NCF Nation: Game-predictions-112311

Prediction: Stanford vs. Notre Dame

November, 23, 2011
Senior Day. Nike Pro Combat uniforms. BCS bowl game implications (or more?) on the line. Storied Notre Dame coming to town. There is no lack of storylines heading into Saturday's matchup between the Cardinal and the Irish. Which means there is no lack of distractions either. The pageantry should be fun and exciting as the Cardinal look to close out the regular season with a signature win over a BCS top-25 team. And they will.

Prediction: Stanford 31, Notre Dame 21

Overall: 10-1

Why they'll win: Can anyone see Andrew Luck losing his final regular-season home game? Me neither. And when you take a team with a bad turnover margin (Notre Dame) and put it against a team with a good turnover margin (Stanford), the good usually outweighs the bad. Notre Dame's running depth took a hit with the loss of Jonas Gray, and Stanford might be getting injured tight end Zach Ertz back. Even if he doesn't catch a single ball, his presence forces defenses to significantly alter how they blitz and defend the Cardinal. And if Ertz doesn't return, we saw this past week what the Cardinal are capable of with Ryan Hewitt at the No. 3 tight end spot. Too many weapons and too many mismatches for the Irish to cover them all.

In the spotlight: Assuming Oregon takes care of business against Oregon State, this will be the final game in Stanford Stadium for the fourth- and fifth-year seniors who helped turn Stanford football from a Pac-10 afterthought to a national powerhouse in just a few short years. Not just Luck but also tireless workers such as Michael Thomas, Delano Howell, Griff Whalen, Corey Gatewood, Jeremy Stewart, David Green, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Chris Owusu, Johnson Bademosi, Chase Thomas, Coby Fleener, Max Bergen, Matt Masifilo and others. All of them will have their chance to take a bow. Luck gets a lot of the credit, but these guys should, too.

Out on a limb: After David Shaw's fiery speech about Luck on Tuesday, my first out-on-a-limb thought was that Stanford would come out gunning and Luck would go for 375-plus and four touchdowns. He still might -- but only if that's how the game is being dictated. I'm going the other way. Stanford sticks with what it does best -- running the power, being balanced and using the play-action when the time is right. The Cardinal are more concerned about winning games than about Luck winning a Heisman. Shaw won't sabotage his game plan for an individual award. As always, that's just me going out on a limb ...

Predictions: Big Ten Week 13

November, 23, 2011
The final full week of Big Ten action kicks off Friday in Lincoln, and, with the Thanksgiving holiday arriving Thursday, the predictions are coming at you early. Hope you're ready.

Bennett reclaimed the top spot in the season standings with a 5-1 performance in Week 12. Rittenberg is only a game behind, and there are several intriguing matchups on the slate this week.

It's pick time.


Brian Bennett: Nebraska needs a hero in the Heroes Game to avoid a dispiriting finish to the season, and I think it will be the guy who gets called Superman. Rex Burkhead goes off for 150 yards and a couple of TDs as the Huskers stalk it to their neighbors. ... Nebraska 28, Iowa 20

Adam Rittenberg: Nebraska plays better with a chip on its shoulder, and the edge is back after last week's humiliating loss at Michigan. Iowa's high-powered offense makes this very interesting as RB Marcus Coker racks up two touchdowns, but Huskers QB Taylor Martinez has been very good at home this season and comes up with four touchdowns (2 rush, 2 pass) as the Huskers prevail. ... Nebraska 31, Iowa 24


Adam Rittenberg: It's tough to know how Michigan State will respond after clinching the division last week. I like Mark Dantonio's approach, though, and although Northwestern will be geared up, the Spartans match up well with the Wildcats. Spartans WR B.J. Cunningham scores a late touchdown as Michigan State wins in Evanston. ... Michigan State 27, Northwestern 21

