Saturday Football Preview

    
October 31st, 2009
12:00 PM ET Indiana at No. 4 Iowa
The Hawkeyes aren't going to be a "style points" kind of team; the key for Kirk Ferentz's team is to simply win games. That's how you end up with the nation's second-longest win streak, and the loss of leading rusher Adam Robinson just serves as one more source of motivation for Iowa. They may not impress in regards to the margin of victory, especially if Hoosier defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew get to Ricky Stanzi with regularity, but the Hawkeyes will lean on a stout defense to remain undefeated.

12:00 PM ET No. 8 Cincinnati at Syracuse
Despite Tony Pike not playing due to his arm injury this game will likely get out of hand. Zach Collaros adds another dimension to the Bearcat offense; he may not throw for as many yards as Pike but he's efficient and can also run. Add this to a talented group of backs and receivers on a "speed track" and you've got the makings of a serious beating. Cincinnati rolls on the road.

12:00 PM ET New Mexico State at No. 17 Ohio State
The Buckeyes looked better offensively in last week's win over Minnesota but the strength of the opponent may have had something to do with that along with their own improvement. Terrelle Pryor and company host another team that's likely to be overmatched in the skill department, so the focus here will be on fine-tuning things for the stretch run.

12:00 PM ET Rutgers at Connecticut
This will be an emotional day in East Hartford with the Huskies playing their first home game since the death of Jasper Howard. But if Connecticut can bring the same energy they brought with them to Morgantown last weekend and combine that with even better execution it's hard to see Rutgers beating them when their best road win came at Army last week. Cody Endres is looking more comfortable at quarterback by the week and senior WR Marcus Easley has gone from afterthought to big-play threat. If the Scarlet Knights can establish their running game with Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks they'll have a shot but in the end Connecticut pulls out the victory.

12:00 PM ET North Carolina State at Florida State
The Wolfpack are almost in the same boat as Rutgers but at least they've got one resume-building victory (Pittsburgh) this season. The Seminoles will go the way in which their defense takes them; an improved second half in Chapel Hill last week allowed Christian Ponder and the offense enough time to steal a 30-27 win. In fact, Ponder's play has been severely underrated, most likely a product of FSU's shoddy defense and requisite coaching controversy.

The junior has numbers that rank right up there with some of the nation's best yet their 3-4 record has kept him out of the Heisman conversation. Whichever quarterback between Ponder and Russell Wilson keeps the turnovers to a minimum will end up winning the game, and the pick here is Florida State. By no means are the out of the ACC Atlantic race.

12:00 PM ET Purdue at Wisconsin
The Boilermakers are a tough team to figure out; a close call at Oregon was followed by a home loss to Northern Illinois and two weeks ago they beat Ohio State. The offense, which has been inconsistent, can keep both teams in the game due to the alternating of big plays with costly turnovers. On defense they've got one of the Big Ten's best defensive linemen in Ryan Kerrigan, and he'll need to be stout in the run game if Purdue is to win at Wisconsin. The Badgers are a battering ram type of team but if Scott Tolzien can make some plays with his arm they become even more dangerous. Look for the Badgers to defend Camp Randall, winning what could be a close ballgame.

12:00 PM ET Ohio at Ball State
The Cardinals finally picked up their first win of the season, coming back to beat Eastern Michigan on the road. When you need that kind of effort to beat another winless team, chances are you're not going to beat a division title contender the following week. Look for Theo Scott to lead the Bobcats to the win.

12:00 PM ET UL Lafayette at FIU
While this could be a tough trip for the Ragin' Cajuns, they still should leave Miami with another Sun Belt win to stay right in the thick of the title race. The Golden Panthers haven't made the progress in the win column that some were hoping for following last season, but Mario Cristobal has some talent to put on the field. Just not enough to beat UL Lafayette.

12:00 PM ET Akron at Northern Illinois
The Zips have had too many issues at quarterback to expect to go into DeKalb and leave with a victory, especially when considering how solid the Northern Illinois defense can be. Huskies win by a comfortable margin.

12:21 PM ET No. 25 Ole Miss at Auburn
Things went downhill in a hurry for Gene Chizik and company; after starting off 5-0 the Tigers have lost three straight to fall out of contention in the SEC West. Ole Miss is also out of the division crown conversation but back in the Top 25 following their early-season freefall. If Jevan Snead can keep the mistakes to a minimum, and Dexter McCluster gets the football regularly (there have been times when you wonder if the coaches remember that Dexter should get the ball), the Rebels will win. Auburn can definitely score but the traditional nuts and bolts of Auburn Football (a strong running game and a physical defense) have been lacking during the current skid. Ole Miss by a touchdown.

