Maryland is the ultimate Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde team. They can get beat by Middle Tennessee one week and then bounce back to destroy teams like Cal and Clemson all in the span of a month. Tonight they travel to Blacksburg where Virginia Tech is traditionally one of the stronger Thursday night teams. Tyrod Taylor still isn't there yet as a quarterback, but he's dangerous enough to lead the Hokies to some points. Maryland on the other hand have speedy running back Da'Rel Scott to lean on. Will he be able to do enough against a young, improving Bud Foster defense? I'll give the edge to the Hokies due to their defense and the home crowd.
J.Pike's Pick: Virginia Tech 28, Maryland 24
#13 TCU @ #10 Utah
(Thursday, 7 pm, CBS College Sports)
The Mountain West takes center stage tonight (on CBS College Sports??) as the league's top two teams square off. The winner not only has a leg up on winning the conference title - a berth in a BCS bowl might also be at stake.
If you like good defenses, this is the game for you. TCU and Utah are the best defensive teams in a conference that knows a thing or two about defense. They are also both in the top 10 nationally in total yards allowed per game.
Utah is led up front by defensive end Paul Kruger. The sophomore is fourth on the team in tackles and has piled up 6.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. It doesn't end there for the Utes. Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and defensive end Koa Misi are active players who will each contend for All-League honors at the end of the season. And don't forget about the rangy Sean Smith. At 6-foot-3, Smith is one of the taller cornerbacks in the nation, and he has tremendous athleticism to go along with it.
TCU is led defensively by the talented Jerry Hughes. TCU has traditionally featured a pass rushing menace at defensive end and Hughes is no exception. In fact, with 14 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, Hughes might be one of the best quarterback harrassers the Frogs have ever had.
Like Utah, TCU swarms to the ball and gang tackles as well as anybody. Linebacker Jason Phillips is often leading that swarm. Phillips leads the Frogs with 60 tackles so expect to see him all over the field tonight.
With two great defenses, the difference in the game will come down to which offense is able to pick up first downs and keep drives alive. TCU is paced by steady quarterback Andy Dalton. He won't impress you with his skills, but he's the kind of player that just makes the team better somehow.
Usually TCU has a feature back that they can count on to pick up yards in a pinch, but they don't have that this year. Aaron Brown is close, but he doesn't even start most of the time and has been more impressive returning kicks. Jeremy Kerley could be the X-Factor as he was in the Frogs' big win over BYU earlier this year.
But I think Utah has the edge when it comes down to which offense can move the ball more consistently. The running back tandem of Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack are a combined 450 pounds (not to mention the 12 touchdowns between the two) and I think they can take the pounding the TCU defense is sure to bring and continue to pick up the few yards here and there to keep the chains moving. In fact, Mack ran for 100 yards last year on the Frogs.
Quarterback Brian Johnson is one of the most underrated player in the nation and he will ultimately be the difference tonight. He throws a beautiful ball and has the athleticism to avoid Hughes and the TCU pass rush more often than not.
J.Pike's Pick: Utah 23, TCU 19