NCF Nation: what to watch week 5
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
What to watch from Notre Dame's game against Washington in South Bend:
1. Jimmy Clausen's health: Charlie Weis insists that Clausen will be fine this week, but color us skeptical. Turf toe injuries are notoriously slow to heal, and the junior quarterback was hobbling around last week at Purdue even during his game-winning drive. Clearly, Weis just wants to get through this game and give Clausen time off during the bye. So how much does he use his star this week, and what kinds of things will he do to alleviate pressure on him? Expect to see more of Dayne Crist and the Wildcat, especially if the Irish can build an early lead.
2. Armando Allen and the running game: Allen is supposedly healed after his ankle injury, and Washington's defense has been kind to running backs. The Huskies are yielding 195 rushing yards per game on the ground. Look for heavy doses of Allen and Robert Hughes and probably even Golden Tate, who was given the ball out of the backfield several times at Purdue.
3. Jake Locker vs. the Irish defense: Notre Dame has seen running quarterbacks (Tate Forcier, Colin Kaepernick) and a pocket passer who tore it up (Kirk Cousins) this season. But it has not faced a guy yet like Locker, who can make plays with his feet and gun it down field with a powerful arm. He singlehandedly could push the Huskies to an upset victory. Yet Washington's offensive line is still very much a work in progress, so Jon Tenuta's blitzes should prove effective. The key will be containing Locker once he's flushed out of the pocket.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Return of conference play: Big East league play began on Labor Day and then took the rest of September off. It's back this week with two games, each featuring a supposed contender (Pitt, South Florida) against an expected pretender (Louisville, Syracuse). Can either of the underdogs flip those preseason prognostications -- and the league race -- upside down?
2. West Virginia's self-control: You know how coaches like to call mistakes "teaching moments"? Well, Bill Stewart and his staff have had a lot of those moments in the 12 days following the Auburn loss. Six turnovers will do that. Let's see how the Mountaineers respond tonight against Colorado. That will tell us whether that coughing-up fit on the Plains was a temporary setback or symptomatic of a long-term concern.
3. Noel Devine's touches: It's become a sticking point among some West Virginia fans that Devine only got 17 touches -- while producing 154 and three touchdowns -- at Auburn. The Mountaineers have a fine Devine line to straddle; they don't want to overwork him, and they've got plenty of other weapons on offense. Still, I suspect we might see a heavier workload for the star tailback tonight, unless the game gets out of hand.
4. Pitt's discipline: We've been talking about it all week. The Panthers haven't looked like themselves on defense, especially in the NC State game, and have incurred too many penalties. Can they shore that up in time for Friday's game at Louisville? The secondary must tighten up against the Cardinals, or else Scott Long, Doug Beaumont and Trent Guy will be running free and putting a dent in Pitt's Big East hopes.
5. Louisville's defensive front: Can the Cardinals' defense, which had trouble slowing Utah's backup running back last week, contain the powerful Dion Lewis? Pitt's offensive line has given up the fewest sacks in the league, while Louisville's defense has notched fewer sacks than anybody in the conference. Bill Stull may not be the greatest quarterback in the country, but if he has all day to throw, he'll find his many playmakers.
6. Pitt's defensive front: This should be the best defensive line Louisville has faced all year. The Panthers lead the league in sacks and should be able to get penetration and at the very least, force Justin Burke to roll out of the pocket. Emphasis on should, because while guys like Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard got through the NC State offensive line, they couldn't wrap up and finish off quarterback Russell Wilson. They need to hit Burke and get him on the ground to swing the game their way.
7. B.J. Daniels: After his celebrated win at Florida State, the South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback starts his first conference game. Syracuse will now have seen plenty of tape on him. Daniels will need to improve some of his decision-making from the second half of the FSU game, but his speed could be something to behold on that Carrier Dome turf.
8. Syracuse's offensive line: The Orange O-line has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but the challenge really ramps up this week. The Bulls' defensive front was downright intimidating against the Seminoles and will come into this week with a ton of confidence. Will Greg Paulus have time to throw, or will he be running for cover most of the day?
9. Mike Williams vs. the South Florida secondary: Williams will be the best receiver the Bulls have faced this season and Syracuse's top threat to pop a big play. The South Florida secondary has been improved this year, but some of that is a function of the pressure applied up front. Do the Bulls double cover Williams and make someone else try and beat them?