12:30 PM ET Nebraska at Baylor
The way in which the Bears can knock off the Huskers is to force turnovers; Nebraska gave the ball to Iowa State eight times last weekend in their 9-7 home loss. No Robert Griffin III so it's tough to pick Baylor, especially given the lack of playmakers on offense. Nebraska struggles but they limit the turnovers and turn things around in Waco.

1:00 PM ET Southern Miss at No. 18 Houston
Before the season began this was seen as a possible Conference USA title game preview; now both teams need the win to stay in their respective divisional races. DeAndre Brown and Damion Fletcher are keys to the Golden Eagle offense but if QB Martevious Young is off it will be a long day in Houston for Southern Miss. In fact, even if Southern Miss can move the football it's hard to see them matching the Cougars score for score. If Houston's defense plays the run like they did against UTEP they'll lose; that's not going to happen here. Houston wins.

1:30 PM ET Missouri at Colorado
Another week in the wacky Big 12 North and it's likely that nothing will be solved following this weekend's slate regardless of what happens in Boulder. But it would behoove both teams to win since they each have two league losses already. I've got to think that Blaine Gabbert will be a week closer to being 100% on that gimpy ankle, and he's not going up a defense the caliber of either Nebraska or Texas this week either. Tigers pick up a key road victory, reviving their division title hopes in the process.

1:30 PM ET Coastal Carolina at Clemson
C.J. Spiller will more than likely pad his stats in this one. Tigers roll.

2:00 PM ET SMU at Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane can be susceptible to strong running games; SMU's version of the run is the screen pass. But June Jones' team is much improved and that should keep things competitive. But in a high-scoring game take the team that can play some semblance of defense on occasion, and that's likely to be the home team. Tulsa keeps alive their Conference USA West title hopes.

2:00 PM ET Western Michigan at Kent State
With both teams looking to be out of their respective division races this game is all about possible bowl positioning. The MAC doesn't get the same number of bids as larger conferences so a game like this could make all the difference in playing football and staying home come bowl season. As for a winner, go with Tim Hiller and his weapons at the skill positions on the road in a close one.

3:00 PM ET San Jose State at No. 7 Boise State
The Spartans have neither the defense nor the offense to keep up with Boise State on the blue turf. This one's over by halftime.

3:00 PM ET UAB at UTEP
The last time the Miners came off of a big win (Houston) they followed it up with an inexplicable loss (Memphis). While UAB has the talented Joe Webb at quarterback a loss here would kill all momentum gained in UTEP's win over Tulsa last week, not to mention put a serious dent in their Conference USA West title hopes. But RB Donald Buckram and QB Trevor Vittatoe will do just enough to ensure that UTEP isn't victim to another letdown.

3:30 PM ET Georgia vs. No. 1 Florida (in Jacksonville)
These two have gone back in forth in the anger department; Georgia stormed the field in celebration following their first touchdown in 2007 and eventually won the game. Not to be outdone, Urban Meyer prolonged the Bulldog misery last year by using all three of his second-half timeouts in a 49-10 Gator beating. Is Georgia due? Well, it's not as simple as saying "he who laughs last" or whatever saying you prefer; when you're defense is ranked 84th in total defense it's hard to say that you're going to shut down Tim Tebow. But there are questions regarding the consistency of Florida's wide receivers and if Willie Martinez's defense can avoid costly lapses they could hang around. But "could" and "will" are two different words; Florida wins by two scores.

3:30 PM ET No. 19 Miami (FL) at Wake Forest
This could be a wilder football game than it looks to be on paper; Miami hasn't exactly blown ACC opponents out save for Georgia Tech and the Demon Deacons still have Riley Skinner at quarterback. To be perfectly honest however, if these two don't combine for at least four turnovers I'll be surprised. RB Javarris James and LB Sean Spence are both out due to injury for the Hurricanes, and look for the loss of Spence to have a bit more of an effect. The pick here is Miami because Jacory Harris and company have shown a better ability this year to shake off adversity thus far.

