloes give up 6.4 yards per play and haven't been that successful getting to the quarterback. Look for UCLA to pile up the points for the win.

    Prediction: UCLA 41, Colorado 21

    Final: UCLA 40, California 37 (2 OT)

Kent State at Miami (Ohio)

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 2:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Kent State ran for 300 yards in a 24-6 home win over Miami last November.

    What to watch for

    Kent State (1-6, 0-3 Mid-American) got its first win of the season last week, knocking off Army. The Golden Flashes' 39 points were 22 more than they'd scored in any previous game, and for the year they've managed just 15.7 points per contest.

    Miami (1-7, 1-3) ended a 21-game losing streak earlier this season, and last week they put up 41 points at defending MAC regular-season champ Northern Illinois. The RedHawks have gotten 2,477 passing yards and 19 touchdowns from quarterback Andrew Hendrix, but their defense has given up 35 points per game.

    Miami is the more explosive team and will get its second win of the season.

    Prediction: Miami 40, Kent State 30

    Final: Miami 10, Kent State 3

Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Robert Godhigh had two rushing touchdowns in Georgia Tech's 21-10 home win over Pittsburgh last November.

    What to watch for

    Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2 ACC) has dropped two straight, losing 48-43 last week at struggling North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets defense has fallen off of late, forcing their offense to break from the traditional option run game to throw more in an effort to keep pace.

    Quarterback Justin Thomas threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns against UNC, and he's also the leading rusher of an attack that averages 306.3 yards per game. Thomas' 10 TD passes have almost matched Tech's total (12) for all of last season.

    Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-1) slugged its way to a 21-16 win over Virginia Tech last Thursday, ending a three-game losing streak to remain in the hunt in the muddled Coastal Division. The Panthers have sputtered on offense, averaging only 17.5 points per game over the last four, but James Conner continues to run hard and has 959 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Pitt's defense is 18th against the run, allowing 112.1 yards per game. Stopping Tech's option game is the key to victory, which is how the Panthers will get it done.

    Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Georgia Tech 21

    Final: Georgia Tech 56, Pittsburgh 28

Central Michigan at Buffalo

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Dan LeFevour threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns in Central Michigan's 20-13 win at Buffalo in October 2009.

    What to watch for

    Central Michigan (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American) lost at home to Ball State last week on a late field goal, despite dominating statistically. Losing five turnovers negated those efforts, and for the year the Chippewas have turned it over 16 times.

    Buffalo (3-4, 1-2) will be playing its first game under interim coach Alex Wood, who replaced Jeff Quinn following his termination on Oct. 13. The Bulls are 1-4 against FBS opponents this season, and they are allowing 35 points per game.

    Buffalo should be motivated to play hard for its new coach, but Central Michigan is the better team. If it can hold onto the ball, it will win running away.

    Prediction: Central Michigan 34, Buffalo 21

    Final: Central Michigan 20, Buffalo 14

Oregon State at Stanford

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tyler Gaffney ran for 145 yards and three touchdowns in Stanford's 20-12 win at Oregon State last October.

    What to watch for

    Oregon State (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) lost in double overtime at home to Utah last time out, failing to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Beavers offense hasn't been very explosive this year, with quarterback Sean Mannion's numbers way down.

    Mannion moved into second on the Pac-12's career passing list with 12,012 yards, but this season he's tossed only seven touchdown passes after throwing 37.

    Stanford (4-3, 2-2) remains one of the most anemic offensive teams in the country, managing just 10 points for the second time this season in a loss at Arizona State. The Cardinal average 5.79 yards per play, which ranks 57th, but in the red zone it converts only 66.7 percent of the time and has just 14 touchdowns in 30 red-zone possessions.

    The Cardinal defense has carried it so far, and it will keep Oregon State from establishing any sort of rhythm. This game might not top 40 total points.

    Prediction: Stanford 24, Oregon State 10

    Final: Stanford 38, Oregon State 14

Florida Atlantic at No. 23 Marshall

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Marshall rallied from down nine points midway through the fourth quarter, getting a 41-yard field goal from Justin Haig as time expired to win 24-23 at Florida Atlantic last October. 

    What to watch for

    Florida Atlantic (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) has lost its four road games by an average of 29.5 points, managing only 36 points of its own in those trips away from Boca Raton. The Owls have gotten 1,600 yards of total offense and 15 touchdowns from quarterback Jaquez Johnson, but he's just 39-of-92 with one TD pass on the road.

