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November 19, 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
Marshall plus-13.5 at SMU. Although Marshall hasn't played the toughest competition recently, the Thundering Herd have won three in a row. SMU is at home and coming off an open week, but the Mustangs have lost three of their past four and have managed 21 or fewer points in four of their past five games. I can't see a team that isn't playing well giving two touchdowns. Unless SMU bounces back strong and comes out of its month-long funk, I can see Marshall pulling off the upset.
Tom Dienhart
Army plus-8 vs. Notre Dame in New York. I think Army has a chance to beat Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium. Yes, the Irish are coming off an impressive win over Utah, but Notre Dame still is an average team. Army continues to get better under Rich Ellerson, whose team is a lot like Navy in that it runs an option/veer offense that loves to cut block. And we all know that the Middies have won three of the past four vs. the Irish. The Black Knights' ability to run the ball -- they rank No. 8 in the nation (272.8 ypg) in rushing offense -- could wear down the Irish defense and keep the ball away from its offense for extended stretches. That could mean victory for Army. If the Irish lose, they will have to win at USC to earn bowl eligibility.
David Fox
Baylor plus-7.5 vs. Oklahoma. While Baylor has been one of the nation's surprising success stories, the Bears have yet to defeat a BCS top-25 team. This is their last chance. Oklahoma has struggled on the road (Missouri, Texas Tech) this season, and Baylor has the potential to upset the Sooners in Waco to seal an eight-win season and a winning record in Big 12 play.
Mike Huguenin
Rutgers plus-13 at Cincinnati. Rutgers' offense has been bad, but Cincinnati's defense should cure what has ailed the Scarlet Knights. The Bearcats have fallen a long way in a short time, and I think they lose this one and finish last in the Big East.
Steve Megargee
Rutgers plus-13 at Cincinnati. It's not often you see a double-digit favorite that's lost three in a row, yet that's the case with Cincinnati this week. Rutgers also has dropped three in a row, but I expect the Scarlet Knights to make this a one-score game even if they don't actually win.
Last Week/Season Totals
One of our five picks (four games) won outright, and three other picks covered the spread. For the season, 30 of 55 picks have covered the spread and 13 have won outright.

Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. Can Tannehill maintain his streak of passing success against Nebraska's pass defense? Since taking over as the Aggies' quarterback in the second quarter of a victory over Kansas four games ago, Tannehill has passed for more than 1,000 yards, with 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Not coincidentally, the Aggies have won all four games. Next up for Tannehill and the Aggies is Nebraska, which features the second-ranked pass defense in the country. This will be the ultimate litmus test for Tannehill. If he passes it, A&M remains in the conference championship picture. - OLIN BUCHANAN

Can Terrelle Pryor throw it well enough to beat Iowa? I think the Hawkeyes will commit to stopping an Ohio State ground game that ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten. And Iowa could have success, considering that it has the top-ranked rush defense in the conference. That means Ohio State's hope of winning could depend on Pryor's right arm. Yes, he is the second-most efficient passer in the Big Ten, but Iowa still will take its chances on Pryor having to throw to win. If Pryor struggles, it could lead to a Buckeyes loss. But what will the Hawkeyes' mind-set be coming off a loss at Northwestern that all but ended their Big Ten title dream?


"The Big Game." The Pac-10 had quite an eventful week last week, but Oregon and Stanford remained at the top of the standings. What should we make of Cal's defensive performance last week against Oregon? Cal's defense held Oregon to 317 yards and 15 points, but the Bears embarrassed themselves at best or cheated at worst by possibly faking injuries. Stanford had a close call, too, beating Arizona State 17-13 on a touchdown with 5:22 left. (It's worth noting Stanford twice took a knee inside Arizona State's 10, forgoing the opportunity to make the win look more comfortable than it really was.) Since this game is in Berkeley, Cal has a chance. The Bears have been inept on the road but competitive at home. I want to see if Stanford remains a BCS at-large contender in this game. I also want to see what happens if Jeff Tedford tries anything "creative" against Jim Harbaugh.


The ACC division races. The Coastal Division race is all but over, as Virginia Tech just needs to win one of its two remaining games -- against Miami and Virginia -- to capture the crown. From a national perception, though, it probably would be best for the ACC if the Hokies win out; the ACC doesn't want a three- or four-loss team representing the league in the BCS. As for the Atlantic Division title chase, there are two big games involving the three title contenders; Florida State is at Maryland in a must-win game for the Seminoles, and N.C. State takes on Coastal also-ran North Carolina needing a win to stay tied with the FSU-Maryland winner. N.C. State plays Maryland next week.


Will Denard Robinson bounce back? Robinson, the early season Heisman favorite, has struggled with injuries and inconsistency over the past month. He managed to stay healthy last Saturday but also lost two fumbles, threw two interceptions and briefly was replaced in a 27-16 victory over Purdue. Michigan's good enough to beat the likes of Purdue even if Robinson isn't at peak form, but the Wolverines won't have a chance of winning Saturday against Wisconsin or next week at Ohio State unless he recaptures his September magic.


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