Ratings and Recommendations

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spoiler alert this weekend with plenty of rivalry games on tap

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pittsburgh came into last year's finale at West Virginia already guaranteed a losing record. The Mountaineers, a 28-point favorite, were one win away from reaching the BCS title game. Their postseason plans were changed by the Panthers' 13-9 victory.

Twelve months later, Pittsburgh is in position to ruin West Virginia's chance of winning the Big East. But the Panthers aren't the only one capable of bringing pain to their biggest rival.

Florida State hosts Florida with the Gators already locked into the SEC title game. But Urban Meyer's team also needs a win in Tallahassee to keep itself in the national championship race.

The same holds true for Alabama, Florida's opponent next week in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide enter the Iron Bowl against Auburn as the only unbeaten team from a BCS conference. One slip up against the Tigers, who have won six straight in the series, would ruin what they put together in the first 11 weeks of Nick Saban's second season.

While Oklahoma and Texas debate which team should be in the Big 12 title game, there's one step left for each against their in-state rival. The Sooners play at Oklahoma State and the Longhorns get a visit from Texas A&M, who has won the last two times they have faced off.

Out in the Pac-10, Oregon State is one win away from the conference title. That win will have to come in the Civil War against Oregon. And Southern California, which has already clinched a share of the league, is still hoping for a miracle in the BCS. Notre Dame stands in their way and is in need of a win in the worst way after losing to Syracuse.

Conventional wisdom assumes that these favorites will win because they are playing for something, and their opponent isn't motivated.

Last year's Pittsburgh win, however showed the power of playing without pressure. You are able to free your mind and enjoy the moment. On the other side of the ball, pressure builds on the team with something to lose if the game is close. Panic starts to set in and their level of play decreases.

So don't be surprised if one, two or maybe more of these teams have their seasons ruined and we are left with another shakeup in the national title picture and some happy fans and players that have spoiled someone's Thanksgiving.

No. 1 Alabama vs. Auburn, 3:30 p.m.

Strange as it might seem, Tide fans might care more about ending their six-game losing streak to the Tigers than beating Florida for the SEC title next week. In addition to bragging rights for another 365 years, Auburn is playing for bowl eligibility and possibly to save Tommy Tuberville's job. Alabama 20, Auburn 14.

No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 12 Oklahoma State, 8 p.m.

Maybe the Sooners should have saved some of their points against Texas Tech for this week. They might need them this week. Stillwater hasn't been an easy place to win in recent trips, and just a victory might not be enough to secure a trip to the Big 12 title game. Oklahoma 35, Oklahoma State 28.

No. 3 Florida at No. 24 Florida State, 3:30 p.m.

Last year, the Seminoles talked trash about hurting Tim Tebow and he responded with three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs in a big victory. LSU made similar noise earlier this season and the Gators rolled 51-21. That might be why you hear nothing from Tallahassee this week.Florida 38, Florida State 17.

No. 4 Texas vs. Texas A&M, 8 p.m. (Thursday)

Mack Brown was probably paying attention when Oklahoma left several starters in throughout the rout of Texas Tech. Senior backups and walk-ons for the Longhorns hoping to see the field one more time may have to adjust their expectations. Texas 49, Texas A&M 16.

No. 5 Southern California vs. Notre Dame, 8 p.m.

Charlie Weis could be one of the more unsympathetic people in sports. He won't get any pity from Pete Carroll, who needs to run up the score on the reeling Irish to bolster his team's BCS case. Southern California 45, Notre Dame 10.

No. 7 Texas Tech vs. Baylor, 3:30 p.m.

Could the Red Raiders possibly be too hung over from the loss to Oklahoma that they fall to the Bears? Fans of Texas sure hope so. Texas Tech 40, Baylor 26.

No. 9 Boise State vs. Fresno State, 6 p.m. (Friday)

This appeared to be the game of the year in the WAC three months ago. Now it is a coronation for the Broncos, who appear to be on the outside looking in on the BCS. Boise State 35, Fresno State 17.

No. 11 Missouri vs. Kansas, 12:30 p.m.

The Tigers get one last chance to tune up before playing spoiler next week in the Big 12 title game. It would be easy to be disappointed with the Jayhawks, except you have to consider their five losses came to three teams in the top 10, South Florida, which spent time in the top 10 and Nebraska. Missouri 38, Kansas 23.

No. 13 Georgia vs. No. 23 Georgia Tech, noon

Paul Johnson would complete one of the year's top coaching jobs with a win in Athens. While others have struggled with new coaches bringing in their offense, the Yellow Jackets actually have flourished, even though the talent is mismatched. The Bulldogs likely will finish 10-2 for the second straight time and miss the SEC title game. But this has a different taste in their mouth after starting at No. 1. Georgia 24, Georgia Tech 21.

No. 16 Cincinnati vs. Syracuse, noon

You couldn't write a better script for the Bearcats. One week after beating Pittsburgh to take control of the Big East race, the worst team in the league comes to town. The only negative is that the Orange have momentum after their unlikely win at Notre Dame. Cincinnati 40, Syracuse 16.

No. 17 Oregon State vs. No. 18 Oregon, 7 p.m.

Only the Ducks stand in the way of the Beavers making the Rose Bowl for the first time in 44 years. The Beavers showed remarkable resiliency last week, winning at Arizona without their top quarterback and running back. They'll need to be at full strength as Oregon has found its groove with four wins in five games behind quarterback Justin Masoli. Oregon 27, Oregon State 24.

No. 22 Boston College vs. Maryland, 3:30 p.m.

With nothing to play for, will the Terps go back into their shell or come out fighting? Florida State certainly hopes Maryland continues its streak of beating ranked opponents. The Eagles won the battle at Wake Forest last week. But they might have lost the war with starting quarterback Chris Crane out and freshman Dominique Davis stepping in behind center. Maryland 21, Boston College 20.

No. 25 West Virginia at Pittsburgh, noon (Friday)

The Backyard Brawl is one of the more underrated rivalries in college football. Last year's edition has raised the stakes and should make for an emotional evening. West Virginia 30, Pittsburgh 24.

Last week's record:  11-2

This year's record:  193-53


Erick Smith is the online college football editor at USA TODAY. Please send questions or comments to him at easmith@usatoday.com.

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