    Marshall (7-0, 3-0) sports arguably the most balanced offense in the country, averaging 284.7 rushing yards and 290.1 passing yards. Devon Johnson has rushed for 931 yards and 11 touchdowns, but what drives the Thundering Herd's powerful offense is senior quarterback Rakeem Cato.

    Cato set the FBS record for consecutive games throwing a touchdown pass last week, a mark that stands at 39. He has 110 in his career, passing Russell Wilson for 14th on the all-time FBS list. 

    He's apt to move further up that list with a big game against Florida Atlantic as the Herd remain undefeated and unchallenged.

    Prediction: Marshall 44, Florida Atlantic 20

    Final: Marshall 35, Florida Atlantic 16

Louisiana Tech at Southern Mississippi

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Kenneth Dixon ran for 207 yards and a touchdown in Louisiana Tech's 36-13 home win last November.

    What to watch for

    Louisiana Tech (4-3, 3-0 Conference USA) has saved its best performances for league play, holding its three C-USA foes to 14.7 points per game. Skip Holtz has gotten balanced production on offense, with Cody Sokol throwing 14 touchdown passes and Dixon scoring nine times on the ground.

    Southern Mississippi (3-4, 1-2) is unbeaten when holding its opponents to 20 points or less, as it did last week at North Texas. The Golden Eagles have already tripled last year's win total, but outside of quarterback Nick Mullens' 1,909 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, their offense hasn't done much.

    Facing a defense that gives up 226.3 rushing yards per game, look for Dixon to run wild and Louisiana Tech to remain in control of the West Division.

    Prediction: Louisiana Tech 31, Southern Mississippi 17

    Final: Louisiana Tech 31, Southern Mississippi 20

Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Michigan State held visiting Michigan to minus-48 rushing yards in a 29-6 win last November.

    What to watch for

    Michigan (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) was off last week after ending a three-game losing streak with a sluggish home win over Penn State. The Wolverines have failed to mount much of an attack outside of games against non-power opponents, averaging just 272 yards and topping 14 points just once.

    Devin Gardner will be the quarterback again, even with Shane Morris fully recovered from head and ankle injuries. Gardner has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions this season.

    Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) has won with big offense the past two weeks, instead of relying on its defense to win games. The formula is starting to resemble last season, when the Spartans offense slowly improved as the year went along behind Connor Cook's quarterback play and strong running.

    But MSU is still first and foremost a defensively stout team, ranking ninth overall at 294.1 yards allowed per game. Michigan has had good defensive numbers, too, but without an offense to match, this should be a runaway win for the Spartans.

    Prediction: Michigan State 30, Michigan 14

    Final: Michigan State 35, Michigan 11

No. 22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Clint Trickett threw for 309 yards and a touchdown, and West Virginia forced three turnovers that included an interception return for a TD in a 30-21 home win over Oklahoma State last September.

    What to watch for

    West Virginia (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) has won three straight, the last a textbook dismantling of Baylor's potent offense in a 41-27 home victory. The Mountaineers have already faced three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time of kickoff, losing to Alabama and Oklahoma by a combined 22 points before getting the better of the Bears.

    As big as that win was, coach Dana Holgorsen is trying to keep his team grounded and not treat itself like champions just because of one upset, according to Cam Huffman of The Register-Herald.

    "I told them this wasn't the Super Bowl," Holgorsen said. "The season's not over."

    Now comes trying to win on the road against a strong opponent, something West Virginia hasn't managed since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers are 4-6 in the conference on the road since 2012.

    Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1) poses a strong challenge, despite coming off a game in which its own solid offense was stifled in a 42-9 loss at TCU. That was the Cowboys' worst showing under coach Mike Gundy since getting shut out by Oklahoma in November 2009. 

    Quarterback Daxx Garman's production has dipped the past two weeks, completing only 27 of 56 passes for 293 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in those games. And with a run game that's struggled to average only 150.9 yards per game, the Cowboys need the passing attack to be there. 

    West Virginia could be in line for a letdown after the big Baylor win, but senior quarterback Trickett has been consistent all season and will prevent that from happening. The Mountaineers will take this one.

