No. 22 Arizona
This week: at No. 3 Oregon, Saturday
What's at stake: Arizona has a chance to go 4-0 with its first conference win being against arguably the best team in the conference. Should Arizona win, it plays five of its last eight game at home, which sets up nicely.
What's going on: Arizona has been blasting the Oregon fight song and quacks in the middle of practice to adjust to the sound they will experience at Autzen Stadium. In addition, it would not be a surprise to see some personnel moves.
What it'll take to win: Defense. If Arizona can contain Oregon's offense, it has a chance in this game. If not, it could get ugly fast.
-- Jason Scheer, WildcatAuthority.com
No. 4 Florida State
This week: vs. No. 10 Clemson, Saturday
What's at stake: This prime time showdown will feature two top-10 teams fighting to control their own destiny and possibly represent the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship game. This will be Florida State's fourth consecutive home game to open the season, a place where Clemson has only won once since FSU joined the ACC in 1992. With two extremely talented teams, it's hard to see the winner of this game stumbling twice later in the season. With Florida State currently ranked No. 4, a win by the Seminoles will also keep intact its national championship aspirations.
What's going on: Florida State's defense, through three weeks, has been nothing less than spectacular as they have given up just three points and lead the nation in almost every statistical category. With that said, the one area in which this FSU defense has not faced a huge test is at cornerback, where they are particularly young. Facing arguably the best wide-receiver tandem in the country with Clemson's Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, look for Clemson to spread the field and allow quarterback Tajh Boyd to test those youngsters early and often.
What it'll take to win: The first thing FSU must do to win this game is get to Boyd early and keep him in the pocket. With the speed of Clemson's skill players, if FSU allows Boyd to get out of the pocket, he will make them pay with big plays down field. Second key for FSU is to have better pass protection than a week ago, and allow quarterback EJ Manuel to get the ball to his playmakers. Manuel's blind side will certainly be tested as it looked to be very vulnerable last week. The final thing FSU must do is get off to a good start and have that sellout crowd behind them for a full 60 minutes.
-- Emory Parker, NoleDigest.com
No. 15 Kansas State
This week: at No. 6 Oklahoma, Saturday (on FOX)
What's at stake: Simplified, a 1-0 start to Big 12 Conference play. Meaningless, you say. Perhaps, but in two weeks 2-0 Oklahoma plays Texas and in three weeks 3-0 K-State plays at West Virginia. To be a player for the Big 12 title, each team needs to go at least 1-1 in those sets of game so the first one in the win column would be a nice cushion. It'll be the tutor going against the pupil as it was Bill Snyder who hired Bob Stoops to his first staff in 1989. Stoops had been an assistant at Kent State in 1988. Since becoming the head coach of the Sooners, Stoops owns a 7-1 advantage over Snyder.
What's going on: Mum is always the word on injuries in the K-State camp, but expected to play will be linebacker Arthur Brown (ankle) and B.J. Finney (knee), who were both injured in the win over North Texas. After scolding his team for "taking for granted" last week's game against North Texas, all insiders say that the focus has been much greater this week.
What it'll take to win: North Texas possessed the ball for 37:04 against K-State last week with a dink-and-dunk passing game what was 25-of-28. Controlling the clock is K-State's forte as it led the Big 12 and ranked in the top 10 in the nation last year. The ‘Cats can't continue to play with such a cushion on receivers, but then all one has to do is look back to last year when the Sooners went deep on K-State in a 58-17 win. OU scored the game's final 44 points as Landry Jones passed for a school record 505 yards and five touchdowns. And, winning the return game will be vital. In kickoff returns K-State leads the Big 12 (32.0) and OU is second (29.0); in punt returns, K-State leads (36.2) and OU is third (22.0).
