Rea's Say: Who's Better? Big Ten vs. SEC

Today's column weighs in on the Big Ten vs. SEC debate and tries to come up with a solution as to which conference is better. There are also the regular weekly features like Random Thoughts, info on the OSU-Wisconsin rivalry, news from Around The Country and the latest installment of the Fearless Forecast.

One of the most heated debates this fall has been this whole Big Ten vs. SEC thing. Obviously, everyone in the Midwest prefers a more rough-and-rumble, smash-mouth type of football while those in the South believe their superior speed could overcome any lumbering leviathan from up north.

So, I decided to try and discount the overwrought histrionics from either side and see for myself which was the better conference.

First off, it's not very easy to determine which conference is better since there are very few common opponents. In fact, there are only four teams in the country that have played against competition from both the SEC and Big Ten – Eastern Michigan from the MAC, UAB from Conference-USA and Sun Belt members Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

Those four teams combined are 1-8 against the two conferences in question with the only victory a 42-39 decision by Florida Atlantic over Minnesota. Since the Gophers are generally acknowledged as the worst team in the Big Ten, I'm not sure how much ammunition that result would be worth to the SEC in its argument against the Big Ten.

In the other eight contests, Eastern Michigan played three contests and lost them all – 30-7 to Vanderbilt, 26-14 to Northwestern and 33-22 to Michigan. Florida Atlantic lost 45-17 to Kentucky; UAB dropped a 55-18 decision to Michigan State and a 30-13 verdict to Mississippi State; and FIU was swamped by Arkansas (58-10) and Penn State (59-0).

Next, I went to the website knowing full well that its television network has a contract with the SEC. But it also is one of the few entities which ranks all teams in Division I-A. Unfortunately, that wasn't much of a tie-breaker either. Both conferences had six teams ranked among the top 29.

As a last resort, I came up with my own system. I seeded the teams in order of their current standings and squared the teams off against one another in a mythical SEC-Big Ten Challenge. To determine the winner, I didn't figure out some intricate computerized system or play each game a hundred times on NCAA Football '08. I went the completely unscientific route. I simply looked up each individual team's scoring average to date, added that to their opponent's defensive scoring average, divided by two and came up with a final score.

And what I discovered was rather interesting.

First of all, the seeds were based purely on the respective conference standings. Where teams were tied, the one with the better overall record got the higher seed. There was one instance in each league where teams had identical conference and overall marks – Georgia and Auburn in the SEC, Wisconsin and Purdue in the Big Ten. In that case, I flipped a coin. (Told you it was unscientific.)

Since there are 12 SEC teams and only 11 in the Big Ten, I had to eliminate one of the SEC teams with a play-in game much like the NCAA Tournament in basketball. Here are the results.

No. 12 Mississippi (0-6, 2-7) vs. No. 11 Arkansas (1-3, 5-3)

It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to believe the Razorbacks, behind the strong running of Darren McFadden, would be too much for Ole Miss and a rushing defense that ranks 107th in the country. Projected final score: Arkansas 34, Mississippi 18.

No. 11 Arkansas (1-3, 5-3) vs. No. 11 Minnesota (0-5, 1-8)

The Gophers might put up a little more fight against the Hogs, especially since they average nearly 28 points per game. But unlike many of its Big Ten brethren, Minnesota does not do well on defense. Projected final score: Arkansas 39, Minnesota 23.

No. 10 Mississippi State (2-3, 5-4) vs. No. 10 Michigan State (1-4, 5-4)

The Bulldogs are much-improved this season, looking for their first postseason bid since the 2000 Independence Bowl. But even though the Spartans have stumbled lately, they have the kind of running offense that would give them the edge here. Projected final score: Michigan State 29, Mississippi State 24.

No. 9 Vanderbilt (2-3, 5-3) vs. No. 9 Iowa (2-4, 4-5)

Despite the SEC's pronouncements that speed kills, this one would be a defensive battle. Unfortunately, the way the Hawkeyes have often struggled on the offensive side of the ball would tip the scales in favor of the Commodores. Projected final score: Vanderbilt 20, Iowa 17.

No. 8 Kentucky (2-3, 6-3) vs. No. 8 Indiana (2-4, 5-4)

These two programs have suddenly found life the last couple of years with talented quarterbacks in André Woodson for UK and Kellen Lewis for IU. It would another closely contested battle with the Wildcats squeezing out a victory. Projected final score: Kentucky 33, Indiana 30.

No. 7 Florida (3-3, 5-3) vs. No. 7 Northwestern (2-3, 5-4)

It probably looks like a mismatch to pit the defending national champions against the up-and-down Wildcats, but if Northwestern QB C.J. Bachér could keep his offense in gear, it would be closer than most observers would think. In the end, though, the Gators would prevail. Projected final score: Florida 35, Northwestern 26.