    Prediction: West Virginia 35, Oklahoma State 27

    Final: West Virginia 34, Oklahoma State 10

Texas Tech at No. 10 TCU

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Bradley Marquez's 19-yard touchdown catch from Davis Webb with 3:48 left fueled a 20-10 home with for Texas Tech over TCU last September.

    What to watch for

    Texas Tech (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) struggled to beat lowly Kansas last week, but it still managed to get into the win column after dropping four in a row. The Red Raiders are giving up 36.9 points per game, and during their losing streak yielded 44 points per contest while managing only 27.5.

    Webb has been inconsistent at quarterback, throwing 22 touchdown passes but getting intercepted 12 times. He's been picked off at least once in six of seven games.

    TCU (5-1, 2-1) destroyed a solid Oklahoma State team last week, dominating on both sides of the ball and in no way showing any hangover from its loss to Baylor. The Horned Frogs have managed 537.7 yards per game, which is seventh best in the country, mostly because of Trevone Boykin's emergence as a top-tier passer.

    The Frogs' defense, aside from the shootout loss to Baylor, has been as strong as ever. It's forced 17 turnovers and allowed 275 yards per game in its five wins.

    TCU is the more complete team and will win handily.

    Prediction: TCU 44, Texas Tech 17

    Final: TCU 82, Texas Tech 27

Boston College at Wake Forest

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Andre Williams ran for 204 yards and a touchdown in Boston College's 24-10 home win over Wake Forest last September.

    What to watch for

    Boston College (4-3, 1-2 ACC) has been a strong running team all year thanks to the mobility of quarterback Tyler Murphy, but when he can't get going the Eagles have nothing else. That was the case last week in a home loss to Clemson, when Murphy was held to 55 rushing yards and BC scored a season-low 13 points.

    Wake Forest (2-5, 0-2) doesn't have the same problem, because it just can't run the ball at all. The Demon Deacons are last nationally in rushing, at 36.7 yards per game, and have scored once on the ground. The passing game isn't much better, and as a result Wake hasn't topped 24 points this season and has managed only 20 points during a three-game losing streak.

    Wake doesn't stop the run well, which can be problematic in this matchup. Look for Boston College to churn out a lot of yards and get the victory.

    Prediction: Boston College 27, Wake Forest 17

    Final: Boston College 23, Wake Forest 17

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 3:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Dak Prescott had 301 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in Mississippi State's 28-22 home win over Kentucky last October. 

    What to watch for

    Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0 SEC) has looked almost as good in its two road games as when playing in Starkville, jumping out to big early leads at South Alabama and LSU to eliminate any chance of the home team pulling off a comeback. The Bulldogs nearly gave it away late at LSU and have shown a tendency to slack off in the fourth quarter after getting comfortable.

    Prescott hasn't had to do much in the final period because of what he's accomplished earlier in games. A strong Heisman contender, Prescott has amassed 2,054 yards of total offense with 22 total touchdowns, making pretty much every big play he's needed to. Add in Josh Robinson and his seven-yards-per-carry average and eight rushing TDs, and MSU has been unstoppable on offense.

    Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) got blown out at LSU last week, stifling all of its momentum in what so far has been a breakthrough year for the Wildcats. It was the first time they faced a true hostile environment, and the young team failed.

    Mark Stoops has something going in Lexington, and Kentucky will play tough. But MSU will head into November without a loss. 

    Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Kentucky 21

    Final: Mississippi State 45, Kentucky 31

Vanderbilt at Missouri

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 4 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: James Franklin threw four touchdown passes in Missouri's 51-28 win at Vanderbilt last October.

    What to watch for

    Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-4 SEC) has wins by a combined four points over an FBS doormat and an FCS team, otherwise the Commodores would be staring at a winless season. Little has gone right in Derek Mason's first year, as his offense is fourth worst nationally at 269.7 yards gained per game.

    Missouri (5-2, 2-1) has had a very strange past two games, getting shut out at home by Georgia and then blowing out Florida in The Swamp despite managing only 119 yards of offense. Two defensive touchdowns and two special teams scores fueled the 42-13 romp, but that masked what's been a downward trend for the Tigers' offense.

    Mizzou has gotten only 117 passing yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions the last two games from quarterback Maty Mauk, yet he's likely to have a big game because of the opponent.

