Sample NCAA Football Game Scout IN SEASON Report:
Sport Code: CFB
--- Thursday --- Nov. 5, 2009 --- Vol. XVII --- No. 10 ---
-- COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME SCOUT --
-- A PUBLICATION OF THE SPORTS XCHANGE --
Virginia Tech at East Carolina
Boise State at Louisiana Tech
Central Florida at Texas
Northwestern at Iowa
Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Virginia at Miami (Fla.)
Wisconsin at Indiana
Navy at Notre Dame
LSU at Alabama
Oregon at Stanford
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
Ohio State at Penn State
Washington State at Arizona
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
TCU at San Diego State
New Mexico at Utah
Oregon State at California
Vanderbilt at Florida
Houston at Tulsa
Connecticut at Cincinnati
Southern Cal at Arizona State
Oklahoma at Nebraska
Virginia Tech at East Carolina
KICKOFF: Thursday, 7:30 ET
SERIES: Virginia Tech leads 9-5 (last meeting, 2008, 27-22 East Carolina).
POLLS: Virginia Tech (25 BCS, 22 AP, 24 coaches)
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 23-15
KEYS TO THE GAME: Hokies coach Frank Beamer is dipping further into the motivational deck for Thursday night's non-conference game at East Carolina.
Realistically, Virginia Tech will not meet any of its preseason goals -- third straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship, Bowl Championship Series title game -- and would seem to have little to play for in its final four games.
But Beamer is stressing two things to his team.
"What we're playing for is pride in this team and pride in each other," he said. "We just need to go out and get a win."
That won't be easy, even though the Hokies are a 121/2-point favorite. The Pirates lead their division of Conference USA and have a quarterback (Patrick Pinkney) who carved the Tech defense up last year in an upset win in Charlotte.
Add to that a slumping Tech defense which hasn't been able to get off the field on third down the last two games, plus an offensive line that will probably have a first-time starter at center in Michael Via, and the ingredients are there for a second straight Thursday-night stunner.
Yes, the Hokies will have more talent on the field, but that hasn't meant anything the last two weeks. It's up to them to find the motivation to keep playing hard and cutting out the mistakes that have killed their highest aspirations.
"They care about each other and don't want to disappoint each other," Beamer said. "We just have to move on."
No. 22 Virginia Tech has East Carolina's undivided attention this week as Pirates head coach Skip Holtz has encouraged his team to put conference concerns on hold.
The Pirates (5-3, 4-1 C-USA) are in sole possession of first place in the East Division and will try to make it two straight against the visiting No. 22 Hokies (5-3, 3-2 ACC) on Thursday.
"We'll talk about conference when the Virginia Tech game is over," Holtz told the Greenville Daily Reflector. "Why I wanted to win the Memphis game as badly as I did was to sit on top. We don't have to worry about everything that's going on below us for three weeks."
The defending C-USA champion Pirates are a game ahead of UCF, Marshall, Southern Miss and UAB, who are all tied at 3-2 in the division. They resume their league schedule Nov. 15 at Tulsa, followed by home dates with the Blazers and Golden Eagles.
"By doing what we did, we're sitting on the top today and we know we're going to be sitting on top when we go to Tulsa," Holtz said.
The Hokies, meanwhile, are hungry after back-to-back losses against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. They also want to make up for last year's season-opening loss to the Pirates.
"I think the key to this game is that we cannot give up the home run ball," Holtz said. "I'd like to play one game where we don't give up a 30- or 40-yard play for a touchdown. We're going to have to play extremely well and tackle well in the secondary."
FAST FACTS: Hokies -- CB Stephan Virgil will be playing just 30 minutes away from his home in Rocky Mount, N.C. Virgil scored two different ways in last year's loss against East Carolina, returning a fumble for a touchdown and a blocked PAT for a defensive two-point conversion.
--WR Dyrell Roberts leads the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 40.8 yards per return, which is why North Carolina kicked away from him all last week. Roberts is fifth in school history with 953 kickoff return yards.
--Virginia Tech hasn't won the coin toss yet this season, going 0-for-8. It has gotten the ball to start every game, as opponents have chosen to defer their option to the second half.
Pirates -- East Carolina is ranked 10th in the nation with 21 takeaways (11 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries).
--Senior Matt Dodge is one of six C-USA punters named as candidates for the 2009 Ray Guy Award, announced on Oct. 30. He has averaged 45.3 yards per punt with 14 kicks inside the 20 and 13 punts of 50 yards or longer, with a season long of 73 yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Ryan Williams -- The redshirt freshman, who has meant so much to the Hokies this year, was inconsolable after his late fumble led to North Carolina's winning field goal last week. Can he shelve that mistake and run with the flair and confidence which has made him the ACC's top running back this season?
C Michael Via -- A redshirt freshman, Via is in line to make his first career start in place of Beau Warren, who hasn't practiced this week with an ankle injury. Via played most of the second half against North Carolina and did a decent job.
LB Lyndell Gibson -- The redshirt freshman has earned his first career start over the slumping Jake Johnson, whose propensity for mental errors cost him more playing time every game. Gibson has profited, racking up eight tackles last week and showing a nose for the football.
QB Patrick Pinkney -- In last season's win against Virginia Tech, he set the school record for completion percentage by connecting on 19-of-23 passes (82.6 percent) for 211 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for 24 yards and a score against the Hokies.
WR Dwayne Harris -- In his last six games, he has racked up a combined 1,054 all-purpose yards. He has also scored eight touchdowns in his last five games, led the Pirates in receiving in the past four contests and returned kickoffs for scores in two of the past three games.
FS Van Eskridge -- He has been first or second on the team in tackles in seven of eight games and has booked at least 10 stops in seven of his last 10 contests. He leads the Pirates with three interceptions in 2009 and has eight career picks.
--C Beau Warren (ankle) doesn't look like he'll be able to play at East Carolina. Warren suffered the injury late in the third quarter last week against North Carolina and wasn't able to practice Saturday or Sunday.
--CB Stephan Virgil (knee) played the whole game against North Carolina and appears to be back to 100 percent. Virgil is expected to start Thursday night at East Carolina, which is a half-hour from his home town of Rocky Mount, N.C.
--OLG Sergio Render (pectoral muscle) was able to play the entire game against North Carolina and should be ready to go for the game at East Carolina.
--Several players are listed as questionable with injuries, including WR Jamar Bryant (shoulder), WR Michael Bowman (left arm), TE Rob Kass (shoulder), CB Rahkeem Morgan (groin), CB Darryl Reynolds (shoulder) and DE Josh Smith (shoulder).
--WR Dwayne Harris needs eight receptions to tie Terrance Copper (2000-03) for third place in East Carolina history with 139. He still has a chance to break the school record of 152 by Jason Nichols (1994-97).
Boise State at Louisiana Tech
KICKOFF: Friday, 8 ET
SERIES: Boise State leads series 7-3 (last meeting, 2008, 38-3 BSU)
POLLS: Boise State (7 BCS, 5 AP, 5 coaches)
PREDICTION: Boise State 38-18
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos face maybe their most difficult remaining game Friday night at Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs are 3-5, but they are 3-0 at home and they have lost their past two games by a combined total of three points.
Also, the Broncos have had more trouble in Ruston, La., than any other WAC city. They are 3-1 there, but they've trailed at halftime three times and been tied once -- so all four games were dogfights.
"Every time we play back there we have close, hard-fought games that come down to the fourth quarter," coach Chris Petersen said.
The Broncos will play their next four games on national TV. It's a chance for them to convince voters that they belong in the Bowl Championship Series and for quarterback Kellen Moore to woo Heisman Trophy voters.
FAST FACTS: Broncos -- Quarterback Kellen Moore leads the nation in pass efficiency and is second in touchdowns with 24. He also leads the nation in touchdown-to-interception ratio at 12:1.
--The Broncos have won 10 straight road games, tying a school record.
--The Broncos received a first-place vote this week in the Harris poll, believed to be their first first-place vote in any major poll.
Bulldogs -- While Louisiana Tech Derek Dooley wasn't exactly crying foul after last week's disappointing 35-34 road loss to Idaho, he did tell the Monroe News Star he planned to send in some game film to the Western Athletic Conference offices to explain a pair of calls on the game's final drive.
Tight end Dennis Morris was ruled out of bounds on one reception, but the clock continued to run after the first down chains were moved. Later in the drive, redshirt freshman Colby Cameron was also tackled out of bounds, but the clock again continued to run.
With time running out, Louisiana Tech was forced to use true freshman K Matt Nelson for a 56-yard field goal attempt. The try sailed wide left as time expired.
--Louisiana Tech lost its top two playmakers on offense -- RB Daniel Porter and WR/return specialist Phillip Livas -- during the Idaho game. Head coach Derek Dooley said he wouldn't know the status of either for this week's Boise State game until game day, but he wasn't as evasive about just how important the duo is to his team's chances.
"Between the two of them we had 150 yards of offense running the football between the two of them, then we lose that in the second half," Dooley said. "You can't sit there and mope and whine about what you don't have."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Kellen Moore has built a Heisman resume with six games with three touchdown passes or more and the nation's most efficient performance. He has thrown one pick in the past six games and two all season.
CB Kyle Wilson, the WAC Special Teams Player of the Week grabbed his first interception of the season last week and returned it for a touchdown. Opponents have been avoiding him most of the year.
TB Doug Martin has missed most of the past two games with a leg injury. He is expected to be back in his full role this week.
RB Daniel Porter may or may not play. If he does, it gives Louisiana Tech a shot at controlling the clock and keeping the Broncos offense off the field. If he doesn't play, back up RBs Myke Compton, D.J. Morrow and Tyrone Duplessis won't likely be able to sustain the Bulldogs run game.
S Antonio Baker picked off his 10th career pass last week against Idaho. For Louisiana Tech to have a shot at the upset against Boise State, it will need turnovers. Unfortunately, Boise State QB Kellen Moore completes more than 67 percent of his passes and has thrown just two interceptions this season in 227 attempts.
QB Colby Cameron -- The redshirt freshman has impressed his coach enough over recent weeks that he replaced starter Ross Jenkins at Idaho last week despite Jenkins having arguably the best half of football in his collegiate career. Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley says Cameron will get his looks down the stretch and could again Friday against Boise State.
--TB Doug Martin (leg) should be part of the tailback rotation this week for the first time in three games. He made brief appearances in the last two games.
--DT J.P. Nisby (knee) likely will miss the next two games. He also missed last week's game.
--RB Daniel Porter and WR Phillip Livas -- arguably the Bulldogs No. 1 and No. 2 big play threats on offense -- both left last week's game at Idaho with injuries. In his weekly media teleconference on Monday, Dooley said their status for Friday's Boise State game would not be determined until game day.
--The Louisiana Tech defense was without LB Adrien Cole (concussion), LB Brian White (back), S Chad Boyd (ankle) and CB Terry Carter (groin) for last week's loss at Idaho. Their status for the Boise State game has not yet been announced.
--P Cade Glasgow fared well in his return to duty last week. WR/P Adrian Linwood had taking the punting job away from Glasgow for the two games prior to Idaho, but then left the team for personal reasons. Glasgow averaged 42.3 yards per punt against Idaho and isn't expected to lose the job again this season.
Central Florida at Texas
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SERIES: Texas leads 1-0 (last meeting, 2007, 35-32 Texas).
POLLS: Texas (2, BCS, AP, coaches)
PREDICTION: Texas 30-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The natural inclination for Texas could be to coast through its remaining games.
The Longhorns moved to No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings after an impressive 41-14 rout at Oklahoma State. Win out, and the Longhorns (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) are playing in Pasadena for the national championship.
The remaining schedule sets up favorably: A rare November nonconference game against Central Florida, followed by Big 12 games against Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M. Then, a date in the Big 12 championship game against the team left standing from the North Division pillow fight.
Texas coach Mack Brown is aware of all the trappings that exist, and will urge his veteran leaders to command the full attention of the team throughout the closing stretch.
"I asked the players about where we were and what we needed to do," Brown said of a team meeting the day after the win at OSU, "and I was really impressed with their answers."
About 10 upperclassmen asked to speak to their teammates about what lies ahead.
Of course, favorable impressions matter most on the field. Brown realizes that opposing players are reading press clippings about the Longhorns' presumed dominance and the supposedly easy schedule that remains, which will probably be void of any ranked opponents.
"Every coach in America will put that stuff on their board and say, 'You're not getting respect,'" Brown said.
"College football players love to compete. They have a tremendous amount of pride. And when somebody tells them they can't do something, all they're doing is stirring you up and trying to prove you wrong."
One thing UCF head coach George O'Leary doesn't have to worry about against No. 2 Texas is the thought of his players giving up.
The Knights face (5-3, 3-2 C-USA) the Longhorns (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) in Austin on Saturday, six days after coming back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Marshall. They scored the game-winning touchdown with just 23 seconds remaining.
"We just kept fighting our butts off all night," defensive tackle Torrell Troup said. "Coaches tell us to play with effort and enthusiasm and we did that all night long."
Quarterback Brett Hodges said the Knights didn't lose faith when his fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 2:40 remaining.
"It was tough for us then, but we couldn't just sit over there and just sulk," he said. "Our mindset was that the defense would get us the ball back. That kind of play doesn't happen often, but somehow it did."
The victory kept UCF in the tightly packed C-USA East Division race, which they will rejoin after stepping out of conference (and up in class) to face the Longhorns.
"First and foremost, we've got to do our jobs and take care of our business," safety Derrick Hallman said. "If we can win out and take care of our business, maybe things will work out for us. We just have to hope others will lose, but that's out of our control."
FAST FACTS: Longhorns -- While the move to second in the Bowl Championship Series was a nice climb for Texas past Alabama, the order at the top means little as long as Florida and Alabama remain in position to meet in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The loser will get knocked out of the national championship game, and if Texas wins out, the Longhorns are assured of play for that crown. The next five games for the Longhorns, including the Big 12 championship, will be in-state.
--Texas leads the nation with nine non-offensive touchdowns, including two off interception returns in a 41-14 victory at Oklahoma State on Oct. 31. Special teams have scored on four kick or punt returns, as well as two blocked punts. The defense has three interception returns, including two by S Earl Thomas. KR D.J. Monroe and PR Jordan Shipley each have two touchdowns off runbacks.
Knights -- UCF has won four games after trailing at the half this season, including last weekend's 21-20 comeback win against Marshall.
--UCF needs one more win to become conditionally bowl eligible, a nice accomplishment after last season's 4-8 finish. The Knights are five-touchdown underdogs Saturday at Texas, but still have winnable games remaining against Tulane and UAB.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
PK Hunter Lawrence -- He leads the Big 12 in scoring with 84 points. He is 16 of 18 on field goals, while adding 36 PATs. The next closest Big 12 rival has 30 fewer points.
WR Jordan Shipley -- The senior was relatively quiet with six receptions against Oklahoma State, but four produced first downs.
S Blake Gideon -- He recorded his fourth interception of the season in the Oklahoma State win and also pounced to make the first fumble recovery of his career.
QB Brett Hodges -- The senior passed for 487 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in back-to-back victories against Rice and Marshall. He also scored a rushing touchdown against the Owls and has impressed teammates and coaches with his toughness and poise in the pocket.
RB Brynn Harvey -- The team's leading rusher (679 yards) has carried 45 times for 143 yards in his last three games since carrying 42 times for 219 yards vs. Memphis on Oct. 3. He gained only 2.1 yards per carry against Miami and 2.2 yards per attempt against Marshall and could have similar trouble finding running room against the Longhorns.
DE Bruce Miller -- The junior earned C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors following a monster game against Marshall with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, plus a forced fumble that set up the Knights' game-winning drive. He leads the league in TFL and sacks.
--CB Aaron Williams is listed as day-to-day after leaving the Oklahoma State game with a strained knee.
--OG Mason Walters and DT Calvin Howell remain out with injuries suffered early in the season. Each freshman could be targeted for a medical redshirt, though UT coach Mack Brown declined to speculate on that possibility until the players heal.
--RB Cody Johnson is listed as a co-starter with RB Fozzy Whittaker. Johnson was more effective against Oklahoma State and coach Mack Brown said the Texas offensive line likes "that he runs over guys and the way he punishes the defense."
--WR Jamar Newsome suffered an apparent leg injury against Marshall and is questionable for the game at Texas. He has 22 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns in 2009.
--WR A.J. Guyton has three 100-yard games this season, the most by a Knight in one season since Mike Walker had five in 2006.
Northwestern at Iowa
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Iowa leads 46-21-3 (last meeting, 22-17, Northwestern, 2008)
POLLS: Iowa (4 BCS, 8 AP, 6 coaches)
PREDICTION: Iowa 31-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Kirk Ferentz heard his Hawkeyes were on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week and thought it was a joke. Then he cringed.
"You've got to be kidding me. We're on the cover?" Ferentz asked. "Isn't the World Series going on right now?"
In baseball parlance, Iowa keeps hitting home runs in the bottom of the ninth.
The latest victory, against Indiana after quarterback Ricky Stanzi had thrown five interceptions, is just further proof.
Iowa has tempted fate all season and won every time. Now the Hawkeyes prepare for Northwestern on Nov. 7 while contending with the dreaded SI cover jinx. And Ferentz is the first to tell you Iowa has benefited from a few lucky bounces in getting to 9-0 this year.
"You have moments, tough moments where somebody has got to step up," Ferentz said. "But this season, we already had our share of great efforts to allow us to maybe pull something off. If we weren't making those plays, you're losing those close games."
Days after Iowa's comeback against Indiana, Ferentz was still in awe of Stanzi's ability to turn around the game. After looking lost and confused for three quarters, Stanzi and the Hawkeyes put it all together in 15 furious fourth-quarter minutes for the thrilling victory.
"He does have a rare ability when he struggles to come right back and keep pushing for it, much like a relief pitcher or a cornerback," Ferentz said. "If you're in a high risk position, you have to have that capability and certainly he has demonstrated it."
In the current Associated Press poll, Iowa finds itself at No. 8. But since everything revolves around the Bowl Championship Series standings in this era, let's refer to the Hawkeyes by their No. 4 showing in the updated BCS rankings.
With that in mind, Northwestern shoots for an upset this week of a magnitude that hasn't happened for the program in 50 years. In the Wildcats' 1959 opener, coach Ara Parseghian led his 10th-ranked charges to a 45-13 whipping of No. 2 Oklahoma at Dyche Stadium. The following week, the Wildcats edged No. 5 Iowa by a 14-10 count.
