Toughest yet to come for West Virginia

Play Q & A with handicapper Kelly Stewart, who will answer selected questions from Las Vegas Review-Journal readers. This week, email questions to Review-Journal betting columnist Matt Youmans at, and he'll pass them along. (For her debut column, Stewart answered questions from the R-J sports staff.)

Q: Do you see West Virginia as a legitimate national championship contender?

A: Before the season, I thought the Mountaineers had a good chance of playing for it all, mostly due to senior quarterback Geno Smith and one of the most explosive offenses in college football.

Smith looks like a Heisman winner after four weeks. He completed 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-63 victory over Baylor last week, and he goes into Saturday's game at Texas ranked first in the nation in passing efficiency, total offense and touchdown passes (20). He has connected on 83.4 percent of his passes with no interceptions. All of that is beyond impressive.

But who has West Virginia played? Maryland, which ranks eighth nationally in total defense, held the Mountaineers to 31 points. Marshall and Baylor rank 115th and 120th in total defense, respectively. James Madison is a throwaway Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

After watching the Mountaineers the past few weeks, I can't see a team that ranks 106th in total defense winning the Bowl Championship Series title. Alabama or another high-powered offense would run all over them. We'll see how they fare against the Longhorns, who have a mediocre defense, and find out a lot more.

West Virginia's debut season in the Big 12 Conference is about to get tough. The Mountaineers' next six opponents - Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Texas Christian, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma - probably form too tall a mountain to climb.

Q: Kansas State beat Kansas by scores of 59-21 and 59-7 the past two years. The Wildcats are 24-point favorites Saturday. Will you lay the points and expect another blowout?

A: At the risk of sounding biased as a Kansas State graduate, yes. Twenty-four points should be a first-half line. Wildcats coach Bill Snyder always is accused of being conservative, but he won't hold back in this rivalry game. Kansas coach Charlie Weis was quoted as saying, "I'd rather lose by 100 points while you're trying to win rather than just sit on it and try to keep it close." Kansas State wins by 42.

Q: What is your top college upset pick this week?

A: Florida as a 2½-point home underdog. Louisiana State struggled in the first half against Towson, an FCS team, and went into halftime leading only 17-9. The Tigers also barely escaped with a 12-10 victory at Auburn. The Gators, who are 3-1 against the spread, played great in victories at Texas A&M and Tennessee.

Q: Will the New Orleans Saints, who are 3½-point home favorites over the Chargers, get their first win of the season on Sunday?

A: Yes, I think the Saints break through after losing their first four games by a total of 20 points. New Orleans showed signs of life in a 28-27 loss at Green Bay last week. Even though the Saints defense is ranked last in the NFL, Drew Brees leads the league in passing yards and will find a way to win at home against his former team. San Diego's wins have come against less-than-stellar teams - Oakland, Tennessee and Kansas City - with a combined 3-9 record.

Follow Kelly Stewart of on Twitter: @kellyinvegas.