NCF Nation: What to watch 101812

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
We've had our first look at the BCS standings, which means it's starting to get serious.

Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 8:

1. Sorting out the East: The East race starts to clear up some this weekend. South Carolina can take a big step toward winning the division with a win at Florida. The Gamecocks then would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Florida and Georgia and could clinch the division with home wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. If Florida wins Saturday in the Swamp, the Gators would need to beat Georgia in Jacksonville the following week and could clinch the East title on Nov. 3 at home against Missouri. Georgia, which already has lost to South Carolina, needs Florida to beat South Carolina this weekend, which would give the Gamecocks two conference losses. The Bulldogs then could take control of the race by beating the Gators in Jacksonville on Oct. 27. Georgia, which plays at Kentucky Saturday, closes its SEC slate with Ole Miss at home and Auburn on the road.

2. Lattimore's status: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier cast some doubt about Marcus Lattimore's availability for the Florida game after Lattimore missed practice Wednesday with a bruised hip. Spurrier said there's a good chance backup Kenny Miles will start the game at tailback, adding that a lot of it would depend on how Lattimore was feeling by game time. The chances of Lattimore missing the game completely are remote, and running backs coach Everette Sands sounded confident Wednesday that his star would be healthy enough to play. The question is: How effective will Lattimore be? He's one of the best in college football when it comes to getting the tough yards, and those yards will be hard to come by against Florida's defense.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Jim Brown/US PresswireJeff Driskel has proved to be a dangerous scrambler this season, racking up 326 yards and four TDs on the ground.
3. Driskel vs. Shaw: In a lot of ways, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw have mirrored each other. Both are excellent runners who can get outside the pocket and make things happen. They're accurate passers, although they don't throw a lot, and both guys are as tough as nails. The other common denominator is that neither has made a lot of mistakes despite this being their first full seasons as starters. Yards and points figure to be tough to come by Saturday against both of those defenses, so it's a game that may come down to which quarterback can create a few plays and keep from giving the other team anything easy.

4. Mulligan for South Carolina's ‘D': Will the real South Carolina defense stand up? A week ago, the Gamecocks were pushed around by LSU and gave up 258 rushing yards in a 23-21 loss to the Tigers. South Carolina, which entered that game ranked among the top defenses nationally, simply couldn't stop Jeremy Hill and LSU's running game in the second half. That's after completely smothering Georgia and its freshman duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall two weeks ago in a 35-7 win over the Bulldogs. South Carolina's defense gets a chance to make amends Saturday, but this will be the Gamecocks' toughest test yet. The Gators are second in the SEC in rushing offense, and senior tailback Mike Gillislee has been a workhorse with 615 rushing yards. Not only that, but the Gamecocks also will have their hands full containing Driskel, who's a faster version of Tim Tebow running the ball.

5. Manziel's march: If Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is going to make a serious charge for the Heisman Trophy, here's his shot. An LSU defense comes to town Saturday ranked second nationally in total defense and high on making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. The Tigers kept South Carolina's Shaw on the run all night last week. Manziel already has put up more than 500 yards in total offense in two games this season and is on pace to break Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense in a season. His numbers are staggering, and his name is starting to float out there in the Heisman Trophy conversation. What he needs now are marquee wins against marquee defenses. Florida shut him down in the second half in the Aggies' opener. We'll find out Saturday how much he's grown from that game.

6. King of the Hill: Judging by what happened last week at Tiger Stadium, LSU has found its go-to running back. Hill, a freshman, rushed for 124 yards, including a critical 50-yard touchdown romp late in the fourth quarter of LSU's 23-21 win over South Carolina. Hill had 17 carries in the game. That's after getting a total of 13 in his previous four games. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Hill has that blend of size, power and speed that make him a natural 20-carry-a-game back. Granted, the Tigers are overflowing with capable backs, but Hill is the most talented of the bunch. As LSU hits the home stretch, look for his workload to increase.

