NCF Nation: What-to-watch-101311

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to track Saturday as a five-pack of Big Ten games is on tap.

1. A Legendary rivalry: Pardon the pun, but Michigan and Michigan State meet Saturday at Spartan Stadium with more than bragging rights on the line. The winner has to be considered the front-runner in the Legends division. Michigan can improve to 7-0 overall, 3-0 in Big Ten play and, most important, 2-0 in division play with both wins coming on the road. Michigan State arguably has more on the line as Saturday marks one of just two Legends division home games. The Spartans still must travel to Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern, so defending their home turf against Michigan is critical.

2. Desperate Buckeyes hope to avoid history: These are tough times for Luke Fickell and the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are in an unfamiliar spot at 3-3 after last week's meltdown at Nebraska. A loss Saturday at No. 16 Illinois would drop Ohio State below .500 for the first time since 1999 -- and for the first time this late in the year since 1988, the Buckeyes' last losing season. After months of disappointing news and heightened criticism for Fickell and the coaching staff in recent weeks, Ohio State desperately needs something good to happen.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWill Denard Robinson be able to break loose against Michigan State, or will the Spartans bottle him up again?
3. Denard vs. the Spartan Swarm: "There's no way to stop that kid," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said earlier this week, referring to Michigan star QB Denard Robinson. While no team has slowed down "Shoelace" this season, Michigan State put the brakes on Robinson in 2010. The Spartans were the first team to stifle Robinson last fall in a 34-17 win, picking off three of his passes and holding him to just 86 rush yards on 21 carries. Michigan State has an even better defense this year, a unit that leads the nation in fewest yards allowed (173.4 ypg) and ranks third in points allowed (10.2 ppg). It'll be strength versus strength Saturday as Robinson goes up against the Spartans' defense.

4. Must-win game at Kinnick: Night games at Kinnick Stadium are always electric, but the intensity level might go up a few notches Saturday as Northwestern comes to town. Both Northwestern and Iowa are winless in Big Ten play and in danger of moving closer to the league's bottom-feeders than the lead pack. Throw in the fact that Northwestern has won three straight at Kinnick and five of the past six against Iowa, and Hawkeyes fans will be geared up. They hope their team displays better energy after a lackluster performance at Penn State. One squad will walk out of Kinnick with some momentum.

5. The scoreboard at Camp Randall: Last year Wisconsin hung 83 points on Indiana, the third-highest total scored in a Big Ten game and the most ever allowed by the Hoosiers. The Badgers' offense is arguably more dangerous this year with Russell Wilson at the helm, and Indiana ranks 11th in the Big Ten in total defense (421.5 ypg). Will Bucky Badger eclipse his 573 push-ups from last year on Saturday, or will Indiana's defense respond and make Wisconsin work for its points? It should be interesting to see how Wisconsin looks following a bye week, and how Indiana performs at a place where it was embarrassed last year.

6. Penn State's never-ending QB competition: The biggest mystery in the Big Ten isn't who should start for Penn State at quarterback, but why it's taking Joe Paterno and his staff so long to reach a decision. The numbers point to Matthew McGloin over Rob Bolden, and Penn State's offense has consistently operated better with McGloin calling the signals. But Paterno isn't budging, saying he's not convinced one quarterback is better than the other. Perhaps Saturday's game against Purdue provides a resolution under center. McGloin can help himself with a completely clean performance after tossing an interception in the end zone last week against Iowa. Also worth watching: how Purdue uses quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve.

7. Illinois' Mercilus defense vs. Braxton Miller: Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has pulled the right strings for most of the season, mixing fronts and formations and maintaining an aggressive style from week to week. You can bet Koenning will turn up the heat on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who left the Nebraska game with a sprained right ankle but will play against Illinois. Keep an eye on Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who leads the nation in sacks (8.5) and leads the Big Ten in both tackles for loss (10.5) and forced fumbles (4). Illinois also gets linebacker Jonathan Brown back from suspension. Ohio State must protect Miller and find the gaps in Illinois' defense, as it did for the first two and a half quarters at Nebraska.

