NCF Nation: week 12 picks
Notre Dame 28, Connecticut 24: It's hard to pick the reeling Irish at this point after their dispiriting performances against Navy and Pitt. With the BCS hopes long gone and their coach possibly history, too, what does this team really have to play for? But UConn has had it just as rough. Since the Jasper Howard tragedy, the Huskies have lost three straight, all being decided in the final minutes. They have a big, physical offensive line and two star running backs in Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon. But Connecticut's defense has been highly suspect, especially at the back end. Last time out, it surrendered 711 total yards to Cincinnati. That should be inviting to Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. The Irish win one for their coach and for their seniors in the home finale.
Last week's pick: Pittsburgh 35, Notre Dame 33 Actual score: Pittsburgh 27, Notre Dame 22 Season record: 8-2
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A no-show by the supposedly motivated Tennessee players cost me an unbeaten record last week. Wyoming? Please. If they had been saddling up for a rodeo, I could buy it. But the Vols' 13-7 (football) loss to the Cowboys in Neyland Stadium spoke volumes about where this team is right now ... in the tank. Even with Tennessee's gag at home, I managed to go 5-1 last week and am now 61-17 (.782) for the season. Here's the way I see it going in the SEC in Week 12:
Florida 35, South Carolina 17: Holding the Gators under 38 points would be a coup for the Gamecocks, who haven't exactly been shabby this season on defense. Ellis Johnson's unit is ranked third nationally in total defense. Of course, the Gators have scored 38 or more points every time out in their five-game winning streak and have pretty much looked unbeatable along the way. The closest anybody has come to them during that stretch was 28 points. South Carolina's good enough on defense to keep it closer than that, but the Gators will still win going away.
Alabama 21, Mississippi State 6: Sylvester Croom has had his alma mater's number the last two years. The Bulldogs have won two straight over the Crimson Tide in rough and tumble affairs. This will again be a physical football game with no place to hide for the timid. That's been Alabama's specialty this season, though, and Mississippi State has been rocked by injuries and suspensions. The Bulldogs just don't have enough offense to pull the upset, and the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide will move one step closer to playing for a national title.
Georgia 31, Auburn 14: This game looked a lot more attractive back in early September when both teams were ranked in the top 10. It's a rivalry that has given us some terrific games over the years, and Georgia is still capable of scoring a bunch of points against anybody it plays. The threesome of Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green is as good as it gets on one team. The Bulldogs' problem has been on defense. They've given up 125 points in their last three games. Then again, Auburn's offense has been a cure for a lot of struggling defenses this season.
Kentucky 28, Vanderbilt 21: The pressure is starting to mount on Vanderbilt as the Commodores need just one more win to become bowl eligible. They're 0-17 since 1982 in games in which they could have become bowl eligible. They also haven't had much success against Kentucky, which has won 10 of the last 12 games in this series. Kentucky freshman quarterback Randall Cobb has pumped new life back into that offense, which is bad news for the Commodores.
Ole Miss 41, Louisiana-Monroe 10: Now that the Rebels have won two games in a row for the first time since the 2004 season, they go for three in a row against the 3-7 Warhawks. More importantly, Ole Miss (5-4) can become bowl eligible and clinch its first postseason trip since the 2003 season. After a week off, the Rebels should be a little healthier, a little sharper and a little hungrier to finish off this season the right way. They're a couple of fumbles away from being a 7-2 team right now.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Went 5-0 last week -- whip-crack went my frumpy tail! -- boosting the season mark to 49-12.
This week is more difficult to call.
California 28, Oregon State 24: It's been tough on the road in the Pac-10 this year, but the visiting team has won the last four games in the series. The Cal defense will give whoever plays quarterback for the Beavers -- Sean Canfield or Lyle Moevao -- trouble, and it feels like Kevin Riley is due to lead an offensive breakout.
Oregon 31, Arizona 27: The two best scoring offenses in the Pac-10 square off. Arizona has won two in a row in the series and it would seem its balance would give it an advantage. Moreover, the Wildcats' run defense has improved dramatically since it got run over by New Mexico and Stanford. Got a hunch, however, that Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly will find a way to run the ball, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will throw just well enough for the Ducks to prevail.
