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.
Florida State (6–1, 4–0 ACC) at NC State (5–2, 2–1 ACC), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
This matchup is one of the most important games in the ACC so far this season, because the winner will gain the inside track to the Atlantic Division championship.
That’s right where first-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher wants to be. Fisher is off to a great start in conference play, becoming just the fifth coach to get a win in his first four ACC games. The Seminoles are undefeated after four league games for the first time since 2004 and the 11th time since they joined the ACC in 1992. It should be noted that Florida State went on to earn at least a share of the conference title in each of the previous 10 instances.
The Seminoles bring a five-game winning streak to Carter-Finley Stadium. The key question facing them is the health of quarterback Christian Ponder, who spent the open date last week trying to get his right elbow healthy. A ruptured bursa sac contributed to Ponder’s three interceptions in FSU’s last game, a 24–19 win over Boston College, and he can’t afford a repeat against the Wolfpack.
Ponder says he is healthy, and it’s up to Florida State’s highly touted offensive line to keep him that way. That position group will undergo a personnel change this week, with redshirt freshman guard Bryan Stork making his first career start in place of David Spurlock (concussion). The good news for Ponder is that he isn’t counted on to do everything for Florida State’s offense. Led by Chris Thompson’s eye-popping 7.7 yards per carry, the Seminoles enter this game third in the ACC in rushing (211.7 yards per game).
NC State features a star quarterback of its own in Russell Wilson, who ranks fourth in the country in total offense (332.0 ypg) while leading an attack that averages an ACC-best 448.9 total yards per game. The key for the Wolfpack against Florida State’s defense, which leads the nation in sacks (4.29 per game), is pass protection. Wilson has thrown eight interceptions in the past three games, and he’ll have a difficult time bucking that trend if he’s running for his life all night.
Clemson (4–3, 2–2 ACC) at Boston College (2–5, 0–4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Clemson has turned around what was becoming a disappointing season to fight its way into contention in the Atlantic Division. Boston College? Not so much.
The Eagles, who lost to Maryland 24–21 last week, have dropped five consecutive games since their 2–0 start. If that weren’t bad enough, they have to try to stop the skid this week at far less than full strength on defense. Defensive end Alex Albright, the team leader in sacks and tackles for a loss, was lost for the season last week with a fractured fibula. Safety Wes Davis suffered a neck injury that required hospitalization, and cornerback DeLeon Gause left the game with a knee injury that has put his status for this week’s game in doubt.
That’s a tough way to take on the Tigers, who have won two games in a row since their three-game losing streak. Tailback Andre Ellington has been the driving force, rushing for a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns in a 27–13 victory over Georgia Tech last week. Ellington, who also caught a touchdown pass in that game, will take aim at a Boston College defense that ranks fourth in the country against the run (83.6 yards per game).
Given BC’s injury woes in the secondary and BC’s success against the run — linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the nation in tackles (13.9 per game) — Clemson might try to jump-start its passing game. The Tigers have struggled much of the season with their aerial attack, but quarterback Kyle Parker is starting to develop a nice rapport with young wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown. Plus, Parker has helped engineer an offense that has gone three consecutive games without committing a turnover.
On the other side, Boston College shuffled its offensive line last week with the return of Thomas Claiborne, and tailback Montel Harris was the beneficiary. Nate Richman, who moved from guard to center this season, went back to his old spot at left guard. Mark Spinney shifted from guard to center, and Claiborne took over at right guard. Harris, the ACC’s leading rusher (99.1 ypg), ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland to help keep the pressure off true freshman quarterback Chase Rettig. The Eagles need a similar performance from Harris this week because Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who leads the nation in sacks (1.43 per game) and tackles for loss (2.50 per game), is a terror in third-and-long situations.
Miami (5-2, 3-1 ACC) at Virginia (3-4, 0-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Miami is seeking its first Coastal Division title since it joined the ACC. Virginia is seeking its first ACC victory in more than a calendar year. The stakes are as different for each team as the talent on each sideline.
The Hurricanes, coming off a 33–10 victory over North Carolina in which they scored the game’s final 30 points, appear to have gotten back on track after their 45–17 loss to Florida State on Oct. 9. While quarterback Jacory Harris and coach Randy Shannon get most of the attention from fans and media — and much of it has been negative — Miami’s defense quietly has put together a solid season.