10. Pike pile-up: Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is in the Heisman Trophy discussion now, and Saturday should provide a good opportunity for him to stuff his stats. Miami of Ohio has been virtually defenseless against the pass this season, and they haven't seen anyone near the caliber of Pike and Mardy Gilyard. A five-touchdown type of day is not out of the question.
Posted by ESPN.com
1. The collective cheer you heard early Friday morning around the SEC came about the time Oregon State went to the victory formation in its shocking 27-21 upset of USC. With the Trojans losing to an unranked team, the door to the BCS national championship game for the SEC champion has never been wider. Even with one loss, the SEC champion will be in great shape to get to Miami and play for the national title for a third straight year, which makes the Alabama-Georgia (ESPN, 7:45 ET) showdown all the more intriguing. -- Chris Low
2. It's hard to believe Georgia and Alabama fans could be any more excited for this game. There is plenty of skill-position talent in this game, from quarterback to running back to freshmen wide receivers, but like an old-school SEC game it will be won in the trenches. Alabama leads the SEC in rushing offense, Georgia leads in rushing defense. Winner of the ground game could be winner of the whole game. -- Pat Forde
3. Before Thursday night, No. 12 Penn State looked as if it had bulked up its statistics on a junk-food schedule. But the same Oregon State team that lost three weeks ago at Penn State, 45-14, toppled No. 1 USC. That makes the Nittany Lion defense, which has allowed a total of 20 points and 209 rushing yards in four games, look better. No. 22 Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has some work to do in Happy Valley (ABC, 8 ET). -- Ivan Maisel
4. The stakes have suddenly been raised for Oklahoma, which can jump into the No.1 position for the first time since the week before the 2003 Big 12 championship game by beating TCU. To get there, the Sooners will need a strong performance against a typically pesky Frogs team which was the last road team to win in Norman (2005). The Horned Frogs lead the nation in total defense and rush defense and will be the toughest challenge to date for an Oklahoma offense that leads the nation in scoring and has beaten opponents by 40.7 points per game. -- Tim Griffin
5. Sophomore quarterback Tyrod Taylor's legs have helped Virginia Tech win three games in a row and take early control of the ACC's Coastal Division. The Hokies will need help from Taylor's arm if they're going to win at Nebraska on Saturday night (ABC, 8 ET). The much-improved Cornhusker defense has allowed only 77 rushing yards per game in coach Bo Pelini's first season. Virginia Tech is averaging only 99 passing yards per game, and will need more to beat the Cornhuskers on the road. -- Mark Schlabach
6. One streak will end Saturday in Ann Arbor (ABC, 3:30 ET). Michigan has won 22 consecutive Big Ten home openers but enters the game as an underdog. Wisconsin last won at Michigan Stadium in 1994, a stretch of four games. This is the first time a ranked Wisconsin team faces an unranked Michigan team since 1959. The game likely will be decided at the line of scrimmage. Badgers junior P.J. Hill, the nation's ninth-leading rusher, faces a Michigan defense ranked 12th nationally against the run. -- Adam Rittenberg
7. Notre Dame hopes to avoid a losing streak when Purdue rolls into town this weekend. The Irish suffered their first loss of the season last weekend, and after battling record-setting losing streaks last season, the Irish know how quickly the tide can turn. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen will look to erase his streak of two interceptions per game and the Irish running game will try to get moving against a Purdue running defense that is allowing almost 200 yards per game. -- Graham Watson
8. Clemson is still trying to work its way back from its embarrassing loss to Alabama in the season-opener and the Tigers have used wins over less-heralded opponents to help heal their bruised egos. They are still battered on the offensive line, though, and that could make a difference against Maryland (ESPN360.com, noon ET). -- Heather Dinich
9. The issue this weekend in the Pac-10 is whether the conference will be reinvigorated by the removal of USC's vast shadow of superiority. Or have the Trojans merely joined the malaise? There are plenty of questions, even if the matchups aren't terribly scintillating. Will Oregon keep a quarterback healthy for an entire game against Washington State? Will UCLA show a heartbeat against Fresno State (ABC, 3:30 ET)? And will Tyrone Willingham make a stand against Stanford in front of a beleaguered Husky Stadium crowd? -- Ted Miller
10. Could USC's loss help South Florida sneak into the BCS title discussion? Before the Bulls can dream about running through the Big East undefeated, they have to finish out their nonconference schedule on the road (ESPNU, 7:30 ET) against an NC State team that just knocked off East Carolina. South Florida isn't at full strength either, with at least three defensive starters -- including reigning Big East defensive player of the year George Selvie -- expected to be sidelined by injuries. -- Brian Bennett
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten things of note heading into the Pac-10's Saturday slate.
