Masoli could do some damage against Auburn. Who else should you start?
Ole Miss could get into a shootout with Auburn.
Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 9:
The former Duck posted the best game of his season last weekend against Arkansas when he threw for 327 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for 98 more yards. Auburn's bend but dont break defense will allow yards to Colonel Reb. They currently rank 101st in pass defense, and in last year's win over Ole MIss, the Tigers allowed 219 yards rushing on 39 carries. I don't think the Rebels pull the upset, but Masoli should make it interesting.
Austin Dantin, Toledo (@ Eastern Michigan)
It is just too easy to pick on the Eagles from Ypsilanti. And Dantin has been solid now that the Rockets are into the heart of their MAC schedule. He has scored four rushing TDs over his last three games and has rushed for 130 yards over the last two. EMU's defensive ineptitude is well documented: 117th against the run, 119th in scoring defense and 109th in total defense.
Trent Steelman, Army (VMI)
As expected from the Army signal caller, Steelman has been productive on the ground. He has scored a rushing TD in five straight games, including a four-TD game against Temple. He has also topped 100 yards passing twice in the last three contests. Against lowly VMI, Steelman has a chance to post a good number.
Garrett Gilbert, Texas (Baylor)
The Longhorn passer has proven himself in very different ways the last two weeks (at least, from a fantasy standpoint). He outrushed Taylor Martinez in the big win in Lincoln two weeks ago then posted his first career 300-yard passing effort last week. The Bears will be dramatically outmatched talent-wise, and their 84th-rated pass defense should be easy to beat.
Jeffery Godfrey, UCF (East Carolina)
Three rushing TDs and an actual passing TD (his second of the year) dot Godfrey's resume over the last two weeks. This could be a high-scoring affair (despite the Knights' solid defense), and ECU's 110th-ranked pass defense could be beaten this weekend. The Pirates also rank 105th in scoring defense.
Matt Scott, Arizona (@ UCLA)
Scott managed the game beautifully last weekend against Washington. He completed 18-of-22 passes for 233 yards and a pair of scores. He added a sneaky 65 yards rushing, and that ability to make plays with his legs is the main difference between him and injured starter Nick Foles. Against the porous UCLA defense (120th rush D, 89th score D, 85th total D), Scott will have space to make plays.
Austen Arnaud, Iowa State (Kansas)
Arnaud has never really lived up to any of the fantasy hype, but has some servicable games from time to time. This week could be one of those times. No team in the Big 12 allows more points per game (33.86 ppg) and no Big 12 team is less effective against the pass (156 opponent passer rating) than the Jayhawks.
QB — Better Think Twice
Blaine Gabbert vs. Taylor Martinez (Missouri @ Nebraska)
On the Missouri side, Gabbert has never had a worse game than against the Huskers last season. Certainly the ankle injury hampered his play, but in fantasy, it doesn't matter why you posted a 134-yard, 0-TD, 2-INT stat line. And that was in Columbia. On the other side of the ledger is a freshman who struggled in his biggest test of the year so far. So much so, that he was benched. The Tigers D has allowed plenty of passing yards in the last two wins (322 to Jerrod Johnson, 303 to Landry Jones), but against the run, they have been solid. And that is where Martinez has done most of his damage. In those two wins, Mizzou allowed 156 yards on 58 carries (2.8 ypc). The nation's fifth-rated scoring defense (13.1 ppg) has allowed a total of 30 yards rushing to opposing quarterbacks for the entire year.
Robert Griffin, Baylor (@ Texas)
The Texas Longhorns, for all of their struggles on defense, rank No. 2 nationally against the pass, allowing under 140 yards per game through the air. Two weeks ago, they made Taylor Martinez look foolish, inducing a 4-for-12, 63-yard, 13-carry, 21-yard, 0-TD performance. The appalling home losses to UCLA and Iowa State were shocking, but it wasn't because the quarterback lit up the sky with an air attack. In those two losses, the Horns allowed a total of 163 passing yards. No player means more to his team than Mr. Griffin, but the Burnt Orange has allowed Baylor to top 20 points only twice in 12 games — all Bear losses.
Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M (Texas Tech)
The Aggie passer is beginning to put his name into the "Year's Largest Fantasy Bust" conversation. He has a total of two passing TDs in his last three games, and he hasn't really run the ball much at all. He has a total of 146 yards rushing for the season. And because he has turned the ball over 11 times, his coaching staff is toying with playing the back-up some this week. He might just be too risky.
