NCF Nation: What-to-watch-102011

What to watch in the SEC: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
Four SEC teams are taking the week off, including Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the East. Mississippi State also has an open date in the West.

Here’s a look at what to watch in Week 8:

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFollowing the suspension of three players, LSU coach Les Miles has his work cut out for him this week.
1. Suspensions on the Bayou: LSU coach Les Miles refused to confirm anyone was suspended for Saturday’s game against Auburn. Rather, he said there was an internal disciplinary matter that he was not inclined to share with external forces. The translation, when you get through the Les-speak, is that running back Spencer Ware and cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon won’t be playing for the No. 1 Tigers this weekend. They reportedly tested positive for synthetic marijuana, which is par for the course when you consider how chaotic off the field it’s been for LSU going back to the preseason. Maybe this is a team that thrives on drama, although losing key players has a way of catching up with you.

2. The replacements: The good news for LSU is that it keeps on winning despite all these distractions, suspensions and injuries, and one of the reasons the Tigers do is because they’re so deep. Michael Ford and Alfred Blue have shared the carries with Ware at running back and already have 10 combined rushing touchdowns between them. In the defensive backfield, there’s a chance you might see senior Brandon Taylor move to cornerback. If Taylor does move, Craig Loston would probably step in at Taylor’s safety spot. Ron Brooks and Derrick Bryant can also play corner.

3. Miles’ call: The Tigers are going to play two quarterbacks the rest of the way, and Miles said everybody might as well get used to it. He said Jarrett Lee remains the starter, but that the Tigers will continue to look for ways to get Jordan Jefferson in the ballgame. “As imperfect as I am, that’s going to be my call,” Miles said. “It’s not going to have to do with critics, and it’s not going to have to do with personality and what somebody sees as his due. … We have our two quarterbacks, and we like the way they play, and we’ll play it that way.”

4. Another new quarterback: For the third straight week, LSU will be facing a quarterback who didn’t open the season as the starter. This week, it’s Auburn’s Clint Moseley, who takes over for Barrett Trotter. Moseley played the second half, and the Tigers threw only 16 passes all game. One of the reasons Auburn is going with Moseley is to try and generate more of a downfield passing attack, which has pretty much been nonexistent lately. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn likes Moseley’s ability to make plays down the field. Last week, LSU went up against Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms, who was filling in for the injured Tyler Bray. And in the Florida game, LSU went up against true freshman Jacoby Brissett, who took his first college snaps in that game after John Brantley sprained his ankle the week before against Alabama.

5. Stingy with the ball: Not only have Alabama and LSU won 14 straight games between them, they’ve also gone a combined 98 offensive possessions without a turnover. The Crimson Tide have yet to commit a turnover in four SEC games this season. They haven’t thrown an interception in 77 possessions, dating back to the third quarter of the season opener against Kent State. LSU has just three turnovers all season. The Tigers’ last turnover came in the fourth quarter of the Mississippi State game the third week of the season.

6. Banged-up Bama: Alabama’s consistency in the offensive line this season speaks for itself, but right guard Anthony Steen has not practiced this week after suffering a concussion in the 52-7 win over Ole Miss last Saturday. Also, left tackle Barrett Jones has been slowed by a nagging hip injury, although coach Nick Saban said Jones would be fine for the Tennessee game. It took a while earlier in the season, but Alabama was able to settle on its best combination up front. Jones moved around and played four of the five positions on the line, including center. It’s been a unit that’s been rock-solid, as evidenced by the fact Alabama is the only team in the league averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game (241.6). There’s also some depth. Senior Alfred McCullough has experienced and could step in at guard or tackle, and true freshman tackle Cyrus Kouandjio may be the most physically talented of the bunch.

7. Cranking up the run: Once Arkansas got its running game cranked up during the second half of the season a year ago, the Hogs took off and won six straight games. Granted, that was with Knile Davis, but the Arkansas coaches and players feel a lot better about the running game coming out of the bye week. For one, outside of Davis, the Hogs are a lot healthier at running back. Broderick Green’s return has added that power dimension to the running game, and Dennis Johnson is one of those guys who gives you a little bit of everything. Arkansas is still looking for that home run threat in the running game, which was supposed to be Ronnie Wingo’s role. Wingo injured his toe and didn’t play in the last game against Auburn, but Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said Wingo should be back for Saturday’s Ole Miss game. The Hogs will be without freshman running back Kody Walker the rest of the season. He underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his shin.

