10/07/2005 12:00AM

NCAA Analysis


I usually don't try to pick the highest profile college games each Saturday as those lines tend to be pretty sharp, but this week I find myself on three of the most widely televised marquee matchups. Here's hoping these picks are sharper.

Oklahoma (+14) vs. Texas (at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas)

If this were merely a case of analyzing the talent of these two teams and how they have performed this season, no one in his right mind would think of taking Oklahoma. Texas has dominated most of its games so far this year in going 4-0 and has been widely lauded as getting over the "big-game jinx" by beating Ohio St. in Columbus. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is 2-2, looking terrible in losses to TCU and UCLA and barely getting by Tulsa to drop out of the rankings for the first time since 1999. Now, everyone can tell that Texas is clearly the superior team, but the fact is that all that has been factored into the line. Last week, the Sooners served noticed that they shouldn't be buried yet with a 43-21 blowout of a decent Kansas St. team. Sure, stud running back Adrian Peterson might not be able to play with an ankle injury, but his backup, Kejuan Jones, is certainly capable; he scored two touchdowns last week and had the only TD in last year's win over Texas. On the other side of the ball, Texas quarterback Vince Young has been outstanding and is in the midst of the Heisman Trophy race, but I have to think Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (whom I give a huge edge over Texas coach Mack Brown) will have a defensive game plan tailored to making Young beat his team through the air. For all his athletic skill, Young has five interceptions to go with seven touchdown passes, so like most run-first, pass-second QB's, he can be forced into poor decisions. Besides, this is still the Red River Shootout and it has been the annual big game that the Longhorns have blown the last five years, three of which when they were favored. This remains the obstacle they must hurdle, and I think the Sooners can make them stumble. Two touchdowns is too high a spread to pass up.

PLAY: Oklahoma for 1 unit.

Georgia at Tennessee (-3)

Tennessee came into the season with high expectations, some people saying the Volunteers had as much talent as USC. The Vols stumbled out of the gate with a non-covering win against Alabama-Birmingham and a loss to Florida, but now this team is greatly improved since quarterback Rick Clausen came off the bench when the team was trailing 24-0 two weeks ago at LSU. He rallied the Volunteers to a 30-27 victory. They then coasted in their win last week against Mississippi in a game that could be viewed as a prep race for this stakes matchup. Georgia is undefeated after defeating Mississippi St. last week, but the truth is that the Bulldogs haven't been tested yet this year, and this is a step up in class. While Tennessee was playing LSU, Georgia was playing Louisiana-Monroe. I'll take the more talented and battle-tested team.

PLAY: Tennessee for 1 unit.

Ohio St. at Penn St. (+3 1/2)

Ohio St. has certainly been tested, with the aforementioned loss to Texas, a game the Buckeyes very well could have won. But they haven't had to go on the road, where they have had trouble in recent years, going 3-7 against the spread over the past three seasons. Ohio St. again relies on the run, but Penn St. showed last week that it can hold the line, allowing a potent Minnesota running game only 113 yards. The Nittany Lions are playing inspired football for coach Joe Paterno, and the home field is certainly a factor. This should be a low-scoring, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust type of Big 10 battle, so getting a field goal head start is huge.

PLAY: Penn St. for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-4 for a net loss of 4.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 8-8 for a net loss of 0.8 units.