No. 2 Auburn at No. 11 Alabama (-4.5): The Iron Bowl has similar ramifications as last season. Alabama needed a late rally to beat Auburn and keep its national title hopes alive. This time it will be Alabama trying to derail Auburn’s national title dreams. So, what does Alabama’s Nick Saban come up with defensively to stop Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Cam Newton? Can Saban’s schemes even slow down Newton? Auburn is third in the nation in rushing yards a game (307.91) -- Newton accounts for 118 of those yards. It’s not so much the amount, but rather the types of runs Newton has had during games this season, turning short gains into spectacular long touchdown runs. How many times this season has an electric Newton run impacted a game? It’s been more than a few times. For Alabama, establishing the run with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson will definitely be in the game plan. But Auburn’s rush defense is 11th in the nation, allowing just over 111 yards a game. The Crimson Tide may have better success with Greg McElroy and the receivers going against the nation’s 100th-rated pass defense. Don’t expect a lot of defense in this one. These teams will go at each other with the score going back and forth throughout. I can envision Newton leading Auburn in for the winning score late in the fourth quarter. But Alabama comes up with the key defensive stop.
The pick: Alabama 34, Auburn 31
This week’s other significant games:
No. 17 Texas A&M at Texas (+3): Texas (5-6) needs to win this game to become bowl eligible. The Aggies have won five straight behind quarterback Ryan Tannehill and are coming off a big win over Nebraska. Texas A&M is still alive to win the Big 12 South. But the Aggies would need Oklahoma to beat Oklahoma State and somehow climb to within a spot of the Sooners in the BCS standings, which doesn’t seem likely. Based on new Big 12 rules, if two teams are within a spot of each other in the BCS rankings the tie-breaker would be head-to-head matchup. Texas A&M beat Oklahoma a few weeks back. In other words, big game for both teams outside of the usual rivalry bragging rights. Texas’ defense (ranked eighth nationally) has played very well this season. Texas A&M’s defense has really started to play well, as evidenced by last week’s 9-6 win against the Cornhuskers. I don’t expect a lot of points in this game. But I expect the Aggies to win.
The pick: Texas A&M 20, Texas 17
West Virginia at Pittsburgh (-2.5): The Backyard Brawl has more than just bragging rights at stake. Both teams are in contention for the Big East title and automatic BCS bowl bid. West Virginia and Pittsburgh come into this game with momentum. The Mountaineers have won two straight and Pittsburgh has won four of five. Both defenses, two of the best units in the country, are playing well. This won’t be a high-scoring game. But I like the combination of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Noel Devine to provide just enough offense.
The pick: West Virginia 17, Pittsburgh 13
Colorado at No. 15 Nebraska (-17.5): It’s the final time these longtime rivals will play as members of the Big 12. It’s definitely the end of an era for this game. Colorado has won two straight since the Dan Hawkins firing. Nebraska is coming off the Texas A&M loss. But the Cornhuskers are playing tough defense these days. It’s not known how much Taylor Martinez, nursing an ankle injury, will play or if he’ll play at all. There’s been a lot of coverage this week of Bo Pelini’s conduct on national television during the Texas A&M game. Don’t be surprised to see Nebraska rally around its coach and clinch the Big 12 North title.
The pick: Nebraska 23, Colorado 13
No. 21 Arizona at No. 1 Oregon (-19.5): Oregon’s offense, averaging 51 points a game, hasn’t been slowed down much this season. The Ducks escaped in their last game, a 15-13 win at California. So expect Oregon to be very focused against the Wildcats. Arizona, which has lost two straight and has had two weeks to prepare for this game, has a defense ranked 20th nationally. And quarterback Nick Foles has had some solid games this season, including a strong performance against a very good Iowa defense. Oregon has the big advantage of playing at home and also having two weeks to prepare. There’s always the possibility the Ducks may be looking ahead to the Civil War against Oregon State next week. But don’t expect it. Oregon will be looking to impress the nation after the close call in Berkeley.
The pick: Oregon 45, Arizona 17
No. 4 Boise State at No. 19 Nevada (+14): Boise State is still alive for the BCS title game. A win here should jump the Broncos past TCU in the next BCS standings. And if Auburn or Oregon were to slip up, Boise State would be in prime position for a trip to Glendale. This won’t be an easy game for Boise State. Nevada has one of the best rushing offenses in the country. The duo of Vai Taua (1,241 yards) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (984 yards) is a concern. And don’t forget how Nevada destroyed California and a pretty good defense earlier in the season. But the Broncos have the No. 1 rush defense in the country. Also, expect Kellen Moore and the Boise State offense to have plenty of success throwing the ball against the 103rd-ranked pass defense in the nation. Don’t forget how Boise State beat Fresno State last week (51-0). That can’t be overlooked.
The pick: Boise State 44, Nevada 23
Michigan at No. 8 Ohio State (-17): Perhaps the best rivalry in all of college football. The Buckeyes are still battling for the Big Ten title. Even if Ohio State doesn’t win the Big Ten outright, it should still get a BCS at-large bid with a win over Michigan. The key matchup will be Ohio State’s stout defense going against Michigan’s Denard Robinson. The Wolverines will play tough and may make this a game for a while. But you can’t ignore Michigan’s defense. The Buckeyes can unleash a pretty strong running attack and I expect Terrelle Pryor to hit DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher on some deep throws.
The pick: Ohio State 41, Michigan 23
No. 5 LSU at No. 12 Arkansas (-3.5): LSU still has an outside chance of ending up in the BCS title game, if enough teams lose. Still, the Tigers are looking at a likely BCS bid – maybe to the Sugar Bowl -- if they beat the Razorbacks. This could end up being the most entertaining game of the weekend with Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett leading a high-scoring offense. LSU’s close call against Mississippi last week is a cause for concern. Arkansas is one of the hottest teams in the country, winners of five straight.
The pick: Arkansas 34, LSU 27
Florida at No. 22 Florida State (-2.5): At 7-4, Florida is definitely not having a Florida-type season. But a win here would end the regular season in a positive way. Florida State could claim the state title after already beating Miami (Fla.) earlier in the season. That would be a nice accomplishment in Jimbo Fisher’s first season. Plus, the Seminoles could be celebrating a trip to the ACC title game depending on what North Carolina State does on Saturday. Florida’s offensive struggles and the fact that this game is on the road makes me think Florida State ends its six-game losing streak against the Gators.
The pick: Florida State 27, Florida 23
No. 18 South Carolina at Clemson (+2.5): South Carolina has already clinched the SEC East title and a spot in the conference championship against Auburn. But winning a rivalry game is special. It should be a nice matchup of freshman running back Marcus Lattimore and the South Carolina offense against a pretty good Clemson defense. But in the end, I think South Carolina has a little too much offense for the Tigers.
The pick: South Carolina 24, Clemson 20
No. 25 Mississippi State at Mississippi (+2.5): Mississippi won’t be going to a postseason bowl game. But the Rebels can end a disappointing season by winning the Egg Bowl. Mississippi State has had an impressive season under Dan Mullen and can get to eight wins with a victory in Oxford. I was prepared to pick Mississippi State because I’ve liked what the Bulldogs have done this season. But Mississippi may have the momentum after nearly beating LSU last week.
The pick: Mississippi 33, Mississippi State 30
Georgia Tech at Georgia (-12.5): Georgia needs to win this game to become bowl eligible. The Bulldogs have owned this series over the past decade. Georgia has the potential to put up points with Aaron Murray and A.J. Green. Georgia Tech’s strength is its running game. The Bulldogs, however, are 23rd nationally in rush defense.
The pick: Georgia 34, Georgia Tech 20
No. 13 Oklahoma at No. 9 Oklahoma State (-2.5): In addition to ABC televising the game, ESPN’s “College GameDay” will also be in Stillwater (10 a.m.-12 p.m. on ESPN) for Bedlam. Oklahoma State can win the Big 12 South title outright and advance to the conference title game by beating the Sooners. If Oklahoma wins, the Sooners would probably win the Big 12 South based the tie-breaker (higher BCS ranking, see Texas A&M above). This is a tough game to pick. Oklahoma has struggled on the road, but last week’s big win at Baylor was encouraging. The Sooners’ defense hasn’t been very good this season and this will be the best offense they have faced. I expect a high-scoring game. I just think Oklahoma State, with Kendall Hunter and Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon, is going to be too much.
The pick: Oklahoma State 38, Oklahoma 35
Notre Dame at USC (OFF): USC limps into this game with a 7-4 record after getting blown out at Oregon State on Saturday. Still, this is an important two-game stretch for the Trojans. USC won’t be going to a bowl game, but can end with wins over its two biggest rivals -- Notre Dame and UCLA on Dec. 4. That would get USC to nine wins, a pretty successful ending to Lane Kiffin’s first season. Notre Dame is now bowl eligible after beating Army. The Irish have given up just six points the past two games in wins over Utah and Army. I felt better about USC before Matt Barkley’s ankle injury and the bad loss at Oregon State last week.
The pick: Notre Dame 27, USC 24