No. 6 South Carolina (3-3, 6-3) vs. No. 6 Penn State (3-3, 6-3)

I'd pay good money to see a game matching the Ol' Ball Coach against JoePa. Once again, defense carries the day as the Nittany Lions would likely stifle a sputtering Gamecock attack. Projected final score: Penn State 25, South Carolina 21.

No. 5 Tennessee (3-2, 5-3) vs. No. 5 Illinois (3-2, 6-3)

Ron Zook had to come back home to exact a measure of revenge on SEC rival Phil Fulmer. Both teams are inconsistent, but the Illini have more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and that would make the difference against a so-so Volunteers defense. Projected final score: Illinois 29, Tennessee 25.

No. 4 Auburn (4-2, 6-2) vs. No. 4 Purdue (3-2, 7-2)

A classic matchup with the Auburn stop troops digging in against the high-flying Purdue offense. To tell the truth, I expected this one to go the way of the Tigers. But the model looks for an offensive shootout, and the Boilermakers come out on top by a field goal. Projected final score: Purdue 26, Auburn 23.

No. 3 Georgia (4-2, 6-2) vs. No. 3 Wisconsin (3-2, 7-2)

They all get close from here. Neither of these teams was expected to have two losses by now, and that has come from inconsistencies. The Badgers get the nod here because they are slightly better on both offense and defense, but not by much. Projected final score: Wisconsin 26, Georgia 25.

No. 2 Alabama (4-1, 6-2) vs. No. 2 Michigan (5-0, 7-2)

If this game was held in Tuscaloosa, it would have a completely different outcome than if it was played in Ann Arbor. But for argument's sake, it's being waged on a neutral field and the edge comes with the Tide's offense being just a tad better than U-M's defense. Projected final score: Alabama 25, Michigan 24.

No. 1 LSU (4-1, 7-1) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (5-0, 9-0)

The contest that could be played for real in the BCS title game is the one that breaks the tie. Heading into this one, each conference has five wins in head-to-head competition and this one would promise to be a classic. Both teams have potent offensive attacks that average in excess of 34 points, putting it entirely on the defense to get the win. And despite the Tigers' ability to stuff their opponents, the Buckeyes are just a slight bit better. Projected final score: Ohio State 25, LSU 23.

So there you have it. Six wins for the Big Ten and five for the SEC. It's only one way to look at it, but subjectively speaking, the Big Ten would seem to be the better conference – albeit just barely.


• Just like I wasn't buying Florida QB Tim Tebow was the Heisman Trophy front-runner a week ago, I'm not buying that Boston College QB Matt Ryan jumped to the top of the ballot by engineering his team's come-from-behind victory over Virginia Tech last Thursday. The truth is that Ryan didn't play very well at all for the first 54 minutes of that game and the Eagles were lucky to win. Reminds me of the last BC quarterback to win the Heisman because of an overhyped comeback victory – one Douglas Richard Flutie, who edged Ohio State running back Keith Byars for the award in 1984.

• Reminds me of an interview I did with Byars several years ago. When I asked him about losing the Heisman to Flutie, his eyes suddenly narrowed. "I won the Heisman that year," Byars said. "It's just that my Heisman happens to reside in Doug Flutie's house."

• Just so you know, my ballot right now has three quarterbacks on it – Dennis Dixon of Oregon, Matt Ryan of Boston College and Todd Boeckman of Ohio State not necessarily in that order. Obviously, that list can and probably will change.

• In case you missed it, Rick Reilly is leaving Sports Illustrated to work for ESPN and its various properties. Reilly's back-page column/ego trip has long been a staple of SI, but the Boys in Bristol ponied up a reported $2 million per year to pry him away for appearances on ESPN's various networks as well as write for ESPN The Magazine and That is all supposed to begin in June. Meanwhile, former longtime ESPN commentator Dan Patrick will begin to write for Sports Illustrated while his new syndicated radio show will be simulcast on IMHO, SI got the better of the swap.

• Don't forget to set your clocks back an hour on Saturday night as Daylight Saving Time finally ends. I won't like the fact that it will now get dark around 5:30, but I could use that extra hour of sleep.

• What was the best thing before sliced bread?


• Ohio State leads the all-time series with Wisconsin by a hefty 50-17-5 margin, but things have been considerably more competitive in recent years. Since 1981, the series is just 11-10-1 in favor of OSU. Wisconsin has won three of the last four and is working on a three-game winning streak in Columbus. The Buckeyes haven't beaten U-Dub in the Horseshoe since a 27-16 win in 1996.