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (@ Iowa)
This one might be the most obvious bench play of the week. Cousins placed his name in the Heisman race with his 331-yard, 3-TD come-from-behind perfornance last week but won't be able to produce this week. He threw for 225 yards and one score in last year's 15-13 loss to Iowa in East Lansing. Don't expect anything more than that this weekend.
Aaron Murray vs. John Brantley (Georgia vs. Florida — Jacksonville)
Brantley and the Florida offense aren't even worth talking about. They should be nowhere near your fantasy lineup. But Murray has started to prove that he is the real deal. He wasn't needed last weekend, and the Gators have been taking the ball away from quarterbacks all season. Florida is tied for third in the nation with 13 INTs and forced four INTs against the Dawgs last weekend. Expect a low-scoring, grind-it-out-on-the-ground win for Georgia, but Murray's upside is limited.
Trevor Vittatoe, UTEP (@ Marshall)
The Miner passer has been hampered by an injury of late, and his fantasy stats have taken a huge hit. He has totaled 272 passing yards over the last two games with five interceptions and one touchdown. A road trip to Marshall is not what the doctor ordered.
RB — Deserves A Second Look
Knile Davis, Arkansas (Vanderbilt)
In the last three weeks, Davis has emerged as Bobby-P's favorite back. He has double-digit carries in all three, and over the last two games, Davis has out-carried the rest of the Hogs backs 36 to 13. He finally delievered the massive fantasy line last week against Ole Miss (176 yards, 3 TDs). The Dores rank 92nd against the run, allowing over 182 yards per game.
Adonis Thomas, Toledo (@ Eastern Michigan)
Thomas was given the most attempts of his career last week, 19, and he responded with 130 yards and a score against Ball State. EMU's defense is much maligned and will not slow anything the Rockets do. Play Thomas without any hesitation.
Jared Hassin, Army (VMI)
It is always a serious risk to play any running back from Army (and the last time I put Hassin on this list, he did not even register a carry), but against VMI, everyone has a chance. Hassin has been given the ball 43 times over his last three games and has back-to-back 100-yard efforts.
Ronnie Weaver, UCF (East Carolina)
George O'Leary might have actually settled on a running back. Weaver has two 130-plus-yard games in his last four and has three multiple TD games in his last five. He has averaged 22 carries per game over his last four, and this weekend should feature plenty of points. ECU ranks 88th against the run, 110th against the pass and 105th in scoring defense.
Johnny White and Shaun Draughn, North Carolina (William & Mary)
Ugh, it's William & Mary?
Alexander Teich, Navy (Duke)
Much like Army, playing an option back is always a risk, but Teich has been solid. He has been handed the ball 47 times over the last two games, and he has responded with 305 yards and two TDs. Duke ranks 107th against the run (203 ypg) and is 114th in scoring defense (38.7 ppg).
Back-ups worth a shot this weekend:
Matthew Tucker, TCU (@ UNLV)
Michael Hayes, Houston (@ Memphis)
Nic Grigsby, Arizona (@ UCLA)
Matt Brown, Temple (Akron)
Cameron Marshall or Deantre Lewis, Arizona State (Washington State)
Ellington could find it tough sledding against BC.
RB — Better Think Twice
Andre Ellington, Clemson (@ Boston College)
The explosive Tiger runner has been excellent this season as his 122-2, 140-1, 107-3 and 166-2 games will attest. But he has also disappeared too — try 11-1, 55-0 and 41-1 lines as well. Boston College is always good against the run and always tougher at home. The Eagles rank fourth nationally agianst the run and held C.J. Spiller to one of his worst games last fall. The dynamic Spiller posted 79 yards from scrimmage and no offensive TDs against BC in Clemson last year.
Rodney Stewart, Colorado (Oklahoma)
The Buffs back has been a fairly solid fantasy option this fall, but not this week. Not because Oklahoma is stellar against the run or that Colorado can't run, but that Stewart may not get any carries in what could be a blowout. The Buffaloes rank 98th in pass efficiency defense and 94th in pass defense. Landry Jones is averaging 285 yards of total offense per game.
Tauren Poole, Tennessee (@ South Carolina)
Poole is a good player and the Vols do like to run it, but his 117 yards last week came almost exclusively on one carry. Of his 19 total fantasy points last weekend against Bama, 11.9 of them came on the long TD run. The other 13 carries netted 5.8 TFP. The Cocks rank 13th nationally against the run (101 ypg) and are allowing only 18 points per game. Don't expect the Vols offense to do much this weekend.
Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (Missouri)
The Mizzou rush defense was well documented above. They stymied some very talented backs over the last two weekends. Christine Michael and DeMarco Murray totaled 107 yards on 26 carries and no rushing scores in the Tigers' two wins. Helu and Burkhead are both averaging over 60 yards per game but have been inconsistent and are not worth playing this weekend.
Washaun Ealey and Co. vs. Jeff Demps and Co. (Georgia vs. Florida — Jacksonville)
Caleb King and Chris Rainey will both be back on the field this weekend, and that alone hurts the starters' value. Toss in two of the top four defenses in the SEC, and the upside appears limited. Georgia is 12th nationally against the run and leads the SEC by allowing only 99 ypg. Florida allows only 131 ypg, and in last year's meeting, the Gators gave up 89 yards on 22 carries (0 TDs) to King and Ealey.
Edwin Baker et al., Michigan State (@ Iowa)
Despite getting beat at home and allowing three rushing TDs, the Hawks still only allowed 3.7 ypc last week to Wisconsin. They also knocked James White out of the game. The hard-hitting, physical defense will be ready for the Spartans' three-headed rushing attack. Sparty mustered only 85 yards on 30 carries against Iowa in East Lansing last fall.
Jay Finley, Baylor (@ Texas)
Finley's last two weeks of play, statistically, were better than his entire 2009 campaign. He torched Colorado and Kansas State to the tune of 393 yards and four TDs in his last two contests. That being said, Austin is a different animal. Despite the struggles of the Horns defense in bad losses, they still are third in the Big 12 in rushing defense and second in the nation against the pass. Expect all Bears to be slowed a bit this weekend.
WR — Waiver Wire Spot Starts
Casey Robottom, Tulane (SMU)
Has tallied 25 receptions for 320 yards and four TDs over last three. And a good matchup.
Doug Baldwin, Stanford (@ Washington)
I am going back to the well. Posted 13 rec., 178 yards from scrimmage and 3 TDs in last two.
Derek Moye, Penn State (Michigan)
Looked better with McGloin in the game — 3 rec., 81 yds, 2 TDs last week.
Keenan Allen, Cal (@ Oregon State)
Inconsistent early but has scored in three straight games.
DeVonte Christopher, Utah (@ AIr Force)
Falcons will take air out of game, but 14 rec., 275 yds, 3 TDs in last three cannot be ignored.
Top 10 DEF/ST Spot Starts:
1. Miami, Fla. (@ Virginia)
2. Arizona (@ UCLA)
3. Temple (Akron)
4. Oklahoma (Colorado)
5. Illinois (Purdue)
6. Army (VMI)
7. Iowa State (Kansas)
8. Kent State (Ball State)
9. Missouri (@ Nebraska)
10. Arizona State (Washington State)
Michigan State (+6.5) at Iowa
We’re just about halfway through the Big Ten season, and Michigan State, picked no higher than fifth by most media outlets, remains as the league’s only undefeated team. The Spartans have been one of the most consistently solid teams in the country through the first eight weeks; they aren’t great in any one area, but they don’t have many weaknesses, either. Iowa is coming off its first Big Ten loss, a 31–30 setback at home to Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes’ defense, considered one of the best in the country, has given up a total of 329 yards rushing the past two weeks. Slowing down MSU’s two-headed tailback monster of Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell will be the focus this Saturday. Iowa is too good to lose two straight at home. Iowa 24, Michigan State 21
Missouri (+7.5) at Nebraska
These two Big 12 North clubs both responded in big spots Saturday. Missouri proved that its undefeated start and gaudy defensive stats weren’t a fluke by beating Oklahoma 36–27 in Columbia, while Nebraska bounced back from its loss at home to Texas by outlasting Oklahoma State, 51–41, in Stillwater. The key development for the Huskers was the play of quarterback Taylor Martinez. After basically getting shut out vs. Texas, Martinez was sensational against O-State, throwing for 323 yards (by far his career high) and five touchdowns while adding 112 yards on the ground. Nebraska will be very difficult to beat if Martinez can replicate those passing numbers. Nebraska 30, Missouri 24
Florida (+2.5) vs. Georgia
It’s the first time the Florida-Georgia showdown hasn’t featured at least one ranked team since 1979. The Bulldogs, however, are playing their best football of the season of late, with consecutive victories over Tennessee (41–14), Vanderbilt (43–0) and Kentucky (44–31). Aaron Murray has been very good at quarterback, and Washaun Ealey is finally emerging as a big-time producer at tailback. Florida, on the other hand, doesn’t have many answers on the offensive side of the ball. The Gators have scored a total of four offensive touchdowns in their last three games — all losses (two at home). Urban Meyer vowed to fix his team’s problems in the bye week, but the Gators just don’t seem to have the right pieces in the right places. Georgia 27, Florida 17
Auburn (-7) at Ole Miss
