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College Football Previews: Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma St., Oregon and More

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I'm feeling good.  The Six Pack picks went 6-0 last week, moving the overall record to 18-6 (missed a few weeks; I'm going to try not to let that happen again, though).  Let's see if I can pull off another perfect week...

#13 MICHIGAN (6-0, 2-0) AT #22 MICHIGAN STATE (4-1, 1-0) (12pm ET, ESPN)
Last week, a Texas team with a dodgy-looking ranking and an unimpressive resume got their reality check; will this week by Michigan's turn?  To be sure, there are a few differences: while Texas sputtered at times against some of the lesser lights on their schedule, but that hasn't really been a problem for the Wolverines -- they've been a buzzsaw against weak teams.  Just ask Minnesota (58-0), Eastern Michigan (31-3), or Western Michigan (34-10).  They've been seriously challenged for about a game and a half -- against Notre Dame and the first half of last week's Northwestern game (when Denard threw three utterly horrendous interceptions). 

Michigan State should pose their stiffest test since the Notre Dame game, with a powerful defense (currently ranked best in the country, although that stat is a little dubious when they've racked up stats against the likes of Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, and the worst Ohio State offense in generations) and a good (albeit slightly underachieving) offense.  Really, this promises to be a fascinating game to examine the potency of each team's offense; Michigan's attack was held in check by a good Notre Dame defense for three quarters and Michigan State's offense has mustered just 23 total points in games against non-cupcake opponents.  So they have both have some question marks to answer.  Michigan's defense has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season: it's still lacking in talent and depth, but it's overall play has been markedly better than a year ago. 

The most impressive aspect of their comeback win against Northwestern may not have been the 300+ yards and 28 points the offense scored in the second half -- but the fact that the defense pitched a shutout on a pretty good Northwestern offense.  But ultimately this game probably comes down to the offenses and there's reason to be wary of Denard, as spectacular as he often is; most of the time, he's been able to get away with making some truly awful throws -- I don't think he has that luxury against Michigan State.  I also think the Spartan offense will lay a few good hits on him when he takes off and runs (they were laying some brutal hits in the Ohio State game two weeks ago), which could make him a little more hesitant to take off and run.  And a Denard that stays in the pocket is a Denard that's very beatable.  So: Sparty by a hair.
THE PICK: MICHIGAN STATE 31, MICHIGAN 28

#20 BAYLOR (4-1, 1-1) AT #25 TEXAS A&M (3-2, 1-1) (12pm ET, FX)
Texas A&M once agained opened up a double-digit lead on Texas Tech last week.  Unlike past double-digit leads against Oklahoma State and Arkansas, though, the Aggies were able to hold on to that lead and pull out a 45-40 win as their Big 12 Farewell Tour continues.  This week Baylor comes to town, which promises fireworks on the field... and maybe off the field, as well.  Baylor, of course, has been the most prominent objector to Texas A&M's move to the SEC, trying to hold up the process and threatening litigation against the Aggies. 

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Here's guessing the Aggie crowd won't exactly give a warm welcome to Baylor when they hit the field.  As far as the on-field action goes, neither team is a particularly strong front-runner; Baylor's porous defense allowed TCU to get back into the game way back in Week One and A&M's struggles with leads are well-documented.  Both offenses are more than capable of trading scores with each other, so chances are this game comes down to which team makes fewer mistakes.  Robert Griffin III has been damn near flawless for Baylor all year (1520 passing yards, 81% completion, 19/1 TD/INT), but I think he'll make a few costly error for the Bears in arguably the most hostile environment he'll see all year -- which will be just enough for A&M to get the win.
THE PICK: TEXAS A&M 38, BAYLOR 34

#5 OKLAHOMA STATE (5-0, 2-0) AT #21 TEXAS (4-1, 1-1) (3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN)
There's lots of history on Texas' side in this game.  They haven't lost two in a row to Oklahoma State - ever.  They haven't lost the week after the Red Rivery Shootout against Oklahoam since 1997.  Too bad all that history has very little bearing on this game, which features a brutally good Oklahoma State team ranked in the top five team and a Texas a team still trying to crawl out of the wreckage of the 2010 season.  I was skeptical of Texas' ascension in the polls earlier this year -- their best win was, what, Iowa State?  UCLA?  Rice? -- but I still didn't expect to see them get drilled so comprehensively as they did against Oklahoma last week.  Now they have to entertain an Oklahoma State team that features an offense nearly as potent as the Oklahoma one that disemboweled them last week? 

Yikes. 