• No Big Ten opponent has beaten Ohio State four straight times at Ohio Stadium since Illinois accomplished the feat between 1988 and 1994.

• Before the recent parity in the series began in 1981, Ohio State enjoyed a 21-game winning streak over the Badgers from 1960-80. During that stretch, the Buckeyes outscored Wisconsin by a whopping 701-167. Further evidence of the dominance over that period was the fact OSU limited the Badgers to eight points or less in 13 of those games, five of which were shutouts.

• Wisconsin is one of a handful of teams that boasts a winning record against Jim Tressel, taking three of four games against the OSU head coach since 2001. Tressel's only victory against the Badgers so far came during the 2002 national championship season when the Buckeyes earned a 19-14 win in Madison. The two teams haven't played since 2004.

• The Buckeyes have a 5-1 advantage over the Badgers when playing as the No. 1 team in the nation. The only loss came in a 17-7 loss at Madison in 1942, a game that became known as "The Bad Water Game." During the train trip to the game, several members of the OSU team contracted dysentery when they drank contaminated water and were not at full strength come Saturday. It was the only loss during that season which resulted in Ohio State's first-ever national championship.

• All-time, the Badgers have a 3-14 record against top-ranked teams. It is their first contest against a No. 1 team since November 1997 when they lost a 26-16 decision to Michigan.

• Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema gets his first crack at the Buckeyes in his second season. Be advised that a UW head coach hasn't beaten Ohio State on his first trip to Columbus since Guy Lowman in 1918.

• Coaching the offensive line on Bielema's staff is Bob Palcic, who was offensive line coach under Earle Bruce and John Cooper from 1986-91. This is Palcic's second go-round in Madison, serving under the late Dave McClain from 1978-81. That means Palcic was on the last Wisconsin staff to enjoy a victory over a No. 1-ranked team – a 21-14 win over Michigan in the '81 season opener.

• One of college football's most-used adages claims that championships are won in November. If that is true, Ohio State seems to be in good shape for a third consecutive Big Ten title. Tressel's record in November since coming to Columbus is 18-3.

• Ohio State continues to protect a couple of record winning streaks. A victory over Wisconsin would be a 20th straight conference win, and that would establish a new league mark. OSU currently shares the record at 19 with Michigan (1990-92). A win on Saturday would also tie the Buckeyes for the longest regular-season win streak in Big Ten history, equaling a 28-game streak set by Michigan in 1901-03.

• Several Buckeyes are getting close to milestone achievements for a single season. Sophomore tailback Chris Wells needs only four more yards to become the 19th player in school history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in a season. Junior quarterback Todd Boeckman needs 201 more yards to reach the 2,000-yard mark, and only nine other Ohio State QBs have ever done that in one season. And, junior receiver Brian Robiskie is 213 yards away from having 1,000 for the season. He would be only the fifth receiver in school history to achieve that mark.

• Only four times in school history have the Buckeyes produced a 1,000-yard rusher, 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season. It happened in 1986 (Vince Workman, Jim Karsatos and Cris Carter), 1995 (Eddie George, Bobby Hoying and Terry Glenn), 1998 (Michael Wiley, Joe Germaine and David Boston) and 2002 (Maurice Clarett, Craig Krenzel and Michael Jenkins).

• One of the reasons why the Buckeyes have been so productive on offense so far is that their average gain on first down is 6.7 yards. They're not too shabby on third down either, gaining an average of 6.6 yards. Perhaps that goes a long way toward explaining why the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in third-down conversions and are No. 10 in the country in that stat.

• Ohio State's defense is the epitome of the word team. While the Buckeyes are No. 1 in the country in both total and scoring defense, no player is anywhere near the top 25 in any individual statistic. In fact, only three members of the defense even rank among the top 10 in the Big Ten in individual stats – defensive back Chimdi Chekwa is tied for second in passes broken up with nine; defensive end Vern Gholston is eight in sacks with 6.0; and linebacker James Laurinaitis is tied for 10th in tackles with 66.

• Two-time All-America lineman Bill Willis will be honored at halftime of this week's game by having his jersey No. 99 retired. Willis, who played for the Buckeyes from 1942-44, was a three-year starter on the offensive and defensive lines and played a key role in the school's 1942 national championship. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Willis went on to enjoy an eight-year professional career with the Cleveland Browns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

• This week's game will mark the final telecast this season of an OSU football game by the Big Ten Network. It will feature the announce crew of Thom Brennaman on play-by-play, Charles Davis with color commentary and Charissa Thompson from the sidelines. Kickoff is at set for about 12:05 p.m. Eastern.

• Kickoff for next week's home game against Illinois will be at 3:30 p.m. Eastern and the Nov. 17 matchup at Michigan will have a 12 noon kick. Both games will be on ABC.


