NCF Nation: what to watch 110112

What to watch in the SEC: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
Where did the first two months of the season go?

November is suddenly upon us, and we take a closer look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 10:

1. Round 3: It’s the third meeting in 12 months between Alabama and LSU, the SEC’s two behemoths. The Tigers had a two-game winning streak going against the Crimson Tide until last season’s bitter 21-0 loss in the BCS National Championship Game. It’s a loss that has eaten at the LSU coaches and players, especially after they won 13 straight games last season against a killer schedule and then played so poorly in New Orleans. Tiger Stadium will certainly be a factor. It always is, but Alabama has shown a propensity to go on the road and play well. This is a huge game for the SEC in terms of the national title picture. If Alabama wins, the Crimson Tide will be a heavy favorite to get to Miami and play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game. If LSU wins, the SEC probably will be on the outside looking in this season unless two of the unbeaten teams (Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State) lose.

2. Talent in the trenches: Alabama’s offensive line versus LSU’s defensive line. There could be as many as eight players in those two units on Saturday night who will be selected in the top three rounds of the NFL draft, including six in April 2013. Both of LSU’s defensive ends, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, are first-rounders. The same goes for Alabama guard Chance Warmack, who’s the top interior offensive lineman in college football. Alabama center Barrett Jones, who’s proved he can play anywhere on the offensive line, is a projected second-rounder along with Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker, while LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan is also probably a second-rounder. The two sophomores may be the most physically gifted of the bunch -- Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireLSU's receivers will have to step up for Zach Mettenberger and the Tigers against Alabama's top-ranked defense.
3. Help for Mettenberger: While a lot of eyes will be on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and whether he can play more consistently, the real issue will be how well the Tigers play around him. Mettenberger hasn't gotten a lot of help from his receivers this season, and they’ve dropped way too many passes. What’s more, LSU will need its best game in pass protection. The Tigers have thrown the ball more this season as promised by Les Miles. They just haven’t connected on a lot of big plays down the field. That has to change if they’re going to win Saturday.

4. Stingy defenses: Good luck in scoring points in bunches against Alabama or LSU. The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense and haven’t allowed more than 14 points against an SEC opponent since the end of the 2010 season. The Tigers are ranked No. 9 nationally in scoring defense and have gone 21 straight games without allowing anybody to score more than 22 points against them. In six of their eight games this season, they’ve held their opponents to fewer than 20 points. So in other words, don't be surprised if we see another battle of field goals on Saturday night.

5. Winning the turnover battle: Not only has Alabama been good at forcing turnovers, but the Crimson Tide are equally good at capitalizing on them. Alabama has forced 23 turnovers this season, which is the fourth-most among FBS teams. The Crimson Tide lead all FBS teams with 125 points scored off those turnovers. LSU, on the other hand, has allowed 40 points off turnovers this season, which is 18 more than it allowed all of last season.

6. The real Georgia defense: The Bulldogs finally played up to their talent level on defense last week in a 17-9 win over Florida. Can they keep it up? They’re going to have to if they want to get back to Atlanta for a second straight year, and it starts this week against an Ole Miss offense that will look to spread out the Bulldogs and play at a lightning-fast pace. The Rebels are averaging 32.4 points per game and seem to be hitting their stride. Georgia senior safety Shawn Williams challenged his defensive teammates last week publicly, and it seemed to work. We’ll see whether the Bulldogs can continue to play with that same intensity and same consistency. From a talent standpoint, they’re as good as anybody else in the league.

7. Containing Johnny Football: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel leads the SEC in rushing with 793 yards and would be the second quarterback in the past three years to lead the league in rushing. Auburn’s Cam Newton did so in 2010 with 1,473 rushing yards. Manziel is also chasing Newton’s single-season SEC record for total offense. Newton amassed 4,327 yards in 2010, and Manziel has 3,009 yards this season with five games to play (counting the bowl). He’s gained 537 of his 793 rushing yards on scrambles, which means Mississippi State had better take away his running lanes Saturday night and keep him in the pocket.

8. More of Moore: While Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and the LSU tandem of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo get most of the publicity, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore has been the SEC’s most productive big-play defender this season. He’s up to No. 4 on Mel Kiper’s latest Big Board and is third among FBS players with 10.5 sacks. Moore also leads the SEC in hurries and knockdowns with 21. Clowney and Arkansas’ Trey Flowers are tied for second, each with 18.

