#3 OKLAHOMA (4-0, 1-0) VS. #11 TEXAS (4-0, 1-0) (12pm ET, ABC)
The heavyweight duel of the weekend also gets the action underway with an early noon start, as the Texas Revenge Tour comes head-to-head with Oklahoma's National Championship Quest. Texas had won 4 out of the past 5 meetings before dropping last year's contest in the midst of their 7-loss flameout, but at this point the table still appears to be flipped in Oklahoma's advantage. Texas made short work of their first two victims (UCLA and Iowa State) on the Revenge Tour, but Oklahoma is a different matter: they've been a buzzsaw against lesser opponents and they've already survived a brutal road test against Florida State. On the other hand, the toughest opponent Texas has faced is... UCLA? Iowa State?
Not quite comparable.
Their rise to #11 (and Michigan's similar rise to #12) is living proof of the power of having a strong brand name in college football: put together a few wins and pollsters will always find it in them to give you the benefit of the doubt and shoot you up the polls. To be sure, this year's Texas squad looks markedly more competent than last year's dumpster fire of an outfit; Case McCoy and David Ash have combined to give the Longhorns far better play out of the quarterback than they got out of interception machine Garrett Gilbert last year and they've also pulled together an impressive running game out of many disparate parts. But Oklahoma's defense presents a far greater challenge than anything the Longhorns have yet faced; they're going to need very good performances out of McCoy and Ash to have a shot in this game and that may be asking too much at this stage.
Meanwhile, their defense is going to find itself stretched thin by an Oklahoma offense loaded with options: Landry Jones is an experienced, talented quarterback who's thrived in numerous pressure situations -- and he has a dynamite group of receivers to toss the ball to as well in Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills, and Jaz Reynolds. In Dominique Whaley they have a pretty solid running back, too. In short, they seem to have more talent and more experience than Texas, which usually adds up to a win. Unless Mack Brown has some pretty epic tricks still up his sleeve, Oklahoma's march towards the title game should continue.
THE PICK: OKLAHOMA 34, TEXAS 24
#17 FLORIDA (4-1, 2-1) AT #1 LSU (5-0, 2-0) (3:30pm ET, CBS)
What did Florida do to deserve this schedule? One week after facing Alabama at home, the Gators take their show on the road and visit the SEC's other powerhouse team, LSU, in Death Valley. Oh, and they get to do with it a true freshman quarterback making his first start after John Brantley got hurt in last week's humbling loss at the hands of Alabama. Good luck with that one, Gators.
The good news is that it's pretty much all uphill from here on out for the Gators -- unless they win the SEC East and have to face either Alabama or LSU again in the SEC Championship Game. Les Miles shouldn't have to dig too deep in his bag of tricks to dispatch this undermanned Florida team. Demps and Rainey will make a few big plays, but eventually the LSU defense will crush the life out of the Gator offense and force it into making mistakes, leading to LSU points and a comfortable Tigers win.
THE PICK: LSU 27, FLORIDA 13
MIAMI (FL) (2-2, 0-1) AT #21 VIRGINIA TECH (4-1, 0-1) (3:30pm ET, ABC)
There are some admittedly odd picks in this week's Six Pack feature, largely because there's not a lot of depth to this week's slate of games. There are a small handful of really, really good games -- and then a bunch of other games of varying levels of intrigue. This game falls squarely into the latter category. Virginia Tech entered the season the conventional pick to win the division, something they'd done with ruthless regularity over the last half-decade, while Miami was a trendy, under-the-radar pick to contend for the Coastal division crown (well, at least before off-season scandals led to a host of suspensions). But after early season conference losses (and the unexpected surge of Georgia Tech), both teams find themselves on the verge of near-elimination in the Coastal race.
Both teams took different routes to get to this point; Virginia Tech spent the early going looking like Virginia Tech teams of old and steadily dispatching their non-conference rivals... and then got shockingly undressed at home by Clemson last weekend. Miami's public undressing happened in the first week of the season, after which they recovered to dismantle a sanction-wracked Ohio State (only to promptly give up that momentum with a home loss to Kansas State the following week). The idea of Virginia Tech losing back-to-back games at home is virtually unthinkable and this Miami team has looked too inconsistent to take them on the road. Here's guessing that Virginia Tech harasses Jacory Harris into multiple mistakes and gets a much-needed win to keep their Coastal division hopes alive.