1. With no marquee games, most folks still will be talking about USC: A week ago, it seemed like most teams and even the coaches had yielded the conference championship to USC. The loss at Oregon State, however, made the Trojans look far from immortal. Perhaps they are not exempt from the Pac-10's much-discussed downturn, and the rest of the conference will see an opportunity.
2. UCLA might be able to run against Fresno State: The Bruins need to take the pressure off quarterback Kevin Craft. They ran the ball better against Arizona -- 115 yards -- and the Bulldogs will be without their two starting DTs, while the Bruins are expected to get at least some carries from RB Kahlil Bell, who suffered a high-ankle sprain in the season-opener. UCLA's cause, however, isn't helped by the season-ending knee injury fullback Trevor Theriot suffered at practice Wednesday.
3. Washington coach Tyrone Willingham can't afford to lose against Stanford: If Washington manages to beat Stanford on Saturday, it's possible that the Huskies could rally as they face a more manageable Pac-10 slate after starting 0-3 vs. the nation's toughest schedule. But if they lose, Willingham likely will be out of chances and the Huskies could be headed for a humiliating season of double-digit defeats.
4. Oregon will keep its quarterback healthy by running right at Washington State: Oregon ranks fourth in the country in rushing with 299 yards per game. Washington State ranks 117th in the nation in run defense (250 ypg). Oregon has an outstanding offensive line. WSU has a thin, inexperienced, overmatched defensive line. Ducks tailbacks LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson average 7.5 and 6.4 yards per carry, respectively. Anyone else see a way for Oregon to protect the health of its quarterback on Saturday?
5. WSU quarterback Marshall Lobbestael will find the going much tougher as a Pac-10 starter: It's one thing to come off the bench against a FCS team and play well. It's another to spend all week thinking about starting against a Pac-10 foe. Thinking time isn't always good, particularly for a redshirt freshman quarterback who wasn't expecting to play this season. Lobbestael completed nine of 12 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns against Portland State and earned Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week. Oregon will be a much tougher challenge, particularly with the Ducks feeling embarrassed about their effort against Boise State.
6. California running back Jahvid Best is a big-play back. Colorado State doesn't give up big plays. Who breaks first? Best looked like a potential dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate when he broke off a pair of 80-yard touchdown runs against Washington State. Then he and the Bears got popped at Maryland. Still, the Cal offense has produced 20 plays of more than 20 yards. Colorado State's defense doesn't give up big plays. The Rams have kept just about everything in front of them this season, giving up just one play of more than 40 yards. The Bears, after a bye week, probably are inspired to change that total.
7. Washington's defense may allow Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to break through: Pritchard isn't rated among the nation's 100 most efficient quarterbacks. The Cardinal ranks 109th in passing offense. Stanford can improve to 3-2 at Washington and be halfway to bowl eligibility, but for them to achieve the other half, Pritchard needs to step up. One of the worst defenses a BCS conference should help this weekend. And if it doesn't, coach Jim Harbaugh might need to look for someone else to lead his offense. While Harbaugh said the window of opportunity is closing for touted true freshman Andrew Luck to play, that doesn't mean he can't turn to another quarterback if Pritchard continues to languish.
8. UCLA might feel like a visiting team against Fresno: Trying to increase revenue, the UCLA sports marketing department tried to lure Fresno State fans to buy tickets for Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl by advertising in Fresno newspapers. It's rare that a program tries to attract fans who intend the boo the home team.
9. USC might fall out of the top-10: If it seems like the media fell out of love with USC and quickly into hate, that's because media folk don't like looking foolish -- BEST USC TEAM EVER! -- and they will feed from the schadenfreude of a college football nation that's been suffering USC Exhaustion for a few years now. There will be widespread speculation over whether the Trojans can play their way back into the national title hunt. So activist voters will try to make it hard for that to happen.