8. Shuffling in the secondary: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley noted this week what has become painfully obvious to Vols fans. “We need to play better at the corner position,” Dooley said. Tennessee is tied for last nationally with just one interception through its first six games and is ranked last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense. The Vols plan to move junior Prentiss Waggner from safety back to cornerback this Saturday against Alabama. Waggner has gone back and forth between the positions during his career. It’s been a struggle for junior Marsalis Teague at cornerback this season, and with true freshman Brian Randolph playing as many snaps as he has, there are always going to be growing pains. The Vols have also taken a look at junior college newcomer Byron Moore this week at the nickel position. Moore hasn’t made much of impact to this point on defense.

9. Trevathan Tornado: There hasn’t been a whole lot that's gone right for Kentucky this season, but senior linebacker Danny Trevathan hasn’t slowed down one bit. In fact, he’s gotten even better and leads the SEC with 72 total tackles. Trevathan finished with 144 last season to lead the league, and even though the Wildcats are just 2-4, opposing coaches are all coming away from their games with Kentucky saying the same thing: Trevathan is the real deal. He’s averaging 12 tackles per game, which is sixth nationally, and his consistency has been remarkable. He’s recorded double-digit tackles in five of Kentucky’s six games and is a shining example of how you go out and play the game every Saturday regardless of how well or how poorly your team is playing.

10. Rodgers to start for Commodores: After playing extensively a week ago in the Georgia game, Jordan Rodgers will make his first start at quarterback this Saturday against Army, taking over for senior Larry Smith. Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, led Vanderbilt on three touchdown drives in the second half against Georgia. He made several plays with his legs and rushed for 80 yards. Rodgers probably would have played a good bit last season, but redshirted after having shoulder surgery. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said the decision to start Rodgers this week was based on a combination of Rodgers’ playmaking skills and how the team responded to him when he entered the game last week. “I think we kind of fed off that, so we’ll keep going with it and see what happens,” Franklin said.

What to Watch: Week 8 vs. USC

October, 20, 2011
Here's what to keep an eye on this weekend as the Irish host the Trojans:
  • USC throwing early: Matt Barkley will make up for missing last year's game by throwing the ball a lot in the early going. With the Trojans' talented receiving corps and question marks in the backfield, which may be without Marc Tyler, look for USC to try to take the crowd out of the game with a big play.
  • Punt return success: Well, it can't be any worse, right? Michael Floyd will likely get a chance to return punts for the first time, and he certainly has the athleticism and big-play capability the Irish have been missing back there. I wouldn't expect him to take any to the house just yet, but a few solid returns to better position the offense is a reasonable expectation.
  • Let there be light: Brighter helmets, a later start and a rivalry that is finally two-sided should contribute to an atmosphere that Notre Dame Stadium hasn't seen in years. Let's hope for everyone's sake that it is a safe one, too, so that night games can possibly become annual affairs.

What to watch in the Big East

October, 20, 2011
Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East for Week 8:

1. Bowl eligibility. Cincinnati, Rutgers and West Virginia all have a chance to become bowl eligible this week. But they all are on the road, and Big East teams are 1-5 in conference road games this season. Which team will break through and become the first from the Big East to secure its postseason future?

[+] EnlargeSmith
AP Photo/Chris JacksonWest Virginia QB Geno Smith has thrown 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season.
2. West Virginia offense vs. Syracuse pass defense. It is no secret how good the Mountaineers have been on offense with Geno Smith running the show. The scary part is coach Dana Holgorsen insists he has not even reached maximum potential. Smith has a talented group of receivers in Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney, who each have more than 400 yards receiving this season. How will Syracuse cover them? The Orange have faced their share of top-notch receivers already this season, and have given up more than 300 yards passing in four of six games. Getting pressure up front will help take pressure off the back end.

3. Pressure on Smith. That leads to the next point. Syracuse has not generated much of a pass rush this year, with 13 sacks in six games, and that is something the Orange did well against the Mountaineers last season. Can they turn things around against an offensive line that has been excellent at protecting Smith? Chandler Jones returns, which should help.

4. USF rush offense vs. Cincinnati rush defense. This is a great matchup of the No. 1 run offense in the Big East against the No. 1 run defense in the Big East. Twice already the Bearcats have held opponents to negative rushing yards. But they might have a difficult time doing that against the Bulls. Their lowest rushing total came in the opener -- 126 yards at Notre Dame. Darrell Scott, B.J. Daniels and Demetris Murray all rank in the top 10 in the Big East in rushing, and each has a vastly different running style that the Bearcats will have to stop.

