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Keeney’s Korner: BOWL GAMES

Florida State hopes to end SEC’s run of BCS title run

The bowl season is well underway, but the big games begin on New Year’s Eve when Texas A&M faces Duke in the Chik-fil-A Bowl in what could be Johnny Manziel’s final game for the Aggies.

Locally, both Rice and the University of Houston will be bowling this season as the 10-3, Conference USA champs Owls will face Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve, while the 8-4 Cougars will also be facing a SEC team when they face Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4.

The Big 12 champion Baylor Bears will be playing in their first BCS bowl ever when they face 11-1 Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

But the game everybody is waiting for will be the BCS Championship game, which will pit No. 1-ranked Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston against No. 2-ranked Auburn and their potent run offense. Auburn was one of the best stories of the 2013 season. The Tigers were coming off a 3-9 season in 2012 and had a new head coach in Gus Malzahn. Malzahn installed his run-happy offense and the Tigers piled up gaudy numbers en route to an 11-1 season, which included two last-second wins over Georgia and Alabama that saved their season.

While Auburn was pulling out heart stoppers, Florida State pretty much dominated every team they played on their way to a 13-0 season and the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Winston was a threat with his arm and his legs, but this team is not a one-man show. There is talent on both sides of the ball and it appears head coach Jimbo Fisher has brought the Seminoles back to being one of the top teams in college football as they were for decades under former head coach Bobby Bowden.

There should be a lot of good games to watch over the next week for college football fans, but before we take a look at what’s on tap, let’s review last week’s record. A 5-4 record brought the season record to 116-61 (66%).

Now, let’s see what the bowl season has to offer.


Liberty Bowl – Rice vs. Mississippi State: David Baliff’s Owls play in their second straight bowl game and enter the Liberty Bowl with 10 wins and as Confernce USA champs. They’ll face a physical Mississippi State team that can run the football on offense and has a big and strong front seven on defense. I think the Owls make a game of it in this one, but look for the Bulldogs’ physicality to be the difference down the stretch as the SEC continues to flex its muscle during bowl season. My pick, Mississippi State 26, Rice 23

Chick-fil-A Bowl – Texas A&M vs. Duke: Like Auburn, Duke was another feel-good story during the 2013 season. Head coach David Cutliffe led the Blue Devils to a 10-win season and a spot in the ACC title game. For a school that’s known more for basketball than football, you’d have to say the 2013 season was a pretty amazing one considering how the football program has sturggled to be even medicore for much of its existence. They will face another tough challenge when they take on a talented Aggie squad led by Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans. Many think Johnny Football will be playing his final game in the Maroon and White and if that’s so, he’ll want to give Aggie fans a game to remember. I have a feeling JF puts on a show in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve. Remember, when Duke played an athletic Florida State team in the ACC title game, they were crushed , 45-7. The Aggies may not have as much athletic talent as does FSU, but they have enough and that will mean a long night for the Blue Devils. My pick, Texas A&M 45, Duke 20

Gator Bowl – Nebraska vs. Georgia: Both teams entered the season with high expectations, but both suffered through so-so seasons. Both teams lost starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries as Taylor Martinez went down for the Cornhuskers and Aaron Murray suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the season. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini might be coaching for his job as the ‘Husker faithful are growing weary of his temper and underachieving teams. Look for Georiga running back Todd Gurley to be the difference in this one as he runs for a big day and leads the Bulldogs to victory. My pick, Georgia 31, Nebraska 23

Outback Bowl – LSU vs. Iowa: The Tigers take on the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl and will have to rely on its running game if it hopes to get win No. 10 on the season. The Tigers lost starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the season finale against Arkansas. Reserve QB Anthony Jennings came in and led LSU to the game-winning drive and threw the game winning touchdown to save the day. Jennings has talent, but little experience, so look for Les Miles to lean heavily on his running game led by tailback Jeremy Hill (1,185 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns). LSU’s speed on defense will also be too much for the lumbering Hawkeyes and will also play a key role as the Tigers roll Iowa. My pick, LSU 36, Iowa 18

