- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

West Virginia is ready to start a new era, with what is primed to be a classic Big 12 scoring spree, and Urban Meyer will coach a Big Ten game for Ohio State for the first time.

Florida State, meanwhile, is on letdown alert.

The ninth-ranked Mountaineers host one of the two games this weekend matching ranked teams. No. 25 Baylor comes to Morgantown, W.Va., for West Virginia’s first Big 12 game.

The Mountaineers fled the Big East last year, paying the conference $20 million for an early release so they could play in the Big 12 this year.

The timing was excellent because West Virginia (3-0) brings a team capable of contending for a Big 12 title into its new neighborhood. Heisman Trophy contender Geno Smith is piling up huge passing stats (1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns) and leading an offense that is averaging 47 points _ or four less points than what Baylor (3-0) is averaging.

Nick Florence has proved to be a more-than-capable replacement for Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. He has passed for 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The other ranked matchup is unlikely to be as much fun.

No. 14 Ohio State visits No. 20 Michigan State as the Big Ten begins conference play after a rather uninspiring four weeks of nonconference games.

Meyer’s first Buckeyes team is saddled with NCAA sanctions, so it can’t go to a bowl game or play for the Big Ten championship. But Ohio State could still end up being the best team in the conference.

“I think by the end of the year this might be a hell of a football team,” Meyer said. “I mean, it might be sooner than that.”

To be that, Ohio State needs to work on its defense. The Buckeyes are last in the conference, allowing 395 yards per game. Ohio State features two of the best defensive linemen in the country in Johnathan Hankins and John Simon. Tying up blockers isn’t the problem. Wrapping up ball carriers has been.

That could be an issue when facing Le’Veon Bell, the Spartans’ 245-pound tailback who is third in the nation in rushing at 152 yards per game.

Michigan State can win the Big 12 title, but will need to fix an offense that has struggled to find a complement for Bell in the passing game.

All of the top six teams in the nation are big favorites this week, but it might be worth keeping an eye on No. 4 Florida State. The Seminoles are on the road for the first time this season, facing South Florida in a nonconference game.

Coming off last week’s 49-37 victory against Clemson, Florida State has to avoid a letdown against a Bulls team that has talent but is hard to figure. USF lost at Ball State last week. One thing is for sure, the Bulls can make their season by beating Florida State.

The picks:

THURSDAY

No. 8 Stanford (minus 6 1/2) at Washington

Stanford has won last two meetings by combined 86 points. … STANFORD 35-24.

SATURDAY

Mississippi (plus 31) at No. 1 Alabama

Rebels are 1-24 in Tuscaloosa. … ALABAMA 48-14.

No. 2 Oregon (minus 28 1/2) vs. Washington State at Seattle

Losing to Colorado is no way to prepare for Ducks. … OREGON 42-21.

Towson (no line) at No. 3 LSU

Towson’s mascot also is the Tigers. That is only thing these two have in common. … LSU 60-7.

No. 4 Florida State (minus 17) at South Florida

Bulls won 17-7 in Tallahassee in 2009. … FLORIDA STATE 28-13.

Tennessee (plus 13 1/2) at No. 5 Georgia

If Vols can protect Tyler Bray from Jarvis Jones, they have a shot. … GEORGIA 35-24.

No. 6 South Carolina (minus 20 1/2) at Kentucky

Wildcats QB Max Smith (shoulder) expected to play. … SOUTH CAROLINA 38-14.

No. 25 Baylor (plus 13 1/2) at No. 9 West Virginia

Prediction: Fun. … WEST VIRGINIA 48-38.

No. 12 Texas (minus 2) at Oklahoma State

Cowboys have won two straight in series, but only 4 of 26 overall. … TEXAS 31-21.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 14 Ohio State (plus 3) at No. 20 Michigan State

Spartans last beat Buckeyes two straight in 1998-99. … OHIO STATE 24-21.

BEST BET

No. 15 TCU (minus 16) at SMU

Mustangs upset Horned Frogs last season. … TCU 45-14.

No. 17 Clemson (minus 9 1/2) at Boston College

Tigers can’t afford another ACC loss. … CLEMSON 34-24.

No. 18 Oregon State (plus 3) at Arizona

Beavers going for two in a row on road. … OREGON STATE 28-27.

No. 19 Louisville (minus 10) at Southern Miss

Winless Golden Eagles off to worst start since losing first nine in 1976. … LOUISVILLE 37-28.

Wisconsin (plus 12 1/2) at No. 22 Nebraska

Badgers welcomed Huskers to Big Ten last season with a loss. … NEBRASKA 28-21.

No. 24 Boise State (plus 26) at New Mexico

Lobos already matched win total of last two seasons combined. … BOISE STATE 28-13.

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Last week’s record: 16-3 (straight); 8-10 (vs. points)

Season record: 72-14 (straight); 35-36 (vs. points)

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap