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October 1, 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
Vanderbilt plus 7.5 at Connecticut. The Commodores have played well, with a close loss to Northwestern, a victory at Ole Miss and a loss to LSU in which the game was close into the fourth quarter. UConn has been inconsistent, and perhaps the Commodores catch the Huskies on one of their down days.
Tom Dienhart
Indiana plus-10.5 vs. Michigan. I hope there are new light bulbs in the scoreboard at Indiana's Memorial Stadium because Michigan and IU are going to score in bunches. Indiana is second in the Big Ten in scoring offense (41.33 ppg) behind a balanced attack led by underrated QB Ben Chappell. Michigan is No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (41.25 ppg) behind dynamic QB Denard Robinson. Both defenses are sieves. Last team with the ball wins.
David Fox
Marshall plus-10 at Southern Miss After losing in overtime to West Virginia on Sept. 10, Marshall finally eked out its first win of the season last week, 24-23 over Ohio. The Herd have a good quarterback in Brian Anderson and two defensive studs in E Vinny Curry and LB Mario Harvey. If Marshall can build on the momentum of last week -- particularly on defense -- the Herd can win their Conference USA opener.
Mike Huguenin
Navy plus-10 at Air Force. Navy has won seven in a row in the series, and that spread seems overly generous. Both teams run well and struggle throwing the ball, so nothing either offense will do will surprise the opposing defense. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Air Force snap its losing streak, but it's going to be a close game.
Steve Megargee
East Carolina plus-13 at North Carolina North Carolina earned its first win last week at Rutgers, but this still is a team reeling from the loss of all those stars who haven't been cleared to play. Their depth could be tested even more this week as RB Johnny White and LB Quan Sturdivant are battling injuries. East Carolina had an off week to prepare for this game. The Pirates should stay close and may even win outright.
Last Week/Season Totals
Four of our five picks (four different games) covered the spread, and three picks were outright winners. For the season, nine of 20 picks have covered the spread and three have won outright.

Michigan State. Are the Spartans truly a contender in the Big Ten or is their 4-0 start just a by-product of an advantageous schedule? The Spartans are running the football well and playing solid defense. But they've done that against Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame and Northern Colorado. Those teams are a combined 5-9, so there is just as much uncertainty about the Spartans now as there was when the season started. But the Spartans will have to be taken seriously as a Big Ten contender if they can beat Wisconsin.


Texas' running game. Entering this season, Mack Brown vowed to make Texas a physical, run-oriented offense. It hasn't happened. The Longhorns rank ninth in the Big 12 and 76th in the nation in rushing (135.5 ypg). The Texas ground game was feeble in last Saturday's "embarrassing" -- Brown's word -- 34-12 home loss to UCLA, running 23 times for 85 yards. Now comes the biggest game of the year, against Oklahoma. If Texas can run, it will take pressure off a defense that was ripped for 264 rushing yards by UCLA, wear down a susceptible Sooners run defense and open the passing game for still-developing QB Garrett Gilbert.


The service academies. This week marks the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy "tour" with Navy's trip to Air Force. For the first time in several seasons, Navy has a legitimate chance of losing the trophy. Making the chase more interesting is that both Air Force and Army could knock Navy off its perch. The Falcons beat BYU by three touchdowns and gave Oklahoma a close game in Norman. Meanwhile, Navy appears to be back on the right track after beating Louisiana Tech 37-23. Army bears watching this week, too. The Black Knights are 3-1 after beating Duke last week and Temple comes to West Point on Saturday. Army was one win short of bowl eligibility last season. Beating Temple would help them reach that plateau this season.


Florida's linebackers. Can the Gators' rebuilt linebacker corps hold up against Alabama's powerful rushing attack? The Gators are faster at the position than they were last season, but they lack bulk. To that end, coaches have been using a special "jumbo" package in which starting DE Duke Lemmens moves to linebacker and another tackle is inserted. If Florida's front seven holds up, Gators coaches will be happy because in that scenario, they won't have to put a safety in the box unless they choose to do so; choosing is much better than being forced.


Stanford's defense. QB Andrew Luck and the offense have garnered most of the attention during Stanford's surprising start, but the defense has been an even bigger revelation. Stanford ranked 90th in the nation in total defense last season and gave up at least 30 points in six of its last eight games. The Cardinal are 11th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense this season under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Stanford shut down a good Notre Dame offense last week, but the real test comes Saturday at Oregon. The Ducks lead the nation in scoring at 57.8 points per game. If Stanford can hold Oregon below 30 points, we'll know this defense has turned the corner.


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