Brian Bennett: This isn't baseball, so the Spartans won't rest their starters. I sense that it's really important to this team to get to 10 wins, and Dantonio's offense is playing with a lot of confidence. Northwestern keeps it close, but Michigan State is a little too physical for the Wildcats. ... Michigan State 34, Northwestern 27


Brian Bennett: The streak ends. These two teams are trending in vastly different directions, and Ohio State's offense does not match up well with a Michigan defense that's playing lights-out right now. The Wolverines get off to a quick start behind two Denard Robinson touchdowns and start dreaming about the Sugar Bowl. ... Michigan 24, Ohio State 14

Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, Luke Fickell, but it is about talent, and Michigan, for the first time in a while, has more this season. It's also about motivation, and the Wolverines seniors want this game real bad after being embarrassed against their archrival. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen lead a strong defensive effort, and Fitzgerald Toussaint turns in another 100-yard rushing performance. ... Michigan 27, Ohio State 13


Adam Rittenberg: It wouldn't shock me if Indiana pulled off the upset in the Bucket game, as Purdue has been maddeningly inconsistent. But the Boilers seniors will step up in this one as they finally become bowl-eligible. The defense forces two second-half turnovers and Antavian Edison records a breakaway touchdown as Purdue prevails. ... Purdue 34, Indiana 24

Brian Bennett: If Purdue can't win this game, even on the road in a rivalry game, maybe it should be considered Hope-less. But the Boilers are much better than the 1-10 Hoosiers and will ride Ralph Bolden and a bunch of screen passes to the Bucket and bowl eligibility. ... Purdue 35, Indiana 17


Brian Bennett: Upset special. Illinois has lost five straight and has no confidence right now, and Minnesota has nothing to lose while playing at home on Senior Day. MarQueis Gray and Duane Bennett have big days as the Gophers notch their second Big Ten win. ... Minnesota 21, Illinois 17

Adam Rittenberg: This wouldn't be that much of an upset, considering the way Illinois has performed recently. This one certainly could go either way, but Ron Zook is correctly making it about the players, not himself, this week as Illinois tries to end on a good note. The Illini have faced some pretty good teams during their losing streak, and Minnesota is not a good team. A.J. Jenkins turns in a big performance against a vulnerable Gophers secondary as Illinois ends its slide. ... Illinois 24, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin averages 52.3 points at Camp Randall Stadium, but it hasn't faced a defense nearly as good as Penn State's. Devon Still and the front four make the Badgers work for their points, but I just don't have enough confidence in the Penn State offense, even with the Wild-Lion, to reach the end zone enough. Russell Wilson throws two second-half touchdowns as Wisconsin wins the Leaders Division. ... Wisconsin 31, Penn State 20

Brian Bennett: If only Penn State could have saved its offensive surprise for this week. I'm not sure what else Tom Bradley and his staff can concoct to manufacture points, which any team going to Madison needs plenty of to have a chance. The Penn State defense does as well as can be expected, but Matthew McGloin throws a costly interception to turn the tide. ... Wisconsin 28, Penn State 17


Brian Bennett: 67-24 (.736)

Adam Rittenberg: 66-25 (.725)

Predictions: Big 12 Week 13

November, 23, 2011
An interesting week of picks for yours truly last week. I never saw the weekend's biggest upset coming. I didn't think Iowa State had any chance. I was wrong.

I didn't pick the Baylor upset, but I went along with most and picked K-State to "upset" Texas. The kicker: I picked the 17-13 final score on the nose. I'll take that. Haven't done it in a while.

Time to do it again.

On to this week's picks!

Last week: 2-2 (.500)

Overall: 50-17 (.746)

Off: Oklahoma State, Kansas State


Texas A&M 27, No. 25 Texas 13: Sticking with my preseason fearless prediction on this one. I've never heard of a stress fracture being "day-to-day" like Cyrus Gray's shoulder apparently is, but Ryan Tannehill is capable of making enough plays to win this one on his own. Texas is getting healthier, but it doesn't have the personnel to take advantage of A&M's biggest weakness: pass defense.