Since those back-to-back wins, Northwestern has faced 35 Top 5 foes and come up empty every time. Based on the way the Wildcats hung with No. 12 Penn State for three quarters last week, they have a chance to stick with the Hawkeyes on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. But there's a big if that comes with that supposition: If senior quarterback Mike Kafka can play.
Kafka injured his left hamstring midway through the second quarter of Northwestern's 34-13 loss to Penn State. During Kafka's time on the field, the Wildcats chewed up yardage against one of the nation's best defenses and built a 10-3 lead. With inexperienced redshirt sophomore Dan Persa at the controls thereafter, the Wildcats moved in fits and starts and didn't score after halftime.
Before Northwestern launched into this week's practices, Kafka and coach Pat Fitzgerald acted as if it's more likely he'll play than not.
"We expect him to go through some things (Tuesday) in practice," Fitzgerald said in the Daily Herald. "He'll be day-to-day, but at this point we expect Mike to play."
"My mindset's going in that I'm going in and playing," said Kafka, who tested his hamstring briefly at halftime of the Penn State loss before calling it a day. "It feels pretty good. (Tuesday) I'll run around a little bit on it and see how it feels and kind of take it day-by-day. And Wednesday do a little bit more where on Saturday it feels pretty good."
If the Big Ten's leader in total offense can't play, then Persa will make his first start. He had just 2 career passing attempts going into his Penn State relief appearance, but Fitzgerald felt he performed about as well as possible considering his first extensive action came against the nation's leader in scoring defense. Persa hit 14 of 23 passes for 115 yards and ran 14 times for 42 yards.
"If it's Danny's opportunity, he's going to be ready," Fitzgerald said. "If not and he's coming out of the bullpen, hopefully he steps up like (New York Yankees reliever Mariano) Rivera."
FAST FACTS: Hawkeyes -- Iowa remains fourth in the BCS for the second straight week, the highest ranking in school history. The Hawkeyes are also the highest-rated Big Ten team in the BCS.
--Iowa is 78-43 in this decade (.644), one of the best decade winning percentages in school history. The Hawkeyes were 77-40-4 (.652) during the 1980s.
--Defensive coordinator Norm Parker will remain in the coaching box this week after a incidents with diabetes. Kirk Ferentz said he is keeping Parker off his feet during the week, and that Parker might return to the sideline at some point. For now, though, he'll remain upstairs.
Wildcats -- Entering Saturday's game at No. 4 Iowa, Northwestern has lost 11 of its last 12 games against ranked opponents. The lone exception? Last year's visit to No. 20 Minnesota, when starting QB C.J. Bacher couldn't play due to a hamstring injury. Backup Mike Kafka made his first start in more than two seasons and rushed for a league-record (for a QB) 217 yards in a 24-17 victory. Is this history enough to encourage NU coach Pat Fitzgerald to shelve Kafka with his hamstring injury and allow sophomore Dan Persa to make his first career start?
--WR Zeke Markshausen, a fifth-year senior who had just one career catch entering this season, ranks second nationally in receptions with 67. That puts him seventh on Northwestern's single-season list, but he's going to have to hustle to break Richard Buchanan's record of 94 catches in 1989. If Northwestern qualifies for a bowl game and Markshausen maintains his per-game pace, then he'll finish with 96.8 catches. Not bad for a guy who didn't receive a scholarship until this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Ricky Stanzi -- No matter how bleak it might look, Stanzi always finds a way to get it done in the fourth quarter. Is there any better trait for a quarterback to possess?
--S Tyler Sash -- The defense's version of Stanzi. Whenever a big play is needed, Sash usually delivers. His six interceptions lead the Big Ten and his 64 tackles are third on the team.
--LB Pat Angerer -- His tremendous ability to go sideline-to-sideline will be tested if Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka is able to play. Kafka's elusiveness and scrambling ability makes him difficult on defenses, but Angerer's speed negates it.
QB Mike Kafka -- As Penn State discovered last week, it's not easy to catch this fifth-year senior. Though he left the game with 8:15 left in the first half, Kafka produced 170 total yards to remain the Big Ten's leader in that category (271.4 yards per game). He owns a 66.8 completion percentage, which leads the league by a decent margin. He also leads the Wildcats in rushing yards (248) and TDs (6).
WR Zeke Markshausen -- The fifth-year graduate student leads the Big Ten and ranks ninth nationally with 7.4 receptions per game. Because the Wildcats haven't had a bye week like most FBS schools, Markshausen's 67 catches actually rank second in the nation to Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes' 99 grabs. He averages just 9.1 yards per catch as he's Mike Kafka's go-to guy on quick slants and outs.
MLB Nate Williams -- The junior leads the Wildcats with 61 tackles even as he battles a lingering ankle injury and other leg woes. Williams is part of a linebacker corps that must be virtually perfect on its reads against Iowa's play-action game.
--RB Adam Robinson is out for the season with an ankle injury. RB Brandon Wegher is starting in his place.
--OL Dace Richardson is out for the season with a broken leg.
--FS Brett Greenwood is again questionable after missing last week's game after suffering a helmet-to-helmet hit. It snapped his string of 29 consecutive starts.
--QB Mike Kafka (hamstring), who has started all nine games this year, is listed as an either/or starter with redshirt sophomore Dan Persa. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said early in the week that he anticipates Kafka to play at Iowa.
--CB Sherrick McManis has missed the last three halves (and a total of four full games this year) with a bad quadriceps. He looks better this week than last week, when he didn't even dress against Penn State. He and sophomore Ricky Weina, who made his first start and went the route against Penn State, are listed as either/or starters on the official depth chart.
--S Brendan Smith (broken thumb) and S Brian Peters (broken hand) will continue to play with protective casts covering their left hands.
--RG Doug Bartels, who owns 18 straight starts, is listed as an either/or starter with former starting left guard Desmond Taylor.
--LG Keegan Grant, a junior who has started the last 3 games, is listed as an either/or starter with redshirt freshman Brian Mulroe.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SERIES: Pitt 31, Syracuse 30, three ties (last meeting, 34-24 Pitt, 2008).
POLLS: Pitt (13 BCS, 14 AP, coaches)
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 40-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: You'll pardon Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt if he doesn't look at the Big East Conference standings these days, even though his Panthers are at the top at 4-0.
See, Syracuse is at the bottom, and knowing his history the way he does, he doesn't want to believe that any more than he wants to believe that beating Syracuse the last four times they have played is anything but a trend.
See, he knew Syracuse back when, and he believes the Orange's coach, Doug Marrone, is going to find a way to rebuild the once proud team that featured backs like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little and Larry Csonka.
"Pitt had a long streak when they didn't beat Syracuse," Wannstedt said. "Syracuse is one of those programs with great tradition, great academics. They can go around the country and recruit. Last year we were down by 11 in the fourth quarter. The year before, it was tied 10-10 halfway through the fourth quarter.
"It's a conference game, and it's Pitt-Syracuse. And we better be ready to play better than we have."
While Pitt has been the most surprising team in the Big East, built around a quarterback in Bill Stull who was shut out in the Sun Bowl last year and who was no cinch to keep his job this year, and a freshman running back in Dion Lewis, replacing one of the most prolific runners in program history who left early for the NFL.
But none of that matters now, for Wannstedt knows that this game is at a dangerous time in the season against a dangerous team, even if its biggest offensive weapon, wide receiver Mike Williams, left the team.
"They're definitely playing at a higher level than what they did last year," Wannstedt said. "Doug has done a good job of bringing back alive the tradition, the pride of the program. And he can relate to it. He was there when they were good, and the players are responding."
You might say it isn't much different than when Wannstedt returned to his alma mater to build it into a power.
Syracuse's unsightly, extended separation from winning football over the last four seasons has shortened the honeymoon of first-year coach Doug Marrone.
It is unfortunate, but that is reality. Nevermind Marrone's status as a former Syracuse offensive tackle, his endorsement by some of the program's most famous alums, his public, impassioned courting of a community soured by four unproductive seasons under Greg Robinson. And nevermind that Marrone's team has played with more heart and hustle than any of its four predecessors and has never really been out of any game, save for a 34-13 loss to West Virginia three weeks ago.
No, the stakes are apparently higher and the honeymoon shorter this time around, as evidenced by a sobering Carrier Dome gate of 33,802 for the 28-7 loss to No. 5 Cincinnati, smaller than any Robinson witnessed during his inaugural 1-10 season in 2005. It was a tepid response to Syracuse's offer of free tickets to students and $10 seats in the third level.
Perhaps more troubling was the decision by some in the crowd to voice their displeasure with every Marrone decision to punt or, as the game wore on, every decision to replace backup quarterback Ryan Nassib with starter Greg Paulus.
Marrone, to his credit, chose to turn a blind eye to the rows of empty seats and a deaf ear to the boo birds.
"I know this: I do appreciate all our fans," he said. "I know there are times during this game where our fans made a big impact. They (Cincinnati) jumped offsides. I was having a hard time hearing our defensive coaches on the phone when our defense was on the field. I love the fans and what they do. I know that we as a football program need these fans."
What Marrone really needs right now is a signature win to keep the fans engaged and recruits believing the team can return to respectability.
The blue-collar toughness that was evident when Marrone played for Syracuse has been revived under his guidance.
By now it has become clear that his team is limited in critical areas, such as the offensive line, cornerback and perhaps quarterback, and lacks quality depth just about everywhere. It will be his job to address those concerns in the offseason. In the meantime, though, his Orange goes out and plays hard, physical football each and every game.
Sure, it will have to turn around a horrendous minus-seven turnover margin in its three Big East games and cut down on costly penalties if it hopes to win any of its remaining four games. It will have to duplicate the promising 7-for-14 performance on third down vs. Cincinnati. It will have to eliminate the explosive plays like Cincinnati's 81-yard catch and run by Armon Binns in the first quarter.
As Marrone said, it still has a lot of work to do before it can start to win games consistently.
That won't stop him from coming up with a plan to defeat No. 14 Pittsburgh on the road, a plan he truly believes will produce that signature victory. And it won't stop his limited team from doing everything in its power to execute it.
FAST FACTS: Panthers -- Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt has been named to the Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year watch list. Pitt is off to its best start in 27 years.
--QB Bill Stull was added to the Davey O'Brien watch list this week, a huge compliment to the improvement he has shown since being booed on opening day.
--WR Jonathan Baldwin has four 100-plus receiving yard games this season and possesses two TD receptions of 70 or more yards as he continues to stretch the field vertically.
--DE Greg Romeus is driving offenses crazy, racking up seven sacks, eight tackles for losses, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. He had 3.5 of his sacks against Louisville.
Orange -- Coach Doug Marrone spent four seasons protecting Syracuse University quarterbacks as an offensive tackle for the Orange. Old habits apparently die hard. Some 25 years later, Marrone was at it again. The first-year coach opened his weekly news conference with a stirring defense of senior QB Greg Paulus, the target of some boo birds during Syracuse's 28-7 loss to Cincinnati in the Carrier Dome. Marrone asked that unhappy fans direct their ire at him "and love the players we have on this team. (Paulus is) a remarkable kid, that's all I can say. He's everything you want in a kid."
--The Orange has played Pittsburgh 64 times, the third-longest series in the 119-year history of the program. Syracuse won 11 consecutive games against the Panthers from 1991-2001.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Dion Lewis is a true freshman challenging for national honors. He comes into the game ranked fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 5.6 yards a carry, more than Tony Dorsett averaged his freshman season. Lewis has 11 touchdowns rushing and 12 overall through eight games and is on a pace to break LaSean McCoy's freshman mark of 72 points.
--QB Bill Stull has moved up the Pitt passing yardage list and now ranks eighth with 4,273. He could jump all the way to sixth place with 261 yards against Syracuse. If Stull can keep from turning the ball over against Syracuse -- he has only four interceptions all season and stands third in the nation in passing efficiency -- Pitt should be able to control the game.
--DT Mick Williams will be looking to wreck havoc in the Syracuse backfield. He leads the Big East and ranks 13th nationally in tackles for losses, averaging 1.56 per game. He also stands 17th in the nation in forcing fumbles. His presence demands so much attention that others on the defensive line benefit.
DT Arthur Jones -- Jones continued his climb up the Syracuse record lists with his performance against Cincinnati. He had 1.5 tackles for loss, increasing his career total to 38.5, which is third in Syracuse history and the most by an interior defensive lineman in school history.
LB Derrell Smith -- Smith is averaging 8.88 tackles per game, which ranks fourth among Big East defenders and ties for 49th nationally, and his 0.81 sacks per game are tied for 30th nationally. He is averaging 1.25 tackles for loss per game.
WR Alec Lemon -- He's been picked to take over for the departed Mike Williams and has 13 receptions for 83 yards.
--S Elijah Fields was used as a nickel back against South Florida because it was a spread team that used a lot of four- and five-receiver sets. He could be a very important player from here out because Pitt plays three more spread teams in Cincinnati, West Virginia and Syracuse, and faces a Notre Dame that throws the ball a great deal. He is still recovering from a high-ankle sprain and is not listed as a starter this week.
--KR Cameron Mitchell is over a high-ankle sprain and will be deep on kickoff returns with freshman RB Ray Graham this week.
Orange: Syracuse was rocked with the decision by star WR Mike Williams to leave the team.
Marrone made the announcement during his weekly press conference that Williams was no longer with the Orange. He said Williams initiated a meeting with him to announce his departure. Marrone said he did not know why Williams quit. Williams could not be reached for comment. "I'm not going to discuss the conversation from my end," Marrone said. "Obviously, I told you that he came up to me and voluntarily took himself off the team. That's it." Williams is the 20th player on scholarship to leave the Orange football program since Marrone's arrival in December. None were more celebrated or more productive on the field than Williams. Williams was recently selected as one of 10 national semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is presented annually to college football's most outstanding wide receiver by the Tallahassee Touchdown Club. Williams leads the Big East Conference in receiving yards and receptions. He was on pace to rewrite the Syracuse record book for receivers. In seven games this season, Williams caught 49 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns. That's as many receptions as the next three receivers -- Donte Davis, Antwon Bailey and Marcus Sales -- have combined to catch for the Orange. The school record for receptions in a season is 60.
Virginia at Miami (Fla.)
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SERIES: Miami leads 4-2 (last meeting, 2008, 24-17 Miami in OT)
POLLS: Miami (17 BCS, 16 AP, 17 coaches)
PREDICTION: Miami 23-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was only a high school senior when Miami hosted Virginia two years ago in the last game the Hurricanes would play in the old Orange Bowl, since demolished to make way for the Florida Marlins new baseball stadium.
The memory is not all that pleasant. First, he was late getting into the stadium.
"I didn't get in until the second quarter, and I think it was already 21 to zip," Harris said. "It was too crowded to get in. We were still making our way in there, and it was 21-zip. Virginia had a good team."
Then Harris had to sit and watch as the Cavaliers went on to post a 48-0 victory, putting a huge damper on the festivities the school had planned to send out the old stadium.
"I was just saying I know these guys didn't want this to happen, the last game in the Orange Bowl, because now that's going to go down in history as a 48-zip loss in the last game in the Orange Bowl," Harris said. "That's not going to look too good."
Harris made up for that colossal 'Canes collapse by rallying the Hurricanes to an overtime victory at Charlottesville last year. Now he goes for two in a row as the Cavaliers return to Miami, but to Land Shark Stadium, not the OB.
Miami will be looking to keep their hopes alive in the ACC race in the matchup of Coastal Division teams. The Hurricanes are 3-2 in the league and will need help in the form of a loss by Georgia Tech to have a chance to get to the ACC title game, but a loss to the Cavaliers, who are 2-2 in league play, would pretty much eliminate that opportunity.
After the Cavaliers, the Hurricanes are back on the road Nov. 14 at North Carolina. They finish league play Nov. 21 with a home game against Duke. Their regular-season finale is Nov. 28 at USF.
The Cavaliers (3-5, 2-2 ACC) have an identity crisis.
That was made apparent after back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Duke.
The Yellow Jackets' triple option offense ran for 362 yards, while Duke's pass-heavy attack amassed 343 yards through the air. Playing those teams made Virginia coach Al Groh wonder if the Cavaliers have an identity as they prepare to visit 16th-ranked Miami (6-2, 3-2). Groh said it would be "beneficial" to have an identity, even if it's as singular as Duke's and Georgia Tech's.
But Virginia doesn't have the personnel to fit one specific style of play.
"What players can do best has a great deal to do with the establishment of an identity," Groh said. "To try to force an identity on an offense or defense without the skills to match it would be foolhardy."
The lack of a signature style of play has been one of the primary reasons Virginia has lost nine of its past 12 games dating back to last season and Groh is likely to be unemployed at the end of this year.
It doesn't get any easier, as Virginia's next four opponents are a combined 22-11. None have a losing record.
FAST FACTS: Hurricanes -- CB Brandon Harris has only one interception for the season, but he is tied for the third nationally in passes defended. In addition to the pick, he has broken up 11 other passes for a total of 12 passes defended. National leaders Perrish Cox of Oklahoma State and Earl Thomas of Texas have 13 each.B
--QB Jacory Harris continues to throw touchdown passes -- six in the last three games -- but he also has been intercepted four times and sacked 14 tiems over that span.
Cavaliers -- LB Connor McCartin and TE Paul Freedman became the latest true freshmen to see action this season when they played against Duke. Virginia head coach Al Groh has now burned 14 of 23 redshirts this season. Most true freshmen have played minor roles.
--Senior DE Nate Collins leads the Cavaliers with 57 tackles. If he holds on to the lead, he'll become the first defensive lineman since Chris Slade in 1991 to lead Virginia in tackles.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TE Tervaris Johnson -- Johnson has been a quiet performer for the Hurricanes, but coach Randy Shannon credits him with three key plays that resulted in touchdowns against Wake Forest, starting with his two-yard TD catch. He also had key blocks on scoring plays.
RB Damien Berry -- Berry has become a scoring threat since seeing his first action against Florida A&M. He has scored a rushing touchdown in each of the lastB four games in providing valuable backup with Javarris James and Graig Cooper missing time because of injuries.
S Randy Phillips -- Phillips has come on strong since deciding to delay shoulder surgery that would have ended his season. He has had 13 tackles the last two games and had an interception against Clemson, his second pick of the season.
