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Ten things to watch this weekend

10/10/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach

The SEC takes center stage this weekend.

LSU and Florida, the last two BCS national champions, will battle at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Alabama, the defending SEC West champion, is playing like the best team in the country. The Crimson Tide face a key SEC game at Ole Miss, which is seeking redemption after its 16-10 loss at South Carolina two weeks ago.

Elsewhere, we'll find out if undefeated teams like Auburn, Iowa and Wisconsin are for real, and if teams like Boston College and UCLA are real threats in their conference races.

Here's 10 things to watch this weekend:

1. Will Tim Tebow play?

All eyes will be on Baton Rouge, La., where No. 1 Florida plays No. 4 LSU in a battle of the past two BCS national champions.

I have a feeling the Gators will be tough to beat, whether senior quarterback Tim Tebow returns from a concussion or not. Tebow, who suffered the concussion after hitting his head on a teammate’s knee against Kentucky two weeks ago, will be a game-time decision, according to Gators coach Urban Meyer.

If Tebow doesn't play, sophomore John Brantley will make his first career start in a night game at Tiger Stadium, which tends to be difficult for even the most seasoned quarterbacks.

LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers are prepared to face Tebow, who is more of a battering ram, or Brantley, who is more of a pure drop-back passer.

Meyer said if Brantley starts against LSU, his offense would look a lot like it did in 2006, when senior quarterback Chris Leak led the Gators to a BCS national championship.

Miles said he actually hopes Tebow is healthy enough to play against LSU.

"We wish [Tebow] a lot of great health," Miles said. "We want him to return to the field just as fast as he can and be healthy and ready. We would enjoy it if his health would allow him to return to this game."

2. Is LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson ready for prime time?

Jefferson brings only seven career starts into Saturday night's game, but Miles said he believes his sophomore quarterback grew leaps and bounds during last week's 20-13 win at Georgia.

Jefferson completed 18 of 27 passes for 212 yards against the Bulldogs, and he led the Tigers on two touchdown drives in the final minutes.

"I think his maturity is happening on a weekly and daily basis," Miles said. "I think he's pretty mature. I think on the field, he's one of the best game players I've ever been around. He's still learning all facets of the offense, but it's happening quickly."

Jefferson will have to remain poised against Florida's defense, the top-ranked unit in the country.

3. Can Boston College compete with Virginia Tech?

The Eagles are a surprising 4-1 under new coach Frank Spaziani heading into Saturday's game at No. 5 Virginia Tech.

New quarterback Dave Shinskie is a big reason for the Eagles' success. Shinskie spent more than six seasons pitching in the minor leagues, before he was released in May by the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the AA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. A former fourth-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins, Shinskie passed up a football scholarship to Delaware to play baseball.

It didn't take him long to land on his feet. An all-state quarterback in Pennsylvania in 2002, Shinskie was contacted by coaches from Boston College, Pittsburgh and Rutgers about returning to football. He eventually chose Boston College, which was unsettled at quarterback after Dominique Davis was ruled academically ineligible.

Shinskie joined the Eagles for voluntary summer workouts, but admits his head was spinning as he tried to learn the playbook. He won the starting job two weeks ago and will start against the Hokies at Lane Stadium. Shinskie has has led BC to victories over Wake Forest and Florida State, throwing for 431 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.

The Eagles call their 25-year-old freshman "Uncle Dave." At the FSU game last week, his young nieces held a sign in that stands that read: "He's our real Uncle Dave."

4. Can Jevan Snead find his groove?

The Ole Miss quarterback came into the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but after four games he's ranked behind quarterbacks from Buffalo, Memphis and Western Kentucky in passing efficiency.

Snead admits his confidence was shaky after the Rebels' 16-10 loss to South Carolina, in which he completed only 7 of 21 passes for 107 yards. The Rebels have struggled to protect their quarterback, after losing left tackle Michael Oher from last season.

Alabama's menacing defense isn't exactly a remedy for Snead's woes. The Crimson Tide do a great job of confusing quarterbacks with presnap movement and multiple alignments. Snead will have to play better if Ole Miss is going to upset the No. 3 Crimson Tide.

5. Can the Bruins pull off an upset?

UCLA has made major strides under coach Rick Neuheisel, and No. 13 Oregon might be vulnerable with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli limping because of an injured right knee.

Masoli didn't practice with the Ducks early in the week. Although Masoli’s still listed as the team's No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, backup quarterback Nate Costa appears poised to start against UCLA.

Masoli has been a big reason for Oregon's turnaround after its opening 19-8 loss at Boise State. In victories over California and Washington State, Masoli completed 35 of 43 passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 73 yards and one score in the last two games.

The Ducks also will be missing two of their best cornerbacks. William Glasper, who had replaced the injured Walter Thurmond III, will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

6. Will Wisconsin still be unbeaten after a visit to the Shoe?

The Badgers are 5-0, but they're not ranked in this week's AP Top 25 poll. Wisconsin is aiming for its first 6-0 start since 2004, but will have to overcome one of the country's toughest defenses to do so.

Badgers sophomore John Clay leads the Big Ten in rushing and has rushed for over 140 yards in three of his last four games. Ohio State is No. 10 nationally against the run, allowing only 83.4 yards per game.

7. How will Sam Bradford look?

Bob Stoops announced on Friday that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will start Saturday's game against Baylor. It will give Bradford some game action before next week's showdown against No. 2 Texas in Dallas.

Bradford hasn't played since spraining the AC joint in his right shoulder in the No. 19 Sooners' 14-13 loss to BYU in their Sept. 5 opener. Redshirt freshman Landry Jones has played well in Bradford's absence, but OU would probably need its starter to beat the Longhorns.

8. Will Florida State rally around Bowden?

Bobby Bowden, FSU's iconic coach, has come under fire after the Seminoles lost consecutive games to South Florida and Boston College to fall to 2-3 for the first time since 1976, his first season in Tallahassee, Fla.

The firestorm surrounding Bowden's future couldn't have come at a worse time for FSU. The Seminoles didn't need any distractions while preparing for Georgia Tech's triple-option spread offense, which has looked really good the past two games. The Yellow Jackets have never won in six trips to Doak Campbell Stadium.

9. Which Iowa team shows up against Michigan?

Will it be the Hawkeye team that blew out rival Iowa State and dominated Penn State, or the team that needed two blocked field goals to beat FCS opponent Northern Iowa in the opener and defeated Arkansas State by only a field goal last week?

Iowa's defense is as good as any in the country, but the offense is still plagued by a little bit of inconsistency.

Iowa is 5-0 and has won nine games in a row dating back to last season. They haven't won their first six games to open a season since a 7-0 start in 1985.

10. Is Auburn for real?

We'll know a lot more about the Tigers after Saturday night's game at Arkansas. Auburn opened the season by winning four straight home games before last week's victory at Tennessee.

The Tigers are as balanced as any team in the country on offense. Quarterback Chris Todd has been very efficient, and Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb form one of the country's best tailback tandems.

But Auburn's defense has been a little porous at times, and the Tigers will get a stiff test from Hogs quarterback Ryan Mallett and his deep corps of receivers.