No. 9 Oklahoma 44, Iowa State 17: The Sooners beat Iowa State by 52 in Norman last year, but this one will be a little closer. Iowa State's defense has quietly been pretty big-time the past few weeks, holding Texas Tech to seven points, Kansas to 10 and Oklahoma State to just 24 in regulation. No team had done that in 22 games. Oklahoma adds late points to win this one, but the Cyclones make it interesting.

Missouri 31, Kansas 21: Say goodbye to this rivalry, but it's a little close for comfort for the Tigers, who require a bit of a James Franklin takeover in the second half to get some breathing room from a sloppy first half. Missouri gets the win and bragging rights for a long while, and Kansas gets to stew all offseason about ending its year on a 10-game losing streak.

No. 18 Baylor 41, Texas Tech 30: I've got a bad feeling about a desperate Texas Tech team with a lot on the line. Baylor's not exactly unbeatable (see: Kansas game), but a solid game -- and a win -- means staying in the Heisman race for RG3. Maybe that doesn't mean much to the man himself, but he has a team that will rally around him and do it for him. Great offensive performance, and a defensive performance that's good enough.

Predictions: SEC Week 13

November, 23, 2011
With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on the many things for which I’m grateful.

I’m grateful for having such a wonderful and understanding family even though I’m on the road a bunch this time of year. Eternal thanks to my wife, Julie, and sons Josh, Adam and Sean.

I’m grateful that my parents instilled in me at an early age that nothing of value comes without hard work and that getting to where you want to go is never easy and rarely comes without sacrifice.

I’m especially grateful that my mother is close to being ready to go back home after spending the last three months in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.

I’m grateful to have worked for and with so many true professionals in my 25 years in the sports media business.

I’m grateful to have a job that allows me to see the best college football in the land and get to know some of the best coaches, best players and best people in the business.

I’m grateful for The Kid and everything he’s added to the SEC blog and how much he’s helped me.

I’m equally grateful that The Kid had enough confidence in himself to give me a good run in the picks contest, and in the process, re-fueled my competitive fires.

But it’s all tied up now, and just like a rookie quarterback going into the teeth of the schedule late in the season, I can see it in The Kid’s eyes. He’s starting to doubt himself, and that’s never a good thing with the bowl games just around the corner.

For the season, we’re both 76-12 (.864). I was 8-0 last week, and The Kid was 7-1. He missed Tennessee’s 27-21 overtime win against Vanderbilt.

Over the past two weeks, I’m a perfect 15-0. Magic Johnson used to call this “winning time.”

Then again, maybe there simply haven't been a lot of tough games to pick, although that’s about to change.

Here’s a look at our picks for the final week of the regular season:


Edward Aschoff: That snake-bitten feeling is back at Vanderbilt after an overtime loss to Tennessee. The Commodores could have become bowl eligible last week and will have to try again. This team could be emotionally drained at this point and hasn't been good on the road. Wake is bowl eligible and will make an even stronger case with a win Saturday. ... Wake Forest 23, Vanderbilt 17

Chris Low: It’s come down to one game for the Commodores if they’re going to be bowl eligible this season. First-year coach James Franklin has done a nice job of changing attitudes and changing the culture. The hardest part is changing the results. The Commodores have historically not played well in this game at the end of season, but Franklin and the Commodores will buck history and play their way into a bowl game. … Vanderbilt 27, Wake Forest 24


Edward Aschoff: Now that Tyler Bray is back, the Vols have a working offense. He brings so much more to this team and even though he was rusty last week, having him proved to be the difference against Vanderbilt. Tennessee needs this win to make it to a bowl. With Kentucky limping along, the Vols' will extend their winning streak over the Wildcats to 27 straight games. ... Tennessee 34, Kentucky 17

