NCF Nation: week 8 picks
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas 41, Missouri 38: The Longhorns are sizzling after claiming the No. 1 spot nationally for the first time during the regular season since 1984 after their upset win over Oklahoma. Their offense is humming and should provide a big challenge for a Missouri defense that struggled limiting big plays in their loss last week to Oklahoma State. The key will be for Texas' defensive front to get a push against the spread offense of Missouri's Chase Daniel. It will be a different challenge than last week, but the Longhorns' dominant front should have its opportunities against Missouri's wide splits along the offensive lines. Missouri needs to be steady and hope for some semblance of balance as they test the Longhorns defense. They need more out of Derrick Washington than the 11 yards he picked up against OSU after averaging 100 yards per game rushing coming into the OSU game. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Tigers bounce back strongly behind Daniel, an inspirational and gutty leader who needs a big performance to keep his Heisman hopes alive. But the Longhorns have too many weapons and will prevail in a shootout, ruining Missouri's hopes of claiming its first victory in Austin since 1896.
Oklahoma 38, Kansas 24: The Sooners are steaming after twice squandering double-digit leads in last week's loss to Texas. Their struggling running game will be tested by Kansas' defense which ranks 12th nationally in rush defense and 34th overall. But hardly anybody has been able to slow down Sam Bradford this season and I look for him to have a big game. Another interesting factor to watch will be Oklahoma's struggling kick coverage, which has allowed two touchdowns against Kansas' nation-worst kick return. The Sooners have won nine-straight games under Bob Stoops after the Texas game. I look for that trend to continue, although Todd Reesing and Jake Sharp could keep it close for three quarters.
Oklahoma State 44, Baylor 17: The streaking Cowboys have too much offense for Baylor and should be able to dictate the game with a balanced ball-control attack. Their biggest advantage will be the running game keyed by Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter, capable backup Keith Toston and the conference's most underrated offensive line. Baylor is improving, but the Bears are catching Oklahoma State at the wrong time. Look for the Cowboys to win this one going away, keeping their undefeated record as they steam to a key game in Austin next week.
Texas Tech 52, Texas A&M 27: These two bitter foes always seem to have good games at Kyle Field. But this will be an exception because the young Aggie defense just doesn't match up very well with the Red Raiders. A&M leads the Big 12 in pass defense, mainly because opponents have gashed them for at least 215 yards rushing in every game but one this season. Tech will be willing to rely on an improved running game at times, but I look for Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree to have a lot of success against the young A&M secondary. Tech's defensive front will provide more pressure than inexperienced A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson is familiar with, causing him to force some turnovers.
Nebraska 27, Iowa State 24: The Cornhuskers hope to halt a three-game losing streak that is the program's longest since 1961. Iowa State's talented quarterback Austen Arnaud will be a challenge, but look for Nebraska's improving defensive front to apply enough of a pass rush to keep Arnaud honest. Joe Ganz controlled time of possession last week against Texas Tech, but was susceptible to turnovers. That's one thing he can't afford to do against the opportunistic Cyclones, who are tied for 11th nationally in turnover margin. The Cyclones have won two of the last three games in the series in Ames, but I think Nebraska has too much talent not to win this game.
Kansas State 41, Colorado 38: Both teams need this game for bowl positioning as they try to get to six wins. The Wildcats have the most explosive offense, keyed by quarterback Josh Freeman. Logan Dold produced a 100-yard rushing game, providing some balance for the Wildcats' potent aerial atack. The Wildcats have been horrid defensively, but should be less challenged against the sputtering Buffaloes and their patchwork offensive line. Look for special teams to decide this, with a nod to Kansas State's kick-blocking abilities more than Josh Smith's chance of breaking a long return for the Buffaloes.
My totals last week: 3-3 (50 percent)
My totals for the season: 53-7 (88.3 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Finally. Not only is everyone playing this weekend, but they're all going to beat up on each other. Here's the forecast for Week 8:
Florida State 28, NC State 21 -- The Seminoles' smothering defense will be too much for Russell Wilson and the Pack to overcome, but the Noles will get their best shot because of the prime-time home game. The probable return of NC State linebacker Nate Irving should help, obviously depending on how much he plays.
Georgia Tech 21, Clemson 10 -- The Yellow Jackets will win it up front and take away the Tigers' running game, which is exactly how other teams have beaten Clemson. The news of Tommy Bowden's departure is still too fresh for the team to completely regroup and move forward.
Wake Forest 21, Maryland 20 -- Coaching, the Deacons' defense and Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner will be the difference in this game. Jim Grobe has gotten the most out of his players every weekend while coach Ralph Friedgen has wondered if anyone is listening to him.