3:30 PM ET No. 24 California at Arizona State
The Sun Devil defense can keep this one close, and it will likely be a tough day for Jahvid Best on the ground. But can Danny Sullivan lead the ASU offense on enough scoring drives to ensure victory? That's the important question, one that hasn't had the best results against their toughest opponents to this point of the season. Look for Kevin Riley to limit his turnovers in leading the Golden Bears to the road victory.

3:30 PM ET Arkansas State at Louisville
The Red Wolves have put a scare into prior foes from BCS conferences, including winning at Texas A&M last season. Can they do the same to Louisville? A win here would likely make their season given the preseason Sun Belt contender's early stumbles in league play. Add to this the instability of the Louisville quarterback situation and you've got all the makings of an Arkansas State victory.

3:30 PM ET Central Michigan at Boston College
The Chippewas definitely can upset Boston College due to the presence of QB Dan LeFevour. But the pick here is BC due in large part to what happened when CMU visited Arizona in the season opener: their offensive line couldn't hold up in pass protection. The line play has improved but look for the Eagles to do just enough on defense, combining with a solid day from RB Montel Harris to ensure the victory.

3:30 PM ET Toledo at Miami (OH)
The Rockets have been slumping of late but it's hard to see them losing to the RedHawks, who are winless on the year. Aaron Opelt has a big day for Toledo.

3:30 PM ET Iowa State at Texas A&M
Amazingly the Cyclones are right in the Big 12 North race and first-year head coach Paul Rhoads has done a good job so far of restoring a competitive attitude in Ames. But how will they figure out Texas A&M? One week the Aggies got their doors blown off in Manhattan by Kansas State; the next they hang fifty-two on Texas Tech in Lubbock. Look for Mike Sherman and company to follow QB Jerrod Johnson to victory; although their tough to peg A&M can score with a little more regularity than ISU, especially if QB Austen Arnaud is forced to sit out again due to injury.

3:30 PM ET Duke at Virginia
Thanks to North Carolina beating Virginia Tech on Thursday night the winner of this game can remain tied in the loss column with Georgia Tech atop the ACC Coastal, a sentence that seemed unfathomable back in September. If the Virginia defense can get to Thaddeus Lewis his productivity could suffer, but he's the best quarterback in the ACC no one is talking about for a reason. Look for the Blue Devils to upset the Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

3:30 PM ET Michigan at Illinois
While there is a possibility that an above-average football team can allow a bad one to hang around it's a very slim one, especially when that bad team is this year's Fighting Illini. There's definitely some individual talent in Champaign but the combination has done nothing thus far. Hard to see them all of a sudden snapping back to life.

3:30 PM ET Temple at Navy
They've been by and large ignored by the national media but Temple is one of the better stories in college football to this point in the season. Already in the driver's seat for the MAC East crown Al Golden's team takes the show to Annapolis, where they'll have to deal with a Navy option attack that's still a force to be reckoned with despite the loss of Ricky Dobbs. Navy didn't attempt one pass last week yet still beat Wake Forest 13-10, so the Owls are going to need to dig in and slow down the option attack. But the Owls have been able to force turnovers while QB Vaughn Charlton and the offense has cut down on theirs. But the fact that they don't see the option in the MAC will likely be the difference; Midshipmen continue on their way towards a possible 10-win season.

3:30 PM ET Kansas at Texas Tech
For those who have argued themselves hoarse in years past that who plays quarterback for Texas Tech doesn't matter (it's all about the system), they should have paid attention to what happened in their loss to Texas A&M last week. Taylor Potts struggled and was replaced by a redshirt freshman in Seth Doege who will start against the Jayhawks. That's what can happen when Steven Sheffield gets hurt, leaving Mike Leach with no other options at the position.

And there's also the matter of the Red Raiders lacking focus (Coach Leach called out their "fat little girlfriends" earlier this week), and it makes you wonder whether or not they're going to bring anything of consequence to the table against the Jayhawks. Kansas has been a mystery themselves but not this much; go with Todd Reesing and company.

4:00 PM ET UNLV at No. 6 TCU
TCU blew out BYU, who blew out UNLV. It's going to be one of those games in Fort Worth.

4:00 PM ET Air Force at Colorado State
Steve Fairchild's Rams are reeling, having lost five straight following a 3-0 start to the season. Look for Troy Calhoun's Falcons to show more discipline and rush their way to a victory on the road.

4:00 PM ET UCLA at Oregon State
UCLA has one of the best defenses in the Pac-10. However, they're also one of the worst offensive teams in the conference. That imbalance costs them again, this time in Corvallis.

