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What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
AM ET
Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 10.

Will Texas Tech rebound after losing to the Sooners? Kliff Kingsbury’s squad pulled out all the stops in their 38-30 setback in Norman. Fake punt returns, halfback passes, onside kicks, nothing was left on the table. Yet, they still lost. It had to be deflating for the Red Raiders. But TTU comes back home to Lubbock with the realization that its Big 12 title hopes remain intact with Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor remaining on their schedule. If they simply win out and get some help with another conference loss by the Sooners, their title hopes would be well within reach.

Will Oklahoma State remind people it remains in the Big 12 title hunt? The Cowboys still control their destiny with the rest of the top half of the league still on their schedule. OSU can send a message that it has been forgotten during discussions about the Big 12 with a road win in a tough night environment in Lubbock. Multiple starters remain from the 2011 Big 12 title squad so don’t expect the Cowboys to sit back and watch the title be decided without having their say.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports
Can Texas look dominant for the third game in a row? The Longhorns still have doubters thanks to their stumbling, bumbling start to the season. Yet they sit at the top of the Big 12 standings unbeaten in conference play alongside Baylor and have been as impressive as any team in the league during their past two games. If they come out and hammer Kansas, it will display the type of consistency that tends to be a trait of championship squads.

Will Roland keep rollin’? OSU running back Desmond Roland set a career high with 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his first collegiate start. What will he do as an encore against a Red Raider defense that has allowed 460 rushing yards in their past two games? TTU will likely try to take the running game away and force Clint Chelf to beat them with his arm.

Who will be the best running back on the turf at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium? Texas’ Johnathan Gray (93.71 rushing yards per game) and Kansas’ James Sims (84.14 ypg) sit at No. 2 and 3 among the Big 12 leaders for rushing yards per game behind Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk (124.14). Clearly, Gray has more help as he strives to make plays but Sims did rush for 176 yards against the Longhorns last season. It should be fun to see two of the Big 12’s top running backs in action on the same field.

How strong is OSU’s defense? The Cowboys are, statistically, one of the best defensive units seen in Stillwater in recent memory. Yet they haven’t seen anything like they will see against Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders feature a bag full of tricks and receiving corps full of treats unlike any other in the conference. Jace Amaro is an automatic mismatch, Eric Ward can make teams pay for leaving him in one-on-one situations, Jakeem Grant is slippery and fast and Bradley Marquez will hit you with a big play when you least expect it. Few envy the task of Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer this weekend.

Can Kansas State’s two-quarterback system continue to excel? Each week Bill Snyder is asked about his two-quarterback system and the Wildcats’ head coach commonly responds by saying both guys are good players who can help his team win. While far from colorful, his consistent message is dead-on accurate. Daniel Sams has caused havoc for Big 12 defenses all season and when West Virginia came out with a plan to stop Sams, Jake Waters promptly made the Mountaineers’ pay with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to spark KSU’s win. There's no reason to think the two-quarterback system won't continue to excel against Iowa State on Saturday.

Can WVU finally finish? Every week the Mountaineers show more and more signs that they are starting to find a rhythm. While many are quick to brush WVU off, the Mountaineers would have beaten Tech and K-State if they made key plays when it mattered in the fourth quarter. If they ever finally learn how to finish, they could finish the season with a strong final month, starting Saturday at TCU.

Will Casey Pachall look better in his second game back? Pachall didn’t look like the savior against Texas in his first game back from injury last Saturday but he still represents the biggest reason for hope as TCU tries to battle its way into a bowl game. If he looks like a healthy and confident Pachall against WVU and leads the Horned Frogs' offense to a high-scoring output, it would be hard to bet against Gary Patterson’s squad finding its way into a bowl game.

Someone help Quenton Bundrage: No, seriously, anyone? Bundrage keeps finding ways to make an impact on games despite not having another consistent threat alongside him in Iowa State’s offense. The Cyclones have been ravaged by injuries, but it would be interesting to see what the sophomore could do with someone alongside him forcing defenses to account for them. Regardless, Bundrage is a name to watch against KSU on Saturday.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
AM ET
Storylines to watch this week in the Big Ten:

