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November 23, 2011

Week 13: Keep an eye on/upset picks

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 13.

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
Washington State plus-7.5 at Washington. With a little luck, Washington State could have become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2003. But the improving Cougars can ease that disappointment by winning the Apple Cup over archrival Washington. The Huskies aren't playing well; QB Keith Price is banged up and pass defense remains an issue. That could be a big problem against Washington State. The Cougars can throw it, and sophomore Marquess Wilson is one of the best receivers in the Pac-12.
David Fox
Ohio State plus-7.5 at Michigan. The line is a prudent one. I could see Michigan taking out seven years of frustrations against Ohio State, but a more likely outcome might be this game being closer than it appears on paper. Ohio State has taken some losses a normal Ohio State team shouldn't, but despite all the turmoil, the Buckeyes have been in every game since a Sept. 17 loss to Miami. The loss to the Hurricanes is Ohio State's only setback by more than seven points. Michigan is better than Ohio State, but maybe not good enough to open up a two-score lead in a rivalry game against the Buckeyes.
Mike Huguenin
Iowa plus-9.5 at Nebraska. The Big Ten is hoping this becomes a rivalry, and given that the states border each other, it has potential. Of course, close games make for better rivalries, and this has the look of a close game. Iowa is vastly better throwing the ball and has a big-time tailback in Marcus Coker. If Coker can reach the 100-yard mark and the Hawkeyes can hold Huskers TB Rex Burkhead to around 75 or so, Iowa can come out with the victory.
Steve Megargee
Minnesota plus-10.5 vs. Illinois. Illinois undoubtedly is a better team than Minnesota, but you wouldn't know it from the way each team has played over the past month. After winning its first six games, Illinois has lost five in a row. Minnesota may have been the worst major-conference team in the country for the first half of the season, but the Gophers have been much more competitive lately. They beat Iowa on Oct. 29 and came within a touchdown of Michigan State the following week. The home-field advantage should allow Minnesota to keep it close. I wouldn't be surprised if the Gophers found a way to win this one outright.
Season Totals
For the season, 32 of 56 picks have covered the spread and 13 have won outright.

Texas-Texas A&M. As a native Texan, I'm particularly intrigued by the Texas-Texas A&M game, which appears to be the last of the 118-year series between the state rivals. That game matches strengths against strengths and weaknesses against weaknesses. A&M's offense is among the country's highest scoring, while Texas has one of the nation's best defenses. It will be interesting to see if Texas' defense can slow A&M and keep the Longhorns in the game. And if it does, can Texas' offense take advantage? The Longhorns figure to start Case McCoy ahead of David Ash at quarterback in hopes of boosting an inept passing game. A&M is ranked 118th in the nation in pass defense, and if the Longhorns can't throw on the Aggies, they can't throw on anybody.


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Stanford. Kudos to first-year Cardinal coach David Shaw for criticizing the BCS this week - and criticizing the system without being prompted. "All I've heard all year is that the computers don't like Stanford," Shaw told reporters at his weekly news conference. "The computers haven't programmed themselves." Shaw singled out No. 4 Oklahoma State's and No. 5 Virginia Tech's standing in the polls ahead of No. 6 Stanford. He may be right about that. Rivals thinks so, at least. Shaw also pumped Andrew Luck for the Heisman. I love coaches who speak their minds, but there's a reason most don't do it: Failure to deliver can lead to a coach with egg on his face. With just one more chance to prove itself before the postseason, Stanford will try to make sure its coach doesn't look foolish. Notre Dame is a quality team, but not so good that a BCS-bound Stanford team with a Heisman-contending quarterback shouldn't beat the Irish by two touchdowns. Shaw wants the spotlight for his team in this final week of the regular season. Now he has it.


Arkansas' offense. The Hogs will be the second pass-oriented team that LSU has faced. LSU surrendered 463 passing yards to West Virginia, but the Tigers also limited the Mountaineers to 70 rushing yards and thrashed them by 26 points. The point here: You cannot be one-dimensional and beat LSU. Arkansas is going to be able to throw the ball, but unless the Hogs also can run it effectively, they're going to get thrashed by LSU as well. Arkansas didn't run or throw well on Alabama, finishing with 226 total yards, including a season-low 209 through the air. The Hogs lost that game by 24, which gives LSU something to shoot for.


Clemson. After spending most of the season as one of the nation's biggest surprises, Clemson has fallen back to earth the past few weeks. Clemson has dropped two of its past three games, including an embarrassing 37-13 setback at North Carolina State last week. After averaging 40.6 per game during its 8-0 start, Clemson has averaged just 20.3 points per game in its past three contests. Clemson has 11 turnovers in its past three games after turning it over just eight times in its first eight contests. Clemson will try to bounce back from the NC State debacle Saturday at archrival South Carolina. A victory over the Gamecocks and a win in the ACC championship game still would make this one of the most memorable seasons in Clemson history, but the Tigers won't win either of their next two games if they play the way they have the past few weeks.


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