10. Next weekend is HUGE: Other than the stunner on Thursday night in Corvallis, this is a fairly light week for the conference. Not so on Oct. 4. First, Oregon visits USC, so the college football nation will get to see how the Trojans respond to their humiliating defeat. California plays host to Arizona State, a game that figures to provide a good suggestion of which of these teams is headed to the top third of the conference and which is not. Oregon State will try to follow up its win over USC by earning the conference some revenge against the Mountain West Conference at No. 17 Utah. Arizona, with a bye to prepare, should be on upset-alert as it looks to improve to 4-1 at Washington, potentially the Wildcats best start since 2000. Someone will win when Washington State visits UCLA, the loser probably finding itself at the bottom of the conference. And Stanford gets a shot at Notre Dame, which is always interesting.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The last time Alabama vs. Georgia was this big, a couple of guys by the name of Bryant and Dooley were roaming the sidelines. The year was 1976, and both teams were ranked in the top 10 just like they will be Saturday in Sanford Stadium. Georgia won that game 32 years ago, 21-0, and went on to win its third SEC championship under Vince Dooley. This one also figures to have championship implications, and with No. 1-ranked USC's shocking 27-21 loss to Oregon State on Thursday, possibly even BCS national championship implications. Either way, the blackout or the funeral -- depending on your allegiance -- ought to be a load of fun. Here's a look at some things to watch for this week in the SEC:
1. Style points: With Southern California going down, think we might see the SEC heavyweights doing their best to rack up some style points? Actually, the SEC is in great shape now to send a team to the BCS national championship game for the third straight year as long as the teams don't beat up on each other too much. Even with one loss, the SEC champion -- be it Alabama, Florida, Georgia or LSU -- would seemingly have a pretty clear path to the BCS national championship game now that USC already has a loss. That's allowing for the Big 12 champion to claim the other spot in the BCS national championship game.
2. Cody vs. Jones: Georgia coach Mark Richt said the Bulldogs would probably go with the same combination in the offensive line for the second straight week, which means true freshman center Ben Jones will be matched against Alabama's massive 365-pound nose tackle, Terrence Cody. Jones will no doubt need some help against Cody, who's been a terror this season. What that does is open up even more room for Alabama linebackerRolando McClain to go to work.
3. Moreno after halftime: The guy's pretty good whenever he touches the ball. But Georgia sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno has been spectacular in the second half, which is always a nice bonus in a tight ballgame. He has seven second-half runs of 20 yards or longer. That's more than anybody else in the country this season. He's also averaging 10.1 yards per carry after halftime as opposed to 4.5 yards per carry in the first half.
4. Strength vs. strength: Alabama has run the ball better than anybody else in the SEC this season, and Georgia has stopped the run better than anybody. Something has to give. The Crimson Tide are averaging 237 yards on the ground and have been so dominant that quarterback John Parker Wilson only has four fourth-quarter pass attempts. The Bulldogs are allowing just 46 yards rushing per game, which may be a bit skewed. They've been ahead in their first four games, and teams have been forced to throw the ball.
5. The Truth: The Georgia coaches refer to quarterback Matthew Stafford as the "The Truth," and the truth is that he's the most dangerous passer in the SEC. He's first in the league in passing efficiency and has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Bulldogs' first four games. One potential glitch is that he hasn't been nearly as effective throwing to the left side of the field so far, and the Bulldogs struggled to protect him the second week against South Carolina.
6. Garcia's debut: The Head Ball Coach sort of teased the South Carolina fans by saying Stephen Garcia would play some against Georgia. He got in for all of three plays. But this Saturday against UAB, Steve Spurrier said Garcia would play as early as the first quarter. Spurrier wants to see what Garcia can do. The Gamecocks haven't had a downfield passing game to this point, and Spurrier is hopeful that Garcia can make them a little more potent and force opposing defenses to play them more honestly.
7. Tennessee's pride: For the second straight week, we conduct a pride check with the Vols. This is a program teetering right now and a program that desperately needs something good to happen. A win on the road at Auburn would certainly qualify. By the same token, if the Vols go to the Plains and are never really in the game similar to what happened against Florida last week, it's difficult to see this season going anywhere but straight down the Big Orange tubes.
8. Auburn's offense: Tommy Tuberville's optimistic that his offense turned the corner in the second half of the 26-21 loss to LSU last week. Quarterback Chris Todd gave the Tigers the lead late in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't hold it. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is talking like the Tigers might throw it even more this week. That's a mixed bag with Tennessee, because the Vols haven't been very good at rushing the passer, but they are good in the secondary. In the end, the Tigers will do what they need to do to win. There's a reason they haven't lost consecutive SEC games since 2003.
