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Sooners need to be wary of trip to Lubbock

The Oklahoma Sooners are holding out hope that they will be able to defend their national title this year, which means they need to be focused when they travel to Lubbock this weekend to take on a Texas Tech team that is capable of derailing the Sooner’s season.

Just ask Texas A&M. The Aggies suffered a 12-0 loss in Lubbock two weeks ago in a game that was followed by a nasty fracas when some over zealous Tech students attempted to deposit one of the goal posts in the A&M student section. Needless to say, the Aggies and their fans won’t soon forget what happened for a long, long time.

But back to the present. The Sooners know they must win their remaining games to win the Big 12 North Division and set up a rematch against Nebraska in the league’s championship game, set for Dec. 1 in Texas Stadium.

Before we delve into that game and this week’s schedule, let’s review last week’s performance. An 8-4 record brought the season mark to 68-28 (70 percent). I’ll take seven out of 10 wins any day.
Now that high school teams are in the playoffs, this column will concentrate on college and NFL games for the remainder of the season, and there are plenty of key games at both levels this weekend.

Let’s start with the collegians.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech: These two teams are mirror images of one another. They both run the same offense and have defenses that are quick and fast. The key in this game will be how well Tech quarterback Kliff Kinsgbury performs. If he has the time to find his receivers, then Tech could pull off the upset, but expect OU to pressure Kingsbury all afternoon on the West Texas plains. The Sooners will try to get former Nimitz High start Quentin Griffin untracked to open up things for its passing attack. This should be a close game, but give the nod to the Sooners because they have more to play for than does Tech. I can tell you one thing; the folks in Austin will be pulling for the Red Raiders this weekend. My pick, Oklahoma 26, Texas Tech 23

Alabama at Auburn: One of the country’s bitterest rivalries plays out on Saturday as the Crimson Tide hope to salvage their season and at the same time throw a wrench into Auburn’s hopes of reaching the SEC title game. First-year head coach Dennis Franchione has had a so-so year with the Tide, but you can bet he’ll have that program turned around within a year or two and a win over Auburn would do much for recruiting and momentum heading into the off season. Auburn, on the other hand, has a lot to play for this week, so look for them to pull out all the stops in this one. LSU proved the Tide can be passed on as quarterback Rohan Davie threw for more than 600 yards (that’s not a typo) against ‘Bama two weeks ago. My pick, Auburn 31, Alabama 20

Florida State at Florida: Since they were thumped by Miami in early October, the Seminoles have been on a roll and don’t expect them to be intimidated against a Florida team that is good, but not great. Freshman quarterback Mark Rix has played as well as any QB in the country in the last four weeks and with another talented slinger on the other side of the field in Florida’s Rex Grossman, this one could turn into a shootout. It appears FSU is coming of age at the right time and a win in Gainesville would be a huge boost for Bobby Bowden’s young team. Florida can afford to lose this game and still land a BCS spot with a win over Tennessee on Dec. 1, followed by a win in the SEC title game a week later. My pick, Florida State 34, Florida 32

Illinois at Ohio State: Illinois has quietly put together an outstanding season and they opened a lot of eyes around the Big 10, and the country, with their 38-13 pasting at Purdue two weeks ago. Ohio State has played well this year under first-year head coach Jim Tressel and should the Buckeyes win their remaining two games, they would win the Big 10 title. Not bad for a guy who has never coached at the Division I level. This game will pit Ohio State’s solid defense against Illinois’ talented quarterback Kurt Kitner. Expect the Buckeyes to pressure Kitner into a key mistake late in the game that turns this one in OSU’s favor. My pick, Ohio State 27, Illinois 23

Syracuse at Miami: This is the first of three key games for Miami as it begins its quest for the Rose Bowl. The Hurricanes’ task is simple: win out, and they will be one of the two teams playing for the national championship on Jan. 4. Earlier in the season, this looked like an easy win for the ‘Canes, but not now. Syracuse has won eight straight games, including a road win at then-No.-4-ranked Virginia Tech. But even though the Orangemen are on a roll, they will be playing a Miami team that is rolling itself and is balanced and talented on both sides of the ball. If this game were being played in Syracuse I’d give the Orangemen a chance, but there’s no way they’ll win at Miami. My pick, Miami 35, Syracuse 17