    Prediction: Missouri 45, Vanderbilt 13

    Final: Missouri 24, Vanderbilt 14

Old Dominion at Western Kentucky

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 4 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: None

    What to watch for

    Old Dominion (3-4, 1-3 Conference USA) has dropped three in a row after opening its first year of C-USA play with a win at defending champ Rice. The Monarchs' defense has been blitzed during that streak, allowing 46.3 points per game, while senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke has thrown for only 281 yards the last two contests.

    Western Kentucky (2-4, 0-3) has been very bad in league play, giving up 45.7 points per game in C-USA matchups. That's prevented the Hilltoppers from winning despite a prolific offense led by quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has 2,500 passing yards and 19 touchdowns.

    With four of its last six at home, all against teams it should beat, Western Kentucky is still in line to make a bowl game. It can't afford to drop another, though, so look for renewed focus.

    Prediction: Western Kentucky 50, Old Dominion 43

    Final: Western Kentucky 66, Old Dominion 51

UNLV at Utah State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 4 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Bruce Natson's 12-yard touchdown run with 3:56 left gave Utah State a 28-24 win at UNLV last November.

    What to watch for

    UNLV (2-5, 1-2 Mountain West) hasn't played since knocking off Fresno State in overtime on Oct. 10, its first win over an FBS team all season. The Runnin' Rebels have managed only 18.7 points per game, while allowing 37.

    Utah State (4-3, 1-1) is down to its third quarterback after Darell Garretson suffered a wrist injury in the loss at Colorado State last week. That's after Chuckie Keeton reinjured his surgically repaired knee in September and was lost for the season, and third-stringer Craig Harrison was just 5-of-12 for 28 yards in relief last week.

    The Aggies should get by with Harrison this week, because of UNLV's deficiencies, but beyond that this season could be getting away from them if the injuries continue to mount.

    Prediction: Utah State 27, UNLV 14

    Final: Utah State 34, UNLV 20

No. 15 Arizona at Washington State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 5 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Connor Halliday threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns in Washington State's 24-17 road upset of Arizona last November. 

    What to watch for

    Arizona (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) is coming off a bye week that followed its first loss of the season, at home to USC. The Wildcats rallied late, something they've done a few times this season, but missed a field goal in the final minute to negate the comeback.

    Quarterback Anu Solomon has been tremendous in his redshirt freshman season, throwing for 2,136 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he's had to throw 278 times as Arizona's struggled with injuries at running back. The Wildcats have had three different leading rushers for a single game, yet the team is still averaging 199.5 rushing yards per game.

    Washington State (2-5, 1-3) is the most offensively lopsided team in the country, passing the ball on 440 of 573 offensive snaps. Halliday is averaging 62.6 attempts per game, but he's thrown for 3,344 yards and 28 touchdowns and earlier this season set the FBS record for passing yards in a game with 734.

    If Halliday struggles, WSU has nothing, as it ranks second to last nationally in rushing at 44.7 yards per game. Don't look for that to change, as Arizona is 109th against the pass. 

    Washington State has been in every game this season, and that trend will continue, but Arizona comes out on top.

    Prediction: Arizona 38, Washington State 33

    Final: Arizona 59, Washington State 37

Temple at UCF

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 5 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: UCF scored 10 points in the final 1:06, getting a 23-yard field goal from Shawn Moffitt as time expired to win 39-36 at Temple last November.

    What to watch for

    Temple (4-2, 2-1 American) was blown out 31-10 at Houston last week, its worst effort of the season. The Owls are ninth in scoring defense, at 17.2 points per game, but in their last two games they've given up 55 total points.

    UCF (4-2, 2-0) has won four in a row despite an offense that's struggling to get any momentum going. The Knights are 123rd in total offense, at 289.8 yards per game, and last week managed only 233 yards in a 20-13 home win over Tulane.

    UCF's defense has been there all year, though, giving up only 14 per game during the win streak. This will be a very low-scoring game, with UCF moving to 11-0 as a member of the American Athletic Conference.

    Prediction: UCF 20, Temple 17

    Final: UCF 34, Temple 14

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Tajh Boyd threw for 455 yards and five touchdowns in Clemson's 49-14 win at Syracuse last October. 

    What to watch for

    Syracuse (3-4, 1-2 ACC) ended a four-game losing streak with a 30-7 win at Wake Forest last week but will face a much tougher road test this time around. The Orange have had to learn to move the ball without injured quarterback Terrel Hunt, with backup AJ Long and a rotation of running backs doing their best to get the job done. 