CB Chris Cook -- The senior needs to respond to adversity. Cook was beaten deep on a 44-yard touchdown pass with 3:45 left in the loss to Duke. The play was the go-ahead touchdown, as the Cavaliers lost their second straight game. Cook and junior CB Ras-I Dowling will have their hands full with Miami's speedy receivers.
DE Zane Parr -- The sophomore has been a force while starting the past two games with Matt Conrath out with an ankle injury. Parr has recorded 3.5 sacks this season. His play gives the Cavaliers hope there will be no dropoff when senior DE Nate Collins departs. Parr, Conrath and NT Nick Jenkins are all expected to be back next season on the three-man defensive line.
WR Kris Burd -- He leads the Cavaliers with 281 receiving yards, but he's been quiet lately. Burd, a sophomore, has suffered from dropped passes in key situations. He'll likely have to make a big play or two if Virginia hopes to remain competitive against Miami.B
--Sophomore DE Matt Conrath missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. His return date isn't clear. Zane Parr continues to start in his place.
--Senior reserve LB Aaron Clark missed the Duke game with a knee injury. His return date isn't known. His absence means increased playing time for starting OLB Denzel Burrell.
--LB Sean Spence (ankle) is questionable at best for the game against Virginia. The Hurricanes opened with five defensive backs against Wake Forest, but sophomore Ramon Buchanan took over Spence's spot in a 4-3 alignment.
--RB Javarris James (ankle) sat out the game at Wake Forest and is questionable for Virginia.
--SS Ray Ray Armstrong (knee) remains questionable.
Wisconsin at Indiana
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Wisconsin leads 35-18-2 (last meeting, 2008, 55-20 Wisconsin).
POLLS: Wisconsin (21 BCS, 24 AP, 22 coaches)
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 36-18
KEYS TO THE GAME: No recruiting class works out perfectly. But the five-man linebacker group that Wisconsin signed in February 2005 -- shortly after Bret Bielema finished his first season as the Badgers' defensive coordinator -- has turned out to be a grand-slam group.
Travis Beckum, the only four-star recruit (according to Rivals.com) of the crew, is a rookie tight end with the New York Giants who has played in every game. DeAndre Levy, a three-star recruit who started 39 games at outside linebacker for Wisconsin, owns 31 tackles and one interception as a part-time rookie starter for the Detroit Lions. Jonathan Casillas, a two-star recruit who started 34 games at outside linebacker for UW, plays special teams for the New Orleans Saints.
Elijah Hodge, a four-star recruit who started at middle linebacker in 2007, graduated and moved on to FCS powerhouse Northern Iowa where he owns 58 tackles in 8 games. Then there's fifth-year senior O'Brien Schofield, a three-star prospect who shifted to defensive end and has developed into an all-America candidate.
As Wisconsin prepares for Saturday's trip to Indiana -- a win will clinch the Badgers' eighth consecutive bowl berth -- Schofield shares the national lead in tackles for loss with 16.5 in 8 games. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Schofield, who Bielema says is playing at "a high, high level," continues to climb the NFL draft charts.
"It's Kentucky Derby through your coaching," Bielema said. "You can't win the race if you don't have the right horse. If we don't have the right horses in this program, that are going to fit the program for what they are, we wouldn't have success over time and definitely wouldn't be able to put together a consistent approach to the game."
While the linebackers were the standout group of that particular recruiting class, the Badgers definitely had more hits than misses. Jaevery McFadden, regarded as an athlete coming out of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has started the last 21 games at linebacker and leads the team with 51 tackles. Tight end Garrett Graham owns 100 career receptions and figures to be drafted in April. Defensive tackle Jeff Stehle has started all 8 games this year.
Tailback P.J. Hill was in that class. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (Oakland Raiders) was a four-year starter. Guard Andy Kemp and tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel were three-year starters.
Once again Indiana faces the challenge of having to pick itself up off the mat for another round.
The Hoosiers fell in Iowa last week, dropping a 42-24 decision that felt much closer than the final score. After all, IU led 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter before a combination of injuries in the secondary and the feeling the Hoosiers were battling forces bigger than them took their toll. IU believes the officials got a number of calls wrong during the loss-so many that the program contacted the Big Ten about the issue-and considering the fact there were some questionable calls that stifled a possible Indiana comeback at Michigan earlier this season, the Hoosiers are starting to feel like they are up against it this season.
There also is a matter of fate toying with IU's spirits. During Indiana's trip to Virginia earlier this season, a pass to Terrance Turner was broken up and would have been incomplete had the ball not bounced off of Turner's foot and floated softly into the waiting hands of a Cavalier defender. Then, last Saturday, quarterback Ben Chappell saw a pass in the red zone bounce off an Iowa defender, then off the facemask of IU ORT James Brewer, then off Chappell's own arm and into the hands of another Iowa defender, who took the interception 86 yards for a touchdown.
In other words, it's not difficult to understand why this team is feeling a little snake-bitten this season.
The Hoosiers have three games remaining on their schedule, and they have to win two of them to become bowl eligible. IU takes on Wisconsin at home this week and then travels to Penn State before returning for the annual Old Oaken Bucket battle vs. Purdue. Finding two wins in that trio of games won't be easy, but Indiana must pull itself together this week vs. Wisconsin.
The Badgers are coming off a 37-0 pounding of the Boilermakers last week and are riding a wave of confidence. IU hasn't beaten Wisconsin since 2002, and UW's running game is the kind of attack that can create problems for the Hoosiers. The question, of course, is whether the team has the pride and the spirit to bounce back yet again.
Indiana has held leads in the fourth quarter of four of its last five Big Ten games, and although the team hasn't been great in the second half, the players feel like they are oh-so-close to breaking through. The Hoosiers are stocked with senior leadership, and if any team has the plucky resolve to put up a fight once again, it is IU.
FAST FACTS: Badgers -- True freshman Chris Borland made his first career start last week against Purdue and was rewarded with co-Big Ten defensive player of the week honors. Borland, who earned a Big Ten special teams award earlier this year, made four tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble against the Boilers. Borland is one of three Football Bowl Subdivision players to have at least three fumble forces and three fumble recoveries this season.
--When sophomore tailback John Clay hits the end zone, then the Badgers hit the win column. In Wisconsin's six wins this season, the Big Ten's leading rusher owns 705 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. In the Badgers' pair of losses, Clay has 134 yards and no scores. During Clay's 21-game career, 17 of his 19 scores have come in Wisconsin's 13 wins.
--Senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield shares the national lead in tackles for loss with 16.5. Schofield, who didn't make any tackles in the backfield last week against Purdue, owns 6.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
Hoosiers -- Indiana has forced at least three turnovers in three straight games. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is fifth in the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-2.
--Indiana has given up at least 29 points in five of its last six games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB John Clay -- The redshirt sophomore has been the Big Ten's leading rusher for the last several weeks. Clay owns 839 net yards and a league-high 10 TDs on 177 carries, but what's impressive is the fact he has been caught behind the line for a total of 31 yards during his 332-carry career.
DE O'Brien Schofield -- The fifth-year senior shares the national lead in tackles for loss. Schofield's 16.5 TFLs including 6.5 sacks, though he has gone two consecutive weeks without a sack as offenses have devoted even more of their blocking schemes to the active 250-pounder.
QB Scott Tolzien -- The redshirt junior has started all 8 games this year and completed 63 percent of his passes. Tolzien went just 6 of 13 for 87 yards last week as the Badgers kept the ball on the ground. He hasn't thrown for a touchdown in the last 3 games, but owns 5 interceptions during that stretch.
MLB Matt Mayberry -- Mayberry has been playing great of late and is one of the few Hoosier defenders who are delivering hits over the past couple of weeks. He must be active in stopping the run to force Wisconsin out of its comfort zone.
QB Ben Chappell -- Chappell has to rally his team from last week's meltdown, and he must keep his poise if Wisconsin starts getting to him in the backfield. Chappell is comfortable in the offense and can't make mistakes with the ball.
CB Donnell Jones -- Jones is playing through a bum elbow, and he can't allow himself to get beat deep vs. a Wisconsin attack that isn't designed to stretch the field. Jones is talented, but his lack of experience has shown at times this season.
--Coach Bret Bielema says everyone is healthy except for backup defensive back Kevin Claxton (concussion).
--OLB Mike Taylor (knee surgery) is out for the year.
--CB Niles Brinkley has jumped ahead of Antonio Fenelus on the depth chart.
--CB Ray Fisher, who injured a knee last week during the opening kickoff vs. Iowa, will not play this week after undergoing surgery. Head coach Bill Lynch wouldn't go so far as to rule Fisher out for the season, but with just a couple of games left in the schedule, it's not unlikely Fisher may have played his last game for IU unless the Hoosiers reach a bowl.
--Redshirt freshman LB Chad Sherer is the brother of Wisconsin QB Dustin Sherer, who started for the Badgers in the past but is regarded as the third-stringer these days.
--CB Donnell Jones will continue to play despite being handicapped by a dislocated elbow. Jones suffered the injury during IU's win over Illinois in October, but he played last week and is not listed on IU's injury report.
Navy at Notre Dame
KICKOFF: Saturday, 2:30 ET
SERIES: Notre Dame leads Navy, 71-10-1 (last meeting, 2008, 27-21 Notre Dame).
POLLS: Notre Dame (22 BCS, 19 AP, 21 coaches)
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 38-28
KEYS TO THE GAME: It hasn't been easy lately against Navy.
The Midshipmen snapped an NCAA-record 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame in 2007 (needing three overtimes to do it), and then nearly rallied to victory last season after trailing 27-7 with 2:30 left.
Navy scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, scored again three plays later and recovered another onside kick at the Notre Dame 41 with 1:21 left. Navy gained a first down, but then the Irish defense held, forcing an incomplete pass on the last play of the game.
This Notre Dame team, which is 6-2 and ranked 19th, is more capable than either of its previous two editions, but Navy (6-3) has another good team, is getting quarterback Ricky Dobbs back from injury and still has that confounding triple-option offense, which is third nationally at 279.8 rushing yards per game.
And then fifth-year Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis raves about the Navy defense.
"By far the best Navy defense they'd had in my time here. I don't think it's even been close," Weis said. "They don't try to do too many crazy things on defense. They just try to play sound fundamentally and run to the football, and trust me, they run to the football."
But the Irish have an ace up their sleeve. They welcome back a big-time weapon this week. Say hello again to receiver Michael Floyd.
Floyd, who suffered a broken collarbone on Sept. 19 and was thought to be possibly out for the rest of the regular season, will play this week against the Midshipmen.
"Michael Floyd is back, he's ready to go," Weis said Tuesday.
Floyd, a 6-3 sophomore, started the season with four catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns against Nevada. He followed with seven receptions for 131 yards and one touchdown against Michigan, and had two catches for 38 yards and one touchdown before getting hurt against Michigan State.
And what was the reaction to Floyd getting cleared?
"You heard a lot of hooting and hollering," Weis said.
Then it was up to Floyd about whether he wanted to make this week his comeback. He talked to his mom, and everyone agreed to go for it.
"He came back to me and said, 'I'm ready to go,'" Weis said. "It wasn't too much longer that I was getting a text from No. 7 (quarterback Jimmy Clausen). As happy as No. 3 (Floyd) was, I think No. 7 might have been just as happy."
If Saturday's game at Notre Dame is anything like the last two, fasten your seat belt.
Two years ago, the Midshipmen went into South Bend and beat the Fighting Irish in triple overtime for the program's first win over Notre Dame since Roger Staubach's gang pulled it off in 1963.
Last year, the Mids were down 27-7 with 2:30 left in the game, scored twice and recovered a pair of onside kicks to almost steal a second straight win over the Irish.
Last week Navy missed its first chance at qualifying for the Texas Bowl with a home loss to Temple, bring a 6-3 record to South Bend for the 83rd meeting between the two programs. The Irish are ranked 19th in the country.
The good news for Navy is that the Mids will apparently have both quarterback Ricky Dobbs and slotback Marcus Curry back on the field. Sophomore quarterback Kriss Proctor and fullback Vince Murray are talented players, but Dobbs and Curry are special offensive players.
FAST FACTS: Irish -- Backup freshman QB Dayne Crist suffered a torn ACL in the fourth quarter of last week's game against Washington State, as he was playing for Jimmy Clausen, who was resting a turf toe injury in the lopsided victory. That leaves senior Evan Sharpley as the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster. The new third-stringer is backup receiver John Goodman, who was a quarterback in high school. Goodman will continue to work at receiver as well as quarterback; he has six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
--QB Jimmy Clausen has thrown 124 consecutive passes without an interception, the fifth-longest streak in school history. He had streaks of 132 and 147 passes earlier in his career.
Midshipmen -- QB Ricky Dobbs, who has missed all but seven plays over the last two weeks, said "by all means" when asked if he'll play at Notre Dame this week. He has an added one reason for wanting to play: his roommate is a devout Notre Dame fan who has posters hanging in their room.
--LB Ross Pospisil, the leader of the Navy defense, knows what the Midshipmen have to do going into South Bend this week.
"We've got to go back to practice and work harder than we've ever worked," he said. "It doesn't matter what part of the season we're in, we've got to dig deep."
--The Mids are 6-3 and need one more win to earn a guaranteed spot in the Dec. 31 Texas Bowl in Houston, which would be the program's seventh straight bowl game. They need two more wins for the seventh straight eight-win season.
--Navy has lost 45 of the last 46 games against Notre Dame.
--Navy, seeking its fifth straight national rushing title, is No. 3 in the country.
--After opening the scoring and then losing last week, Navy is 36-4 the last 40 times it has scored first in a game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jimmy Clausen -- Last week, he moved into third place on Notre Dame's career passing list. He trails Brady Quinn (11,762 yards) and Ron Powlus (7,602). Clausen, who has 6,744 yards, now has his full complement of receivers, with the return of WR Michael Floyd.
OT Sam Young -- The senior is expected to make his 47th consecutive start, dating to the 2006 season opener at Georgia Tech (that's every game of his college career). The leader of a veteran Notre Dame line, he'll be going against a quick Navy front this week. He's two games away from the school career record for starts, held by Tom Zbikowski and Maurice Crum Jr.
RB Robert Hughes -- Even if starter Armando Allen is able to play, Hughes has earned more time recently with his hard north-south running, which gives the Notre Dame offense a different dimension. He has 64 carries for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
QB Ricky Dobbs -- Injured, he was thrown in for a total of seven plays last week but couldn't work miracles. Now, it looks like he'll be back and he still leads the country with 16 rushing touchdowns.
FB Vince Murray -- He started out as a replacement for the injured Alex Teich and is now the starter and has had a pair of 100-games back to back. He leads the team with 638 yards rushing.
S Wyatt Middleton -- The steady veteran had a pair of interceptions last week.
--QB Dayne Crist suffered a torn ACL against Washington State on Oct. 31 and was scheduled for surgery on Nov. 6. Coach Charlie Weis said there was minimal other damage in the knee, which is why doctors pegged a relatively short recovery time of 4 to 6 months. It's too early to say whether Crist would be available for any of spring ball, though.
--Starting RB Armando Allen (ankle) was held out of the Washington State game. He is considered "day-to-day" leading up to the Navy game.
--Starting RG Trevor Robinson suffered an ankle injury against Washington State. He is considered doubtful for this week's game. Dan Wenger would start in his place.
--WR Robby Parris did not play against Washington State because of an assortment of nagging injuries. He is expected to play against Navy.
--DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (ankle) is probable for Saturday's game.
--QB Ricky Dobbs has 595 yards (second on the team) and 16 touchdowns (first in the country) rushing and should be back in the lineup this week.
--SL Marcus Curry, who has 393 yards on the ground and four touchdowns on the ground and has also caught a pair of touchdown passes, is also expected to return.
--QB Kriss Proctor ran for 52 yards on 16 carries and was 2-for-4 for 27 yards passing last week against Temple, with one of his passes going to the wrong team.
--S Wyatt Middleton had two interceptions for the Midshipmen in the loss.
--LB Tony Haberer led Navy with seven tackles last week, two for loss.
LSU at Alabama
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
SERIES: Alabama leads LSU 44-23-5 (last meeting, 2008, Alabama 27-21 OT).
POLLS: LSU (9 BCS, AP, coaches)
Alabama (3 BCS, AP, coaches)
PREDICTION: Alabama 27-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: The situation will be far more definitive for Alabama than for LSU when the teams meet in Tuscaloosa.
If the Tide wins the matchup, it will win the SEC Western Division and play Florida, which has clinched the Eastern Division, in the conference championship game.
On the other hand ...
The Tigers, though they would hold the tiebreaker over the Tide should the two wind up with identical records, would still have some work to do. If the Tigers beat the Tide but lose one of their remaining conference games while Alabama wins out, Bama gets the division.
But that doesn't take away anything from this much-anticipated matchup, which is the way the Tigers like it.
"Since I've been here, we've enjoyed games of significance," coach Les Miles said. "This certainly is that. It only counts one, but it's a very important one and one that we'll look forward to preparing for."
Alabama is 5-0 in the conference and 8-0 overall. LSU is 4-1 and 7-1. Since that one loss to Florida, the Tigers have come back with wins over Auburn and Tulane by a combined 73-10 score.
The offense significantly picked up the pace in both games. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson was sharp in the win over Auburn, and the running game was clicking in the rout of Tulane.
A case of lessons learned from failures against the Gators? Possibly.
"Certainly we felt like we were in position to do good things against Florida," Miles said. "Anytime you finish second in a football game, it's a very pointed reminder that you have to improve and you have to continue to improve. I think our football team has done that really since that time."
The defense has been stout all season long, which is a comfort for the Tigers going into this decisive meeting with the Tide.
"It's a great feeling," Miles said. "This defense is playing with passion, want, effort, enthusiasm and contact just like it's supposed to be played."
After playing Alabama, LSU returns home for its final non-conference affair of the regular season. The Tigers are host to Louisiana Tech on Nov. 14.
They finish the schedule with a trip to Ole Miss on Nov. 21 and are back home against Arkansas on Nov. 28.
--For the first time in three years, the talk leading into the annual Alabama-LSU game was not about Nick Saban coaching his old team, or LSU's Les Miles coaching against the man he replaced in Baton Rouge.
