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November 5, 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 big spreads. The lone stipulation for our writers in choosing a game is that the spread has to be at least 7.5 points.
Olin Buchanan
Baylor plus-7.5 at Oklahoma State. Maybe that spread makes sense. After all, the Bears may experience an emotional decline after a big victory over Texas last week. The game is in Stillwater, where Baylor hasn't won since 1939, and Oklahoma State has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But Baylor also is starting to believe it can win the Big 12. QB Robert Griffin may be the most talented player in the conference, and Oklahoma State's defense gives up a lot of points. Don't be surprised if Griffin leads Baylor to a victory in a shootout. I won't be.
Tom Dienhart
Maryland plus-8 at Miami. Maryland has a great chance to waltz into Miami and win. The Terps are on a roll, having won four their past five to forge a 6-2 record (3-1 in the ACC). The Terps have been opportunistic, pacing the ACC and ranking fifth nationally in turnover margin. The defense also has played well (No. 4 in the ACC in scoring/19.8 ppg), which could pose problems for a Miami program that is coming off a humiliating 24-19 loss at Virginia. Compounding matters for the Hurricanes is that they will be without starting QB Jacory Harris, who is out with a concussion, and leading rusher Damien Berry, who has various nagging injuries.
David Fox
Maryland plus-8 at Miami. I'm not a huge believer in Maryland, but the wheels are falling off at Miami. Freshman quarterback Steve Morris will start his first game this week, and it comes a week after his planned redshirt was burned in a loss at Virginia. Making things worse, Miami won't have RB Damien Berry. Maryland freshman QB Danny O'Brien has played well the past two weeks, albeit against two of the weakest teams in the ACC. Maryland has been one of the best teams in the country against the pass and in turnover margin, and the Terps could turn a disappointing season into a nightmare for Miami.
Mike Huguenin
North Carolina plus-10 at Florida State. UNC basically faces a must-win situation to keep its faint ACC title hopes alive. The defense should do a good job keeping FSU somewhat bottled up, but can UNC's offense mount enough of a threat against FSU's aggressive 'D' to pull the upset? At the least, this should be closer than 10 points.
Steve Megargee
La.-Monroe plus-9.5 at Fla. International. FIU got plenty of attention for its close losses to Rutgers, Texas A&M and Maryland, but the Golden Panthers fell 21-9 to Florida Atlantic last week, while Louisiana-Monroe is coming off an upset of Troy. I think Louisiana-Monroe rides that wave of momentum to another victory.
Last Week/Season Totals
One of our five picks won outright. For the season, 19 of 40 picks have covered the spread and nine have won outright.

Texas A&M's offense vs. Oklahoma. A&M appears rejuvenated now that Ryan Tannehill has taken over at quarterback. Of course, he's put up big numbers against Kansas and Texas Tech, which have soft defenses. He has to prove he can be effective against Oklahoma's defense, too. But aside from a blowout win in '08, Oklahoma often has difficulty at A&M. Except for that game, the Sooners' previous two trips to A&M resulted in wins by a combined eight points. A&M knocked off the top-ranked Sooners in 2002 at Kyle Field and almost did in 2000.


Can Utah score enough to beat TCU? The Horned Frogs have the nation's No. 1 total defense (217.3 ypg), No. 1 scoring defense (8.7 ppg), No. 1 pass defense (119.0 ypg) and No. 9 rush defense (98.3 ypg). TCU has given up just 10 touchdowns. To have any chance for success, the Utes will have to establish a ground game. Utah has some weapons in an attack that averages 45.3 points, led by QB Jordan Wynn, RBs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata and WR Jereme Brooks. And the home field will help the Utes, who have won 21 in a row in Rice-Eccles Stadium and beat TCU 13-10 in the Horned Frogs' last visit. Despite all of that, yards and points figure to be at a premium, meaning Utah will have to win the turnover and field-position battles to have a chance to beat TCU, which clobbered Utah 55-28 last season in Fort Worth.


Arizona QB Nick Foles. Stanford plays host to Arizona in a battle of one-loss teams that technically are alive for a BCS bid. The key is the anticipated return of Foles, Arizona's starting quarterback who has missed the past two games with a knee injury. Foles had one of the best games of his career against Stanford last season, going 40-of-51 for 415 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-38 win. Meanwhile, Stanford is coming off a shutout of Washington in which a hobbled Jake Locker was held to 65 yards of total offense and two interceptions.


LSU's quarterbacks. LSU can beat Alabama in their SEC West showdown, but only if QBs Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee make some plays. If you've seen LSU play, that doesn't seem all that likely. LSU's defense will not get run over, as it did in a loss to Auburn, and Tigers RB Stevan Ridley will have some success. But at some point, Jefferson and/or Lee will have to do some positive things. That idea has to make Alabama happy.


Can Baylor keep it up? It's time to stop thinking of Baylor as a cuddly upstart and to start considering the Bears legitimate contenders in the Big 12 South. Baylor certainly isn't going to sneak up on anyone now that the Bears have beaten Texas on the road. Baylor doesn't have any time to relax, as the Bears follow that trip to Austin by visiting Oklahoma State. Robert Griffin should put up plenty of points against a suspect Oklahoma State defense, but I don't know if Baylor has enough talent to slow the Cowboys' potent offense. If Baylor wins on the road again, that Nov. 20 showdown with Oklahoma in Waco starts looking very interesting. - STEVE MEGARGEE

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