9. Lee or Hatch: At some point, LSU coach Les Miles has to choose. He's gotten away with using both quarterbacks to this point. But as the Tigers delve deeper into this SEC race, they're going to need that one guy at quarterback everybody can look to whenever things get tough. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee showed that he's more than capable of being that guy last week at Auburn when he played his best football of the season in the second half. This could be his chance to take the starting job and run away with it against Mississippi State on Saturday.
10. Hartline's team: More than ever, the fate of this Kentucky offense rests with sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline and how much he's able to improve the rest of the season. Freshman Randall Cobb, the Wildcats' changeup at quarterback with his ability to scramble and run, is out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. Hartline picked up some valuable confidence two weeks ago when he rallied Kentucky past Middle Tennessee in the fourth quarter. He needs to stay on a good track Saturday against Western Kentucky as the Wildcats point toward a trip to Alabama on Oct. 4.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
1. Florida State's offense -- After a touchdown-less performance in their home stadium last weekend, can these guys finally get something going against real competition? Will the coaching staff make good on its talk to use running back Jermaine Thomas more and Preston Parker less at the position?
2. Boston College quarterback Chris Crane -- After a tale of two halves against UCF, can Crane put together four quarters of better decision-making against an FCS opponent? Jeff Jagodzinski is trying to get Crane to understand it's OK to throw the ball away on occasion.
3. NC State's attitude before kickoff -- If these guys come out hanging their heads because they don't have their starting quarterback, or their best defensive playmaker, Wolfpack fans could be in for a long afternoon. If they come out like they did against East Carolina, though, we all should be calling that staff for a pep talk when we have a bad day.
4. Old vs. new in Lincoln, Neb. -- Bo Pelini, a defensive-minded coach, is in his first season at Nebraska while veteran Frank Beamer is in his 22nd season. Here's the problem for the Hokies: Pelini was the defensive coordinator at LSU last year when the Tigers beat Virginia Tech 48-7.
5. Old vs. new in Durham, N.C. -- Veteran quarterback Thaddeus Lewis will try to lead the Blue Devils to their first ACC win since 2004, and third-string-turned-starting-quarterback Marc Verica will try to pull the Cavaliers out of their slump in their league opener.
6. Skinner's streak -- Wake's veteran quarterback, Riley Skinner, has thrown 131 passes without an interception. He should be able to keep it alive against Navy, as the Midshipmen rank 104th in the nation in pass defense.
7. Clemson's chart climbers -- Running back James Davis needs two rushing touchdowns to become the school's career leader and quarterback Cullen Harper needs 46 passing yards to reach 4,000 for his career.
8. UNC's quarterbacks -- Can backups Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus combine to replace injured starter T.J. Yates against Miami? It's going to be tough, considering the quantum leaps the Hurricanes' defense has taken under first-year coordinator Bill Young.
9. Florida State's other team -- That's right, the one yielding about a half-dozen suspended players is back. The emotional boost guys like Dekoda Watson can provide, along with the physical one players like Caz Piurowski can bring should make a difference on both sides of the ball.
10. The Hokies' offensive scheme -- Coaches said this week they're looking at more spread offense concepts. Will that trend continue against the Huskers, and will it help quarterback Tyrod Taylor? Virginia Tech ranks 114th out of 119 FBS teams in passing offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Ritttenberg
The curtain raises on Big Ten play this weekend, and you don't want to miss the show. Penn State attempts to validate its impressive start against a respectable opponent. Wisconsin tries to end a streak at Michigan, while the struggling Wolverines want to keep one going. Beanie's back in Columbus, but how much of a boost will he provide? Northwestern and Minnesota enter league play at 4-0, and no player is hotter than Michigan State's Javon Ringer.
Here are 10 things to keep track off Saturday:
1. Penn State HD-ready -- The Lions' new Spread HD offense has earned straight A's so far, but it has yet to take a real exam. Illinois' defense should provide one Saturday night at Beaver Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Penn State has showcased myriad weapons and had unparalleled production, but it will be interesting to see how first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark performs under pressure. Ron Zook called Illinois' defensive line the team's strength. It's time to prove it.