9. Dooley’s dilemma: There’s no doubt that Tennessee’s Derek Dooley is coaching to save his job these last four games. A loss to anybody in November would pretty well seal his fate. But if the Vols can win out and finish 7-5, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart may not be as quick to pull the trigger on Dooley as most of the Vols’ fans would be. On the scoreboard, there hasn’t been much evidence that Tennessee has made strides. The Vols have lost 12 of their past 13 SEC games, but they have been more competitive and had chances to win against nationally ranked foes Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina. Hart isn’t talking about Dooley’s future, but several close to the situation think he would lean toward the side of giving Dooley a fourth season if the Vols can finish strong.

10. Winning on the road: Vanderbilt travels to Kentucky this weekend and can win its second SEC road game, which would be the first time since 2008 that the Commodores had won twice in the SEC away from home in the same season. They beat Ole Miss and Kentucky on the road in 2008 and finished 4-4 in the league. It’s the only time in the past 28 years that Vanderbilt has finished with a non-losing record in the league. But a win over Kentucky on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium would even Vanderbilt’s SEC record at 3-3 this season with games remaining against Ole Miss on the road and Tennessee at home.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday:

1) Fast start from Louisville. An early kickoff time is hardly ideal for the Cardinals, who have been unable to put teams away in the early going. Expect that to change this week against a Temple team coming off two big losses and a scrambled week of preparation following tragedy on the East Coast.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Jerome Smith
Mark Konezny/US PRESSWIREJerome Smith said Syracuse's 2012 schedule should have the Orange prepared for their future games against ACC foes.
2) Syracuse ground game. Can the Orange keep it up running the ball? Jerome Smith has rushed for 125-plus yards in each of the past two games, opening things up vertically for Syracuse. Cincinnati has been stout against the run all year.

3) Munchie Legaux looks to get back on track. The Bearcats' QB threw a pick-six in a loss at Toledo, then a pick in overtime that all but sealed his team's fate at Louisville. Butch Jones restated that he's sticking with his signal caller, so now is the time for Legaux to step up.

4) Can Pitt's running backs keep it up? Ray Graham and Rushel Shell have yet to face a defense like the one they will Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish allowed their first rushing touchdown of the season last week, but limited Oklahoma to 15 net yards rushing. The Panthers need to establish the run early to have an upset chance.

5) Paging UConn's offense … again. No second-half points since the third quarter of a Sept. 29 win against Buffalo? The Huskies need more out of the offense, especially with their defense collapsing in their most recent outing two weeks ago at Syracuse.

6) Can USF finish? The Bulls have good players. This much we can gather, though not from their 2-6 record. The fact they have lost four of those games in the final minutes is better evidence. Still, a six-game losing streak has its best chance of ending this Saturday night against reeling UConn. The Bulls are still seeking that elusive first pick, too, which probably has its best chance of happening against the Huskies, who have thrown 11. Somebody is getting conference win No. 1.

What to Watch: Notre Dame vs. Pitt

November, 1, 2012
Here are three key storylines heading into the Irish's contest with Pitt:

(1) QB play. Everett Golson has seemingly been great every other game. I think that will change Saturday, when he finally puts his home demons behind and has a great, complete start.

(2) Sacks. Aaron Lynch got too much undeserved heat last season for predicting the Irish could sack Tino Sunseri 10 or more times. Pitt's offense is a much more cohesive unit this season under first-year coach Paul Chryst, but when the protection is bad, it is bad. Sunseri has turned into a very good quarterback, but he has had nowhere to run several times this season, going down six times against Cincinnati and five times against Syracuse and Louisville. None of those defensive lines compares to the Irish's.

(3) One team with names on its jerseys. Pitt went the no-name rout for the start of the Chryst era. He told his players last week that they would get them back on their jerseys if they beat Temple. They beat Temple.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

1. Game of the year? Will USC-Oregon live up to all of the hype? This one doesn't smell nearly as sweet with a two-loss USC squad, but there are still playmakers up the ying-yang on both sides of the ball, including the four Pac-12 players getting votes in the Heisman poll. Here's hoping the hype is justified. Then again, last year's Oregon-Stanford game had similar hype and it was a total letdown. USC, however, is a much higher-profile program than Stanford, so even a two-loss USC team versus Oregon is significant.

