NCF Nation: what to watch week 8
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some trends I'm looking forward to watching across the Big 12 on Saturday.
1. Chase Daniel's return to Texas: The record-breaking Missouri quarterback always dreamed as a boy of playing at Memorial Stadium in Austin. After he was spurned in his recruiting by the Longhorns, Daniel finally has a chance to play against his old favorites in a must-win game for his team after its loss last week to Oklahoma State. The Tigers desperately need a victory in order to keep their flickering national title hopes alive. And Daniel needs a big outing to resuscitate his Heisman hopes.
2. How Oklahoma reacts after the Texas loss: The Sooners twice blew double-digit leads before wilting in the second half last week in a loss to Texas. Coach Bob Stoops is 9-0 in weeks after Texas games, but will be facing a big challenge against Kansas. The Jayhawks have quietly crept into first place in the North Division after two straight victories and control their own destiny for their first division title after Missouri's loss. And Mark Mangino is 17-2 in his last 19 games.
3. Texas Tech rekindles its bitter rivalry with Texas A&M: There's a reason why the statue of Will Rogers and his horse Soapsuds on the Tech campus is situated with its rear pointed to College Station. Fans from these two schools don't like each other and Saturday's game should again be a spirited one, despite the Aggies' early struggles. The Red Raiders are ranked fifth nationally in the coaches poll and have their national title aspirations clearly ahead as they travel to College Station. Mike Leach has dominated the A&M series, winning six of the last seven games. The Aggies are reeling through their worst start in the Big 12 history, but will undoubtedly have a special effort waiting for their old foes.
4. Oklahoma State facing a potential trap game: The Cowboys have soared to No. 7 nationally after six wins to open the season. With memories of the Cowboys' huge upset at Missouri still fresh and a huge game looming next week in Austin against Texas, it could be understandable that they could overlook Saturday's game against Baylor. The Cowboys have dominated the series with 11 victories in the 12 games since the Big 12 was formed. Will that result in overconfidence with so much clearly still left for the Cowboys to play for? Or will the opportunity for the OSU's first 7-0 start since 1945 keep the Cowboys grounded?
5. Robert Griffin's increasing command of the Baylor offense: After Griffin carried the ball an average of 22 times in his previous two games, Baylor coaches worked on getting other players involved last week. The results were dramatic as Griffin completed 21 of 24 passes to set a school single-game completion-percentage record in a victory against Iowa State. He ran the ball only nine times. It will be interesting to see if Baylor coaches opt for similar usage against an Oklahoma State team that has struggled pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
6. Back to the basics at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers employed a simplified offensive game plan last week that almost enabled them to escape with an upset victory at Texas Tech. The return was keyed by Marlon Lucky, who provided his best all-around game of the season with 66 rushing yards and a season-best seven receptions. Having similar success Saturday against Iowa State will be critical as the Cornhuskers hope to avoid their first 0-3 conference start since 1945.
7. Bo's big plays on defense: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini once was known as an architect for opportunistic defenses that thrived on generating turnovers. But the Cornhuskers have struggled recently, producing one recovered fumble since last season's Iowa State game, a span of 13 games. Nebraska's defense has got to do a better job of producing big plays in the second half of the season if they have any bowl hopes.
8. The battle of the special teams when Colorado and Kansas State meet: No Big 12 team does as good a job blocking punts as Kansas State, which has generated four blocked punts -- all returned for touchdowns -- among its nation-leading six blocked kicks this season. The Wildcats will need big plays to counteract the big returns from Colorado return specialist Josh Smith, who has scored four of the Buffaloes' 18 touchdowns and set up five more with his long returns.
9. Can Colorado's sputtering offense get well against Kansas State's defense? The Buffaloes' patchwork offensive line figures to have some success this week against Kansas State. But the Buffaloes might find a tonic against a Kansas State team that has struggled defensively, allowing more than 500 yards in each of its last four games.