This time, the game seems to be enough.
No. 3 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC West) hosts No. 9 LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC West) Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Tide has not beaten the Tigers since 1999 ... although Alabama did beat LSU in Baton Rouge last year.
At stake is simply first place in the SEC West. If the Tide wins, it clinches the division championship and a spot in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta against Florida, which clinched the Eastern Division title last week.
And, of course, almost every believes that the winner of the SEC championship will be one of the two teams that play for the BCS national championship at the Rose Bowl in January.
But while LSU's offense has been improving -- the Tigers have scored 31 and a season-high 42 points in the last two games -- Alabama's offense has been going in the opposite direction, going from 38 points four weeks ago to season-lows of 22, 20, and 12 in the previous three weeks.
Tied into Alabama's drop in production seems to be a passing game that is struggling, and Saban made it clear what he wants to see from QB Greg McElroy this week -- throw the ball deep.
"It's a point of emphasis for us," Saban said.
"We need to do it. Just because we don't have success doesn't mean it doesn't have an effect on the game. We used to play the Raiders when I was in pro ball. They'd have two fast guys. They were going to throw them the ball five or six times in a game and they were going to run deep down the field and you had to cover them.
"That guy that's playing them, whether they catch it or not, it makes him play different all the other plays in the game. It's not just about the results sometimes. It's about how it affects everything else."
In other words, if Alabama is going to get back to cracking open opposing defenses -- starting with LSU on Saturday -- McElroy has to give them something more to worry about than just stopping tailback Mark Ingram and the Tide running game.
McElroy says he believes the passing game has been fine in the past three weeks. He said he hasn't thrown deep because the defenses haven't given him the chance to do so, and McElroy is justifiably proud of having thrown only three interceptions, tied for fewest in the league.
Saban, however, sounds like a coach who would rather see his quarterback take a few more risks.
"To me, you want to play aggressively and think (about) what you have to gain -- that's your motivation," Saban said.
"I know it's easy to say, but that's what we would rather focus on rather than creating a lot of fear and negative motivation about, 'Here's what's going to happen if you don't,' or 'I'm going to threaten you with what's going to happen if you don't.'
"That doesn't work with my kids. It doesn't work with my players. It doesn't work with anything."
Or, as Saban said, "If we're going to go down, let's go down guns a-blazing."
This is clearly the time to do it.
FAST FACTS: Tigers -- LSU leads the SEC in kickoff coverage, allowing an average of under 17 yards a return. The Tigers also lead the league in turnover margin at plus-9.
--TE Richard Dickson remains five behind record-holder Mitch Andrews in career receptions for a tight end. Andrew had 87 receptions. Dickson has 82. Dickson already holds the school record for receiving yardage by a tight end (903).
Crimson Tide -- Over the past 22 games, Alabama has held 19 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing and is giving up an average of 71. 36 rushing yards per game. This season, only Kentucky has managed more than 74 yards rushing against the Tide, which has not allowed an individual back to gain more than 100 yards since 2007, when Ole Miss' Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis went for 131 on Oct. 13, 2007. That's a span of 27 games.
--TB Mark Ingram leads the nation with 32 rushes of 10 or more yards, and has eight receptions for 10 or more yards. Of Ingram's 172 touches this season (153 rushes, 19 pass receptions), almost a quarter have gone for at least 10 yards. In addition, according to school stats, Ingram has 645 yards gained after initial contact this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Kelvin Sheppard -- Sheppard leads the defense with 70 tackles, including 7.5 for loss (one sack). He has been in double figures in tackles for the last three games. He and fellow linebackers Perry Riley and Harry Coleman need to keep Bama's running game under control.
CB Patrick Peterson -- Peterson leads LSU in passes defended with eight despite the tendency of opposing offenses to throw away from him. He has two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, and he also has a fumble recovery.
QB-TB Russell Shepard -- The true freshman is becoming more involved in LSU's offense, either taking the snap himself or coming in at running back. After not playing against Florida, Shepard has rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries over the last two games.
RB Mark Ingram -- He remains in the Heisman Trophy conversation, leading the SEC with 125 yards per game (6.6 per carry average) and eight touchdowns.
PK Leigh Tiffin -- He leads the league in scoring, averaging 10.5 points per game, connecting on 20 of 23 field goals and 24 of 26 PATs.
CB/KR Javier Arenas -- He leads all SEC defensive backs in sacks with four, has 8.5 tackles for loss and leads the SEC in punt returns (16.8 yards per return).
--P Derek Helton (hip) has been limited in the past couple of games, leaving the punting up to PK Josh Jasper. But he should be available to punt against the Tide.
--TE Richard Dickson was shaken up against Tulane. He returned to the game, but he has had only one catch in the last two games.
--FB Dominique Allen and Richard Dugas are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, but freshman Thomas Parsons played much of the second half at the position against Tulane. Parsons (6-5, 294) is a converted offensive lineman and adds a powerful punch at the blocking back position.
--LB Jerrell Harris continues to get in the rotation at outside linebacker, which means he could become a pass rusher in passing situations to add depth to a position that misses injured LB Dont'a Hightower.
--TE Colin Peek sprained a knee during warm-ups for the Tennessee game when DE Lorenzo Washington accidently fell on him. Peek is listed as day-to-day going into the LSU game.
--CB Dre Kirkpatrick and TB Terry Grant both have been limited in practice with pulled muscles.
Oregon at Stanford
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
POLLS: Oregon (8 BCS, 7 AP, 8 coaches)
PREDICTION: Oregon 31-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: LaMichael James didn't necessarily figure on being a huge part of Oregon's offense this season. LeGarrette Blount was going to be the workhorse back, and another senior, Andre Crenshaw, was deemed a reliable backup and a proven player.
Then came Blount's suspension after the season-opener, and Crenshaw began the season banged up. The window of opportunity opened wide for James, a redshirt freshman from Texarkana, Texas.
"We thought he was going to be special," coach Chip Kelly said.
It's not as if James was an unknown -- he was rated the 12th-best running back in the country by Rivals.com after a senior season in which he rushed for 2,043 yards and 26 touchdowns -- but nobody saw this coming:
James is averaging 137.6 yards in five Pac-10 games, which is the best mark for conference games only. He's fast and shifty, and he has rushed for 118 yards against Cal, 152 against UCLA, 154 vs. Washington and, most notably, 183 against USC.
That should remove the last bit of anonymity from James' season.
"I don't think you've seen his best yet," Kelly said. "I certainly hope you haven't seen his best yet."
James is 15th nationally, averaging 114.75 yards per game, and he is averaging 7.4 yards per carry in conference games. It could be quite a running show this week as the seventh-ranked Ducks play at Stanford, which features powerful Toby Gerhart, ranked seventh in the country with 124.25 rushing yards per game.
James was selected the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against USC.
"We had trouble tackling him," said USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We had him stopped in the backfield four or five times it seemed like, and he spun around, ducked around and got out and made some big plays."
Stanford plays Oregon on Nov. 7 in what is the best possible scenario for the Cardinal.
The Ducks no doubt will be favored after taking apart USC on Oct. 31 and taking control of the Pac-10 race, but the chances for a Stanford victory, which would put the Cardinal back in the Rose Bowl race, are significantly enhanced by the situation.
Oregon is coming off that emotional win over USC, and it will be difficult for the Ducks to maintain that level of intensity in the next game, particularly with all the congratulations Oregon has received in the days following the victory. Turning complete attention to Stanford will be a chore.
"If you have the good fortune to beat USC, people want to talk about it all week," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "It's always a little bit scary (for the next game). I think it's a trap."
Second, Stanford is coming off a bye, and teams almost always play well when they have two weeks to prepare for an opponent. It is particularly important for the Cardinal, which will have a rested Toby Gerhart ready to go.
Third, the Cardinal has plenty of confidence itself at this point, having played its best game of the season in its most recent game, a 33-14 victory over Arizona State on Oct. 24. Not only did the Cardinal prove to itself -- and everyone else -- that it can run against a good rushing defense, but redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck played his best game and is improving each game.
Finally, the game is at Stanford, where the Cardinal is undefeated this season. The Ducks have been OK on the road, but are clearly much better at home. Oregon won both its conference road games by convincing scores, but both games turned on special-teams and defensive plays that made the margin bigger than it might have been.
Although all the intangibles are in Stanford's favor, the matchups are not. Oregon might have the best run defense in the conference, and that may make it difficult for Stanford to control the ball for long periods with its physical ground game.
Keeping the ball away from Oregon's offense will be vital, because the Cardinal's defense, which lacks speed, might be overmatched by the Ducks' spread option attack, which is tailor-made to take advantage of the Cardinal's defensive shortcomings. Stanford will have trouble keeping quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and quick running back LaMichael James in check with so much area to cover, and the Cardinal secondary seems ill-equipped to handle Masoli's passing threat.
Stanford must hope the Ducks are a little flat, that Luck is sharp and that it gets a break in special teams, all of which seem possible.
FAST FACTS: Ducks -- Oregon officials met with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott on Sunday regarding suspended RB LeGarrette Blount and his possible reinstatement, although there wasn't any immediate news regarding that. Coach Chip Kelly had said that Blount, if he met certain behavioral requirements, could return from suspension as early as this week against Stanford. Blount has continued to practice after being suspended for punching a Boise State player after the season-opener.
"This is a not a football decision," Kelly was quoted as saying in the Eugene Register-Guard. "If he has the opportunity to come back, that's awesome for LeGarrette. But this has got nothing to do with any decisions from a football standpoint."
Kelly said Tuesday that no paperwork has been sent to the Pac-10 regarding a reinstatement for Blount.
--The Ducks have seven consecutive victories and can tie their in-season school record of eight with a win at Stanford on Saturday. Oregon also won eight in a row in 1933 and 2000.
Cardinal -- The Cardinal plays three of its final four games at home. Stanford is 4-0 at home this season and went 4-1 at home last season, losing only to USC. However, all four of the remaining opponents -- Oregon, USC, Cal and Notre Dame -- are ranked in the top 25. Stanford is 2-21 against ranked teams since 2002.
--A Stanford win in any of its final four games will make the Cardinal bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001 and would also give the Cardinal its most wins in a season since 2001.
--Toby Gerhart needs six yards to record the eighth 1,000-yard rushing season in Stanford history. He is 142 yards shy of the single-season school record he set last season.
--Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended for punching a Boise State player in the season opener, might be back for the Stanford game, although a decision had not been reached as of Nov. 2.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jeremiah Masoli -- He became the leader in the All-Pac-10 quarterback derby last week, rushing for 164 yards and completing 19 of 31 passes for 222 yards against USC. He's the key to the Ducks' speed-up game on offense. Masoli has 1,154 career rushing yards, 54 yards shy of Dennis Dixon's school record for a quarterback.
FS T.J. Ward -- He was back in the starting lineup last week for the first time since the opener, making a team-high 10 tackles. Recovered from an ankle injury that cost him five games and six starts, Ward can't be too concerned about helping out in the run game against Stanford's Toby Gerhart because Cardinal QB Andrew Luck has a big and capable arm.
DT Blake Ferras -- The senior will be in the middle of the action of Stanford's power running game. He has started every game this season, making 25 tackles, 2.5 for loss.
TB Toby Gerhart -- Oregon's defense may present the stiffest challenge for the Cardinal's power running game, but if Gerhart can churn out consistent gains, it will change the pace of the game in Stanford's favor. A 100-yard game by Gerhart may translate into the ball-control offense Stanford needs. Consistent gains by backup tailback Stepfan Taylor would be helpful, too.
LB Clinton Snyder -- Snyder is one of the few Cardinal defenders capable of making a big play against Oregon's multi-faceted offense. The first order of business will be stopping the Ducks' ground game, and Snyder must be the key person in preventing LaMichael James from having long runs. Containing Jeremiah Masoli is also a focal point for Snyder. Masoli cannot be allowed to roam free and feel comfortable, and Snyder is the player most likely to minimize Masoli's effectiveness.
QB Andrew Luck -- Luck must be efficient and error-free for Stanford to have a chance. He has been sacked only five times, but Oregon is second in the conference with 24 sacks, so he must avoid bad plays. He seems to be getting better each game, and he will need to play his most efficient game for the Cardinal to control the ball and have a chance. If he fumbles or throws interceptions that put Stanford's defense in bad situations, Oregon's offense will probably make the Cardinal pay.
--DB John Boyett, who played well at free safety in the injury absence of T.J. Ward, moved to starting rover against USC, with rover Javes Lewis moving to cornerback. They are listed at their former positions on this week's depth chart, however.
--Senior CB Willie Glasper is out for the season because of a non-contact knee injury suffered in practice Oct. 6.
--Senior CB Walter Thurmond III is out for the season because of a knee injury suffered in September.
--DE Erik Lorig, one of the Cardinal's best defensive players, has not played the past three games because of a groin injury and he is questionable for the Nov. 7 game against Oregon.
--OT Allen Smith injured his knee in the Oct. 24 game against Arizona State and will miss the next two or three games and possibly the rest of the season.
--QB Andrew Lucks leads the Pac-10 in pass efficiency.
--Toby Gerhart has 13 rushing touchdowns, tied for fourth in the country.
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
SERIES: Georgia Tech leads 20-8 (last meeting, 2006 ACC Championship game, 9-6 Wake Forest).B
POLLS: Georgia Tech (10 BCS, AP, 11 coaches)
PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 33-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: With Wake Forest coming to Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday, the Yellow Jackets are about to play their 10th straight week. Georgia Tech won't hit its bye week until after visiting Duke on Nov. 14.
B It's a strange time to get a break, with one game remaining. And it may be taking a toll on the No. 10 Yellow Jackets.
B "It's a concern," coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday. "Any time you play 11 straight games, it's going to be tough. We're working on our 10th game this week without a break, and we have a lot of guys that are banged up and beat up. So, it's definitely a concern. We met this morning, and we're trying to piece together two units on the offensive line for practice. We are going to have to move some guys around. We'll know later in the week if any of those guys will be missing the game."
Johnson acknowledged he didn't know the ideal time for a bye week, but it's probably not with one game left.
B B B "I think you would like to have it sometime in the middle of the year, but sometimes you gain momentum and you have it and you tell yourself, 'Oh man, I wish we didn't have that off week.' You don't ever know when the best time is, but you never really want it at the end of the season," he said. "At Georgia Southern, we used to have it at the end. We played an 11-game schedule, and we would have it after our 11th game because we knew that we'd be getting ready for the playoffs and it gave us a chance to rest up.
B B B "What we've done now is cut practice back," he added. "When you get to this point of the season, you have to do that."
B B B Wake Forest is dealing with its own injury concerns. Senior quarterback Riley Skinner is questionable after suffering a concussion in last week's 28-27 loss to Miami. But the Yellow Jackets fully expect him to play.
B B B "We're getting ready to play Riley Skinner," Johnson said. "They've said that he's not had any symptoms. It sounds like he came out of it OK."
B Ryan McManus has waited for this chance for his entire career. He once was a scout team member of the Wake Forest defense.
B This week, he might be the team's starting quarterback if Riley Skinner is unable to play after sustaining a mild concussion in the fourth quarter against Miami.
B McManus, despite his presence in the program for a fifth year, is largely inexperienced. He completed 5-of-9 passes in emergency duty against Miami.
B Last year, he was a third-string quarterback. Then Brett Hodges graduated and chose to use his final season of eligibility at Central Florida, which elevated McManus for a shot at becoming the backup quarterback.
B "This last spring, really by default without a lot of quarterbacks on the roster, he got more reps and he really kind of flourished, and we said we've got something," coach Jim Grobe said.
B Regardless of who's taking snaps, Grobe said the Demon Deacons won't have a major overhaul on offense this week against Georgia Tech. There's also the possibility that Skinner could play, though that decision won't come until later in the week.
B "He looked pretty good (Monday when he attended but didn't participate in practice), but I don't know what's going on in that brain," Grobe said of Skinner.
FAST FACTS: Yellow Jackets -- B-back Jonathan Dwyer, reigning ACC Player of the Year, has rushed for 495 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games. In that same span, QB Josh Nesbitt has run for 400 yards and 10 scores.
B --Tech leads the ACC in time of possession (35:22), and Wake Forest ranks second (32:08).
B --The No. 10 Yellow Jackets are in the AP top 10 for the first time since Sept. 24, 2001, when they were ranked ninth.
B --Tech ranks second nationally in rushing (304.1 yards per game).
Demon Deacons -- QB Riley Skinner ranks second all-time in completion percentage in the ACC, trailing former Virginia standout Matt Schaub. Skinner is at .6693, and Schaub finished at .6697. Skinner's injury with three regular-season games remaining could impact his pursuit of this mark.
--Coach Jim Grobe said Wake Forest's tailback rotation seems to work better with two players involved rather than three. With two players -- RB Josh Adams and RB Brandon Pendergrass -- the players don't seem to need as long to get going once they're in the game.B
--This is Wake Forest's first three-game losing streak within the same season since the final three games of the 2004 season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
A-back Roddy Jones -- The sophomore finally got going last week and is primed for a strong finish. He's averaging 5.1 yards a carry with three touchdowns. Jones exploded in the final two regular-season games last season.
S Morgan Burnett -- The Demon Deacons throw a lot of short passes, so Tech's secondary must wrap up. Look for Burnett (44 tackles, four interceptions) to set the tone on the perimeter.
QB Josh Nesbitt -- Wake Forest has experience defending the triple option, meaning Nesbitt likely will have to throw more than a few times. He's averaging 130 yards passing on about 11 throws per game. He's thrown six touchdowns and three interceptions, a big improvement over last year.
WR Devon Brown -- He might be trying to make amends for a muffed punt against Miami, though he caught 12 passes in the game. Even with the blunder, he has been one of the team's more consistent players. He had the team's only touchdown reception in the previous two games. He scored a touchdown two weeks earlier against Maryland on a rushing play. He also returned a punt 13 yards against Navy, so he's capable of positive results on special teams.
QB Ryan McManus -- He could receive his first career start Saturday at Georgia Tech with an injury to QB Riley Skinner. McManus is in his fifth year in the program, but this is his first season on scholarship. He took all the practice repetitions early in the week.
DT Michael Lockett -- He gave the Demon Deacons another interior lineman against Miami, and it seemed to help the defensive front. He's normally a reserve and figures into the rotation, but it gave the defense a different look when he joined DTs Boo Robinson and John Russell on the field.