2. Colorado curse? What do Colorado State, Fresno State, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona State and USC all have in common? They have all lost the week after playing Colorado. Every FBS team that has faced the Buffs this year has gone on to lose the following week. Only Sacramento State has survived the Buffs' curse (and as Pac-12 fans know, Sacramento State is all kinds of awesome). Why is this pertinent -- other than it's a sort of a freaky coincidence? Who did Oregon play last week? Just sayin' … but then again, you could also claim an Oregon curse. Every team that has played them this year ends up in the fetal position, weeping softly with a gallon of Icy Hot on their fannies.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Kenjon Barner
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner is one of four players participating in Saturday's Oregon-USC game who is receiving Heisman votes in's poll.
3. Flying high: Arizona and UCLA are both coming off of emotional victories. The Wildcats had the huge home upset of USC and the Bruins won at ASU on a last-second field goal. Both were thrilling, if not exhausting performances. They meet in Pasadena on Saturday, and whichever team is able to put last week behind it takes a big step forward in the race for the Pac-12 South crown.

4. Start of something big? Washington's home win against Oregon State was a huge step forward for the program. But can they keep it up? The Huskies close out their season with four straight games against unranked, sub-.500 teams. Last week could have been the start of a five-game win streak to close out the year. For as frustrating as the first half of the year was, an eight-win season would be pretty nice all things considered.

5. Start of something bad? This isn't unfamiliar territory to Arizona State fans, who year after year have seen their team start hot and finish cold. And the Sun Devils seem to be frustratingly keeping to script. After jumping out to a 5-1 mark, ASU has dropped its past two. Now it has to face three ranked teams in its final four. Not saying they won't be bowl eligible, but it might not come until they are back at home on Nov. 17 versus Washington State.

6. Big decision: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley was decisive when he opted for Cody Vaz over Sean Mannion at quarterback. He wasted little time and Vaz has worked the entire week with the first-team offense. Some say good for him for pulling the trigger. Others say this isn't the time to shake up the locker room on a 6-1 team. I'm on the fence. Unless Vaz blows up against ASU -- then it's a great call.

7. Keepin' it tight: Say this for the Sun Devils, they said they wanted to commit to the tight end, and they have. Chris Coyle has 38 catches for 473 yards -- second nationally among tight ends. The national leader is Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Stanford's Zach Ertz isn't far behind with 32 catches for a conference-best 525 yards among tight ends. Expect all three to play major roles this week -- as they have all season. Which one gets the nod for first-team all-conference? Tough call.

8. Maturing quarterbacks: For as tough as Jeff Tuel had it last week against Stanford, he showed some maturity in understanding the offense and was pretty gritty in the loss. Same for Utah's Travis Wilson, a true freshman, who is starting to get a hang of things as well. Age and experience separates these two when they meet in Salt Lake City, but both are in similar situations trying to make weekly progress.

9. More snaps: While Colorado continues its quarterback carousel, Stanford looks to be making a slight change in that direction. Head coach David Shaw said Kevin Hogan will see more snaps this week, outside of the read-option package he has run the past few weeks. Could be Shaw just wanting to get the youngster some work. Could be a move toward a full-fledged quarterback change.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
What should you watch in the ACC this week? Glad you asked.

1. Coastal Division clash. Virginia Tech travels to play Miami tonight in a game that could end up determining who wins the Coastal Division. If one of these teams wins out, then it will end up in the ACC championship game. This is only the sixth time in 29 meetings between the two schools that neither team is ranked going into the matchup. But Virginia Tech has a few things going in its favor. First, the Hokies have won three straight in the series. Second, they are 19-5 in Thursday night games on ESPN -- including 2-0 last season.

2. Quarterback uncertainty. This is a position to watch for several ACC teams this week. The biggest headliner is the Maryland-Georgia Tech game. The Terps have no scholarship quarterbacks remaining, so they are going with converted linebacker Shawn Petty, the third true freshman they have played at that position. The Maryland sports information department says no other school in the nation has faced such an unprecedented situation at quarterback this season or last. As for the Yellow Jackets, coach Paul Johnson may end up starting Vad Lee over Tevin Washington. One other quarterback situation to watch: Will Duke start the banged -p Sean Renfree against Clemson?