7. Gimpy quarterbacks: It's doubtful that either quarterback will be 100 percent Saturday when Alabama travels to Tennessee. The Crimson Tide's AJ McCarron and the Vols' Tyler Bray both banged up their knees in scary-looking injuries last week. When you go back and watch the replays, it's clear both players are fortunate the injuries weren't any worse. McCarron practiced earlier this week and said he was good to go. Bray was wearing a brace the first part of the week and didn't practice Monday, but was adamant that he would play. McCarron and Bray have combined for 26 touchdown passes this season, but Bray has struggled in the Vols' three losses. On passes of 15 yards or longer in those losses (Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State), Bray has completed just 30 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

8. More touches for Patterson: It's clear that Tennessee needs to find a way to get Cordarrelle Patterson more touches. He's been one of the SEC's most explosive players to this point and needs at least 10 to 12 touches per game. He got six last week against Mississippi State and scored on two of them -- a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an 11-yard touchdown catch. He also had a 34-yard run in the game. Coach Derek Dooley said this week the Vols were looking for more ways to get him the ball. Patterson, a receiver, lined up in the backfield against Mississippi State. That could be more of an option going forward, especially with the Vols hurting at running back.

9. Pain on the Plains: The word Auburn coach Gene Chizik used this week in describing his team's state of mind was “urgency.” The Tigers have lost six straight SEC games and seven of their past eight going back to last season, and are staring down the barrel of their first winless SEC record since 1980 if they can't end their drought Saturday against Vanderbilt. It's only natural to wonder how beaten down this Auburn club is at this point. Three of its four league losses this season have been by 17 points or more, and the mood is not the healthiest right now on the Plains. Do the Tigers come out fighting and play with a sense of urgency, or are they so fragile that most of their fight is gone? We'll know by late Saturday afternoon.

10. Going bowling: If Vanderbilt is going to make its second straight bowl trip, the Commodores (2-4, 1-3) have to find four wins in their next six games. That makes Saturday's home game with Auburn as close to a must-win as it gets. The Tigers' only win all season came against Louisiana-Monroe, and they're reeling right now after losing by three touchdowns last week at Ole Miss. The Commodores haven't been very good on offense this season, but the Tigers haven't been very good on defense -- and they've been even worse on offense. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin might not say it publicly, but he knows, and his team knows, that this is a game they need to get if they're going to make the first back-to-back bowl trips in school history.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
Here's what to expect this weekend in the conference.

1. Revenge against the MAC. America's favorite non-BCS conference went 2-0 against the Big East in Week 4, and there are two more meetings between the two conferences this Saturday. Don't expect a repeat when Pitt travels to Buffalo and Cincinnati goes to Toledo.

2. Orange D cranks it up. The unit has played very well in its past two games, giving Syracuse a chance to win. Throw in a bad UConn offense coming to town -- for a Friday night home game, which this team seems to love -- and the trend should continue this weekend.

3. Big special-teams play in Philly. Rutgers utilized a returned block kick for victory last week. Temple has blocked fourth-quarter field goal attempts in each of its past two wins. One of these units will break through again Saturday in a game where points may be hard to come by.

4. USF pick-less streak. Few have been better at avoiding turnovers than Teddy Bridgewater, and the Louisville quarterback should keep that success going against a Bulls defense that still has not intercepted a pass all season.

5. Tino Sunseri continues hot streak. It might be more than a streak at this point. The hardened Pitt quarterback is No. 8 in the nation in pass efficiency and second in the Big East in passing yards per game. He should have a field day against a not-very-good-at-all Buffalo defense.

6. Cincinnati defense looks to step up. The Bearcats gave up 17 points to FCS Fordham last week. This isn't exactly one last nonconference warm-up considering Toledo is 6-1 and averages more than 36 points per game, but expect the Bearcats to be ready from the get-go this time.

What to watch: Week 8 vs. BYU

October, 18, 2012
Here's what to expect Saturday when the Cougars enter Notre Dame Stadium.