--Anthony Egbuniwe or Izaan Cross will start at defensive end opposite Derrick Morgan. Coach Paul Johnson opened up that spot for competition this week.
--S Dominique Reese (shoulder) and CB Jerrard Tarrant (back) are battling injuries that forced them to miss much of the win over Vanderbilt.
--DE Kyle Wilber should play Saturday at Georgia Tech as he continues his comeback from a broken leg.
--CB Michael Williams has had a difficult time moving back into a prominent role in the defensive backfield coming back from an injury. Others moved ahead of him and have performed well, so that means Williams' role has diminished.
--FB Mike Rinfrette has become the preferred option at tight end while that position is dealing with injuries. He's moved ahead of second-string TE Cameron Ford for some key snaps at the position.
--TE Andrew Parker has been cleared to play this week at Georgia Tech after missing two full games and parts of another with a sprained ankle.
Ohio State at Penn State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
POLLS: Ohio State (16 BCS, 15 AP, 12 coaches)
Penn State (11 BCS, AP, 10 coaches)
PREDICTION: Penn State 30-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: Terrelle Pryor has been known to slam his helmet, point fingers and yell at teammates on the sideline following mistakes.
The Buckeyes can't afford outbursts like that this week.
Pryor's every move will again be scrutinized this week when Ohio State returns to his home state for the first time to face Penn State. Pryor, from Jeannette, Pa., chose Ohio State out of high school over the Nittany Lions, even though his father wanted him to play for Joe Paterno.
Now Pryor gets to face an angry mass of 110,000 that a few years ago chewed up and spit out Troy Smith, who eventually won a Heisman at Ohio State.
"They're going to tear me up," Pryor said. "I'm sure they're going to be giving me a lot of stuff, maybe throwing stuff, saying a lot of things, but I won't hear any of it. I can't wait."
Pryor's progression has been bumpy this year. He has looked brilliant at times and awful at others. He upset coach Jim Tressel last week by throwing into triple coverage in the end zone against New Mexico State. A pass like that will get intercepted by a better opponent. Penn State is that better opponent.
Tressel has delicately handled Pryor, who is a fierce competitor but at times has shown too much emotion.
"I'm sure as we go through the preparation for the week, we'll talk a lot about poise and patience," Tressel said.
Pryor didn't show either last year in the loss to Penn State, when he ignored the original play call for a dive up the middle and instead tried to take it around the end for a big play. Instead he fumbled and Ohio State wound up losing the game, 13-6.
Now he gets a chance at redemption, but Beaver Stadium is a difficult place to learn about poise and patience.
"I got my family with me, all 75 (players) that travel," Pryor said. "We're going to be ready to rock. I can't wait."
For years, Penn State's coaches chased Terrelle Pryor, trying to convince the nation's top recruit of 2008 to play in-state.
Their players will chase him for the second time on Saturday.
Pryor leads his Ohio State Buckeyes into Beaver Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and the Nittany Lions know that the key to stopping Ohio State's offense is containing Pryor, who is a threat to make big plays with his arm or his feet.
"Once he gets to the second level he's like a big, big running back," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He can run really well and he can throw the deep ball really well. It's tough to decide whether to come up and tackle him or stay back (to defend the pass)."
Pryor has had his share of struggles this season, completing just 55 percent of his passes and looking erratic in the Buckeyes' two losses as well as many of their wins. But the Nittany Lions believe Ohio State's offense is a better fit for Pryor than it was when he played there as a true freshman last year, when Penn State defeated the Buckeyes 13-6 in Columbus.
"They've done some things a little differently in the offense to take advantage of his tremendous ability," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said.
FAST FACTS: Buckeyes -- For all the criticisms hurled at Ohio State's inept offense, the Bucks' 30 points per conference game leads the league. Penn State is second, averaging 26.8 points in five games.
--The defense forced three more turnovers against New Mexico State, giving the Buckeyes 24 turnovers created this season. That is second in the Big Ten, tied with Indiana and one behind Iowa.
Nittany Lions -- Three of the last four Penn State-Ohio State games in Beaver Stadium have been decided by seven points or fewer.
--Penn State will play its 300th game in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 241-58 there all-time.
--The Nittany Lions will look to beat Michigan and Ohio State in the same season for just the second time since joining the Big Ten in 1993.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Terrelle Pryor -- The Pennsylvania product is making his first appearance at Penn State since choosing Ohio State. The hometown crowd is ready to let him know how much they appreciate that choice.
--DE Thaddeus Gibson -- His four sacks lead the team, but perhaps more importantly, Gibson also has three fumble recoveries. He always seems to be around the ball. Turnovers in a game like this are critical.
--WR DeVier Posey -- Rushing yards are typically hard to come by in games like this, making Posey that much more important. He is already Pryor's favorite target with a team-leading 43 catches -- nearly twice as many as anyone else on the team (Dane Sanzenbacher is next with 23).
--DE Jack Crawford -- The sophomore has 5.5 sacks on the season but has been mostly quiet against the pass in recent weeks. Penn State needs an outside rush to complement the inside pressure of DT Jared Odrick.
--QB Daryll Clark -- The only Penn State quarterback ever to win in both Columbus and Ann Arbor must come up big against the Buckeyes again. Clark has completed 66 percent of his passes over his last five games, all wins.
--LB Navorro Bowman -- The Nittany Lions will likely ask one of their linebackers to follow Terrelle Pryor around the field, and Bowman seems the likeliest candidate. His ability to finish plays will be a big factor.
--PK Aaron Pettrey is out for the season with a torn ligament in his knee, leaving Devin Barclay and Ben Buchanan to handle the kicking duties. Barclay is a 26-year-old former professional soccer player. He connected from 29 yards last week in place of Pettrey, but missed from 47 and 36. Jim Tressel said Barclay has a slight edge on Buchanan because Buchanan did not dress last week, but the week of practice could change that. Either way, it's a blow to Ohio State to lose Pettrey's powerful leg.
--QB Terrelle Pryor "has ice bags everywhere," according to Tressel. Pryor did not return for the second half against New Mexico State; Tressel chose to rest him instead. Still, Pryor's bumps and bruises are typical for this time of year and Tressel does not expect him to miss any time.
--LT Mike Adams (knee) is out. Seniors Andrew Miller and Jimmy Cordle are rotating snaps there in place of Adams.
--OG Justin Boren (foot) and DT Dexter Larimore (knee) are both expected to return after missing last week's game. Larimore has missed the past month with a sprained knee.
--RB Stephfon Green, who has missed the last two games with a right ankle injury, practiced Monday and is listed as possible for Saturday's game against Ohio State.
--RB Evan Royster has not been used to return punts during the past few games because Penn State did not want to risk an injury to him, especially with backup Stephfon Green sidelined with an ankle injury.
--LB Sean Lee, who made his first start in more than a month last week at Northwestern, said his sprained left knee is close to 100 percent.
Washington State at Arizona
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
SERIES: Arizona leads Washington State, 23-13 (last meeting, 2008, 59-28).
POLLS: Arizona (18 BCS, 21 AP, 19 coaches)
PREDICTION: Arizona 39-15
KEYS TO THE GAME: Arizona's most recent game allowed the defense to "finally get its swagger back," according to free safety Cam Nelson.
The Wildcats are coming off their second bye week of the season, which was important in the effort to try to get some key players healthy, notably running back Nic Grigsby and defensive end Brooks Reed.
Arizona carried a good feeling through the week, as it was coming off a 27-13 home win over UCLA and savoring the program's first appearance in the national polls in nine years. While idle, Arizona moved up from No. 24 to No. 19 in the coaches poll, and from No. 23 to No. 21 in the Associated Press poll.
"I think we're earning more and more respect," coach Mike Stoops said.
The Wildcats (5-2, 3-1 Pac-10) shouldn't lose any of that respect this week, as they play host to Washington State, which is 1-7 overall and coming off a 40-14 loss to Notre Dame. The Arizona defense, which held UCLA to 211 yards, should be able to do some more swaggering against the Cougars, who are 114th nationally in total offense, averaging 282.75 yards per game.
Nelson said pride became a factor after the Wildcats gave up 584 yards to Stanford.
"Coach Stoops and his brother (defensive coordinator Mark Stoops), those are defensive guys, and that was embarrassing to them as well as to us to give up that many yards," Nelson said. "We took it to heart. Coach didn't get too mad about it. He was more sad than anything. We took that personal."
Though it seemed like a long shot to most outsiders, WSU coach Paul Wulff insisted in the preseason that his team's goal this year was to make it to a bowl game.
But that's a goal that has to be altered now as the Cougars fell to 1-7 with Saturday's loss to Notre Dame, making WSU one of just nine teams eliminated from bowl contention by the end of October.
So that leaves the Cougars to play the role of spoiler as they head into the last third of the season, which begins with a game Saturday at surging Arizona.
It loomed as a tough matchup for the Cougars but is even more now that the Wildcats are right in the thick of the Pac-10 race with just one loss and coming off a bye weekend.
Asked his concerns about the Wildcats, Wulff said "Their speed at their offensive skill positions and on defense, top to bottom, you've got great speed. They've just got maturity on their football team. They've been able to cycle through some football players and they've done a nice job of building their program up and they've got good depth."
Those things can't really be said about the Cougars right now, who are being outscored 37.4-15.0 per game and outgained 511.1-280.2.
Given that Arizona leads the Pac-10 in total offense (445.4) this looms as another track meet for a Cougar opponent. Arizona has been particularly good through the air the last month since Nick Foles took over at QB and is throwing for 257.3 per game overall. WSU is last in the Pac-10 in pass defense, allowing teams to complete 68.1 percent of passes and 9.2 yards per attempt, all more signs that it could be a long night in Tucson for the Cougars.
Still, despite another lost season, Wulff says there are signs of growth.
He pointed again to the team's youth -- just 37 players on the team's roster are in their third, fourth or fifth years, he said.
"They understand they've got a lot of work to do," he said. "There is no finger pointing. We all understand we've got a lot of work to do and we've accepted that and that's the reason we've been able to stay the course. Our attitude is very strong."
FAST FACTS: Wildcats -- Officials from the Orange Bowl were at Arizona's home game against UCLA on Oct. 24. That didn't seem to make a lot of sense. If the Wildcats win out, they will go to their first Rose Bowl ever. If the Wildcats lose once more, they will have three losses and won't be in the hunt for an at-large bid to the BCS.
--Senior FS Cam Nelson was selected the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against UCLA on Oct. 24. Nelson had two first-quarter sacks on blitzes, including one on which he forced a fumble that was recovered at the UCLA 23 and turned into a touchdown. He added another forced fumble that Arizona recovered, and he made six tackles and broke up a pass. Nelson is the third Arizona player to win a weekly conference award this season, following CB Devin Ross and QB Nick Foles.
Cougars -- It's hard to find a stat in which the Cougars rank well in the Pac-10. But here's one -- opponent penalties. WSU's opponents are the most penalized in the conference, being flagged 60 times for 583 yards.
--WSU doesn't have a single player listed in the top 10 in any individual offensive Pac-10 statistical category except backup QB Marshall Lobbestael, who is 10th in passing yards per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Nick Foles -- He was suffering from the flu against UCLA on Oct. 24 and was part of five turnovers, three by interception. With better health, he should pick apart Washington State's secondary.
RB Keola Antolin -- He's the healthiest of Arizona's top three running backs, and he should get all he can handle against Washington State. Antolin is a small, powerful back who hits the hole fast; the sophomore has 49 carries for 255 yards and one touchdown this season.
DE Ricky Elmore -- From his right side spot on the line, Elmore has 5.5 sacks this season. He will be going against a Washington State line that is allowing a national-high five sacks per game.
QB Jeff Tuel -- The true frosh remains one of the brighter spots of this season, though he threw two interceptions in the second half against Notre Dame as he appeared to become flustered in the wake of a ferocious Irish pass rush. He'll need to settle down this week.
RB Dwight Tardy -- The senior had 72 yards on nine carries against Notre Dame in providing the only semblance of a running attack and should get more time this week.
WR Jared Karstetter -- The sophomore had two TDs against Notre Dame and at 6-4 provides an imposing target in red-zone situations.
LB Jason Stripling -- The senior had a career-high 13 tackles against Notre Dame and will have no shortage of opportunities this week against Arizona's possession passing game.
--Starting RB Nic Grigsby, who aggravated a shoulder injury against UCLA, is "very questionable" for this week's game against Washington State.
--RB Greg Nwoko suffered a shoulder sprain against UCLA and is "very questionable" for the Washington State game, although he's a bit further closer in his return than injured RB Nic Grigsby, coach Mike Stoops said.
--DE Brooks Reed, who has missed almost all of the past four games because of an ankle injury, has a chance to get back this week. "Getting Brooks back this week will definitely improve our defensive position and our ability to rush off the edge," coach Mike Stoops said. "That is something that he consistently gives you every time he steps on the field."
--S Chimi Nwachukwu remains questionable after suffering a sprained ankle against Notre Dame. But he is the only player with an injury suffered against Notre Dame who is a question mark this week.
--LT Steven Ayers, coming off an ankle injury, could resume his starting spot if he has a good week of practice.
--WSU coaches hope for continued improvement from guards B.J. Guerra and Zack Williams, who each saw their most significant time last week since returning from injuries. Guerra, Williams and Ayers could give WSU its most stable OL in quite a while.
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
SERIES: Oklahoma State leads Iowa State 24-17-3 (last meeting 2008, 59-17 Oklahoma State).
POLLS: Oklahoma State (19 BCS, 18 AP and coaches)
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 37-22
KEYS TO THE GAME: When he took over this season as the defensive coordinator, Bill Young knew he needed to reshape the prevailing attitude.
The Cowboys had grown into an offensive-minded program that often relied on points to shake off opponents. Defensive stops were optional.
Young, who played for Oklahoma State in the 1960s and has coached at numerous programs, including six seasons in the Big 12 at Kansas, instituted a new mentality.
Sure enough, Oklahoma State (6-2, 3-1 Big 12) grew much more stingy, climbing to 45th nationally in total defense with a 342.5-yard average -- a mark that actually improved after a 41-14 loss against Texas, which gained only 275 total yards.
But there was one keen difference in that mismatch -- turnovers. Texas produced five of them, while Oklahoma State managed just one, a fumble forced by safety Victor Johnson.
"We didn't force enough turnovers, and we didn't make enough plays," Young said. "We had them third-and-25, or -30, and let them convert. Those are issues we have to get corrected as a defense."
The next opportunity is Saturday at Iowa State. The Cyclones had played virtually every conference opponent tough before falling 35-10 at Texas A&M. They like to mix their attack, and the variation will give Young's defense some looks the Cowboys must stop if they're to continue building toward the postseason.
The last time Iowa State had its entire offense together it hung 36 points on Kansas.
This week, the Cyclones are expected to have the whole first-string offense back and will need it score like it did against the Jayhawks if ISU is to upset No. 18 Oklahoma State.
Iowa State running back Alexander Robinson has been slowed by a groin injury since the fourth week of the season. But after sitting out the Nebraska game two weeks ago, Robinson said he feels better than he has in weeks and should be able to play the rest of the season.
That's good news for the Cyclones as Robinson is second in the Big 12 in rushing (813 yards) despite missing time in three games.
Quarterback Austen Arnaud's bruised hand has finally healed enough for him to throw a football with some zip on it. A lack of velocity on his passes has kept Arnaud out of the last two games, when Iowa State scored only two offensive touchdowns.
The biggest boost may come from the return of center Reggie Stephens. Stephens had an appendectomy on Oct. 28. Four days later he was cleared to play and, as unlikely as it sounds, he's expected to start 10 days later as long as he can tolerate any post-surgery pain he may experience.
Stephens is able to return so fast because of the type of surgery that he had. Instead of having a lengthy incision made in his midsection -- which 15 years ago required six weeks recovery time -- Stephens had three tiny holes made in his midsection for surgery.
"The procedure has changed so much since all of our fathers had it done," Rhoads said. "Three holes: one to put air in there, one to see what they are doing and one to take it out with."
FAST FACTS: Cowboys -- In all likelihood the Oct. 31 loss against Texas removed Oklahoma State from BCS bowl consideration. If the Cowboys win out, or lose one remaining game, its most likely postseason options are the Cotton or Alamo bowls. The Holiday Bowl is unlikely because Oklahoma State played in it last year.
--Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy isn't afraid to gamble. He went for a first down facing a fourth-and-1 situation at the OSU 28 in the early minutes of the Texas game. "We felt like if we got into short-yardage situations, we needed to maintain possession of the ball," Gundy said. So far, the risks have been worthwhile. Oklahoma State is 8 of 14 on fourth-down conversions.
Cyclones -- No. 18 Oklahoma State is the second ranked opponent Iowa State has faced this season. The Cyclones fell to then-No. 16 Kansas 41-36 on Oct. 10.
--Both Iowa State and Oklahoma State are in the top nationally 10 of sacks allowed. The Cowboys lead the nation by allowing only 0.5 sacks per game. The Cyclones are tied for eighth, yielding an average of 0.67 sacks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Justin Blackmon -- The redshirt freshman is coming off career highs for receptions (four) and receiving yards (38) against Texas.
PK Dan Bailey -- Missed a 45-yard field goal in the first quarter against Texas, snapping a string of six consecutive makes. He moved to 10th on Oklahoma State's all-time scoring chart.
LB Andre Sexton -- He led Oklahoma State with seven tackles against Texas and ranks 15th on the program's all-time list with 290 stops.
QB Austen Arnaud -- The Iowa State offense has sputtered in the last two weeks with Arnaud on the sidelines. If the Cyclones are to upset Oklahoma State they will need Arnaud to lead the offense on several scoring drives.
C Reggie Stephens -- Stephens will attempt to play Saturday 10 days after having an appendectomy.
RB Bo Williams -- Williams caught the coaches' eyes with a 44-yard run at Texas A&M last week. He will get a chance this week to see if he can replicate his nifty run from a week ago.
--RB Kendall Hunter will again practice leading into the Iowa State game, though his participation will be based on how he feels cutting on a tender foot. Hunter played for the first time since week two when he entered against Texas, but he logged just one carry.
--C Reggie Stephens is expected to start after missing a game because of an appendectomy, which means Alex Alvarez will move back to left guard, where he started the first eight games of the season.