10. Kansas finally proves itself against the South Division's power elite: The Jayhawks get their first chance to play against one of the big boys from the South Division when they visit Oklahoma on Saturday. Later in the season, the Jayhawks will host Texas Tech and Texas. Kansas avoided all three teams in a school-record 12-1 season last year that was capped by an Orange Bowl victory. We'll start seeing how the Jayhawks match up with the traditional powers from the other division in Saturday's game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
By this time next week (actually Sunday), we'll have our first look at the BCS standings, meaning Alabama will almost certainly be perched near the top if the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide can take care of business Saturday at home against Ole Miss. Taking a page out of Nick Saban's lesson plan, what's it really mean if the Tide are holding down one of the top two spots with so much football left to be played? Well, South Carolina debuted at No. 6 in the BCS standings a year ago and never won again in losing five straight and not even making it to a bowl game. Nobody is suggesting that kind of collapse is looming for Alabama. Nick Saban has this team dialed in. But it is a reminder that a lot can happen in these next seven weeks. Here's a rundown of what to watch this week in the SEC:
1. Eroding support for Fulmer?: Still looking for his first SEC win of the season, embattled Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said confidently Thursday night while taking a break from making recruiting calls, "We're not close to being dead yet." Somebody might want to tell that to his athletic director, Mike Hamilton, who during an extensive interview with the Knoxville News-Sentinel this week discussed hypothetically how a change might be made before the season was over and even confirmed that some boosters had already discussed Fulmer's replacement with him. Hamilton later denied that he was trying to publicly lay the groundwork to fire Fulmer, although the timing of his comments was certainly odd. The bottom line: Fulmer and the Vols (2-4, 0-3 SEC) desperately need a win Saturday at home against Mississippi State.
2. The Saban influence: Coming off an open date, not only is Alabama as healthy as it's been, but Saban's had an extra week to ensure that his unbeaten Crimson Tide don't get ahead of themselves. "Coach Saban's constantly talking to us about that, and this team has bought in," Alabama junior offensive tackle Andre Smith said. "As long as you're a true competitor, there's always room for improvement. You can win the U.S. Open one weekend. But the following weekend, the field is back there wanting to eat you up. That's the way we're looking at it."
3. Searching for Greg Hardy: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt would like to know where Hardy disappeared to last week against South Carolina. Hardy simply can't shake his "play when he wants to" persona. When he's on, he's one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC. The Rebels need him to be on Saturday, similar to the way he was a year ago against the Crimson Tide when he had 13 total tackles, including five for loss and three sacks. Hardy's at his best coming off the left edge, which means he won't be matched much against Alabama star left tackle Andre Smith. But the Rebels are moving him around more than they did a year ago.
4. Opportunity knocks for Mr. Garcia: His time is finally here. Stephen Garcia was the savior off the bench last week when he led South Carolina to a come-from-behind victory over Kentucky on the road. Now, it's his show. The redshirt freshman quarterback gets his first start against defending national champion LSU, which hasn't been as salty on defense as the Tigers' talent suggested they would be at the beginning of the season. Garcia is already a household name among South Carolina fans (thanks in part to his off-the-field escapades). If he wins this game, go ahead and erect his own wing in the school's football hall of fame.
5. The Bulldog Shuffle: This changing up the offensive line is becoming a weekly drill for Georgia, which plans to go with its fourth different left tackle of the season Saturday against Vanderbilt. Vince Vance went down with a season-ending knee injury last week, meaning sophomore Clint Boling will slide over from right guard. The Bulldogs opened the preseason with Trinton Sturdivant as their left tackle, but he blew out his knee in a scrimmage. They then moved Kiante Tripp from right tackle to left tackle, moved him to tight end and now back to left tackle this week for depth. Vance had moved over to left tackle from left guard. Whatever Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels is making, it's not enough.