5. Isaiah Pead. He might not have the high rushing total, but Pead is having a terrific year, mainly because of his ability to break off game-changing plays. Pead ranks No. 6 in the nation, averaging 6.78 yards a carry, and already has touchdown runs this season of 40, 65 and 50 yards. His 50-yard run last week put the Bearcats ahead for good against Louisville. Remember, this is a USF defense that gave up more than 200 yards to Ray Graham, and Pead is just as good as him.

6. Freshman QBs. Louisville and Rutgers will feature a battle between true freshman quarterbacks as the Cardinals are expected to start Teddy Bridgewater against Gary Nova. Both were highly touted coming into school, and both took over their teams after the season began. Both have shown flashes, but you can bet that the No. 1 goal of these aggressive defenses will be to rattle the young quarterback.

7. Dee-fense. Not much scoring is expected between Louisville and Rutgers, that is for sure. Rutgers ranks No. 1 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 16 points a game. That is about what Louisville averages on offense. Meanwhile, the Cards rank No. 3 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 17.7 points a game. No team has scored more than 25 points on them this season.

8. Turnovers. Rutgers and Cincinnati have gotten off to their fast starts because they have done well in the turnover battle. Can they win that all-important stat again? Last week against Louisville, the Bearcats had an uncharacteristic interception return for a touchdown and put the ball on the ground four times, though they recovered them all. They now face a USF team that is plus-5 in turnover margin on the season -- but minus-3 in two league games. Louisville has had a hard time creating takeaways, with just six on the season. Contrast that to Rutgers, with 24.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
Issues to consider heading into the eighth week of games.

Price vs. Luck: Think back to your college football brain in August. Now look that bolded intro. Who would've thunk it, right? Well, turns out that Andrew Luck is a heck of a quarterback, but at present not only is Washington's Keith Price nipping at his heels in terms of passing efficiency, but he's also got more touchdown passes than the leading Heisman Trophy contender -- 21 vs. 18. Luck is almost certain to play well at home against a fair-to-middling Huskies defense. To lead the upset for Washington, Price will need to match -- if not exceed -- Luck's numbers.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireWashington quarterback Keith Price enters Saturday's game with 21 TD passes, more than Stanford counterpart Andrew Luck.
Barkley to Woods: USC QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods are the best pass-catch combination in the Pac-12, and one of the two or three best in the nation. They've combined for six TDs and 130.5 yards per game. But they were not in sync last week against California. It's likely the Trojans will struggle to run against a tough Notre Dame front seven. So the way USC wins in South Bend is Barkley to Woods, Barkley to Woods.

Who starts at QB, RB for Oregon? Not much to this one: Do Darron Thomas (knee) and LaMichael James (elbow) start for the Ducks at Colorado? Or do their backups: Bryan Bennett and Kenjon Barner? This pretty much is the only expected intrigue in Boulder on Saturday.

Hays or Maynard? While there's no single reason Utah and California are both 0-3 in Pac-12 play, the biggest is inconsistent play at QB. Utes QB Jon Hays replaced injured starter Jordan Wynn for the second half against Washington and has mostly improved in two starts. Cal's Zach Maynard started the season well but has struggled since the conference slate began, bottoming out last Thursday with three interceptions against USC. With two good defenses at AT&T Park, it's unlikely either offense will be able to run the ball 40 times and win. The team that is more efficient passing the ball likely ends up smiling.

Wildcats set free? There's a feeling that Arizona's players were playing tight -- more worried more about mistakes than focused on making plays -- in recent weeks as the losses piled up and coach Mike Stoops got more frenzied on the sidelines. We'll get a better feel for that Thursday night. The Wildcats have started slowly all season. If they get off to a quick, enthusiastic start against UCLA, you'd have to think a lot of players have loosened up since Stoops was fired. That shouldn't be over-construed as an indictment of Stoops, by the way. After all that losing and a coach firing, sometimes it becomes easier to play when you have nothing to lose.