1. Everett Golson gets the call. Not just the start, but much of the game until garbage time. Brian Kelly showed a lot of faith in his young signal-caller after several big mistakes last week, and barring injury, expect that to be the case again in a game that probably won't be as close.

2. No BYU TDs. This probably isn't saying too much after the way Notre Dame's defense and BYU's offense have played lately, but I expect the Irish defense to keep its opponent out of the end zone for a fifth straight game. (Which, of course, would make it all seven contests this season without surrendering a rushing score, too.)

3. A long Notre Dame passing TD. We haven't seen a whole lot from the vertical passing game outside of John Goodman's touchdown at MSU and Tyler Eifert's score last week, but look for Golson to connect on at least one deep touchdown pass when BYU brings the rush.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
Here are the top storylines to watch in the ACC during Week 8.

1. What happens at quarterback for Miami? Starter Stephen Morris has been held out of full contact practice all week because of a sprained ankle, and his status against Florida State seems pretty doubtful. Coach Al Golden has said Morris would be a game-time decision, but the Hurricanes are preparing for Ryan Williams to start. If that happens, Williams will be making his first Miami start against in-state rival Florida State and one of the best defenses in the nation.

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireCoach Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech face Clemson in a game that could shape their season.
2. Can Virginia Tech keep its momentum? Last week, most everybody had written off the Hokies. This week, everybody is wondering whether they can pull out the Coastal Division. Beating No. 19 Clemson would be a huge step in that direction. Clemson is not going to be an easy out by any stretch. The Tigers won both meetings with the Hokies last season -- the first time Virginia Tech had ever lost to the same team twice in one season. Factor in play at Death Valley as well. Clemson has won 13 of 15 ACC home games under coach Dabo Swinney.

3. How does NC State respond after a bye? This is our first chance to see the Wolfpack since their 17-16 upset of then-No. 3 Florida State two weeks ago. So what can we expect? Their opponent, Maryland, is the only undefeated team in ACC play and has one of the best defenses in the nation. So there is no overstating how important this game is in the Atlantic race. NC State is 4-2 under Tom O'Brien after a bye. The results have been decided by an average of only nine points per game.

4. Speaking of byes ... Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were off last week as well, so we will see whether the time off works to their advantage. In the cases of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the time away seemed to come at a perfect time. The Deacs are reeling, having lost three of four, with off-the-field issues threatening to overshadow the season. The Yellow Jackets have been working hard to simplify their defensive scheme under interim coordinator Charles Kelly and coach Paul Johnson. The new theme on defense: less is more.

5. Run games to watch, Part I. Can Duke stop Giovani Bernard? A week after giving up 183 yards to freshman J.C. Coleman, how do the Blue Devils go about slowing down Bernard? The North Carolina running back has been sensational the past two weeks, with 439 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns combined. Bernard would be leading the league in rushing if he had enough carries to qualify. Duke is hoping for a win against North Carolina for the first time since 2003, a victory that would make the Blue Devils bowl eligible.

6. Run games to watch, Part II. Can the Hokies run on Clemson? As noted above, Virginia Tech got its ground game going last week, racking up a season-high 269 yards rushing. Coach Frank Beamer says he is not going to just stick with J.C. Coleman -- he will continue to rotate his backs against the Tigers. Clemson has had its share of struggles stopping the run, holding only Boston College under 100 yards on the ground this season.

7. Run games to watch, Part III. Will Maryland be able to solve its rushing woes against NC State? The Terps are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to running the football, averaging 71.3 yards per game and a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. They are on pace to set program lows in the modern era for average rushing yards per game and average yards per carry. The current program-low is 81.3 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry, set in 1966. The last time Maryland failed to average more than 100 yards rushing per game was in 1997 (88.5 ypg). (Note: the Maryland stats record book goes back to 1947.)