-- Mark Janssen, KStateFans.com
No. 2 LSU
This week: at Auburn, Saturday
What's at stake: It's an important game for LSU, not just because it's the SEC opener but also because the Tigers can't afford to let one slip away with what's on the horizon. In the next six weeks, Les Miles' men will play at Florida and at home versus South Carolina and Alabama. The Bayou Bengals simply cannot contend for an SEC or BCS crown if they fall this early, before the murderer's row portion of the schedule even comes into play.
What's going on: LSU enters its showdown with Auburn an injury-plagued team. Having already lost starting left tackle Chris Faulk following week one, the Tigers go into Saturday minus starting running back Alfred Blue (knee) and possibly without the services of starting strong safety Craig Loston (turf toe). A slew of young players will be counted on in their steads, including sophomore Kenny Hilliard in the backfield and sophomore Ronald Martin in the secondary, if Loston can't go.
What it'll take to win: The formula for LSU is simple on paper. Auburn owns the SEC's worst run defense, giving up 217 yards per game on the ground, while LSU is the conference's leading rushing team, averaging 269.3 yards per contest. If LSU can consistently run it and turn Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier into a passer on the other side of the ball, the visiting Tigers shouldn't have too much of a problem Saturday night.
-- Ben Love, TigerSportsDigest.com
No. 11 Notre Dame
This week: vs. No. 18 Michigan, Saturday
What's at stake: The Irish look to finish September undefeated for the first time in a decade and a win over the Wolverines would give the program a 3-0 mark vs. the Big 10 and 2-0 start vs. top 20 teams in 2012. With a bye week looming and games vs. powers Stanford and Oklahoma, as well as nationally televised games vs. Miami (Fla.) and BYU in October, a win Saturday night in South Bend would plant the Irish firmly in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid. Michigan has won three straight vs. the Irish for the first time since Theodore Roosevelt held office -- a fourth would cripple Notre Dame's fan base, especially if it's a fourth straight decided by four points, and near the game's final gun.
What's going on: Notre Dame's defensive line has emerged as the unquestioned best unit on the roster, allowing just 10 points per game and three total touchdowns over the first three outings. The defense as a group was dealt a major blow with the loss of fifth-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter to a ruptured Achilles last week in East Lansing. Slaughter, the team's most versatile defender, will be replaced by redshirt-freshman Matthias Farley, a former high school soccer player who first played football as a prep junior, spent his true freshman season at Notre Dame on the Scout Team, started the season-opener this fall at outside linebacker, and now will make his first collegiate start at safety. Farley is one of three starters in the secondary to begin his Irish career on offense before switching sides of scrimmage under head coach Brian Kelly.
What it'll take to win: Containing Denard Robinson, this time for four quarters. In last year's miracle comeback win by Michigan, Robinson was held to 136 yards of total offense with three turnovers through the game's first 43 minutes. He erupted thereafter for 321 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns (a fumble recovery rush and three passes including the last-second game-winner) in a 35-31 finish. Robinson has totaled 1,478 yards and eight touchdowns in two games vs. the Irish defense. After Saturday, the nation will know if Notre Dame's defense is back among the elite, or simply equipped to handle power offenses as it did last week vs. Michigan State.
-- Tim O'Malley, IrishEyes.com
No. 6 Oklahoma
This week: vs. No. 15 Kansas State, Saturday (on FOX)
What's at stake: The Sooners' first big test on their way to a potential eighth national championship and eighth Big 12 title is in store when Kansas State visits Norman on Saturday. It becomes just the third contest between a pair of ranked teams in the last three-plus years at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and the first between a pair of top 15 teams since OU throttled Texas Tech 65-21 during their 2008 run to the BCS Championship Game. The victor of this game will most certainly have an early leg up in the Big 12 Conference race even through just one game, and a loss would devastate OU's chances toward heading to Miami for the BCS iitle game there. K-State's resurgence into a national power again under Bill Snyder since his return can come to fruition should the Wildcats pull off the upset.