[+] EnlargeSean Renfree
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireThe Blue Devils may be without starting QB Sean Renfree when they face No. 13 Clemson.
3. Can Duke play better against Clemson? Speaking of this matchup, the Blue Devils get their third crack at a Top 25 team this season and hope for much better results. Their first two games did not exactly go well, as they lost to then-No. 25 Stanford and then-No. 12 Florida State by a combined 98-20. But those two games were on the road, and Duke has played much better at home. In fact, Duke is averaging 42.6 points per game at home, compared to just 13.3 points in its three road games. Duke has now scored 213 points in its five home games in 2012, the highest five-game home total in school history.

4. Bounce-back time. Eight of the 10 teams playing this weekend are coming into their games off a loss. Would you believe Boston College is one of two teams that is not?

5. Now or never. Virginia (2-6) and Boston College (2-6) have to win out in order to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Eagles travel to play Wake Forest, a team that had major problems slowing down the Clemson passing game. That could be problematic for the Deacs this week, as Boston College has a good quarterback in Chase Rettig and one of the most productive receivers in the ACC in Alex Amidon. As for the Hoos, they got an extra week to prepare to play NC State, which has won three of the past four meetings in the series. Their young secondary is sure to be tested by Mike Glennon, who threw for 467 yards last week against North Carolina.

6. Bowl eligibility. On the flip side, NC State is the only team playing this weekend with an opportunity to clinch bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack are coming into the game off a tough loss to in-state rival North Carolina and could very well feel the effects of a "letdown" game as they are playing an overmatched opponent. But after previous losses this season, NC State bounced back the following week with a win.

7. Hokies' run game vs. Miami's run defense. We all know coach Frank Beamer is playing coy about his running back rotation going into tonight's game, but will it matter? The Hurricanes rank No. 119 in the nation in rushing defense, giving up an average of 249.3 yards per game on the ground. Miami has allowed fewer than 200 yards rushing just once this season -- 96 to Boston College in the season opener.

8. Georgia Tech run game vs. Maryland run defense. For the second straight week, the Jackets are facing one of the best run defenses in the nation. Last week in a loss to BYU, they were held to a season-low 117 yards rushing. Can they improve on that mark against the No. 4 run defense in the nation? Five times this season, the Terps have held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing, including back-to-back games. For Maryland to stand a chance, its defense is going to have to play a near-flawless game.

9. Can Clemson keep rolling? The Tigers were virtually unstoppable in a 42-13 win over Wake Forest last week, as Tajh Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards, and Sammy Watkins set a school record with 202 yards receiving. Though Duke has made strides in the secondary, the Blue Devils are going to have to find a way to slow down Boyd, Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins to keep their Coastal Division hopes alive.

10. Record watch. Duke receiver Conner Vernon needs 82 yards to pass former Florida State standout Peter Warrick and become the leading receiver in ACC history. Warrick's mark stands at 3,517 yards. With one catch this week, Vernon will tie the ACC record for consecutive games with at least one reception, matching the mark of 45 held by Corey Holliday of North Carolina.

What to watch for in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 1, 2012
Here's what I'm watching for in the Big 12 this week:

1. Welcome back -- your dreams were your ticket out. West Virginia's offense stumbled in big losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State and had a bye week to sit in the corner of the classroom and think about what it just did. Or something like that. WVU is back and plays an underrated but beat-up TCU defense. Can Geno Smith & Co. finally get back on track? It'll be the difference between 7-5 or 6-6 and 10-2 or 9-3.

2. You wouldn't like them when they're angry. Oklahoma has never lost consecutive conference games under Bob Stoops. Notre Dame's not a conference game, of course, but it might as well be. Point is, late in the season the Sooners don't take too well to losing consecutive games. Iowa State hosts an angry bunch of Sooners. The last time OU was coming off a loss, it destroyed a pretty good Texas Tech team on the road back in September.

3. Get a push, or end up on your tush. If the Cowboys can't slow down Kansas State's rushing attack on some level, it's going to be an ugly, ugly game. OSU might have to do it without its best tackle, too. Calvin Barnett was arrested for driving with a suspended license -- the third time that has happened.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Jerome Miron/US PresswireTCU could get quarterback Trevone Boykin back this week, but a knee injury might limit his effectiveness.
4. Are the kinfolk OK? Gary Patterson sounds like he thinks he'll have quarterback Trevone Boykin this week against West Virginia. Boykin's a speedy guy who uses his legs a lot. With a knee injury, will that affect TCU's game plan? If Boykin's sitting in the pocket all day, that certainly will have an impact on his effectiveness.