Rose Bowl – Michigan State vs. Stanford: If you are a fan of defensive football, then this game is right up your alley. Michigan State and Stanford are two of the best defensive teams in the country, so don’t expect a lot of offensive fireworks in this one. Mighican State won the Big 10, while Stanford won the Pac 12. Both teams did it with stifling defenses and opportunistic offenses. The Spartans did put up 34 points on Ohio State in the Big 10 title game will take a chance or two down field with the passing game. But their MO is to play tough defense, run the football and let the chips fall where they may. This should be one of the better Jan. 1 bowl games as both teams are evently matched. Something tells me the Spartans come out on top at the end of the day. My pick, Michigan State 23, Stanford 20

Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma vs. Alabama: Two of the most successful programs in college football history meet in the Sugar Bowl when Bob Stoops’ Sooners take on Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. Alabama was hoping to play for its third straight BCS title, but Auburn spoiled those chances with a last-second victory in the Iron Bowl. The Sooners appeared headed for a lesser bowl game, but came through with a late fourth-quarter rally to defeat in-state rival Oklahoma State and earn a trip to New Orleans. Alabama doesn’t have a lot to play for and their mental makeup might have a lot to do with the outcome of this game, but I think quarterback AJ McCarron will rally the troops. He knows he and his teammates can win a third straight BCS bowl game and this senior class could become one of the most successful in the history of the storied program. I think that will be motivation enough for the Tide in this one. My pick, Alabama 31, Oklahoma 23

Orange Bowl – Ohio State vs. Clemson: While defense will rule the day at the Rose Bowl, plenty of offense will be on dispaly in Miami on Jan. 3 when the Buckeyes and Tigers hook up. Both teams feature two talented quarterbacks as Braxton Miller (1,860 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, 1,033 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns) leads the potent Buckeye attack and Taj Boyd (3,473 yards passing, 29 touchdowns) leads the Tigers. Ohio State also has a strong running game led by tailback Carlos Hyde (1,408 yards, 14 TDs), while the Tigers feature more of a passing game led by wide receiver Sammy Watkins (1,237 yards receiving, 10 TDs). There will be plenty of scoring in this one and the game could be decided on the final drive. Something tells me Miller will be the difference in this one as Urban Myers’ team picks up the win. My pick, Ohio State 41, Clemson 38

Cotton Bowl – Missouri vs. Oklahoma State: This one should be another offensive shootout as the Tigers and Cowboys go after one another in Jerry World in Arlington. These two teams know one another rather well as both were members of the Big 12 just two years ago until Missouri bolted for the SEC along with Texas A&M. The Tigers were one of the surprise teams in the country this year and are led by quarterback James Franklin (2,255 yards passing, 19 TDs) and running back Henry Josey. Mizzu also has two tall and speedy wide receivers who should give the OSU defense fits. The Cowboys are led by quarterback Clink Chelf (1,792 yards, 16 TDs) and a stable of quality running backs. OSU was in position to win the Big 12 and play in the Fiesta Bowl, but they collapsed down the stretch against OU and had to settle for the Cotton Bowl. How focused will they be for this one? I say, not much. My pick, Missouri 34, Oklahoma State 26

BBVA Compass Bowl – Houston vs. Vanderbilt: A win over a decent SEC team would do a lot for Tony Levine’s young team heading into the offseason. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn (2,889 yards passing, 26 TDs) needs to play within himself and not force the action becuase if he does, the Vand defense will make him regret it. I think the Cougars have just as much athleticism as the Commodores do and will leave Birmingham with a win that could carry them on to bigger and better things in 2014. My pick, Houston 26, Vanderbilt 20

BCS Championship Game – Auburn vs. Florida State: No. 1 versus No. 2 for all the marbles and the fancy crystal trophy that goes to the victor. Florida State was dominant throughout the season and are loaded on both sides of the football. It all starts with Winston (3,820 yards passing, 38 touchdowns), but he’s no one-man show. The Seminoles have three capable running backs who take turns gashing opponents and perhaps the best receiving corps in the country, led by Rashad Greene (981 yards receiving, nine TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (957 yards receiving, 14 TDs). Defensively, they have speed up front and on the corners, but they will be facing perhaps their biggest test of the season against an Auburn team that runs the ball so well and uses it to set up big pass plays. Quarterback Nick Marshall (1,757 yards passing, 12 TDs, 1,023 yards rushing, 11 TDs) does an excellent job of running Malzahn’s option attack and with running back Tre Mason (1,621 yards, 22 TDs) will give the FSU defense trouble in the title game. The Seminoles will need to be solid on the edge on defense and don’t be surprised if they assign a linebacker to focus solely on Marshall and spy him throughout the game. I think Auburn stays in this game because of their running attack, but Winston will find holes in the Auburn defense down the stretch as Fisher earns the biggest victory of his coaching career. My pick, Florida State 36, Auburn 23