What's going on: For the first time this year, the Sooner defensive line will look somewhat like it should have coming into the season. Defensive tackle Casey Walker has returned from an undisclosed personal issue, making it possible for David King to move back outside to the defensive end position. That puts together a front four of defensive ends King and Chuka Ndulue or R.J Washington, plus tackles Walker and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive tackle Stacy McGee, the only other missing cog there, is still suspended indefinitely. Free safety Tony Jefferson, who sprained his ankle in the first half against Florida A&M and missed the rest of the game, has been practicing and is set to go. At linebacker, Joseph Ibiloye should see some more playing time this week as the Sooners go to the more traditional 4-3 to combat K-State's rushing attack with quarterback Collin Klein and company.
What it'll take to win: This game is largely going to come down to how assignment-sound the Sooners are defensively. The defensive tackles need to plug the gaps up front and the linebackers need to play downhill against Klein and the K-State rushing attack. On the other side of the ball, OU needs to take care of it and make the most of its possessions, meaning cash them in when inside the red zone, where the Sooners are a perfect 10-for-10 so far this year.
-- Joey Helmer, SoonersIllustrated.com
No. 7 South Carolina
This week: vs. Missouri, Saturday
What's at stake: South Carolina understands how important this weekend's game against Missouri is in order to stay in the race for the SEC East title. This is a tough, but winnable, game for South Carolina and a game that can be a confidence booster for Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks as they get closer to the tough October slate of games against Georgia, at LSU, at Florida and at home against Tennessee. Winning on Saturday keeps them undefeated in the SEC and could keep the Gamecocks undefeated heading into the crucial matchup with Georgia in two weeks.
What's going on: South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier announced that Connor Shaw will start the game during his Tuesday press conference. Word got out over the weekend about a small hairline fracture in Shaw's shoulder as a opposed to the deep bone bruise that the injury was initially termed. The Gamecocks are also having some issues on the offensive line that have resulted in lineup changes and changes to the schemes. Spurrier alluded this week that more changes could be on the way. The Gamecocks running game has struggled so far this season and will need this unit to increase their level of play if the Gamecocks hope to contend for an SEC Championship.
What it'll take to win: The Gamecocks can win if they create balance on offense, limit the turnovers and continue the strong play on defense. The South Carolina defense has given up an average of 53 yards rushing on the ground this season and has kept opponents from scoring touchdowns in Gamecock territory. Limiting Mizzou's James Franklin and Kendial Lawrence in the running game should go a long way towards helping the Gamecocks pull off a victory.
-- Adam Garrett, GamecockAnthem.com
No. 8 West Virginia
This week: vs. Maryland, Saturday
What's at stake: For West Virginia, it's the final short step of the three-game non-conference schedule. Most everyone picked WVU to be 3-0 heading into the Big 12 schedule, and the Mountaineers showed no signs of stumbling in its first two wins. The game is also an important one for recruiting purposes, as West Virginia assistant coach Daron Roberts has staked out significant territory in the D.C.-Baltimore corridor. WVU won in that arena last week, defeating James Madison at Fed Ex Field, and a win over Maryland would further help the Mountaineers' recruiting efforts in that area.
What's going on: West Virginia showed defensive improvement between games one and two, but will be looking to solidify different packages as it prepares for Big 12 play. Preseason injuries kept the Mountaineers from installing some of the schemes and personnel groupings it wanted to use in passing situations, and those got their first test against James Madison. WVU substitutes as many as six players in passing situations, and getting all those players into the groove will be important with the conference opener against Baylor only one week away.
What it'll take to win: West Virginia must simply avoid making mistakes -- something it has been very good at this year. The Mountaineers aren't turning the ball over (just one in two games) or committing a lot of penalties (averaging just four per game), and thus is giving its offense every chance to succeed. Special teams improvement would be nice, but if WVU continues its error-free ways, it should complete a perfect non-conference record.
-- Kevin Kinder, BlueGoldNews.com