THE PICK: VIRGINIA TECH 24, MIAMI 14
#22 ARIZONA STATE (4-1, 2-0) AT UTAH (2-2, 0-2) (3:30pm ET, FSN)
Before the season, this looked like a potential Pac-12 South title decider. Despite their propensity to underachieve, ASU was one of the popular choices to win the division and Utah was one of the dark horse contenders. Now, six weeks into the season, it could be a title decider for another reason: Arizona State looks like the only decent team in the division. Utah's already lost two games in the conference (to USC and Washington); a third would almost certainly cripple their title ambitions. Arizona State already has a win over USC, so a win over Utah would give them wins over both of the legitimate decent teams in the division. The other teams? UCLA, Colorado, and Arizona, all of whom have taken turns disintegrating into irrelevance over the first month of the season.
So yeah: a win here and Arizona State can pencil themselves into the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game two months from now. So who wins this game? Utah lost a close game to USC, blasted BYU in a heated rivalry game, and self-destructed against Washington. Arizona State has been inconsistent (shock!) this year, but they've managed to keep picking up wins. Utah got shredded for 400+ yards of offense by Washington; that bodes poorly for a fairly high-octane Arizona State attack.
THE PICK: ARIZONA STATE 30, UTAH 24
#15 AUBURN (5-0, 2-0) AT #10 ARKANSAS (4-1, 0-1) (7pm ET, ESPN)
Ah, the SEC West's Zombie Bowl: Try as you might, you just can't kill these teams off. Right them off in a game? Auburn staged a furious 14-point rally in the season opener against Utah State, held off a hard-charging Mississippi State team by the skin of their teeth, and then upset South Carolina last week after they'd been written off. Meanwhile, Arkansas rebounded from a 35-17 halftime deficit to knock off Texas A&M last week and slither back into top ten consideration. Neither of these teams is likely to challenge for the SEC West title (good luck getting past LSU and Alabama), so this is really a battle for 3rd place. Last year these two teams waged an outrageous shootout 65-43 and while it would be tough to anticipate them equaling that insanity, a shootout seems in order again, given the relative weakness of these two offenses. Chances are this game comes down to the team that has the ball last; I'll guess the Hogs get a little home cookin' this year.
THE PICK: ARKANSAS 38, AUBURN 34
OHIO STATE (3-2, 0-1) AT #14 NEBRASKA (4-1, 0-1) (8pm ET, ABC)
If that game is the Zombie Bowl, this game is the Desperation Bowl: one of these teams is going to be 0-2 and all but out of contention for a Big Ten championship. Both are coming off rather humbling losses in their conference openers, too -- Ohio State's offense looked thoroughly inept against Michigan State, while Nebraska's once-vaunted defense got shredded by Wisconsin's powerful offense. Which means that this game will feature strength (Nebraska offense) vs. strength (Ohio State defense) and weakness (Nebraska defense) vs. weakness (Ohio State defense). Whose strength is stronger? Whose weakness is weaker? I have more faith in Ohio State's defense slowing down Nebraska's offense (which becomes awfully ugly and one-dimensional if you can shut down their rushing attack)... but I'm also not sure what the Ohio State offense is going to be able to do, even with a few of the suspended "Tatgate" players back in the lineup. Can they get to 20 points against Nebraska?
Against the two quality teams they've played this year (Miami and Michigan State), they've totaled a whopping 13 points -- and they didn't look all that convincing against Toledo, either. If it's difficult to find an advantage in the Xs and Os, it's not hard to find an advantage in terms of motivation: neither team wants to go to 0-2, but there's a sense of fatalism about this Buckeye team (and season) that seems to be wearing them down. Between Luke Fickell's almost-certain lame duck status, the tension between the offensive and defensive coaches, the ongoing distraction of the off-season scandal and suspension, and the looming possibility of further NCAA sanctions, this seems like an Ohio State on the verge of total implosion. Nebraska has looked rocky this year (especially on defense), but they still have a lot to play for: a division title and Big Ten championship is still in play... and they certainly don't want to lose their Big Ten home opener. I think an inspired Nebraska team adds to Ohio State's misery.
THE PICK: NEBRASKA 28, OHIO STATE 17