Chris Low: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley told his team in the locker room following the win over Vanderbilt last week that the Vols always kick the (bleep) out of Vandy. That wasn’t completely true, because Vanderbilt won in Knoxville in 2005. But Kentucky hasn’t beaten Tennessee since 1984, a drought that will reach 27 straight games Saturday. … Tennessee 23, Kentucky 17


Edward Aschoff: This is officially Houston Nutt's final game as Ole Miss' head coach. He hasn't beaten Dan Mullen in two chances and the Rebels are hobbling into the Egg Bowl this year. Neither team has been great, but the Bulldogs would become bowl eligible with a win. For all the problems Mississippi State has had, they don't compare to Ole Miss'. ... Mississippi State 27, Ole Miss 13

Chris Low: It’s been 70 years since Ole Miss lost three in a row to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Dan Mullen has helped to spice up this rivalry by beating the Rebels on the field and then jabbing at them off the field with his “school up north” banter. Surely, the Rebels will have enough pride to fight harder than they have the past three weeks, but the Bulldogs will make enough plays on defense to keep the Egg Bowl trophy in Starkville. … Mississippi State 27, Ole Miss 14


Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs were sloppy in their East-clinching win over Kentucky, but things will be different Saturday. This is a heated rivalry and Georgia will be looking to generate some more momentum heading into the SEC championship game. Georgia Tech's triple-option offense will frustrate the Dawgs at times, but they'll find a way to contain it late. ... Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 21

Chris Low: Georgia Tech’s option offense is always a load to stop, especially when you only see it once a year. But this has been a different Georgia defense this season. The Bulldogs get better every week on that side of the ball. They’ll find a way to run their winning streak to 10 straight games and will return to Atlanta the next week on a roll. … Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 20


Edward Aschoff: The feeling in Gainesville is that a win over Florida State will cure what has been a rough first year for Will Muschamp. While the Seminoles have been a major disappointment, their defense ranks seventh nationally. Offense hasn't been one of Florida's strengths and they'll need some against the Noles. For that, Florida State will keep the Gators in check Saturday. ... Florida State 21, Florida 13

Chris Low: The Gators could use a big win at home to end the season to help them forget about everything that's gone wrong this season. Winning over arch-rival Florida State would be especially sweet. But the Seminoles are the real deal on defense, and scoring points hasn't exactly been the Gators' strong suit this season, at least against FBS foes. ... Florida State 23, Florida 14


Edward Aschoff: Just a few weeks ago, Clemson was one of the hottest teams in the country. Oh, how things change. Now, the Tigers are officially out of the national championship picture after a devastating loss to NC State. South Carolina has a defense equipped with the athletes to contain the Tigers. South Carolina's offense won't be pretty, but that hasn't mattered much. ... South Carolina 20, Clemson 17

Chris Low: South Carolina has fought valiantly to get to this point, overcoming the injury to Marcus Lattimore and obvious limitations on offense. But the Gamecocks are banged up going into this game, and Clemson is still smarting after losing badly last week at NC State. The Tigers will find a way to turn this game into a shootout, which hasn’t been the Gamecocks’ forte this season. … Clemson 31, South Carolina 27


Edward Aschoff: Throughout the spring and the summer, Alabama's players were glued to TV sets continuously showing Auburn's triumphant comeback win over the Tide from last year. You can bet that game will be running through these players' brains all week leading up to this one. The Iron Bowl carries a lot of different meanings this year, and things will no doubt get emotional on the Plains, but Alabama is a win away from potentially locking up a spot in the national championship. Things will be different this time. ... Alabama 31, Auburn 14

Chris Low: The last time Alabama paid a visit to the Plains and was chasing a berth in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, Auburn rose up and played one its best games of the season. The Crimson Tide, after falling behind early, had to drive the length of the field in the final minutes to escape with a win in 2009. The Tigers will be ready again this season, but the Crimson Tide are simply too good on defense. … Alabama 31, Auburn 13