Landry Jones and his receivers carved up Texas' young-ish secondary last week, which should have Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and the rest of the Cowboy passing game licking their lips.  Texas simply must get pressure on Weeden and force him into mistakes; they couldn't do that to Jones last week and they got destroyed.  On offense, Texas should breathe a little easier: the Cowboys' defense isn't as nasty as the defense Oklahoma brought to bear on that youthful offense.  On the other hand, it's not altogether clear that this Texas team is packing the sort of firepower it takes to win in the Big 12 this year: they've only cracked 40 points once (against UCLA) and have been held under 20 in two games (BYU, Oklahoma).  Texas keeps it close for about a half, but they can't keep pace with Oklahoma State's offense for an entire game.
THE PICK: OKLAHOMA STATE 41, TEXAS 24 

#18 VIRGINIA TECH (4-1, 1-1) AT WAKE FOREST (4-1, 3-0) (6:30pm ET, ESPN3.com)
The Fightin' Jim Grobes?  Tied for first in the ACC Atlantic Division?  What the--?   Do not adjust your monitor.  Do not pinch yourself.  You are not experiencing technical difficulty or dreaming -- Wake Forest really does appear to be... well, pretty good this year.  They're one fourth quarter collapse against Syracuse (Syracuse?!) from being undefeated and they're just coming off a very nice win over a mostly full-strength Florida State team.  On the other hand, there's a certain amount of "too good to be true"-ness to their story, too: they didn't look all that impressive against NC State or Boston College (two of the ACC's weakest-looking teams) and there is that aforementioned loss to Syracuse on the books.  They also haven't beaten Virginia Tech since... 1983.  (Although you can blame the ACC's bizarre scheduling practices for that, in part; despite being part of the same league since 2004, the two schools have only played three times.) 

Virginia Tech rebounded from getting dismantled at home by Clemson to eke out a shootout over Miami last week.  A win here and they could be sitting at 8-1 as they head into a game with Georgia Tech that could determine the winner of the Coastal Division.  This isn't your father's Wake Forest team -- they're not the easy pushover they've been for so much of their existence, but they also don't look quite ready for primetime, particularly against a Virginia Tech offense that seemed to find itself in the Miami win (in which QB Logan Thomas was brilliant: 23/25, 310 yards, 3 TD).
THE PICK: VIRGINIA TECH 27, WAKE FOREST 20

#25 FLORIDA (4-2, 2-2) AT #24 AUBURN (4-2, 2-1) (7pm ET, ESPN)
This series is actually one of the SEC's more underrated rivalries; the overall series is impressively even (Auburn holds a 42-38-2 edge) and their recent showdowns have tended to be nail-biters: three of the past four have been decided by seven points or less and the last time they played (2007) Auburn won on a last-second field goal.  Both teams also find themselves in similar rebuilding modes: Florida is trying to move away from the shadow of Urban Meyer's tenure and last year's disappointing 8-5 season, while Auburn is replacing damn near everyone from last year's national championship team.  So far this year, Florida's looked great against lesser squads, but got badly exposed in back-to-back losses against heavyweights like Alabama and LSU. 

Auburn's no heavyweight this year -- they struggled with Utah State and Mississippi State and got blasted by Arkansas -- but they're also certainly better than the UAB and Kentucky teams that Florida throttled.  This seems like an ideal game to determine just how good each team is and figure out where they fall in the SEC pecking order.  And if it's a close game, for god's sake, bet on Aubie.  Under Chizik, Auburn has won ten straight games decided by one score or less dating back to 2009.  Sure, at some point, Chizik's uncanny close game luck has to run out... but we were saying that five or six close games ago, too, and look where that got us.  Sometimes you just have to ride the hot hand and in close games, there's no hotter hand than Mean Gene's.
THE PICK: AUBURN 24, FLORIDA 21

#16 ARIZONA STATE (5-1, 3-0) AT #9 OREGON (4-1, 2-0) (10:15pm ET, ESPN)
Win or lose, these two teams could be barreling to a rematch (perhaps even in the same stadium) at the Pac 12 Championship Game in December.  Arizona State has the Pac 12 South all but locked down, while the Pac 12 North will likely come down to Oregon's showdown with Stanford in a few weeks.  On another level, this is simply an intriguing match-up between perhaps the league's best defense (Arizona State) and the league's best offense (Oregon). 

The Sun Devils have done a masterful job of forcing turnovers: in three Pac-12 games they've been the beneficiaries of 14 turnovers; it's hard for other teams to win when they're giving the ball back to you 4-5 times a game.  Oregon, meanwhile, has mostly eschewed turnovers in its games -- either forcing them or conceding them.  They've gained only four turnovers this season (worst in the league)... but they've also only coughed the ball up five times (second-best in the league)... and four of those came against LSU in the season opener.  Turnovers seems like the tipping point for this game: Arizona State has a solid offense, but they're not excellent in any one area and if this is a clean game and they have to trade scores with Oregon... they're in trouble.  Trading scores with an offense like Oregon's (best in the league) is a fool's errand. 

The way to beat Oregon -- as Ohio State proved two years ago, as Auburn proved last year, as LSU proved this year -- is to bog down their offense against a defense with considerable size, speed, and discipline.  Does that describe Arizona State's defense?  Maybe.  But to give their offense a fighting chance to win this game, the ASU defense is going to need to continue their turnover-happy ways and either put points on the board themselves or set up the Devils for easy scores.  If Oregon doesn't turn the ball over too much, they win.  Simple as that.  And that's what I think happens, even without LaMichael James in the line-up (Kenjon Barner is a pretty nifty back-up, in case you haven't noticed).
THE PICK: OREGON 38, ARIZONA STATE 28