Auburn hits the road for just the third time this season, and the Tigers’ previous two trips produced wins by exactly three points, at Mississippi State and Kentucky. Ole Miss has been a difficult team to get a read on. The Rebels have already lost at home to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. The Commodores scored 28 points in Oxford, 18 more than their other three SEC games combined. Ole Miss, though, does have solid wins over Fresno State (55–38) and Kentucky (42–35). While it’s tempting to think upset in this game, don’t forget that the Ole Miss defense is giving up over 30 points per game. Expect another big day from Cam Newton. Auburn 37, Ole Miss 28
Oregon (-6.5) at USC
USC is an underdog at home for the first time since the final game of the 2001 season against UCLA. The Trojans won that game, 27–0, but it won’t be quite as easy this week against Oregon, the No. 1 team in the nation in both the AP and coaches’ polls. The Ducks are deserving of their ranking, but keep in mind that this team has only one quality win (Stanford at home). The Ducks still have to play at California and at Oregon State and host Arizona, but this trip to USC might be their toughest test. USC already has two league losses, but this is still a talented team that has been playing very well on offense. Over the past two games, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley has averaged 371 yards with a total of eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Oregon should remain undefeated, but it won’t be easy. Oregon 38, USC 30
Kentucky (-6.5) at Mississippi State
Mississippi State has quietly won five straight games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007 and only the second time since 2000. The Bulldogs are getting it done with a run-first offense and a defense that is giving up only 17 points per game. Kentucky’s offense will be a challenge for Dan Mulllen’s club. The Wildcats have scored 31 points or more in each of their last four SEC games and have the league’s No. 2-ranked passing attack. Defense, however, is where the Cats have serious issues. In five conference games, they are allowing an average of 39.8 points. That will get you beat on most nights. Mississippi State 30, Kentucky 23
California (+2.5) at Oregon State
Cal continues to be one of the most schizophrenic teams in the nation. In the last five weeks, the Bears have lost at Nevada by 21, lost at Arizona by 1, beaten UCLA by 28, lost at USC by 34 and beaten Arizona State by 33. The defense has held five of its seven opponents to 17 points or less but got lit up for 52 and 48 in the other two games. Good luck trying to figure out what is going to happen in Corvallis this weekend. Oregon State hit a speed bump two weeks ago, losing at Washington, 35–34, in double-overtime, but this is a team that has played very well in October and November under Mike Riley. Oregon State 30, Cal 24
Baylor (-7) at Texas
The Baylor Bears are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1995 after improving to 6–2 with a 47–42 win over Kansas State. Led by the underrated Robert Griffin at quarterback, Baylor rolled up 683 yards of offense en route to its third Big 12 win of the season. Getting win No. 4 won’t be easy this week, despite Texas’ recent struggles. Baylor has lost 12 straight to Texas, and the average margin of defeat has been an astounding 37 points. Don’t count on a lopsided Texas victory this season. The Horns have lost three of their past four and have not scored more than 24 points in their five games vs. BCS conference opponents. After the latest loss (28–21 at home to Iowa State), Mack Brown threw both his players and assistant coaches under the bus, saying you “can’t trust your team, can’t trust your coaches when they’re not getting things ready to go.” The pressure will be on Texas this Saturday. Texas 28, Baylor 20
Michigan (-3) at Penn State
It’s quite an indictment on Penn State that the Lions are a three-point underdog at home to a Michigan team that has lost eight of its last nine conference games dating back to last season. Penn State broke a two-game losing streak last week with a 33–21 win at Minnesota, but this is a team that struggles to put points on the board. Prior to the win at Minnesota, the Nittany Lions’ season-high against FBS competition was 24 points vs. Kent State in Week 3. And with uncertainty at quarterback — it looks like Matt McGloin will get the start — it’s hard to envision PSU scoring enough points to beat Denard Robinson and the Wolverines. Michigan 33, Penn State 24
Florida State (-3.5) at NC State (Thu)
NC State has had a week off to recover from its crushing overtime loss at East Carolina. The Pack are clearly an improved team in 2010, but if you want to take the next step as a program you have to beat East Carolina, even on the road. That loss, however, did not hurt the Pack’s standing in the ACC Atlantic Division race, where they are one game behind Florida State in the loss column. A loss Thursday night would all but end NC State’s title hopes. The Seminoles were a bit sluggish in their last game — a 24–19 win at home over Boston College — but they had been playing very well leading up to that game. This one is tough to call; let’s go with the Pack in the mild upset. NC State 34, Florida State 30
Last week: 6–4 overall (5–5 against the spread)
Season: 52–28 overall (39–37–4 against the spread)
Lattimore will be back on the field this Saturday.