Edward Aschoff: There has been a lot of talk about how Arkansas might have the offense that can finally frustrate LSU. That high-flying passing game might have what it takes to stop these red-hot Tigers. But LSU is thinking about championships and a loss to Arkansas could ruin that. This team has overcome so much this season that now isn't the time for a letdown. It'll be close, but LSU will make it to Atlanta unbeaten. ... LSU 27, Arkansas 23

Chris Low: Arkansas doesn’t feel like it’s received the respect it deserves this season, and the Hogs may have a point. Here’s their chance to do something about that. They’ve matched up well in recent years with LSU, but this isn’t just any LSU team. The Tigers are fast, deep and nasty on defense, and when they’re playing at home, they’re even nastier. The Hogs will make this a close game. But in the end, they won’t be able to protect quarterback Tyler Wilson well enough to win. … LSU 31, Arkansas 24

Predictions: ACC Week 13

November, 23, 2011
Week 12 did not go according to plan – at least not my plan. Or Clemson’s plan. Or Florida State’s plan. The other game I struck out on was picking Miami to lose to South Florida in overtime. That added up to a 4-3 record last week, which brings me to 66-23 overall — a 74.16 winning percentage. The goal this season was 80 percent. I thought about self-imposing a bowl ban as punishment, but the Discover Orange Bowl is just too much fun. Instead, I will watch Maryland’s defense for one more week. Here’s to finishing the season strong in the ACC …

Miami 27, Boston College 17: A flat start by Miami wouldn’t be a surprise, considering that the Canes already know they’re not going to a bowl game this season. Coach Al Golden, though, is convinced his team has enough senior leadership that it won’t collapse in its season finale – especially at home. The Eagles have a myriad of problems, but their defense will help keep the game interesting.

Virginia Tech 28, Virginia 24: The Hokies are one of the country’s best road teams, so playing in front of a sold-out crowd in Charlottesville shouldn’t be a factor. Virginia Tech has been there, done that, and knows how to win when a title is on the line. Virginia has made tremendous strides this year, but it hasn’t closed the gap with the kings of the Coastal. Strong performances by David Wilson and Logan Thomas will be the key.

Wake Forest 28, Vanderbilt 21: The Deacs are going to have their hands full, as bowl eligibility is on the line for Vandy. The Commodores are going to give Wake Forest their best shot under first-year coach James Franklin, but another outstanding performance by quarterback Tanner Price and one or two key takeaways for the defense will be the difference.

South Carolina 31, Clemson 28: The matchup here is South Carolina’s defense against Clemson’s offense, which has struggled with turnovers in each of the past three games. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has to make better decisions, and the defense has to make some stops if Clemson is going to pull off this upset. At this point, though, confidence is as much of an issue as execution.

Georgia 35, Georgia Tech 28: The SEC East champs dropped their first two games but haven’t lost since, and coach Mark Richt — once on the hot seat — has far exceeded expectations. Quite frankly, the eyeball test says the Bulldogs are the better team. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, have yet to play as well as they did in their Oct. 29 upset of Clemson.

Florida State 21, Florida 17: The Gators have some problems, and FSU’s defense is going to be another one. With a victory over Miami, the Noles are still hoping to win the unofficial state championship, and Jimbo Fisher is ahead of the game against first-year coach and friend Will Muschamp. The Seminoles will rebound from their 14-13 loss to Virginia, and they’ll do it again with defense and special teams.

North Carolina 31, Duke 21: The Tar Heels’ defense will be the difference, particularly up front, where Duke has suffered some injuries on the offensive line. UNC will avoid ending the season on a three-game losing streak, but it could be the final home game for interim coach Everett Withers.

NC State 35, Maryland 17: The Wolfpack has been one of the ACC’s most inconsistent teams this year, but with bowl eligibility on the line, NC State will put together back-to-back winning performances. Quarterback Mike Glennon has played well all season, and the offense really found its groove last week against Clemson. If the Pack plays like it did last week against the Terps, it will be another long day for the Maryland defense.

