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College football: Christmas comes early

Now that Halloween has come and gone, it’s time to turn the holiday thoughts toward Thanksgiving and Christmas. For me, Christmas is coming a lot closer to Halloween than usual.

This weekend has been circled on my college football calendar since fall practices started. At first, it was a pair of marquee games that caught my attention: LSU-Alabama and Oregon-USC. But Saturday’s slate has become a lot more interesting than just those two meetings between four powerhouse programs.

In addition to the fight for dominance in the SEC and Pac-12, a few other matchups have become must-see TV this weekend:

• Kansas State has made itself extremely relevant in the BCS title picture, and must weather the storm against yet another high-octane offense in Oklahoma State.

• Notre Dame looks to avoid tripping up against Pitt, which has been inconsistent this year, but has also pulled off a couple of eye-opening upsets.

• A week after dispatching Michigan, Nebraska looks to all but wrap up the Big Ten Legends title against an up-and-down Michigan State team.

• Clemson hits the road to take on one of this season’s surprise teams in Duke, with the Blue Devils looking to regain their footing after two losses in three games following an unexpected 5-1 start.

• Oregon State, in the running with Duke for upstart of the year, looks to get back on track in the Pac-12 race and bounce back from its first loss of the season, when it hosts stumbling Arizona State.

This weekend can go one of two ways, generally speaking. It will either solidify the BCS picture with wins by Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame, or it will throw everything into utter chaos if LSU, Pitt, Oklahoma State and USC can knock off the four unbeatens at the top of the BCS standings.

I know a lot of people, in their blanket condemnation of the BCS system as a whole, would gleefully wring their hands, should the chaos option kick in. But don’t hold your breath. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

With Notre Dame and Kansas State playing at home, they have a pretty good chance to hold serve. Oregon and Alabama have to hit the road to play their rivals, but I believe both are flat-out the better teams this year. LSU may have the best chance at an upset, having won better than 70 percent of its night games at Death Valley since the early 1960s, but the Tigers’ offense has been anemic at best this season and doesn’t look like it will be any match for Alabama’s stingy, aggressive defense.

No matter how it plays out, there is one thing I can guarantee: I’ll be filling up the TiVo and enjoying several of the best games of the year throughout the weekend, eyes glued to the TV and butt firmly planted in my recliner.

No. 12 Oklahoma at Iowa State

When: 11 a.m. Saturday Where: Jack Trice Stadium

TV: ABC Line: Oklahoma by 12

What’s up: The Sooners are hungry for a win after a tough loss to Notre Dame last week. The Cyclones are the kings of Big 12 upsets the past few seasons, but are in the midst of a QB controversy.

My pick: Oklahoma 38-13

TCU at No. 21 West Virginia

When: 2 p.m. Saturday Where: Milan Puskar Stadium

TV: Fox Line: West Virginia by 6½

What’s up: The Horned Frogs’ defense has been pretty good against the run. What relevance that has against the pass-happy Mountaineers, I don’t know. West Virginia is looking to get the season – and QB Geno Smith’s Heisman Trophy campaign – back on track.

My pick: West Virginia 42-38

No 20 Nebraska at Michigan State

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday Where: Spartan Stadium

TV: ABC Line: Nebraska by 1½

What’s up: A win by the Cornhuskers would all but assure their spot in the Big 10 title game, as they beat Michigan last week. The Spartans are still clinging to their hopes of getting back to Indy.

My pick: Nebraska 24-14

No. 4 Oregon at No. 17 USC

When: 6 p.m. Saturday Where: L.A. Memorial Coliseum

TV: Fox Line: Oregon by 8½

What’s up: This one’s been talked about in Pac-12 country all year, though it’s lost its luster a bit with the Trojans’ pair of losses. Last week’s upset by Arizona might have been because USC was looking ahead to the Ducks, and for good reason: Oregon’s high-octane, up-tempo offense can cause nightmares for opposing defenses.

My pick: Oregon 52-41

No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU

When: 7 p.m. Saturday Where: Tiger Stadium

TV: CBS Line: Alabama by 9

What’s up: The Crimson Tide look better than they did last year in the BCS title game, and the Tigers look to be about the same. It is a night game in Death Valley, in which LSU has historically had plenty of success, but Alabama has too many horses for the Bayou Bengals to keep up with.

My pick: Alabama 24-10

No. 24 Oklahoma St. at No. 2 Kansas St.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday Where: Snyder Family Stadium

TV: ABC Line: Kansas State by 9

What’s up: The Wildcats have had their fill of air-it-out offenses lately, and get another test against the quick-working Cowboys. But the best defense might be a strong offense, which K-State has proven the past few weeks it has in spades behind QB Collin Klein, the current Heisman Trophy front runner.

My pick: Kansas State 37-21

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