This is obviously the game of the week, but I'm not sure it is going to be a very pretty game to watch. This is going to be one of those down and dirty defensive battles where the first team to about 13 points is going to win. Alabama, coming off the bye week, has the inside track to those 13 points. Julio Jones is getting healthier and he'll need to make a play or two against the talented LSU secondary. The problem for the Tigers is I'm not sure how they are going to move the ball against a stout Crimson Tide front. Jordan Jefferson needs to have a career day if LSU hopes to pull the upset, but I'm not counting on it.
J.Pike's Pick: Alabama 20, LSU 9
#8 Oregon at Stanford
I've been picking against Oregon all year. And once again my gut is telling me that Stanford has an excellent chance at knocking the Ducks off their high horse. Toby Gerhart is a battering ram at running back and Andrew Luck is looking more and more like a big time Pac-10 quarterback every week. The Cardinal defense is far from a brick wall, but they are capable of playing very well in stretches. With Oregon riding high after the big win over Southern Cal, I like the Stanford defense to play a big role early in confusing Jeremiah Masoli and the Ducks offense early on while Gerhart and company steal a quick lead. It will be up to the unsung key to Oregon's rise, running back LaMichael James, to lead the Ducks to victory.
J.Pike's Pick: Oregon 34, Stanford 27
Wake Forest at #6 Georgia Tech
Riley Skinner's status is up in the air for this game, but it shouldn't matter one way or the other. Georgia Tech's offense has been on a roll lately and the Wake defense won't be more than a speed bump in the road. Jim Grobe is a fine coach and he'll find a way to keep the Deacs in the game for a while, but Paul Johnson's triple option will keep picking up steam as they always do, and run of a couple of big plays in the second half to put the game away.
J.Pike's Pick: Georgia Tech 33, Wake Forest 17
#4 TCU at San Diego State
TCU is looking more and more like the real deal. The Frogs have yet to take a week off as they march through conference play. I keep waiting for them to finally slip up (because every unbeaten TCU team in the last decade has eventually let me down at some point), but the more I watch them play the more I think this team might just be disciplined enough to run the table. However, this is going to be a much tougher road trip than it looks. New head coach Brady Hoke has assembled a top notch coaching staff in San Diego. Defensive coordinator Rocky Long is just as capable as Gary Patterson of drawing up the perfect plan to shut down an opposing offense. This is going to be a game where Andy Dalton will need to play a factor because I think it is going to be a surprisingly tight contest.
J.Pike's Pick: TCU 23, San Diego State 16
New Mexico at #20 Utah
Utah has a quarterback controversy brewing between junior Terrence Cain and freshman Jordan Wynn. Whichever one gets the start will probably win the job because New Mexico can make just about any quarterback look good in 2009. The winless Lobos are just the remedy to cure a sputtering Utah offense.
J.Pike's Pick: Utah 43, New Mexico 19
#24 Oregon State at California
If you like running backs, this is where your eyes need to be on Saturday. JaQuizz Rodgers and Jahvid Best are two of the most exciting backs around, and neither stands taller than about 5-foot-8. California has slowly been pulling out of their mid-season slump, but Oregon State has quietly been playing solid football too. Look for Rodgers to out-rush Best, and for Sean Canfield to play just well enough for the Beavers to escape Berkeley with the W.
J.Pike's Pick: Oregon State 31, California 27
Vanderbilt at #3 Florida
There is no reason for this game to be close. If Florida truly is a national championship contender, they will dismiss Vandy with ease. The Commodores haven't been very good this season, which is disappointing considering all the progress they made in climbing out of the SEC cellar over the past two seasons.
J.Pike's Pick: Florida 38, Vanderbilt 3
#22 Houston at Tulsa
Todd Graham just needs to get through 2009 so he can get his Tulsa team back into the Conference USA race again in 2010. The Golden Hurricane have shown flashes of good football this season, but they have been fewer and farther between than the past two years. Houston's offense is among the most potent in college football, and Tulsa's defense doesn't look like much of a test.
J.Pike's Pick: Houston 45, Tulsa 24
Connecticut at #9 Cincinnati
Cincinnati is the class of the Big East so far. It would be nice to see Connecticut rise up and pull an upset here in honor of their fallen teammate, but Randy Edsall's team simply doesn't have the firepower to do it. Mardy Gilyard will be the difference in the game, but the Huskies will play admirably and keep it close throughout.
J.Pike's Pick: Cincinnati 23, Connecticut 17
#12 USC at Arizona State
Arizona State's primary strength is their defense. Don't be surprised if they hold USC under 30 points (is that an accomplishment any more?). But how will the Sun Devils score points? The ground game isn't very good, and Danny Sullivan is just now starting to show signs of life at quarterback. USC will bounce back from the pounding they took in Eugene by dismissing an out-manned Arizona State.
J.Pike's Pick: USC 27, Arizona State 13
#17 Oklahoma at Nebraska
I don't think anybody was expecting this game to feature a pair of 3-loss teams. In 2009, Nebraska was expected to step up and take back control of the Big XII North while Oklahoma was expected to challenge for a national title. Obviously both have fallen short of those expectations, if only by the slimmest of margins.
The Nebraska offense has been in a serious funk for the past few weeks, but making the switch to the freshman Cody Green at quarterback will pay dividends in the long run. He has a much better skill set than Zac Lee, and he looks like he could be a really good player once he learns the offense and the coaching staff turns him loose. And if you ask Nebraska fans, they'll tell you offensive coordinator Shawn Watson should turn him loose this weekend. Against a formidable Oklahoma defensive line (Gerald McCoy is one of the most underrated players in the country), Green will need to put the offense on his shoulders in order to put points on the board. Roy Helu has been banged up and the running game will probably not be very productive Saturday night.
But where Nebraska holds a big advantage is on the defensive side of the ball. What nobody wants to talk about this season is that Oklahoma simply can't line up and run the football. The coaching staff seems to think they can, as they arrogantly try to flex their muscles at least a couple drives per game. But the fact is that offensive line is too slow and too inexperienced to be a consistent threat running the ball downhill. Nebraska's defensive line - a pretty good group itself - is good enough to eliminate the running threat and pressure Landry Jones. Ryan Broyles is a great receiver, and he'll produce in this game - but the rest of OU's receiving corps leaves a lot to be desired. If Nebraska can keep Broyles to 2 touchdowns or less, then Nebraska will have a good shot at winning.
Call me stupid, but this is college football. Bo Pelini is as good an X's and O's coach as there is defensively, so you know he'll have a game plan that will keep this game much closer than it was a year ago. It will be up to Cody Green and the offense to come through with some much needed big plays to pull the upset. The bottom line is Oklahoma simply isn't as good a team as they should be, and Pelini and Company will find a way to exploit their weaknesses and bring home a huge win for the Huskers.
J.Pike's Pick: Nebraska 20, Oklahoma 17
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!