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Ten things to watch on Saturday

10/23/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach

Saturday’s schedule of college football games lacks a classic heavyweight battle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be drama.

Several of the country’s best teams hit the road, where upstarts and potential upsets await them.

Here are 10 things to watch on Saturday:

1. Should No. 1 Florida be worried about Mississippi State?

Probably not, but the Gators have to jump-start their sputtering offense at some point before the Dec. 5 SEC championship game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

Worse, Florida’s defense might be missing three starters because of injuries, including star linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Quarterback Tim Tebow hasn’t been especially sharp since coming back from a concussion, and few coaches know him better than first-year Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.

Mullen worked as Tebow’s quarterbacks coach each of his first three seasons at Florida and the two are especially close. Mullen also knows the ins and outs of Gators coach Urban Meyer’s offense (the coaches also worked together at Notre Dame, Bowling Green and Utah), which might give him an edge in Saturday night’s game at Davis Wade Stadium (7:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN360.com).

Believe it or not, the Gators have lost their last four games at Mississippi State and haven’t won there since 1985.

The Bulldogs have been surprisingly competitive in Mullen’s first season, losing to LSU 30-26 and Houston 31-24. Mississippi State has been undone by turnovers, which is what plagued the Gators in last week’s 23-20 win over Arkansas.

2. Can Iowa stay unbeaten?

To move to 8-0, the No. 6 Hawkeyes will have to beat fast-improving Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, where they haven’t won since 1995.

The Spartans have won four straight games against Iowa at home. Michigan State has won three games in a row overall and its defense is a big reason for the turnaround, with 14 sacks in the last three games.

The Hawkeyes have won 11 games in a row dating to last season, and they’ll be aiming for their first 8-0 start in school history.

3. Can Washington knock off another Pac-10 heavyweight?

The Huskies already have a 16-13 upset of Southern Cal on their belts, and now No. 11 Oregon makes the dangerous trip to Seattle on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC). More than anything, Oregon can't get caught looking ahead to its Oct. 31 showdown against No. 7 USC.

Washington is coming off another gut-wrenching defeat, losing at Arizona State 24-17. All but two of the Huskies' seven games have been decided by eight points or fewer, including three losses. Washington hasn't beaten Oregon since a 42-10 victory in 2003.

The Ducks might have quarterback Jeremiah Masoli back, who hasn't played since Oct. 3 because of a knee injury.

4. Can Georgia Tech finally win at Virginia?

The No. 12 Yellow Jackets haven't won in Charlottesville since 1990, losing eight games in a row at Scott Stadium. Overall, the Yellow Jackets have lost five of their last six games against the Cavaliers.

Saturday's road game at Virginia (12 p.m., ESPN360.com) might be even more dangerous because Georgia Tech might get caught riding sky high after last week’s 28-23 upset of then-No. 4 Virginia Tech.

After starting the season with three straight losses, Virginia has won three games in a row and leads the ACC's Coastal Division with a 2-0 record. Virginia has outscored its last three opponents, 83-19. Cavs quarterback Jameel Sewell (ankle) and leading rusher Mikell Simpson (shoulder) are questionable to play.

5. Will BYU turn the tables on TCU?

The Horned Frogs ended the Cougars' BCS hopes a year ago with a 32-7 victory in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU's defense was dominant, sacking BYU quarterback Max Hall six times and forcing him to throw two interceptions.

But it figures to be tougher for TCU at LaVell Edwards Stadium, where the Cougars have defeated 13 consecutive Mountain West Conference opponents (a league record) and won 23 of their last 25 games overall.

TCU will have to win out to have any chance at a lucrative BCS bowl game.

6. Can Oregon State beat USC again?

The Beavers have had great success against the Trojans, beating them in two of the last three meetings going into Saturday night’s game at the Los Angeles Coliseum (8 p.m., ABC).

USC’s 33-31 loss at Oregon State in 2006 (along with its stunning loss to UCLA in the regular-season finale) ended up knocking the Trojans out of the BCS national championship race. The No. 1 Trojans fell to the Beavers again last season, losing 27-21 in Corvallis, Ore., which was another blow to their BCS hopes.

But USC has had very little trouble with Oregon State at home, beating them 21 straight times in Los Angeles, where the Beavers haven’t won since 1960.

7. Will Alabama get Julio Jones more involved?

The Crimson Tide desperately wants to get Jones more involved in their passing game, but they might have a tough time doing it against Tennessee in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday.

Through seven games, Jones has 13 catches for 175 yards with one touchdown. Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy has struggled in October, completing only 50 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions in three games.

McElroy is trying to force throws to Jones, especially in the red zone. According to ESPN research, McElroy is 0-for-10 on pass attempts to Jones inside opponents’ 20-yard line. McElroy also is struggling to get downfield passes to Jones, completing only three of 15 attempts of 10 yards or more.

Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin figures to load the box to slow down tailback Mark Ingram, so McElroy and Jones could have some opportunities in the passing game.

8. Will No. 3 Texas continue its post-Oklahoma success?

The Longhorns have always played well the week after facing rival Oklahoma, and the stakes will be even higher when they play at Missouri on Saturday night (8 p.m., ABC).

The No. 3 Longhorns are in prime position to reach the BCS championship game, as long as they keep winning. Their 16-13 victory over the Sooners last week put them in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 South.

Texas hasn’t lost the week after playing Oklahoma since 1997, when the Longhorns lost 37-29 at Missouri in former coach John Mackovic’s final season.

Texas has won five games in a row over Missouri, which is coming off tough losses to Oklahoma State and Nebraska. Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert hasn’t played well since spraining his right ankle against the Cornhuskers, but he’s expected to start against Texas.

9. Can Ole Miss save its season?

The Rebels buckled under the weight of their lofty preseason expectations, but they can still salvage their season by beating Arkansas in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday (12:21 p.m., ESPN360.com).

The winner of this SEC West contest will have a great chance at finishing strong and putting itself in position for a possible New Year’s Day bowl game.

The Rebels play four of their final six games at home and only one of them is against a ranked opponent. Quarterback Jevan Snead finally played well in last week’s 48-13 win over UAB, throwing for three touchdowns without a sack or interception.

The Hogs must rebound from last week’s 23-20 loss at No. 1 Florida, but they’re always motivated to play former coach Houston Nutt.

10. Will Boston College beat Notre Dame again?

The Eagles have won six straight games against the Fighting Irish, who are coming off an emotional 34-27 loss to Southern Cal at home.

Boston College is one of the country’s biggest surprises with a 5-2 record in Frank Spaziani’s first season as head coach. The Eagles blasted NC State 52-20 last week, with Montel Harris running for 264 yards and five touchdowns, both school records.

The Eagles figure to be especially motivated playing at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. It’s their last trip to South Bend, Ind., for the foreseeable future – the series between the country’s only FBS football-playing schools ends with next year’s game at Boston College.