• How did this happen? We went into the weekend with five undefeated teams and came out the same way. Congratulations to Arizona State, Boston College, Hawaii, Kansas and Ohio State for keeping things going.

• OSU, BC and Hawaii are all tied for the nation's longest winning streak at nine.

• With all of the upsets jumbling the national rankings, it's been a strange college football season to say the least. It also seems to be open season on sports writers. First, there was Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy teeing off on a female columnist following a game. Last week, it was Oregon head coach Mike Belotti's ex-wife verbally accosting columnist John Canzano during a game in the Autzen Stadium press box. I really can't do the story justice, so here is the link:

• Speaking of weird, here is a nugget about Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. He is being mentioned as the possible successor to Les Miles at LSU if Miles moves to Michigan as well as the next coach at Texas A&M if the Aggies choose to jettison Dennis Franchione at season's end. What makes things even more interesting is the fact that Tuberville has ties to both programs – he was a one-time assistant at LSU and owns a house near College Station.

• By the way, for those who are completely convinced that Miles would never leave his fat, juicy contract at LSU, know that the university put no stipulations on his $10.15 million deal that runs through 2001. However, the contract does include a $500,000 buyout clause if Miles is to leave LSU for any school other than Michigan. If he wants to take over in Ann Arbor, that will cost him $1.25 million.

• It has been a trying season for Tim Brewster in his first season as Minnesota head coach. But at least he gets to go home on Saturday. The Gophers, who haven't hosted a Big Ten opponent since the Sept. 29 loss to Ohio State, take on Illinois for the fabled Floyd of Rosedale Trophy. It is another homecoming of sorts for Brewster, who coaches for the first time against his alma mater. He was an All-Big Ten tight end for the Illinois and a captain on the 1984 Rose Bowl team. Brewster had 116 receptions during his career, a total that still ranks eighth in school history. He is the only tight end among the top 10 on Illinois' career receptions list.

• Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski is the school's first coach to begin his career with eight straight wins since Joe McKenney led the Eagles to a perfect 9-0 record in 1928.

• Reader alert! You may want to have some Pepto at the ready after you read this. Despite winning only one game this season, Notre Dame will collect approximately $1.3 million this year from its agreement with the Bowl Championship Series. The Irish renegotiated its BCS agreement in 2005 to guarantee a payout even if they did not play in a BCS game in exchange for a lower guarantee during years when the team did qualify. That means it gets about $1.3 million when it doesn't qualify for a BCS bowl and about $4.5 million when it does.

• Speaking of the BCS, here are the updated bowl predictions courtesy of Orange Bowl – Boston College vs. Missouri; Fiesta Bowl – Oklahoma vs. Arizona State; Rose Bowl – Oregon vs. West Virginia; Sugar Bowl – Georgia vs. Hawaii; BCS National Championship Game – Ohio State vs. LSU.

• Today marks the four-year anniversary of a game in which Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald set an NCAA record by catching a touchdown reception for the 14th consecutive game. Fitzgerald also made his 28th career TD catch in the 24-13 victory over Boston College.

• Also during this week in college football history: On Oct. 30, 1993, Auburn retired jersey No. 34 in honor of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Bo Jackson; on Nov. 2, 1990, Nevada rallied from a 49-19 deficit in the third quarter for a 55-49 victory over Weber State; and on Oct. 31, 1914, the University of Cincinnati adopts its Bearcats nickname. Cheerleader Norman Lyon invents a cheer based on standout fullback Leonard K. "Teddy" Baehr's moniker – "Come on, Baehr-cat!" – and the Cincinnati Bearcats are born.

• I didn't think it was possible to have a bigger ego than Florida's Urban Meyer, but apparently he's not the only one in the SEC who needs a little lesson in humility. Here is your quote of the week from Georgia head coach Mark Richt after about 70 of his players rushed the field following the Bulldogs' first touchdown in a win over Florida: "I told them if they didn't get a celebration penalty after our first score, all of them would be doing early morning runs."

• To be fair, Richt later wrote a letter of apology to SEC commissioner Mike Slive. "Two weeks ago when our preparation began for the Florida game, I told the team that we have got to have more energy and enthusiasm in this ballgame or we are going to get whipped pretty good," Richt wrote. "I said, as a matter of fact, when we score our first touchdown, I expect you guys to celebrate to the point where the official will throw a flag for excessive celebration. I admit this was inappropriate. I apologize that I put everyone in that situation and specifically apologize to you, the Southeastern Conference, and the University of Florida. You can be assured I will not ask our team to do this type of thing again."