Predictions: Pac-12 Week 13

November, 23, 2011
Went 3-3 last week -- another yeesh -- and the season record is now 59-23.


Utah 33, Colorado 14: The best news for the Buffaloes is a long season will be over. The best news for the Utes is they might win the South Division.

California 28, Arizona State 24: Picking California on the road seems stupid, but how can a person pick Arizona State to win at this point? I did the previous two weeks and see what happened.Yes, I am quitting the Sun Devils.


Oregon 44, Oregon State 20: The Beavers will fight, but midway through the third quarter the Ducks will assert themselves. Calling for a big afternoon from LaMichael James.

Arizona 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 28: It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats play a week after beating the hated Sun Devils and finding out that Rich Rodriguez will be their new coach. The Ragin Cajuns are good by the way, see 8-3 record.

Washington 35, Washington State 32: The Huskies advantage is QB Keith Price, but if he can't play the whole game because of a bothersome knee, the Huskies lose their advantage. Will Nick Holt's defense step up for the Huskies? And would losing to Washington be the end for Cougars coach Paul Wulff?

Stanford 35, Notre Dame 24: Andrew Luck and the Cardinal turn in a strong performance against a ranked team, finish 11-1 and await their postseason fate, which they hope will be Rosy or a Fiesta.

USC 33, UCLA 27: The stakes are huge for the Bruins and coach Rick Neuheisel: Beat their archrivals and they are South Division champions. Lose, and it's probably Neuheisel's last game. But the Trojans are playing as well as any team in the conference at present -- see their win at Oregon.
This is the test we have all been waiting to see: how Notre Dame measures up with a truly elite team.

The Irish have faced three ranked teams so far this season, beating current No. 14 Michigan State while losing to No. 15 Michigan and USC, which is ranked 10th by the Associated Press but is ineligible for the BCS standings.

Stanford, currently sixth in the BCS standings, is truly an elite team, a notch above anything the Irish have seen all season. The Cardinal won a triple-overtime thriller at USC — the best team Notre Dame has faced this season. They are coming off a 12-1, Orange Bowl-winning season and are currently 10-1, in position to notch another BCS-bowl berth.

They boast the likely top NFL draft pick in quarterback Andrew Luck, who is a strong contender for the Heisman Trophy as well. But, perhaps even more imposing, they boast an even better rushing attack, powered by a pair of likely first-round draft picks in left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro.

Here is where the Irish will really be tested, particularly if they are without versatile defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, whose status is up in the air after missing last week with an illness. Stanford has the nation's No. 22 rushing attack and the No. 24 passing attack, which equals the 10th-ranked total offense and fourth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 45 points per game.

During its current four-game winning streak, Notre Dame has held three of its opponents below 20 points, with Maryland scoring a late touchdown to finish with 21. The Irish have surrendered just more than 20 points per game this season. The defense has been stout for most of the season, ranking in the top 30 in both total and scoring defense and putting the team on its back in victories over Pitt, Wake Forest and Boston College — when the offense was average, at best.

Most of all, it knows what it is getting against Stanford, a no-nonsense, smash-mouth team that prides itself on punching you in the face early and often. The Cardinal offensive line averages just 1 more pound collectively (305) than the starting line the Irish defense faces every day in practice (304).

In his two seasons at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has spoken about building toughness and winning in the trenches. This, of course, is coming from a coach who is 6-0 in November games at Notre Dame and has won 16 such games in a row dating back to 2007 (including December regular-season contests).

But the Irish are young on the defensive line, even if Lynch doesn't play. With senior Kapron Lewis-Moore sidelined for the season, senior Ethan Johnson and junior Sean Cwynar are the only veterans who see meaningful snaps. Starting nose guard Louis Nix is a sophomore in his first year playing, starting end Aaron Lynch is a freshman and another freshman, Chase Hounshell, has slowly worked his way into the rotation as well.