8. Losing streaks, Part I: Virginia. The Hoos have lost five straight, the longest losing streak in the ACC. It is their longest losing streak since dropping six straight to close the 2009 season. Virginia gets Wake Forest this week, another team that is on a bit of a losing skid as well. For Virginia to maintain any bowl hopes, it has to win this game. If not, the Hoos face the prospect of having to win out to become bowl eligible.

9. Losing streaks, Part II: Boston College and Georgia Tech. These teams also have had their share of adversity to overcome. The Yellow Jackets have lost three straight; the Eagles four straight. The good news is somebody will end their losing streak. The bad news is somebody will have a lot more questions to answer about the direction of the program.

10. Record watch. Here are some marks to keep an eye on this weekend. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington needs 51 rushing yards to join Joshua Nesbitt as the only players in school history with 2,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards. ... Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has 5,905 yards passing and should pass Woodrow Dantzler (6,037) for second place against Virginia Tech. ... Duke receiver Conner Vernon is 111 yards away from the school career mark of 3,318 yards receiving, set by Clarkston Hine. Vernon is 217 yards short of the ACC career mark of 3,517 held by Florida State’s Peter Warrick.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 8 ...

1. Clock ticking for Michigan seniors: Quarterback Denard Robinson and his fellow Michigan seniors have been through a lot in their careers -- some historic lows from 2008 to '10, a rebound 2011 season under current coach Brady Hoke, a Sugar Bowl championship and a streak-snapping win against Ohio State last November. But the fourth-year seniors never have beaten Michigan State. Hoke puts countdown clocks for Michigan State and Ohio State in the football complex and has emphasized the need to beat the Spartans since the preseason. Robinson has struggled in two starts against Michigan State (4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns) and tries to turn the tide against a stout Spartans defense. Michigan can nudge Michigan State farther out of the division race with a victory.

2. Blackshirts versus Blackshirts: Northwestern will don all-black uniforms Saturday at Ryan Field for one of its more anticipated home games in recent memory. Some are joking the Wildcats' threads will be the first blackshirts Nebraska has seen this season. The Huskers' defense has a lot to prove after Ohio State put 63 points on the board against Bo Pelini's squad Oct. 6 in Columbus. Spread offenses have given Nebraska trouble in recent years, and Northwestern quarterback/receiver Kain Colter led his team's upset win last year in Lincoln (2 rush TDs, 1 pass TD). Pelini wants to see an "angry" Nebraska team in Evanston and feels like he has one. The fifth-year coach has stressed winning out, which would put Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. A Northwestern win, meanwhile, means the Wildcats are serious contenders in the Legends Division.

[+] EnlargeMark Weisman
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Mark Weisman has four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, including eight touchdowns during the span.
3. Weisman watch: There's no doubt Mark Weisman is Iowa's top offensive weapon, and for much of the past four games, he has been the Hawkeyes' only threat. The Air Force transfer has recorded four consecutive 100-yard rushing performance and a total of 623 yards and eight touchdowns during the span. But Weisman's status for Saturday night's showdown against Penn State is very much in doubt because of an ankle sprain he suffered last week at Michigan State. Weisman is cleared to play, and an MRI done Monday didn't show major damage, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz didn't sound overly optimistic about having the sophomore, noting that he "would have a lot of progress to make to be able to play." While Weisman might sit, Jordan Canzeri, who tore his ACL this spring, should return for Iowa at running back. Either way, the Hawkeyes are facing arguably the Big Ten's best defensive front seven and need more from a passing attack that ranks 99th nationally.

4. An ax to grind: The Big Ten's best rivalry trophy is at stake at Camp Randall Stadium as Wisconsin and Minnesota play for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Wisconsin has won eight straight in the series and can match the longest win streak by either squad with a victory Saturday. Minnesota senior linebacker Mike Rallis acknowledged this week, "If you don't ever win, it's not really a rivalry." The detest for the Badgers runs deep with Minnesota's roster, though, and while the Gophers will be short-handed, they can record a signature win and a significant upset Saturday. They'll have to beat a Wisconsin team that seems to have found its bearings after a slow start, especially along the offensive line.

