SEC: Arkansas vs. Auburn
While everyone is keeping tabs on Alabama and LSU, Auburn is also 2-0 in the SEC West while Arkansas is 0-1. Clearly, this is an important game for both teams. Arkansas has already lost to Alabama, but Auburn doesn't play Alabama until Nov. 26. If both Auburn and Alabama run the tables leading up to the Iron Bowl, the winner will go to the SEC Championship. Although Auburn will have had one loss (Clemson) prior to the Iron Bowl, if they beat Alabama then both teams will be 11-1, but Auburn will represent the West in the SEC Championship due to an undefeated conference record.
Arkansas already has one conference loss, but one more loss in the brutal West will not help their bowl hopes—South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU are still on the slate. Arkansas has a prolific offense, but Auburn's young defense has grown more and more confident every week. This could be a blow out if Auburn doesn't dig in their cleats.
Honorable mention: LSU vs. Florida
True freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel was named starting quarterback for the Florida Gators after John Brantley (high ankle sprain) was injured last Saturday. Driskel is a very talented passer—he was the star of last summer's Elite 11 quarterback competition — but a green 19-year-old playing in Baton Rouge against the Bayou Bengals is frightening to think about.
Big Ten: Nebraska vs. Ohio State
Maybe the Cornhuskers' 48-17 loss to Wisconsin was just a fluke. Maybe it was a game that exposed the Cornhuskers' defense. In any case, Nebraska will host Ohio State in their first home conference game as a Big Ten member. Both teams have pride on the line, but Buckeyes head coach Luke Fickell — likeable as he is — needs to get his team back on track now if he wants to be the head coach in 2012. The Buckeyes and the Cornhuskers were both humiliated last Saturday, but the Buckeyes were probably the more humiliated of the two — Michigan State shut out the Buckeyes until the final ten seconds of the game.
Right now, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini needs to get his team confident again and the only way that's going to happen is if the Cornhuskers shut down the Buckeyes' offense and score touchdowns. With a packed Memorial Stadium full of fans, this shouldn't be too hard. If the Cornhuskers struggle, then the Buckeyes aren't the only Big Ten team in trouble. Both teams are playing with wounded prides, question marks and hundreds of thousands of fans waiting for change.
Big 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma (at Dallas)
The Red River Rivalry is one of the best rivalry games in the country and this contest features two undefeated teams in the Big 12. Oklahoma looks like a world beater right now while Texas is still trying to find its identity — Longhorns head coach Mack Brown said he will stick with his two-quarterback rotation using sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has Landry Jones, a lethal passer (71.6 completion percentage) playing the role of field general perfectly — the Sooners are averaging 555 yards of offense per game.
But don't write off Texas. The Longhorns' defense yields an average 289 total offensive yards a game and has a top 20 ranked pass defense. So which team is better? It's hard to say because neither team has had a challenge — Oklahoma's one challenge was Florida State, but the Seminoles were missing their top three receivers and their quarterback had to leave the game with an injury. Texas has played two BCS teams, but Iowa State and UCLA cannot compare to Oklahoma. This Red River Rivalry separates the men from the boys.
Honorable mention: Kansas State vs. Missouri
Are the Wildcats for real? That question will be answered when Missouri travels to Manhattan, Kan. to take on the 4-0 Wildcats.
ACC: Georgia Tech vs. Maryland
Maryland started off with a bang, beating Miami. But since then, it's been two losses and a win over an FCS team. Terrapins quarterback Danny O'Brien will undoubtedly try to equal or surpass last year's successes but so far it's been tough — the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year has thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four). O'Brien has to put up A LOT of points on the scoreboard if he wants to at least keep up with the second-most prolific offense in the country — the Yellow Jackets are averaging 51.6 points a game.
Georgia Tech is 5-0 and has played three BCS teams so everyone should be high on the Yellow Jackets, right? Not so fast. Those three BCS teams were Kansas, North Carolina and NC State. Still, how many teams rush for 604 yards on any football team, much less a BCS team (Kansas)? Not only did that performance set a new school record, the Yellow Jackets also set an NCAA record for average yards per rush — the previous 11.9 yards average set by Alabama in 1973 was broken by Georgia Tech on Sept. 17 with 12.1 yards per rush.
Pac-12: Utah vs. Arizona State
This is the battle for the South division. USC can win the South but cannot represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship because the Trojans are currently serving their postseason NCAA sanctions. UCLA simply isn't executing consistently, Arizona already has three conference losses and Colorado is still rebuilding under first-year head coach Jon Embree. That leaves Utah to challenge Arizona State.
Utah has losses to USC and Washington but after their date with Arizona State, their schedule sets up for a possible 7-0 run. Arizona State, on the other hand, still has to travel up to Eugene, Ore. and play the Ducks. It's quite possible that if the Utes beat the Sun Devils and win the rest of their conference games while the Ducks beat the Sun Devils, Utah would leapfrog over Arizona State due to tie-breaker rules and play in the first Pac-12 Championship.
Honorable Mention: UCLA vs. Washington State
Both UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and Washington State coach Paul Wulff have been sitting on the proverbial coaches' hot seats for over a year, but Wulff's seat has significantly cooled. The Cougars look like a vastly improved team and they're winning with reserve quarterback Marshall Lobbestael. Winner of this game has a shot at a bowl berth. Yes, really.
Big East: Rutgers vs. Pittsburgh
It's not looking very pretty in the Big East right now. Of the eight member teams, only four have winning records. Part of the problem for the Big East is that because each team only has seven conference games, each team needs to play five non-conference games. In a push to increase the conference's strength of schedule, the teams scheduled some non-league games that didn’t pan out very well. Iowa, Notre Dame (vs. Pitt), LSU, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and USC have all posted wins over Big East teams.
Pitt has lost two heartbreakers to Notre Dame and Iowa but rebounded extremely well by pounding South Florida 44-17. The Panthers look mean and nasty after some soft early-season performances. Rutgers, on the other hand, is still a question mark. After five weeks, the Scarlet Knights have a 3-1 record with wins over an FCS school, Ohio and Syracuse. Rutgers still doesn't have their quarterback situation resolved — who's starting against Pitt: Chas Dodd or Gary Nova? The quarterback play could be pivotal because the Scarlet Knights' rushing game is not keeping any defensive coordinators up at night — the offense is averaging a little over 75 yards a game.
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