1. The long October is over. Has it really been five weeks since Ohio State and Wisconsin played? In some ways, it feels like 10. The Big Ten's October schedule was downright scary -- and not in a Happy Halloween kind of way. Well, the league slate turns interesting again this week as No. 21 Michigan visits No. 22 Michigan State and No. 24 Wisconsin visits resurgent Iowa. Even Minnesota's visit to Indiana holds some intrigue. So long to mismatches like Ohio State-Purdue. That's this week, too? OK, they can't all look good.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Langford
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Langford and Michigan State can all but run away with the Legends division with a win over Michigan on Saturday.
2. Michigan State might run away with the Legends division. We'll find out this week. If the Spartans beat Michigan and Northwestern snaps its four-game skid at Nebraska, MSU can book its tickets to Indy. With five straight wins, Michigan State is clearly playing the best football in the Legends. Other than the Spartans, only Minnesota has won consecutive games to enter November. And really, looking at Nebraska's schedule and the way it played last week, it's hard to consider the Huskers a contender at this stage.

3. Let's go bowling. Friday is Nov. 1, so it's OK to discuss bowl lineups. Taking a peak at the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota are bowl eligible. Wisconsin or Iowa will join the mix Saturday, as can Nebraska with a victory over Northwestern. As for the Wildcats, after going 0 for October, it will be getting late in their bid to get back to the postseason without a victory in Lincoln. Indiana has some serious work to do, and Illinois ... the Illini just need to win for the first time in 18 Big Ten games.

4. That's offensive. Five Big Ten teams rank among the top 16 nationally in scoring. Thirty-six times this year, a Big Ten team has scored 40 or more points -- already up from 27 times all of last season. This week, two of the league's best offensive units face stern tests. Notably, Michigan, which averages 42.4 points, faces a Michigan State defense that allows only 12.3 points, third nationally. Wisconsin, averaging 39.9, visits Iowa and its 12th-ranked scoring defense, giving up 18.1. What will give? Answer that, and you've got your story of the weekend.

5. Braxton Miller needs to do something for an encore. The Ohio State quarterback is playing the best football of his career after a super-efficient effort last week in the Buckeyes' stomping of Penn State. Miller accounted for 320 yards and five touchdowns on only 35 total-offense attempts in less than three quarters. Up next, Purdue. You've got to wonder when the Boiler D caves, getting no help from the dismal Purdue offense. Maybe it's this week against an Ohio State juggernaut that's scoring 47.3 points per game.

6. Nebraska is searching for defensive answers. The Huskers expected growing pains with this defense, but they did not expect to be remain so unsettled in the 10th week of the season. Particularly at linebacker, Nebraska has developed little consistency. This week, apparently, freshmen Josh Banderas and Michael Rose return as starters. Coach Bo Pelini stripped the top-unit players of their Blackshirt practice jerseys. Juggling personnel won't work, though, if the Huskers can't develop a more physical presence.

7. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is moving toward a return. Kill, since taking a medical leave of absence following his fifth game-day seizure on Oct. 5, has resumed more coaching responsibilities over the past two weeks. He watched from the press box as the Gophers beat Northwestern, and coached a bit from the booth in Minnesota's upset win over Nebraska. On the road against Indiana on Saturday, Kill plans to do more of the coaching, though he continues to leave control of the sideline to Tracy Claeys, acting head coach and defensive coordinator.

8. Big test for Iowa. It's time to find out if the Hawkeyes are just a nice story, with their competitive play against Michigan State and Ohio State, followed by an overtime win over Northwestern, or if coach Kirk Ferentz's club is going to make some real noise this fall. Wisconsin presents a stiff challenge, but Iowa's solid rush defense and physical offensive play might make this a good matchup for the Hawkeyes. The schedule sets up well this month for Iowa to turn into perhaps the Big Ten's biggest surprise.

9. Penn State needs to find a fast defensive fix. The past two losses have turned ugly for the Nittany Lions, who surrendered more points to Ohio State last week than in any game since the 19th century. In its other October games, PSU allowed 84 points, splitting with Michigan and Indiana. All of it has led to scrutiny of defensive coordinator John Butler, defended adamantly this week by coach Bill O'Brien. The Nittany Lions get some relief Saturday against Illinois. Butler shifted a few bodies in the secondary, but he can only work with the talent on hand, and it's not great after key losses to graduation and low numbers because of probation.

