by Mike Ivcic
A good week straight up for week three (only a UCLA second half stampede over Nebraska blemished the ledger) leads us into a big weekend of conference play, as the big BCS-qualifying conferences all have at least one big-time matchup. So we’ll look at one from each conference this week, as well as a game involving Notre Dame, as you all begin to prepare for what could be a turning point weekend for some BCS bids.
3) Clemson @ NC State
Thursday, 7:30pm, ESPN
Line: Clemson by 14
In the past, this is exactly the type of game that would trip up the Tigers. NC State is also 2-0 with home wins over Louisiana Tech and Richmond – not exactly the most impressive resume in the FBS. Still, the Wolfpack are at home and have had 11 days to prepare for Clemson, so the visitors need to ensure they’re not caught off-guard in their first game away from Death Valley. I’m always fearful of high lines for road teams in conference games, but I just get the feeling that this Clemson team is different. If, in fact, they are, this is one of the games where they’ll prove that this group is worth of the lofty ranking and national championship discussion.
Pick: Clemson 38, NC State 13
Tennessee @ 19) Florida
Saturday, 3:30pm, CBS
Line: Florida by 17
Once a great rivalry, things just aren’t the same when it comes to Tennessee and Florida. The Gators lost some of their bite (pun intended) when Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow left the swamp, while the Vols captured a national championship the year after Peyton Manning graduated and have been one of college football’s biggest underachievers ever since. So why pick this game? For one, I think Tennessee has been abused by Florida so much recently they’re almost due for a good performance. Plus, this Gators team was not impressive, especially offensively, against Toledo and Miami. They’ve had two weeks to prepare for the Volunteers and they’re playing at home, so I’m definitely picking Florida to win, but I could very easily see a cover here.
Pick: Florida 23, Tennessee 13
Purdue @ 24) Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2
Line: Wisconsin by 24.5
I’m actually very surprised by this line. Yes, Wisconsin did get hosed last weekend by the poor call at the end of the game against Arizona State, but they still lost to a team that wasn’t considered one of the top four teams in the conference at the start of the season. Meanwhile Purdue stunned some experts, including yours truly, by putting up a very nice performance against what should have been a very angry Notre Dame squad. Do I think Purdue can walk into Madison and walk out with a win? No, I don’t. But should the Badgers be favored by three touchdowns and a field goal based upon the performances of each team last week? Again, no. So take the Boilermakers here and continue to hear more about how the Big ten doesn’t stack up well with the big boy conferences.
Pick: Wisconsin 27, Purdue 14
Michigan State at 22) Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30pm, NBC
Line: Notre Dame by 6.5
And then there’s the Irish, who got dominated in the first half against Michigan and then saw Purdue give them a nice scare for three quarters. No one expected this team to be the same one that played for a national title last season, but they don’t look like they should even be considered a top 25 team at this point. Add to that the fact that Michigan State, even more so than the Wolverines, is the Big Ten team that tends to give Notre Dame the most fits. The Spartans don’t have a ton to hang their hats on thus far – unremarkable wins over Western Michigan and South Florida before pasting FCS Youngstown State last week – so this is their one non-conference chance to make a statement. The Irish have won the last two at home and three of the last four, but from 97-07 the Spartans won six straight in South Bend, including the flag-planting game in 2005. Can they get back to their winning ways on the road?
Pick: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 23
23) Arizona State @ 5) Stanford
Saturday, 7:00pm, FOX
Line: Stanford by 7
I don’t think I was the only one that got caught a little by surprise at the Sun Devils performance against Wisconsin last weekend, which sets up this juicy little matchup in Palo Alto in primetime. I think the Cardinal are a legitimate threat to take down Oregon and win the Pac-12, but that could all change if Arizona State duplicates last weekend’s upset. This time, though, they’re on the road, and I think David Shaw’s group will be ready. It might sound crazy to say that the 5th ranked team in the country is underrated, but Stanford very well may be – and this will be as good of a chance as any to prove it ahead of their meeting November 7 with the Ducks.
Pick: Stanford 37, Arizona State 24
Auburn at 6) LSU
Saturday, 7:45pm, ESPN
Line: LSU by 17.5
It wasn’t too long ago that this was one of the top five “must-see” matchups on the season, where now it probably doesn’t rank as one of the top five games in the SEC. The Bayou Tigers have maintained their elite-caliber defense throughout the course of the Les Miles era, and it appears that they may also have found a quarterback capable of producing some offense – though we’ll wait for official confirmation until after they face Alabama. On the other side, the Iron Bowl Tigers have fallen fast than perhaps any team in college football history after winning the 2010 national title with Cam Newton. Suddenly, though, Auburn is sitting at 3-0 with wins over Washington State and Mississippi State, and with Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic still on the schedule it would appear that returning to a bowl game is a decent possibility. That will have to serve as a consolation prize, however, because they’re still not quite up to the level of the SEC West’s top three – Alabama, Texas A&M, and their opponent this week, LSU.
Pick: LSU 34, Auburn 10
Kansas State @ Texas
Saturday, 8:00pm, ABC
Line: Texas by 5.5
Both of these teams have already suffered tough early-season losses – Kansas State was shocked by North Dakota State at home in week one, while Texas was throttled by BYU the following weekend. The nice part about both of those losses is that neither one counts in the Big 12 standings, meaning both of these teams are still on pace for a BCS berth. No other team in this conference has really cemented their status as the front runner (Oklahoma has come closest, but still looks beatable) so both coaches will be preaching to their respective teams the importance of winning this game and getting to 1-0 in conference play. I actually think Kansas State is the better team here, so I’m going with a bit of a minor upset in Austin.
Pick: Kansas State 31, Texas 27
Last Week: 6-1 straight up, 4-3 against spread
Season: 15-6 straight up, 10-11 against spread
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