6. LSU's secondary is on the clock: Les Miles sounds like he's getting a little antsy, a little restless. He's seen far too many mistakes and busts in the LSU secondary this season for his liking. It's not all young players, either. The Tigers gave up the 70-yard touchdown pass to Percy Harvin last week on a ball that was batted by Danny McCray. Senior free safety Curtis Taylor was supposed to be helping on coverage deep and was instead covering a shorter route. Miles has said he won't be hesitant to try different personnel. The last thing LSU can afford against South Carolina is to give up big plays, and you know the Head Ball Coach has already found a few ways to attack that secondary.
7. Don't bury the Commodores yet: Those were Bobby Johnson's words following Vanderbilt's loss last week to Mississippi State. It was a bad loss, maybe the kind of loss that would have sent the Commodores reeling in past years. But Johnson likes the resiliency of this club and its willingness to prepare the same every week. Plus, Vanderbilt goes into the Georgia game knowing this is a team it's fared well against the last few years. The Commodores won on their last trip to Sanford Stadium in 2006 and were driving for the winning score last season before fumbling inside the 10, opening the door for the Bulldogs to drive the field in the final minutes and kick the winning field goal as time expired. With Mackenzi Adams stepping in at quarterback, the Commodores think they will be able to keep the Georgia defense from loading up as much because of his ability to throw the ball from the pocket.
8. Offensive nirvana?: Honestly, it might just be downright offensive watching the Mississippi State and Tennessee offenses on Saturday. The Bulldogs are ranked 103rd nationally in total offense and the Vols 104th. In scoring offense, the Vols are tied for 108th and the Bulldogs tied for 113th. On third down, Mississippi State is converting just 36.3 percent of the time and Tennessee 32.9 percent of the time. Both teams, though, are on their second quarterback, which has helped some in recent weeks. Tyson Lee replaced Wesley Carroll for the Bulldogs, while Nick Stephens supplanted Jonathan Crompton for the Vols. Do we see another 3-2 game in the ninth?
9. Fresh off the Cobb: If ever Kentucky could use an infusion of offensive energy, it's now. Freshman Randall Cobb will take over the marquee role at receiver that was occupied by senior Dicky Lyons Jr., who was lost last week with a season-ending injury. Cobb should be back pretty close to 100 percent after suffering a high ankle injury earlier in the seas
on. The Wildcats are going to need all the offense they can get down the stretch, and he's their most explosive threat. Look for them to go to him often Saturday against Arkansas, and he's also going to continue to get a few touches at quarterback. The best way to get a stagnant offense going is hit a few big plays, and Cobb has that ability. He's going to return punts this week, too.
10. Petrino returns to the Bluegrass State: There won't be any welcome back parties for Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino ... from Kentucky fans or Louisville fans. But the Wildcats are looking forward to getting a shot at Petrino. Many of the players on Kentucky's team were involved with Petrino one way or the other during the recruiting process when he was at Louisville. They also remember what Petrino did to them on the field. He was 4-0 against the Wildcats, and his teams never trailed in any of those games. This is a chance for Petrino's Hogs to build on the momentum of their 25-22 road win last week at Auburn. It's a chance for Rich Brooks' Wildcats to repay a few old debts. "I would love to tell you -- off the record -- what I think of Coach Petrino. He's a great football coach. Let's leave it at that," Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters (a Louisville high school product) told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.
1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.
2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.
3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?
4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.
5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.
6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.
7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.
8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.
9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.
10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
One thing that doesn't really count for this list but that Boston College fans should be aware of is that former quarterback Matt Ryan will be on the sideline Saturday. The Falcons are off. Here's what to watch on the field this weekend:
1. Clemson interim head coach Dabo Swinney. He has already taken a different approach than his predecessor with Saturday's "Tiger Walk," but he'll also be calling the plays along with recruiting coordinator Billy Napier. How much different will Clemson's offense look without Rob Spence?
2. Clemson quarterback Willy Korn. The fans have been clamoring for Korn, and now they've got him. It doesn't matter if Brett Favre is back there, though, if the line can't protect him. We'll see if Korn's mobility can provide the spark the offense needs.