USC 41, Stanford 10: This has nothing to do with last year. Stanford struggles to pass and defend the pass. That's not good against USC. The Cardinal won't be able run consistently against the USC defense -- particularly with Toby Gerhart banged up -- and the Trojans' athleticism at receiver will create plays downfield. Expect USC quarterback Mark Sanchez to have a big day.
Arizona State 44, Washington State 10: This figures to be an easy afternoon for the Sun Devils, but don't expect Dennis Erickson to run the score up on Paul Wulff, whom Erickson coached at Washington State. The Cougars figure to make the struggling Sun Devils' offensive line look good.
Washington 26, UCLA 24: Upset special of the week. UCLA has won six of the last seven in
the series, but its lone loss in that span was its most recent visit to Husky Stadium in 2006, and the Bruins almost always struggle on the road. The Huskies showed signs of life last weekend against Arizona State, while UCLA folded in the second half at home vs. Oregon State. This is the perfect offense to make the Huskies look halfway decent: A terrible one. Forget the Rick Neuheisel returns angle; this is a parting gift for Tyrone Willingham.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
A lighter-than-usual schedule still will feature several intriguing games on Saturday.
Texas 45, Kansas 24 -- This game will be played in remarkably similar circumstances as in 2004 when the Longhorns last visited Lawrence. Then, the Longhorns needed some help from a favorable officiating call that boosted them to a wild comeback victory that prompted a bitter postgame rant from Kansas coach Mark Mangino. It should be much easier for the Longhorns this time around as they are catching a slumping Kansas defense that has given up at least 45 points in three of their last four games, losing three of those four contests. The Texas defensive front, keyed by the expected return of Brian Orakpo, should have a big edge over a leaky Kansas offensive line that allowed five sacks last week. Even cold, damp conditions shouldn't be able to douse the Longhorns with their BCS aspirations in front of them.
Missouri 44, Iowa State 20 -- The Tigers can wrap up their second-straight North Division title with a win and a Kansas loss. After their two-game October swoon, Missouri is playing its best football of the season. The Tigers rank among the top six teams nationally in passing, total offense, scoring offense and passing efficiency. That's not a good recipe for a struggling Iowa State pass defense that ranks among the bottom six teams in pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Look for Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin to have big games and it could be a lot worse if Chase Coffman is back from his turf toe.
Nebraska 45, Kansas State 34 -- Two teams heading in different directions will hook up in Manhattan for what was once the North Division's premier grudge battle. But not anymore, as both teams have seen better days than in recent years. Nebraska is playing for better bowl positioning and appears to have its offense fixed with the blistering recent pace of quarterback Joe Ganz. The Cornhuskers have been touched up defensively and will face some challenges from a Kansas State offense that has been effective at times this season. But the dismissal of Ron Prince has stripped away much of the life from this team, and his presence on the sideline likely won't pump much emotion into them. Kansas State needs victories in their final two games to keep its bowl hopes alive. I'm thinking it will be snuffed out after this one.
Baylor 38, Texas A&M 31 -- The "Battle of the Brazos" will feature two of the conference's best young quarterbacks in Robert Griffin of Baylor and Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson. The Bears are in the unusual position as a home favorite in a conference game and the point spread in their favor is the largest for a Big 12 game since 1996. Their offense has been effective throughout the season with Griffin directing it and it should be against an Aggie team that was blistered for 648 yards and 8.8 yards per snap against Oklahoma last week. The Aggies will have some fun with Baylor's defense, too. But Griffin's abilities as a runner and a thrower should provide the Bears with a slight edge in a shootout.
Oklahoma State 42, Colorado 27 -- Look for the Cowboys to shake off the after effects of their nightmarish performance at Texas Tech last week and rebound with a strong victory. Oklahoma State's punishing ground attack should be able to dominate a Colorado defense that ranks ninth in the conference against the run. And the Buffaloes' uncertain quarterback status -- even after Cody Hawkins' second-half heroics last week against Iowa State -- makes it unlikely that they can win an offensive battle against the Cowboys. Colorado has won 11 of the last 13 meetings in the series, but that won't matter in Saturday's game. The Cowboys will keep their hopes for a good bowl alive with a resounding road victory.