2. Going streaking in Ann Arbor -- No, not me. But I'll be on hand to see if Michigan can win its 23rd consecutive Big Ten home opener. The Wolverines are underdogs against Wisconsin, which tries to snap its own streak, a four-game slide at the Big House. The Badgers are stronger and more experienced, but they went 1-3 in league road games last season and suffered their only loss of 2006 at Michigan.
3. All is Wells again at Ohio State -- The Buckeyes haven't been the same team since star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells injured his right big toe in the season opener. After three tortuous weeks without the onetime Heisman Trophy candidate, Ohio State will get Wells back in the mix for its league opener against Minnesota. Wells probably will be limited to 15-20 carries, but he could provide the emotional spark Ohio State's offense has lacked.
4. Ringer goes for another 200 -- Running back Javon Ringer is the first player in Michigan State history to record consecutive 200-yard rushing performances. He aims for another big day against Indiana, which couldn't contain Ball State back MiQuale Lewis last week. Ringer will get his carries -- he always does -- but it's important for Indiana's front seven, led by end Greg Middleton and linebacker Matt Mayberry, to make Brian Hoyer beat them.
5. Boilers secondary on alert -- Notre Dame doesn't want to abandon the run, but the Irish were much more effective against Michigan State when operating in a shotgun, pass-happy offense. Expect more of the same against Purdue, which needs another strong performance from an improved secondary. Wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd will stretch the field, putting pressure on Purdue's solid safety tandem of Frank Duong and Torri Williams.
6. Minnesota and Northwestern on the defensive -- The Big Ten's two worst defenses last season have stepped up big behind new coordinators Ted Roof and Mike Hankwitz. An influx of junior college talent has sparked Minnesota to a league-leading 13 takeaways, and Northwestern tops the Big Ten's sacks chart with 15, three behind its season total from 2007. Both defenses can validate their strong starts by stifling Ohio State and Iowa.
7. Lions D-line gets a boost -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno said defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma probably will play against Illinois after being suspended the last three games. Both players could be a bit rusty, but they give a depleted defensive line a big lift. Evans could be the league's most dominant pass rusher, and he'll help chase Illinois quarterback Juice Williams.
8. Hill back at the Big House -- Two years ago, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill went to Michigan as the league's leading rusher and was held to 54 rushing yards on 20 carries. Hill ranks ninth nationally and second in the league in rushing average this fall (126.3 YPG) as he returns to the Big House. His ability to wear down Michigan's veteran defensive line could give Wisconsin the edge.
9. Stanzi back on center stage -- Iowa desperately needs a starting quarterback, and sophomore Ricky Stanzi gets another shot to fill the role. Hawkeyes fans were infuriated when coach Kirk Ferentz stuck with struggling junior Jake Christensen in the second half of last week's loss at Pitt. Stanzi will have the support of the home crowd as he faces a much-improved Northwestern defense.
10. Indiana under pressure -- It's still September, but Indiana needs to rebound after a 22-point home loss to Ball State. The Hoosiers' opening schedule sets them up for a repeat bowl run, but another setback could sidetrack things. Quarterback Kellen Lewis faces an aggressive Spartans defense led by Big Ten interceptions leader Otis Wiley and linebacker Greg Jones.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some things to watch for in Big 12 games on Saturday:
1. Oklahoma's chance to move to No. 1 -- With USC's loss at Oregon State on Thursday night, the Sooners are situated to fill the top spot in the polls by beating TCU. That hasn't been easy for them during the Horned Frogs' recent trips through Norman. Can the Sooners snap history and move to the top of the polls for the first time since 2003?
2. Colorado's backfield combination against Florida State's defense -- Heralded TB Darrell Scott has been hampered recently with a knee injury. His backup Rodney Stewart took advantage of his absence to rush for 166 yards against West Virginia last week. With Scott returning to health, I'm curious how coach Dan Hawkins divvies up the carries. It will be interesting to see an improving Colorado offensive line work against a Florida State defense that will be returning four more veteran defenders back from suspension and has allowed only one touchdown this season.
3. Can Kansas State DE Ian Campbell bounce back? -- Coming into the season, the senior was counted as one of the Big 12's top pass-rushing threats and a potential All-American player. But so far this season, Campbell has been missing in action with only three tackles and no sacks. For a reeling Kansas State defense that was forced to run as punishment when it got home from Louisville last week, Campbell's return against Louisiana-Lafayette would be huge.