    Clemson (5-2, 4-1) has had its own offensive struggles since losing quarterback Deshaun Watson to injury, and now with leading rusher Adam Choice done for the year with a knee injury, the options are even more limited.

    Thankfully, the Tigers have a defense that can win games practically by itself. That unit has allowed only 30 points in the last three games and for the year is fifth in yards allowed at 282.7 per game.

    Clemson's defense will dominate, and the Tigers will win their fifth straight.

    Prediction: Clemson 29, Syracuse 10

    Final: Clemson 16, Syracuse 6

Wyoming at Colorado State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Kapri Bibbs ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-22 win at Wyoming last October.

    What to watch for

    Wyoming (3-4, 1-2 Mountain West) has dropped three in a row, the last two in league play. The Cowboys blew a lead at Hawaii and then fell in overtime at home to San Jose State. For the year, they have yet to top 28 points.

    Colorado State (6-1, 2-1) has won five in a row, edging Utah State last week on a late field goal. The Rams have held opponents to 24 or fewer points in their six victories, while their offense has great balance with quarterback Garrett Grayson, running back Dee Hart and big-play receiver Rashard Higgins.

    Higgins has amassed 559 yards and six touchdowns the last three games, becoming an unstoppable force. And with Wyoming having the distinction of being the only team in the FBS yet to record an interception, it could be in for a long afternoon.

    Prediction: Colorado State 34, Wyoming 14

    Final: Colorado State 45, Wyoming 31

UTEP at UTSA

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Three different UTSA players ran for touchdowns in a 32-13 win at UTEP last September.

    What to watch for

    UTEP (3-3, 1-1 Conference USA) has a good running back in sophomore Aaron Jones, who has 762 yards and seven touchdowns but no scores in the past three games. The Miners have struggled to throw the ball this season, and their defense has given up 37.7 points per game.

    UTSA (2-5, 1-2) lost by a touchdown at Louisiana Tech last week, its fifth loss in six games. The Roadrunners' offense has been absent most of the year, averaging 20.7 points and 316.1 yards per game.

    Bad defense usually matters more than bad offense, and UTSA's defense isn't too bad. That gives the home team the edge.

    Prediction: UTSA 29, UTEP 21

    Final: UTEP 34, UTSA 0

Texas State at Louisiana-Monroe

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Centarius Donald scored on a 10-yard run with 18 seconds left in Louisiana-Monroe's 21-14 win at Texas State last October.

    What to watch for

    Texas State (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) missed out on a great opportunity to show off its program during a Tuesday night ESPN telecast last week, losing 34-10 at home to defending conference champ Louisiana-Lafayette. The Bobcats were averaging more than 38 points per game coming in, and their running game that averages 232.2 yards per game was stifled.

    Louisiana-Monroe (3-3, 2-1) has lost two in a row, the last in a nonconference game at Kentucky, but both had the same trend: no offense for the WarHawks. ULM is averaging 17.5 points per game, and it manages only 2.57 yards per carry on the ground.

    Monroe's defense has fallen off of late, but look for the home team to regroup and keep the score low.

    Prediction: Louisiana-Monroe 27, Texas State 21

    Final: Texas State 22, Louisiana-Monroe 18

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7:15 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Ole Miss got a 41-yard field goal from Andrew Ritter with two seconds left for a 27-24 home win over LSU last October. 

    What to watch for

    Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0 SEC) has had one of the most impressive defenses in the country this season, a unit known as the Landsharks that has carried it past all of its tough opponents. The Rebels' ability to slow down high-powered offenses and convert takeaways into points has been exceptional to watch this year.

    A plus-10 turnover margin has been fueled by 15 interceptions, seven alone by Senquez Golson. He is one of three Rebels to have returned a pick for a TD, and Keith Lewis also has a fumble return for a score. That kind of defensive support has helped make an otherwise mediocre offense not be an issue yet.

    Ole Miss is allowing 290.6 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the country, while its scoring defense of 10.6 points per game is No. 1 overall. 

    LSU (6-2, 2-2) has been similarly defense-driven, ranking 14th in yards allowed (318.8) and eighth in points allowed (16.6). The Tigers have a pair of losses, though, because their offense hasn't consistently produced, as neither sophomore Anthony Jennings nor freshman Brandon Harris has provided strong quarterback play.

    The run game has been gaining traction. It is averaging 220.9 yards per game, with true freshman Leonard Fournette the top rusher at 544 yards with seven touchdowns. 

