Week 10 Predictions: The no-limbs-gone-out-on Edition
1. No Upsets Of Ranked Teams
The best thing (and possibly the only good thing) about not working for ESPN is that I don’t have to promote games for my network. So, I don’t have to convince you that there are likely upsets where the lay person would accurately think there aren’t any. It’s not to say there aren’t any good games this weekend; it’s just to say that I don’t have to pretend the matchups are better than they are.
In 22 games this week with ranked teams, only 10 are games where the ranked opponent is playing a team with a winning record. Of those 10, only two are matchups between two ranked teams (No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 9 LSU and No. 11 Penn St. vs. No. 16 Ohio St.) Excluding those two games, both of which have the higher-ranked team playing at home, only nine games this weekend have ranked teams going on the road. Of those nine games, only two are against teams that that even have winning records (No. 8 Oregon at Stanford, which is 5-3, and No. 24 Oklahoma at Nebraska, which is also 5-3). Six games pit a ranked opponent against a team that is 3-5 or worse, including one against a winless team.
Considering the great mismatches here, I don’t expect a single upset this weekend.
2. But Don’t Get Too Comfortable…10 Ranked Teams Are On Upset Alert
Don’t take that previous prediction to mean there isn’t some very compelling football this weekend. I don’t anticipate any upsets, but there are nine ranked teams that really need to come in ready to play, because they can easily find themselves in the middle of an embarrassing upset.
(1) The one that stands out the most is No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 9 LSU. The Tigers are looking for revenge for last year’s loss, which broke a six-game winning streak over the Crimson Tide. And it’s almost always a hot contest. Each of the last four games have been decided by 14 points or less. LSU comes in on a roll, having blown out Auburn and Tulane since suffering its first loss of the season to Florida. And, although Alabama is coming in undefeated, they’re in a slide after South Carolina and Tennessee made its offense look quite pedestrian in back-to-back games.
Alabama’s offensive woes have been in large part because of junior QB Greg McElroy, whose rating in the last three games have been 80.44, 68.64 and 96.83. Fortunately for the Tide, Mark Ingram has stepped up, rushing for 100+ yards in three of his last four games (came just short against Tennessee with 99). Ingram will need to keep that going to win against an LSU defense that has shown some good flashes this year, but has mostly been uncharacteristically inconsistent.
(2) Next up on upset watch is No. 4 Iowa. Am I counting on a win when Northwestern just choked against Penn State? Not by any means. But Iowa has been playing like a team that could lose at any time, and that really means they could lose at any time. Even against a 5-4 team that is missing its starting QB. Ricky Stazni has 14 TDs and 13 INTs this season and has thrown multiple interceptions in four of his nine games. That problem will come home to roost at some point.
(3) No. 8 Oregon should crush Stanford. Just like they should have crushed lots of teams they’ve lost to in recent years. Oregon has a healthy history of seeing their seasons crumble after losing games you’d think they would win. In 2007, they were in great position to win the Pac-10 with an 8-1 record and a win over USC, only to lose three straight games to Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State. In 2006, they were 5-1 when they lost to Washington State. They won two to move back to a respectable 7-2 record, only to lose three straight again, to USC, Arizona and Oregon State. In 2004, they opened their season with a loss to Indiana. In 2003, after a 4-0 start, they lost three straight to Washington State, Utah and Arizona State. Is it likely that will happen this year? No. But the Ducks had better be on guard, because Stanford QB Andrew Luck and RB Toby Gerhart are capable of putting up stunning performances at any time.
(4) No. 10 Georgia Tech has won three of its games by five points or less. Wake Forest has lost four of its games by three points or less. These are teams that are one or two plays per game from having completely different seasons. Any time that happens it’s an interesting matchup. The worst news for Wake Forest is that three of its five losses are to teams that rely heavily on the run (Baylor, Clemson and Navy) and their only blowout loss of the season was to a Clemson team that plays a very similar style to Georgia Tech.
(5) No. 11 Penn St. is another Big 10 team, like Iowa, that has looked like it could lose on any given week. They certainly looked that way against Illinois and Northwestern for most of the games. They play solid defense and not much offense, which is an interesting matchup against an Ohio State team that fits the same description. I don’t like OSU much away from home and I don’t like anyone much at Happy Valley, but this is definitely one that could go the other way, especially if OSU keeps things tight. According to ESPN.com, Penn State is 11-12 in close games (7 points or less) since 2001, while Ohio State is 14-5.
(6) There are some teams that just seem like they’re due for a win. Tulsa is that team as they go against No. 15 Houston this weekend. They have lost three in a row, two of which were by one possession. G.J. Kinne, who showed so much promise at the beginning of the year, has struggled of late. But he might be able to find himself against a Houston defense that’s allowing over 28 points per game. Can he keep pace with Case Keenum‘s relentless aerial attack? We’ll see.
