- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some victories can be a sign that a program that has hit hard times could be heading for better days.

Florida and West Virginia are coming off those types of wins.

Then there are victories that have the potential to change a season, accelerate the rebuilding process and alleviate the pressure on a coach who has been facing heavy scrutiny.

The Gators and Mountaineers have a chance for that kind of breakthrough Saturday. Florida is at No. 3 Alabama. West Virginia hosts No. 4 Oklahoma.

The Gators are coming off a 37-30 overtime win against Kentucky. Beating the Wildcats won’t stamp Florida as a Southeastern Conference contender, but the Gators’ new spread offense was potent. Just the cure coach Will Muschamp was hoping for after a 4-8 season.

“They’re all statement games,” Muschamp said this week. “They’re all important. They all count for one, so we understand the importance of the game. “

West Virginia’s spread gave Alabama trouble in the opener, and the Mountaineers have followed up that encouraging performance with two straight victories, including last week’s 40-37, last-second win at Maryland.

Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen entered this season looking to reverse a trend of dwindling wins in Morgantown. Upsetting the Sooners might qualify as the biggest victory of his four-year tenure.

The picks:


No. 5 Auburn (minus 9) at No. 20 Kansas State, Thursday

Tigers have rushed for at least 200 yards in each of last 13 games, longest active streak in FBS. Even more impressive, Auburn has rushed for 300 in eight of the last 11. The magic number for the Wildcats to pull the upset is probably around 250 … AUBURN 35-24.

No. 22 Clemson (plus 16) at No. 1 Florida State

Introducing Sean Maguire, the Seminoles’ backup quarterback who will try to keep FSU moving while Jameis Winston serves first-half suspension … FLORIDA STATE 34-17.


Florida (plus 14 1/2) at No. 3 Alabama

Teams haven’t played since 2011. Tide won last three meetings by average score of 34-10 … ALABAMA 34-10.

No. 4 Oklahoma (minus 7 1/2) at West Virginia

Sooners have won both meetings since Mountaineers joined Big 12 - by a combined 10 points … OKLAHOMA 38-28

No. 2 Oregon (minus 23 1/2) at Washington State

The phrase Upset Alert has never been more loosely applied. Ducks have won seven straight against Cougars, scoring at least 43 points in each game … OREGON 48-24.


Mississippi State (plus 10) at No. 8 LSU

Tigers have won 14 straight against Bulldogs. So Mississippi State is due, right? … MISSISSIPPI STATE 24-23.


Virginia (plus 14) at No. 21 BYU

Long way to go, but the mere thought of how an unbeaten BYU will be treated by playoff selection committee makes for interesting speculation … BYU 27-17.

Miami (plus 7 1/2) at No. 24 Nebraska

Hurricanes vs. Cornhuskers used to mean a national championship was on the line. The difference between ranked and unranked … NEBRASKA 28-20.


Indiana (plus 13 1/2) at No. 18 Missouri

Yet another chance for the Big Ten to get a little credibility back, though this could be a tall order … MISSOURI 42-21.


No. 14 South Carolina (minus 21 1/2) at Vanderbilt

Gamecocks finally get a breather after tough opening three games … SOUTH CAROLINA 33-10.


Iowa (plus 6 1/2) at Pittsburgh

Panthers going for first 4-0 start since 2000 … IOWA 21-20.

North Carolina (plus 2) at East Carolina

Pirates try to make it two straight against the ACC. With a victory, could be honorary members of Coastal Division … NORTH CAROLINA 42-39.

Utah (plus 5) at Michigan

Wolverines can’t afford any missteps at home considering their struggles away from the Big House (7-12 under coach Brady Hoke) … MICHIGAN 28-21.

Northern Illinois (plus 14) at Arkansas

Huskies might be able to test Razorbacks’ defense, but Arkansas’ powerful running game is too much to withstand … ARKANSAS 35-17.


No. 6 Texas A&M; (minus 33) at SMU

Mustangs’ first game since coach June Jones stepped down … TEXAS A&M; 54-14.

Eastern Michigan (plus 45 1/2) at No. 11 Michigan State

Don’t hurt ‘em Sparty … MICHIGAN STATE 43-0.

Troy (plus 39 1/2) at No. 13 Georgia

Todd Gurley gets two or three touchdowns and the fourth quarter off - at least … GEORGIA 48-7

Bowling Green (plus 26 1/2) at No. 19 Wisconsin

Falcons lost to Western Kentucky, then beat Indiana … WISCONSIN 42-17.


Last week: Last week: Record straight: 16-4; vs. points 11-8-1.

Season: Record straight: 44-13; vs. points 24-33-1.

Best bet: 1-2.

Upset special: 1-2.


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

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