5. Back to the start. Texas Tech's defense gave up scores on seven consecutive drives last week, and K-State scored 55 points. TCU scored 53 in triple overtime the week before. The Tech defense has taken some lumps over the past couple of weeks. It gets a struggling Texas offense this week. Can Texas Tech return to its early-season ways on defense?

6. Losing is the hardest part. Kansas State leads the Big 12 in scoring offense and defense, but the defense lost a big piece in linebacker Tre Walker last week. He may be out awhile. Arthur Brown gets all the publicity, but Walker was a fantastic player, too. How badly will he be missed this week against Oklahoma State?

7. If you don't rush, they won't hurry. Texas didn't have Jackson Jeffcoat last week after he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury, but Kansas isn't exactly a test for your pass rush. The Jayhawks threw nine passes last week against Texas. Just a hunch: Texas Tech will throw more than that this week -- in the first quarter. How will Longhorns defensive end Reggie Wilson handle a heavier load, and will Tech's line be able to slow Alex Okafor this week?

8. Time for a Sims 5 release party. James Sims has rushed for 100 yards in four consecutive games, and I'll go ahead and predict he rolls over Baylor for a fifth this week. However, can Baylor's defense show some fight? The Bears are ninth in the Big 12 in rush defense.

9. West Virginia learned this the hard way, Baylor. When WVU lost Stedman Bailey, defenses were able to slow down Tavon Austin. With Tevin Reese banged up a little bit, will the same happen to Terrance Williams? I'm betting no, and that Kansas doesn't have the athletes in the secondary to make that happen, but it'll be interesting to see how KU tries to cover Reese, and if Reese is still effective after suffering a knee injury last week. He's expected to play.

10. Two in a row is the hard part. Steele Jantz blew up one of the Big 12's worst defenses last week, throwing for almost 400 yards and five touchdowns against Baylor. This week, he faces one of the best, and probably the league's best secondary in Oklahoma, which has surrendered only three passing touchdowns all season. Can Jantz keep it rolling for a second consecutive week?
Ten (items) for (Week) 10 for (Big) Ten.

Ready? Let's go ...

1. Nebraska's offense vs. MSU's defense: Something's gotta give in East Lansing, as the Big Ten's top offense (Nebraska) faces off against one of the nation's best defensive units (Michigan State). The Spartans throttled Wisconsin last week, finally complementing their standard stinginess with impact plays needed to win a big one on the road. Michigan State needs William Gholston and its other defensive linemen to pressure QB Taylor Martinez, while Max Bullough and his fellow linebackers must slow down running back Ameer Abdullah. Martinez came up big in Nebraska's last road game, and must limit mistakes and pick his spots against a defense allowing just 15 points per game. Nebraska's offense has survived and thrived without its best player -- running back Rex Burkhead -- but it hasn't faced a defense like this.

2. Michigan's end zone drought: The Wolverines have gone 126 minutes, 1 second without scoring a touchdown, failing to reach the end zone in each of their past two games. Michigan hasn't had three touchdown-less games in a season since 1962, when it went 2-7. Brady Hoke's crew has much bigger goals this season and still has a chance to win the Legends Division and play for a Big Ten championship. But it needs to start finishing drives beginning Saturday at Minnesota. Quarterback Denard Robinson is expected to play despite leaving last week's loss to Nebraska with a nerve issue in his throwing elbow. If Robinson doesn't stay on the field, Michigan might have a tough time ending its drought against an improved Gophers' defense.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Taylor Martinez
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTaylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense will face a stiff test in East Lansing.
3. Indiana's opportunity: Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson and his players aren't worried about the big picture, and rightfully so after recording their first Big Ten win since 2010 last Saturday. But in this wacky/unique/bad Big Ten season, Indiana finds itself right in the mix to represent the Leaders Division at the league title game. Indiana hasn't won back-to-back conference games since 2007 and hasn't won a league contest at home since 2009. It can accomplish both Saturday against a slumping Iowa team. If so, Indiana will set up a potential play-in game against Wisconsin next week in Bloomington. "Deep down, we know we have a shot," cornerback Greg Heban told