8. Rushing the field in East Lansing: It's all about the ground game in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. The team with more rushing yards has claimed 38 of the teams' past 41 meetings. Michigan State has outrushed Michigan 613-274 during its current three-game win streak in the series, but Michigan boasts the nation's No. 7 rushing offense, led by Robinson, the Big Ten's leading rusher (120 ypg). Michigan State is No. 3 nationally against the run, but the Spartans also must get their own run game going. Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker gashed Michigan last year in Ann Arbor, but Michigan State's green offensive line is still building chemistry and faces an improved Michigan defense.

9. Boom is back: You could see the difference in Ohio State's offense with left tackle Mike Adams back on the field from suspension at Nebraska. The Buckeyes regain another key piece as running back Dan "Boom" Herron returns from suspension at Illinois. Herron gives the Buckeyes another option in the backfield, which should allow Jordan Hall to be utilized in different ways. Herron is Ohio State's most seasoned skill player and a guy who performed well in Big Ten games last year (876 rush yards, 11 TDs in eight games). With Miller likely not 100 percent, Herron could play a big role for the Buckeyes' offense.

10. Persa vs. Vandenberg: The Northwestern-Iowa game could be a high-scoring affair, and quarterbacks Dan Persa and James Vandenberg will have opportunities to showcase their talents. Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense (439.4 ypg) and pass defense (263.8), so Vandenberg and his receivers should regain their swagger after a rough outing at Penn State. Persa shredded Iowa's defense in the fourth quarter of last year's game in Evanston, firing the game-winning touchdown pass with 1:22 left and rupturing his Achilles tendon on the play. The senior has been sharp since his return and faces an Iowa team allowing its opponents to complete 64.7 percent of their passes.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
10:15
AM ET
We're at the halfway point in the college football season, so teams will be a little more on edge from here on out.

Conference races are really heating up and things will only get more and more exciting.

We start the second half in the SEC with the countdown to the Nov. 5 slugfest between Alabama and LSU, but we also start with some quarterback controversy lurking within the league.

Exciting stuff.

Here is some more exciting stuff to keep an eye on this weekend:

1. Musical quarterbacks: Outside of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU, there are quarterback issues in this league. Florida and Tennessee are playing without their starters (John Brantley and Tyler Bray, respectively) due to injuries, while Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have opened up their quarterback competitions. South Carolina benched Stephen Garcia for Connor Shaw, then officially said goodbye to Garcia earlier this week. Shaw showed off last week against Kentucky, but the depth behind him is beyond worrisome. Auburn will play both Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier against Florida, but the more athletic Frazier has been getting more and more snaps with each game and coach Gene Chizik is having to answer more questions about Trotter's status as the starter. And Ole Miss is hoping that Randall Mackey is the guy from here on out. But wasn't Barry Brunetti the guy before Zack Stoudt was?

2. Mr. 100: I guess Trent Richardson really was ready to take over as Alabama's workhorse in the backfield. The junior running back has had his hat thrown into the Heisman ring and it doesn't look like it will be coming out anytime soon. That makes sense, considering the tear he's currently on. Richardson has rushed for 100-plus yards in five straight games and he's looking to get to six straight this weekend. Well, Alabama faces an Ole Miss defense that is giving up 193 rushing yards per game, so things appear to be in Richardson's favor this weekend.

[+] EnlargeJordan Jefferson
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThough he remains the backup, Jordan Jefferson should see his role increase in LSU's offense.
3. More Jefferson: While LSU coach Les Miles continues to say that there is absolutely no quarterback controversy in Baton Rouge, Jordan Jefferson will continue to get more snaps behind Jarrett Lee. As he should. Jefferson brings another element to the offense that Lee doesn't -- his feet. Jefferson's touches went up from four in his first game back to eight in his second and his numbers should increase this weekend against Tennessee. But make no mistake about it, Lee is the starter until something unforeseen happens. Both players want to be the starter, but Lee has earned it and he deserves to keep it. The Tigers are just as successful with the Jefferson element on the field and having both play isn't hurting the team, so Jefferson's role should continue to expand going forward.

4. Swing game on the Plains: Auburn and Florida will play a season-defining game this weekend. A win for either team could be the difference between a winning record and a .500 record. Auburn's youth has shown at times, but so has its heart, which has carried it to three close-call wins this season. The Tigers still have LSU and Georgia on the road before the Iron Bowl comes back to Auburn, so getting a win this weekend will definitely go a long way. As for Florida, the Gators will be equipped with two true freshmen -- Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel -- getting the snaps at quarterback until senior Brantley comes back. That could be for the Georgia game, but Saturday, it's up to the kids. A Florida win would keep the Gators in the East hunt and give them momentum going into the bye. A loss could send this team really scrambling.