Clemson at South Carolina: The battle for state bragging rights pits Lou Holtz’s Gamecocks against Tommy Bowden’s Tigers. You can bet there will be 80,000-plus screaming fans when South Carolina hits the field in search of its second straight bowl bid. Holtz has worked his magic once again, taking a team that was 0-11 just two years ago to its second straight bowl game and a chance at a 10-win season. Look for the Gamecock defense to corral Clemson’s Woody Danzler in this one as South Carolina rolls to a win. My pick, South Carolina 33, Clemson 14

Now it’s on to the NFL, where the Monsters of the Midway face their first tough road test in weeks.

Chicago at Tampa Bay: If you saw the Bears’ dramatic win over the Browns two weeks ago, you have to start believing that maybe, just maybe Chicago is a team of destiny this year. In back to back weeks, they overcame double digit deficits to win in overtime, but this week they face a real test against a Tampa Bay team that is hard to beat at home. A win at Tampa will be predicated on how well rookie running back Anthony Thomas performs. If he is able to get untracked against a suspect Buc run defense, then the Bears should escape with a victory. Remember, this TB team has allowed 169 yards rushing to Ahman Green and 146 to Jerome Bettis, which proves the Bucs can be run on. My pick, Chicago 20, Tampa Bay 16

NY Jets at Miami: A key AFC East meeting as the road-happy Jets take on a Miami team that is quietly putting together a very good season. The Dolphins don’t get the press and attention like Oaldand, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but they have the second best record in the AFC and are tough to beat at home. But playing on the road doesn’t seem to bother the Jets. They’ve won more on the road then they have at home and over the years they’ve had success winning at Miami. This should be a tightly contested game, but look for the Miami running game to be the difference in this one. My pick, Miami 16, NY Jets 14

Indianapolis at New Orleans: The Colts are on a roll and the scary thing is, they’re doing it without star running back Edgrin James, while the Saints are still trying to find themselves as a team. New Orleans did not look good on either side of the ball in their 16-9 loss at home to the Jets two weeks ago and this week they will be playing a much more explosive offense. The Saints will need Ricky Williams to have a big day because if the running game can control the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field, the Saints should be able to pull this one out. My pick, New Orleans 23, Indianapolis 21

San Diego at Oakland: Another key AFC divisional game as these two long-time AEC West rivals meet in Oaldand. The Raiders look like the best team in the AFC. They can beat you with their running game, their passing game and they have a defense that bends but makes the key play when it’s needed. The Chargers are beginning to show their youth and inexperience as evidenced by their 25-20 loss to Kansas City two weeks ago. In that game the Chiefs did a good job of stuffing the San Diego running game and knocked quarterback Doug Flutie out of the game with a concussion. Look for the Raiders to harass Flutie all afternoon while Raider QB Rich Gannon has a field day throwing to Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. My pick, Oakland 34, San Diego 17

Philadelphia at Dallas: The Cowboys would like nothing more than to avenge their 40-18 loss to Eagles this week. Dallas is improving, but they’ve got to learn how to put teams away. That was apparent in their 27-24 overtime loss to the Giants two weeks ago, a game in which they led by 17 points in the second half. It appears Jerry Jones will go with Ryan Leaf at quarterback, which has the Eagles’ defense licking its chops. Leaf has a strong arm, but is not mobile, so look for the Eagles to blitz and pressure him all afternoon. Dallas has a decent defense of its own and if it can contain Donovan McNabb, then the Pokes might pull off the upset. I say it happens. My pick, Dallas 16, Philadelphia 13

Minnesota at NY Giants: A rematch of last year’s NFC championship game. Let’s just hope this one is more competitive. You remember that game, a 41-0 Giants win. The Vikings are a team in turmoil. They are fighting among themselves, which is not a good sign, but the Giants aren’t anything to write home about either. They are at best an average football team, no matter how much spin head coach Jim Fassel tries to put on things. Expect the Vikes to show up for this one and put forth a quality effort. It’s time for Randy Moss to step up and play like the highest paid wide receiver in the league. If Minnesota entertains any hopes of a playoff berth, they’ve got to win this one. My pick, Minnesota 27, NY Giants 18.