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Ten things to watch this weekend

9/17/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach

This weekend features plenty of grudge matches, none more interesting than Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin's visit to the Swamp. Across the land, teams will be looking to get even on Saturday. Here are 10 things I'll be watching:

1. How many points will No. 1 Florida score against Tennessee?

Probably as many as Gators coach Urban Meyer wants to put on the scoreboard. Saturday's game in The Swamp probably won't be very competitive, but it will be intriguing to see whether Meyer tries to make Kiffin pay for some of his ill-advised remarks during the offseason.

Meyer continues to say the game is about the players, but Meyer tends to hold grudges (ask Georgia coach Mark Richt). Meyer also has a lot of respect for Kiffin's father, Monte, who is Tennessee's defensive coordinator.

If Tennessee plays like it did in last week's 19-15 loss to UCLA, this game might get ugly very early.

2. Can the Cornhuskers slow down Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor?

Taylor was a one-man wrecking crew in the Hokies' 35-30 victory at Nebraska last season. Taylor enjoyed perhaps his best college game in Lincoln, running 15 times for 87 yards and one touchdown, and passing for 171 yards without an interception.

Containing Taylor will be the key when No. 19 Nebraska plays at No. 13 Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium on Saturday, according to Cornhuskers linebacker Blake Lawrence.

"There were a lot of times last year when Taylor slipped out of a tackle in the backfield or broke containment," Lawrence said. "We have to keep him in the pocket. When he gets out of the pocket, he becomes a dual threat."

Nebraska's defense played well in its first two games, allowing only 12 points combined in victories over Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State. But Virginia Tech figures to be a much stiffer test on the road. In last week's rout of Marshall, the Hokies ran for 444 yards. They also moved the ball well in a loss to Alabama in their opener.

3. Can Taylor Potts do what Graham Harrell did against Texas?

Probably not, but Potts has put up some eye-popping numbers in his first two games as Texas Tech's starting quarterback. Harrell's replacement has thrown for 861 yards with nine touchdowns, including seven touchdown passes in a 55-10 rout of Rice last week.

Last season, Harrell threw the game-winning pass to Michael Crabtree with one second left to upset the No. 1-ranked Longhorns 39-33 in Lubbock. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said Potts might be the best quarterback to play in his system. He is bigger than Harrell and has a stronger arm.

Texas Tech will need Potts to play well if it is going to upset No. 2 Texas again Saturday night at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

"They all look alike," Texas coach Mack Brown said of Tech's quarterbacks. "They're accurate and don't give up sacks. He's 60 percent in accuracy and leads the country in passing again. It looks like the same guy every year with different jersey numbers."

4. Which Florida State team will show up at BYU?

The Seminoles played pretty well in a 38-34 loss to Miami in their Sept. 7 opener, but then they needed two touchdowns in the final 35 seconds to beat Football Championship Subdivision foe Jacksonville (Ala.) State, 19-9, five days later.

FSU's defense will get a stiff test from BYU quarterback Max Hall at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night. The Cougars have won 18 games in a row at home, and Hall has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his first two games this season. FSU is allowing close to 300 passing yards per game.

The No. 7 Cougars have their highest ranking since 1996, after upsetting then-No. 3 Oklahoma 14-13 and routing Tulane 54-3 last week.

5. Can Washington play with USC?

The No. 3 Trojans are coming off an emotional 18-15 victory at Ohio State and travel to Washington, a Pac-10 foe they've beaten seven times in a row.

But former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has the Huskies playing much better, and Washington ended a 15-game losing streak with a 42-23 victory over Idaho last week. Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt, another former USC assistant, also knows the Trojans very well.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who engineered the winning drive at Ohio State, has a bruised right shoulder and didn't throw in practice all week. Aaron Corp will start if Barkley can't play.

6. Will California wake up before kickoff?

California coach Jeff Tedford changed the Bears' travel plans as they prepared to play at upstart Minnesota on Saturday.

Last season, California traveled through three time zones the day before playing at Maryland. The game kicked off at 9 a.m. PDT and the Bears still seemed to be hibernating. The Terrapins took a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter, and California didn't wake up until the fourth quarter. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley threw three touchdown passes, but Maryland won the game, 35-27.

The No. 8 Bears flew to Minneapolis Thursday night, giving them an extra day to adjust to the time change. The game against the Gophers kicks off at 10 a.m. PDT, but Tedford hoped the early travel would help his team adjust.

7. Is Cincinnati the class of the Big East?

We should know how good the No. 17 Bearcats really are after they play at Oregon State Saturday night. Cincinnati scored 117 points in its first two victories over Rutgers and an FCS foe. Quarterback Tony Pike has been nearly flawless, throwing for 591 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. Receiver Mardy Gilyard scored on a punt return, catch and run in a 70-3 rout of Southeast Missouri State last week.

The Beavers narrowly beat UNLV, 23-21, last week, but they're very tough to beat at home, winning 26 consecutive nonconference games at Reser Stadium. Oregon State also has won five of its last nine games against ranked foes, including a memorable upset of No. 1 USC last season.

8. Will Oregon end Utah's winning streak?

The No. 18 Utes take a 16-game winning streak into Saturday's game at Oregon's Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks have beaten the last five ranked teams to play there.

Oregon rebounded from its dismal 19-8 loss to Boise State in the opener with a 38-36 victory over Purdue last week. Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is going to have to play better after throwing for only 284 yards with no touchdowns in the first two games.

9. Can Georgia's defense slow down Arkansas?

The No. 23 Bulldogs needed a fourth-down stop with 22 seconds left to beat South Carolina 41-37 last week. Georgia's defense gave up 427 yards and struggled to get pressure on Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia for most of the game.

The Bulldogs welcome back defensive end Justin Houston, who was suspended for the first two games, and he couldn't be coming back at a better time. Arkansas set a school record with 447 passing yards in a 48-10 rout of FCS foe Missouri State on Sept. 5. Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett threw for 309 yards with one touchdown in his first game with the Hogs.

"The only thing I can say is, 'Fasten your seat belt and get ready for a 60-minute war,'" Richt said. "I don't see any reason why this thing couldn't go down to the wire."

10. Is Auburn for real?

It sure looks like it heading into Saturday night's home game against West Virginia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. After victories over Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State, the Tigers rank No. 4 nationally in total offense (572.5 yards per game), No. 2 in rushing (345.5 yards per game) and No. 14 in scoring (43 points per game).

New offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is known for his spread offense, but the Tigers are using a bruising running game to wear down opponents. Senior Ben Tate is averaging 137 yards per game (seventh-best nationally), and freshman Onterrio McCalebb is averaging 131 (ninth-best nationally). McCalebb is the first Auburn freshman to run for more than 100 yards in his first two games.

The Mountaineers allowed fewer than 90 rushing yards in their victories over FCS opponent Liberty and East Carolina.