5. Shaw's second go-round: Connor Shaw will make his second start in a row for South Carolina this weekend and he'll do so on the road against a tough Mississippi State secondary. This won't be easy by any means, and this will be the first chance we get to see the sophomore perform on the road this year. He was calm and composed against Kentucky, but he'll be going against a team desperate for a conference win and a fan base looking for some sort of hope this season. Can Shaw duplicate last week's outing? Can he at least be consistent for the Gamecocks for two weeks in a row? The team thinks so, but Davis Wade Stadium isn't the easiest place to maneuver if you're a young quarterback.

6. Simms begins the gantlet: Matt Simms was in this position last year when he had to start against Tennessee's toughest opponents before Bray took over for him. With Bray out for an extended period of time, Simms' number has been called yet again and his first opponent is the No. 1 team in the country in LSU. It's an LSU team carrying the league's second-rated defense and a host of defensive playmakers. It won't be easy for Simms, but he says he's ready. However, this is just the first step for the senior. He'll still face Alabama (on the road), South Carolina and Arkansas (on the road) in the next four weeks. That's tough for any quarterback. Starting off with an impressive debut will help the psyche of this team. He doesn't have to be perfect, but does have to be effective enough to inject some confidence into this team for the road ahead.

7. Like brother ... like brother? Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers could make his first start for the Commodores this weekend against Georgia and if he's anything like his Super Bowl-winning older brother, Aaron, Vanderbilt's fan base should be stoked. Now, this wouldn't exactly be the best game for him to really kick off his Vandy career in, with Georgia giving up less than 180 passing yards a game, but if he does get the start, there will no doubt be a little more excitement in the air in Nashville. Larry Smith hasn't gotten the job done for the Commodores, so it might be time for a move. Vanderbilt needs to shake things up on offense and starting Rodgers could be a way to do that.

8. Mississippi State's lost offense: The Bulldogs have a mound of offensive problems. They haven't seen the dynamic duo of quarterback Chris Relf and Vick Ballard do much of anything since Week 2 and the offensive line is a mess. The execution has been lacking and this team is scrambling to figure things out when it has the ball. After Tyler Russell rescued an offense that went scoreless against UAB in the first half, he's in a battle with Relf for the starting spot. Would starting Russell provide a spark for this reeling offense? And would it matter against a revamped South Carolina defense? The Gamecocks love to bring a lot of pressure and could make either quarterback's day miserable Saturday.

9. Florida's rushing defense: If you're Auburn running back Michael Dyer, you have to be pretty happy with your odds of clearing the century mark against the Gators Saturday. Florida has given up a total of 464 rushing yards in the last two games and both Alabama's Trent Richardson (181) and LSU's Spencer Ware (109) went into triple digits in the rushing department. Dyer has rushed for more than 100 yards four times this season. We might have given Florida's front seven way more credit than it deserved to start the year, as the last two weeks have been far from nice for this unit. With Dyer's blend of power and speed, Florida's defense has yet another tough runner to keep in check this week.

10. More of the Honey Badger: The legend of LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu grows larger and more fantastic with each week. Those Honey Badger T-Shirts floating around LSU's campus are easily the best in the sport right now and he really does take what he wants. This weekend, he faces yet another backup quarterback making his starting debut for the season. Yes, Simms is experienced, but the Honey Badger doesn't care (or don't care). He will no doubt make Simms' day that much more frustrating because of his ability to somehow pop up wherever the ball is on the field. Just remember, he takes what he wants.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
10:15
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There are only five games in the ACC this week as Boston College and NC State are off, and it's an all-conference lineup. Here are two things worth watching in each game, in no particular order:

1. Quarterbacks in College Park. Maryland starter Danny O'Brien was benched in favor of backup C.J. Brown last week at Georgia Tech. Neither of them passed very well, but Brown gave the offense the spark coach Randy Edsall was looking for with his 77-yard touchdown run. Who will start for the Terps? For Clemson, quarterback Tajh Boyd is expected to play after a hip injury knocked him out of last week’s Boston College game. Will his hip be a factor against the Terps?

2. Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano. If you haven’t seen him yet, now is a good time to tune in. He had 20 tackles last week in the loss to Georgia Tech. That’s almost unheard of for a defensive tackle. It was the most by a defensive lineman in the FBS since 2005. The Terps will need him to continue to be disruptive against Clemson’s offense.

3. Miami’s red zone defense. The Hurricanes’ defense has been a weak link this season, but they’ve been pretty stingy in the red zone, holding opponents to just 10 touchdowns in 23 drives. North Carolina, though, has flourished inside the 20-yard line and has scored 16 touchdowns in 19 red zone possessions.

Lamar Miller
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesLamar Miller has racked up 677 rushing yards and a 7.2 yards-per-carry average this season.
4. Running backs in Chapel Hill. This game will feature two of the ACC’s best in Miami’s Lamar Miller and UNC’s Giovani Bernard. Miller has had 100 yards or more in all five games, and Bernard leads all FBS freshmen in rushing yards (109.50 a game) and rushing touchdowns (eight). Miller leads the ACC in rushing (135.4/game) and Bernard is third.

5. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris. Will he play? If he does, will he have another record-setting performance like he did last year against the Hokies with 241 rushing yards and two touchdowns? Harris has been bothered by a hamstring injury this week, but his chances of playing look good.

6. Virginia Tech’s replacements. This defense is banged up. Last week, true freshman Corey Marshall started for the first time in place of defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins and he had trouble lining up properly. Defensive end James Gayle’s status is still uncertain (sprained left ankle). The defensive line has been hit the hardest, but the Hokies also have concerns about linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (sprained left foot). How will their backups and depleted rotation fare against the nation’s No. 18 passing game?

7. Time of possession at Virginia. You would think that Georgia Tech’s offense has had an overwhelming advantage in time of possession, but the Jackets have scored quickly this year, so it’s a bit deceiving. There is only a 22-second difference between Georgia Tech and Virginia’s time of possession this year -- with the advantage going to the Hoos. Virginia’s best defense will be to continue that trend and keep the offense on the field as long as possible.

8. Third downs in Charlottesville: Georgia Tech leads the nation in third-down conversions (62.2 percent). Virginia is tied for third in the ACC in third-down defense (33.3 percent). Can the Hoos make the stops?

9. Turnovers in Durham. Florida State turned it over five times in its loss to Wake Forest last week, with four interceptions and one fumble. The Seminoles are 114th in the country in turnover margin (-1.40). Duke did not have a turnover in its road win over FIU. The Blue Devils have lost six turnovers this year. FSU has lost 11.

10. Pass defenses in Durham. Neither of these teams is running the ball very well this year, but both Duke and Florida State have passing games that rank among the top 16 in the country. How well the defenses fare against quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Sean Renfree will go a long way in determining the winner.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
10:15
AM ET
Issues to consider heading into the seventh week of games.

Thomas takes over: With RB LaMichael James out, QB Darron Thomas becomes the veteran presence inside a young Ducks offensive huddle. He's the guy everyone will look to. Arizona State's defense has rattled some pretty good QBs, most notably USC's Matt Barkley. Thomas hasn't put up big numbers this year, but he's thrown 15 TD passes and just two interceptions. It's likely strong passing numbers from Thomas will be a key in this game.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Lobbestael
AP Photo/Dean HareMarshall Lobbestael faces a big challenge Saturday in the form of the Stanford defense.
Lobbestael vs. Luck: It's fun to ha-ha at the absurdity of that -- Washington State's backup QB vs. the most talented QB in college football in a decade -- but that's what we've got Saturday in Pullman: The almost certain No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft this spring versus a guy who has admirably filled in for starter Jeff Tuel but who may be seeing the last football of his career. There's some poetry there. By the way, Marshall Lobbestael is good enough to give Stanford's secondary some trouble if he gets time to throw.

Barkley-Woods: Last year against California, Barkley threw five first-half TD passes, tying a USC -- full-game -- record. Robert Woods might be the best receiver in the nation in terms of pure talent. If you wonder what Cal needs to be concerned with tonight, it's Barkley-Woods, Barkley-Woods, particularly with starting CB Marc Anthony out.

Price increases Buffs' secondary costs: Washington QB Keith Price ranks second in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and first in TD passes. Colorado's patchwork secondary, which has been riddled by injuries and suspensions, ranks 10th in the conference in passing efficiency defense and has yielded 14 TD passes, most in the conference. Not a good matchup for the Buffs. Colorado's solution to a struggling secondary is to attack with blitzes -- see 17 sacks, tied for most in the conference. The Huskies have yielded 11 sacks. If Price gets time to throw, he can make Colorado pay. But will he?