(7) No. 20 California is averaging 195. 9 yards rushing per game. Oregon State is averaging 136.5 yards rushing per game. This could very easily come down to who holds the ball longest.
(8) No. 21 Wisconsin has six wins, four of which have been by one possession (one of which was in overtime). One of their two blowout wins was against Wofford. Their two losses are a blowout at Ohio State and a ten-point loss at home to Iowa in which they were pretty well dominated, being held scoreless in the second half on just 230 yards of total offense. Seem like an unstable team to you? It’s a recurring theme in the Big 10. They go on the road against Indiana, which has a chance to finish off the upset they couldn’t complete last week against Iowa.
(9) Okay, word is out. Jimmy Clausen is No. 22 Notre Dame’s best weapon. And the best way to contain that weapon is to keep him off the field. If anyone can do that, it’s Navy, which is averaging better than 33 minutes of possession per game. The Midshipmen have been held to under 30 minutes of possession only twice this year, and twice have held the ball for more than 40 minutes of the game. Notre Dame’s defense had better be able to control Navy’s rushing game so they can get the ball back to their not-so-secret weapon.
(10) Not that it’s a monumental upset for a 5-3 team that has been ranked before this season to upset the No. 24 team, but Oklahoma had better be at its best this weekend at Nebraska. Lincoln is never an easy place to play, even when the Huskers aren’t that good.
3. Bad Weekend For Big 12 North
It’s already been a rough season for the Big 12 North. Nebraska and Kansas have not been able to live up to expectations, Missouri has been on a slide since starting the season 4-0, and the current leader in the division (Kansas State) isn’t even bowl eligible yet with a 5-4 overall record and a 3-2 record in conference. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’ll get any better for them this weekend.
Kansas has a chance to make up some ground on Kansas State in a rivalry game that is the only guaranteed win for the Big 12 North this week. No matter the outcome, however, the good news is still probably on K-State’s side, as Kansas (1-3 in conference) still has to go play at Texas in two weeks. Sadly, this game that pits two Big 12 North teams against each other is the best chance the North has to prevent a winless weekend.
Colorado hosts Texas A&M. The Buffs have two wins this season against Kansas and Wyoming. Other than that, they’ve been pretty well crushed in every game. You really can’t like how a team that’s allowing almost 30 points per game will fare against a team that’s averaging almost 36 points per game and is captained by a QB with 20 TDs against just 3 INTs this season.
I put Oklahoma on upset alert against Nebraska on the principle of the Huskers stepping up for a big game. But, honestly, I don’t anticipate the Sooners having any trouble with a team that got crushed at home by Texas Tech and then followed by losing again at home to Iowa State. That’s humiliating.
You might be surprised to find out Iowa State is 5-4. You might almost be inclined to put Oklahoma State on upset alert, until you realize that three of ISU’s non-conference games were against North Dakota State, Kent State and Army. Throw out those three ridiculous games and the Cyclones are 2-4 with beatdowns being handed to them by Iowa and Texas A&M. I don’t think the Cowboys, who are looking for blood after Texas humiliated them last weekend, will have a challenge in this one.
That leaves the Big 12 North with its best chance to beat the South in the hands of Missouri. Even though Missouri is on a 1-3 slide, you have to like them against Baylor. Combine the fact that Missouri’s three losses came against Nebraska on a crazy comeback, Oklahoma State and Texas, with the fact that Baylor is 1-4 since losing starting QB Robert Griffin, and it’s impossible not to like the Tigers in this one. What is an important victory for Missouri (who can move to 2-3 in conference with three games remaining against North opponents) stands as a mere consolation victory for the North as a whole, which stands to go 2-4 this week.
4. Watch Ohio St. at Penn St. For Great Defense…And to See Why Neither of These Teams Should be in BCS Bowls
Both of these Big 10 powers play stifling defense. The Nittany Lions are holding opponents to 9.3 points per game. The Buckeyes are holding them to 11.7 points per game. One of my favorite box scores of the year was the one for Ohio St. vs. Wisconsin, because the Buckeyes crushed them, 31-13, with only 184 yards of offense, thanks to two pick-sixes and a kickoff returned 96 yards for a TD. Which brings me to my next point.
These defenses will look even better because they’re going against pretty bad offenses. According to ESPN.com, Ohio State is 63rd in the country in total offense and 94th in passing offense. Penn State is 24th in total offense, but they have done that against the 80th-toughest schedule in the country. They haven’t exactly been playing stout defenses, and the one time they did (against Iowa), they were held to 10 points on 307 total yards of offense. Not horrible, but over 100 yards below their season average.
I strongly believe that after you watch these teams, strong defense aside, you will be forced to the conclusion that talking about either of them for a BCS Bowl is an embarrassment to an already embarrassed BCS system.