5. Getting defensive in Columbus: Both Ohio State and Purdue are looking for better results from their defenses Saturday at The Shoe. The Buckeyes' defensive woes against Indiana (49 points allowed, 481 yards) and for much of the season prompted their offensive-minded head coach, Urban Meyer, to take a more hand's-on role with the defense this week. Ohio State is banged up on defense and had to move starting fullback Zach Boren to linebacker last week (he'll stay there for a while). Meyer stressed the need to finish plays within 4-6 seconds and tackle better. Tackling has been a huge issue for Purdue the past two weeks, as it has allowed 82 points and 771 rush yards in losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. Standout tackle Kawann Short and the Boilers' defensive line needs a dramatic improvement against Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Co., or Saturday's game will get ugly in a hurry. Purdue hasn't won in Columbus since 1988 and hasn't beaten an AP Top 10 team on the road since 1974.

6. Spartans' season on the brink: Michigan State has been the Big Ten's biggest disappointment this season. The Spartans already have lost three home games, including two league home games, meaning they'll need signature road wins to have any chance to repeat as Legends Division champs. Losses this week in Ann Arbor and next week in Madison would eliminate Michigan State from the race. Coach Mark Dantonio does a masterful job of embracing the Michigan rivalry, and his players have responded, winning four straight. Michigan State aims for its first five-game win streak against Michigan in program history Saturday. The Spartans will be geared up, but they can't expect to commit 13 penalties and win, like they did last year in East Lansing. "There's no question that both teams are going to go after each other," Dantonio said. "I don't think there's any question about that. But we've got to keep the game under control. We can't let it get out of control." All eyes will be on the William Gholston-Taylor Lewan matchup after their dust-ups last year.

7. Indiana drops anchor: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson isn't satisfied with being close, and neither are his players. The Hoosiers have had a chance to win all seven of their games this season, but they've only won two of them. "You are getting better and you should feel good about yourself, but you need to keep pushing," Wilson said Tuesday. The next push would be a win Saturday against Navy as Indiana wraps up non-league play for itself and for the Big Ten. Navy ranks 97th nationally in pass-efficiency defense, which should bode well for Hoosiers quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, and their talented core of wide receivers. But the Midshipmen also have turned around their season a bit the past two weeks, and their triple option attack will test an Indiana defense that ranks 109th nationally against the run and has surrendered more than 350 rush yards in two of its past three games. Indiana could go on a nice second-half run, but it needs to get over the hump against Navy in a potential shootout.

8. On the Ball: After a rough few months both on and off the field, Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball is back on track, racking up eight rushing touchdowns in Big Ten play and averaging 152 rush yards against league opponents. He broke the Big Ten career touchdowns record -- owned by former Badgers star Ron Dayne -- last week against Purdue and is six touchdowns shy of matching Travis Prentice's NCAA record of 78. He still needs five rushing touchdowns to match Dayne's Big Ten career record of 71. "I feel like I have my balance back, which is a huge part," Ball told this week. "My cuts are a lot better, a lot stronger. I just feel a lot more comfortable out there." Ball faces a Minnesota team that has been vulnerable against the run in Big Ten play. Wisconsin's offensive line seems to have turned the corner in the past five quarters. The Badgers' front five matches up against an improved Minnesota defensive front led by tackle Ra'Shede Hageman.

9. Lions enter their house of horrors: Kinnick Stadium hasn't been kind to Penn State, which hasn't won in Iowa City since 1999, Ferentz's first season as Hawkeyes coach. The Lions saw their national title hopes vanish at Kinnick in 2008 and managed just three points against the Hawkeyes in their last trip there in 2008. Despite his team's four-game win streak, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien made it clear that "the meat of the schedule" begins now, and Lions cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted this week, "This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us." A win keeps Penn State undefeated in Big Ten play and sets up next week's so-called Ineligi-bowl against Ohio State in Happy Valley. The game features an interesting coaching connection as Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son, worked alongside O'Brien with the New England Patriots the past few years. Kirk Ferentz downplayed the impact of having Brian Ferentz on his staff.