Utes up front: Utah's strength is its lines, and it needs to lean on that strength at Pittsburgh. The Panthers on offense are mostly one guy: RB Ray Graham, the nation's second leading rusher. The Panthers aren't good if they have to pass. They yield 4.67 sacks per game, most in the nation, and rank 96th in the nation in passing efficiency. So it's obvious: Make Pitt throw. On the other side, the Utes probably will faces that same strategy. The Panthers will try to make new Utes starting QB Jon Hays beat them. But RB John White and a solid offensive line might be good enough to still win that battle in the trenches.

Beavers fall: Every year is a new year, so past trends don't always matter. Until they do. This year started out particularly bad for Oregon State, but losing Septembers are -- sorry -- standard in Corvallis. That's the bad news. The good news is the Beavers typically seem to get better. They have entered October with losing records eight consecutive years. But since 2004, they are 38-15 in October, November and December. After an 0-4 start, they are now 1-0 in October. Can they maintain their trend of mid-to-late-season improvement?

The 6-8 QB: Inside Autzen Stadium, everything starts with the opposing QB. How well can he handle the noise? Can he maintain focus and make plays and avoid miscues. Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, who it will be noted at least once on Saturday is 6-foot-8, made his first career start at Autzen in 2009 as a true freshman. That evening started badly and ended quickly when he was knocked out of the game. Suffice it to say, he's a different guy these days: Skilled, confident, knowledgeable. It's also impossible to believe the Sun Devils can record an upset without him playing lights out -- as he did against Missouri and USC.

Cougs up front: While Andrew Luck gets all the publicity, Stanford is as much about being physical up front on both lines as it is about Luck. Luck will stress the Washington State secondary, but the real measure of the Cougars' ability to hang with Stanford will be on both lines. Can the Cougs slow down the Stanford running game and force Luck to throw? That doesn't sound like a great thing, but it's critical in terms of slowing down Stanford. And, on the other side of the ball, will the Cougs be able to run well enough that the Cardinal doesn't load up with blitzes on Lobbestael? Playing at home will help. But Washington State's only chance is not getting exploited at the line of scrimmage.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
10:15
AM ET
Here's what I'm watching for in Saturday's games.

1. Have mercy, Oklahoma. At this point, it's mostly just curiosity. It won't get any worse for Kansas this year, but I remember checking my phone on the field at the Cotton Bowl last Saturday and seeing OSU led 35-7 at the end of the first quarter. I shouldn't have been surprised. I was. Oklahoma's winning this game. The biggest question is by how much.

2. Whaddaya got, Wrecking Crew? Especially you guys at the back. There's no reason Texas A&M should be this bad defending the pass. It's a definite anomaly. The Aggies rank last nationally and are giving up 113 more yards per game through the air than in 2010, but it is second nationally in sacks. Want to prove you're not that bad? Shutting down or slowing down Baylor will do it.

3. Baylor's front seven. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is fully capable of running over just about anybody in the league, and definitely Baylor. The Bears rank 82nd nationally in rush defense, and that could mean a big day for Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray.

4. Kansas State's time of possession. Caring about this stat has gone out of style everywhere but Manhattan, it seems. The Wildcats average 35:56 a game, which is almost three full minutes more than anyone in the league. Tech, meanwhile, is one of seven Big 12 teams under the 30-minute mark. Will a win in this stat mean a win on the scoreboard?

5. Does home field matter...at all? Can the crowd in Kansas do anything to help stave off an ugly loss for the Jayhawks?

6. Which side is more desperate? Iowa State needs this game to keep its hopes of a bowl game alive. If Missouri loses, the possibility of missing the postseason becomes very real, too. Win and the Tigers may get some momentum moving forward. This is a classic case of a must-win for both sides. That usually produces great football.

7. Henry Josey. I'm guessing most of you didn't know the man who started the season as Missouri's third-string running back is leading the Big 12 in rushing. He's been outstanding. That's what happens when you average more than 10 yards a carry. Will Missouri keep handing him the ball as its other backs get back to health?

