Climb to title game less steep for Mountaineers

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Over to you, West Virginia.

Or Louisville. Or maybe Florida or Auburn.

Suddenly, in the wake of USC's shocking loss at Oregon State last Saturday, the race for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game is a wide-open affair.

Well, for one of those coveted positions, that is. The other is reserved for No. 1 Ohio State or No. 2 Michigan, now just two weeks away from their collision of unbeatens in Columbus.

But with USC having relinquished its grip on the other half of the Jan. 8 big game in Glendale, Ariz., the hot debate has begun over who'll supply the opposition for a Big 10 juggernaut.

Mainly, it comes down to this: Does an unbeaten West Virginia or Louisville trump a one-loss team from the mighty Southeastern Conference? It's a power-packed league in which LSU, one of the country's most talented aggregations, already has two losses and hasn't yet played Tennessee or Arkansas.

The black mark against No. 3 West Virginia and No. 5 Louisville is best summed up in one word: Schedule. The Mountaineers have yet to beat -- or even face -- anyone of consequence. And the Cardinals' best win, over fading Miami, has lost a lot of its lustre.

November will go a long way toward boosting the campaigns of both Big East squads. For starters, they meet tonight at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium -- the first meeting between two unbeatens after Nov. 1 since 1998. If Louisville wins, a perfect Rutgers squad awaits next week. If both West Virginia and Rutgers knock off the Cards, they could both arrive in Morgantown unbeaten on Dec. 2.

One final number: The combined record of West Virginia's final five opponents is 31-9. Run the table, and the Mountaineers' sickly computer ranking will surely rise. And, it says here, they can safely book a date in the desert come January.

The picks for Week 10 (odds supplied by Sportsbook.com):

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 3 West Virginia (+1) at No. 5 Louisville (Tonight, 7:30 p.m, Rogers NCAA) -- It took three overtimes before the Mountaineers prevailed 46-44 a year ago in Morgantown, thanks to Steve Slaton's six TDs. Expect the defences to flex a little more muscle this time. While the Cardinals are tough stuff on home turf, there's a sneaking suspicion that Slaton, QB Pat White and Co. will use the big stage to start showing the country just how good they really are. PICK: WEST VIRGINIA.

NEXT BEST THINGS

No. 13 LSU (-3) at No. 8 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS) -- Tigers have lost 10 of last 14 in Knoxville and are 0-2 in the road in the SEC this season (the losses at Florida and Auburn). It's up to QB JaMarcus Russell to show he can get it done in a big game against resurgent Volunteers, who know how to finish and have owned the fourth quarter all year. PICK: TENNESSEE.

No. 18 Oklahoma (-3) at No. 21 Texas A&M (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC regional) -- Kyle Field hasn't exactly been pleasant for the Sooners in recent years. And this is an Aggie team on a serious rebound, though its biggest tests are yet to come. But Oklahoma's defence has turned it up several notches the last few weeks, and RB Allen Patrick is showing there's life after Adrian Peterson. PICK: OKLAHOMA.

No. 16 Boston College (-4) at No. 22 Wake Forest (Saturday, 7 p.m., Rogers NCAA) -- Hands up, anyone who ever pictured this being a key game in deciding the ACC title. But the winner here gets a leg up on top spot in the Atlantic Division. Last three meetings have been decided by a total of 12 points. Eagles by a field goal. PICK: WAKE FOREST.

QUICK PICKS

(STRAIGHT-UP SELECTIONS IN BOLD)

SATURDAY

No. 1 Ohio State (+27) over Illinois

Ball State (+331/2) over No. 2 Michigan

No. 4 Texas (-17) over Oklahoma State

No. 6 Auburn (-31) over Arkansas State

Vanderbilt (+17) over No. 7 Florida

No. 9 USC (-281/2) over Stanford

No. 10 California (-17) over UCLA

No. 11 Notre Dame

(-271/2) over North Carolina

South Carolina (+2) over No. 12 Arkansas

Penn State (+7) over No. 17 Wisconsin

Maryland (+16) over No. 19 Clemson

North Carolina State (+6) over No. 20 Georgia Tech

No. 23 Virginia Tech (-21/2) over Miami (Fla.)

No. 24 Oregon (-131/2) over Washington

No. 25 Washington State (-16) over Arizona

(Note: No. 14 Boise State played Fresno State last night)

Last week -- 16-3 straight up; 9-9 ATS.

Season record -- 159-22 straight up; 88-82-3 ATS.

Best bet -- W. Virginia (6-3).


Videos

Photos