3. Wake Forest in the red zone. The Demon Deacons have been inside the 20-yard line 23 times and have scored just nine touchdowns. They have the worst red zone offense in the ACC, and have just one offensive touchdown in two league games.
4. Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Coaches throughout the league will tell you he's one of the most talented receivers in the ACC, but he has yet to reach his potential. He didn't have one catch against Clemson, and the Terps will need more from him in the second half of the season.
5. Turnovers in Charlottesville. North Carolina will pounce on opponents' mistakes, and Virginia can't afford to give away any freebies. UNC has scored three touchdowns off interceptions.
6. It's all about the Benjamins, baby. Miami true freshman Travis Benjamin leads the Hurricanes with 569 all-purpose yards, and is 18th nationally in punt return average with 14 yards. But Duke's punt coverage unit is one of the best in the nation, allowing just 3.86 yards per return.
7. Holes left by injured UNC receiver Brandon Tate. Brooks Foster has three starts at wide receiver this season, including against Virginia Tech, when the Heels went with a three-wide receiver set. Hakeem Nicks will handle the kickoff returns and Kendric Burney the punt returns.
8. Boston College's rushing defense. The Hokies have been hanging on with their running game and are averaging 174.7 yards on the ground, but the Eagles are holding opponents to just 99.8. Of the Hokies' 15 touchdowns this season, 13 have come on the ground.
9. Miami quarterback Robert Marve. He threw three interceptions in a shaky performance last week against Central Florida, but has completed 65 percent of his passes in two road games this season.
10. Boston College quarterback Chris Crane. The Hokies have a better pass defense (185 yards per game) than NC State (260.2), and Crane will have a tough time repeating his impressive peformance. Defensive end Orion Martin has had a sack in each of the past three games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ten things you don't want to miss this weekend in the Big Ten.
1. Javon vs. Beanie -- We're on a first-name basis with these two superstar running backs, who match up Saturday at Spartan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Michigan State's Javon Ringer remains in the Heisman mix and can help his cause with a big game in the national spotlight. Chris "Beanie" Wells has been solid since his return from injury, but with Ohio State's passing game struggling, his workload likely will increase. Wells has been at his best in big games, and he needs another strong effort against the Spartans.
2. The scoreboard at Beaver Stadium -- How bad will it get for Michigan? No. 3 Penn State enters Saturday's game (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET) on a nine-game losing streak to the Wolverines, and the Lions undoubtedly have the ability to run up the score. Michigan's defense needs a big performance to keep things close, but the Lions could be looking for revenge. Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet could be limited with a bruised elbow, and the offense likely will struggle against the league's top defense.
3. The man taking snaps for Wisconsin -- Badgers head coach Bret Bielema opened up the competition at quarterback this week, and it seems likely that junior Dustin Sherer will replace Allan Evridge against Iowa. The Hawkeyes allow fewer than 100 rushing yards a game, and Wisconsin will need its quarterback to make some plays. Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst liked the spark Sherer provided in mop-up time against Penn State. They might make a switch after seeing too many mistakes from the quarterback spot.
4. Terrelle Pryor and the passing game -- There was some grumbling this week in Columbus about a punch-less passing attack, and it will be interesting to see how Pryor responds against Michigan State. Pryor has taken too many sacks in recent weeks, and he needs to make some quicker decisions and get wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline more involved. Ohio State has slipped to 108th nationally in pass offense (143.6 ypg).
5. C.J. Bacher vs. Curtis Painter -- Both senior quarterbacks have struggled this season, ranking eighth and ninth in the league in pass efficiency. Northwestern is 10-0 in games when Bacher starts and throws fewer than two interceptions and 3-10 when he throws two or more picks. Painter hasn't thrown a touchdown pass this month and needs to inspire confidence in his teammates with a strong performance at Ryan Field.
6. Juice and the record books -- Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has set stadium records for total offense in each of his last two games. That's 934 yards of offense in eight quarters. Mercy. He now takes aim on an Indiana defense that has allowed 42 points or more in three of its last four games. Williams already has eight completions for 50 yards or more this season -- the most for any FBS quarterback -- and Indiana's secondary is susceptible to the big play.