Tennessee (2–5, 0–4) at No. 17 South Carolina (5–2, 3–2), 12:21 p.m. CT TV: SEC Network
Holy role reversal. Typically, it’s Tennessee hanging around in the SEC race and South Carolina treading water (OK, maybe not this badly). But it’s at least rare — in fact it hasn’t happened — that the Volunteers are the easiest conference opponent for the division-leading Gamecocks.
Tennessee has managed to hang around for some first halves this season against good teams, like last week against Alabama and Oregon earlier in the year, but you’ve got to figure they’ll eventually run out of steam for even that. Maybe now? Injuries and suspensions have really stripped down this team to Derek Dooley’s Comedy Tour. You almost want the presumed blowout to be worse, just to see what Dooley says next.
The Vols couldn’t cover Julio Jones (221 yards) last week. They will not be able to cover Alshon Jeffery (121.1 yards a game), either. That’s not even taking into account South Carolina’s emerging run game, with Marcus Lattimore (89.7 ypg) back from a gimpy ankle.
Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. Almost like a midseason breather last week for Lattimore. Expect him to come back strong.
Florida (4–3, 2–3) vs. Georgia (4–4, 3–3), 3:30 p.m. ET TV: CBS
Any other season, and neither of these teams would be in the East mix at this point. But, then again, they’re the teams who have won all but two of the division titles this decade. So, we’re just not accustomed to this mediocrity from the division, as a whole.
But, in reality, this is an East Division elimination game. Georgia has won three in a row; Florida has lost three straight. The Gators, as you know, have dominated this series in recent years. What gives in this one?
Seven games it, it seems apparent that Florida’s offense will simply not click this season. We’ve given up on it. Given the personnel and stubborn coaching philosophy, it will never get going. And, as most expected, Georgia’s defense has settled in pretty nicely with that 3-4. Linebacker Justin Houston is putting together an all-SEC season without much fanfare.
Aaron Murray, A.J. Green and Washaun Ealey? Georgia just has more weaponry than Florida. Been a long time since you could say that. Like, since the 1980s?
Player to Watch: Chris Rainey, Florida RB/WR. Is he really going to play? If he does, will he make a difference?
No. 3 Auburn (8–0, 5–0) at Ole Miss (3–4, 1–3), 5 p.m. CT TV: ESPN2
The key there is the word “at.” See how Auburn is to the left of that word? That means it’s playing a rare away game. The Tigers — now the new No. 1 in the BCS — play only four games away from Jordan-Hare. This week’s game at Ole Miss is the third (Alabama is the fourth). The first two? Three-point wins at Mississippi State and Kentucky.
As you see, it hasn’t been easy. Then again, many of Auburn’s games, even the home ones, haven’t been easy. Ole Miss could test the Tigers, but the Rebels don’t have enough ammo for four quarters. And, true to every week’s outlook, Ole Miss has no one to stop Cameron Newton. He’ll do to the Rebs what he’s done to everyone, taking over the game late.
Player to Watch: Cam Newton, Auburn QB. Why not?
Kentucky (4–4, 1–4) at No. 23 Mississippi State (6–2, 2–2), 6 p.m. CT TV: ESPNU
Remember when people thought Kentucky was a legitimate division contender? Oh, right, that was last week. At 1–4, Joker Phillips has acknowledged the Wildcats are now interested in the best available bowl. That’ll first require two more victories. Charleston Southern is one. Vanderbilt is a definite possibility for two. How much would Kentucky like to beat Spurrier and Tennessee in one season?
A bowl game is on Mississippi State’s mind, as well. The Bulldogs would love to go to one in Dan Mullen’s second year after narrowly missing one a season ago. And they will after getting past a Kentucky team that has no defense and is still missing Derrick Locke.
Player to Watch: Derrick Locke, Kentucky RB. Point blank: Locke (shoulder) has to play for the Wildcats to have a chance. But that doesn’t seem likely.
Sort of like South Carolina with Lattimore a week ago, Arkansas will likely be careful this week with a couple of its most important offensive players, receivers Greg Childs and Joe Adams. Both have ankle injuries, like Lattimore. The Razorbacks can get by without their top two receivers against Vandy.
