What to watch in college football

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
11:00
AM ET

Here are 10 things I’ll be watching in college football this weekend:

1. Is Baylor a threat to knock off Oklahoma?

The No. 5 Sooners have never lost to the Bears. But Baylor is a very good team at home, winning each of its five games and averaging 49 points at Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears might have been looking ahead to OU in last week's game at Kansas, where they had to come back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Jayhawks, 31-30. The Bears lead the Big 12 in scoring with 40.3 points and in total offense with 567.9 yards per game. If this game turns into a shootout, can OU survive without receiver Ryan Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley?

2. Will Clemson suffer a letdown against NC State?

The No. 7 Tigers clinched the ACC's Atlantic Division and a spot in the Dec. 3 ACC championship game in Charlotte by beating Wake Forest 31-28 on a last-second field goal last week. Will the Tigers be ready for Saturday's game at NC State. The Wolfpack have to win their last two games to play in a bowl game because they have two victories against FCS opponents. Clemson might be without star receiver Sammy Watkins, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his shoulder against the Demon Deacons. Coach Dabo Swinney said Watkins will be a game-time decision on Saturday.

3. Should No. 6 Arkansas be on upset alert against Mississippi State?

The Hogs might have their sights set on their Nov. 25 showdown at No. 1 LSU, but they can't look past the Bulldogs, who have played very good defense lately. While Hogs quarterback Tyler Wilson and his deep receiving corps have lit up foes, MSU hasn't allowed an opponent to throw for more than 200 yards in each of its past six games. In fact, the Bulldogs have yielded only two touchdown passes in their past five games.

4. Can Stanford recover from its hangover?

The No. 9 Cardinal saw its Pac-12 and BCS title hopes dashed with last week's loss to Oregon. But Stanford still has a shot at playing in a BCS bowl game, possibly the Rose Bowl if Oregon plays its way into the Allstate BCS National Championship Game or the Fiesta or Sugar bowls as an at-large selection. The Cardinal will have to rebound quickly to be mentally ready for the Big Game against rival California on Saturday. Stanford will probably be without tight end Zach Ertz (knee) and receiver Chris Owusu (concussion), two of quarterback Andrew Luck's favorite targets.

5. Can No. 10 Houston handle the bright spotlight?

The Cougars have the inside track to earn a BCS at-large spot, after Boise State's loss to TCU last week. The undefeated Cougars will welcome ESPN's College GameDay show to Houston for Saturday's game against SMU, and quarterback Case Keenum will have a great opportunity to showcase his talents for Heisman Trophy voters. The Mustangs have lost three of their past four games. Houston will have to beat SMU, Tulsa at home next week and then possibly Southern Miss in the Dec. 3 Conference USA championship game to have a chance at playing in a BCS bowl game.

6. Can USC slow down Oregon’s running game?

The No. 4 Ducks can clinch the Pac-12 North title with their 10th straight victory and stay alive in the BCS national championship race. Oregon tailback LaMichael James leads the country in rushing with 150.9 yards per game, and the Ducks had 232 rushing yards in last week’s 53-30 victory at then-No. 4 Stanford. The Trojans have been stout against the run lately, holding Washington to only 46 rushing yards in last week’s 40-17 victory. USC ranks No. 8 nationally in run defense, giving up only 100.4 yards per game.

7. Will Texas slow down Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein?

The Longhorns have made strides under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, holding opponents to 21 points per game. But Texas will get a major test from Klein, who has run for more than 1,500 yards, passed for more than 1,000 and accounted for 34 touchdowns in 10 games. In last week’s 53-50 victory against Texas A&M in four overtimes, Klein had a career-high 281 passing yards, ran for 103 yards and had six total touchdowns.

8. Will Michigan or Nebraska remain in the Big Ten Legends race?

The No. 16 Cornhuskers and No. 18 Wolverines both trail No. 15 Michigan State by one-game in the division standings. Michigan will be eliminated from the race if the Spartans beat lowly Indiana. But Nebraska can stay in the hunt by beating the Wolverines. The outcome might be decided by which quarterback takes care of the football. Michigan’s Denard Robinson is going to play with a sprained wrist, after throwing seven interceptions in the past five games. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez has thrown seven interceptions, second-most in the Big Ten behind Robinson’s 13.

9. Can Penn State regain its focus at Ohio State?

The Nittany Lions still have a one-game lead against No. 17 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Leaders Division standings, but they’ll have to win at Ohio State or beat Wisconsin on the road next week to win the division and earn a trip to the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis on Dec. 3. The Nittany Lions are still reeling from coach Joe Paterno’s firing last week, and they’ve never had much success at OSU, winning in the Horseshoe only once since becoming a Big Ten member.

10. Will Cincinnati survive without its quarterback?

The Bearcats still have a one-game lead over four teams for first place in the Big East standings heading into Saturday’s game at Rutgers, but they’ll have to go the rest of the way without star quarterback Zach Collaros, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in last week’s 24-21 loss to Louisville. Sophomore Munchie Legaux completed 10 of 21 passes for 144 yards with one interception against the Cardinals and will start against the Scarlet Knights.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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