Maybe there's something to this new strategy I started using last week. It was the best week picking games in quite some time, nailing wins like Oregon over USC, Connecticut over South Florida and Tennessee over South Carolina. Overall, we had a 15-5 week straight up to move the season total to 173-55.

We even had a winning record against the spread for the first time in ages, going 10-8-1. That moves the ATS record back in the right direction at 89-107-4, but we still have a lot of catching up to do. Let's see what this week has in store, beginning with another tasty Thursday night treat.


No. 11 Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech: You thought last week's Thursday nighter between the Hokies and Boston College was a defensive struggle? You ain't seen nothing yet. The Yellow Jackets can stop offenses dead in their tracks, too. Both teams surrender less than 16 points per game on average, and each ranks among the top eight nationally in scoring defense. That puts the pressure squarely on a struggling Virginia Tech offense and a Wreck attack that is missing its top two running backs. I don't particularly like the Hokies in prime-time games, but they can't lose two Thursday night affairs in a row, can they? … Virginia Tech 23, Georgia Tech 21. (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)


Florida State at No. 2 Boston College: If the Seminoles are going to have any impact on the national championship race this season, it's going to have to be in this game. They can hang their hat on the fact that they are the last team to beat the Eagles in Chestnut Hill, a 28-17 victory in 2005. Since then, however, BC has won 16 in a row at Alumni Stadium, and if you watched their win a week ago at Virginia Tech, you might be persuaded to believe it is Boston's year for championships. The Red Sox already have one, the Patriots look unbeatable and the Eagles are simply following the parade … Boston College 28, Florida State 21. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 3 LSU at Alabama: Do you think there is any team in college football that Nick Saban would rather knock out of the national championship picture? The give-money, will-travel head coach still has lots of friends in Baton Rouge, where he stayed five seasons from 2000-04 and brought the Bayou Bengals the 2003 national championship. There are others, of course, who criticize the way Saban left LSU for the NFL and how he has resurfaced in the college game at one of the Tigers' most hated rival schools. Both teams come into the game after being off last Saturday, and LSU enters with a four-game winning streak in the series. Saban is looking for that singular game on which to hang his hat this season, and this just may be it … Alabama 28, LSU 26. (5 p.m. EDT, CBS)

No. 6 Arizona State at No. 4 Oregon: Here's the game of the day between a pair of teams that were nowhere to be found in the preseason rankings. Yet, the Sun Devils remain undefeated while the Ducks may be playing some of the best football in the country. The contest features Oregon's offense, ranked fourth in the nation in offensive yardage (524.4 per game) and fifth in scoring average (43.8), going against ASU's defense, which is seventh in the nation in scoring (15.6). It's tough to find any separation between these two, but if there is any, it might be at the quarterback position. Dennis Dixon has powered the Ducks with a combination of running and passing, while Rudy Carpenter has also played well for the Fighting Ericksons, but he is nursing a sprained thumb on his throwing hand. In a game that could turn on a fumbled snap or slightly misthrown ball, Carpenter's injury could make the difference … Oregon 28, Arizona State 27. (6:45 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

Texas A&M at No. 5 Oklahoma: Most college matchups these days are highlighted by the quarterbacks. In this one, the running games should take center stage. Combined, these teams average 432.9 yards on the ground and neither plans any change in strategy on Saturday. OU will go with the combination of Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray (1,017 yards, 14 TDs) while the Aggies will counter with Mike Goodson and battering ram Javorskie Lane (1,098 yards, 17 TDs). As good as the running back tandems are, though, the quarterbacks are pretty good too. Oklahoma freshman Sam Bradford is second in the nation in pass efficiency and has thrown for 1,872 yards and 20 TDs. Meanwhile, A&M's Stephen McGee has run and passed for a combined 2,105 yards and 10 TDs. The difference-makers are Oklahoma's defense and the Sooners' 10-2 advantage in Norman over the Aggies … Oklahoma 33, Texas A&M 23. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Nebraska at No. 8 Kansas: The Jayhawks are the latest with an opportunity to shovel dirt into Bill Callahan's coaching grave. The Cornhuskers got close last week before bowing 28-25 to Texas. Unfortunately for Callahan, close ain't gonna cut it from here on out, and he's got to start racking up victories. It won't get any easier since starting quarterback Sam Keller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week as Nebraska seeks to avoid its first five-game losing streak since 1958. Callahan may try to rally his team around the fact that NU has beaten the Jayhawks 37 times in their last 38 meetings. But this is a historic season in the making in Lawrence, and I just don't see Kansas allowing the Huskers any breathing room – especially since its homecoming … Kansas 37, Nebraska 18. (12:30 p.m. EDT, FSN)