4. Bo Pelini's step into the national spotlight -- The new Nebraska coach will be facing his most difficult test of his brief coaching tenure as the Cornhuskers host their first BCS foe in Virginia Tech. The Cornhuskers have barely had to battle into the fourth quarter against any of their first three foes. The Hokies are offensively challenged but still should provide a good indication of how far Pelini's rebuilding job has come along.
5. Zac Robinson's progress -- It will be interesting to judge the Oklahoma State quarterback's progress this season against Troy and to compare it to his performance last season against the Trojans. Robinson made his first career start in a nationally televised game and struggled mightily in a 41-23 loss. His chance for revenge could boost the Cowboys to their first 4-0 start under Mike Gundy and a likely return to the national Top 25 with a victory.
6. Texas' tight end options -- Blaine Irby was emerging as a blocking and receiving threat for the Longhorns before suffering a season-ending dislocated kneecap last week against Rice. Texas now is scrambling for a replacement and will use Peter Ullman and Greg Smith as his replacements Saturday against Arkansas. It will hard to match Irby's receiving contributions. Mack Brown has hinted his loss might force the Longhorns to use more four- and five-receiver threats.
7. Texas A&M's uncertainty at quarterback -- Jerrod Johnson had an uneven first start last week against Miami, throwing for three touchdowns but also making several critical mistakes. But he sustained a sprained shoulder and missed practice this week along with Stephen McGee, who is already nursing a similar injury. Which way will coach Mike Sherman turn for his starter Saturday against Army? McGee likely represents his best immediate choice, while starting Johnson would start Sherman's rebuilding project. Sherman desperately needs a victory as he attempts to break the first two-game home losing streak to start the season for the Aggies since 1972.
8. Oklahoma's offense matched against the challenge of TCU's defense -- The Sooners have been one of the nation's most potent offenses, leading the nation in scoring, ranking fourth in total offense and seventh in passing. It will be interesting to see if Sam Bradford can continue that success against a typically feisty TCU defense that leads the nation in rushing and total defense and ranks second in turnover margin. It will be the Sooners most serious offensive test of the season.
9. Colorado's adaptability to the hot sticky climate in Jacksonville -- The Buffaloes played their best football down the stretch in a comeback victory over Eastern Washington and in overtime last week against West Virginia. Can those late rallies continue in the expected heat and humidity Saturday against Florida State? Coach Dan Hawkins and the Colorado training staff has had them drinking green Gatorade throughout the week to get ready. Will those preparations keep them from wearing down against the Seminoles?
10. Nebraska's running game against Virginia Tech -- The Cornhuskers rushed for 330 yards in their most recent game against New Mexico State but will be challenged mightily by a Virginia Tech team that likes to stack the box and force teams to beat them by passing. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz has emerged as more of a running threat in recent weeks, but will likely have his chances to beat the Hokies by the air. And will Pelini turn to OL Andy Christensen, a projected starter who is finally available to play after a six-month suspension that included the first three games of the season? His eventual return could give the Cornhuskers' running game a boost.
1. Upset special: With Southern Cal falling out of the No. 1 spot with a loss to Oregon State on Thursday, No. 2 Oklahoma looks poised to become the leader of the pack. This might be a perfect time for TCU to sneak in the upset.
2. Offensive explosion: Buffalo's Drew Willy and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour are two of the most prolific quarterbacks in the MAC and when they get together this weekend, both defenses better be on high alert.
3. Catch more, Passmore: If you don't know the name Darius Passmore, you will by the second half of Marshall's game against West Virginia. Passmore leads all receivers in receiving yards per game and should have a field day against WVU's 86th-ranked pass defense.
4. Dominance of the Pac-10: The Mountain West and the WAC have a chance to continue to kick the Pac-10 while it's down. Fresno State will attempt only its second win in the eight times it's met UCLA, and Colorado State will look to extend the Mountain West's streak over the Pac-10 to 6-0 with a win at Cal.
5. Crazy finish: Arkansas State and Memphis have had some crazy finishes the last two seasons and considering the way Memphis' season is going, it wouldn't be surprising to see another one. The Tigers' last two loses have been by a touchdown or fewer.