My picks last week: 5-1 (83.3 percent)
My picks for the season: 72-12 (85.7 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Miami 24, Virginia Tech 21 -- The Hurricanes have more playmakers on offense -- including at quarterback -- and home-field advantage. Their run defense has improved over the past few weeks, so they should be able to limit the Hokies' strength.
Clemson 31, Duke 17 -- The Tigers are in a must-win situation and won't let their pride take another hit in Death Valley. Intangibles aside, Clemson simply has more playmakers and athletes on its roster.
North Carolina 28, Maryland 24 -- Regardless of "which Maryland team shows up," the Tar Heels have played better more consistently this season and are a disciplined road team. The Terps will struggle to stop Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn, but will play better defense than they did against Virginia Tech.
Wake Forest 28, NC State 21 -- It will be a tall task for the Demon Deacons to force Russell Wilson into turnovers, and two of the league's best quarterbacks will be on the field. But Wake has the advantage defensively, even with Nate Irving on the field.
Florida State 21, Boston College 17 -- The Eagles' defense won't let the Noles run away with it, but FSU will create a short field and force BC into a few game-changing turnovers. Despite Boston College's hulking lines, FSU will win the battle up front.
Darn you, West Virginia.
After the Mountaineers saved my hide two weeks in a row, they had to go and spoil my bid for a 3-0 record by losing in overtime in Cincinnati. Just when I thought we were friends. Anyway, West Virginia is off this week, and I'm going to do just fine without them.
Cincinnati 24, Louisville 17: The Keg O' Nails is one thing you wouldn't want to drink out of. The Bearcats probably feel like they've swallowed pins and needles playing Louisville lately, losing five straight and nine of the last 10 against the Cardinals. They couldn't even beat them last year at home when they had the much better team. With so much on the line, though, I think the Bearcats finally recapture this rivalry trophy. Their defense is going to make it tough for Louisville to score.
Rutgers 28, South Florida 23: I'm making this pick based on mojo. Rutgers has it, having won three in a row. South Florida called a players-only meeting last week to try and get it back after losing three of four. Plus, the Scarlet Knights' best weapon -- the deep passing game -- will be matched against the Bulls' biggest weakness -- their secondary. Rutgers sinks South Florida for the third straight year.
Connecticut 27, Syracuse 13: One of Greg Robinson's three Big East victories came against UConn in the Carrier Dome two years ago. No. 4 won't be coming Saturday. The Orange don't have much to play for, and more importantly, won't have an answer for Donald Brown. Randy Edsall sticks it to his alma mater, even as the Syracuse fans wish he would switch sidelines.
Last week: 2-1
Season results: 33-21 (61.1 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The weather forecast around the Big Ten calls for snow, rain and wind on Saturday. Here's hoping this forecast turns out a little sunnier. November has been a dark and dreary month for the picks so far (5-6).
Penn State 48, Indiana 7 -- No hangover here, as the Nittany Lions respond from last week's somewhat surprising loss to Iowa by beating up on a beat-up Indiana team. The Hoosiers' secondary has been decimated by injuries, and Penn State will look to revive its big-play offense before Michigan State comes to town next week. Expect big games for Daryll Clark and do-it-all wide receiver Derrick Williams.
Ohio State 28, Illinois 21 -- Those who watched last year's game will appreciate the score prediction. Illinois always plays the Buckeyes tough and will do so again in a desperate situation, but Ohio State simply doesn't lose Big Ten road games. Plus, the Buckeyes are hitting their stride on offense to complement a defense that has played well since the USC game. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins have big games for the Bucks.
Iowa 23, Purdue 17 -- The Hawkeyes could struggle early after an emotional win last week, and Purdue's defense has done a good job against traditional offenses this season. Joe Tiller rotates quarterbacks Justin Siller and Curtis Painter and has some success, but Iowa running back Shonn Greene proves to be too much with his 11th consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Iowa's defense clamps down late to seal the win.
