Fearless Predictions


Florida Gators NCAA Football Team No. 7 Florida at No. 1 Alabama
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: Alabama -9
Alabama Crimson Tide NCAA Football Team

How big is this game on a national scale? Well, it is Florida vs. Alabama. For all intents and purposes, these two played for the national championship in the last two SEC Championship showdowns, and they appear destined for a threematch (sorry about that) no matter what happens this week. How dominant have they been? Remembering that they play in the almighty SEC, not counting when the two conference title games, they have combined to go 60-2 since the end of the 2007 season. Alabama hasn’t lost a regular season game since Nov. 24 of 2007, and Florida has won 33 of its last 37 games by double digits. While this is a special showdown and it should go a long way to determining the national title pecking order over the next few months, each team is carrying some baggage. Alabama is coming off a tough win at Arkansas, and while any SEC road win is worth being praised, the No. 1 team in the land showed a few chinks in the armor. QB Greg McElroy wasn’t totally sharp, the secondary had a few missed assignments and gave up too many yards, and it took some big plays late to pull out the win. Meanwhile, Florida is just starting to look like Florida again after sputtering a bit offensively over the first three games. This might not be the smoothest Gator team, but it’s young, fast, and talented.

Why Florida might win: “Nobody believes in us.” It’s a tired and worn cliché that gets thrown out way too often, but it also tends to work on young, talented college football players looking for something to focus on. In the 2009 SEC Championship, the weight of the world, and the burden of college football history, was on the Gators’ shoulders while Alabama was the loose, confident, and fired up team. From the head coach on down, Florida was really, really tight, and it showed as the Tide was more physical, faster, and far sharper. This year, it’s all on Alabama to not only win, but do it convincingly. A nine-point underdog, yeah, no one believes in the Gators. Ohio State was sent home from the 2007 BCS Championship with a 41-14 loss the last time Florida was considered overmatched. The key for the Gators will be to be very, very, very patient. Alabama doesn’t bring much of a pass rush, and the Gator line doesn’t give up sacks in bunches, so the hope has to be to keep the game moving along, stay close, and hope to come up with the one big home run and the two big turnovers needed to change the game.

Why Alabama might win: The Florida offense doesn’t quite know what to do with the ball. This could be an extremely frustrating day if the Gators are going three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, while waiting for a breakdown so one of its speedsters can take off. Florida can’t win this game straight and it’s going to need to be ultra-creative, while Alabama can simply line up and punch the Gators in the mouth. There isn’t any one thing the Florida offense can rely on right now on a consistent basis, while Alabama can always fall back on (or start with) Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson against a young Gator front seven that hasn’t faced anyone who’s nearly as tough or as physical as the Tide front five. If Kentucky’s Derrick Locke could run for 103 yards, Ingram and Richardson should go ballistic. Alabama has everything working offensively right now with a ground game averaging 245 yards per game and the passing attack averaging 267. Efficient through the air and tough and explosive on the ground, the Tide can do it all..

What to watch for: Is Florida really going to go with a five man defensive front? Looking to stack up against the run and keep Ingram and the Bama ground game from controlling the clock, the Gators might go heavy, or at least mess around with the formation a bit, to force Greg McElroy to be the star. The senior was fantastic in last year’s SEC title game, completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards and a score, and he’s smart enough and efficient enough to keep the mistakes to a minimum, unlike last week against Arkansas, and hit on the big plays to his devastating receiving corps. For the Gators, the hope is to get Jeff Demps back and productive after suffering a foot injury, but he’ll likely be limited at best. Needing to come up with playmakers, the coaching staff put one of its most dynamic options, quarterback Trey Burton, in a do-it-all role. The 6-3, 214 pounder let it rip in practices this offseason and showed the potential to become another Gator great under center, but against Kentucky he was used as a runner, scoring five touchdowns on all five of his carries, and as a receiver catching five passes for 37 yards and a score. At the very least, the Tide defense is going to have to prepare for him.


  Alabama 24, Florida 16
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Stanford Cardinal No. 9 Stanford at No. 4 Oregon
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Line: Oregon -7
Oregon Ducks

For those who felt the Pac-10 might lack a little intrigue now that USC is on NCAA probation, welcome to the most anticipated game of Week 5. O.K., so the folks in the South and Southwest probably disagree, but you’ve got to dig deep to find a recent Pac-10 game not involving the Trojans that had as much at stake as this one in Eugene. How big is it? The folks at the networks were compelled to move it up three hours to primetime and make it the national showcase Saturday night. Stanford and Oregon are both unbeaten, ranked in the AP top 10, and sporting incendiary offenses. The Cardinal just got through demoralizing Notre Dame in South Bend, and hasn’t won a game by less than 23 points. The Ducks survived Tempe on Saturday behind the nation’s highest-scoring offense. Someone will have to budge. You name it and it’s likely to be on the line at Autzen Stadium; the early Pac-10 pole position. Survival in the chase for a national championship. A bump in a Heisman race that includes Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James. All of the above. The Pac-10 takes center stage this weekend, and USC is 850 miles away from the spotlight. Who’d have thought?


