Tom Layberger

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Big Ten, SEC clashes on tap

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There are some major conference clashes to look forward to this week starting with a Big East battle at Heinz Field on Thursday night. Even a non-conference game could prove key to a team's overall standing now and down the road. Texas A&M and Arkansas enter their game as top-20 teams. Yet, one will already be saddled with a pair of losses come late Saturday afternoon.   

No. 16 USF (4-0, 0-0 Big East) at Pitt (2-2, 0-0 Big East)
Led by quarterback B.J. Daniels, the Bulls head into this Big East opener in the top 25 in virtually every major offensive category. They are averaging 523 yards per game to rank tenth nationally. Daniels is accounting for an average of 322 of those yards, which is good for 13th….The Panthers blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead at Iowa before bowing to Notre Dame last week and will be hungry to make amends in prime time. Ray Graham is the conference’s leading rusher and is eighth nationally with an average of 127 yards per game.  But little else has gone right for an offense that is 82nd overall.
Pick: USF 30-20

No.  8 Nebraska (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten) at No. 7 Wisconsin (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Nebraska’s first game as a conference member features a matchup between top-10 teams. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has been spectacular in his first four games at the helm of a physical Badger offense. The graduate transfer ranks second nationally is pass efficiency. After outscoring their first four opponents by an average of 40 points, UW goes up against a Nebraska defense that will offer much more of challenge than what it faced in the opening month. But can the Cornhuskers muster much offense of their own against a top-tier Wisconsin defense that ranks seventh nationally?  If Taylor Martinez can have some success throwing the ball early, he might be on his way to a nice day. Conversely, it could be very long day in Madison if he is forced to go to air often.
Pick: Wisconsin 30-17

No. 3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 12 Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC)
The thing to watch here will be the Gators’ running game against a Crimson Tide defense that is allowing only 45 rushing yards per game to place third nationally. Containing the fleet Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in the hope of putting the ball in the hands of QB John Brantley will be a chore, but the Alabama defense – which is second in total defense -- has some game-busting speed of its own. The Florida defense, which ranks fifth, will have much the same concerns in attempting to slow the duo of Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. The latter does not have nearly as many touches as his more heralded backfield mate, but is explosive.
Pick: Alabama 30-20

No. 13 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) at No. 11 Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0 ACC)
The Tigers’ Tajh Boyd is off to scintillating start as a No. 1 quarterback ranking fifth in yards passing and tied for third in TD passes. Frank Beamer’s defense, which ranks fourth nationally, is not impressed. This will be a major test for Boyd, who has passed several tests so far. It’s critical the Tigers find some space for RB Andre Ellington and not have to rely on Boyd….The difference when all is said in done could be Hokies’ RB David Wilson (516 yards, 5.9 avg) against a Clemson run defense that has struggled….Playing in opposite ACC divisions, these teams have not met since the Hokies’ 41-23 win at Clemson in 2007.
Pick: Virginia Tech 34-23

No. 14 Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 Big 12) vs No. 18 Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 SEC), Arlington, TX
In what will be a conference game next season when the Aggies move to the SEC, both teams are looking to bounce back after suffering losses to teams they are chasing in their respective conferences this year. After being held to 35 yards in a loss to Oklahoma State after posting nine straight 100-yard games, A&M running Cyrus Gray would like get back on track and balance the scales on offense again. Meanwhile, the Hogs’ Tyler Wilson pretty much had things going his way in his first season as a starting QB – until running into Alabama last week. Don’t think he doesn’t know that OSU’s Brandon Weeden torched the Aggies for more than 400 yards last Saturday.
Pick: Texas A&M 27-20

No. 17 Texas (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) at Iowa State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12)
Austin was in mourning when the Cyclones came to town and went back home with their first win ever against the Longhorns after seven defeats. It was the most disappointing week in a very disappointing season for the Hook ‘ems…. Both teams had a bye last week, which for Texas meant more time for new starting QB Case McCoy to get comfortable with the offense. Comfortable does not describe how Cyclones quarterback Steele Jantz has looked at times in the first three starts of his career. The junior has thrown 6 INTs and ISU is minus-5 in the turnover battle.  
Pick: Texas 38-17

Michigan State (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) at Ohio State (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten)
The Braxton Miller-era got off to a nice start in Columbus last week. The freshman signal caller had far from gaudy stats in a win over Colorado, but he threw a pair of TD passes and otherwise aptly managed the offense. Much of the same will be required against a Michigan State program that has designs on competing for the conference title again. We’ll know soon whether that will happen or not because this trip to the banks of the Ohio begins a four-game stretch that, following a bye next week, has Michigan and Wisconsin coming to East Lansing followed by a trip to Nebraska.
Pick: Michigan State 24-13    

Air Force (2-1, 0-1 MWC) at Navy (2-1)
The Falcons snapped a seven-game losing streak against Navy last season and, in so doing, halted the Middies’ 15-game win streak over their rival service academies – Air Force and Army. More importantly, the victory paved the way for Air Force to claim the Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the first time since 2002. The winner in the interim seven-year period? Navy.
Pick: Navy 23-14  

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