North Carolina 24 at Virginia 21 -- The opportunistic Tar Heels are on a roll and Butch Davis will have them ready, even without Brandon Tate. Virginia quarterback Marc Verica should have a humbling experience against the nation's leader in interceptions and turnovers.
Miami 24, Duke 21 -- This is a good shot for the Hurricanes to get their first conference win. The Blue Devils couldn't do anything against the Georgia Tech defense, and the Hurricanes are an equally stingy team.
Virginia Tech 14, Boston College 10 -- This is going to be a defensive struggle, but Chris Crane won't have the same kind of success he did against NC State because the Hokies' defense won't allow it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's not quite rivalry week, though several matchups below certainly fall under that tag. The Ohio State-Michigan State game likely will determine Penn State's top challenger for the Big Ten title. Iowa tries to continue its momentum, and three teams (Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue) try to stop the bleeding.
Here's how I see the five-pack shaking out.
Northwestern 28, Purdue 24 -- A tight contest on Homecoming at Ryan Field, as Northwestern tries to rebound from a mistake-filled performance against Michigan State and Purdue attempts to stop a three-game slide. The Boilermakers historically have had success against the Wildcats, but their offense isn't the same this year and neither is the Wildcats defense. Purdue will find the end zone a few times, but Northwestern comes up with a late defensive stand to seal the win. Tyrell Sutton has a big game against the Boilers' defense.
Iowa 21, Wisconsin 17 -- This would be a tough game for Wisconsin even without the uncertainty at quarterback and the injuries along the offensive line. Iowa can stop the run, and that's exactly what the Badgers will try to do. Dustin Sherer gets the start for Wisconsin and makes some plays, but a second-half mistake opens the door for Iowa. Chalk up another 100-yard rushing performance for Hawkeyes junior Shonn Greene, who will wear down the Badgers' defense.
Ohio State 19, Michigan State 17 -- There are numerous reasons to pick against Ohio State -- a weak passing game, growing frustration among offensive players, the loss of defensive end Lawrence Wilson -- but that's often when the Buckeyes come up big with a win. Terrelle Pryor hasn't lost as the starting quarterback, and this will be the game when Chris "Beanie" Wells shows why he's one of the best running backs in the country. Wells outplays Javon Ringer and Ohio State forces a late turnover to escape Sparta with a win.
Penn State 35, Michigan 6 -- The beating won't be as severe as some are forecasting, but there's no way Penn State looks at this as a trap game, not after losing nine straight to the Wolverines. Michigan's defense has played admirably for most of the season and could keep things close for a while, but Penn State can only be held down so long. It's hard to see the nation's 109th-ranked offense being able to do much against a defense that allows just 11 points per game.
Illinois 35, Indiana 24 -- Both teams need a win, but Illinois has the healthy quarterback (Juice Williams) and the superior offense. Illini offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will attack the Hoosiers from the get-go with downfield passes, which Williams can execute when given time in the pocket. Indiana went back to the basics this week and should limit turnovers and penalties, but with Kellen Lewis hobbled, the Hoosiers can't keep up with Illinois on the road.
Bye: Minnesota (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
Season record: 47-9 (83.9 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
From the day you start playing sports, coaches teach you about the perils of trash-talking. There's a little bit of smack-talk in all of us, but it can get you in real trouble. That said, how good was I last week? I'm talking Larry Bird-good in the fourth quarter at the Boston Garden, Jack Nicklaus-good on the back nine at Augusta in 1986, The Commodores-good back in the 1970s when Lionel Richie, Walter Orange and the boys were sporting big fros and doing a little "Brick House."
Well, I might be getting a little carried away, but you get the message. Last week, I nailed Florida over LSU, Mississippi State over Vanderbilt and South Carolina over Kentucky. The only one I missed was Arkansas' upset of Auburn, but not even Bobby Petrino's father got that one right and he was in from Montana to watch the game. OK, stop right there Hog fans. Just a little humor.
Petrino's father isn't picking against his son. At least, there's no evidence he is. It's always easier to have a little fun when you win, and something tells me it was exceedingly more pleasant around the two Petrino households this week following that 25-22 win over Auburn. As for my record, I'm now 42-11 for the season after going 4-1 last week. Here are my picks for Week 8 in the SEC:
South Carolina 27, LSU 24: The Alabama fans would really love this one. Another LSU loss would ensure that the path to the West crown goes through Tuscaloosa. The Gamecocks are due a big home win. Redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia gives them a spark at quarterback, and Ellis Johnson's defense shuts down LSU's running game for the second straight week. The party at Five Points breaks up about the time South Carolina kicks it off again two weeks later against Tennessee.
Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 13: As successful as Vanderbilt has been this season and as well as they've played Georgia the last two seasons, it's still hard to fathom the Commodores moving the ball well enough to win this game. They just haven't shown enough offense, although Mackenzi Adams is stepping in at quarterback this week. The Bulldogs are going with another new look in the offensive line after Vince Vance's injury, and the Commodores already have an SEC-leading 19 sacks. But the difference in this game will be the Georgia defense.
Tennessee 14, Mississippi State 10: It's probably asking a bit much for these two teams to stage another 3-2 pitcher's duel similar to the one Auburn and Mississippi State played a month ago. But both offenses are that bad, and both defenses have been pretty good. So who knows? With all the talk about Phillip Fulmer's job being in jeopardy, it will be interesting to see how his players rally around him. The last thing Fulmer needs is another home stinker. Any chance there's a Brandon Warren sighting in this game?
Alabama 30, Ole Miss 21: There's just something about Houston Nutt taking an unranked team on the road against a top 5 team. It's when he's at his best, motivating his teams with the zeal of a Baptist preacher. The only problem is that Ole Miss faces a No. 2-ranked Alabama team this weekend that's coming off a bye week rested, healthy and more focused than ever. Betting on a letdown from a Nick Saban-coached team coming out of an open date is akin to betting on coaches all of a sudden deciding they're getting paid too much money.
Kentucky 21, Arkansas 17: It's Rich Brooks and Bobby Petrino back together again. Petrino was 4-0 against Brooks when Petrino was coaching at Louisville, and he averaged 39.5 points in those four games against the Wildcats. To really make the reunion complete, all we need is for Kentucky president Lee Todd to come forward at some booster luncheon and take a few shots at Arkansas the way he did at Louisville before the 2006 game. The reality is that Petrino doesn't have the team he did when he was at Louisville, although the Hogs are coming off their best win of the season at Auburn. The Wildcats are coming off two straight defeats, but have the kind of defense Brooks wishes he would have had when Petrino was beating up on him at Louisville.
Four Saturday games in the Big East. Imagine that. Rutgers and Syracuse will try to avoid 0-3 starts. South Florida looks to get back on track. Connecticut hopes to go to 2-0. Louisville just wants to survive.
Pittsburgh 28, Navy 21: It won't be easy for Pitt, because nothing is. But with two weeks to prepare for Navy's triple-option and the memory of last year's home loss still fresh in their minds, I think the Panthers find a way to slow down the Midshipmen on defense. On offense, LeSean McCoy should have a big day running the ball against Navy's undersized defense. Both teams want to control the time of possession, and with the new college football clock rules the scoring probably won't approach last year's 48-45 double overtime shootout.
Connecticut 21, Rutgers 17: The Scarlet Knights are desperate for a win and will likely play the Huskies tough at home. But UConn's defense is rested and healed up from the bye week, and Mike Teel and Co. haven't showed the ability to sustain long drives. Rutgers will keep it close for a while, but it won't make the necessary big plays on offense late to avoid yet another loss.
South Florida 31, Syracuse 10: I'm looking for a big effort out of a South Florida team that's been stewing over the Pitt loss for 16 days. Syracuse stayed in the game against both Pittsburgh and West Virginia, but at some point the Orange have got to lose a little bit of faith. With the Bulls getting healthier on defense, they're going to make it very hard for the offensively-challenged Orange to score much. Matt Grothe should pick apart the Syracuse defense with his sprawling cast of receivers.
Louisville 34, Middle Tennessee 21: Which Middle will show up -- the one that beat Maryland and came about a yard short of toppling Kentucky? Or the one that has lost to Troy, Arkansas State and, gulp, Florida International? Either way, the Blue Raiders have Louisville's full attention after they nearly pulled off the upset in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium last September. But this year's Cardinals team is more focused and much better on defense, and they should have enough to win by two scores.
Last week: 3-0
Season results: 26-13 (67 percent)
Western Michigan 31, Central Michigan 30 (OT): If I could have made this game a tie, I would have. I went back and forth. I looked at common opponents, scores, everything and these teams are even. This will be a great game to watch and I'm a little disappointed I won't be there. Western Michigan is a much better team than it was a year ago and Central is still the class of the conference with back-to-back championships. I like Western's defense in this one.
