Friday, October 30, 2009

Texas' last hurdle?


A lot of folks believe tomorrow's game against Oklahoma State is Texas' last hurdle on its way to a regular season undefeated season and a berth in the BCS title game against the SEC champion. I'm not so sure after the way Texas A&M brutalized Texas Tech last weekend, but that could have been a fluke.

What is not a fluke is what Texas coordinator Will Muscamp has accomplished in just two years with the team's defense. This is the unit that is winning games for the Longhorns, not the Colt McCoy-led offense. The Longhorns' D has forced 21 turnovers this year, nine more than it had all of last season. Safety Earl Thomas has five interceptions.

Yes, Texas has an offense -- it is leading the Big 12 by scoring an average of 41 points a game. If it comes close that number tomorrow it should have no trouble with Oklahoma State which will be without big play receiver, the suspended Dez Bryant, and will only allow it's best running back, Kendell Hunter, to see limited action. OSU has perhaps the best offensive line in the conference, but it has yet to be tested with a defense like Texas.

Texas has won the last 11 meetings between these two teams, but many of those wins were dicey propositions. In fact, in the last two games held in Stillwater, where this one will be played, Texas had to come back from 19 points down in 2005 and 21 points down in the fourth quarter in 2007.

This year I think the game will be lower scoring, more like the Texas-OU game with the Longhorns winning by 10.

The weekend's other big game is being played in the Northwest where Oregon will host Southern California in a game that could decide the Pac 10 championship. Oregon is undefeated in conference (it's only loss this season is that punch-ending game against Boise State) while USC, which has had the habit of late of losing one conference game unexpectedly each year, has already done that this season -- a last second loss to Washington. This, to me, is the weakest USC team I've seen in a long time but it was still strong enough to win at Ohio State and at Notre Dame, so playing in loud loud loud Autzen Stadium should not be that big a handicap for these Trojans.

After that opening loss to Boise, Oregon has been impressive, with convincing wins over Utah and Cal and road victories against UCLA and Washington. The Ducks are solid on both sides of the line, with freshman running back LaMichael James (who has rushed for more than 150 yards three times this season and last week averaged 10.3 yards a carry against Washington) and dual threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli who has passed for five TDs this season and ran for seven more.

The deciding factor, however, is going to be Oregon's underrated defense, which I consider superior to USC's more heralded one. I think the Ducks D will harass Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley all day -- even sack him a couple of times -- and lead Oregon to the three-point victory and put an end the Trojan's streak of eight straight conference championships.

Usually the Florida-Georgia game is a bigger attraction than it is this year, but Georgia is struggling (it's not even in the Top 25) and Florida, even though ranked No. 1, has not been playing up the level even its most ardent supporters expected. A win in this game and Florida should breeze into the SEC title game undefeated and that win should come fairly easily. Florida by 17.

In other games (listed by how competitive I think they will be):
Mississippi over Auburn by 1
California over Arizona State by 3
Missouri over Colorado by 3
Boston College over Central Michigan by 7
Texas Tech over Kansas by 7
Tennessee over South Carolina by 10
Connecticut over Rutgers by 10
Houston over Southern Mississippi by 10
Miami over Wake Forest by 10
Navy over Temple by 10
Nebraska over Baylor by 14
Cincinnati over Syracuse by 21
Penn State over Northwestern by 21
Georgia Tech over Vanderbilt by 21
Oklahoma over Kansas State by 24
Utah by Wyoming by 24
Iowa over Indiana by 28
Notre Dame over Washington State by 28
Boise State over San Jose State by 28
TCU over UNLV by 35
LSU over Tulane by 38
Ohio State over New Mexico State by 42

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