Former Aldine football coach honored

Former Aldine football coach Bill Smith was honored Saturday as a member of the Class of 2012 Gridiron Legends.

Smith, who served as head coach at Aldine High School for more than 30 years, took his place alongside three other accomplished Texas football coaches for the honor, announced by the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas during halftime at the Aug. 18 Houston Texans

game at Reliant Stadium.

The designation recognizes those who have made “a significant contribution to the game of football in the state of Texas” at the high school or college level, according to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas website.

Smith led the Mustangs to state and national championships in 1990, a perfect season and 273 wins during his career, the fifth most of all time among Texas Class 5A coaches, according to an Aldine press release.

In 2004, one year after his retirement, Aldine renamed its stadium after coach Smith to honor his contributions to football and the school.

Other members of the Class of 2012 include: 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and College Football Hall of Fame coaches Darrell Royal, the winningest coach in Texas Longhorns football history, and Hayden Fry, former head coach at the Iowa, North Texas and Southern Methodist University.

Smith will be inducted during the 2012 bowl game on Dec. 28 at Reliant Stadium.

Aldine ISD Trustees honor former Nimitz High softball coach Irene Hopkins

For 33 years, Irene Hopkins dedicated herself to the students and athletes at Nimitz High School serving as a teacher and coach at the Aldine ISD school.

She started the softball program at the school and served as its only head coach until her retirement in December of 2011. She was one of the most respected softball coaches in the Houston-area during her tenure and cherished teaching the sport she loved to the many players that passed through the program over the last 33 years.

Although she is no longer a part of the program, her name will forever be linked to the softball program at Nimitz High School and in the district as well thanks to action taken by the Aldine ISD Board of Trustees at their July 17 Board meeting.

On that night, Aldine’s Trustees unanimously voted to rename the softball field at Nimitz High School after Irene Hopkins and in addition, the district’s annual Varsity Invitational Softball Tournament will also bear her name beginning with the 2013 event.

Hopkins, who served as a teacher and coach for 43 years in Aldine, began her teaching/coaching career in 1969 at Aldine Junior High (now Aldine Middle School). She transferred to Nimitz High School in 1978 and was part of the original staff that opened the building. When she retired, she was the last original member of the staff that opened the school in 1978.

She was known among her peers as a pioneer and when she retired she was the longest serving coach in the history of Aldine ISD.

Irene not only shared her knowledge of the game with her players, but she also gave of her personnel time and resources to keep the softball field at Nimitz in the best condition possible for her teams to play and practice on. As a matter of fact, she loved coaching so much that for the first seven years of her tenure, she volunteered as the team’s coach without pay.

In addition to coaching softball, Irene also coached basketball, track and volleyball and served as a health teacher.

Nimitz High principal Alex Jordan, who worked with Irene for more than 20 years, said she was most deserving of the honor the Aldine Board bestowed upon her during their July meeting.

“I can’t think of a more deserving person for such a wonderful honor,” Jordan said. “It has been a pleasure to be a colleague of Irene for more than 20 years. She embodies all of the characteristics that professional educators should possess.

“Her commitment to excellence, love for students, rigorous standards, patience and support for all will be missed by Nimitz High School and Aldine ISD. Coach Hopkins was a role model for all students. She believed in both processes and people with little tolerance for anyone who failed to work hard each and every day. I am a better man and a better principal for having known her.”

During her 33 years at Nimitz High, many of her former students and players received scholarships and went on to become coaches themselves. Her peers honored her during the 2008-09 school year when they voted her Nimitz High’s Teacher of the Year.