4:00 PM ET Middle Tennessee State at Florida Atlantic
Two of the Sun Belt's better quarterbacks will be on display in Boca Raton in FAU's Rusty Smith and Middle Tennessee's Dwight Dasher and they get the job done in different ways. Smith will throw the ball all over the field while the aptly named Dasher can burn you with his legs as well as his arm. In what could be a high-scoring football game look for Smith to make the final play in a close Owl victory.

4:05 PM ET Hawaii at Nevada
The Wolf Pack are red-hot, winning their last four games and putting up astronomical offensive numbers in the process. That doesn't bode well for the struggling Warriors, who will likely get blown out for the second consecutive week.

4:15 PM ET Western Kentucky at North Texas
If the Hilltoppers were going to win a conference game this season this would be one of their best chances. The Mean Green have been banged up the past few weeks, and the caliber of defense for both teams points towards a shootout. In that case go with the home team, who nearly knocked off Florida Atlantic in Denton a couple of weeks ago.

4:30 PM ET No. 12 Penn State at Northwestern
At this point all the Nittany Lions can do is continue to win while hoping that Iowa slips up if they're to get at least a share of the Big Ten title. But they'll be in for a battle in Evanston, taking on a Northwestern team that needs wins in order to improve their positioning in the conference bowl pecking order. Mike Kafka and company can move the football but whether or not they pull the upset will depend on how much pressure the defense can put on QB Daryll Clark. Look for Clark to connect with WR Graham Zug on a couple of big plays through the air, leading the Lions to the victory.

5:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech at Idaho
The winner of this game greatly improves their prospects in regards to which bowl they end up going to; in fact, the Vandals may be a good fit for the Humanitarian Bowl due to travel and the fact that they haven't been bowling since 1999. Louisiana Tech hasn't played at the level that some expected; no longer do they look like a team that could derail Boise State's BCS quest. But they do have Phillip Livas at wide receiver and if he gets loose look out. Unlike Nevada last weekend there isn't that kind of separation in regards to offensive firepower, which means that Nathan Enderle and company can pick up another win. And they'll do just that.

5:00 PM ET Utah State at Fresno State
The Aggies can move the football but they're simply too turnover-prone to pick on the road. Not to mention the defense needing to shut down one of the nation's best running backs in Ryan Mathews; look for Pat Hill's Bulldogs to take care of business at home.

7:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan at Arkansas
The Eagles had their chance at win number one of the Ron English era last week yet blew their lead late in a loss to Ball State. The Razorbacks have been mistake-prone at times but that would have to reach historic proportions for them to lose this game.

7:00 PM ET Mississippi State at Kentucky
Both teams are in need of victories if they're to hold out any hope of becoming bowl eligible and to call this one a toss-up would be accurate. The pick here is Mississippi State due to the fact that the Wildcats have struggled at times to get the ball to their two best offensive threats, Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb.

7:00 PM ET Kansas State at Oklahoma
The Wildcats lead the Big 12 North heading into Saturday's games and it's a coin flip as to whether that's a sign of the mastery of Bill Snyder or just how bad that division is. Look for the Sooners to prove the latter true, but things could get interesting if they don't keep tabs on WR Brandon Banks. He may very well be the fastest man in college football.

7:00 PM ET UL Monroe at Troy
This has the chance to be a decent game in the Sun Belt if the Warhawks can slow down Troy's Levi Brown and the numerous options at his disposal. But that's a huge "if", one that I'm not sure they have the answer to. Trojans remain undefeated in conference play.

7:30 PM ET No. 11 Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt lost at Army earlier this season and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson never lost at Army when he was head coach at Navy. Put all that together and you've got big days from Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer. However, if the Yellow Jackets are a little too charitable with the football this becomes more strenuous than it should be.

7:30 PM ET Washington State at No. 23 Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish will actually play a home game in San Antonio, allowing NBC to broadcast an Irish game in primetime. Good thing they virtually assured Charlie Weis' team a win in making the schedule; the Cougars are the worst team in the Pac-10 and it's not much of an argument at this time either. Big night for Jimmy Clausen; Notre Dame rolls.

7:30 PM ET New Mexico at San Diego State
New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley is back from his 10-day suspension for punching an assistant, but there's usually more to point to when dealing with a team that's winless. Changing coaches has gone better for the Aztecs, who are greatly improved under Brady Hoke and are coming off of a win at Colorado State in which QB Ryan Lindley was lights out. Look for more of the same against the hapless Lobos.

