Longhorns should score plenty, cover

It seems to be a trendy pick in many circles to take Nebraska as a 14-point underdog in today’s Big 12 championship tilt against third-ranked Texas.

The Cornhuskers and Ndamukong Suh, arguably the nation’s top defensive player, boast an unforgiving stop unit ranked high in all the key statistical categories.

Nebraska has held 11 of its 12 opponents to 20 points or fewer this season and ranks in the top 11 nationally in both total defense (291.4 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.1 points per game).

A closer look, however, reveals the Cornhuskers’ slate of opponents has an average ranking of No. 56 in total offense. Their schedule included three teams from the Sun Belt Conference, five other teams from the mediocre Big 12 North and an Oklahoma team that averaged just 16.8 points away from home.

Texas, on the verge of playing for the BCS national championship for the second time in five seasons for coach Mack Brown, will present the Huskers’ defense with its toughest test of the season.

The Longhorns do not have a top-flight running game, but Heisman Trophy candidate Colt McCoy can spread the ball around to a seemingly endless roll call of talented receivers led by All-America candidate Jordan Shipley, a sixth-year senior.

During its five-game winning streak, Nebraska has surpassed 300 yards total offense just once. Last week, the Cornhuskers were outgained by Colorado by almost 200 yards and had just eight first downs and 129 total yards through three quarters.

Simply put, Nebraska is not revved up enough offensively to keep up with the Longhorns, who will get their points. Lay the two touchdowns with Texas.

Six more plays for today (home team in CAPS):

• CONNECTICUT (-71/2) over South Florida — One could reasonably surmise that Connecticut might be out of juice after a trying season marked by the death of cornerback Jasper Howard and a host of narrow losses. However, the Huskies will have the emotional and climate edges in their corner against the Bulls, who are coming off a disappointing home loss to Miami.

• LOUISIANA TECH (-231/2) over San Jose State — Daniel Porter and the Bulldogs can run the ball, while San Jose State ranks 119th out of 120 teams in rush defense, allowing a whopping 260.9 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry. Louisiana Tech, off a bye, is desperate for a victory after losing five consecutive games by a total of just 23 points.

• PITTSBURGH (+2) over Cincinnati — The Bearcats’ defense is starting to show some cracks. Cincinnati’s last three opponents averaged 34 points and 443 yards per game. Look for Panthers freshman tailback Dion Lewis to run effectively. Also, Pitt leads the nation in sacks (3.9 per game) and should force Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike into some quick throws.

• EAST CAROLINA (+21/2) over Houston — The Cougars, fresh off an eye-popping 73-point performance against Rice, are not the same team outside their city limits. Houston is 2-8 against the spread in its past 10 as an away favorite, losing six of those games straight up. Also, there is a 90 percent chance of rain in Greenville, S.C., and that could hurt the Cougars’ passing game.

• Alabama-Florida (Under 411/2) — Florida’s offense is not nearly as explosive as it was last year, with Percy Harvin now doing his thing in a big way with the Minnesota Vikings.

Look for Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to lean heavily on his stellar defense to get the win, while keeping sometimes shaky quarterback Greg McElroy out of potentially negative situations.

• Georgia Tech (+1) over Clemson — These Atlantic Coast Conference foes are coming off nonconference losses to their in-state rivals and appear to be evenly matched on paper. The coaching and quarterback edges, however, go to Georgia Tech with Paul Johnson and junior QB Josh Nesbitt.

Last week: 4-3 against the spread

Season: 38-38-1

Texas-based handicapper Paul Stone of Vegassportsauthority.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal this season.

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