10. Cat nap: After a sluggish start in a previous mid-afternoon kickoff against Boston College, Northwestern's team leaders decided to schedule a mandatory team nap before Saturday's game against Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET kick). Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald greeted the decision with quasi-disgust, saying Monday, "Unbelievable. This is what I get paid to do. Seriously. Create nap time. It's pathetic." But the cat nap is definitely happening, as Fitzgerald confirmed later in the week, and it'll be interesting to see how Northwestern starts the game against the Huskers. Although the idea sounds silly, figuring out how to rest before games to produce peak performances is a subject that gets a lot of attention from sports teams at all levels. There will be some jokes if Northwestern sleepwalks through the first half against the Huskers. If the Wildcats win, expect to see the pregame nap adopted all over the country.

What to watch in the Pac-12

October, 18, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Judgment night: ASU fans have been clamoring for respect. Thursday night is as good of a chance as any to get some. The Sun Devils have the No. 3 team in the country coming to their backyard for one of the biggest games in the conference this year. On paper, this looks like a vintage Pac-12 matchup of two high-scoring offenses. But wasn't that the case the last time Oregon played a team from the state of Arizona? Time to see if Arizona State is as good as their record suggests. Worth noting, also, that this is likely Oregon's biggest test to date as well. Let's give some credit to the 5-1 team from Tempe.

2. Efficiency experts: The game within the game features the two most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. ASU's Taylor Kelly checks in as the conference's No. 1-rated quarterback in passing efficiency and Oregon's Marcus Mariota isn't too far behind at No. 2. Mariota hasn't been as protective of the ball over the past three games throwing seven touchdowns, but also four interceptions. Conversely, Kelly has 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during that span. You have to think ball security was a huge point of emphasis for Oregon during improvement week.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireArizona State's Taylor Kelly is the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12 with a rating of 175.98.
3. Big Game for Cal: With a victory over their most bitter rival, the Bears can get back to .500 and have a shot at the postseason. Their remaining four games are at Utah, home to Washington, home to Oregon and at Oregon State to close out the season. The odds of them winning three of those four are awfully tiny. But a win over the Cardinal gives them a fighting chance. Which Zach Maynard is going to show up? Seems to be the Cal question of the week, every week.

4. Big Game for Stanford: Make no mistake about it -- this is a road game for Stanford even though it's just a hop and a skip over the Bay Bridge (actually, probably easier to take the Dumbarton Bridge to the 880). Either way, it's less than 50 miles, but it's a road game. And we all know Stanford has been a different team on the road. No need to rehash all of the ugly offensive stats. The only one that matters is the Cardinal are 0-2 away from home. That has to change considering four of their final six games are on the road.

5. The Vaz effect: Cody Vaz wasn't just a pleasant surprise -- he was sensational making his first start on the road for the injured Sean Mannion. It helps when you have a pair of outstanding receivers to throw to, and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks certainly didn't let him down. With the way the defense is playing, there is little reason to expect a drop off.

6. More White: Utah ranks 116th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging exactly 100 per game. Not what you'd expect with a back like John White IV -- once touted as a possible preseason Heisman contender. Head coach Kyle Whittingham went out of his way to state this week that they need to get White the ball more often. He had 14 carries against ASU, 13 against USC and a season-low 11 at UCLA.

7. Back to basics: Will be interesting to see if Matt Barkley gets USC's passing game back on track this week. Nothing wrong with winning via defense and the running game, but the inconsistencies from Barkley and his receivers has been one of the biggest surprises in the season to date.