The recommendation to rename the softball field at Nimitz High was made by Trustee Steve Mead, who chairs the Board’s school names committee. He was joined on the committee by fellow Trustees Dr. Viola M. Garcia and Rose Avalos.

Former Smiley grad overcomes obstacles to become Truman Scholar

A young man from Northeast Houston, who knows the struggles of children who have both parents incarcerated, has been named a recipient of a prestigious award presented nationally.

Smiley High alumnus Devon Wade, is one of 60 winners of the nationally competitive Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

Wade is also the first African-American student to win the award.

The Truman Scholarship seeks to identify future leaders in public service, and provides funding for three years of graduate study in a field of the recipients’ choosing. In return, Truman Scholars must agree to work in a public service field for 3 of 7 years following completion of their degree.

Only two other LSU were among the finalists.

The other finalists are Reggie Galjour, Joel Raborn Wade majors in Sociology, with concentrations in Criminology and African & African-American Studies. He serves as a veteran representative and mentor for the organization No More Victims, Inc. (NMVI), which aids children of incarcerated parents.

Wade hopes to use his personal and academic experiences to expand public awareness of the struggles of these children, and further sociological understanding of the cycle that often leads these children to follow their parents into incarceration.

This year, 176 finalists from 122 colleges and universities were chosen from a pool of 576 applicants. Wade, Galjour, and Raborn are the only finalists selected from the state of Louisiana.

Wade continues what has become a remarkable tradition – the LSU Honors College has produced a Truman Scholar for five of the past seven years. The Honors College Office of Fellowship Advising was created to assist students in applying for prestigious post-graduate scholarships and fellowships, such as the Truman, Rhodes, Marshall, Gates, Mitchell, Soros and Goldwater awards.

Griner breaks NCAA record at national tournament

On Nov. 11, 2008 Nimitz High’s Brittney Griner blocked 25 shots against Alief Hasting, setting a national high school record.

Last week she added another notch to her six-shooter, blocking an NCAA-record 14 shots to help the Number 4 seed Baylor Bears defeat the Number 5 seed Georgetown Hoyas 49-33 in the second round of the national tournament.

She also holds the NCAA single-season record with 199 blocked shots.

Griner shattered the previous single-game record of 11 set in 1989 by UNLV’s Pauline Jordan.

What is remarkable is how the 6’8” freshman broke the record.

Finding herself in foul trouble early, Griner had limited playing time in the first half with just seven minutes on the court and recording just one block.

Then in the second half, she exploded for 13 more blocks.

At one point Griner held the Hoyas to more than 10 minutes of play without making a point, forcing 15 missed shots.

The Hoyas were shutdown by Griner who possesses an 88” wingspan (that’s 7’4”). Most people have a wingspan (or length of arm and fingertip to fingertip of the other side) equal to their height. In the victory, Griner blocked more shots than Georgetown had baskets for the game.

Griner also scored seven points and had seven rebounds in 27 minutes of play.

The win over Georgetown positioned Baylor for a Sweet 16 match-up with Tennessee, who is ranked the Number 1 seed in the tournament. While the two schools have not played very often, their meetings have been memorable. Tennessee was one of the universities that heavily recruited Griner. However, it was Baylor who Griner made a verbal commitment to back when she was a junior and when signing time came her senior year she made good on that commitment.

Tennessee got some revenge on losing the player selected by “USA Today” as the National High School Player of the Year by beating Baylor in their season opener 74-65.

If Baylor can hold off the Volunteers to advance to the Elite 8 the school can avenge a Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee in 2004.

Griner has also become an Internet superstar with viral videos showing her ability to dunk the ball. She is only the second woman in NCAA history to dunk the ball twice in one game.

NEN Coach of the Year

By Mike Keeney
Contributing Writer

Lionell Crawford is living a dream, and enjoying every minute of it!

Crawford, a 1988 graduate of Aldine High School and the football team’s star quarterback under the tutelage of legendary head coach Bill Smith, returned to his alma mater in February when he was named the school’s head football coach.

Although he and his new staff were a bit behind in their 19-5A rivals in terms of implementing their offseason program, they knew they had enough talent on hand to make a run at the playoffs once the 2009 season rolled around in August, and right they were.