--DL Bailey Johnson has taken a firm hold on the nose guard position, starting the last three games. The Cyclones had rotated starters at defensive tackle until Johnson took a hold of the spot.
--S Michael O'Connell should see action as the nickel back this week.
--QB Austen Arnaud's bruised hand is no longer an issue. Expect the junior to start this week.
TCU at San Diego State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 4 ET
SERIES: TCU leads San Diego State 4-0 (last meeting, 2008, 41-7 TCU).
POLLS: TCU (6 BCS and AP, 4 coaches)
PREDICTION: TCU 33-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The learning curve gets much steeper this week.
The Aztecs have played well in spurts in the last four games, leading to three wins. Their 23-20 victory over New Mexico last week showed they can win when they don't play their best.
San Diego State will not have that luxury against its next opponent.
The Aztecs (4-4, 2-2 Mountain West Conference) entertain powerful TCU (8-0, 4-0) at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday in a game that will show the home team exactly how far they've come under first-year coach Brady Hoke.
The Horned Frogs are the No. 6 team in the Bowl Championship Series standings, in line for a BCS invitation.
The Aztecs played a good first half against Brigham Young on Oct. 17. They played a great second half against Colorado State on Oct. 24 and played well in the second and fourth quarters in their win last week against the Lobos.
"Winning's important as you go through this process," Hoke said.
"I think there's been three games that we've been behind in the fourth quarter and have come back and played winning football in the fourth quarter to win. I think that's a learning lesson and you sure would rather learn those lessons in winning than in losing."
Quarterback Ryan Lindley has begun to develop solid relationships with wide receivers DeMarco Sampson, Roberto Wallace and Dominique Sandifer in the absence of wideout Vincent Brown due to an injured thumb. All four players must elevate their games again because Brown's injury now appears to be season-ending.
SDSU now must find a way to combat the nation's top-ranked defense without its primary weapon. That forces tight end Alston Umuolo, who has touchdown receptions in the last three games, to become a bigger factor in the passing game.
It also forces junior running back Brandon Sullivan to get some yards on the ground to give Lindley manageable second- and third-down situations. Sullivan, the only running back to get carries last week against New Mexico, had 81 yards on 24 carries.
"I thought he did a good job of being patient," Hoke told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I thought he did a good job sticking his foot in the ground and running physical and getting north and south. If we finish some blocks and the line of scrimmage and follow through I think he'd have more of those big runs."
SDSU also must rely on its gambling defense to get some turnovers and keep the game close. The Aztecs are tied for seventh in the conference with 12 takeaways on the season.
Texas Christian coach Gary Patterson is at a loss.
A 41-0 shellacking of UNLV wasn't enough for his undefeated team to prevent Cincinnati from the Big East from leapfrogging the Horned Frogs in this week's BCS standings.
TCU, coming off as complete a game as there was in the nation last week, remained at No. 6 in the standings while the Bearcats, fresh off a 28-7 win over Syracuse, jumped from No. 8 to No. 5 in the rankings.
"We've won 80 ballgames in nine years and it's all the same," Patterson told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "About the time you let down and you enjoy it, that's when you get beat."
In the program's unofficial BCS-buster race with the Western Athletic Conference's Boise State, TCU held firm, remaining one spot ahead of the unbeaten Broncos.
Regardless of what the polls show, Patterson has accepted the fact that expectations for his program, and attention from fans and detractors alike, have made his team one of the most followed in the nation.
"I'm excited they have something to talk about," Patterson said.
"Nationally, we have gained a lot of attention. My job is to make sure the fans don't get their hearts broken. We need to finish up and do the things we need to do. There's a lot of excitement here. There's a lot of people excited about where we're at, what we're doing and how we're doing it."
FAST FACTS: Aztecs -- Shook up their offensive line last week, taking out LT Mike Matamua and LG Eric Quinones in the second quarter and replacing them with Tommy Draheim and Ikaika Alen-Moleta, respectively. Coach Brady Hoke wouldn't commit to any players at those positions this week, other than to say both spots are decided weekly by competition during practice.
--San Diego State held a "Retro Night" for its Halloween game against New Mexico last week, selling some tickets for $6 and hot dogs for $1. The announced crowd was 12,647, and longtime San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa said the actual attendance was the smallest he's ever seen at Qualcomm Stadium.
Horned Frogs -- After holding UNLV to 160 yards last week, TCU took over the No. 1 spot in the nation in total defense, allowing just 235.8 yards per game. No. 2 Florida is allowing 236.6 yards per game.
--TCU has outscored opponents 123-13 in its previous three games -- a 44-6 win over Colorado State, a 38-7 win at BYU and a 41-0 win over UNLV. The vaunted TCU defense has allowed just one touchdown in those three games.
But the dominance isn't limited to the past month. TCU hasn't allowed an FBS school to score more than 17 this season (it did allow FCS Texas State to score 21 points on Sept. 19).
--TCU has traveled to play a game in San Diego five times since former TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson started playing for the San Diego Chargers. This week's game against San Diego State will be the first time Tomlinson won't be on the TCU sideline, as the Chargers will be on the East Coast preparing for Sunday's game at the New York Giants.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Ryan Lindley -- He cooled down last week after his scorching performance in the second half against Colorado State. The sophomore missed a lot of open receivers that could have helped the Aztecs put New Mexico away. This week, he'll face a slim margin of error and must be accurate for the Aztecs to even stay in the game.
RT Peter Nelson -- The senior could have, perhaps, the toughest challenge so far in his career in facing TCU DE Jerry Hughes. Hughes is fifth in the country with nine sacks, and is sure to wreak havoc in SDSU's passing game. Nelson has to limit that damage.
--Aztec backs Nick Sandford and Martrell Fantroy -- They have to have big games on Saturday. Their efforts will be critical in limiting the number of big plays available to the TCU offense. As long as they can make plays in the running game and not let the Horned Frogs throw over the top of them, they have a chance to contain the offense by forcing it to have to methodically drive the ball down the field.
RB Ed Wesley -- Even if it has been primarily due to lopsided scores, the redshirt freshman has been getting opportunities to show off in recent weeks. He had a pair of long touchdowns -- a 59-yard run and a 21-yard reception -- last week against UNLV and led the team with 86 rushing yards.
DE Jerry Hughes -- While nobody is exactly worried, Hughes is actually in a bit of a sack slump. He is still tied for fifth-best in the nation with 1.13 sacks per game, but he didn't have one last week against UNLV and had just one two weeks ago against BYU after recording eight sacks through the first six games.
QB Andy Dalton -- Dalton has gone from being asked to be a game manager on a defensive-dominated team to a legitimate threat to earn all-conference honors. Dalton has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last two games and has 14 on the season to just three interceptions.
--WR Vincent Brown, the MWC's leading receiver at 111.1 yards per game, likely is out for the season following thumb surgery last week. He suffered ligament damage and capsule damage in the thumb during the first half of SDSU's victory over Colorado State on Oct. 24.
--True freshman RB Walter Kazee was limited last week by a sprained ankle he suffered against Colorado State on Oct. 24. He didn't carry the football on Saturday.
--C Jake Kirkpatrick left the game briefly against UNLV and was replaced by Josh Vernon. Kirkpatrick isn't expected to miss any time down the stretch of the season.
--CBs Rafael Priest (47) and Nick Sanders (45) have made a combined 92 career starts for TCU.
--DT D.J. Yendrey made his first career start against UNLV and became just the second true freshman to start a game on defense for TCU in coach Gary Patterson's tenure. Yendrey is listed as a backup on this week's depth chart vs. San Diego State behind usual starter Cory Grant.
New Mexico at Utah
KICKOFF: Saturday, 6 ET
TV: The Mtn.
SERIES: Utah leads New Mexico, 31-17-2 (last meeting, 2008, 13-10 Utah)
POLLS: Utah (14 BCS, 17 AP, 16 coaches)
PREDICTION: Utah 47-7
KEYS TO THE GAME: Since game five of the 2007 season, there hasn't really been a good time to play Utah. New Mexico, however, might play the Utes at the best time possible.
The Lobos (0-8, 0-4 Mountain West Conference) really have nothing to lose Saturday when they travel to Salt Lake City to face 17th-ranked Utah (7-1, 4-0). Add to that the fact that Utah's following game is at home against conference co-leader TCU and maybe -- just maybe -- the Utes will be caught looking ahead.
"When you get the program to where they have their program, they have depth all over the place," New Mexico coach Mike Locksley said. "There's never a good time to play Utah -- at least until we get ourselves in our program to that level."
UNM is on a 12-game losing streak, its longest since a program-worst 21 in a row that spanned the 1967-69 seasons. Utah, meanwhile has won 28 of 30 since starting 1-3 in 2007.
For the second straight game last week, the Lobos got into the fourth quarter with a chance to win. UNM hopes it can learn from the mistakes it made in the final 15 minutes in losses to UNLV and San Diego State.
The Utes haven't exactly been world-beaters lately. They've trailed or been tied in three of their last four games. But as was the case in 2008, they've developed a knack for winning every close game.
The Lobos have yet to prove they can play the kind of mistake-free football to beat the Utes. In the 23-20 loss to San Diego State last week, UNM missed a 37-yard field goal, dropped a snap on a punt for a safety and had a personal-foul penalty help stall its last drive.
But as long as the Utes allow their opponents to stay in games, they're playing with fire. And the Lobos sure could use a spark.
Utah is building a reputation for being the team that consistently makes the plays at the end of games that produce victories. The Utes have won eight of their last nine games decided by a touchdown or less.
The Utes don't want to be that team anymore.
Enter Jordan Wynn.
Utah (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West Conference) could be turning to its true freshman quarterback when it faces New Mexico (0-8, 0-4) at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday.
Wynn rescued the Utes from a 10-3 halftime deficit last week against Wyoming by rallying the offense for 19 unanswered points in a 22-10 win.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said the team was looking for a situation to insert Wynn all season. Utah's lack of production in the red zone in that first half against the Cowboys -- just three points in three chances -- gave them that opportunity. Wynn went in for junior Terrance Cain.
"We were looking for a spark and that's why we made the quarterback change," Whittingham said.
"Jordan did a very good job. He was poised and confident and handled the situation very well. For a true freshman to come in and perform like that, we are very proud of what he did."
While Whittingham would not commit to Wynn as the starter Saturday against the lowly Lobos -- he didn't want UNM to know which quarterback would play -- all signs point to the true freshman getting his first career start. Of Utah's two quarterbacks, Wynn is the more vocal.
"It helps, especially when it has been a slow game," center Zane Taylor told the Salt Lake Tribune.
"Nothing against Terrance, he has been a great player and I have absolute confidence in him and he has been a huge leader by example, but I think when they put Jordan in, he did a great job with that factor for sure."
The Utes may not need a great deal of additional help creating separation against winless UNM, although the Lobos have shown signs of life in the last two weeks in losses to UNLV and San Diego State.
But with the showdown at fellow conference leader TCU looming the following week, it makes sense to give Wynn a game to determine how the offense responds.
If he sputters, the Utes have a pair of safety nets -- Cain and their defense that allows 295 yards and 16.8 points per game.
FAST FACTS: Lobos -- Have a 7-40 record against nationally ranked teams. Their road record against such foes is 2-19. One of those wins, however, came at Utah in 2003 when the Lobos ran for 407 yards. New Mexico OT Jason Lenzmeier became the first and only offensive lineman in MWC history to earn the conference's Offensive Player of the Week honors.
--UNM was scheduled to hold yet another press conference this week, this time with president David Schmidly involved, to address the state of the football program and the continuing aftermath of head coach Mike Locksley's physical altercation with former wide receivers coach J.B. Gerald.
Utes -- Coach Kyle Whittingham says he intends to stay with the gameday coaching change of receivers coach Aaron Roderick calling plays while offensive coordinator Dave Schramm coaches on the sidelines. The two actually were named co-offensive coordinators when Andy Ludwig left for Kansas State in the offseason, but Roderick then left for Washington. He returned two weeks later, but Whittingham gave the job to Schramm. Whittingham says he likes Schramm's fiery presence on the sidelines.
--Coach Kyle Whittingham was questioned why he went only for an extra point when the Utes scored a touchdown for a 15-10 lead over Wyoming with 7:35 left in the game, rather than go for two for a possible seven-point cushion. Even though the Cowboys produced just 74 second-half yards, Whittingham maintained that Wyoming had enough time to kick field goals on two drives that could've beaten the Utes.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Donovan Porterie -- The senior engineered the greatest comeback in school history as a redshirt freshman in 2006 when he rallied the Lobos from a 24-3 first-half deficit to beat the Utes 34-31. He's playing his best football of the season. If he can avoid drive-stopping sacks while staying in the pocket to set his feet, he can give the Utes problems with his accuracy. Porterie has seven touchdown passes and three interceptions in his last five games.
WR Daryl Jones -- He has two touchdown receptions in the last two weeks that represent the first two scores of his career. He's starting to emerge as a playmaker because his size allows him to get position on smaller cornerbacks. The Lobos need some big plays from on Saturday to have a chance.
MLB Carmen Messina -- He still leads the nation with 108 tackles, but what's improved is that Messina is making many more players closer to the line of scrimmage. The Lobos need him to bottle up Utah RB Eddie Wide so that they can commit more players in the secondary to compete with Utah's speed.
RB Eddie Wide -- He has rushed for 100 or more yards in five consecutive games to tie a school record. There's no reason to believe he can't make it six against a Lobo rush defense that surrenders 161.1 yards per game. Utah doesn't want to have to rely too much on Wide, whose 24 carries last week were a few more than the coaching staff would like him to have. But if he's productive, it allows the Utes to take more calculated risks with true freshman QB Jordan Wynn.
WR David Reed -- The senior is averaging 6.5 receptions and 94.2 yards per game as he faces a New Mexico cornerback unit that likely will start a true sophomore (Anthony Hooks) and a true freshman (Emmanuel McPhearson). They are backed by a trio of redshirt freshmen.
DE Koa Misi -- He can make QB Donovan Porterie feel uncomfortable with his presence in the UNM backfield. He's going up against sophomore LT Byron Bell, who can be one the MWC's better offensive linemen when he plays to his potential.
--The Lobos' depth chart this week lists three possible starters at tailback -- sophomore James Wright, true freshman Kasey Carrier and true freshman Demond Dennis. Carrier, whose redshirt was removed for the UNLV game, is the freshest and healthiest of the three and could get his first start.
--Redshirt freshman CB Nathan Enriquez is questionable for Saturday's game because of a concussion he suffered last week. True freshman Emmanuel McPhearson would start in his place.
--The Utes expect SS Joe Dale to return after missing the last two weeks with a high ankle sprain. In his absence, Justin Taplin-Ross had a career-high six tackles last week against Wyoming.
--RB Eddie Wide and DE Koa Misi earned MWC Player of the Week honors. Wide became the fourth Ute to record five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, and Misi had eight tackles and two second-half sacks that helped the Utes hold Wyoming to 74 yards of total offense in the final two quarters.
Oregon State at California
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 ET
TV: Comcast Sports Net
SERIES: Cal leads the series with Oregon State 33-28 (last meeting 2008, 37-21 Oregon State)
POLLS: Cal (20 BCS, 23 AP, coaches)
PREDICTION: Cal 35-31
KEYS TO THE GAME: California's game against Oregon State will be the Bears' biggest test since its lopsided losses to Oregon and Southern California, and this game as well as the subsequent home game against Arizona on Nov. 14, will indicate whether the Bears have a shot to finish as high as second in the Pac-10 standings.
Cal and Oregon State seem to be as talented as any conference team except for Oregon, and this game will be pivotal in establishing the Pac-10 hierarchy. Both teams are still in the hunt for an attractive bowl berth.
This is also a matchup of the two Pac-10 players who received the most preseason acclaim -- Cal running back Jahvid Best and Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers -- although neither seems to be in the Heisman Trophy race at the moment.
Oregon State has established a reputation as a team that plays its best football in November, while the Bears have tended to falter a bit late in the season in recent years. Obviously, Cal would like to change that trend.
The Bears responded to losses to Oregon and USC with three straight wins over UCLA, Washington State and Arizona State, but none of those three is as strong a team as the Beavers, whose offensive balance will be a major challenge for a Cal defense that has struggled. Cal's defense was all right against Arizona State's mediocre attack in last week's victory over the Sun Devils, but Oregon State has a much better running game and a much better passing game.
Cal could not control the Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- in last year's loss to Oregon State in Corvallis, Oregon, and the chore will be more difficult now that Oregon State has a better passing threat in Sean Canfield than it did last season with Lyle Moevao.
Cal quarterback Kevin Riley needs to have a big day. He might because Oregon State's pass defense looked shaky against UCLA on Oct. 31. Riley is always the key to Cal's success. It's still hard to know what Riley will do, because he can look great on some plays and make some inexplicable mistakes on others. But he throws the deep ball well and is capable of making some big plays, as he has demonstrated in recent weeks.
Best has not been particularly effective against the better Pac-10 teams, and he needs to change that against the Beavers. He had a pretty good game in the 37-21 loss to Oregon State last season, however, rushing for 116 yards, including a 65-yard scoring run that brought the Bears to within 27-21 in the third quarter.
The Bears have played well at home, except for the 30-3 loss to USC, but the Beavers are a pretty good road team.
Oregon State is on the road for three of its final four games of the regular season, but should that really worry the Beavers?
They start the string Saturday in Berkeley, where OSU has come away with triumphs over California on its last four visits to Memorial Stadium. That includes victories over California teams ranked in the top 25 in 2005 and '07, the latter when Cal was No. 2 in the nation.
"I don't look at strings very much," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "They're all individual games to me, they all carry their own story."
There's been one notable common thread to the run of OSU victories in Berkeley, however: the ability to run the football against the Cal defense.
In 2001, it was Ken Simonton rushing for 125 yards and three touchdowns as the Beavers beat Cal, 19-10. In '03, it was Steven Jackson rushing for 227 yards and two touchdowns as OSU won 35-21. In 2005, Yvenson Bernard carried 42 times for 194 yards and two scores as the Beavers squeaked out a 23-20 victory and then it was Bernard, again, with 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns in OSU's 31-28 upset of Cal in 2007.
"If we win, many times our running back does pretty well," Riley said. "That's part of our identity."
That hasn't changed with this team, with OSU sophomore Quizz Rodgers ranking second in the Pac-10 in rushing with an average of 115.2 yards.
