- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Here are 10 things I’ll be watching in college football this weekend:
1. Can quarterback John Brantley lead Florida to an upset victory over Alabama?
The No. 3 Crimson Tide will try to contain speedy tailbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey in Saturday night’s game against No. 12 Florida at the Swamp. Demps and Rainey have combined for 1,015 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns in four games. Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ main objective is to get his best playmakers in open space, which might be a challenge against Alabama’s fast defense. Will Brantley be able to beat the Crimson Tide with his arm?
2. Can Clemson win on the road?
The No. 13 Tigers were perhaps the country’s biggest surprise during the first month of the season, after ending defending BCS national champion Auburn’s 17-game winning streak and knocking off preseason ACC favorite Florida State. But each of Clemson’s four victories came at Death Valley and it hasn’t won at No. 11 Virginia Tech since 1989. Will Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and the Tigers’ high-paced offense be able to operate as smoothly at rowdy Lane Stadium?
3. Will Nebraska’s defense be good enough to slow down Wisconsin?
The No. 8 Cornhuskers play their first Big Ten game at No. 7 Wisconsin on Saturday night. Talk about a Big Ten welcome mat. Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini revamped his secondary in last week’s 38-14 victory at Wyoming, going with bigger cornerbacks and a taller strong safety. The Badgers’ offensive has been explosive with NC State transfer Russell Wilson at quarterback, with 10 plays of 40 yards or more.
4. Should No. 15 Baylor be on upset alert?
It’s been almost too easy for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has thrown more touchdowns (13) than incomplete passes (12) through three games. But Griffin will probably face his stiffest test from Kansas State’s defense in Saturday’s game in Manhattan, Kan. The Wildcats rank No. 6 nationally in total defense (246.3 yards per game) and No. 11 in pass defense (157.3 yards).
5. Can South Carolina get its passing game going?
The No. 10 Gamecocks seem to be living on borrowed time going into Saturday’s game against Auburn. Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has struggled mightily, throwing seven interceptions with only three touchdowns in four games. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier doesn’t seem to have much confidence in backup Connor Shaw, either. Receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had 88 receptions in 2010, has caught only two passes in each of the past two games. Spurrier might simplify his play calling in an attempt to revive his passing game against the Tigers.
6. Will Texas A&M bounce back from a deflating defeat?
The No. 14 Aggies will have to bounce back quickly after blowing a 20-3 halftime lead in last week’s 30-29 loss to Oklahoma State. Texas A&M’s defense might be the difference in Saturday’s game against No. 18 Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies lead the country in sacks with 4.67 per game and are No. 13 in tackles for loss with eight per game. The Razorbacks, who have three new starters on their offensive line, struggled to protect quarterback Tyler Wilson in last week’s 38-14 loss at Alabama.
7. Will Michigan State or Ohio State start Big Ten play on the right foot?
The Buckeyes have concerns at quarterback, where freshman Braxton Miller will make his second start in Saturday’s game against the Spartans. Michigan State’s offensive line is still suspect, although it played well in last week’s 45-7 rout of Central Michigan. The Spartans haven’t beaten OSU since 1999 and they’re 0-2 against the Buckeyes under coach Mark Dantonio, who was OSU’s defensive coordinator under former coach Jim Tressel during a national championship season in 2002.
8. Will Boise State get revenge?
The No. 4 Broncos shouldn’t have too many problems against the Wolf Pack, who will be playing their fourth straight road game to start the season. Nevada dashed Boise State’s BCS title hopes last season, upsetting the Broncos 34-31 on Nov. 26. The Wolf Pack will need a big performance from freshman quarterback Cody Fajardo, who has run for 197 yards and three touchdowns this season.
9. Can Texas avenge last year’s loss to Iowa State?
There were plenty of low points in No. 17 Texas’ stunning 5-7 finish last season, but perhaps none was worse than a 28-21 loss to the Cyclones at home. It was the Longhorns’ first loss to Iowa State and was the first of four straight losses. Iowa State outmuscled the Longhorns, running for 199 yards and four touchdowns. UT’s revamped defense will have to contain juco transfer Steele Jantz, who has passed for 666 yards with six touchdowns, while running for 112 yards with two scores.
10. Will Utah stay in the Pac-12 South race?
How good are the Utes? Are they better than the team that lost at USC 23-14 on Sept. 10? Are they as good as the team that routed rival BYU 54-10 on the road on Sept. 17? The Utes are probably somewhere in between, which might be good enough to win the Pac-12 South, considering USC is ineligible to compete for the title. The Utes can’t afford to drop Saturday night’s Pac-12 home opener against Washington, which also has been up and down during a 3-1 start.
Here are 10 things I’ll be watching in college football this weekend:1. Can quarterback John Brantley lead Florida to an upset victory over Alabama?