The Hogs would love for Ryan Mallett, who’s nursing a bruised shoulder himself, to get a chance to watch some in the second half. This has been a physically taxing season already for Mallett, who needs to be healthy for the tests ahead, against South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU.
Player to Watch: Knile Davis, Arkansas RB. Davis and the run game got going a week ago against Ole Miss (176 yards, three TDs). Could be a similar story this week.
It’s likely the Wildcats are still licking their wounds from last week’s second-half letdown against Michigan State. An upset and all-important sixth victory slipped through their grasp. Funny, last year when the Wildcats and Hoosiers met it was Indiana that blew a big second half lead and lost on a last-second field goal, 29–28. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is a master at getting his guys to maintain focus, and he should be able to rally the Wildcats for this one. Indiana has its own reason for motivation: A look ahead on the Hoosiers schedule suggests their best chances to win the two games they need for a bowl berth are this one and Purdue in the finale. To win, Indiana must take better care of the football than it did in last week’s loss (five turnovers). One key stat that is in Indiana’s favor: The Wildcats rank 10th in pass defense. Ben Chappell and Indiana’s terrific trio of receivers will be dreaming about that fact this week.
Purdue at Illinois, Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Purdue has already lost one quarterback, so it was good news this week when the coaching staff announced Rob Henry would probably play after slicing up his throwing hand in last week’s loss. Henry hasn’t been the most efficient passer in the Big Ten this year, but he has his moments, and his versatility as a runner makes him a tough assignment for opposing defenses. Of course, Illinois has its own dual threat player under center. Nathan Scheelhasse is making a strong pitch for freshman of the year honors, and he just might have his way against a Boilermaker defense giving up 24.4 points per game. It’ll be important for Ryan Kerrigan and the Purdue defense to keep Scheelhasse in check. Speaking of defenses, is there a more under-rated unit in the Big Ten than the Illini? The unit ranks fourth in sacks in third in scoring defense. That’s bad news for a Purdue squad that has managed just 32 points total in its three road contests this year.
Michigan State at Iowa, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
The Big Ten’s best game once again features Iowa, which lost at home last week due to poor clock management. Kirk Ferentz won’t let that happen again, not with his team’s January bowl hopes hanging by a thread. The key matchup in this one pits Spartan backs Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker against an Iowa run defense allowing just 92.1 yards per game. A total of five points has determined the last two games between the two teams — both played in East Lansing — and the last game in Iowa City was decided in overtime. Yep, this one is going to be a dandy. Too bad for Michigan State they may be without one of their best playmakers; receiver/returner Keshawn Martin is recovering from an ankle/foot injury that could keep him on the sideline.
Ohio State at Minnesota, Saturday, 7 p.m. CT
Another prime time game to showcase TCF Bank Stadium, another easy Big Ten test for the Buckeyes. Ohio State played with a chip on its shoulder in last week’s shutout of Purdue, and probably figures it has nothing to lose in its remaining games. Terrell Pryor’s arm should have success against a Gopher secondary allowing opposing passers a 69.5 completion percentage. Minnesota will need a mighty effort from its experienced passer, Adam Weber, because heaven knows the running game will have to be abandoned before half — at least if this game resembles recent ones in the series. Over the last four years Ohio State has beaten Minnesota by a combined score of 146 to 35, the closest margin being 13 points (two years ago).
Michigan at Penn State, Saturday, 7 p.m. CT
Pay no attention to the Nittany Lions’ woes this season — no team wishes to play in Beaver Stadium in an evening affair, and certainly not a Michigan squad that has dropped its last two contests by a combined 27 points. The Wolverines need to get back to the ground attack that earned them early favor among pollsters. For whatever reason, Denard Robinson has not been as dazzling — or as hard to catch — in recent weeks as he was at the season’s start. Penn State’s run defense could be a cure, as the unit is allowing an uncharacteristic 143.9 yards on the ground per game. The Nittany Lions offense has more problems than Michigan does on both sides of the ball combined. Evan Royster is still a no-show, and the unit has produced just seven scores through the air. Making matters worse, Penn State probably won’t have quarterback Rob Bolden in the lineup due to what has been labeled a head injury. The team must hope its rowdy crowd can offer the spark that’s been absent all season.
UCLA’s season is teetering on desperation. It wasn’t long ago the Bruins were the talk of the Pac-10 after their road upset of Texas. But they are now coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Cal and Oregon and have lost starting quarterback Kevin Prince for the season. UCLA has also suspended four starters for games during the past two weeks. Other than that, things are peachy in Westwood. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive blowout of Washington, despite playing without starting quarterback Nick Foles, who sat out with a dislocated kneecap. Foles may be available Saturday, but with the way backup Matt Scott played against the Huskies (18-for-22, 233 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), he probably won’t be needed.
