LAST WEEK: 2-4
Okay, last week didn't go so well. Time to rebound.
#15 TEXAS (4-1, 1-1) VS. #13 OKLAHOMA (3-1, 1-1)
It's rare indeed that both Texas and Oklahoma enter the Red River Shootout (sorry, Rivalry) ranked in the teens and with a loss in two -- a conference loss, no less -- but that's where we find ourselves this year. This game might be a do-or-die game for these teams and their hopes of contending for a Big XII or national title this year. One more loss would almost certainly eliminate either team from national title contention and it would put them way behind the eight-ball in the Big XII title race, too. Texas lost a shootout to West Virginia a week ago, while Oklahoma rebounded from their home loss to Kansas State to knock off Texas Tech in Lubbock. A year ago, Texas got taken behind the woodshed by Oklahoma in a 55-17 loss that might not even have been that close. So they'll have revenge on their brains. The win over Texas Tech was nice, but Oklahoma has just looked too shaky to back here against what should be a focused, motivated Texas squad.
THE PICK: TEXAS 35, OKLAHOMA 24
WISCONSIN (4-2, 1-1) AT PURDUE (3-2, 0-1)
Purdue is 0-1 in the Big Ten this year, yet a win over Wisconsin this week may essentially lock up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game for them anyway. Welcome to the Big Ten in 2012! That's because the two best teams in the division, Ohio State and Penn State, are ineligible to play in the title game and the two worst teams in the division, Illinois and Indiana, look really bad. So it's a two-horse race between Purdue and Wisconsin and the winner of this game will have a big leg up on the other team. Wisconsin rebounded from its collapse against Nebraska to post a fairly solid win over Illinois (a game in which the Badger offense finally got going), while Purdue endured a disappointing blowout loss at home to Michigan. The key to this game for Purdue may be how quickly they can flush their performance against Michigan and rebound in this game. Both teams have flaws and both teams have been wildly inconsistent this year. Wisconsin enters the game with a bit more momentum, but I think Purdue rallies for a big win at home.
THE PICK: PURDUE 27, WISCONSIN 21
#17 STANFORD (4-1, 2-1) AT #7 NOTRE DAME (5-0)
The Notre Dame train just keeps on rolling in 2012. Ugly uniforms aside, their performance against Miami last week was virtually flawless: they dominated on offense and defense and rolled to a 41-3 blowout win over the 'Canes. Outside of a tricky-looking road trip to Norman in two weeks to take on Oklahoma, this game with Stanford looks like Notre Dame's toughest test until a season-ending clash with USC. Win here and the the drums beating for a BCS game will start getting really loud. Stanford's won several games in a row over Notre Dame, but most of those came with Andrew Luck manning the controls for the Cardinal. He's not around anymore and Stanford will have their hands full on the road against a beastly Notre Dame defense. The last time the Cardinal went on the road (against Washington two weeks ago), their offense sputtered to a halt. That's a bad omen heading into South Bend this week. Their own defense should make life difficult for Everett Golson and the Notre Dame offense, but I still like the Fighting Irish to find some offense in the second half and put this game away.
THE PICK: NOTRE DAME 24, STANFORD 13
#10 OREGON STATE (4-0, 3-0) AT BYU (4-2)
Oregon State has been one of the surprise teams of the season, starting off 4-0 and rising to 10th in the country. But they'll face a stiff test this week against a BYU team that has the 5th best total defense (229 ypg), the 3rd best scoring defense (8.8 ppg), and the best rush defense in the country (59.5 ypg). Oregon State, meanwhile, will be bringing a back-up quarterback to the dance, with regular starter Sean Mannion out with a knee injury. This seems like a rough game to break in a rusty QB.
THE PICK: BYU 17, OREGON STATE 9
#3 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-0, 4-0) AT #9 LSU (5-1, 1-1)
South Carolina passed the first test of their mid-season gauntlet with flying colors last week when they annihilated Georgia, 35-7, in Columbia. Next up? A road date with an LSU team licking its wounds after a 14-6 loss to Florida. Get by the Tigers and South Carolina has their own date with that same Florida team in the Swamp. That's probably the toughest three-game stretch any team in the country will face this season. Emerge from it unscathed and South Carolina will be favorites to roll into Atlanta undefeated for the SEC Championship Game. South Carolina continues to win in very un-Spurrier ways; in that beatdown of the Dawgs last week, they threw the ball just ten times and ran the ball 51 times. Their defense was an iron vise around the Georgia offense, too, led by a fearsome pass rush anchored by DE Jadeveon Clowney. The way USC is winning may seem unfamiliar to fans who remember Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun teams from the 90s, but it should be intimately familiar to anyone who's watched SEC teams like Alabama and LSU pummel their way to national titles in recent years: smother teams with great defenses that dominate the line of scrimmage and pound away on offense with a punishing running game. Before the season began, LSU was expected to vie for another national title with the same formula, but a series of offensive line injuries has hampered their running game while the passing offense remains effectively DOA, with or without Jordan Jefferson in charge. The defense has remained pretty stout, although it did get gashed in the second half by Florida's running game last week. Still, this game looks like a battle of clones: both teams are going to try the ball a ton on offense and both teams are going to try to use an aggressive, stifling defense to force turnovers. In other words... don't expect a shootout here. LSU will play better than they did a week ago... but it won't be enough.
THE PICK: SOUTH CAROLINA 13, LSU 10
#22 TEXAS A&M (4-1, 2-1) AT #23 LOUISIANA TECH (5-0, 0-0)
Finally, we close things out with a surprisingly tasty non-conference clash. This game was originally scheduled to be one of the first games of the college football season, but inclement weather forced the teams to postpone it until this week (when both teams luckily had an open week). Since then, the Aggies have gotten off to a solid start in their new SEC home, led by electrifying QB Johnny Manziel (1285 yards passing, 69% completion, 12 TD, 3 INT; 495 yards rushing, 7 TD), while Louisiana Tech has gotten off to a stunning 5-0 start in their last year as a WAC team. They've already claimed two BCS scalps on the road, a 52-24 massacre of Illinois and a 44-38 shootout over Virginia, and now they get a chance at home to add a third to their collection. Texas A&M figures to be the toughest of the lot by far, though, and they'll bring a level of talent to the field that La Tech may have trouble matching. If nothing else, this game figures to have plenty of points: La Tech has scored 50+ in four of their five wins and Texas A&M has scored 48+ in three of their four wins. Hello, shootout.
THE PICK: TEXAS A&M 45, LOUISIANA TECH 35