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Owls hope to fly high at Fresno State

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a college football team in Houston that’s worth watching.
It’s the Rice Owls, who have quietly put together a 6-1 season (as of Oct. 26) and are in line to land their first bowl bid in 40-plus years.

This Saturday, the Owls travel to Fresno, CA to take on the previously undefeated Fresno State Bulldogs, who were upset two weeks ago, 35-30, by Boise State (a team Rice crushed earlier this season). A win in the land of raisins would basically hand the WAC championship to Ken Hatfield’s team, so this is a huge weekend for the Owls and their faithful.

Before we take a look at that game and a number of others, let’s review last week’s results. A 9-3 week brought the season mark to 52-20 (72%).
Now let’s look at this week’s game, starting with the high school schedule.

Aldine vs. MacArthur: Two long-time rivals face off in a game that is key to Aldine’s playoff hopes. The Mustangs got a huge win over Memorial two weeks ago on a late field goal. That win should go a long way towards securing another trip to the post season for Bill Smith’s team. MacArthur saw its playoff hopes dashed by Nimitz two weeks ago, but expect a spirited effort from Teny Forga’s team in this one. The Generals could make their season by upsetting Aldine, and you can be sure Smith and his charges are well aware of that fact. My pick, Aldine 27, MacArthur 23

Eisenhower vs. Stratford: Richard Carson’s Eagles are running on all cylinders. The offense is putting up impressive numbers, while the defense is being its usually stingy and hard-hitting self. With one game remaining in the regular season, the Eagles want to go into the playoff on a roll, which is not good news for Stratford. Look for another dominating performance this weekend by the Eagles. My pick, Eisenhower 38, Stratford 6

Nimitz vs. Spring Woods: Speaking of dominating performances, the Cougars put on such a display two weeks ago when they put 57 points on the board against MacArthur. Nimitz is playing as well as any team in the area and with a key season-ending encounter with Aldine on tap in Week 10, the Cougars and head coach Randy Rowe know they cannot afford a let down against Spring Woods this week. Look for another strong rushing effort from the Cougars, who have a stable of quality backs to whom to turn. My pick, Nimitz 42, Spring Woods 10

Now let’s take a look at the college scene, where a number of interesting games dot the schedule this week.

Texas A&M at Texas Tech: The Aggies have proven they can win on the road this year and that’s important because Lubbock is not one of their favorite places to visit. A&M’s 31-24 win at Kansas State two weeks ago was a big one for R.C. Slocum and his team, but this one might be a tougher road test as they take on a Tech team that played hard in its 41-31 loss at Nebraska two weeks ago. Quarterback Cliff Kingsbury threw the ball all over the field and expect more of the same this week against an A&M defense that has returned to its Wrecking Crew fame. If the Red Raiders can score early on the Aggies, it could turn into a long day for the bunch from College Station. This might be the week Tech proves to the rest of the Big 12 it’s on its way to becoming one of the upper echelon teams in the league. My pick, Texas Tech 27, A&M 18

Rice at Fresno State: This game pits one of the country’s best running games against one of the country’s best passing games, so something has to give. The key to a Rice win will be how well it’s running game controls the clock to keep FSU’s David Carr off the field. Boise State proved Fresno State’s defense can be scored upon and the Owls can put up points with the best of them. Over the years, the Owls have stumbled in big road games, but something tells me this is a different Rice team. My pick, Rice 37, Fresno State 35

Florida State at Clemson: This could be the year when the son defeats the father as Tommy Bowden goes up against his papa, Bobby Bowden in a key ACC contest. Clemson stumbled two weeks ago to a surging North Carolina team, the same NC team that trounced FSU earlier this season, so father and son do have a loss to North Carolina in common. Clemson will rely on super quarterback Woody Danzler to pull off the upset this Saturday. Danzler can beat teams with his feet and arm, so expect the Seminoles to see plenty of him this week. This is somewhat of a down year for the Seminoles, but don’t expect them to go quietly. This could be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. My pick, Clemson 31, Florida State 30

Tennessee at Notre Dame: It’s amazing what a few wins in a row will do for a team. The Irish have ripped off three straight wins (as of Oct. 26) against teams they should beat, but this Saturday, they host one of the country’s best teams in Tennessee so we’ll see just how much ND has improved. The Volunteers are a balanced team, which could present problems for the Notre Dame defense, but the Irish offense has come alive under sophomore quarterback Carlyle Holiday, who has been a nice addition to the team. Tennessee is very much alive in the BCS hunt and a win on the road against an improved Notre Dame team could enhance their standing in the BCS. My pick, Tennessee 26, Notre Dame 21

UCLA at Washington State: At the start of the season, nobody expected this game to be THE game of the year in the Pac 10, but it is. The much-improved Cougars have been one of the biggest surprises in the country, while the Bruins have steadily gotten better each week. Both teams have big-play offenses, so the key will be which team plays better defense in this one. The nod there goes to UCLA, which has stifled opponents all season on that side of the ball. My pick, UCLA 33, Washington State 20

Now let’s take a look at what the NFL h as to offer this weekend.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh: Don’t look now, but the defending Super Bowl champions are on the ropes, and the Steelers look like the Super Bowl Steelers of old. If you are a fan of hard-hitting, defensive football, then this game should be right up your alley. The Steelers defense has outplayed Baltimore’s vaunted stop troops this year and they’d like nothing more than to hang another loss on the Ravens, who have owned them over the last few years. The Steelers are no fluke. They have the league’s best running game and one of the top defenses, while the Ravens have struggled on offense and their defense has shown a few cracks this year. Expect the Steeler faithful to be charged up for this one, which should give the Steelers a huge boost. My pick, Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 13

Dallas at NY Giants: The Giants may have a great defense, but their offense is pathetic. Head coach Jim Fassell can’t decide on which running back to play, the burly Ron Dayne or the flashy Tiki Barber. That has caused problems with the passing game, but Giant fans shouldn’t fret because they basically have a bye this week against an undermanned Dallas team. The Cowboys have played hard this year, but their offense has yet to get untracked and it certainly won’t this week against the sack-happy Giants. My pick, NY Giants 21, Dallas 10

Tampa Bay at Green Bay: What’s wrong with the Buccaneers? A lot. For a team that was supposed to waltz to the Super Bowl they sure have done a lot of stumbling and bumbling around this year. The offense fools no one and teams are finding ways to attack a defense that at one time was considered the best in the game. Not any more. Things won’t get any easier this week when they travel to Green Bay, a place that has not been kind to the Bucs over the years. With an extra week to prepare and get over their 35-13 loss to Minnesota, expect the Packers and quarterback Brett Favre to come out breathing fire as they get back in the hunt for the NFC Central title. My pick, Green Bay 24, Tampa Bay 14

Denver at Oakland: Let’s hope this one on Monday night turns out better than the last few duds we’ve had to suffer through. Both teams do have offenses that can put up a lot of points, so this should be an entertaining game to watch. Add to the fact that this is one of the fiercest rivalries in the league and you have the chance for another classic between these two AFC rivals. The Raiders will look to exploit a weak Denver secondary, so look for plenty of passes to Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, while the Broncos will mix things up and try to get the running game back on track. Terrell Davis’ expected return could do a lot to ignite the Broncos, but in the end, the Raiders defense will have the final say in this one. My pick, Oakland 31, Denver 27