7. Jim Tressel vs. Mark Dantonio -- Tressel and his former defensive coordinator square off for the third consecutive season, and though their teams are the bigger story this time, it will be interesting to see the two coaches match wits. Both men admit they don't enjoy facing one another, but Dantonio and Michigan State can take a major step forward by beating Tressel and the three-time defending Big Ten champions. "I sort of enjoy playing Ohio State," Dantonio said. "I always did when I was here before. I don't enjoy playing people that are close friends, I guess, but I enjoy playing against a football team that is from where I grew up."
8. Indiana's quarterback situation -- Kellen Lewis sat out practice this week and is listed as questionable for the Illinois game with a high ankle sprain. Indiana trusts sophomore Ben Chappell, who has shared the field with Lewis at times this season. But Lewis remains Indiana's biggest threat, and the Hoosiers will need more playmakers to develop if the junior is limited or unavailable against the high-powered Illini.
9. Penn State and the trap game -- Lions players insist they're not concerned about the losing streak to Michigan or the psychological effect such a slide could have on Saturday. But if Michigan somehow jumps ahead, it will be interesting to see how Penn State responds. These teams aren't comparable on paper, but college football always has some surprises and Penn State has a huge game next week at Ohio State. As Penn State coach Joe Paterno said recently, "I don't know what an upset is any more."
10. Do-it-all backs in Evanston -- Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets don't get the same attention as Ringer, Wells, Shonn Greene and Evan Royster, but there aren't two more versatile running backs in the conference. Sutton is quietly averaging 100.5 rush yards per game and ranks third on the team with 24 receptions. Sheets ranks second in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (156 ypg), accounting for 34 first downs (29 rushing, 5 receiving) this season.
1. Utah's reaction: Utah can finally step out of BYU's shadow and make its own mark in the Mountain West Conference this week. If they beat Colorado State, the Utes become the new favorite to bust the BCS.
2. We're going streaking: Navy has shocked many observers, including myself, with its current three-game winning streak and it has a chance to create an even louder buzz with a win over No. 23 Pittsburgh. I'm calling for the Midshipmen to make it four in a row.
3. Asserting itself: UTEP has been on a three-game winning streak to move to 3-0 in Conference USA, but it will face its stiffest test this week against league-leading Tulsa. The Miners will have to put on their running shoes to stay in this track meet.
4. FIU who?: FIU has a chance to shock the world, or at least the Sun Belt, this weekend with a win over Troy, the favorite to win the conference championship. The teams are tied atop the league standings and FIU already has more wins this season than it has had since 2005.
5. BCS poll is coming: There's never a good time to lose, but losing before you find out where you stand in the BCS poll would be criminal. Just ask BYU. Utah should lead this thing for the non-BCS, but watch for Boise State and even TCU to be lurking.
6. Ragin' runnin': Louisiana-Lafayette running back Tyrell Fenroy is 158 yards short of history. That number would get him to 1,000 yards for the season and make him just the seventh player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons.
7. This is Sparta: San Jose State has come out of nowhere to make the WAC interesting, but it will face its toughest test this weekend against New Mexico State. The Spartans have one of the strongest defenses in the country, but the Aggies can score in bunches.
8. The battle of Michigan: The second-best game of the week (behind BYU-TCU) belongs to Central and Western Michigan as they battle for MAC superiority. CMU has won the last two meetings, but this is a much-improved WMU team with a defense that's ready for quarterback Dan LeFevour.
9. Michigan hangover: Toledo continues to get accolades and praise for its win over the Wolverines last weekend, but the Rockets still have to finish the season. They play a tough NIU team this week that's won three of its last four. And the Huskies aren't impressed with the Michigan win.
