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Big weekend for Big Red: Nebraska's chance to rise
By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer

In the most interesting and important Saturday of the college football season so far, no team faces a more crucial test than Nebraska.

The 19th-ranked Cornhuskers visit No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday with a chance to leap into national title contention. It's one of six games involving 12 ranked teams that will help sort out the playoff race.

There was a time that national title contention was a given for Nebraska. It's been a while.

The Cornhuskers (5-0) haven't started 6-0 since 2001, which was also the last time Nebraska played for the national championship. Since then the Huskers have rarely been in the top 10 once fall rolls around.

The last time Nebraska was 5-0 was 2010. Those Huskers were ranked fifth heading into a game at home against Texas. The Longhorns won 20-13. Nebraska hasn't been ranked better than eighth since then, and no better than ninth after September. The Huskers haven't won a conference title since 1999 in the Big 12.

All that at least partially explains the skepticism about these Huskers. That and a way-too-close-for-comfort victory at home against McNeese State in September.

A victory against Michigan State would go a long way toward changing the perception of Nebraska as a program stuck in a rut - better than most but no longer capable of being elite. It also sets up the Huskers for a strong run into November. Nebraska's next three games: at Northwestern, Rutgers and Purdue.

And a big day by Huskers star Ameer Abdullah against the Spartans' usually stingy defense would give the running back's Heisman Trophy chances boost.

If Nebraska losses to Michigan State? Sure, the Huskers could bounce back and still win the Big Ten, maybe even make the college football playoff if everything lined up perfectly. Realistically, though, this is Nebraska's chance to get back on the big stage. A chance for Nebraska to look like Nebraska again.

The picks:

MARQUEE MATCHUPS

No. 3 Alabama (minus 6) at No. 11 Mississippi

Rebels fans hoping ESPN's "College GameDay" in the Grove isn't the highlight of the day in Oxford. Tide has won 10 straight in series ... ALABAMA 31-21.

No. 15 LSU (plus 8) at No. 5 Auburn

Tigers to start freshman QB Brandon Harris, who directed seven touchdown drives last week in relief of Anthony Jennings. Of course, that was against New Mexico State ... AUBURN 35-24.

No. 6 Texas A&M (plus 1 1/2) at No. 12 Mississippi State

SEC rules prohibit Bulldogs fans from clanging their beloved cowbells in Davis Wade Stadium for conference games. Safe bet there will be a few rule-breakers Saturday ... MISSISSIPPI STATE 38-31.

No. 14 Stanford (minus 2) at No. 9 Notre Dame

The red zone has been a dead zone for Cardinal ... NOTRE DAME 21-17.

No. 4 Oklahoma (minus 5) at No. 25 TCU

Horned Frogs' big chance: Sooners this week; Baylor next ... OKLAHOMA 28-20.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 19 Nebraska (plus 7 1/2) at No. 10 Michigan State

(hash)FearAmeer: Abdullah ran for 123 yards and 5.6 per carry in last season's 41-28 loss to Spartans ... NEBRASKA 28-24.

THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Arizona (plus 23) at No. 2 Oregon

Wildcats upset Ducks in Tucson last year, a startling 42-16 beat down. Payback time for Ducks ... OREGON 42-16.

BEEHIVE STATE

Utah State (plus 21) at No. 18 BYU

Aggies QB Chuckie Keeton's status is uncertain with knee injury, though a Cougars player told reporters he heard the Utah State star is planning to redshirt. That's weird ... BYU 38-14.

CONFERENCE CALLS

Wake Forest (plus 39) at No. 1 Florida State

After two straight comeback victories, Seminoles should be able to rest some starters in the fourth quarter ... FLORIDA STATE 56-10.

Vanderbilt (plus 33 1/2) at No. 13 Georgia

RB Todd Gurley giving Bulldogs fans Herschel Walker flashbacks and opponents headaches ... GEORGIA 45-10.

Arizona State (plus 11 1/2) at No. 16 Southern California

Likely another game without QB Taylor Kelly for Sun Devils ... USC 31-21.

No. 17 Wisconsin (minus 8) at Northwestern

Badgers have won last two meetings, 109-29, but Wildcats' run defense has been feisty (16th in nation in yards per carry allowed at 2.9) ... WISCONSIN 28-21.

No. 20 Ohio State (minus 7 1/2) at Maryland

First Big Ten home game for Terps, who can challenge the Buckeyes' shaky pass defense. Maryland coach Randy Edsall says QB C.J. Brown (left wrist) will be a game-time decision ... With Brown, MARYLAND 35-31; without Brown, OHIO STATE 35-21.

Iowa State (plus 17 1/2) at No. 21 Oklahoma State

Cowboys averaging 42 points against Cyclones in last five meetings ... OKLAHOMA STATE 42-20.

SMU (plus 40) at No. 22 East Carolina

Winless Mustangs have been outscored 202-12. Only the kindness of Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill will keep ECU from scoring 80 ... EAST CAROLINA 56-7.

Texas Tech (plus 12 1/2) at No. 23 Kansas State

Red Raiders QB Davis Webb (left shoulder) might not play ... KANSAS STATE 34-14.

BEST BET

No. 7 Baylor (minus 16 1/2) at Texas

It'll get better for Longhorns under coach Charlie Strong - but first ... BAYLOR 48-14.

UNRANKED BUT NOT UNINTERESTING

Michigan (plus 3) at Rutgers

Michigan is an underdog at Rutgers. Pretty much says all that needs to be said ... MICHIGAN 23-21.

Florida (plus 2 1/2) at Tennessee

Will Muschamp, welcome to Brady Hoke's world (hopefully without the mishandled injury) ... TENNESSEE 28-21.

Miami (minus 1 1/2) at Georgia Tech

Did you know? Yellow Jackets are undefeated. ... MIAMI 31-28.

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Last week: Record straight: 13-2; vs. points 6-8-1.

Season: Record straight: 72-18; vs. points 39-50-2.

Best bet: 1-4.

Upset special: 3-3.

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