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September 23, 2011

Keep an eye on: What our guys are watching

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend. Here are some key things to watch in Week 4.

We're back with another season of trying to predict the big upsets - or, at the least, pick teams that will cover the spread. The lone stipulation for our writers in choosing a game is that the spread has to be at least 7.5 points.
Olin Buchanan
Colorado plus-15 at Ohio State. A few months ago this looked just another Buckeyes blowout in the Horseshoe. But without its suspended starters, Ohio State's offense has looked dreadful the past two weeks, while Colorado has looked OK. The Buffaloes are underdogs, but WR Paul Richardson is dangerous and CU is getting a lot of production from RB Rodney Stewart. If the Buffs can keep it close (like Toledo did), they could pull the upset.
Tom Dienhart
Western Michigan plus-14 at Illinois. Yes, Illinois is riding high, coming off a 17-14 victory over Arizona State last week that pushed the Fighting Illini to 3-0 and into the rankings. But Illinois can't overlook Western Michigan. The Broncos have a strong offense that leads the MAC in scoring (41.0 ppg). And the leader is underrated QB Alex Carder, a terrific passer with experience. Western Michigan also has the MAC's No. 1 total defense (273.5 ypg) and No. 2 scoring defense (10.5 ppg). This is well-coached team under Bill Cubit, and Western knocked off Illinois 23-17 in 2008 in Detroit. Be careful, Illini: This looks like a trap game against a good MAC squad.
David Fox
San Diego State plus-10.5 at Michigan. We still don't know if Michigan is any good. The Wolverines defeated two directional Michigan schools and Notre Dame in a wild, turnover-filled game. If San Diego State pulls the upset, it's not because Rocky Long knows what Brady Hoke and Al Borges are up to. It will be because San Diego State has forged an offensive identity with TB Ronnie Hillman and senior QB Ryan Lindley.
Mike Huguenin
San Diego State plus-10.5 at Michigan. Michigan's offense is going to have success, but I think a balanced Aztecs offense is going to have a lot of success against a shaky Michigan defense. San Diego State TB Ronnie Hillman is the key; if he has success, Aztecs QB Ryan Lindley will use play action and carve up Michigan's secondary. There's no question Michigan coach Brady Hoke knows his old team well; I'm just not sure Hoke has enough defensive talent to slow San Diego State.
Steve Megargee
Colorado State plus-9.5 at Utah State. Rarely is a team coming off 13 consecutive losing seasons favored by this big a margin. Utah State has gotten off to a nice start this season, but I think the oddsmakers are overrating the Aggies just a bit based on their near-upset of Auburn. This remains a traditional losing program with a true freshman starting quarterback. Colorado State has been ravaged by injuries so far this season, but I think the Rams are good enough to keep this game close. If they're able to protect QB Pete Thomas while pressuring Utah State's Chuckie Keeton, the Rams could win outright.
Season Totals
For the season, nine of 15 picks have covered the spread and two have won outright.

Arkansas' offense. I'm interested in seeing whether Arkansas can consistently move the ball on Alabama's defense. Though Arkansas was one of just four teams to score more than one touchdown against Alabama last season, the Razorbacks still managed only 20 points - and that was with Ryan Mallett, Knile Davis and D.J. Williams. QB Tyler Wilson is good, Ronnie Wingo is running well and the Hogs still have excellent receivers, but can they score at least 20 points again? If they can, that could be enough to win this season.


Clemson QB Tajh Boyd. Boyd, a sophomore, enjoyed a breakout game last week in a 38-24 victory over Auburn, going 30-of-42 for 386 yards and four touchdowns in helping the Tigers roll up 624 yards. The victory announced that the Tigers may be a contender in the ACC. Can they keep it up this week against a Florida State squad coming off a tough 23-13 loss at home to Oklahoma? It will be up to Boyd, who needs a similar effort going against a tough FSU defense. Boyd will be working against one of the top secondaries in the nation, but will need to continue to work his mojo with true freshman WR Sammy Watkins, a Florida native who caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two scores against Auburn.


Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. Buckeyes coach Luke Fickell announced true freshman Braxton Miller would be his starter this week against Colorado rather than senior Joe Bauserman, who had a miserable game against Miami last week. That gives Miller two games to get his legs under him before the return of WR DeVier Posey, TB Dan Herron and OT Mike Adams from suspensions. Miller, the second-ranked quarterback in the 2011 signing class, was supposed to use this season watching Terrelle Pryor. I'm curious to see what happens now that's taking the spotlight nearly a year earlier than expect.


The defenses in the Oklahoma State-Texas A&M game. These are two of the most potent offenses in the nation, and the winning team has scored at least 34 points in four of the past five meetings. Will either defense be able to slow the opponent's offense? I think A&M's secondary is better than Oklahoma State's, and that might be the game's determining factor.


Georgia Tech's offense. There might not be a better matchup this week than the confrontation between Georgia Tech's potent triple-option attack and North Carolina's star-studded front seven on defense. Tech leads the nation in rushing yards per game (427.7), total yards per game (247.7) and points per game (59.3). The Yellow Jackets can score from anywhere on the field, and they have scored on their first offensive play in each of their three games. But they haven't faced a defense nearly this strong. UNC DE Quinton Coples, DE Donte Paige-Moss and LB Zach Brown are potential first-round picks. Tech is averaging 7.9 yards per rush, while UNC allows just 2.4 yards per carry.


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