  Stanford 42, Oregon 38
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Texas Longhorns No. 21 Texas at No. 8 Oklahoma
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Oklahoma -3
Oklahoma Sooners

Talk about the bloom being off the Red River rose, one disastrous clunker of a performance from Texas against UCLA, and all of a sudden this is just another big game …but it’s really not. One of these two teams has represented the Big 12 South in the conference championship game for the last 11 years and 12 of the 14 of the years of the league’s existence, and while winning in Dallas doesn’t ensure a free pass to the championship (the loser went on to win the Big 12 title in 1996, 2006 and 2008, and UT lost in 2001 and went on to lose to Colorado in the title game), it’s a major step. Texas has three conference titles and Oklahoma six, but each looks shaky enough this season that winning out isn’t a lock in any way. The loser might really be out of the chase. It’s not just that the Longhorns looked miserable at home against a mediocre UCLA team that lost to Kansas State to start the season; it’s that they’ve looked bad all year long and were begging to get tagged. Of course, the 34-12 debacle was a non-conference game, and with a win at Texas Tech the week before the Horns are 1-0 in Big 12 play with all the realistic goals still in place. The loss was a culmination of three weeks of struggling, but everything can change with just one good game against Oklahoma. No, Texas isn’t out of the national title picture quite yet, but it needs to blow up. Now.


  Oklahoma 19, Texas 13
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Wisconsin Badgers No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 24 Michigan State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Wisconsin -2
Michigan State Spartans

Ohio State is the Big Ten’s marquee team, Iowa is getting plenty of respect after last year’s Orange Bowl winning campaign, and Michigan is getting the spotlight because of its offense, but Wisconsin and Michigan State are each front and center in the race for the Big Ten title. The Spartans don’t play the Buckeyes, but with conference road games at Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State, they can’t afford to lose any home game, even against a team as good as Wisconsin. The Badgers are coming off a 70-3 win over Austin Peay, but they’ve been a bit sketchy at times struggling a little too much to put away a miserable San Jose State and needing a blocked extra point to beat Arizona State. Not getting Penn State, it’s a four-game schedule for the Badgers with Ohio State and Iowa coming up in mid-October, and a date at Michigan in late November, but they need to prove they can beat a good team on the road to truly be considered one of the ten best teams in the country. The running game is strong, the offense is balanced, and the defense has been solid, but Michigan State also has a physical running game, a balanced attack, and a defense that’s doing a solid job. The two teams are almost perfectly matched, and it’ll be slightly shocking if they didn’t play yet another great game in the recent series with the last three coming down to the end. (However, this was one of the uglier Big Ten matchups for several years with blowout after blowout from both sides.) Of course, the biggest storyline is the health of head coach Mark Dantonio, who’s planning on being in the booth two weeks after suffering a heart attack following the win over Notre Dame.


  Wisconsin 37, Michigan State 31
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Penn State Nittany Lions No. 22 Penn State at No. 17 Iowa
Saturday, 8:05 p.m. ET
Line: Iowa -7
Iowa Hawkeyes

Yes, you’re going to be watching Florida-Alabama, and you should have a second TV handy to watch Stanford-Oregon, but Penn State-Iowa is always worth the effort. Iowa has owned the Nittany Lions lately, winning seven of the last eight games including a 6-4 shootout in 2004 (which then-Hawkeye quarterback Drew Tate called “the worst and weirdest game he has ever played in or watched”), a 24-23 classic in Iowa City in 2008, which ruined Penn State’s national title shot, and last year’s brutal-hitting 21-10 statement. It might be eight of nine, unless the Nittany Lions are appreciably better than they’ve been over the first month. With a spotty running game, mediocre passing attack, and problems with turnovers, this isn’t Joe Paterno’s best team, but everything can change in a hurry if it can come away with an upset. With a win, and with Illinois and Minnesota to follow, a 3-0 Big Ten start is almost a lock before dealing with Michigan in Happy Valley. However, it’ll take a superior defensive effort and a night-and-day better performance from an offense that had a nightmare of a time putting away Temple. Iowa rebounded from the loss to Arizona with a 45-0 pasting of Ball State, and while the home schedule might not have been that great so far, the combined score of 117 to 14 is still impressive. With two weeks off to prepare for a trip to Michigan, and with Wisconsin to follow, this is when Iowa can make its big push in the title chase.


  Iowa 23, Penn State 10
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