4. Perfect 10: Ohio State is the first FBS team to reach nine wins, and the Buckeyes aim for a perfect 10-0 record Saturday against Illinois. Although it would take a very sloppy performance to let slumping Illinois hang around, Ohio State can't be complacent following a big win against Penn State and with an open week upcoming. Ohio State hasn't started 10-0 since 2007, and it can clinch the Leaders Division championship with a win and a Penn State loss at Purdue. Like Purdue, Illinois has given Ohio State more trouble than you'd think. The Illini have won seven of their past 11 games at Ohio Stadium, including a 2007 win against ... wait for it ... a 10-0 Buckeyes team.

5. Marve's moment: Purdue's season hasn't gone according to plan, and, unfortunately, neither has Robert Marve's career in West Lafayette. Marve has suffered three ACL tears since transferring to Purdue, including one he continues to play on for the rest of his final season. Boilers fans have clamored for Marve for most of the season, and they'll finally get their wish as Marve will start at quarterback Saturday against Penn State. Marve, who played well last week at Minnesota, will make his second start of the season. Purdue has dropped its first four Big Ten games and coach Danny Hope is under fire. If the Boilers have any hope of rescuing their season, they need to beat Penn State and get a big boost from Marve under center.

6. One win away: Three Big Ten teams are bowl eligible (Northwestern, Nebraska and Wisconsin), and three more can get there Saturday. One certainly will as Michigan and Minnesota, both with five victories, meet for the Little Brown Jug at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota aims for its first bowl appearance since the 2009 season and its first win against Michigan since 2005. Michigan State, meanwhile, can record its sixth win by beating Nebraska, ensuring a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season. The Spartans also are looking for their first Big Ten home win of the season. After recording perfect seasons at home in each of the past two years, Michigan State already has lost three times at Spartan Stadium this fall.

7. Bullock's turn: Damon Bullock opened the season as Iowa's top running back, had a big performance in the opener against Northern Illinois and then, like so many other Hawkeye ball carriers, fell victim to AIRBHG. He's back in the mix after recovering from a concussion, and Iowa needs him as Mark Weisman (ankle) is out for the Indiana game. Bullock showed good power and speed last week at Northwestern, rushing for 107 yards on 22 carries. Iowa needs to keep Indiana's high-powered offense off of the field Saturday, and it'll look for a big game from Bullock against the nation's 109th-rated rush defense (222.5 ypg allowed).

8. Full Nelson: Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson stole the show last week in his debut before the home crowd at Minnesota, completing 13 of his first 14 pass attempts and finishing with 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Nelson has Gopher Nation excited, but we'll learn a lot more about him this week as he faces Michigan, which ranks ninth nationally in yards allowed and 14th nationally in points allowed. If Nelson slays Michigan's defense as a true freshman, the buzz around him and the Gophers will only increase. Brady Hoke, meanwhile, called out Michigan defense Tuesday for a lack of pressure. Michigan has only 10 sacks in eight games, which ties for 104th nationally.

9. Crowd in East Lansing: Several times this week, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio expressed some concern about the crowd for Saturday's game, namely that Spartans fans wouldn't show up in their typical droves. With Nebraska coming to town, that's a problem because nobody travels like the Sea of Red. Remember what happened three weeks ago at Northwestern's Ryan Field. The Nebraska contingent was so big and so loud that Northwestern, the home team, had to operate on a silent count on offense toward the end of the game. Plenty of tickets are available at low prices, which comes as a bit of a surprise as Michigan State, while falling short of expectations this season, especially at home, comes off of a big win at Wisconsin. "Hopefully ... this week, we don't sell our tickets to the highest bidder," Dantonio said. "I know they'll come in in droves."

10. Lions on the rebound again: Penn State responded extremely well from its first setbacks of the season, erasing an 0-2 start with five straight wins. Thoughts of a 10-2 season surfaced around State College, but Ohio State provided a reality check of sorts in last week's game at Beaver Stadium. Bill O'Brien's team once again must show its resiliency on the road, where it is 2-0 in Big Ten play this season. Offensive lineman John Urschel said Wednesday that the team might have been too hyped up for the Ohio State game, while O'Brien disagreed. Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium should have a more subdued atmosphere, but Penn State can't afford to sleepwalk against a Boilers team playing to save its season.