The Mustangs closed the season with a kick and qualified for the playoffs. They defeated Westside 28-19 in bi-district play before falling to Alief Taylor, 38-35, in a thrilling second-round game.

By leading the Mustangs to a playoff win and a 7-5 season, Crawford was named the Northeast News’ Coach of the Year for the 2009 season.

The Aldine job is Crawford’s second head coaching stint. Prior to landing at the helm of the Mustangs’ program, Crawford was the head coach at Smiley High School and then North Forest High (Smiley and Forest Brook combined and the school was named North Forest High in 2008), where he led the Bulldogs to a 6-4 season in 2008 and a playoff berth.

Before becoming a coach, Crawford was a strong football player himself. After graduating from Aldine, Crawford earned a football scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, where he played quarter back and wide receiver for Barry Alvarez. After two years with the Green Bay Packers, Crawford entered the private sector. He began his coaching and teaching career in 2000.

Like Smith before him, Crawford hopes to spend many, many years as the Mustangs’ head coach.

“I would love to lay a foundation and have some things put in place to where my name can be mentioned with Coach Smith’s. Now that would be quite a career.”

Some would say Lionell Crawford is off to a good start in reaching that goal.

(For the full version of this story, please see print edition.)

Eisenhower DT is one impressive “Guy”

Contributing Writer

Jay Guy is an impressive young man, on and off the football field.

When he’s on the football field, Guy is a one-man wrecking crew, but off it, he’s a loving and caring individual who cherishes giving back to his fellow man.

The 6-0, 300-pounder was a three-year started for the Eisenhower High football team and helped lead them to the playoffs three consecutive years. As a senior, Guy recorded 75 tackles, recovered 6 fumbles, and came up with 7 sacks. He was named first team all district by the District 19-5A head coaches two years running and was the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year in 19-5A.

His solid senior season also earned him the distinction of being the Northeast News’ Defensive Player of the Year.

Guy, who will enroll at the University of Nebraska in January, is also a top-notch student. He is ranked 29th out of 580 fellow seniors and is in the top five percent of his class. He serves as vice president of the student council and volunteers at his church.

Eisenhower High head football coach Ray Evans has seen a lot of talented players in his 30-plus years as a coach and he says Guy is perhaps the best he’s ever coached.

“What stands out about Jay is that he’s an academic kid who loves football,” Evans said. “You don’t see too many big kids with his work habit. He never missed a weight (lifting) workout during the summer and never missed a practice.”

When Evans coached at Lamar High School, he had the good fortune to coach Cedric Jones, who later went onto the University of Oklahoma and in 1996 was the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft. Evans said Guy is even better than Jones.

Guy was recruited by Cal, Stanford, Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU, and a number of Big 12 schools, but he chose Nebraska because he was impressed with the defensive scheme run by the Cornhuskers under the direction of head coach Bo Pellini.

“Nebraska is a good fit for me,” Guy said. “They have a great defensive staff and great academics. I really like Coach Pellini, and I felt comfortable with the players when I visited there.”

He also likes the fact that Husker players are expected to contribute in the community as well.

“Their players visit hospitals and things like that. That impressed me. I’m looking forward to contributing to the community as well,” said the soft-spoken senior.

One thing he’s not looking forward to are those Nebraska winters.

“I’m going to have to get used to that,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m looking forward to going there. I know I need to get stronger, bigger, and work on my speed since I’m moving to the next level. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

He’s also looking forward to following in the footsteps of defensive tackle Nhamukong Suh, who is considered the best defensive player of the last decade in college football.

“He’s leaving a big gap that has to be filled, and I hope I can fill it.”

Wounded Sooners hope to spoil UT’s season

It’s that time of year again, time for the annual Red River Rivalry, and once again, this one means a lot to both the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners.

A win by Mack Brown’s team puts them squarely in control of the Big 12 South Division and solidifies their chances of not only playing for the Big 12 title the first Saturday in December, but for a spot in the BCS title game in January. For Bob Stoops’ Sooners, a win would make their season and take some of the sting out of a season that has seen the team decimated by injuries to key personnel, which has resulted in them playing the role of spoiler instead of national title contender.