    The Tigers have looked better their past two games, averaging 35.5 points and coming off a 41-3 win over Kentucky after starting 0-2 in SEC play. 

    "I think what's happening is this football team's coming together," LSU coach Les Miles told Glenn Guilbeau of The Times. "The time is kind of right for that.

    LSU has already lost at home once this season, to Mississippi State, and hasn't had two home losses in one year since 2008. That's the last time Ole Miss won in Baton Rouge, but this time home cooking will win out. 

    Prediction: LSU 23, Ole Miss 20

    Final: LSU 10, Ole Miss 7

South Carolina at No. 5 Auburn

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Philip Lutzenkirchen caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Barrett Trotter with 1:38 left to give Auburn a 16-13 upset win at South Carolina in October 2011.

    What to watch for

    South Carolina (4-3, 2-3 SEC) is having one of the most disappointing seasons of any team that was expected to be a contender in 2013. The Gamecocks have two notable wins on the season, as the only team to knock off East Carolina and Georgia, yet they've also lost to Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M.

    A perceived strength, the running game, has averaged 185.4 yards per game but hasn't been used as much as expected. Instead, quarterback Dylan Thompson has carried much of the load, though he's struggled with consistency.

    Auburn (5-1, 2-1) was off last week, giving it more time to figure out how to fix what went wrong the previous game at Mississippi State. The Tigers have been mostly good holding onto the ball, but they turned it over four times against the Bulldogs.

    Nick Marshall's passing numbers are improving, but they haven't been what was expected this season. Auburn is also rushing for less, averaging 5.55 yards per carry compared with 6.3 a year ago.

    This looked like a much more challenging game when the season began, but it now might serve as one of the few remaining breathers on the Tigers' rigorous schedule. Look for Auburn to try to pour it on against the vulnerable Gamecocks.

    Prediction: Auburn 37, South Carolina 21

    Final: Auburn 42, South Carolina 35

No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 7:30 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: T.J. Yeldon had three rushing touchdowns in Alabama's 45-10 home win over Tennessee last October.

    What to watch for

    Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC) put forth its most dominant performance of the year last week, annihilating Texas A&M 59-0 at home to reverse a recent trend of poor offensive performances. The Crimson Tide scored on their first eight possessions and shut down a potent Aggies attack, getting back on track in the wake of criticism about not winning big enough. 

    Now they get to visit Knoxville, where offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin spent one notorious season as Tennessee's coach before skipping town to take over USC after the 2009 campaign. 

    Tennessee (3-4, 0-3) fans will be motivated by such an arrival, but with the Volunteers still looking to put together a winning performance against a key opponent, there's no room for distractions on the field. 

    "For Tennessee, that task is bouncing back from its worst loss of the season, a 34-3 rout at third-ranked Ole Miss, in time to regroup for a Tide team coming off a 59-0 blitz of the Aggies," wrote Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

    The Vols have scored only 12 points in their last two SEC games and for the year rank 116th nationally in total offense. 

    While it would make for a great story if Tennessee were to upset Alabama and give coach Butch Jones his biggest win yet, that's just not very likely.

    Prediction: Alabama 30, Tennessee 13

    Final: Alabama 34, Tennessee 20

No. 13 Ohio State at Penn State

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 8 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Carlos Hyde ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns and Ohio State terrorized Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in a 63-14 home win last October. 

    What to watch for

    Ohio State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) has been on a roll of offensive dominance since sputtering at home and losing to Virginia Tech in the second game of the season. The Buckeyes have averaged 56 points per game during their four-game win streak and have rarely been tested by opponents as they seem to score at will.

    Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett might have worked his way into the Heisman race with his play during the run. He's up to 1,615 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, along with 383 rushing yards and four scores, accounting for 62.4 percent of OSU's offense.

    He's benefited from facing a group of opponents that aren't that strong defensively, however. Penn State will change that, as will the road atmosphere of playing in Happy Valley at night.

    "The last two weeks, we haven't played as good offensively up front as we expect," OSU coach Urban Meyer told Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, this despite both games resulting in 50-plus points and more than 500 yards. "That will really surface this week. We have to play better on the offensive line than we did Saturday."

    Penn State (4-2, 1-2) has been far better on defense than on offense, as the Nittany Lions rank sixth in the country by allowing only 283.3 yards per game. The most any team has gained against them was 361 yards, by Northwestern.           

