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October 28, 2011

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 in Week 9.

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
BYU plus-13 vs. TCU. This is not a vintage season for BYU, but the Cougars have gotten better since Riley Nelson became the starting quarterback. The Cougars' defense has been playing well against the run of late, which is mandatory to have a shot against TCU.
David Fox
Indiana plus-9 vs. Northwestern. How bad can it get for Northwestern? Maybe a loss to Indiana will be the next low point for a Wildcats team that has lost five in a row. Northwestern's defense can't stop anyone, and that may include Indiana freshman QB Tre Roberson, who accounted for 197 passing yards and 84 rushing yards in his first career start last week at Iowa.
Mike Huguenin
Indiana plus-9 vs. Northwestern. Northwestern's defense is horrible and so is Indiana's, which means both teams will be able to move the ball. But IU getting nine points at home against a Northwestern team that has lost five in a row, including a setback against a bad Army team. That seems like a gift.
Steve Megargee
San Jose State plus-7.5 at Louisiana Tech. San Jose State has won three of its past four games and has been relatively competitive in every game since its season-opening blowout loss to Stanford. They showed they could win on the road by beating Colorado State, and they should have plenty of momentum after rallying to beat Hawaii in their most recent game. Louisiana Tech has an uncertain quarterback situation, as Nick Isham struggled with a shoulder injury last week and was replaced by Colby Cameron in a victory over Utah State. Louisiana Tech also lost 44-26 at home to the same Hawaii team that San Jose State beat. Louisiana Tech has won two in a row since the loss to Hawaii, but I think San Jose State keeps this one close and could win outright.
Success rate
For the season, 21 of 40 picks have covered the spread and seven have won outright.

Wisconsin. How will the Badgers' respond to last week's heartbreaking loss to Michigan State? A loss like that - a final-play Hail Mary pass for a touchdown after a replay review - could have a lingering effect. The Badgers now must go on the road to face improving Ohio State, which has had an extra week to prepare. I'm interested in seeing if the Badgers will be as focused and intense as usual. Wisconsin can get back into the national championship picture if it can win the rest of its games and the Big Ten championship. But putting last week's loss behind them may be the toughest challenge the Badgers face from here.


USC's rush offense. Matt Barkley had an excellent game against Notre Dame's defense last week, but one of the keys to USC's win was the Trojans' rush offense. USC ran for 219 yards on 44 carries against Notre Dame, both season-highs. If USC is going to have a chance against Stanford, its running game must be effective. Washington's Chris Polk was able to break off touchdown runs of 46 and 61 yards against Stanford, which were the Huskies' only bright spots. USC must duplicate that to give itself a chance to win.


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Nebraska. Hopes were high for the Huskers entering the season, but if they fall at home to Michigan State, any chance at a Big Ten division title is gone, which would mean the latest in a long line of at least mildly disappointing seasons for Nebraska, which has lost at least four games every season since 2003. The flipside: A win would mean a revitalized Huskers team would be squarely in the division title hunt - and would have a shot at wearing the league crown. It's vital that QB Taylor Martinez and TB Rex Burkhead have room to run; the Huskers aren't going to beat the Spartans if they are forced to throw the ball.


Kansas State. Although the Wildcats certainly rank alongside Clemson as the nation's biggest surprises thus far, I'm still not sure quite what to make of these guys. Are they an 8-4 or 9-3 type of team that will get exposed now that they're about to face their toughest conference opponents? Or are they a legitimate threat to win the Big 12? Kansas State already showed its moxie by winning on the road against Miami and Texas Tech and by rallying past Baylor at home, but Oklahoma provides a much tougher test Saturday. The Sooners should come in particularly angry after their stunning loss to Texas Tech last week. K-State has a solid defense and a great running game, but junior QB Collin Klein hasn't thrown for 200 yards in a game in his career. I don't think K-State can beat Oklahoma or Oklahoma State with such a one-dimensional offense. I'm interested in seeing if the Wildcats can prove me wrong.


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