The line has matured at a quicker-than-expected rate through 11 games this season, but nothing can prepare it for the test it is about to face Saturday, one that will ultimately decide this game.

Prediction: Stanford 31, Notre Dame 20

Predictions: Big East Week 13

November, 23, 2011
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are giving you our predictions a day early. Happy, happy, joy, joy, right? Not for anybody who has to pick the games in this league, that is for sure. Trying to pin down one team is the equivalent of trying to corral a muddy pig. But that is why they pay me the ultra gigantic big bucks. I went 2-1 last week to bring the season total up to 41-21.


Louisville at USF, 11 a.m., ESPN2. The Cardinals are 0-for-4 in Tampa, so I penciled in USF to win this game based on the Ray Jay voodoo factor. Then B.J. Daniels got hurt, and it is unknown whether he will be available to play. The Cardinals have won four of five and are playing for a spot in the BCS, so the potential for distraction is there. Plus, they are going to have to contend with what has developed into one of the better defensive lines in the league. USF has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in four straight games, and most recently held Lamar Miller to 50 yards rushing. The Bulls have the two highest sack totals in school history this season (seven against UConn, six against Miami). But Bobby Eveld moved the offense 68 yards on four drives last week against Miami and will be facing a defense that likes to blitz. He does not present the option to run, the way Daniels does, so that will make it easier for Louisville to be more aggressive with its schemes. This one may end up being a punt-fest, but watch for Louisville to do enough to win. Louisville 17, USF 13.

Pitt at West Virginia, 7 p.m., ESPN. The two bitter rivals meet for what could be the last time as conference members. But more than bragging rights is on the line in this one. Both teams need to win in order to keep their BCS and Big East title hopes alive. Pitt showed against Louisville it is perfectly capable of playing a ground game even without Ray Graham. West Virginia has had some issues stopping the run this year. Meanwhile, Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are going to be facing a defense that might be the most improved in the league from Week 1 until now. The Mountaineers are going to have to figure out a way to control Aaron Donald (nine sacks) and the defensive line, which has an advantage on paper in this one. If they can, there are opportunities -- especially in the screen game and underneath. West Virginia needs to force the game into the hands of Tino Sunseri, and force him into mistakes (he has eight interceptions to nine touchdowns this season). This is a game that has had its share of upsets, but West Virginia will win because of its superior talent at the skill positions. West Virginia 31, Pitt 24.


Cincinnati at Syracuse, noon, Big East Network. This is a must-win game for both teams: the Bearcats have to win out to keep their hopes alive for a Big East championship, Syracuse needs a win to become bowl eligible. Neither team was impressive on offense their last time out. Cincinnati has to find ways to help take the load off quarterback Munchie Legaux. It would help if the Bearcats controlled the line of scrimmage the way they have for most of the season. They failed badly in that category last week against Rutgers. Cincinnati should have the advantage along the offensive and defensive lines in this one, but if the Bearcats don't block, drop passes and fail to do anything on first down, it's going to be a long day again. Syracuse worked ones versus ones during its bye week to try and better simulate game conditions. The last time the Orange came off a bye, they beat West Virginia. I really think Cincinnati steps up to help Legaux. Cincinnati 24, Syracuse 20.

Rutgers at UConn, noon, ESPN2. If the last three years are any indication, this game is going to be wild and close. The last three meetings have been decided by a total of nine points. Last season, the Scarlet Knights came from behind to beat UConn 27-24 for their only league win of the season. But the teams are headed in opposite directions this season. Rutgers has a chance to clinch a share of their first ever Big East title; UConn is barely clinging to its bowl hopes. The Huskies turned in a disappointing performance last week against Louisville, full of missed tackles and dropped passes. Now they will be going against an aggressive defense that absolutely shut down Cincinnati last week. UConn has had major problems in the secondary and though Blidi Wreh-Wilson is back, how will the Huskies guard Mohamed Sanu? Rutgers 27, UConn 17.