California at Oregon State, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
This will be a head-to-head battle for All-Pac-10 running back honors. Oregon’s LaMichael James has probably wrapped up one of the tailback spots. This game features the two leading candidates for the other spot — Cal’s Shane Vereen and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers is third in the Pac-10 in rushing, tied for second in touchdowns and fourth in all-purpose yards. Vereen is fourth in rushing, first in touchdowns and third in all-purpose yards. The Beavers lost their first game without star receiver James Rodgers, and their offense is still adjusting. The Bears, meanwhile, must prove they can win on the road. They are 4–0 at home this season but 0–3 away from Memorial Stadium. A win could go a long way in solidifying Cal’s bowl hopes this year.
Washington State at Arizona State, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. PT
The Sun Devils were feeling pretty good about themselves until Cal sliced them up last week. Now, Arizona State must recover against an improving Cougars team. Washington State still is clearly the worst team in the Pac-10, but they also clearly are much more competitive than they have been in each of the past two seasons. They lost by just 10 last week on the road at Stanford, although made it closer with a flurry of late scoring. Still, ASU is reeling after last week and must be careful not to let the Cougars stay close late in the game. Freshman wide receiver Marquess Wilson has been a revelation for WSU. He leads the Pac-10 in receiving yards per game (99.5).
Stanford at Washington, Saturday, 4:00 PT
Call it the Top-10 Draft Pick Bowl. Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Washington’s Jake Locker, considered possibly the top two quarterback prospects in the country, will play on the same field at Husky Stadium. But Locker might not be at his best. He’s played the last two weeks with thigh and hip injuries and isn’t 100 percent. Still, he’s been good enough to play, and has still played well at times. But overall, Locker’s passing efficiency rating of 131.4 is good for just ninth in the Pac-10. Luck, meanwhile, keeps rolling along with the kind of productive season most expected. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes with five interceptions and is second to USC’s Matt Barkley in passing efficiency in the Pac-10.
Oregon at USC, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. PT
Is this the Ducks’ toughest remaining obstacle in the way of an undefeated season? Many observers think so. The Trojans haven’t been playing at a Pete Carroll-esque level for most of this season, but they are coming off an eye-poppingly thorough 48–14 dismantling of Cal. USC is 5–2 with both losses coming on field goals as time expired. Still, the Trojans generally haven’t played the brand of defense that had become familiar during the past decade, and they will need to be at their very best against Oregon’s offensive machine. After Saturday, Oregon has two remaining road games — at Cal and at Oregon State. The Beavers aren’t the same team without star receiver James Rodgers, so this is likely the toughest test remaining on the Ducks’ schedule.
Oklahoma State (6–1, 2–1) at Kansas State (5–2, 2–2), Saturday, 11 a.m.
Both teams are in bounce-back mode, with the Cowboys coming off their first loss and the Wildcats dropping two of their last three. In a major contrast of styles, whichever team can dictate the tempo likely wins.
K-State has flopped against high-powered offenses. Baylor set school records for passing and rushing against the Cats a week ago. And OSU’s attack may be better, with the trio of quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and wideout Justin Blackmon all among the nation’s leaders.
Keep an eye on Blackmon’s status; he is facing a suspicion of DUI complaint and a possible team suspension.
The Cowboys’ defense carries concerns, too, having just surrendered 51 points to Nebraska. And OSU hasn’t yet faced a power running game like K-State will bring with Daniel Thomas. Can the Cowboys, who face a finesse offense every day in practice, man up?
A wild card to consider: The Cowboys rank No. 119 in kickoff coverage and have allowed three returns for touchdowns this season. The Wildcats are No. 1 in kickoff returns.
Kansas (2–5, 0–3) at Iowa State (4–4, 2–2), Saturday, 1 p.m.
Say this about the Cyclones: Even when they appear down, they don’t stay down.
Beaten up in back-to-back games by Utah and Oklahoma, Iowa State rallied with a stunning win at Texas in what initially sized up as a death march, but shaped up as a show of toughness. Just like they did a year ago in winning at Nebraska, the Cyclones brushed aside previous disappointments to post a benchmark victory.
And it restored Iowa State’s bowl hopes, which would get another boost with a win over the Jayhawks, who stumble into Ames on the bad momentum of three straight blowout defeats.