    Yet PSU hasn't fully benefited from this because of an offense that has been almost nonexistent, averaging 375.5 yards and only 21.2 points per game. It's scored only 32 points in three Big Ten games, failing to top 300 yards in back-to-back losses.

    Ohio State's defense has been buckling down of late, and isn't the best unit for Penn State to try and break through against. And that Buckeyes offense doesn't look like it's going to slow down any time soon.

    Prediction: Ohio State 31, Penn State 19

    Final: Ohio State 31, Penn State 24 (2 OT)

No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah

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    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 10 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: USC held visiting Utah to 201 yards and forced four turnovers in a 19-3 win last October.

    What to watch for

    USC (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12) has lost a game where it gave up over 400 rushing yards and another when it fell on a last-second Hail Mary. Offense hasn't been the problem this season for the Trojans, who average 462.7 yards and 35.6 points per game behind Cody Kessler's accurate passing (including a seven-touchdown performance last week) and the hard running of Javorius Allen.

    The issue has been consistency on defense, where the youth that is spread across USC's roster has struggled the most. The Trojans have allowed 101 plays of 10 or more yards and managed 15 sacks in seven games despite the presence of arguably the best interior pass-rusher in the game in Leonard Williams.

    Utah (5-1, 2-1) has three major road wins on its resume this season, including last week in double overtime at Oregon State, but lost its only conference home game to Washington State by blowing a 17-point halftime lead. The Utes are looking to show they're legit, even with the notable victories.

    "We think we've positioned ourselves pretty good for the second half of the season," coach Kyle Whittingham told Dirk Facer of the Deseret News.

    The Utes have combined a blend of run-heavy offense, spearheaded by Devontae Booker's massive last three games, and a defense that leads FBS with 33 sacks. Booker had 229 rushing yards and three touchdowns last week, his third straight 100-yard game.

    A lack of a passing game has held Utah back, with neither Travis Wilson nor Kendal Thompson producing much, but Booker will have another big game and lead the Utes to their biggest win of the season.

    Prediction: Utah 27, USC 24

    Final: Utah 24, USC 21

No. 14 Arizona State at Washington

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    When: Saturday, Oct. 25; 10:45 p.m. ET

    Last meeting: Marion Grice ran for two touchdowns and caught a TD pass in Arizona State's 53-24 home win over Washington. 

    What to watch for

    Arizona State (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) managed to solve Stanford's defense better than anyone else has last week, earning a solid 26-10 win that was as much about its own ability to get stops as anything. Now comes another talented defense, one that's very adept at getting to the quarterback.

    Taylor Kelly, who has missed the last three games with a leg injury, is expected to start. Mike Bercovici filled in admirably during Kelly's absence.

    Washington (5-2, 1-2) has a slew of playmakers on defense, most notably touchdown-making linebacker Shaq Thompson and sack-happy pass-rushers Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. Their contributions have helped mostly make up for an offense that hasn't been very productive, ranking 103rd in yards per game.

    ASU has won eight straight in the series and has come out ahead in its last four trips to Seattle. Washington hasn't had that big win yet under first-year coach Chris Petersen, but this might be it.

    Prediction: Washington 28, Arizona State 24

    Final: Arizona State 24, Washington 10

Nevada at Hawaii

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    Cathleen Allison/Associated Press

    When: Sunday, Oct. 26; midnight ET

    Last meeting: Nevada took advantage of six turnovers in a 31-9 home win over Hawaii last September.

    What to watch for

    Nevada (4-3, 1-2 Mountain West) scored 42 points in a win at BYU last week to snap a two-game losing streak, but the Wolf Pack have struggled in the conference. Cody Fajardo has led the offense all year, with 2,138 yards of total offense and 18 touchdowns.

    Hawaii (2-5, 1-1) managed only 264 yards in a 20-10 loss at San Diego State last week, making the Warriors 0-3 with an average of 12 points scored per game when playing on the mainland. Hawaii is 110th in total offense at 351 yards per game.

    Hawaii always plays better at home and has won the last two in Honolulu. Nevada ended a losing streak at Hawaii that spanned over 60 years the last time out, scoring 69 points in 2012, and will make it two in a row.

    Prediction: Nevada 34, Hawaii 27

    Final: Nevada 26, Hawaii 18

    All statistical information courtesy of CFBStats.com.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.