6. Notre Dame, good or bad?: After its first loss of the season last week, there's no telling how the Irish will play this week when it hosts Purdue. This is one of many winnable games on their schedule, but you never know when thoughts of last year could creep in.
7. Moving on: Ball State played with great emotion after the loss of receiver Dante Love, but a week after his injury, how will the Cardinals respond against Kent State? The Cardinals are already in the midst of one of the best starts in school history and that should continue if they don't get in their own way.
8. Six more touchdowns: Tulsa quarterback David Johnson could throw six more touchdowns when the Golden Hurricane play FCS opponent Central Arkansas. Smith has thrown six touchdowns in each of the last two games -- a C-USA record.
9. Movin' on up: BYU could find itself in the top 10 this week even though it's idle. After Southern Cal's loss to Oregon State, every team below the Trojans figures to move up until the Trojans find their spot. A couple more upsets, which is possible, could put the Cougars in the top 10 for the first time since Dec. 2, 2001.
10. Success story: UNLV has burst onto the scene as a one-team BCS wrecking crew, but what happens when it drops back to non-BCS earth? We'll see this weekend when it meets in-state rival Nevada. Nevada has won each of the last three meetings, but might still be smarting from a thrashing at Missouri two weeks ago.
Here's your guide to the Big East weekend, starting with the game under the Friday Night lights.
1. Donald Brown vs. the Louisville defense. Brown leads the nation in rushing, while the Cardinals have the No. 2 ranked rushing defense in the land. The statistics for Louisville are a bit skewed because it hasn't faced any good running teams. Kansas State only attempted six handoffs to a tailback last week. Still, Brown will certainly face seven, eight and maybe more defenders in the box on most plays. Which leads to ...
2. Tyler Lorenzen and the UConn passing game. If Lorenzen can't at least keep the Cardinals honest with a few downfield throws, the Huskies are going to have a hard time winning this game. Louisville cornerbackWoodny Turenne has greatly improved over last year and had two interceptions versus Kansas State.
3. Victor Anderson vs. the UConn defense. The speedy Louisville back racked up 176 yards and three touchdowns last week. Now he'll face the team that's leading the Big East in scoring defense. The Cardinals will have to establish the run to soften up a UConn secondary that doesn't allow many big plays.
4. South Florida's bill of health. We know Brouce Mompremier won't play against NC State. On Thursday night, Jim Leavitt told reporters that star defensive end George Selvie and nose tackle Terrell McClain could miss the game with ankle injuries. That's a lot of hits for the defense to absorb, even against NC State's backup quarterback, Harrison Beck.
5. Pittsburgh's consistency. Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt has placed mouse traps around the football complex this week to try to remind his team not to succumb to a "trap game" at Syracuse. Please. Pitt isn't good enough yet to look past anyone, especially an Orange team that lost by only three points at Heinz Field last year.
6. Syracuse's confidence. Did finally getting a win give the Orange enough of an ego boost that they can hang with Pitt? That would have to be some boost. But the Panthers offense isn't that tough to devise game plans for or contain, and Syracuse has traditionally played Pittsburgh tough. But if it is a blowout ...
7. Greg Robinson's situation. I don't believe Daryl Gross will fire Robinson before October. But the way the Syracuse athletic director talked this week, it's clear he's moving rapidly in that direction. A hapless performance by the Orange would put everyone on Robinson watch beginning late Saturday afternoon.
8. West Virginia's offensive game plan. The Mountaineers started the season throwing the ball like crazy, then went almost exclusively to the option-read running game against Colorado. After scoring only 17 points in the last two games, what will first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen dial up against Marshall? More passing? More Wake Forest-style motion? Whatever it is, it had better put up plenty of points to calm a disgruntled fan base.
9. The Cincinnati pass defense. The Bearcats have been curiously weak against the pass so far this season. Coach Brian Kelly is shaking up the secondary, moving DeAngelo Smith back to corner and putting Brandon Underwood at safety. He's challenged his team to get more of a pass rush. Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain can make plays and threw three touchdowns in the win at Syracuse.
10. Rutgers' team chemistry. The Scarlet Knights insist they're a family and that there's no in-fighting despite the 0-3 start and Mike Teel's swipe at a teammate at the end of the Navy game. Let's see. They should roll over Morgan State without any problems, unless there's no cohesion on the field. And will Schiano stick with Teel the entire game or give another quarterback a look in case this can't be fixed?