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October 8, 2010

Keep an eye on: What our guys are watching

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend. Here are some key things to watch this weekend.

We're back with another season of trying to predict the big upsets -- or, at the least, pick teams that will cover the spread. The lone stipulation for our writers in choosing a game is that the spread has to be at least 7.5 points.
Olin Buchanan
Colorado plus-12.5 at Missouri. Colorado rebounded from a 52-7 thumping at the hands of Cal quite nicely by beating Hawaii and Georgia. Those two wins should give the Buffaloes a lot of confidence, even if they are going into Missouri as almost two-touchdown underdogs. Colorado may not be able to pull out a win on the road, but the Buffs should keep it close. And on the 20th anniversary of the infamous "fifth-down" game, something crazy is bound to occur.
Tom Dienhart
Illinois plus-7.5 at Penn State. I think Illinois has a good chance to win at Penn State. The Nittany Lions' offense is struggling. Illinois has made great strides on defense under new coordinator Vic Koenning, which could mean more struggles for Penn State. Unlike the Nittany Lions, the Illini can run the ball behind the Big Ten's No. 2 rusher in Mikel Leshoure, which means they may be able to grind out a victory with their running game and defense.
David Fox
UCLA plus-7.5 at California. Umm, do you remember the last time Cal faced the "pistol" offense? The Bears allowed 316 rushing yards to Nevada in a 52-31 loss. Cal has plenty going in its favor: playing at home, seeing the offense for the second time, have a bye week to prepare and that UCLA simply isn't as good at running the pistol as Nevada. On the other hand, UCLA has a better defense than Nevada and gets QB Kevin Prince back after he missed a sloppy effort against Washington State.
Mike Huguenin
UCLA plus-7.5 at California. UCLA's move to the "pistol" offense has paid off with big rushing numbers. UCLA doesn't run the scheme as well as Nevada, whose coach invented it, but the Bruins definitely know what they're doing. That should worry Cal, which was crushed by Nevada earlier this season.
Steve Megargee
Oregon State plus-7.5 at Arizona. Oregon State already has faced the nation's top-ranked defense (Boise State) and the third-ranked defense (TCU), so the Beavers should be ready for Arizona's second-ranked defense. The return of WR James Rodgers just might be enough for Oregon State to end Arizona's run at an undefeated season.
Last Week/Season Totals
Two of our five picks covered the spread. For the season, 11 of 25 picks have covered the spread and three have won outright.

Michigan State's defense. Can LB Greg Jones and the rest of Michigan State's defense slow Michigan QB Denard Robinson? Nobody has been able to do that, but Michigan hasn't faced a team with a defense as good as Michigan State's. The Spartans rank 20th in the nation in run defense and have held three opponents to fewer than 20 points. No Wolverines opponent thus far ranks higher than 68th in total defense. Obviously, the key to beating Michigan is containing Robinson -- but he hasn't been contained yet. - OLIN BUCHANAN

Miami QB Jacory Harris. I think Florida State's visit is a must-win game for a Miami program that's looking to show it's the top ACC team. That means the pressure is on Harris to have a big game. In a 36-24 loss at Ohio State earlier this season, he tossed four picks; he already has eight this season. And he didn't look great in last week's win at Clemson, hitting just 13-of-33 passes for 205 yards with two picks, although he did throw four TD passes. The penchant for tossing interceptions began last season, when he threw 17. In the Hurricanes' three regular-season losses in 2009, Harris was intercepted eight times. He must protect the ball if Miami wants to beat a surging FSU team that has won three in a row.


Baylor's performance in the Big 12 opener. At 4-1, Baylor appears headed for its first bowl since 1994, but nothing is guaranteed as the Bears enter conference play. Baylor lucks out by not playing Texas Tech in Lubbock this season -- the game is at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Still, the Bears haven't defeated Texas Tech since 1995. That's a longer losing streak than Baylor's stretch of futility against Texas. QB Robert Griffin, who accounted for 444 total yards and four touchdowns against Kansas last week, has been outstanding after his return from knee surgery. Throw out the 45-10 loss to TCU, and Baylor's defense has allowed only 29 points in the other four games. The loss to the Horned Frogs sticks out, but Baylor won't face many teams that good in the Big 12 schedule. If Baylor is going to go to a bowl, the Bears need to beat opponents such as the struggling Red Raiders.


The Pac-10. There are four important conference games this weekend. The biggest is Stanford-USC, with both trying to bounce back from losses last week. How motivated will USC be? Yes, Stanford crushed the Trojans last season, but USC is playing for nothing but pride now. Stanford, meanwhile, still looks good for a 10-win season, assuming it can get past USC. Arizona-Oregon State, California-UCLA and Arizona State-Washington also bear watching. Arizona is looking to remain unbeaten, while Oregon State is entering a stretch in which it plays three of four on the road. Is either Cal or UCLA good enough for a top-five league finish? It will be hard to finish that high with a loss in this one. Washington, meanwhile, will be looking to build on its win over USC last week. But Arizona State has won six in a row in the series, including a last-minute victory last season.


Will Marcus Lattimore run effectively against Alabama? South Carolina's chances of knocking off the top-ranked team in the country depend on whether Lattimore can find running room. South Carolina won its first three games largely because of Lattimore, who ran for 333 yards and five touchdowns during that stretch. When Auburn limited Lattimore to 33 yards on 14 carries two weeks ago, the Gamecocks needed to rely on their quarterbacks to win the game for them. Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw instead each committed two turnovers in the fourth quarter in a 35-27 loss. South Carolina's defense might be good enough to keep the game close, but the Gamecocks won't win unless Lattimore has a big game.




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