Charles, Texas regain footing

Before the season, Texas was considered a national championship contender and ranked No. 4 in the preseason Associated Press poll.

While the season's first 10 weekends have exposed the Longhorns as pretenders in the national title chase, I like Texas as a 6-point favorite over Texas Tech in a Big 12 Conference showdown today in Austin.

First and foremost, Longhorns junior tailback Jamaal Charles, one of college football's fastest players, has regained his health and gained 470 yards on 49 carries in the past two games -- come-from-behind victories over Nebraska and Oklahoma State.

Texas Tech's schedule has not included many outstanding rushing teams, but Oklahoma State diced the Red Raiders for 366 yards on the ground and had three 100-yard rushers.

So Charles figures to have a big day against the Red Raiders.

Texas has defended the Red Raiders' "basketball on grass" offense capably in recent years, giving up an average of 23 points over the past three games.

The Longhorns' defense is not up to the standard of those editions, but the development of sophomore cornerback Deon Beasley should help against quarterback Graham Harrell and his talented receivers.

Texas Tech has covered only one of its past five Big 12 games as an away underdog, plus the Red Raiders have gone 10-19 against the spread in their past 29 games on grass.

Other selections for today (home team in CAPS):

NORTHWESTERN (+21/2) over Indiana -- The Hoosiers became bowl eligible last week with an 18-point home victory over Ball State. It is Northwestern's turn this week to possibly gain an invitation to the postseason party.

The Wildcats played well in the first half of games against Michigan, Purdue and Iowa, leading at halftime in two of those games and tied in the third. Northwestern figures to finish the job against an Indiana team that is a Big Ten road favorite for the first time since 2002. In that game, Indiana was favored by 21/2 points over Northwestern and lost outright 41-37.

Rice (+61/2) over SOUTHERN METHODIST -- Injuries have ravaged the Mustangs, who are playing out the schedule under lame-duck coach Phil Bennett.

On the other sideline, Rice has struggled under first-year coach David Bailiff but has displayed improvement over its past five games, defeating Southern Mississippi and Texas-El Paso. SMU is 0-3 against the spread this season as a home favorite.

East Carolina (-7) over MARSHALL -- These are two Conference USA teams headed in opposite directions. While East Carolina controls its destiny and should qualify for the conference championship game, Marshall has posted a 1-8 record and is headed nowhere fast.

The Pirates are a solid running team with tailback Chris Johnson, while the early defection of 1,500-yard rusher Ahmad Bradshaw hurt the Thundering Herd's ground attack.

East Carolina is 19-7 against the spread in its past 26 league games and 10-1 against the number in its past 11 versus teams with a losing record.

Arizona State-UCLA (Under 52) -- A few weeks ago, sophomore Oscar Rasshan was a backup wide receiver for UCLA. Now, he will be the Bruins' starting quarterback. Rasshan's conversion pretty well tells the tale of the Bruins' injury woes.

During its past five Pac-10 games, Arizona State has allowed only one opponent (high-flying Oregon) to score more than 20 points. The Bruins do not appear capable of scoring that many in the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter has been sacked 39 times this season, and UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis ranks among the nation's top sack artists.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 21-31-2

Texas-based handicapper Paul Stone of Vegas Sports Authority ( is providing weekly college football analysis for the Review-Journal this season.