Tuel time: Washington State QB Jeff Tuel didn't pick a great team for his first start since a fractured clavicle forced him to miss the Cougars' first five games: Stanford. While Tuel had his moments, he looked a little out of sorts against an A-list defense. But after getting his game legs back, Oregon State's defense offers a much softer landing. Tuel is the Cougars unquestioned leader. This is a must-win game for the Cougs' bowl hopes and for coach Paul Wulff — and in such games, unquestioned leaders step up, lead and make plays that turn must-wins into victories.

Hogs on the Farm: While the rise of Stanford football is not unreasonably connected to Luck, more than a few folks will tell you a culture shift was more important. A program that was seen as soft, one populated by smart young men with aspirations other than pro football -- because they wanted to make more money than the NFL could pay them -- transformed into an edgy, physical and, yes, maybe slightly dirty unit that played until the very echo of the whistle. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has been talking about the Huskies playing physical football since he was hired to take over a team that went soft under Tyrone Willingham. The Huskies have taken some big steps forward -- see the dominant victory over Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl. But they aren't there yet on either line. Or are they? We'll see Saturday in the trenches.

Prince wears the crown: Kevin Prince is (again) UCLA's quarterback. While this has many Bruins fans slapping their foreheads, Prince was a capable passer in 2009 and ran the pistol offense well in 2010. He's just never been consistent and, most important, never stayed healthy. Well, Richard Brehaut is out for the year, so the QB job is (again) Prince's. At least as long as he can stay healthy, and barring any horrible play -- see Prince against Texas -- that forces embattled coach Rick Neuheisel to turn to true freshman Brett Hundley. Yet there is a potential positive spin here. What if Prince rises to the occasion? A UCLA win at Arizona would set the Bruins up nicely for a second-half run.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
For the only time this year, the schedule will feature an all-ACC lineup, with six league games. Two important division games will be played with Georgia Tech at Miami and Maryland at Florida State. Here are 10 things to watch in the conference this week, in no particular order:

1. Miami’s defensive line: How the Canes handle the suspension of starting tackle Micanor Regis will help determine how the run defense fares against the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. Adewale Ojomo is expected to start in place of Regis, who punched UNC receiver Dwight Jones in the groin last week. Regis is the Canes’ healthiest and most experienced defensive tackle.

2. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris vs. Georgia Tech DB Rod Sweeting. Harris has thrown 89 passes without an interception, a span of three straight games. Sweeting, though, has intercepted a pass in three of Georgia Tech’s past four games, including one against Virginia last weekend that he ran back for a touchdown.

3. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. You should be watching him every week, but he’s on the verge of breaking freshman ACC records this weekend. Entering Saturday’s game against North Carolina, Watkins has 46 catches for 728 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. He needs 125 receiving yards and two touchdown catches to set the ACC records in both areas. Koren Robinson of NC State had 853 receiving yards a freshman in 1999. Greg Carr of Florida State had nine touchdown receptions in 2005 and Heath Miller of Virginia had nine TD receptions as a tight end in 2002.

4. Field position in Death Valley. Speaking of Watkins, he’s No. 6 in the country in kickoff returns, but he’s not the only one who has been playing well on special teams this season. UNC is No. 29 in the country in kickoff return defense, and the Tar Heels are No. 10 in the country in punt return yardage defense, allowing just 13 total yards on six attempts.

5. David Wilson’s 100-yard streak. He enters Saturday’s game against Boston College needing 97 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Wilson currently ranks third nationally in rushing yards (903), and fifth in rushing yards per game (129). He has surpassed 100 yards in six of the Hokies’ seven games.

6. Boston College on third downs. The Eagles have struggled to sustain drives this season and are No. 80 in the country in third-down conversion percentage at 37.93 percent. That could be a problem against a Virginia Tech defense that held Wake Forest to just 1-of-13 third-down attempts last weekend.

7. Big plays against Duke’s defense. Coach David Cutcliffe said he expects Wake Forest to try and do what Florida State did, which was exploit the defense with big pass plays. Duke allowed three passes of at least 50 yards in the first quarter against FSU. Wake Forest receiver Chris Givens is averaging more than 18 yards per catch, and this series has a history of high-scoring games.

8. NC State’s rushing defense. Virginia is coming off a season-high 272 rushing yards, and NC State’s defense is No. 77 in the country, allowing 172.33 rushing yards per game. UVa running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are coming off their best game of the year.

9. Virginia’s pass defense against quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon has already thrown 16 touchdown passes in six games. Virginia’s pass defense is No. 8 in the country at 166.83 yards per game. Cavaliers' cornerback Chase Minnifield is tied for third among all active FBS players with 12 career interceptions.