10. Michigan is trying to shake its road woes. Even with that forgettable escape at Connecticut in September, Michigan remains just 6-8 away from the Big House under coach Brady Hoke. He's 19-0 at home, but that won't do any good on Saturday in East Lansing, where Michigan State sacked Michigan quarterbacks seven times in a 28-14 win two years ago. The Wolverines said this week they embrace the hostile environments at their rivals' stadiums. Numbers tell a different story.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
AM ET
World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail PartyKevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsTailgaters fill the parking lots in Jacksonville with a sea of red and black, orange and blue.

Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. All eyes on Jacksonville: Don't look now, but the battle formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has some intrigue. Georgia has been decimated by injuries, but Mark Richt continues to send Aaron Murray out to play each Saturday, giving UGA a chance to win. Murray has hung in despite the fact players are dropping like flies around him. If he gets a third consecutive win over rival Florida, it might make it all worthwhile. Florida has dealt with its own set of injuries, but more problematic is the Gators' offensive ineptitude. Quarterback Tyler Murphy will have to find a way to score some points on Saturday. But for two teams with so many problems, whichever gets out of Jacksonville with a win is still in the SEC East race. Missouri's loss last weekend breathed new life into both squads.

2. Can South Carolina keep it up? It would be classic South Carolina to come out on Saturday against unranked Mississippi State and play down to the competition. It's happened so much lately that we've come to expect it. After winning a thriller on the road last weekend against Missouri, the Gamecocks are on upset alert. Without Connor Shaw's fourth-quarter return, South Carolina loses to Missouri by two touchdowns. If he can't start against Mississippi State, will Steve Spurrier's offense sputter again? You have to like Shaw's leadership, and after all he's done you have to believe he'll play on Saturday and play well.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is likely to make his third career start against Tennessee true freshman Josh Dobbs, who will make his first start.
3. Missouri rebound: That was a hard pill to swallow. Missouri was undefeated and ranked in the top five of the BCS Standings at this time last week. Then South Carolina hit the Tigers with a brutal rope-a-dope, pulling Shaw off the bench, down 17 points, for the fourth-quarter comeback. It took two overtimes and a missed field goal for Missouri's perfect season to come to an end. But Gary Pinkel's squad is by no means out of the SEC East race. A win against Tennessee would keep the Tigers in the driver's seat. But watch out for the Vols, who beat South Carolina earlier in the month.

4. Josh Dobbs: Speaking of Tennessee, keep an eye on the true freshman quarterback. Butch Jones burned his redshirt this past weekend, bringing him off the bench in the second half against Alabama. The athletic Dobbs provided a spark to a Vols offense that couldn't move the football to save its life. His ability to get outside the pocket and buy time helped the receivers, and his speed and elusiveness allowed him to pick up yards with his feet. It's too early to say he's won the starting job, but watch closely because a good game against Missouri could propel him to such status. We could very well be looking at Tennessee's future under center.

5. The SEC East race: The field in the SEC East will narrow this weekend. The loser of the Georgia-Florida game is likely out of it, and neither Missouri nor South Carolina have sure-thing wins on their plates. It may appear that no one wants to win the division and be forced to play Alabama in the conference championship, but someone's got to do it.

6. Manziel health watch: The Johnny Manziel watch never ends. But no, I'm not talking about monitoring his off-the-field behavior this time. No, there's still some concern over whether the defending Heisman Trophy winner is healthy. He injured his throwing arm late against Auburn and played well this past weekend against Vanderbilt. But with Texas A&M facing an overmatched UTEP team Saturday, should he play?

7. Bielema versus Malzahn: Boy, did we see a rivalry form at SEC media days when a pair of first-year coaches in the SEC, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, traded barbs about the safety of the no-huddle offense. Malzahn said he thought it was a joke. Bielema said he wasn't a comedian. It was awesome. Their rivalry was born that day, and this week it sprouted leaves as Bielema accused Auburn of altering the game film it sent to Arkansas in preparation for this week's game between the two programs. The issue even prompted a response from Auburn to the SEC. Man, the Malzahn-Bielema postgame handshake is going to be fun.

8. Jeremy Johnson: Every time Nick Marshall goes down at quarterback for Auburn, Johnson steps right in and doesn't miss a beat. Both times the freshman has played significant reps, he's won SEC Freshman of the Week honors, first against Western Carolina and then last weekend against Florida Atlantic. With Marshall officially "day to day," according to Malzahn, expect the focus to shift to Johnson again.