No. 9 Missouri at Colorado: The Buffaloes are just like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates – you never know what you're going to get. They are the only team to beat Oklahoma so far this season, but they also suffered a 16-6 loss at home to Florida State. Meanwhile, Mizzou is getting things cranked up again after a 10-point loss at Oklahoma three weeks ago. Since then, the Tigers have won two in a row and averaged 41.5 points with QB Chase Daniel (2,533 yards, 18 TDs) leading the charge. November has not been kind to the Tigers in recent years, however – they are 1-2 during the month in each of the last three seasons. Still, it's just hard to envision the Buffs slowing them down … Missouri 32, Colorado 24. (6:30 p.m. EDT, FSN)

Troy at No. 10 Georgia: Coming off an emotional victory over Florida, the Bulldogs are in the best position possible – playing a late-season nonconference game armed with the knowledge that head coach Mark Richt has never suffered a regular-season defeat to a nonleague opponent. The assignment is a little tougher than usual, though. The Trojans are 6-2 this season and sit comfortably in first place of the Sun Belt standings. What's more, QB Omar Haugabook (2,081 yards, 12 TDs) pilots an offense that averages 34.5 points per game, better than potent attacks such as Cal, USC and Boston College. This is a tempting upset pick, especially with UGA perhaps looking ahead to its season-ending games against Auburn and Kentucky. But Troy has never had much success against SEC teams, going 1-7 all-time including losses earlier this season to Arkansas and Florida by a combined 48 points … Georgia 27, Troy 23. (1 p.m. EDT, No TV)


Oregon State at No. 13 USC: As badly as the Trojans have been going, they have a couple of things in their favor this weekend. First of all, Pete Carroll has never lost a game in November since he arrived at Southern Cal. Secondly, the Trojans simply own Oregon State in the Coliseum. They have not lost to the Beavers at home in 21 games, a streak that stretches all the way back to 1960. Of course, OSU will be hanging its orange helmets on last year's 33-31 upset in Corvallis, a game that laid out the blueprint on how to beat USC – a blueprint followed this year by Stanford and Oregon. QB John David Booty (broken finger) may return to the lineup this week, and that would be more good news for SC. The Beavers are the No. 1 team in the nation when it comes to stopping the run. Unfortunately, I think Oregon State already has its signature win this season, a 31-28 victory over Cal … USC 28, Oregon State 22. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 14 Texas at Oklahoma State: The Cowboys believe they have the Longhorns right where they want them. Texas has rebounded from losses in its first two conference games with three consecutive wins. But those three victories have come against teams with losing records. Meanwhile, Okie State is a perfect 4-0 at home, including wins over Texas Tech and Kansas State. But the Cowboys have had a couple of breakdowns defensively this season, including those wins over Tech (49-45) and K-State (41-39). That must be music to Texas tailback Jamaal Charles' ears. He rolled to a career-high 290 yards last week against Nebraska, and the Longhorns are 8-0 when Charles cracks the century mark. Get ready for an Old West shootout … Texas 30, Oklahoma State 27. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

Rutgers at No. 16 Connecticut: Give the Big East credit for some of the most entertaining conference games in the country so far this year. This one could be another as the Scarlet Knights invade take on the Huskies, who are playing as a ranked team for the first time in their history. The key here will be whether or not U-Conn's defense, which successfully bottled up South Florida last week, is up to the test that's coming in the person of Rutgers RB Ray Rice (1,141 yards, 13 TDs). Two years ago, Rice had 217 yards against the Huskies while Connecticut figured out something last year, limiting him to just 79 yards on 22 carries. The Knights hold an 18-8 advantage in the all-time series, but U-Conn is a perfect 5-0 at the game venue, Rentschler Field in East Hartford. I just think this may be the Huskies' year … Connecticut 26, Rutgers 24. (7:15 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)

Vanderbilt at No. 18 Florida: The defending national champions are not going to match what their men's basketball program did by going back-to-back. That's because the Urban Legends have relied far too heavily on multi-purpose QB Tim Tebow and opposing teams have figured out a far-too-simplistic offense. Not that the Gators don't have some bite left, but they'll need it against the Commodores, who already have proven this year they can rise to the occasion. Vandy knocked off then-No. 6 South Carolina two weeks ago and is one win away from achieving bowl eligibility, something that hasn't happened since 1982. But to win that sixth game, the Commodores are going to have to snap a losing streak to the Gators that has stretched to 16 games overall and win in Gainesville for the first time since 1949 … Florida 28, Vanderbilt 24. (12:30 p.m. EDT, Lincoln Financial Sports/ESPN GamePlan)