8. Swing game: Don't underestimate how important of a game Washington at Arizona is. The Wildcats should be daisy fresh after the bye week. You have to wonder if the Huskies (1) have enough defense to prevent it from becoming a shootout-- as Arizona games tend to become -- and (2) if Washington can keep up if it does turn into a high-scoring affair. This is a crucial game for Arizona, which would have to win two more games to be bowl eligible. And the schedule looks like USC, UCLA, Colorado and Utah the rest of the way. A loss means the Wildcats have to win three of those four.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
Here's what I'm watching in the Big 12 this week:

1. What baseball-sized bruise? David Ash says he's playing, and he's practiced this week with a wrap on his left, non-throwing wrist. He can take snaps, too. Will we see Case McCoy start or play? And will Ash make it through the game without having to sit?

2. You want to be the Lunter, not the Lunted. Wes Lunt has been sidelined for more than a month now, and J.W. Walsh has played pretty well in his absence. Lunt is still "day-to-day" after suffering a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette, but is this the week he returns? Offensive coordinator Todd Monken and head coach Mike Gundy seemed to disagree on his availability last week. My guess is Lunt is back.

3. Shuffling the deck. Baylor struggled to run the ball against TCU last week, but now faces the league's worst rushing defense in Texas. Will we see a shuffle in the carry distribution, or will Jarred Salubi hang on to his status as the featured back? Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be nipping at his heels, too.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Jerome Miron/US PresswireTCU quarterback Trevone Boykin next takes aim at Texas Tech, the Big 12's best defense.
4. Who's who, and which is which? Trevone Boykin threw three picks and fumbled in a frustrating loss to Iowa State, but last week we saw him look like a star against Baylor. The Bears' defense, though? Not strong. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in total defense and will be a much tougher test. How much of last week's performance was Boykin, and how much was Baylor's defense's inability to cover?

5. Check your pants, sir. Meanwhile, at Kansas, Charlie Weis says he plans to play two quarterbacks against the Sooners. Michael Cummings provided a spark in a near comeback against Oklahoma State last week. Everyone saw it, including Weis. Can he do something similar in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, or was last week an aberration?

6. Running away from trouble. Iowa State's linebacker duo of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein can shut down Oklahoma State's running game, and did so last year. Kansas did the same and OSU couldn't beat the Jayhawks convincingly through the air. Iowa State's secondary is strong, led by Jacques Washington. If ISU shuts down the running game, this could be another upset in the making.

7. Accounts receiving ... losses. Texas Tech has one of the deepest receiving units in the league, but suffered major losses this week. Bradley Marquez and Javon Bell are out for the season and tight end Jace Amaro might not play after injuring his ribs against West Virginia. Can Seth Doege and the passing game still survive those hits and move on with business as usual? They'll get a tough test this week against TCU, which leads the nation with 14 interceptions.

8. Achilles' heel ... or ankle. Last week was pretty ugly for the Mountaineers, but was it just an aberration? I'm betting yes, but they'll have to prove it against a very good, very sound Kansas State defense that was shown a way to slow this offense last week when Texas Tech stuffed WVU. Star receiver Stedman Bailey missed the second half last week with an ankle injury and is "day-to-day" this week. Will he even play? And if he does, will he be healthy? When he was out, Tech was able to shut down Tavon Austin. Can K-State do the same?

9. Make sure you've got your contacts in. Oklahoma suited up for the most meaningful game of its season last week against Texas. On Oct. 27, one of college football's most storied programs comes to Norman, likely without a loss on its record. This week ... it's 1-5 Kansas, which hasn't beaten an FBS team this season. Do the Sooners keep their focus and still look sharp, avoiding a letdown ahead of Notre Dame's visit?

10. Those last plays are important, guys. Geno Smith won't throw picks to anybody these days. WVU's not fumbling all that much, either. You want to stop WVU from scoring? Getting fourth-down stops is one of your best bets. How will K-State do? Dana Holgorsen doesn't trust his kicker and loves to roll the dice on fourth down. That stat may just decide the K-State game. WVU was 5-of-5 against Texas and won. It was 2-of-7 last week against Texas Tech and got blasted by five touchdowns. A fourth-down stop isn't listed as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it's just as good.