First-year KU coach Turner Gill may be looking to a third starting quarterback with Jordan Webb and Kale Pick both ineffective and, now, dealing with injuries. Quin Mecham, a junior college transfer, appears set to start against the Cyclones.
The Jayhawks, who own a five-game winning streak against ISU, have now lost 10 straight Big 12 games since beating the Cyclones last October.
Missouri (7–0, 3–0) at Nebraska (6–1, 2–1), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Missouri’s takedown of Oklahoma, then BCS No. 1 and a constant thorn in the Tigers’ paws, registered as a massive mark in the program’s history. Could Saturday’s game at Nebraska be bigger?
On a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately scale, absolutely. Mizzou is the Big 12’s only remaining unbeaten and one of seven nationally, bidding for a place in the national title chase. And a win in Lincoln is required. And the matchup, the last scheduled meeting between longtime foes before the Huskers bolt for the Big Ten, carries that added edge. So, yes, this game is bigger. And it’s big on both sides.
The Huskers somewhat righted their course a week ago, knocking off previously unbeaten Oklahoma State. And they control their path in the North Division and potentially in the BCS bowl picture — if they can subdue Mizzou.
Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez enjoyed a breakout game against the Cowboys, answering critics by throwing for five touchdowns when his passing skills had been called into question. Still, defensive concerns remain after OSU gashed the Blackshirts on the ground and through the air, scoring 41 points in defeat.
The Tigers have the look of the Big 12’s most balanced team, with an evolving offense led by quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the nation’s No. 5 scoring defense, which allows just 13.1 points a game.
The Pirate is gone. So, too, for now is the passion and the intrigue for a rivalry that boiled over in recent years, flame-fed by former Tech coach Mike Leach.
Now, Mike Sherman’s A&M team scrambles for relevancy, and Tommy Tuberville’s first Tech team is bland in comparison to what used to take place on the West Texas plains.
At least there’s something at stake, with this game a potential swing game to the bowl hopes for both teams.
A&M’s quarterback position bears watching, now that Ryan Tannehill has moved from wide receiver to behind center and thrived, throwing for three touchdowns in last week’s win over Kansas. Jerrod Johnson won’t be forgotten, but he’ll apparently share the position going forward.
For the Red Raiders, offense, while not up to Leach-like standards, is not the issue. It’s a defense that has allowed 34.4 points a game in conference play — 10th-most in the Big 12.
Baylor (6–2, 3–1) at Texas (4–3, 2–2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
What does this game mean for Baylor? Everything.
Don’t look now, but the Bears are in the rankings and atop the Big 12 South. And for the first time in a long time, Baylor carries a significant shot at beating the Longhorns into Austin.
Texas has won 12 straight in the series and 16 of the last 17. So history hardly aligns with the Bears. This hurdle is as much mental as it is physical. Still, Baylor has hope, much of it tied to dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III, who hails from the Austin area, was snubbed by the Longhorns and might figure he has something to prove beyond all he’s done to elevate his program. Think Longhorns fans wouldn’t like to see Griffin in burnt orange?
Who knows which Texas team will show up, even at home? The Horns lost to UCLA and Iowa State at home. They won at Nebraska, yet couldn’t carry the momentum, with the Cyclones sticking them in stunning fashion a week later.
Garrett Gilbert is struggling at quarterback, and there aren’t enough playmakers around him to make the offense respectable.
Clearly, the Longhorns are vulnerable. But are the Bears equipped to take advantage? Baylor’s best win came a week ago, against Kansas State. But in their one other appearance in a statement game, the Bears were hammered at TCU.
This one could be different. And it could result in a very different Big 12 South that includes Baylor as a contender.
Colorado (3–4, 0–3) at Oklahoma (6–1, 2–1), Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
Adversity just keeps piling up for the Buffaloes. Colorado, winless in conference play on its farewell tour of the Big 12, took two major hits in a home loss to Texas Tech, losing starting quarterback Tyler Hansen to a ruptured spleen and linebacker and leading tackler Jon Major to a knee injury.
Beaten and bruised is no way to visit Oklahoma, where the Sooners figure to be hopping mad following their first loss at Missouri and where they seldom lose, owning the nation’s longest home winning streak at 34.
Former starter and oft-embattled Cody Hawkins will replace Hansen behind center. Hawkins does hold special memories in this series, engineering an upset of the Sooners in Boulder the last time the teams met in 2007.
OU quarterback Landry Jones looks to rebound from a rough outing at Missouri, where he didn’t complete a pass in the fourth quarter as the Tigers rallied to victory.