In the four consecutive wins at Berkeley, the OSU running game "has been very important and will be once again," Riley said.
The more productive the OSU running game, Riley explained, the less that Cal's defense will be able to set up to rush the passer.
"The more you can run the ball the more you can settle all that (Cal pressure) down," Riley said. "You have to be little patient with the run, get something going and then work on it."
FAST FACTS: Bears -- QB Kevin Riley's first collegiate start came two years ago against Oregon State and it was memorable -- for the wrong reason. Cal was 5-0 and ranked No. 2 at the time, but the Beavers held a 31-28 lead before Riley, playing in place of injured Nate Longshore, directed a late drive that got the ball to the Oregon State 12-yard line with 14 seconds left. Without any timeouts left, Riley unwisely decided to scramble on the next play, getting tackled for a two-yard gain, but the clock ran out before Cal could attempt a game-tying field goal.
--Cal is up to No. 20 in the Nov. 1 BCS standings. The Bears need to finish in the top 14 to be eligible to be invited to one of the five BCS games.
--Cal has produced 51 offensive plays that covered at least 20 yards this season.
--Giorgio Tavecchio was not named Cal's kicker for the Oct. 31 game against Arizona State until minutes before the game, and he and Vince D'Amato will compete through the week to see who will handle the place-kicking and/or kickoff chores against Oregon State.
--During Cal's current three-game winning streak, Kevin Riley has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and one interception and a 168.64 pass efficiency rating. His overall pass efficiency rating is 139.4.
Beavers -- Have won six of their last 12 games against ranked opponents, but are 0-3 against the top 25 this season with losses to Cincinnati, Arizona and USC. California this Saturday and Oregon on Dec. 3 are likely to be OSU's final opportunities to defeat a ranked opponent for the fifth consecutive season.
--Sean Canfield has stretched his streak of passes without throwing an interception to 117 attempts. His ability to avoid defenders is also shown by his completion percentage of .689, which ranks third in the nation behind Colt McCoy of Texas (.720) and Christian Ponder of Florida State (.694). Canfield is ahead of the OSU season record of .606 set by Matt Moore in 2006.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB Syd'Quan Thompson -- Opposing offenses tend to direct their passing attack elsewhere, but on those rare occasions teams throw into his area, he is capable of making a big play, such as causing a fumble or getting an interception. The Bears will have trouble limiting Sean Canfield's passing, and they will need a big play by someone like Thompson.
TB Shane Vereen -- Jahvid Best is the Bears' game-breaker, but Vereen has the ability to change a game either as a kick-returner or as a running back when Best is resting. Defenses seem to relax a little when Best is on the sidelines, and Vereen has a habit of making teams pay when they do. Although he does not break as many long runs as Best, he is a little more likely to get the tough inside yards and is less likely to be caught for a loss. And it is important for the Bears to avoid long-yardage situation in which they are forced to pass against Oregon State.
WR Jeremy Ross -- He has been at the center of pivotal plays in Cal's past two wins. His long kickoff and punt returns against Washington State put the Bears in control, and the nice catch he made on a 56-yard play in the first quarter against Arizona State turned that game in Cal's favor. He is getting more playing time as both a returner and receiver lately, and is sometimes used on the end-around as a runner. Jeff Tedford has discovered that getting the ball in Ross' hands can create a big-gainer.
RB Quizz Rodgers -- With the "Wild Beaver" formation, in which the sophomore running back takes a direct snap from center, becoming a bigger part of the offense, Rodgers is even more featured. He's even shown the ability to throw the football, with his first touchdown pass thrown last week against UCLA.
DT Stephen Paea -- His three sacks against UCLA will be a reminder to the Bears that they need to give extra intention to the OSU junior in the middle of the line. That potentially allows openings for OSU's outside defenders to face more single blockers. It all starts for OSU with strength in the middle of the defense, and few defenders are stronger than Paea.
OT Michael Philipp -- The OSU freshman on the left side has held up relatively well in his first season of college football, but this week there's another test. California's Tyson Alualu is one of the conference's best pass rushers with five sacks. Philipp, and right tackle Mike Remmers, will sometimes not have help on pass blocking because Cal's 3-4 alignment will have the guards wary of blitzing linebackers.
--NT Derek Hill, who missed the Oct. 31 game against Arizona State with a sprained shoulder, is questionable for the Nov. 7 game against Oregon State. His absence would be felt against the inside running of Jacquizz Rodgers.
--LB Mike Mohamed, who had 12 tackles against Arizona State and leads the Pac-10 in tackles, was named the Pac-10 defensive player of the week for his performance against the Sun Devils.
--CB Darian Hagan, who was suspended for the Arizona State game because he missed a class, will be available for the Oregon State game, but Josh Hill has become the starter at that position.
--OG Matt Summers-Gavin is questionable for the Oregon State game because of a shoulder injury.
--Backup quarterback Lyle Moevao underwent successful foot surgery after being injured in practice last week. That seems likely to mean the end of his college career, though OSU will ask the Pac-10 to grant him a medical redshirt year. Moevao redshirted already in 2006 and no injury was involved, but why not attempt to get an extra year?
--A couple of players could be returning from injuries this week, to at least practice. Reserve safety Anthony Watkins (shoulder) had been a regular contributor on special teams in kick coverage, so his return would be an immediate factor. Also moving along in his rehabilitation is offensive lineman Timi Oshinowo, who suffered a knee injury in the spring that required surgery. Oshinowo spent most of the spring working with the No. 1 offense at right tackle, so his return would help depth.
Vanderbilt at Florida
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:15 ET
SERIES: Florida leads Vanderbilt 30-9-2 (last meeting, 2008, 42-14 Florida).
POLLS: Florida (1 BCS, AP and coaches)
PREDICTION: Florida 42-21
KEYS TO THE GAME: Florida has clinched the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, assuring a trip to the SEC title game in Atlanta. But there are bigger goals for the Gators, who are trying to extend their nation-best 18-game winning streak and preserve their No. 1 ranking.
That quest will continue Saturday at home against Vanderbilt.
"The focus is on trying to get better," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "That's absolutely what we do. Last week, the ship was sinking. That's what I kept hearing."
Florida (8-0, 6-0 SEC) solved some of its red zone woes last week against Georgia, scoring 10 points in three trips inside the 20. Against Vanderbilt, Florida will look to try to fluster Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams, who is making his first start of the season. Starting quarterback Larry Smith is done for the season with a torn hamstring.
"Our focus is on Vanderbilt," Meyer said.
"(That's) one of the things you admire about this team. You look across the country and Texas does such a good job of focusing and playing each game. Cincinnati, I flip on the TV and they have the ability to stay really focused.
"The reason our kickoff unit and punt unit were they best they've ever been (in last week's victory against Georgia) is because of great attention to detail and great focus. If we can maintain that, we have a chance to win the next game."
The Commodores could use a bye week right about now. Make that two or three bye weeks -- and not just because the schedule-maker has them traveling to unbeaten and No. 1 Florida on Saturday night.
The stress of playing nine straight weeks without a break has knocked out one starter after another, the latest being quarterback Larry Smith. He's out for the final three games with a torn hamstring suffered on a 35-yard run in the first quarter of last week's 56-31 loss to No. 10 Georgia Tech.
Add in the absence of left tackle Thomas Welch (ankle) this week, and Vanderbilt will head to Gainesville without a whopping seven starters, including five on offense, from its opening night lineup.
"We are a little banged up," coach Bobby Johnson said in the understatement of the season. "We have to get back on the practice field so we can see who is available to play and go down to Gainesville and give our best effort."
Which, unless the Gators make a ton of mistakes and just take the game for granted, won't be enough. It's hard to see the Commodores being able to contain quarterback Tim Tebow or anyone on Florida's offense after allowing nearly 600 yards last week.
Still, the Commodores have nothing to lose and at least come in with some confidence on offense after moving the ball pretty easily last week.
Backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams played most of the game and didn't need much time to get into a rhythm, completing 12 of 22 passes for 157 yards. Adams' experience -- he's started at times in the past two years -- makes him an ideal choice to start in the Swamp.
"He was up to speed as soon as he went in," Johnson said of Adams' performance against Georgia Tech. "We expect him to go in there and get right to it."
FAST FACTS: Gators -- MLB Brandon Spikes has been suspended for the first half of the Vanderbilt game after being caught on tape trying to gouge the eyes of Georgia freshman running back Washuan Ealey. "I understand what goes on in football, but there's no place for that," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "I spoke with him. That's not who he is. That's not who we are. He got caught up in the emotion. I love Brandon Spikes; our team does. That's not something (we condone). We'll move on. He has our full support."
--K Caleb Sturgis earned Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the second time in the last three weeks. Sturgis kicked a career-best 56-yard field goal against Georgia and added a 44-yard field goal later in the game. The 56-yarder was the longest in the SEC this season.
Commodores -- RB Warren Norman is the first Southeastern Conference player with three kickoff return touchdowns in one season since Tennessee's Willie Gault did it in 1980. Norman needs 206 yards in the last three games to claim the school's all-time record for most rushing yards by a freshman.
--LB Chris Marve's career-high 18 tackles against Georgia Tech moved him atop the SEC in tackles with 90 through nine games. The sophomore also has forced three fumbles, putting him among the conference leaders.
--Vanderbilt's 31 points against Georgia Tech was just eight fewer than it has scored in five SEC games this season. The Commodores have managed 9, 3, 7, 10 and 10 points in their conference games -- all losses.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Tim Tebow -- Tebow appears to be in fine form after a four-touchdown (two rushing, two receiving) performance against Georgia. This could be a game in which Tebow is able to further pad his Heisman stats.
WR Riley Cooper -- Cooper is coming off a two-TD receiving performance against Georgia. For the season, Cooper had a team-high 474 yards receiving and five touchdown catches.
LB Ryan Stamper -- With MLB Brandon Spikes suspended for the first half, the Gators will turn to Stamper to man the middle. Stamper has been steady all season filling in for Spikes with a season-high 48 tackles this season.
DE Jermaine Cunningham -- Cunningham is coming off one of his better games, with four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry against Georgia. Look for Cunningham to pressure Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams.
QB Mackenzi Adams -- In his first start of the year, Adams draws the nation's No. 1 team on the road. Lucky him. Adams does have experience on his side, although he'll work behind a patchwork line that is missing both starting tackles. Good decisions are a must for him.
LT Ryan Seymour -- The freshman likely will be Thomas Welch's replacement against Florida, a daunting task. His first career start takes place against a team with plenty of speed rushers that will make his assignment that much more difficult.
DT Greg Billinger -- He and his mates up front must find a way to get penetration, yet play with the kind of discipline needed against an offense that tries to attack the edge and gain an advantage with misdirection. It will be a big task for Billinger, Adam Smotherman and company.
--RB Chris Rainey (shoulder) is questionable for Vanderbilt.
--RB Mike Gillislee (hamstring) is questionable for Vanderbilt.
--LB Brandon Hicks (hamstring) is questionable for Vanderbilt.
--DT Brandon Antwine (shoulder) is doubtful and might need surgery.
--SS Dorian Munroe returned to action against Georgia after missing the first seven games of the season with torn meniscus in his left knee.
--LT Thomas Welch (sprained ankle) is unlikely to play at Florida, according to coach Bobby Johnson. Welch originally suffered the injury Oct. 17 against Georgia but played through it for most of the last two weeks.
--RB Jared Hawkins (foot) sat out last week's game against Georgia Tech when his season-long injury flared up again. He isn't listed on the depth chart this week, so it's unlikely he'll be able to see the field.
--QB Larry Smith is finished for the season after tearing a hamstring against Georgia Tech. Smith completed 107 of 227 passes in his first year as a starter and will return for spring practice as the No. 1 guy under center.
Houston at Tulsa
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 ET
TV: CBS College Sports TV
SERIES: Houston 18-Tulsa 16 (last meeting, 2008, 70-30, Houston).
POLLS: Houston (15 BCS and coaches, 13 AP)
PREDICTION: Houston 47-40
KEYS TO THE GAME: Houston enters the last four weeks of the regular season with a lot to play for.
The Cougars sit tied atop Conference USA's West Division with SMU with a 3-1 record.
Quarterback Case Keenum is starting to gain some momentum for a Heisman run, based on his fantastic numbers to this point but also based on the Cougars' winning ways.
And, in the latest BCS rankings, Houston sits 15th, with the chance for upward movement as teams above it lose and as long as the Cougars keep winning.
But Houston is trying to just focus on this week's opponent, Tulsa, despite the fact the Golden Hurricane have lost three straight coming into the contest.
The Cougars' only loss this season came to a 1-3 UTEP squad that didn't seem to pose much of a threat to high-powered Houston. The lesson from the loss? Don't take anyone lightly.
"They're a good team, and you can't take them lightly," said Keenum. "There's a lot riding on this game and for the past several years. I know some of their goals include beating Houston. It'll take a good game by us to beat them."
If the Cougars need any motivation to get up for Tulsa, they need only look back at the Golden Hurricane's effort against unbeaten Boise State on national television a couple weeks ago, when Tulsa came within seven points of the Broncos.
"They still play hard, and they still have good players," said Houston coach Kevin Sumlin. "They caught a couple bad breaks. For whatever reason, they have not been able to get over the hump. They've been close and just haven't made it."
Houston will need to play its best on both sides of the ball to escape Tulsa with a victory, one that could help the team reach a number of its goals that are still within reach.
FAST FACTS: CougarsB -- QB Case Keenum was named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week after the win over Southern Miss, the seventh time in his career that the junior has earned the honor, tying the league record held by Tulane's Shaun King and Memphis' DeAngelo Williams.
--TE Fendi Onobun was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week after his two blocked extra points against Southern Miss. It was just the sixth game of football that Onobun had played in since middle school.
--The Cougars' 750 yards of total offense against Southern Miss marked the 16th time in the last two seasons that Houston has accounted for more than 500 offensive yards in a game.
Hurricane -- Tulsa has lost three straight games for the first time since 2006. That season Tulsa was 7-1 before the three-game skid, then it won the season finale and lost the Armed Forces Bowl to Utah.
--The 354 yards passing allowed to SMU is the most in a single game given up by the Tulsa defense in 13 games. Houston passed for 461 yards in a 70-30 win over the Golden Hurricane last season.
--QB G.J. Kinne threw only two interceptions in his first 178 passes through seven games this season. He threw two picks in 10 passes against SMU on Saturday and was lifted for backup Jacob Bower.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
B B B QB Case Keenum -- Coming off a career-high 559 yards passing and five touchdowns, Keenum is certainly on a roll. But he has to watch out for overconfidence and trying to throw the ball into tight coverage, as Tulsa is hoping to get some turnovers.
RB Charles Sims -- The freshman has developed into a threat in both the running and passing game. Sims gives the Cougars a breakaway threat every time he touches the ball, and that threat is a key to slowing down the Tulsa pass rush.
LB Marcus McGraw -- The Cougars' leading tackler is sure to get the rest of the defense fired up to avoid a repeat of last week's 500-plus yards given up to Southern Miss. Look for a Houston defense to try to make things happen rather than waiting for them to happen against Tulsa.
WR Damaris Johnson -- The sophomore surpassed the 4,000-yard mark for all-purpose yards on Saturday. He had four catches for 121 yards, plus 124 yards in punt and kickoff returns. That gave him 4,003 all-purpose yards for his career.
P Michael Such -- With the offense struggling for the past two games, Such's booming punts have given opponents long fields to work with. He had a season-long punt of 64 yards Saturday and averaged 45 yards on six kicks. Such's season average continues to improve and is up to 43.9 yards.
--Although he came through with two blocked extra points last week, TE Fendi Onobun won't be seeing any extra time on the field, since he's barely played football since middle school.
--WR James Cleveland continues to build chemistry with QB Case Keenum in just his first year with the team. Cleveland has emerged as one of Keenum's favorite targets over the past few weeks.
--Coach Kevin Sumlin is proud of the amount of help walk-on players have been able to provide, and he attributes it to the fact that the Cougars have such togetherness as a team.
Connecticut at Cincinnati
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 ET
SERIES: Cincinnati leads the series 4-1 (UConn won the last meeting, 40-16, in East Hartford in 2008).
POLLS: Cincinnati (5 BCS, 4 AP, 7 coaches)
PREDICTION: Cincinnati 33-21
KEYS TO THE GAME: The storyline for Saturday night's nationally-televised Big East clash between Cincinnati and UConn at Nippert Stadium is one of triumph and tragedy.
Triumph for the Bearcats, who've begun the season 8-0 for the first time since 1954 and have catapulted to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll and fifth in the latest BCS rankings, both the program's highest-ever rankings.
Tragedy for the UConn Huskies (4-4, 1-3), who've had to overcome the stabbing death of defensive back Jasper Howard and subsequently a pair of heart-wrenching four-point losses to West Virginia and Rutgers. UConn also lost starting quarterback Cody Endres to a season-ending shoulder injury.
This week, Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly praised UConn coach Randy Edsall for keeping his team focused amid such a difficult period in the program's history.
"When you have adversity like they've had, it humanizes you," Kelly said. "He's handled a very difficult situation with class and distinction. I already knew this about Randy, but I think the nation now sees what kind of leader they have at UConn."
On Saturday night, in a matchup broadcast by ABC, Kelly will have the opportunity to showcase his BCS title game-contending Bearcats to a nation full of skeptics. He could do so with starting quarterback and once-Heisman Trophy hopeful Tony Pike back under center.
"He's a lot closer than he was," said Kelly of Pike, who was expected to take full reps in practice for the first time since injuring his left (non-throwing) forearm. "He needs to be confident in his own mind that he can do the things within our offense."
UConn is rapidly becoming the team that it's most easy to feel sorry for. That's not even factoring in the tragic death of Jasper Howard in an on-campus stabbing two weeks ago.
The tragedy takes precedence in the minds of the UConn program and its followers over anything that happens on the field. But what has happened on the field has been a steady string of missed opportunities and botched fourth quarters that have the 4-4 Huskies struggling for their postseason lives instead of boasting an 8-0 record, which it could have had if its four losses had ended just a few minutes (or in the case of the Rutgers game a week ago, seconds) sooner.