Northern Illinois 28, Toledo 10: Toledo is coming off a huge win at Michigan and I think that's still going to be looming a bit when this game kicks off. While the Rockets are thinking about last week, Northern Illinois, which has been on a nice little run lately, will be focused on chasing down its MAC West opponents. Plus, the Huskies have starting quarterback Chandler Harnish back.
Tulsa 38, UTEP 21: If Tulsa wants to prove it's the best in Conference USA, the path begins now. Currently UTEP is the closest thing the Golden Hurricane have as a challenger for the C-USA West title. The Miners have won three straight and are 3-0 in conference. But they haven't faced a team as explosive as Tulsa and I don't think their offense or their defense can keep up.
Houston 45, SMU 24: Houston proved its staying power last week with its amazing second-half, come-from-behind dominance of UAB. SMU showed that it's getting better against Tulsa last week, but the Mustangs commit too many turnovers and have too many mistakes to beat a good team.
Navy 24, Pittsburgh 18: It's not that I'm on the Navy bandwagon -- though I think it's much improved from where it was at the beginning of the year -- I just don't believe Pittsburgh is that good. Pitt might have some trouble with the running game that's No. 2 in the country, but it wouldn't hurt Navy to diversify its offense.
TCU 19, BYU 14: There was something TCU coach Gary Patterson said during the MWC teleconference that really solidified my decision here. He said that BYU quarterbacks have always been able to figure out his defense. I took that to mean that TCU was going to show something totally different this weekend. I could be wrong, but this is a team that's been waiting for this game since January and even has a tackling dummy with a BYU helmet. I think there are some surprises in store Thursday night.
Utah 28, Colorado State 14: I have Utah doubling up the Rams, but I think this game is going to be close throughout. Colorado State has been better over the past couple of weeks, but it makes mistakes at key times in the game, which has led to some of the losses. Plus, there's been some quarterback controversy and CSU coach Steve Fairchild said he wouldn't hesitate to sit Billy Farris if he starts poorly. That's a lot of pressure going against the No. 14 team in the country.
Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Arkansas State 26: I'm excited to see the outcome of both of the big matchups in the Sun Belt this week, but this one might be the closer of the two. Both of these teams are evenly matched, but Arkansas State's rush defense is going to get a workout against the No. 1 rushing team in the country.
Troy 28, Florida International 17: I'm really amazed and interested in Florida International's dramatic turnaround over the last few weeks, but I think that comes to an end against Troy. The one thing that might swing this game in FIU's favor is Troy's new starting quarterback. If he's not ready to roll, the whole team could suffer.
Boise State 42, Hawaii 17: Revenge is sweet on the blue field. It's unfortunate that Hawaii isn't the Hawaii from last year because that might have made this a good game. As it stands, unless Boise State commits five or six turnovers and misses a key field goal, the Broncos should stay perfect in league play setting up an interesting game with San Jose State next week.
San Jose State 32, New Mexico State 21: San Jose State is a team that has come out of nowhere and made some interesting waves in the WAC. I'm not anointing them a worthy adversary yet -- they have played the bottom of the league -- but the game against New Mexico State should tell us something about both teams. San Jose State has the No. 13 defense in the country, but it will be tested against a high-powered Aggie offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The season record improved to 35-9 with a 3-1 week 7, the miss, of course, being my unrequited love for Arizona, which got physically whipped by Stanford.
Let's get to it...
California 33, Arizona 24: While this smells a bit like Arizona's annual "We always beat at least one ranked team at home" game, the Bears are the pick because they should learn a lot from the way Stanford handled the Wildcats. And if Cal quarterback Nate Longshore starts and plays well, that might buy him at least one or two future mistakes before he gets booed again inside his home stadium.
Stanford 28, UCLA 23: One way to look at this is Arizona whipped UCLA in the Rose Bowl and Stanford whipped Arizona, ergo Stanford should whip UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Of course, we all know the transitive property often doesn't apply in college football. Still, the Cardinal just seems to have fewer issues than the Bruins, though they probably won't find the going as easy up the middle with defensive tackles Brian Price and Brigham Harwell clogging things up.
Oregon State 41, Washington 17: Last year's spirited, emotional, and controversial game should keep the Beavers from sleepwalking into this one. If they jump on Washington early, it's not unreasonable to suspect that more than a few Huskies might start waving a white flag on their lost season.
USC 104, Washington State 3: Kidding. Let's make this USC 50, Washington State 6. USC is banged up, and Pete Carroll might be tempted to clear his bench and rest his hurting starters, so the score might not get completely out of control like it has when three previous Pac-10 foes hung 60-plus on the Cougs. The best hope for Washington State is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina through the game healthy.