Northwestern 27, Michigan 24 -- Easily the toughest game to pick this week. It's tempting to say Michigan has turned a corner with a complete performance against Minnesota last week. Both teams are banged up on offense, and Northwestern hasn't taken many risks with Mike Kafka at the helm. But the Wildcats have been more consistent on both sides of the ball, and Michigan has had some trouble with spread offenses. Both teams are prone to turnovers, but Michigan commits the critical giveaway in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 14 -- Minnesota will play hard in this heated rivalry and the score could be closer, but it's hard to see the Gophers keeping pace without star wide receiver Eric Decker (high ankle sprain). Wisconsin should be on a three-game win streak -- the Badgers totally gave one away in East Lansing -- and seem to be gaining confidence on offense. The bottom line is one team runs the ball well, while the other can't get the ground game going. Running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay lead the way for Wisconsin.
Bye: Michigan State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten)
Season record: 61-16 (79.2 percent)
ECU 21, Southern Miss 10: East Carolina could end Southern Mississippi's bowl hopes while the Pirates seal their own. ECU has six wins and the inside track on the C-USA East. Both teams come into the game with winning streaks, but the Pirates defense will be too much for the Golden Eagles in this one.
Tulsa 48, Houston 32: After a week to reflect on its loss to Arkansas, which ended any chance for a BCS bowl, Tulsa needs to regroup here if it wants to win a C-USA title. Houston is one of many teams still fighting for bowl eligibility and the Cougars need just one win to nab it. No defense in this game, just a lot of C-USA West-style offense.
Marshall 20, UCF 10: After being eliminated from bowl eligibility, who knows how Central Florida will respond against a Marshall team that desperately needs a win to stay in the hunt for a bowl. Both of these teams have been inconsistent this season, but I'm not sure UCF's pride will match Marshall drive.
Navy 24, Notre Dame 21: This is a difficult game to read, but similar to last week, I'm picking against Notre Dame because the Irish have yet to show that they can compete against a quality team on the road. And there's no telling how the Irish will respond with Charlie Weis making the calls. Navy is a running team and the Irish have been suspect against the run all year. I expect more of the same.
Buffalo 35, Akron 30: Here is this week's upset special. This game (it's tonight) will give the winner a one-game advantage for the MAC East title. Both teams have played well this season, but Buffalo is in a unique position to do something it's never done in its time in the MAC -- win its side of the conference and play in the conference championship. Buffalo is 13-59 in MAC play since joining the conference.
Air Force 31, BYU 30: This is yet another toss-up game. I like Air Force because it's at home and it's got speed to the outside where I think the Cougars are vulnerable. Plus its passing game is coming along. It will be interesting to see how the BYU passing game stacks up against the Falcons' 10th-ranked pass defense that's allowing just 167.2 yards per game. I'm not convinced the Cougars are back on track.
UNLV 21, Wyoming 7: At 4-6, both of these teams are still fighting for a bowl berth. Both got big wins last week -- Wyoming is on the road against Tennessee and UNLV is against New Mexico with a new quarterback -- but out of these two teams, I think the Rebels have a little more staying power. The hangover of last week will hurt the Cowboys.
Louisiana-Lafayette 32, FAU 21: This is a game between old and new -- the past champion and the current conference leader. Louisiana-Lafayette stumbled against UTEP last week, but it will get back into Sun Belt form and avenge last year's 39-32 defeat at the hands of the Owls. The Ragin' Cajuns running game will get it done.
Louisiana Tech 24, Utah State 20: This is another tough pick because both teams are playing well right now. Although Utah State isn't showing progress in the win column, it has been giving teams fits lately. Still, Louisiana Tech has been in a position to gain bowl eligibility before and squandered it. I think the team has learned its lesson and will come away with a close win.
Nevada 38, San Jose State 20: Two weeks ago I said Nevada was going to make the strongest push to the finish in the WAC, and right now it's between the Wolf Pack and Louisiana Tech. The Wolf Pack is a game away from bowl eligibility, but there are three other teams in the same position. It would be good for Nevada to hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over a bowl-eligible San Jose State team.