The challenges only continue for coach Randy Edsall and his staff. Saturday's heartbreaking loss to the Scarlet Knights cost the team starting quarterback Cody Endres, who injured his left shoulder and is out for the season. Also done for the year is kick returner Robbie Frey, who took one back 100 yards in the game before injuring his own shoulder.
In moving on, he'll be counting on some smarter play from starting quarterback Zach Frazer. The junior threw for 333 yards and had some nice throws against Rutgers, but he also threw three interceptions. He got into trouble when he tried to force passes into coverage against the Scarlet Knights, and Cincinnati will likely use a similar approach this season.
As for the defense, the key is avoiding the big play. Edsall ruefully pointed out that the defense held Rutgers to 141 yards in 56 plays. Unfortunately, the Scarlet Knights finished with 61 plays in the game, and those additional five went for 181 yards.
The Huskies' four losses are by a combined 13 points, so it's hard for everyone not to feel snakebit. But this week brings a nationally-televised game against Cincinnati in prime time, some unprecedented exposure for the program, so there's no time for moping around.
FAST FACTS: Bearcats -- Saturday's telecast by ABC is the first ever at Nippert Stadium and the first Big East game in prime time on ABC since a Notre Dame/Pittsburgh matchup in 2005. It's the first intra-conference Big East game on ABC in prime time since 2003, when Miami of Florida faced Pittsburgh.
--Cincinnati sent a banner signed by head coach Brian Kelly and the entire team and staff to UConn in tribute to their fallen teammate Jasper Howard. Howard, a junior cornerback, died on Oct. 18 in Storrs. The banner features a blue C-PAW with Howard's picture and the phrase "Teammates For Life."
--The Bearcats are off to their best start since the 1951 team began the season 9-0.
--The Bearcats moved up one spot to No. 4 in this week's Associated Press poll, its highest ranking ever. UC remained No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Huskies -- Face a big decision this week on freshman QB Mike Box. He would be the logical choice to back up Zach Frazer now that Cody Endres is out for the year, but doing so would cost him his planned redshirt season. Other possibilities for the depth chart include a pair of redshirt freshmen, Johnny McEntee and Casey Turner. McEntee enters the week as the No. 2, but if something happens to Frazer, it will be tempting to see what the true frosh can do.
--With Robbie Frey out for the season with a shoulder injury, the Huskies have had to make a change on the kick-return unit. WR Mike Lang joins RB Jordan Todman taking back kicks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Sophomore QB Zach Collaros -- He could make his third consecutive start if Tony Pike can't go. In relief of the injured Pike, Collaros has gone 41-of-52 for 620 yards and seven TDs while rushing for 206 yards and two TDs. Collaros could be used in the Wildcat set if Pike starts, but head coach Brian Kelly has been mum on that subject.
WR Armon Binns -- The junior has taken full advantage of opposing defenses' preoccupation with Mardy Gilyard and D.J. Woods. He has 17 catches for 327 yards and six TDs in his last five games. Binns had an 81-yard TD reception in last week's win at Syracuse.
Redshirt freshman LB Walter Stewart -- He has drawn praise from the coaching staff in recent weeks. Since entering the starting lineup while Curtis Young was injured, Stewart has 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
QB Zach Frazer -- It's hard to remember, but Frazer was the starter at the beginning of the season before first losing the job to injury and then to Cody Endres' strong performance. The Notre Dame transfer showed a lot of that talent in the Rutgers' game, but he also showed why the coaching staff didn't stick with him by making some poor decisions in traffic. He'll have to be a lot better than that for the team to contend against Cincinnati.
DE Lindsey Witten -- Whether the quarterback is Tony Pike or Zach Collaros, it will be a bad day for the Huskies' defense if the Huskies aren't in the backfield. Witten is the big pass rusher on the team, and the senior will be counted on to have a big game under the bright lights.
SS Jerome Junior -- As The Strong Safety Turns continues in Storrs, and this week Junior is listed as the starter. Aaron Bagsby, who was in the lineup a week ago, was beaten on the Tim Brown touchdown reception that cost the team the victory a week ago, so Junior can expect to be on the field most of the day.
--Senior QB and once-Heisman Trophy hopeful Tony Pike, who's missed two games due to an injured forearm, is expected to practice this week. He will take some team reps and participate in 7-on-7 drills, the first time he's done so since reinjuring his left, non-throwing arm he broke last season. Pike has passed for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Head coach Brian Kelly said a decision regarding Pike's status for Saturday's game against UConn would be made later in the week.
--Junior TE Ben Guidugli left Saturday's game at Syracuse in the first quarter after suffering what was later diagnosed as a minor concussion. Guidugli appeared to be struck in the back of the head by the knee of a Syracuse defender after he made a nine-yard reception resulting in a cut that required stitches.
--Junior OL Samuel Griffin did not play in Saturday's game against Syracuse due to illness.
--Junior C.J. Cobb made his first career start at right guard at Syracuse. Alex Hoffman started at right tackle.
--RB/KR Robbie Frey is out for the season with the shoulder injury he suffered against Rutgers. That came after he took a kickoff 100 yards for a score earlier in the game.
--QB Cody Endres had shoulder surgery Sunday morning. He separated it against Rutgers and is out for the year.
--DE Mike Cox has a lower leg injury but is probable for this week's game.
Southern Cal at Arizona State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 ET
SERIES: USC leads Arizona State, 16-9 (last meeting, 2008, 28-0 USC).
POLLS: USC (12 BCS and AP, 13 coaches)
PREDICTION: USC 27-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: With still much to play for -- such as an at-large berth in into a BCS bowl -- Southern Cal went searching for answers after the worst loss of the Pete Carroll era.
Upon reviewing the 47-20 loss at Oregon, Carroll said he thinks he found the culprit.
And it was him.
"We asked them to do too much and played like garbage," Carroll was quoted as saying in the L.A. Daily News. "They were trying to do too many things and didn't play freed up. We schemed too hard.
"That's totally my mistake. That's the greatest coaches' challenge. How much is enough? This one I messed it up."
USC doesn't have the surplus of experience it had last season, after which eight defenders were drafted into the NFL -- including four among the first 56 picks. Carroll says the defensive scheme was too complicated for the level of experience of this year's defense, which led to players being too cautious against Oregon's fast-paced read-option offense.
USC (6-2 overall, 3-2 Pac-10) won't face that kind of scheme or explosion this week at Arizona State, which is 77th nationally in total offense with 354.63 yards per game. Carroll said the team had a good practice Monday as it began to bounce back from the Oregon loss.
A four-game winning streak to end the season could land the No. 12 Trojans into the BCS.
"Every once in a while you get your butt kicked, you get your face shoved in the dirt," linebacker Chris Galippo told the L.A. Times. "That's what happened. They out-executed us. We came out slow. We just really couldn't find the ball and they were doing everything right."
Trying to end a two-game losing streak and fighting for a bowl berth, Arizona State gets No. 12 USC this week.
The Trojans are coming off the worst loss of the Pete Carroll era -- a 47-20 wipeout at Oregon -- and will be extra motivated to erase that bad feeling in Tempe.
At least that's how the Sun Devils figure it.
"I figure they are going to be fired up and ready to go," said quarterback Danny Sullivan. "I think they'll have a way different mentality than they had, especially after that game against Oregon. Coach Carroll is going to do a good job of getting those guys ready and getting them back to where they want to be."
Arizona State is 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-10. Getting to six wins for bowl eligibility won't be easy, considering the Sun Devils still have three ranked teams on the schedule. After USC is a game at No. 7 Oregon on Nov. 14. Then comes a game at UCLA and a regular-season finale at home against No. 21 Arizona.
"It doesn't get much tougher," coach Dennis Erickson said.
"We know that, and we've just got to look at it one game at a time. It's an old cliche but it's true. We're playing better we've just got to pull (a win) out here."
As for playing a USC team coming off a painful loss, Erickson said the Trojans will be "scary."
"They're still a great football team and a great program," Erickson said.
"A lot of teams have gone up to Oregon and had that happen. Things just start rolling on you and it's tough, but that program isn't where it's at by not coming back and fighting like heck. They'll come in here and play their best game. Pete will have them ready to go."
FAST FACTS: Trojans -- USC has allowed two short tailbacks from Texas -- Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Oregon's LaMichael James -- to rush for a combined 296 yards in the past two games. Arizona State has a tailback from Texas -- senior Dimitri Nance -- but he is neither small nor as explosive as those two guys. Plus, he has a sprained shoulder and likely will be limited, if he plays at all.
--USC has won at least 11 games in each of the past seven seasons, which is an NCAA record. To extend that streak this season, the Trojans are going to have to sweep the four remaining games in the regular season and win their bowl game.
Sun Devils -- Arizona State, which plays No. 12 USC this week and still has to play two more teams currently ranked, is 3-27 this decade against ranked teams. "We have to get one of these wins against a top-tier opponent," said senior quarterback Danny Sullivan. "Let this be the week, get good preparation and be ready to go."
--Arizona State is trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1946-47.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Matt Barkley -- He continues to have an efficient true freshman season, completing 118 of 199 passes for 1,727 yards, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. If ASU stuffs the run as it often does, Barkley will have to try to take advantage of a suspect Sun Devils secondary.
DE Everson Griffen -- The pass-rushing ace has eight sacks for 50 yards this season, and he will be going against a fairly stationary target in ASU's Danny Sullivan this week.
RB Joe McKnight -- He had a decent game against Oregon last week, and leads USC with 712 rushing yards on 112 carries. He has shown more toughness in his running style this season and will need that attribute against a very good ASU front seven.
LB Vontaze Burfict -- In one of the biggest news items of the most recent Signing Day, Burfict changed his mind from USC and signed with Arizona State. Burfict has definitely made an impact as a true freshman, mixing big hits with immature penalties. He is second on the team in tackles with 36 and has the tools to be a star.
QB Danny Sullivan -- Because of an injury to Rudy Carpenter, Sullivan played against USC in the second half of last year's game, and it wasn't pretty. Sullivan was 4 of 17 for 28 yards with two interceptions as ASU unsuccessfully tried to play catch-up. Sullivan has significantly more experience now, although he's not in the upper tier of Pac-10 quarterbacks, having completed 126 of 232 passes for 1,414 yards, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
RB Cameron Marshall -- The true freshman will start, unless Dimitri Nance (who was limited to one series last week because of a sprained shoulder) is able to go. Either way, Marshall will play a lot. He has 28 rushes for 164 yards. "He's a hard runner, he's physical, he's got good speed," coach Dennis Erickson said.
--Starting sophomore LB Chris Galippo suffered a neck injury against Oregon last week but said he expects to play this week.
--Freshman LB Jarvis Jones suffered a neck injury at Oregon but should be able to play at Arizona State this week.
--Junior C Kris O'Dowd, a preseason All-American, has missed the past two games because of a preseason knee injury that never fully healed. O'Dowd missed the opener and then made five consecutive starts before sitting out. He might be able to play this week at Arizona State. "He might not make it back to full speed until the season is over," coach Pete Carroll said, "but he's the best he's been in a while."
--Starting FB Stanley Havili (shoulder) has missed the past two games but he was full speed at practice Monday.
--Starting TE Anthony McCoy, who suffered an ankle injury against Oregon State on Oct. 24 and did not play against Oregon, was feeling better early this week, coach Pete Carroll said.
--Sophomore DT Armond Armstead has a broken wrist and was to find out later in the week if he would be able to play with a cast.
--Starting LB Malcolm Smith suffered a fractured bone in his shoulder in the Oregon game. His return is uncertain. Shane Horton is next in line to start.
--LB Jordan Campbell, who suffered a sprained ankle against Washington State on Sept. 26, is expected back this week.
--CB Omar Bolden (knee) has missed the past four games.
--RB Dimitri Nance (sprained shoulder) started last week's game but had just one carry and gave way to Cameron Marshall and Ryan Bass. He figures to be limited, at best, against USC.
--WR Kerry Taylor (hamstring) did not play against Cal, but coach Dennis Erickson said Monday that Taylor should be good to go against USC this week.
--WR T.J. Simpson suffered a high ankle sprain against Cal and could miss the rest of the regular season. He has five catches for 94 yards.
Oklahoma at Nebraska
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 ET
SERIES: Oklahoma leads Nebraska, 44-37-3 (last meeting, 2008, 62-28).
POLLS: Oklahoma (24 BCS, 20 AP and coaches)
PREDICTION: Nebraska 23-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: A quick glance at Oklahoma might suggest the Sooners are a merely average team that is beatable.
The Sooners, who played in last year's BCS title game, are 5-3 overall, playing without their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and just surrendered 30 points at home to Kansas State.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini knows to look beyond the numbers when it comes to Oklahoma.
"Hell of a football team, very good defense," Pelini said. "They play hard and are talented. It's a very good defense. As good as we've seen."
So yes, Nebraska will be the underdog when these historic rivals meet Saturday night in Lincoln. The Huskers are gasping for air on offense and are expected to have freshman Cody Green make his second start.
This isn't a must win for Nebraska (5-3 overall, 2-2 Big 12), but a loss makes the Huskers final three games -- all against North Division foes -- must-win games if Nebraska wants to win a North title.
Nebraska plays at Kansas (1-3) next week, then hosts Kansas State (3-2) and concludes the regular season at Colorado (1-3).
There are many things Oklahoma can't do this season, such as play for a national championship. And, barring a monumental collapse by Texas, the Sooners won't be going back to the Big 12 championship game.
On the other hand, what OU can do -- and is doing -- is something it has repeatedly done under the guidance of Bob Stoops.
What the Sooners are doing is getting tangibly better.
Last week, OU took a step backwards defensively. Maybe that was just the luck of the draw (it's hard to be great every Saturday) or the genius of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. In any case, nobody seems to think the Sooners have been exposed on that side of the ball.
The prevailing emotion is excitement about the progress made by the offense in each of the last two weeks.
Is it because Landry Jones knows he's the quarterback, and the rest of the team knows he's the quarterback? Is the offensive line figuring things out at last? Are receivers other than Ryan Broyles simply showcasing the benefit of more experience and practice?
Those are possibilities, but the more telling thing is the fact that this always seems to happen.
OU ran the table following a loss to Texas last season. In 2006, with Paul Thompson at quarterback, it did the same thing. In 2005, OU was clearly a far better team after beating Oregon at the Holiday Bowl than it was after taking its third loss of the season, 45-12, to Texas. It would have run the table after Texas that year, too, but lost amid controversy at Texas Tech.
By turning Kansas State away with two fourth-quarter drives last week, OU took another step. It was the first time the offense had to overcome defensive (and special teams) issues, and it did so with flying colors.
"Three or four weeks ago, we would have lost that game the way we were playing," offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.
But OU elevated it's game when it needed to.
Now the Sooners want to keep it going.
Championships may be out of the question, but winning and getting better is a lot more fun than the alternative.
FAST FACTS: Cornhuskers -- Nebraska will celebrate the tradition of the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry by honoring 22 major award winners from the two schools. That includes six Heisman Trophy winners who will be present. The players are attending a private dinner Friday night and will be recognized at halftime Saturday night.
--There are plenty of coaching connections between the Nebraska and Oklahoma staffs. OU coach Bob Stoops and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini are both Youngstown, Ohio, natives who played at Cardinal Mooney High School. Pelini was a co-defensive coordinator under Stoops for one season at Oklahoma, and Pelini's brother, Carl, the current Nebraska defensive coordinator, spent time on the Kansas State staff with Stoops.
--Nebraska, which has lost back-to-back home games to Texas Tech and Iowa State, hasn't lost three straight home games since 1968 (Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State).
Sooners -- Though it has dropped slightly in recent weeks, OU's schedule is still ranked the 10th-most difficult in the nation. The top nine include no other Big 12 programs. Virginia Tech ranks No. 1. The Sooners have played four ranked teams, and their opponents and carry a .636 winning percentage.
--QB Landry Jones leads the nation's freshman with 17 touchdown passes, and it's not close. Boston College's Dave Shinskie and Kent State's Spencer Keith both have 11.
--Oklahoma has won four consecutive meetings against Nebraska.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Cody Green -- The true freshman is expected to make his second straight start, although coaches won't say for certain. Facing Oklahoma's defense is a significant step up from managing Baylor's defense (which was difficult enough for the Huskers). Can Green make enough plays for a struggling offense? Or more importantly, can he take care of the football against an opportunistic defense?
DT Jared Crick -- It's become apparent opponents can't focus their entire attention on Ndamukong Suh. Crick will make teams pay, evident by his 13-tackle, five-sack performance last weekend. How will a struggling (by Oklahoma standards) offensive line account for Crick and Suh? One of the two, or both, will be harassing quarterback Landry Jones.
RB Roy Helu -- Nebraska' top running back has a combined 12 carries in the Huskers' last two games and has looked hesitant running into contact with his bum right shoulder. So it was somewhat surprising when coaches on Monday removed the no-contact green jersey Helu had been wearing the past three weeks. Does that mean Helu is suddenly healthy, or are coaches fearful the green jersey was making Helu less physical?
QB Landry Jones -- He's started five games and been Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice. Saturday, he'll face maybe the best front four he'll see all season. If he can come out and complete passes early, it could mean missing the worst of the pressure the Huskers are capable of bringing.
WR Ryan Broyles -- Every week he seems to do something spectacular. He has 10 touchdown catches this season despite missing three quarters against Miami, the entire Baylor game and a good portion of the Texas game. OU's most prolific playmaker this season, he's delivered every game when healthy.
DE Jeremy Beale -- OU's defense is looking to rebound after allowing 30 points to Kansas State. Beale, with 13.5 tackles for losses and 8.5 sacks to lead the Sooners in both categories, is a great guy to keep an eye on.
--NT Ndamukong Suh was cited for negligent driving early Sunday morning after the vehicle he was driving collided with three parked cars on a Lincoln residential street. There were no injuries. Suh's SUV, owned by his mother, sustained $10,000 in damages. Suh's playing time won't be affected, coach Bo Pelini said.
--RB Dontrayevous Robinson returned to practice Monday after coaches said he "was dinged" in the second half against Baylor and didn't return to the game.
--DL Brian Simmons, just as it was explained last week, remains a "a week or two" away from getting back on the field, according to head coach Bob Stoops.
--WR Brandon Caleb turned an ankle early and missed the rest of the Kansas State game. He's practicing this week, and the Sooners are hopeful he'll return against Nebraska.
--OL Brody Eldridge began the season at center, played his next five games at tight end, and is now playing a guard position.