Tennessee Tech at No. 19 Auburn: Just when you thought all the I-A vs. I-AA games were finished, here comes another one. And the Tigers aren't even taking on a decent squad from the Football Championship Subdivision (which is so much more difficult to remember than I-AA). Tennessee Tech has posted a 4-5 record this season mostly because its defense can't stop anybody. For example, the Golden Eagles scored 52 points last weekend – unfortunately, opponent Samford scored 59. This should be a perfect tune-up game for the Tigers, who finish their regular season at Georgia and at home with Alabama … Auburn 38, Tennessee Tech 10. (2:30 p.m. EDT, No TV)

Cincinnati at No. 20 South Florida: Had this game been played a little earlier in the season, it might have had national championship implications. After all, these two teams were the talk of college football in early October when both were undefeated. However, each comes into this contest with a two-game losing streak. It appears, however, that it's the Bearcats who have run out of gas. While the Bulls have lost road games to Rutgers and Connecticut, UC has dropped a home game to Louisville and a road contest to Pitt – teams with a combined 8-9 record. Then when you consider the home team has won every time in the four previous games in the series, you'll realize why I think USF gets back on track … South Florida 28, Cincinnati 24. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

San Jose State at No. 21 Boise State: The Broncos celebrate their return to the national rankings by welcoming back RB Ian Johnson, who has missed the last two games with a bruised kidney. Johnson (693 yards, 9 TDs) still leads the team in rushing and Boise has remained an offensive powerhouse despite his absence. QB Taylor Tharp has thrown for 2,015 yards and 17 TDs, and the Broncos average 41.8 points per game, good for eighth in the country. It adds up to way too much firepower for the Spartans, who rank 83rd nationally in scoring defense … Boise State 37, San Jose State 21. (3 p.m. EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 21 Wake Forest at Virginia: This game isn't getting much attention, but it has serious implications in the ACC. The Cavaliers try to remain in first place in the Coastal Division and the Deacons seek to keep pace a game behind Boston College in the Atlantic. But they are coming into this contest from different directions – Wake is coming off a workmanlike 37-10 win over North Carolina while Virginia suffered a 29-24 loss at the hands of North Carolina State. The Cavs have won 19 of the last 20 meetings in this series, but the one Wake win during that stretch came at Scott Stadium in 2001. That's the only excuse I need to go with the Deacons in a close one … Wake Forest 25, Virginia 23. (12 noon EDT, Lincoln Financial Sports/ESPN GamePlan)

No. 23 South Carolina at Arkansas: The Gamecocks have been ranked as highly as No. 6 this season, but consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Tennessee have them on the verge of falling completely out of the ratings. This week, Darren McFadden and his Razorbacks will see what they can do to grease the skids, pitting a rushing offense that ranks No. 3 in the country against South Carolina's rush defense, which ranks 74th. During last year's 26-20 win over the Gamecocks was where McFadden started to take off on a run that eventually got him a second-place finish in the Heisman voting. This year, he has been struggling and would like nothing more than to kick-start his stretch run to a possible return trip to New York. Meanwhile, the Ol' Ball Coach is tinkering with quarterbacks again, replacing starter Chris Smelley with Blake Mitchell, who originally had been replaced by Smelley. Too much upheaval on offense leads to struggles and I think the Razorbacks will take advantage … Arkansas 29, South Carolina 22. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 24 Tennessee: The Volunteers have bounced in and out of the rankings this season but figure to stay in at least one more week by hosting the Ragin' Cajuns, who have won only once in eight games this season. La-La has so many holes, they're almost too numerous to mention – 101st in the nation in kickoff returns, 102nd in pass efficiency defense, 109th in tackles for loss, 110th in pass efficiency offense, 112th in scoring defense, 115th in total defense and passing offense, and 117th in rushing defense. If Phil Fulmer finds a way to lose this one, he'd better have the motor running on the moving van … Tennessee 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 17. (3 p.m. EDT, )

No. 25 Clemson at Duke: I'll tell ya, the Blue Devils football team gets no respect. No respect at all. At the same time last week when they were playing an important ACC game at Florida State, the school's basketball team scheduled its annual intrasquad scrimmage. Well, no one ever accused Coach K of hiding his feelings. Truth is, Duke isn't very good at football and this year is no different. They have seven losses in eight games and have been outscored 262-160. The Tigers are the last ACC team to feel the sting of a loss to the Devils, a 16-13 contest in November 2004. Since then, Duke has lost 30 of its last 32 games with only one home victory. That's a trend unlikely to change … Clemson 37, Duke 20. (12 noon EDT, ESPN GamePlan)