Before we take a look at that game and a host of others, let’s review last week’s record. A 7-5 mark brought the season record to 30-26 (54 percent).

Now, onto this week’s games.


Aldine at Atascocita: A key game in the District 19-5A schedule for Lionel Crawford’s Mustangs. Aldine opened league play with an upset loss to Humble, but followed that up with a convincing 42-21 win over Nimitz two weeks ago. In that game, running back Dontae Williams ran wild as he rushed for 270 yards and four touchdowns. Aldine will need another such performance from the talented senior running back as they take on an Atascocita team that won its first six games. My pick, Aldine 26, Atascocita 23

Nimitz vs. Eisenhower: Robert Toomer’s Cougars face another tall task as they take on Ray Evans’ Eagles who two weeks ago won their fourth straight game with a 37-0 win over MacArthur. Quarterback James Jones had another big game against the Generals and should be in store for another productive performance against the Cougars. My pick, Eisenhower 31, Nimitz 18


Texas Tech at Nebraska: Mike Leach’s Red Raiders may be heading into a buzz saw when they trek to Lincoln to take on Bo Pelini’s much improved Cornhuskers. Pelini has returned the pride to the Nebraska faithful, along with stout defensive play. Look for the defense to give a young Tech offensive line fits all afternoon. Tech starting quarterback Taylor Potts was injured in his team’s 48-28 win over New Mexico two weeks ago in Lubbock, but reserve Steven Sheffield came off the bench to throw for 238 yards and three touchdowns. If Potts is unable to go on Saturday, Sheffield appears to be a capable understudy, but asking him to pick up a win in a hostile environment might be asking too much. My pick, Nebraska 34, Texas Tech 24

USC at Notre Dame: This is the game the Irish faithful have waited for since last year’s most recent lopsided loss to the Trojans. ND head coach Charlie Weiss has assembled a load of talent in South Bend, led by junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen, but USC has a boatload of talent itself. USC may be a bit down this year, but they are still a very, very good football team. If Notre Dame wants to take the next step of returning to the national stage, they have to win this game. That might be easier said than done. The Irish won four of their first five games and had an extra week to prepare for the Trojans. Clausen needs to be on, but the key to this game will be how well the ND defense does in slowing down ‘SC’s strong running game. Notre Dame has given up a lot of yards and points this year, but with an extra week to prepare for this one, maybe, just maybe, the magic returns to South Bend. My pick, Notre Dame 31, USC 30

Auburn at LSU: A battle of the Tigers in Baton Rogue in a key SEC Western Division game. Auburn has been one of the surprise teams in the country as Gene Chili has proven that maybe, just maybe, the powers that be in Auburn made the right choice in handing him the job, which did not go over all that well with Auburn alumnus. Auburn has a balanced offense led by former Tech QB Chris Todd, who in his first five games has passed for 1,230 yards and 12 touchdowns and running back Ben Tate (540 yards rushing, two touchdowns). LSU has a balanced offense of their own led by quarterback Jordan Jefferson and a stable of quality running backs led by burley Charles Scott. The Tigers picked up a huge road victory at Georgia two weeks ago and will be coming off a physical contest against Florida before taking on Auburn. Still, the home field advantage should be huge for the Tigers and be the difference in this one. My pick, LSU 26, Auburn 22

Texas vs. Oklahoma: The State Fair of Texas will be rocking come Saturday when the Longhorns and Sooners go at in their annual boarder skirmish. Heading into the season, this was one of THE games of the 2009 season as both teams were coming off BCS bowl games and possessed two of the top quarterbacks in the nation in OU’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy. Bradford has not played since the first game of the season when he sustained an injury to his throwing shoulder in the first half against BYU. It’s not certain if Bradford will play against Texas, but if he’s healthy, expect the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to give it a go in the Cotton Bowl. McCoy has been steady, but not spectacular this year, but he knows a big performance against OU on national television would get him back on the Heisman landscape. The Sooners’ defense is loaded with speed and quickness so it would behoove the Longhorns to run right at the Sooners, which should soften them up for some deep, throws downfield. That strategy worked for Miami two weeks ago in their 21-20 win over the Sooners. This is a huge game for Texas because a win in the Cotton Bowl keeps their visions of bigger things to come very much alive. My pick, Texas 30, Oklahoma 23


