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November 4, 2011

Week 10: 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 10.

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
Northwestern plus 17.5 at Nebraska. Though the Huskers have won three in a row, I'm skeptical that they've really turned it around. Ohio State choked, Minnesota is weak and Michigan State might have been hung over from its miracle win over Wisconsin. Northwestern is the type of team that the Huskers may take lightly, which would be a mistake. Dan Persa may be the most underrated quarterback in the country and Nebraska has had some issues in pass defense. The Huskers could be at risk if Persa gets on a roll.
David Fox
Washington State plus-9.5 at California. These two Pac-12 teams are limping along, with Washington State having lost four in a row and Cal three of four. Washington State's pass defense is struggling, but Cal can't throw consistently, anyway. Meanwhile, Washington State can throw enough to challenge Cal.
Mike Huguenin
Vanderbilt plus-13.5 at Florida. Florida owns Vandy, which has won just once in Gainesville in 20 tries and hasn't beaten the Gators in their annual series since 1988. But Florida's offense is a mess, and Vandy has played well the past few weeks; heck, the Commodores could've (should've?) beaten Arkansas last week. The line opened at nine, then went up, to 13.5. That's a lot to cover for a mediocre offense.
Steve Megargee
Louisville plus-13.5 at West Virginia. Louisville hasn't allowed more than 25 points in a game all season, yet the Cardinals are two-touchdown underdogs at West Virginia. If Louisville's defense doesn't deliver its worst performance of the season, the Cardinals only need to score 13 points to cover the spread. Louisville has won two in a row and has improved since freshman QB Teddy Bridgewater has gotten his feet wet. The Cardinals should cover the spread and might even win outright.
Season Totals
For the season, 22 of 44 picks have covered the spread and seven have won outright.

Oklahoma-Texas A&M. The Aggies have never beaten a Bob Stoops-coached team in Norman and typically have been blown out, including a 77-0 embarrassment in 2003. Oklahoma needs to win to keep its Big 12 championship hopes and national title aspirations intact. Meanwhile, A&M, which is 5-3, looks to salvage a disappointing season. The Aggies opened the year as national championship contenders, but a 6-6 finish is a real possibility.


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Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater on the road. Louisville's offense and West Virginia's defense are going in opposite directions. I wonder to what level those two trends will converge in Morgantown or if it will even matter with West Virginia's ability to move the ball. With a load of new starters, West Virginia's defense is having its worst season in several years, but its worst moments have occurred on the road. Meanwhile, Louisville's offense has had a revival of sorts the past two weeks - at home. Bridgewater and an improving offensive line and rushing attack will need to be at the top of their games in Morgantown. I don't necessarily expect Louisville to win, but a big performance from Bridgewater could signal his maturation. On the other side, if WVU's defense can't slow Louisville, how can it expect to slow league leader Cincinnati on the road?


Oregon's and Stanford's focus. The teams meet next week in Palo Alto, but each is on the road this weekend. Stanford plays at two-win Oregon State, but the Beavers' passing attack could cause some issues. Still, it's hard to see the Beavers slowing Stanford's offense. Oregon has a much tougher task in playing at Washington. The Huskies have a high-powered offense keyed by QB Keith Price and TB Chris Polk, but the defense is mediocre, which should mean a big game for the Ducks' prolific offense. Do the Ducks and Cardinal take care of business and set up a monster showdown next week?


Does Virginia end its November blues? Virginia heads into November with a legitimate shot at the ACC Coastal Division title, but November hasn't been kind to the Cavaliers. Believe it or not, Virginia has lost 13 consecutive games in November. How long has it been since the Cavaliers celebrated in November? Their last November win was a 48-0 shutout of Miami in a 2007 contest that marked the Hurricanes' final game in the Orange Bowl. Virginia clearly has turned a corner in Mike London's second season on the job, but the Cavaliers still must prove they can deliver down the stretch. If Virginia can't go on the road and beat a struggling Maryland team this week, we'll know that November's hex on the Cavaliers is as strong as ever.


BONUS:Keep an eye on, Alabama-LSU edition

Alabama RB Trent Richardson. I think he's the premier running back in the nation, but he'll have to prove it against an LSU defense that has not allowed more than 113 rushing yards to any team this season. Richardson has rushed for more than 100 yards in six games this season. If he approaches that against LSU, the Crimson Tide's chances of victory will be boosted greatly and Richardson's Heisman campaign will be enhanced significantly.


LSU WR Rueben Randle. To me, the biggest question for LSU's offense is whether the Tigers can make a big play in the passing game against Alabama's defense. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in pass efficiency defense and are allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt in the country (4.5 yards per attempt). Long pass plays are tough to come by against Alabama. If LSU is going to get a long pass play, it's going to come from Randle, who is averaging 19.3 yards per catch. He has been hot in recent games, with two 40-yard touchdowns in LSU's rout of Auburn.


Special teams. Yes, it's a cliché - "Special teams can be huge in big games!" - but I still want to see if either team can make a big play on special teams. LSU has allowed just 7 punt-return yards total this season; Alabama has allowed 50. LSU is 31st and Alabama 32nd in kick-return defense; LSU has eight touchbacks on kickoffs and Alabama has two. LSU has a kickoff return for a TD, and Alabama has a punt return for a TD. Alabama's longest field goal is a 45-yarder, and the Tide is 1-of-4 on attempts longer than 40 yards (two misses are from beyond 50); LSU's longest field goal is a 44-yarder, and the Tigers are 3-of-4 on attempts of longer than 40 yards (the miss is from 50). The biggest advantage in special teams might be that LSU P Brad Wing is better than Alabama counterpart Cody Mandell. Wing has dropped 15 of his 31 punts inside the 20, and averages 44.4 yards per attempt. Mandell is averaging just 39.0 yards per attempt, a big reason LSU ranks 62 spots ahead of Alabama in net punting.


LSU's quarterbacks. Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson have certainly exceeded my expectations so far this season, with a combined 15 touchdown passes and only one interception. But I'm still not completely sold on LSU's quarterback duo. LSU has won in such convincing fashion that neither quarterback has faced much game pressure all season. How will these guys fare if they have to stage a comeback or perform with a game on the line in the fourth quarter? And how will the Tigers rotate their quarterbacks in that particular situation? I expect this to be LSU's first legitimately close game of the season, and I'm interested in seeing how Lee and Jefferson respond.


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