10. Florida State’s defense against Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown. After running for 286 yards in the past two games, Brown isn’t a secret anymore. FSU’s rushing defense, which is No. 9 in the country and holding opponents to 86.83 yards per game, should be prepared for Brown’s ability to take off. He ran for 162 yards against Clemson.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
Ten items to track on Saturday as you watch another set of Big Ten games.

1. Wisconsin offense vs. MSU defense: Two of the nation's elite units clash Saturday night at Spartan Stadium in a game that likely will determine the Big Ten's top team. The nation's top scoring offense (50.2 ppg) is pitted against a Michigan State defense ranked fourth in points allowed (10.8 ppg), second in yards allowed (186.2 ypg) and first against the pass (119.2 ypg). From terrific individual matchups -- Jerel Worthy vs. Peter Konz, Nick Toon vs. Johnny Adams -- to the chess game between the coordinators, these two units will easily hold your attention.

2. Life without Crick begins: After six shaky quarters in Big Ten play, Nebraska's defense regained its mojo in the final 23 minutes of a historic comeback victory against Ohio State on Oct. 1. But the Huskers received some bad news during the bye week, as star DT Jared Crick was ruled out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Coach Bo Pelini plans to use a four-man rotation at defensive tackle -- Chase Rome, Terrence Moore and Thaddeus Randle will see time alongside starter Baker Steinkuhler. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said this week that Rome, a redshirt freshman, "plays like a madman" and has stood out. The Crick-less defensive line debuts Saturday against 1-5 Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/Andy Manis Can Russell Wilson and the Badgers continue their torrid run when they visit East Lansing?
3. JoePa goes for No. 408: There's something about Joe Paterno, Northwestern and milestone victories. In 2001, Paterno tied Paul "Bear" Bryant's Division I-A record with his 323rd coaching victory after Penn State upset Northwestern in Evanston. Last year, JoePa earned win No. 400 after Penn State rallied past Northwestern in State College. Paterno can reach another plateau Saturday night as Penn State visits Northwestern. A victory gives Paterno 408 for his career, tying him with the late Eddie Robinson for the most in (formerly Division I) history.

4. Spartans' October grind continues: Michigan State is halfway through one of the more grueling months in recent Big Ten history and boasts a 2-0 mark. The Spartans already have made history with their first win at Ohio State since 1998 and their fourth consecutive win against archrival Michigan last Saturday. They now aim to make a national statement by recording their first win against a BCS top 10 team under coach Mark Dantonio. Although Wisconsin certainly gets Michigan State's attention, it'll be interesting to see how the Spartans perform after emotional games against Michigan and Ohio State. Oh, yeah, and a road trip to Legends division contender Nebraska awaits next week.

5. Badgers' road leads to house of horrors: Wisconsin's first true road game of the 2011 season takes place in a stadium that has been the program's house of horrors in recent years. The Badgers have dropped three consecutive games in Spartan Stadium, including a 34-24 defeat last year that proved to be their only regular-season loss. They blew a late lead in East Lansing in 2008 and suffered a 49-14 beating in 2004 when they were 9-0 and ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings. Quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't been part of the Badgers' stumbles in Sparta, and Wisconsin will lean on the transfer in what should be a raucous environment Saturday night.

6. Boiler crossing: The Illinois-Purdue game won't make waves nationally or even regionally, but it's absolutely huge for both teams. Illinois comes off of its first loss and knows the doubters are getting louder. The Illini also must regain their swagger on both sides of the ball after failing to score for 53 minutes last week and falling to an Ohio State team that completed only one pass (and attempted just four). This game might be even more important for Purdue, which did some good things last week at Penn State but once again made too many major mistakes to record a win. The Boilers' schedule following Illinois is very difficult -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa -- so if they want to end their bowl drought, they had better start winning soon.

7. Iowa's McNutt eyes the record: After coming to Iowa City as a quarterback, Marvin McNutt will leave as one of the Hawkeyes' most prolific wide receivers. Last week he tied Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes for the team's career touchdown receptions record with 21. McNutt can set the record Saturday as he goes up against an Indiana defense that has surrendered 13 passing touchdowns this season. McNutt ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receptions (5.8 rpg) and third in receiving yards (95.5 ypg) this season.

