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Thursday, November 3, 2011
What to watch in college football

By Mark Schlabach


Here are 10 things to watch this weekend:

1. Can Arkansas protect quarterback Tyler Wilson?

The No. 7 Hogs have struggled to protect Wilson for much of the season, allowing 15 sacks in eight games. They'll have to keep No. 9 South Carolina's menacing defensive linemen away from him in Saturday's game at Razorback Stadium. The Hogs didn't look inspired in their past two victories (29-24 at Ole Miss and 31-28 at Vanderbilt) and fell behind by double-digits in both contests. The Razorbacks can't afford another slow start against South Carolina, which ranks No. 14 nationally in scoring defense (17.1 points per game).

2. Can Kansas State slow down Oklahoma State's passing game?

The Wildcats were exposed in a 58-17 loss to Oklahoma last week, allowing 690 yards of offense. Sooners quarterback Landry Jones threw for 505 yards with five touchdowns against the Wildcats, who suffered their first loss of the season. It won't be any easier on Saturday at No. 3 Oklahoma State, which ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring offense (49.9 points) and No. 4 in passing (373 yards). Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon are difficult to stop, and tailback Joseph Randle ran for 300 yards in the past two games combined.

3. Will Texas A&M rebound against Oklahoma?

The Aggies defeated the Sooners 33-19 last season, but they might be reeling after blowing a big second-half lead for the third time this season. Worse, Texas A&M's pass defense ranks dead last among FBS teams, allowing 318.3 yards per game. The Sooners won't have leading rusher Dominique Whaley, who broke his ankle against Kansas State last week. Roy Finch and Brennan Clay will probably share carries, but Jones figures to throw the ball a lot against the Aggies.

4. Does Oregon have a brewing quarterback controversy?

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas didn't look good in last week's 43-28 victory over Washington State, and he was replaced in the second half by freshman Bryan Bennett, who threw two touchdown passes for the second game in a row. With a Nov. 12 showdown at Stanford looming on the schedule, how much patience will Ducks coach Chip Kelly have in Saturday night's game at Washington? The No. 8 Ducks also need tailback LaMichael James to get rolling again. He gained 53 yards on 13 carries against the Cougars, after missing a few weeks with a dislocated elbow.

5. Can Michigan win at Iowa?

The No. 15 Wolverines have come up empty in their past two trips to Iowa, but the Hawkeyes might be reeling after losing to lowly Minnesota 22-21 last week. The Wolverines aren't relying solely on quarterback Denard Robinson for offense anymore. Sophomore Fitz Toussaint ran for a career-high 170 yards in last week's 36-14 win over Purdue. Iowa's defense is allowing 194.8 rushing yards per game. The Wolverines will have to slow down Iowa tailback Marcus Coker, who ran for a career-high 252 yards in the loss to the Gophers.

6. Can UCLA make the Pac-12 South a real race?

The Bruins have been wildly inconsistent all season, but they’re coming off a 31-14 victory over California. The Sun Devils, who blasted Colorado 48-14 last week, have lost five of their last six games at UCLA. Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince ran for 163 yards against the Bears last week, but he’s still struggling to throw the ball consistently. Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler threw for 380 yards with four touchdowns in a 55-34 rout of UCLA last season.

7. Will West Virginia stay in the Big East title hunt?

The Mountaineers rebounded from their loss at Syracuse with a 31-21 win at Rutgers in the snow last week. The Mountaineers host Louisville on Saturday and will have to crack a defense that is allowing only 16.3 points per game. The Cardinals have won consecutive games after defeating Syracuse 27-20 at home last week. Cardinals freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is coming off his best game, throwing for 198 yards with two touchdowns on 17-for-24 passing.

8. Which Texas Tech team shows up in Austin?

The Red Raiders have probably regained their focus after losing to Iowa State 41-7 last week. Texas Tech was coming off a 41-38 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 22, which ended the Sooners’ 39-game home winning streak, and didn’t look remotely ready to play against the Cyclones. Texas is coming off a 43-0 shutout of Kansas, in which the Longhorns allowed minus-2 rushing yards, three first downs and 46 yards of total offense.

9. Should Notre Dame be on upset alert?

The Fighting Irish have to be feeling better about themselves after last week’s 56-14 rout of Navy. The Irish piled up 442 yards of offense and led 35-7 at the half. Wake Forest was uncharacteristically sloppy in last week’s 49-24 loss to North Carolina, turning the ball over five times after having only five turnovers in its previous seven games combined. As long as Demon Deacons quarterback Tanner Price takes care of the ball, Wake Forest will have a chance to keep the game close or even win in the end.

10. Will Alabama get off to a better start against LSU?

The No. 2 Crimson Tide’s offense hasn’t started very fast in its last four games and it won’t be easy against No. 1 LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. The Tigers have trailed for only 6 minutes, 33 seconds in eight games this season. Alabama has dominated opponents after the first quarter, outscoring opponents 243-25 in the final three quarters, but it can’t afford to fall behind LSU early in the game.