Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
This is a big week as several teams are fighting for bowl eligibility, divisional and conference titles and even the BCS. Just a few weeks left in the regular season and it’s going to be a wild finish starting this weekend.
Last week I went 8-2 to bring my season record to 73-29 (wow, that’s a lot of games).
Here are my picks for this week:
Houston 34, UCF 24: This is a key game for both teams as they continue to race for their respective Conference USA division titles. Houston has been clutch this season and its offense, behind quarterback Case Keenum, has been nearly unstoppable. It’s going to be tough for the Knights, who aren’t known for their offensive prowess, to keep up even against the Cougars' porous defense.
SMU 41, UTEP 31: UTEP already has knocked off C-USA West heavyweights Houston and Tulsa, but SMU is not going to succumb to the same fate, especially with bowl eligibility on the line. Freshman quarterback Kyle Padron has played well while Bo Levi Mitchell continues to recover from a shoulder injury, and this team is going to be driven to get into position for its first bowl berth since 1984.
Boise State 51, Idaho 35: There were some fightin’ words spoken this week on the Idaho side, but I don’t think they’ll have enough fight to stick with the Broncos this week. After struggling against Louisiana Tech last week, Boise State is going to be out to prove it belongs in the top 5 in the BCS standings, and Idaho’s defense hasn’t exactly been successful in league play. Idaho has proven it can score, but it will need a total team effort and some luck to pull off this upset.
Fresno State 34, Nevada 28: Both of these teams have been on rolls since struggling through their nonconference campaigns, but only one can continue the winning trend. Fresno State gets the advantage here because of its diversity on offense and its defense. Nevada hasn’t exactly been strong against potent offenses this year, and I think quarterback Ryan Colburn is going to have some success against the Wolf Pack secondary.
Middle Tennessee 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 24: Middle Tennessee has been one of the hotter teams in the Sun Belt the past three weeks, and it’s looking for that seventh win to get it to at-large status and all but guarantee a bowl game. Louisiana-Lafayette has been up and down and will have a tough time trying to contain MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher, who has been dynamic the past few weeks.
Southern Miss 31, Marshall 28: This is one of the better games of the weekend because both of these teams are fighting for a bowl game and the C-USA East title. When all of Southern Miss’ key players are healthy, like they are this weekend, it’s one of the toughest teams in the conference. Marshall has run the ball well, but it’s passing game has been suspect. Look for Southern Miss to lock Marshall down in the box.
Air Force 28, UNLV 10: UNLV has to win this game if it wants to make a bowl and that’s not going to be easy against an Air Force team that is fighting to get into the top third of the conference standings. Air Force’s defense has been fantastic this year, and it should have little trouble containing a UNLV squad that has been inconsistent on offense all year. Also, UNLV’s rushing defense is one of the worst in the country.
TCU 27, Utah 17: This is the game everyone has been waiting for. I made the score modest because last season proved that this game could be unpredictable. TCU has one of the best defenses in the country, while Utah’s defense hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. The TCU offense has been rolling, while the Utah offense has been stagnant, though that seems to have been rectified with freshman Jordan Wynn at quarterback. It will be interesting to see how a freshman reacts against the TCU defense.
San Diego State 32, Wyoming 20: Both of these teams have three games to win two for bowl eligibility. Wyoming has played three of the four top teams in the league and is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. San Diego State was bulldozed by TCU last week, but prior to that was starting to get into a nice offensive rhythm. I think that team comes to play, especially at home with the postseason on the line.
Tulsa 34, East Carolina 27: This is a Sunday game that’s a rematch of last year’s Conference USA championship. In that game, East Carolina picked off quarterback David Johnson five times on the way to its first C-USA title. East Carolina’s defense is back, but its offense hasn’t done enough to stay on the field and give the defense a breather. That’s going to be important as Tulsa’s going to be playing with urgency as it’s still two wins away from bowl eligibility.