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November 11, 2011

Week 11: Keep an eye on/upset picks

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 11.

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
TCU plus-15 at Boise State. Boise State hasn't lost a regular season-game on the blue turf since 2001, but the Broncos haven't often faced opponents as good as TCU. Boise State is favored by 15 points, which seems extreme. True, the Frogs aren't as dominant defensively as they have been and their secondary was riddled by Baylor and SMU. But TCU does have the offense and big-play ability to keep up with Boise State. And if the game turns into a shootout ... well, anything can happen. Besides, TCU hasn't lost a game by 15 points since 2008.
David Fox
Miami plus-9 at Florida State. Here's an astounding stat: Miami's Jacory Harris is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, behind Russell Wilson, Case Keenum, Robert Griffin, Kellen Moore and Andrew Luck. Shocking stuff. Florida State apparently is back to form, but has faced only one potential bowl team since its Oct. 8 loss to Wake Forest. I like Miami to further ruin Florida State's season.
Mike Huguenin
Louisiana-Lafayette plus-11 at Arkansas State. This basically is the Sun Belt title game, and I think ULL's offense and opportunistic defense (the Ragin' Cajuns lead the nation with six pick-sixes) give them a great chance for the victory.
Steve Megargee
Kentucky plus-13 at Vanderbilt. It's not often you see Vanderbilt as a double-digit favorite over an SEC opponent. Vanderbilt certainly has made plenty of strides in coach James Franklin's first season on the job, but the Commodores still struggle to make the plays down the stretch to win close games. Vandy has dropped five of its past six games, and each of its past three losses was decided by five or fewer points. Kentucky was blown out by the same Florida team that had a tough time beating Vandy last week, but the Wildcats also have won two of their past three. I think Kentucky covers the spread. And if the Commodores make the same kind of late-game mistakes that haunted them against Arkansas and Florida, Kentucky could win outright.
Season Totals
For the season, 25 of 48 picks have covered the spread and nine have won outright.

Stanford's defense. For all the praise Andrew Luck receives and all the angst about the injuries to TE Zach Ertz and WR Chris Owusu, the real key for Stanford is whether its defense can slow LaMichael James and Oregon's offense. Stanford won't shut down the Ducks, but if they can get a few stops and prevent big plays, the Cardinal likely will win. Last season, James rushed for 257 yards and Oregon as a team had 388 rushing yards in a 52-31 win. Stanford's defense has to perform significantly better. Statistically, the Cardinal are excellent against the run. But they haven't faced any team with even remotely as strong a running game as Oregon's. The defense has to prove it's as good as its statistics suggest.


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Michigan QB Denard Robinson. Robinson is the Big Ten's most dynamic playmaker ... until about the middle of October. In Robinson's past two road games, against Michigan State and Iowa, he struggled mightily. Was it because of good defensive game plans, or was it a case of Robinson's annual November swoon? We'll find out Saturday because he's facing a team in its own slump in Illinois. One of these slumps may end Saturday. If not, this is going to be a spectacularly ugly game.


Georgia's run defense. Auburn isn't going to beat the Bulldogs with its passing attack, so if the Tigers want to pull the upset in Athens, they will need to run the ball effectively. Conversely, Georgia knows that if it stymies the Tigers on the ground, there will be a lot of "How 'bout them Dawgs!" statements flying around after the game. In essence, this is Georgia's chance to clinch the SEC East title; Georgia is not losing to a bad Kentucky team next week. Shut down Auburn's rushing attack and Georgia knows it will be in Atlanta for the SEC championship game.


Penn State's focus. Has any team in college football dealt with the level of off-field turmoil Penn State's players have encountered this week? A week ago, they had just helped Joe Paterno become the winningest coach in major-college football history. Since then, their coach has been fired and their school has been caught up in one of the biggest scandals in college athletics history. Amid all that, Penn State somehow must prepare for Nebraska coming to town. It's the final home game for the seniors. How will the Nittany Lions respond? Nobody could blame them if they come out dazed after all the punches they've taken to their psyche over the past week. Then again, how many times have we seen a team overachieve immediately after losing its star performer because the emotions involved cause the rest of the players to rise above the adversity, at least in the short term? Maybe this situation will have the same dynamic. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from Penn State on Saturday, but it will be fascinating to watch it all unfold.


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