9. The trainer's table: Playing an SEC schedule will catch up with you. We're starting to see injuries pile up around the league recently as the fatigue of playing physical games week in and week out builds. Tennessee is turning to a true freshman quarterback in place of Justin Worley (injured thumb). Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin is questionable, leaving backup Maty Mauk in a weird state of limbo. South Carolina, meanwhile, is hoping Shaw can continue to play the part of Superman and keep coming back from injury. Oh, and let's not forget Jeff Driskel's prolonged absence at Florida. If another SEC quarterback goes down, we'll have to start calling it an epidemic.

10. Who isn't playing: Give Alabama and LSU credit because they know how to make a schedule. The rivalry game between the two schools isn't until Nov. 9, so they're taking the week off. But unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, those teams' bye weeks leave the league to play without two of its best. Where's the fun in that? We're even deprived of seeing Hugh Freeze and his up-tempo offense at Ole Miss. The SEC East is busy this weekend, but the West is noticeably boring.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
AM ET
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Light week: Only four games on the Pac-12 docket this week, including one on Thursday (Arizona State at Washington State), one on Friday (USC at Oregon State) and two on Saturday (Arizona at California and Colorado at UCLA).
  2. Let's go bowling: Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, are already bowl bound. Four others sit on the precipice and as many as seven others are still in the hunt (note, because of the 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins to become bowl eligible). Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA can all become bowl eligible this week.
  3. [+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonBishop Sankey is one of four Pac-12 backs who average at least 100 yards a game.
  4. 1K club: Washington running back Bishop Sankey became the Pac-12's first 1,000-yard rusher this season and has 1,162 yards on the year. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (920 yards) probably will break through this week against a Cal rush defense that yields an average of 189.1 yards per game. Carey leads the league with 153.3 yards per game, one of four backs who average at least 100 yards per contest (Sankey, 145.2; Tyler Gaffney, 110.8; Byron Marshall, 109.9).
  5. Scoreboard, baby: The Sun Devils have the top two scorers in FBS football in running back Marion Grice (15.4 points per game) and kicker Zane Gonzalez (11.4 ppg) and rank sixth in the nation with 45.4 points per game. Four times this year they have posted 50 or more points. That's the most since the 1973 team. Worth noting, too that Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is third nationally in scoring, making it a hat trick for the conference.
  6. Rubber arm: Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday is on pace to set single-season school records in pass attempts and completions. Through eight games he has completed 273 passes on 428 attempts. Gabe Marks has been the primary recipient with 59 catches for 655 yards. But eight different WSU receivers have 20 or more catches.
  7. Remember, Reser: The Beavers have won three straight over USC in Corvallis, but the Trojans' defense, though injury-depleted, is having a fine season. The Trojans have held six of their eight opponents to fewer than 300 yards. They'll be tested by an Oregon State passing attack that, despite a loss last week to Stanford, is still one of the best in the nation. Cooks leads the FBS with 10.6 receptions per game and 157 yards per game. USC is tied for the conference lead with 27 sacks, which might not bode well for an Oregon State team that gave up eight sacks to the Cardinal last week.
  8. Off and running: The aforementioned Carey is 80 yards shy of reaching 1,000. When he gets there, he'll be just the third Arizona running back to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 straight games, which is the longest active streak in FBS. But it was quarterback B.J. Denker who led the Wildcats in rushing last week, posting 192 yards on 15 carries.
  9. Where's the points? Cal, still winless in conference play, is giving up a league high 44 points per game and scoring a league low 22.9 points per game. Moving the ball isn't a problem. The Bears rank sixth in the league in total offense, averaging 468.4 yards per game. But they have only scored 20 touchdowns on the year, second worst only to Colorado's 19. Receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have combined for 112 catches for 1,387 yards, but just six touchdowns -- five from Harper.
  10. Back to basics: The Bruins are looking to snap a two-game slide after dropping back-to-back road games at Stanford and Oregon. Keep in mind the Bruins have played 32 freshmen this year -- including 17 true freshman. Last year they played 26, including 12 true. Through the first five games, quarterback Brett Hundley averaged 293.8 passing yards per game, was completing 68 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. In the last two weeks he averaged just 128 yards and completed 63 percent of his throws with two touchdowns to four interceptions. The more comfortable he gets with his young, reshaped offensive line, and the fact that he's not playing two of the top teams in the league, should help him bounce back.
  11. Explosive potential: The Buffs rebuilding process has yet to produce a conference win. But that doesn't mean Colorado can't be explosive. Wide receiver Paul Richardson has 50 catches and 914 yards with seven touchdowns, and he's sneaking up on some Colorado single-season marks. He has six plays of 50 yards or longer this season. Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau is 1-1 as a starter and is completing 59 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and an interception.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
AM ET
For the second time in three weeks, the ACC has the national stage with a top-10 matchup. Florida State and Miami will be the headlining act, but there’s plenty to watch across the conference in Week 10.

