SEC powers face tough rise to top

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:01 AM ET

The Big Ten isn't looking so big these days. Neither is the Big 12 -- mighty Texas excepted, of course.

Looking for college football's No. 1 conference?

Cast your eyes toward the Southeastern Conference, one more time.

Check out the top of the Associated Press poll, and the SEC sits front-row centre. Four of the nation's top seven teams -- LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia -- reside in the powerhouse grouping where football passion perhaps runs deepest of all.

The down side: They'll all play each other somewhere along the line, making it tough for one of this crew to make its way into the BCS national championship game.

The place, it says here, that Auburn deserved to be in 2004 after its spectacular 13-0 run through this ultimate minefield. But that's a story for another day.

Can anyone match the Tigers' feat this year? Tennessee might have a shot, if the experienced Vols survive a two-game gauntlet run to Florida and LSU. But the Gators and Bayou Bengals could use a win over the Vols as a springboard to their own run to the Rose Bowl.

While the SEC's dominance looks rather obvious right now, don't discount the upstart Atlantic Coast Conference. Upstart, we should add, only in the sense that the ACC has historically been best known for its prowess on the basketball court.

Not anymore. Not when you add football powers such as Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech into the mix, along with a rising Boston College program.

Seeing is believing: The ACC has seven schools in the AP top 25 this week. And two of the best matchups on Saturday.

It's a league that surely bears watching in the weeks ahead.

On with this week's picks:

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 5 Tennessee (+6) at No. 6 Florida (Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS) -- Vols' national title hopes hinge, as always, on this game. And don't forget LSU's on deck. While Tennessee is still sorting out its QB situation -- Rick Clausen will start this week -- the Gators' Chris Leak is thriving in Urban Meyer's spread offence. Vols have won in last two visits to Swamp, but this time the Gators turn in a tight one. Pick: TENNESSEE.

NEXT BEST THINGS

No. 8 Florida State (-1) at No. 17 Boston College (Saturday, 7:45 p.m., Rogers NCAA) -- Some way for the Eagles to make their ACC debut, eh? Seminoles' speed on defence figures to provide major test. But BC might be one of nation's most underrated squads, and can make a huge statement here. Winner has a leg up on spot in first ACC championship game. Pick: BOSTON COLLEGE.

No. 13 Miami (Fla.) (-7) at No. 20 Clemson (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.) -- Hurricanes' first-ever visit to Death Valley, and it's a critical one. Hard to imagine Miami starting 0-2, but Tigers and QB Charlie Whitehurst have led a charmed existence in 2-0 start. Expect another nail biter here, with the 'Canes' defence pulling it out. Pick: CLEMSON.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 23 Fresno State (+21/2) at Oregon (Saturday, 7 p.m., TBS) -- Autzen Stadium is a zoo, but Pat Hill's Bulldogs have made a habit of knocking off the big boys in their backyard. Ducks must be wary of looking ahead to USC next week. The two QBs, Fresno's Paul Pinegar and Oregon's Kellen Clemens, should light it up. Pick: FRESNO STATE.

BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK

Ohio (+34) at No. 4 Virginia Tech -- Yeah, I know. The Bobcats upset Pittsburgh last week. But the Hokies' swift defence, which limited Duke to 35 yards of total offence, is a whole 'nother story. QB Marcus Vick will shine in his home debut in Blacksburg. Pick: VIRGINIA TECH.

QUICK PICKS

(Straight-up selections in bold)

Saturday

No. 1 USC over (-31) over Arkansas

No. 2 Texas (-41) over Rice

No. 7 Georgia (-381/2) over Louisiana-Monroe

No. 9 Ohio State (-271/2) over San Diego State

No. 10 Notre Dame (-6 1/2) over Michigan State

Oregon State (+131/2) over No. 11 Louisville

No. 12 Purdue (-71/2) over Arizona

No. 14 Michigan (NL) over Eastern Michigan

No. 15 California (+211/2) over Illinois

No. 16 Georgia Tech (-15) over Connecticut

No. 21 Oklahoma (+61/2) over UCLA

Northwestern (+151/2) over No. 18 Arizona State

No. 19 Texas Tech (NL) over Sam Houston State

No. 22 Iowa (NL) over Northern Iowa

Syracuse (+8) over No. 25 Virginia

Last week -- 12-5 straight up; 9-8 ATS.

Season record -- 25-11 straight up; 19-16-1 ATS.

Best bet -- Notre Dame (1-1).

Upset special -- Fresno State (0-2).


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