No. 9 Ohio State at No. 20 Iowa (+3), 3:30 p.m.: With last week’s upset loss at Northwestern, Iowa is just about out of the Big Ten title race. But the Hawkeyes are still playing for a New Year’s Day bowl, likely the Outback or Gator. Ohio State is playing for a lot more. The Buckeyes are tied for the Big Ten lead, but need Wisconsin to lose since the Badgers hold the tie-breaker and higher BCS ranking. If Wisconsin wins out, the Badgers are likely headed to the Rose Bowl. A one-loss Ohio State team would likely get a BCS at-large bid. Michigan State also has one conference loss, but Ohio State is currently ranked ahead of the Spartans in the BCS standings. So it’s a huge game for Ohio State on Saturday in Iowa City. Now, back to the game. Ohio State has won six of seven at Kinnick Stadium. That’s an eye-popping stat considering how tough it is for a road team to go into Iowa City and come out with a win. Iowa had problems last week stopping Northwestern’s Dan Persa. The Hawkeyes face a similar challenge this week from Terrelle Pryor, who is bigger and faster than Persa. Plus, Pryor is a much better passer than last season. Iowa’s ability to keep Pryor in check will be key, especially with the linebackers banged up. For Iowa, expect Ricky Stanzi to attack the Ohio State secondary, which has been the weak link on the Buckeyes’ defense this season. The Buckeyes need to keep Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt from making big plays down field. And Ohio State’s front four needs to apply some pressure on Stanzi. I like Ohio State in this game. Pryor is a much different player this season and he will cause problems for Iowa. The Buckeyes appeared to get a wake-up call last week after trailing Penn State 14-3 at halftime. I expect Iowa to play a tough game, but the Hawkeyes may still be stinging from the Northwestern loss.
The pick: Ohio State 27, Iowa 24
Other games of interest this weekend:
Fresno State at No. 4 Boise State (-30.5), 9:30 p.m.: Boise State begins a very important two-game stretch. This week it’s Fresno State. Next week it’s No. 18 Nevada (9-1). The Broncos could jump TCU to No. 3 in the BCS standings with a big win this week. Auburn still has Alabama and the SEC title game. Oregon still has Arizona and Oregon State. A loss by either Auburn or Oregon would be huge for Boise State, if the Broncos are indeed sitting at No. 3. Boise State is very aware of this. Fresno State is a good team and gave Nevada a tough game last week. But expect the Broncos to come out firing on all cylinders and looking to impress the voters and computers. While I expect Boise State to score, the Broncos can’t ignore Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse, who has two straight 200-yard games.
The pick: Boise State 44, Fresno State 13
No. 7 Wisconsin at Michigan (+4), noon: Michigan’s defense, one of the worst units in the nation, will have to make some stops against an offense that just put up 83 points on Indiana. Even if John Clay can’t go, Montee Ball, James White and Wisconsin’s massive offensive line can easily shred the Michigan front seven. Offensively for Michigan, Denard Robinson needs to have a massive game and the Wolverines need to play a mistake-free game (Michigan has had 10 turnovers its past two games). Wisconsin needs to keep winning to stay in the Big Ten title race.
The pick: Wisconsin 38, Michigan 34
No. 6 Stanford at California (+6.5), 3:30 p.m.: This is a tricky game for Stanford. It’s a rivalry game. Cal has some good athletes, including running back Shane Vereen. The Bears played Oregon tough last week, losing 15-13 (the speculation of Cal players faking injuries to slow down Oregon’s offense is another story). Stanford hasn’t lost since the Oregon game, but there have been some close games during its winning streak. Andrew Luck needs to get back on track after not throwing a touchdown pass last week. Stanford hasn’t had a lot of success against Cal in recent years, dropping seven of eight. Stanford hasn’t won at Cal since 2000, and the Bears have been tough at home this season, going 4-1. But Stanford knows it must continue to win to have a shot at the Rose Bowl.
The pick: Stanford 28, Cal 27
No. 16 Virginia Tech at No. 24 Miami (Fla.) (+2.5), 3:30 p.m.: Virginia Tech concludes a tough three-game stretch of games against the Hurricanes. The Hokies are on an eight-game winning streak, including wins the past two weeks against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Can Virginia Tech finish the stretch with another win? I think so. Miami (Fla.) has been playing well with freshman quarterback Stephen Morris. But Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor is playing at a high level and the defense has gotten better each week. Plus, the Hokies can clinch the Coastal Division title with a win.
The pick: Virginia Tech 27, Miami (Fla.) 23
Illinois vs. Northwestern (+7.5) at Wrigley Field, 3:30 p.m.: Northwestern won’t have star quarterback Dan Persa (out for season with a torn Achilles’ tendon), but Evan Watkins is capable of doing some damage. Watkins is more of a pure passer, but can take off and run. Without Persa, I was prepared to pick Illinois. But Illinois gave 67 points against Michigan and then lost last week to Minnesota. Illinois needs another win to become bowl eligible so that might have been a distraction last week. Still, Illinois is not playing with a lot of confidence coming into this game. According to various reports out of Chicago, due to the configuration of the playing field and the outfield wall being too close to one of the end zones, the offenses will go in same direction all game. So expect some of the strategies on both sides to be altered.
The pick: Northwestern 23, Illinois 21
No. 13 Arkansas at No. 21 Mississippi State (+3), 7 p.m.: Mississippi State has been a nice story this season under Dan Mullen. The defense has played pretty well. The big concern is whether the Bulldogs’ offense can stay with Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks. After watching last week’s Alabama game, I don’t think they can. Arkansas is hot right now, winners of four straight, including a big win at South Carolina a few weeks ago.
The pick: Arkansas 41, Mississippi State 23
Army vs. Notre Dame (-8) at Yankee Stadium, 7 p.m.: Notre Dame still needs a win to become bowl eligible. Next week’s game at USC does not look promising. So this is a huge game for Brian Kelly and the Irish. My big concern is Notre Dame’s ability to stop the run. Navy rolled up a ton of yards on the ground in a win over Notre Dame earlier this season. Army is another run-first team with its triple option attack. The Irish’s win over Utah last week was a good one, but it’s hard to figure out how impressive it was since the Utes got destroyed by TCU a week earlier.
The pick: Army 24, Notre Dame 23
No. 8 Nebraska at No. 19 Texas A&M (+2.5), 8 p.m.: If I’m Nebraska, I’m worried about this game. Texas A&M has been a different team with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, winning four straight games. Texas A&M’s defense will need to shut down Taylor Martinez and the explosive Nebraska offense. But if you look back on Texas A&M’s season, the Aggies have had respectable defensive outings against some pretty good offensive players and teams – Ryan Mallett/Arkansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Robert Griffin/Baylor. I’ve gone back and forth on this game all week. I’m going with the Cornhuskers. Why? Texas A&M gave up nearly 300 yards on the ground last week against Baylor. The Aggies’ defense has played pretty well recently, but the 300 yards is a number you can’t ignore with Nebraska coming to town. Nebraska can clinch the Big 12 North title with a win.
The pick: Nebraska 30, Texas A&M 27
No. 14 Oklahoma at Baylor (+7.5), 8 p.m.: The road hasn’t been kind to Oklahoma, dating back to last season. Both of Oklahoma’s losses this season have been away from Norman. But Baylor has lost two straight and has given up 97 points in those losses. For the season, Baylor is giving up 28 points per game. While I don’t expect Oklahoma to win easily, the Sooners will have opportunities to score points.
The pick: Oklahoma 38, Baylor 31