7:45 PM ET No. 22 South Carolina at Tennessee
Look for this to be a close, low-scoring affair in Knoxville and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Volunteers upset the Gamecocks. Why? Because they've got one of the best defensive minds to have ever lived in Monte Kiffin, resulting in a defense that currently ranks tenth nationally in total defense. QB Stephen Garcia will have his work cut out for him in Knoxville in dealing with the scheme and a talented secondary led by safety Eric Berry. If Jonathan Crompton can get anything done in the way of offensive production Tennessee can win but he'll be going up against some talented defenders himself, most notably LB Eric Norwood. Gamecocks win on a late field goal.

8:00 PM ET No. 3 Texas at No. 14 Oklahoma State
The Big 12 South crown is likely on the line in Stillwater, and you can bet that the Longhorns remember what happened last season when they fell to Texas Tech. Mack Brown and company don't want to fall victim to another three-way tie, meaning that Oklahoma State will need more than just a home-field advantage to win. Kendall Hunter will be back for the Cowboys, combining with Keith Toston to form a solid tandem on the backfield to go along with QB Zac Robinson. But Russell Okung and company will need to keep the talented Texas front four away from Robinson if he's to make enough plays to win the game.

As for the Cowboy defense, they've got to get the ball out of Colt McCoy's hands in the running game. McCoy leads Texas in rushing this season, and if Oklahoma State can get some early hits on him that could change the flow of the game. Something to watch: whether or not the Cowboys can pick off McCoy. OK State is 106th in pass defense but 34th in pass efficiency defense, which means that while they give up yards opponents have to work very hard for those yards. LB Patrick Lavine has three interceptions, which could come in handy when dealing with the intermediate routes that Texas will run. The winner: Texas. I get the feeling that this is Colt McCoy's year.

8:00 PM ET No. 5 USC at No. 10 Oregon
An Oregon win here would essentially be a fatal blow to USC's BCS hopes, and the Trojans haven't won in the state of Oregon since 2005. Matt Barkley has been to both Columbus and South Bend this season but neither will compare to what he'll hear (and won't as a result) at Autzen Stadium. The fans will be loud and the defense has played well this season, ranking nineteenth in total defense and sixth in pass efficiency defense. Kenny Rowe and company can also get to the quarterback, ranking tenth in the country in sacks per game, averaging just over three sacks per contest. If Barkley is under siege look out; Oregon is very good at taking advantage of opponents' mistakes.

The other question will be how the USC defense fares in slowing down Jeremiah Masoli and the rest of the Oregon offensive attack. The Ducks rank fourteenth in rushing offense and don't be fooled by that ranking of 66th in total offense; these guys can get to the end zone on any given play. LaMichael James has performed better with each passing week at running back, but the Oregon rushing attack will be tested by a USC defense that currently ranks fifth nationally in rushing defense.

USC also get to the quarterback, leading the nation in sacks per game, so it may be a good thing that Masoli is mobile. Normally in a big game like this turnover margin plays a major role in the outcome; with USC ranking last in the Pac-10 in that category they haven't encountered anyone who can hold them accountable for those mistakes outside of Washington. After Saturday night in Eugene, you can add Oregon to that mix.

8:00 PM ET Tulane at No. 9 LSU
The "Tiger Rag" will be on the line in this one but there's little reason to believe that it will be leaving Baton Rouge when the game ends. LSU win comfortably.

8:00 PM ET Wyoming at No. 16 Utah
Austyn Carta-Samuels has been a difference maker for the Cowboys, who have lost just once since he took over the starting quarterback role. But things have gotten tougher in regards to the schedule with Air Force last week (10-0 loss) followed by a Utah team that some have ignored since their loss at Oregon. Terrence Cain and company are still undefeated in Mountain West play, and the number of options on offense makes the Utes a tough team to stop even with RB Matt Asiata out for the year. Look for Cain and RB Eddie Wide III to make enough plays to keep the Cowboys from winning in Salt Lake City.

8:00 PM ET Michigan State at Minnesota
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio may have dropped a pair of running backs (Caulton Ray and Andre Anderson) from the depth chart but that's nowhere near the deal that Minnesota losing WR Eric Decker for the remainder of the season is. The aforementioned backs went from projected pieces of the offensive puzzle to barely even playing; Decker may have been on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation's best wide receiver). That's the difference here, despite the fact that this game is being played in Minneapolis.