10. An Army of many: Quietly Army is starting to wrap its arms around the season and gather in some wins. Fullback Colin Mooney has been spectacular the past couple of games and has been key in Army's current two-game winning streak. The Black Knights take that streak to Buffalo where the Bulls have played more close games than any other team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Pitt's defense vs. the Navy triple option: The Midshipmen tore through the Panthers' defense last year for 331 rushing yards (497 total) on their way to a 48-45 double-overtime victory. The health of Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who had 122 of those yards, is uncertain, as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury. If he's not ready, that might help Pitt's cause. But more importantly, the Panthers' defensive ends and outside linebackers -- whose strength is getting penetration and pressuring quarterbacks -- have to stay with their assignments and not try to get too aggressive. Or else they might be watching Navy players taking pitches and running past them all afternoon in Annapolis.
2. Shady vs. the sailor boys: As much of a challenge as Navy's offense poses to Pitt's defense, the reverse might pose an even bigger mismatch. LeSean "Shady" McCoy has had back-to-back 100-yard rushing days behind an offensive line that's getting nastier by the week. Navy's 3-4 defense will have to find a way to slow him down, and like most service academy teams, it's undersized. The four starting linebackers weigh an average of just over 211 pounds, or just one more pound than McCoy.
3. Donald Brown: The Connecticut star grew up about 30 miles away from the Rutgers campus but was lightly recruited by the Scarlet Knights. Hard to blame Greg Schiano, who had Ray Rice at the time. But Brown sure seems to relish showing Schiano what he missed. As a freshman, he ran for 199 yards and two scores in his first start against Rutgers. Last year, he punished the Scarlet Knights for 154 yards. Given that he's running better than ever this season, who knows what kind of numbers he will put up against his home-state school.
4. Zach Frazer: The sophomore quarterback was strong in the second half against Louisville in relief of the injured Tyler Lorenzen but shaky in his first start at North Carolina. Look at it this way: He threw three picks against the Tar Heels, but they lead the nation in interceptions. Rutgers has yet to create a turnover against an FBS opponent this season. With a bye week to prepare for this one, Frazer needs to have a mistake-free effort on Saturday.
5. Rutgers circling the wagons: Sure, the Scarlet Knights are 1-5. But their last three losses have come by a combined 12 points, and all were on the road. If the team hasn't given up on the season yet, it should rally to the occasion when regional rival UConn comes to town. Why wouldn't Schiano fire all his bullets, including trick plays and fake punts? There's nothing left to lose.
6. The Bulls' bounce-back: It's been 15 days since South Florida lost its perfect season and national title dreams to Pittsburgh. Few things serve as better salves than Syracuse. The Bulls have won their three Big East games against the Orange by a combined score of 95-20. Syracuse has shown improvement recently, but South Florida needs a big, confidence-boosting blowout victory. Which would be helped by ...
7. South Florida's health: The chipped-up defense appears to be rounding into shape. Defensive end George Selvie and linebacker Brouce Mompremier are expected to start for the first time in three games. How close to 100 percent are they? And can they stay that way for the stretch drive?
8. The Louisville defense: Here's a weird stat: The Cardinals have not won consecutive games against FBS opponents under Steve Kragthorpe. That should change Saturday against Middle Tennessee -- unless the Louisville defense reverts to last year's form, when the Blue Raiders hung a triple-nickel (555 yards) and nearly pulled off an upset. The Cardinals have been much better this season but were shaky against the Memphis spread offense last week.
9. Hunter Cantwell: The Louisville quarterback was clearly nowhere near his usual self in the Memphis game because of an ankle injury. He was never the most mobile guy anyway, but the bum wheel made him a statue and limited what the Cardinals could do on offense. Cantwell won't have to be full strength to beat Middle Tennessee State, but Louisville will need him healed a week later when South Florida comes to town.
10. Greg Robinson: This is one to watch throughout the weekend and possibly into early next week. If the Orange lose at South Florida, the intrigue over their coach will begin. Syracuse has a bye week before playing Louisville on Nov. 1, so if athletic director Daryl Gross wants to make a change, this would seem like a good time. And he can't be accused of having the itchiest trigger finger since Clemson has already parted ways with Tommy Bowden.