Ball State at Indiana: The Hoosiers are finding that sixth victory very elusive. After getting within one win of becoming bowl-eligible and gaining its first postseason bid since 1993, IU has stubbed its toe with three straight losses. Perhaps worst of all, the defense has all but collapsed, giving up an average of 40.3 points in those three games. Indiana is good on offense, but no one is that good. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are a pretty good offensive team and have scored 34 or more points in six of their nine games. Buckle down for a good, old-fashioned shootout … Indiana 34, Ball State 31. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Mark Neely, Glen Mason, Dara McIntosh)

Iowa at Northwestern: The Hawkeyes remain in the hunt for a bowl game after Michigan State gift-wrapped a game for them last week, blowing a 17-3 halftime lead before Iowa pulled out a 34-27 win in double overtime. Last week aside, the Hawkeyes have had trouble all season putting points on the scoreboard. That has not been a weakness for the Wildcats, though, who scored 97 points in a two-week span at the beginning of October. Unfortunately, NU also gives up points in bunches, ranking 10th in the Big Ten and 84th nationally in scoring defense. Iowa has lost its last six conference road games, and dropped a 28-27 decision the last it visited Evanston. But I just have this inkling that the Hawkeyes are going to get it done … Iowa 24, Northwestern 21. (12 noon EDT, ESPN2 – Announcers: Pam Ward, Ray Bentley, Rob Simmelkjaer)

Purdue at Penn State: If there is a guy who knows how to put the blanket over the Boilermakers, it's Joe Pa. In the last two meetings between these two teams, the Lions have won both times and held Purdue to only 15 points. In fact, last year Penn State threw a 12-0 shutout, the first time in 118 games since Joe Tiller arrived in West Lafayette that the Boilermakers had been held scoreless. It's doubtful that the Nits will pitch another shutout this season, but they are clearly seething after last week's beatdown by Ohio State and would like nothing more than to shut down Tiller's Troops once again … Penn State 28, Purdue 27. (12 noon EDT, ESPN – Announcers: Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Erin Andrews)

Illinois at Minnesota: If the Gophers are going to win a conference game this season, this could be the week. They hold a 31-26-3 edge in the overall series, and this is a rocking chair game for the Illini. They achieved bowl eligibility last week and may get caught looking ahead to a showdown with Ohio State next week. Also, the last time these two teams met, the Gophers ran up and down the field en route to a 45-0 victory. Of course, this year's Minnesota team bears little resemblance to the offensive juggernaut the program had in 2004 when it averaged 35.8 points per game. And the Gophers are so porous on defense, it won't matter which quarterback Ron Zook decides to play … Illinois 37, Minnesota 23. (8 p.m. EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Chris Martin, Marshall Harris)

No. 12 Michigan at Michigan State: The Spartans are supposed to be U-M's second biggest rival, ranking just a heartbeat behind Ohio State. But lately, Sparty hasn't been holding up his end of the bargain. The Wolverines have won five in a row and nine of the last 11 in the series, and the way State has played lately doesn't bode well for reversing those trends. Still, it will likely be closer than anyone imagines although Sparty falls just short again … Michigan 28, Michigan State 24. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN (reverse mirror) – Announcers: Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Bonnie Bernstein)

No. 21 Wisconsin at No. 1 Ohio State: Maybe it's a trap game. Maybe the Buckeyes won't be focused after the big victory last week at Happy Valley. Maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt. I know that Wisconsin has won three in a row in Columbus. I know the Badgers have won three out of four against Jim Tressel. That was then; this is now. If OSU plays its normal game on offense, I just don't see how the Badgers' defense can stop Boeckman, Wells, Robiskie and et al. And if tailback P.J. Hill (bruised leg) can't go for U-Dub, I'll paraphrase Tony Soprano: fuggeddaboutit … Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 13. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson)


Once again, I'm cutting way back on the favorites but I'll still lay the points here: Florida State at Boston College (-6½); Nebraska at Kansas (-17); Missouri (-3½) at Colorado; Texas (-2½) at Oklahoma State; Wake Forest (-1) at Virginia; South Carolina at Arkansas (-4½); Clemson (-15½) at Duke; Illinois (-11) at Minnesota; Michigan State at Michigan (-3½); and Wisconsin at Ohio State (-15).

Meanwhile, I'll take the points in all these games: Virginia Tech (+3½) at Georgia Tech; LSU at Alabama (+7½); Arizona State (+7½) at Oregon; Texas A&M (+21) at Oklahoma; Troy (+17) at Georgia; Oregon State (+16) at USC; Rutgers (+3½) at Connecticut; Vanderbilt (+16) at Florida; Cincinnati (+5) at South Florida; San Jose State (+26) at Boise State; Louisiana-Lafayette (+29) at Tennessee; Ball State (+7) at Indiana; Iowa (+1½) at Northwestern; and Purdue (+7½) at Penn State.

Enjoy the games and we'll see you again next week.

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