Houston at Cincinnati: So, which Texans team shows up this Sunday in Cincinnati? The one that sleep walked through a 31-24 loss at home to the Jaguars three weeks ago, or the one that thoroughly dominated the Raiders (OK, it was the Raiders!) two weeks ago en route to a 29-6 win. Guess we’ll find out on Sunday. One thing is for sure, Gary Kubiak’s team has to know it’s can’t take any team for granted, especially a Bengals team that won three of its first four games and is playing pretty solid defense thus far in the 2009 season. Houston has to hope running back Steve Slaton is on his way to getting untracked. He scored on the ground and through the air against the Raiders and if he’s on, the Texans offense is much more difficult to stop. Defensively, the Texans will need to keep Cinci quarterback Carson Palmer in check. He’s 100 percent healthy and that’s a good thing for the Bengals. A win by the Texans on the road would really give them a shot in the arm. My pick, Houston 23, Cincinnati 20

Baltimore at Minnesota: An intriguing inter-conference match up as the Ravens pay a visit to the Metrodome to take on Bret Favre and the Vikings. Favre looked like a 30-year old two weeks ago when he led the Vikings to a 30-23 win over his former team, the Green Bay Packers. He had plenty of zip on the football and threw for two scores. This week, he’ll face one of the best defenses in the league when Ray Lewis and Co. Come calling. The Ravens dropped a 27-21 decision at New England two weeks ago, but this is a team that is ready and willing to play any team, anywhere at any time. This game will also feature two of the league’s top defenses, so the running game should be the difference in this one, meaning the team that runs the ball the most effectively should come out on top. Considering the Vikes have the league’s best running back in Adrian Peterson, the men in purple get the nod this week. My pick, Minnesota 23, Baltimore 21

New York Giants at New Orleans: The NFC’s top two teams meet in the Big Easy and both should be undefeated when they hook up on Sunday. The Giants have perhaps the deepest team in the NFL and are getting excellent play from their young corps of wide receivers. Steve Smith is emerging at Eli Manning’s go-to guy as evidenced by the two-touchdown performance he turned in two weeks ago at Kansas City. The Saints have a pretty fair quarterback themselves in Drew Brees, who also has a host of talented wide outs to throw to. This should be a high-scoring game in the Superdome, so the team that does the best job of protecting the football will come out on top. It says here the Saints continue their roll, but barely. My pick, New Orleans 34, New York 31

Chicago at Atlanta: A pretty good one for Sunday Night Football pits the Bears against the Falcons in a key NFC game for both teams. The Bears are very happy with their new quarterback, Jay Cutler, whom they acquired in the off-season from the Broncos, while the Falcons continue to flourish with their second-year signal caller, Matt Flynn. Chicago exploded for 48 points two weeks ago in their win over the Lions, while the Falcons had the week off. The Falcons will look to running back Michael Turner to do the heavy lifting in this one as they count on him to chew up the clock with his sturdy legs. The Bears have a decent running back of their own in Matt Forte, who finally had a big day with 131 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Lions. With two strong-armed quarterbacks going at it, this one could turn into a high-scoring affair, but the Falcons have proven to be tough at home, so go with them in this one. My pick, Atlanta 30, Chicago 27

Denver at San Diego: Don’t look now, but the Broncos are a pretty good football team. When the season began, most experts expected Denver to struggle this year considering they traded their stud QB Jay Cutler and first-year head coach Josh McDaniel pretty much revamped the roster. Four weeks into the season, the Broncos have one of the top defenses in the league (just ask the Cowboys), a steady quarterback in Kyle Orton and a talented rookie running back in Knoshown Moreno.

The Chargers split their first four games and almost pulled off a remarkable comeback two weeks ago at Pittsburgh when they rallied from a 28-0 deficit in the fourth quarter before falling 38-28. Quarterback Phillip Rivers is having an outstanding season. He should give the Broncos a real test on Monday night at home, which should be enough to lead his team to a key AFC West victory. My pick, San Diego 26, Denver 20