8. Spartans getting defensive: Michigan State has been on the defensive about its defense since last week's penalty-filled win against Michigan. Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on Tuesday clarified his "unnecessary roughness" quote and defended the unit against claims it played dirty against Michigan, in a game that featured several personal fouls. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has his team prepared, saying the Spartans, "do certain things, whether it be before the snap, during the snap or after the snap that can cause you to react." It will be interesting to see if Michigan State's defense can strike a balance between aggression and discipline against a Wisconsin team that rarely beats itself.

9. A close shave in Evanston: Northwestern has lost four consecutive games for the first time since 2006, and quarterback Dan Persa's senior season seems to be going down the drain. The Wildcats clearly need a shake-up ... or a shave-up? The day after throwing a pick-six at Iowa, Persa decided to shave his head. "Woke up on Sunday, felt like shaving it," Persa said Monday. "So I shaved it." Perhaps the new 'do will help Persa and the Wildcats in a must-win game Saturday night against Penn State at Ryan Field. It's a big one for Persa, a Pennsylvania native who was overlooked by the Lions during the recruiting process. The quarterback needs a strong effort against a Penn State defense ranked seventh nationally against the pass (161.1 ypg).

10. Hoosiers receivers under the gun: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson rarely holds back, and this week he unloaded on his wide receivers, a group that was supposed to be the team's strength. "Our receiver play's been very, very poor," Wilson said. "... We don't work with any sense of speed and urgency out there." Injuries have been a problem, but the wideouts need to help out their young quarterbacks, beginning Saturday afternoon at Iowa. The Hoosiers will be without Damarlo Belcher (knee), so Kofi Hughes and others must step up against the Iowa secondary.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
Here's what I'm watching in Saturday's set of games.

1. Missouri's offensive mindset. Oklahoma State is going to score at least 30 points. Period. So, how does Missouri combat that? The Tigers have a lot of playmakers, though it lacks a truly fearsome home-run hitter. Does it lean on Henry Josey and try to control possession a bit to keep the ball out of OSU's hands? Or does it come out guns blazing and look to sling it and outscore an underrated but suspect OSU defense?

[+] EnlargeDustin Harris and Terrance Williams
Patrick Green/Icon SMIDustin Harris finally got the A&M defense a turnover last week, intercepting Baylor's Robert Griffin.
2. Turning point for Texas A&M defense. The Aggies finally busted their 22-quarter slump without a turnover last week, and did it against the nation's stingiest quarterback when it comes to turnovers, Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Now, they face Iowa State's Steele Jantz or freshman Jared Barnett, or perhaps both. Jantz's eight interceptions are two more than any quarterback in the Big 12. We may see a big, big day for the defense in the turnover column.

3. Kansas State's front seven. Kansas' offense is better this year behind Jordan Webb, but the real heart of the offense is its running game. Kansas State has the ability to reduce the offense to one dimension with a strong defensive line and great group of athletic linebackers, headlined by Arthur Brown and Emmanuel Lamur. Does K-State do it and make the rival Jayhawks try to beat them with the pass?

4. Oklahoma State's defense. The raw numbers for OSU's defense aren't encouraging. A closer look shows they're deceiving. Want to prove it? Here's a good chance against a good offense. The Tigers will be tough and Oklahoma State's on the short list of possible upset candidates this weekend. A dominant defensive performance like the Cowboys had against Baylor last year would quickly put a stop to that idea.

5. Changing of the tide? Texas Tech has struggled mightily in Norman. I picked it to lose big to the Sooners. Tech has two quality losses that could have easily gone the other way. With a bowl game looking like no guarantee, does Tech respond? The Red Raiders have had a lot of success against Oklahoma in Lubbock, but can they sneak up on the Sooners in Norman in a game most see as an easy Sooners victory?

6. Iowa State's quarterbacks. Is Jantz's foot the biggest reason Barnett has become a factor in the quarterback race? Or if he starts and makes a few mistakes, is Barnett due for some time? It'll be something to watch in a tough matchup for the Cyclones.

7. Oklahoma's defense. This team has been dominant, but Texas Tech is slinging it as well as any team in the league. Without running back Eric Stephens, look for that to continue. Is the Sooners' secondary up to the task?

8. Progress at Kansas. The Jayhawks took a big step forward against a high-powered offense in Oklahoma last week. This week, they'll face a much more grounded, grinding approach from Kansas State. The Jayhawks have big, physical linebackers led by Steven Johnson. Can they derail K-State's dream season for their first Big 12 win?