Thursday, November 10, 2011
What to watch in college football
By Mark Schlabach
Here are 10 things I’ll be watching:
1. Should No. 2 Oklahoma State be concerned about playing at Texas Tech?
The Red Raiders' 41-38 victory at then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 22 might end up being the great mystery of the 2011 season. Since ending OU's 39-game home winning streak, Texas Tech has lost consecutive games against Iowa State and Texas by a combined score of 93-27. The Pokes are averaging 50.1 points per game, and quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon will be a big challenge for Tech's defense, which allowed 34 points or more in seven straight games.
2. Will No. 3 Alabama bounce back against Mississippi State?
The Crimson Tide have to be deflated after last week's 9-6 overtime loss to No. 1 LSU, but they're still in the hunt for a spot in a BCS bowl game -- and maybe even a spot in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9. Alabama plays at Mississippi State on Saturday, and running back Trent Richardson shouldn't have much trouble running against the SEC's No. 8 run defense, which is allowing 161.2 rushing yards per game. The Tide might be without left tackle Barrett Jones, who is nursing a right ankle injury.
3. Can TCU knock off No. 5 Boise State?
The Horned Frogs might have had a chance at home in Fort Worth, Texas, which is where the game was originally scheduled to be played, but they'll have a tough time winning on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium. Boise State hasn't lost a conference game at home since 1998, after dominating the WAC before moving to the MWC this season. TCU has won four games in a row and 21 consecutive games against MWC opponents. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore guided the Broncos to a 17-10 victory against TCU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, but he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in two games against the Horned Frogs.
4. Is No. 8 Arkansas flying under the radar?
If Alabama or LSU slips the rest of the way, the Razorbacks might be in prime position for their second straight appearance in a BCS bowl game. The Razorbacks host Tennessee and Mississippi State the next two weeks, then close the regular season at LSU on Nov. 25. Quarterback Tyler Wilson shouldn't have too much trouble against UT's secondary, after completing 20 of 37 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns in last week's 44-28 victory against South Carolina. Vols freshman Justin Worley will make his third start.
5. Can Georgia stay in front in the SEC East?
The No. 15 Bulldogs, who have won seven games in a row after an 0-2 start, grabbed a one-game lead in the loss column against No. 13 South Carolina in the SEC East standings after the Gamecocks' loss at Arkansas last week. But Georgia must take care of No. 20 Auburn at Sanford Stadium on Saturday and defeat Kentucky at home next week to win the division. Georgia gets back freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell, who missed last week's rout of New Mexico State because of a one-game suspension for failing a drug test, and freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who has been sidelined for a couple of weeks with a pulled hamstring. The Tigers are 1-3 on the road, losing at Clemson, Arkansas and LSU.
6. Can Cincinnati stay unbeaten in Big East play?
The No. 23 Bearcats are the only undefeated team left in Big East play, and they’ve had to rally from at least a nine-point deficit in each of their conference wins. The Mountaineers are 2-2 in Big East play, after being outscored 45-28 in the second half of their past two losses. A loss at Cincinnati on Saturday would all but knock West Virginia out of the Big East race. The Mountaineers will have to do a better job of protecting quarterback Geno Smith, who was sacked nine times in the past three games.
7. Can Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson get going again at Illinois?
The No. 24 Wolverines and Illini combined for 132 points and 1,237 yards in last year’s meeting, the highest-scoring game in Big Ten history, which Michigan won by a 67-65 score in triple overtime. Michigan comes into this season’s game having lost two of its past three contests; the Illini have lost three games in a row. Robinson hasn’t had much success lately, throwing for fewer than 200 yards and running for less than 63 yards in each of his past three games.
8. Will Clemson bounce back against Wake Forest?
The No. 9 Tigers haven’t played since losing at Georgia Tech 31-17 on Oct. 29. Clemson committed four turnovers and was held to 95 rushing yards. Clemson can clinch the ACC’s Atlantic Division for the second time in three seasons with a victory against the Demon Deacons at Death Valley on Saturday. But Wake Forest can jump into the driver’s seat in the division with a victory, having already beaten Florida State this season.
9. Can No. 12 Penn State actually focus on football?
With a scandal consuming the program, the Nittany Lions will try to protect their two-game lead against Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Penn State can’t afford to lose this home game against Nebraska, with road games againt Ohio State and Wisconsin looming. The Cornhuskers are trying to bounce back from a 28-25 loss to Northwestern at home last week. Nebraska will need help to win the Legends Division and reach the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
10. Will strength or speed win Saturday night’s Pac-12 showdown at the Farm?
No. 4 Stanford relies on quarterback Andrew Luck and its mammoth offensive line and tight ends. No. 7 Oregon likes to spread out a defense, allowing tailback LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas to utilize their speed. Both teams average more than 45 points and 500 yards of offense per game. Whichever defense slows down the opposing offense at Stanford on Saturday night might have the upper hand in winning the Pac-12 North and staying in the BCS national championship race.