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October 14, 2011

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 in Week 5.

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
Maryland plus-9 vs. Clemson. There is no doubt that Clemson has to be considered a legitimate national championship contender and that is exactly why the Tigers are vulnerable now. In recent history, when much is expected is when the Tigers have collapsed. Maryland should be an easy win for the Tigers. But the game is at Maryland, which appeared to show some signs of improvement in last week's 21-16 loss to Georgia Tech. In addition, Clemson's next two games are against North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Is it possible the Tigers could be looking ahead? And then there's the health of QB Tajh Boyd. This is a potential trap game.
Tom Dienhart
Vanderbilt plus-11 vs. Georgia. First-year coach James Franklin has Vanderbilt playing well. Yes, the Commodores have lost their past two games - at South Carolina and at Alabama, scoring a combined three points - but Vandy is 3-0 at home and plays with more of a swagger in the West End of Nashville. The Commodores need to regain the offensive mojo they possessed the first three games, when they scored 99 points, with the highlight being a 30-7 pasting of Ole Miss. Vanderbilt will need a big effort from its defense, which ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring defense (19.4 ppg). And the unit has been opportunistic, picking off a national-high 14 passes and returning three for touchdowns. Vandy knows what's at stake: A win against a hot Georgia team that has won four in a row could spark the Commodores toward bowl eligibility .
David Fox
Iowa State plus-15 at Missouri. I don't know if Missouri is good enough to beat anyone by two touchdowns. True, all three of Tigers' losses occurred on the road against ranked teams, but the wins have been nothing to brag about either - the best is a 17-6 victory over Miami (Ohio). Iowa State isn't great team, but the Cyclones look to be good enough to give Missouri a game.
Mike Huguenin
Baylor plus-9.5 at Texas A&M. This should be a shootout, as neither defense looks to be equipped to stop the opposing offense. A&M's secondary was carved up by Brandon Weeden and Tyler Wilson; Robert Griffin will be the latest quarterback to have a huge day against the Aggies. Conversely, look for A&M TBs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael to run wild against Baylor. But Griffin will keep this one close.
Steve Megargee
Louisville plus-16.5 at Cincinnati. Louisville has struggled, with three losses in its first five games, but the Cardinals are playing solid defense. They're allowing just 16.2 points per game and did a good job against North Carolina's offense last week in a 14-7 loss to the Tar Heels. Cincinnati has gotten off to a 4-1 start by averaging 45 points per game, but I don't think the Bearcats will have nearly as much success moving the ball against Louisville's defense. I don't know if Louisville can win this game outright, but its defense should allow the Cardinals to cover the spread.
Season Totals
For the season, 16 of 30 picks have covered the spread and five have won outright.

Kansas State. I'm curious to see whether Kansas State's defense can contain Texas Tech's offense and help the Wildcats stay undefeated. The Wildcats' defense has made big plays when needed in the past three weeks. But it also gave up 35 points to Baylor two weeks ago. Though Texas Tech has lost RB Eric Stephens to injury, the Red Raiders still are capable of scoring a lot of points. K-State has rightfully drawn a lot of praise for its 5-0 start and return to the national rankings, but it won't be easy to stay there. Texas Tech is a tough team to beat, especially in Lubbock.


Michigan. Is Michigan for real? The trip to Michigan State will say a lot about the program's surge under first-year coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines' hopes rest with their offense, as QB Denard Robinson is the unquestioned catalyst. "Shoelace" paces the Big Ten and ranks fourth in the country in rushing (134.8 ypg). But he'll be facing a Michigan State defense that ranks first in the nation overall (173.4 ypg). Something will have to give in this heated rivalry that has seen the Spartans win the past three meetings.


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Logan Thomas. Virginia Tech's quarterback was marvelous against Miami last week. He was the Robert Griffin of the weekend, with more touchdown passes (three) than incompletions (two). It was a breakout day for Thomas, a sophomore who had struggled. I'm curious if he can string two good performances together, with this week's on the road against Wake Forest. Thomas' previous road starts weren't great - he was 8-of-20 with an interception against East Carolina and 22-of-33 with a pick and no touchdowns against Marshall. Time to see if Thomas can build on last week's success.


Oregon's offense. The Ducks will be going against a tough, aggressive Arizona State defense without star TB LaMichael James, who suffered a dislocated elbow in last week's win over California. Oregon managed just 125 rushing yards against the Sun Devils last season with James; that was the Ducks' second-lowest total of the season. In addition, Oregon had 385 total yards - also their second-lowest output of the season. Arizona State, though, committed seven turnovers and lost 42-31. Oregon backup TB Kenjon Barner is a burner, but he's not as physical as James, who's small but incredibly tough. The way to beat Oregon is to make Ducks QB Darron Thomas take to the air. Can Arizona State do the job?


How does Texas bounce back? I still have no idea what to make of this Texas team. It's apparent now that the Longhorns didn't merit the No. 10 ranking they had in the coaches' poll a week ago, but I also think they're much better than they looked in an embarrassing 55-17 loss to Oklahoma. How much better? We should find out Saturday when Texas hosts unbeaten Oklahoma State, ranked sixth by The Associated Press and seventh in the coaches' poll. I'm interested in seeing how Texas responds to its shellacking against Oklahoma, and I'm going to be paying particularly close attention to how young QBs Case McCoy and David Ash perform now that they've experienced some adversity. I also want to see how Texas' secondary defends Justin Blackmon and Co. after getting picked apart by Oklahoma's passing attack last week.


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