8. Texas' pass rush. There's no truth to rumors that Landry Jones consuming both a corn dog and a fried Snickers in the backfield last week, but he had enough time to do it if he wanted to. The Longhorns can't let Oklahoma State's quick-release offense do the same. Brandon Weeden must be pressured, or OSU will roll in this one easily.

9. Case McCoy and David Ash. How will the distribution between these two Texas quarterbacks look? Ash is the more physically impressive quarterback, but he made big, big mistakes against Oklahoma's experienced defense. These guys have to play well and move the ball consistently for the Horns to pull the upset.

10. OSU stays consistent? The Cowboys, outside of a game last year without Justin Blackmon, was the Big 12's most consistent team a year ago. That's been the case again this year, and OSU has won seven consecutive road games. Texas has never lost the week after the Red River Rivalry under Mack Brown, but this is likely the toughest team the Horns have seen in that 13-game stretch. Austin is generally a tough place to play, but OSU made it look easy last year. Will this year look the same?

What to watch in the Big East

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
10:15
AM ET
Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East in Week 7.

1. How does Pitt respond? It is never a good sign when a coach admits his team underestimated an opponent. Pitt coach Todd Graham has taken full responsibility for not getting his team ready to play against Rutgers last week, and that cost the Panthers in a 34-10 loss. Now they get a nonconference game against Utah to try to make a turnaround. The Utes are about as inconsistent as Pitt, having lost three of their last four. Will Graham have his guys ready to play?

[+] EnlargeDave Teggart
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaDave Teggart's 52-yard field goal was the difference in UConn's win over the Bulls last season.
2. Dave Teggart. The last two times USF and UConn have played, the game has been decided on the leg of the UConn kicker. Teggart has been inconsistent this season, with five missed field goals, but he did hit a 53-yarder last week in a loss to West Virginia. Could the game come down to him once again?

3. Ray Graham to 1,000? The Pitt running back needs 101 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark. But it is not going to be easy. Utah has done well against the run, ranking No. 19 in the nation. The Utes are allowing 99.4 rushing yards a game, and are holding runners to 2.9 yards a carry. They have only given up two rushing touchdowns all season.

4. Isaiah Pead vs. Louisville front. Not much has gone right for the Cardinals this season, but their defensive front has been strong against the run. The Cardinals rank No. 10 in the nation in run defense, allowing runners to average 2.3 yards a carry. Pead ranks second in the Big East in yards per carry, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball.

5. Hello, USF! The Bulls finally return to the field to put their last game behind them. Will the extra time off correct some of the errors that plagued them in a loss to Pitt? Coach Skip Holtz spent a huge portion of the bye week working on team drills. USF had 450 team reps because, "I felt like what had happened to us in the Pitt game, I felt like we weren't working as a unit. We needed to build that confidence."

6. Rutgers D vs. Navy triple-option. Navy runs one of the more unique offenses in the country, and it is a bear to prepare for when you do not see it every week. The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing offense because, well, all they mostly do is run the ball out of various run and option formations. The Rutgers defense has been vastly improved, but the line took a hit last week when starting defensive end Michael Larrow was lost for the season. Getting a good rotation up front is going to be huge in this game on a defense that is starting to have some concerns about depth.

7. Can Louisville surprise? The Cardinals have been a better team on the road than at home under coach Charlie Strong. They pulled one upset over Kentucky earlier this year. Can they do it again? Cincinnati has won three straight in the series but Louisville pulled the 28-24 upset road win over the No. 15 Bearcats in 2007.

8. UConn rush offense. The Huskies have not been able to consistently get the ground game going, but you know they are going to try against a USF defense that gave up 307 yards on the ground in its last game against Pitt. Many of the problems for the Bulls were because of poor fundamentals and fits in run gaps. They worked on that during the bye.

9. Rutgers offense. It is no secret that Rutgers has struggled to run the ball. But if there was a week to get the runners going, this is the one. Navy ranks No. 112 against the run, giving up 220.8 yards a game. Rutgers is averaging 79.8 yards a game on the ground and is one of two Big East teams -- along with West Virginia -- to have just one 100-yard rushing total against FBS competition.

10. Bye week. Syracuse and West Virginia are on their bye weeks before they play next Friday in the Carrier Dome. For West Virginia, the big key this week has been working on maintaining a rhythm on offense. Syracuse was working to identify the cause of problems on defense and in the run game.

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