1. Winston in a rivalry: We’ve seen Jameis Winston embrace the big stage of his first spring game, his first regular-season game and his first top-five game. Now the Florida State quarterback gets introduced to his first true rivalry game when the Seminoles host No. 7 Miami. Winston has thrown for at least 290 yards and three touchdowns in all five of his ACC matchups, and another big performance against a longtime rival on a national stage could go a long way toward winning over Heisman Trophy voters.

2. Return of the rivalry: There’s plenty more to watch in this rivalry game than just Winston, of course. It’s the first time in nine years that FSU and Miami are both ranked in the top 10 at the time of their meeting, giving the ACC a matchup it dreamed about when the Hurricanes first joined the league. For FSU, it’s a chance at another marquee victory as the Seminoles try to sway voters in the razor-thin BCS standings. For Miami, it’s a chance at a signature victory in the Al Golden era and an opportunity to go 4-0 against in-state opponents.

3. Johnson versus FSU defense: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in Saturday’s top-10 showdown is Miami’s Duke Johnson going against the stout Florida State defensive front. Johnson was the hero in last Saturday's rally over Wake Forest, carrying a career-high 30 times and scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. FSU’s defense has improved dramatically in the past month, particularly up front. Still, the Seminoles' success came largely against spread offenses. Johnson and Miami bring more of a power attack. Boston College gained 200 yards on the ground and scored 34 points against the Seminoles in September with its power-based approach.

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesBryn Renner and North Carolina have shown signs of life heading into their matchup against in-state rival NC State.
4. That other rivalry: Well outside the spotlight of FSU and Miami’s top-10 matchup of in-state rivals is North Carolina and NC State. The two programs are a combined 1-7 in ACC play this year, serving as two of the conference’s bigger disappointments. But for two schools separated by only 25 miles, there’s always a lot at stake. UNC finally showed signs of life in last Saturday's victory over BC, while NC State continued to fight even after FSU jumped out to a big lead. Neither program will be taking this week's showdown lightly.

5. Doubting Thomas: It’s been a rocky two years in Blacksburg for Logan Thomas, but last week’s disaster against Duke might have been a low point. Virginia Tech dominated the game by virtually any statistical measure, but the Blue Devils still emerged with a 13-10 victory, at least in part due to another shaky performance from Thomas, who threw four interceptions, including a game-clincher late in the fourth quarter. Thomas will look to rebound this week against a Boston College pass defense that ranks last in the ACC in QB rating allowed.

6. Williams versus Hokies: The conference’s leading rusher faces off against the ACC’s best rushing defense as both sides look to remedy ugly Week 9 losses. Virginia Tech is allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and has given up just five rushing touchdowns. Andre Williams scored five times in one game against Army, and he’s one of just six players nationally to have cracked the 1,000-yard mark.

7. Battle for a bowl: Wake Forest and Syracuse face off at the Carrier Dome in a game that could push the winner toward bowl eligibility and leave the loser with long-shot odds at a postseason berth. With a loss, Wake would need to win two of its final three games (FSU, Duke, Vanderbilt). Syracuse would need three of its last four (Maryland, FSU, Pitt, BC). The Deacons are playing better football at the moment, but both teams have much to lose.

8. Clemson’s playmakers: After a rocky performance against Florida State, Clemson’s big three responded with monster performances in last Saturday's victory over Maryland. Tajh Boyd collected his 15th career 300-yard game, Sammy Watkins reeled in 14 passes for 163 yards and Roderick McDowell rushed 30 times for 161 yards and two TDs. The trio gets a crack at Virginia this week. The Cavaliers have allowed at least 468 yards of offense to five of their past six FBS opponents.

9. Pitt versus the option: If nothing else, the beleaguered Panthers will at least be ready for what’s in store when they travel to Georgia Tech this week, having just faced Navy, which runs a similar option offense. But that Navy game didn’t go too well -- Pitt allowed 220 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss -- and Georgia Tech appears to have righted the ship after a rocky stretch. Tech has won its past two games by a combined 91-25, racking up 788 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in the process.

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