The Hurricanes have been especially tough against the pass, benefiting from the consistent pressure the defensive line has generated. Miami is second nationally in sacks (3.57 per game) and tackles for loss (9.29 per game), which has helped the team lead the country in opponents’ passing efficiency (87.7 rating) while allowing the sixth-fewest passing yards (ACC-best 149.1 per game).
Virginia, which rolled past Eastern Michigan 48–21 last week, will receive a boost this week as it tries to slow Miami’s pass rush. Landon Bradley, who started the first five games at left tackle before breaking his right hand, is healthy enough to return to the lineup. With Bradley back, Oday Aboushi can return to his original position at right tackle and true freshman Morgan Moses can go back to right guard.
Defensively, the Cavaliers have continued to battle without the services of senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has played sparingly this season and has missed almost all of the last two games with a right knee injury. Dowling’s status for this week is unknown, but Devin Wallace has been solid in six starts in Dowling’s place.
The same can’t be said for Virginia’s run defense, which is allowing an ACC-worst 211.4 yards per game. The Cavaliers have their hands full this week against Miami tailback Damien Berry, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in four consecutive games.
Duke (1–6) at Navy (5–2), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Duke has made big strides as a program under coach David Cutcliffe, but the progress has not produced positive results on the field this season. The Blue Devils, who lost 44–7 at Virginia Tech last week, hit the road for this game having suffered six consecutive losses. It’s their longest losing streak in a single season since the 2007 Duke team lost its last nine games en route to a 1–11 season.
Navy, meanwhile, enters this game flying high. The Midshipmen, who already have played ACC members Maryland (17–14 loss) and Wake Forest (28–27 win) this season, are fresh off a 35–17 demolition of Notre Dame. They feature a run-heavy, option-based offense that is ninth nationally in rushing (274.4 yards per game) but just 118th out of 120 teams in terms of passing (104.0 ypg).
The Blue Devils must find a way to do what Notre Dame couldn’t: Force the Midshipmen into obvious passing situations. Duke has struggled on defense all season, so that task won’t be an easy one. In addition to allowing an ACC-worst 38.7 points per game, the Blue Devils rank among the nation’s bottom 15 teams in rushing yards allowed (203.4 per game) and total yards allowed (442.6 per game).
Duke faced an offensive attack similar to Navy’s last month when it played host to Army in a game the Black Knights dominated 35–21. Turnovers killed the Blue Devils that day, a trend that has carried through for most of the season.
Wake Forest (2–5, 1–3 ACC) at Maryland (5–2, 2–1 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Maryland needs one more win to become eligible for a bowl game, but Ralph Friedgen’s team has even bigger goals in mind. The Terrapins, who went 2–10 last season while winning just one game in conference play, have put themselves in contention in the Atlantic Division.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, has no such momentum. The Demon Deacons have suffered five consecutive losses since opening the season 2–0, and they had a week off to make some corrections after getting blown out at Virginia Tech 52–21 on Oct. 16. Many of the mistakes have occurred on defense, where Wake Forest ranks among the nation’s worst 10 teams in points allowed (37.7 per game), rushing yards allowed (211.0 per game) and total yards allowed (ACC-worst 454.4 per game).
For the second week in a row, Maryland will play a game featuring two freshman starting quarterbacks. Danny O’Brien threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Terrapins past Chase Rettig and Boston College 24–21 last week, and this week O’Brien will go head to head with Tanner Price. The Terrapins got shocking news last week when starting right tackle Pete DeSouza suffered fractures in both legs in a traffic accident less than 48 hours before kickoff, but they have had some time this week to make adjustments up front.
On the other side, Wake Forest might have a rising star in freshman tailback Josh Harris, who rushed for 241 yards and two touchdowns against Virginia Tech in the first start of his career.
William & Mary (6–1) at North Carolina (4–3), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Rarely does a game featuring team from a BCS conference against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision offer so many interesting story lines.
For one, North Carolina offensive coordinator John Shoop is tasked with dialing up the correct play against William & Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, his brother. Then there’s the case of William & Mary quarterback Mike Paulus, who might see action against the team he left last season. And then there’s the game itself, which features a very capable underdog against a depleted favorite.
The Tar Heels, who are 12–0–2 all time against the Tribe, had better not take this game lightly. William & Mary heads to Chapel Hill with a six-game winning streak and the nation’s No. 3 ranking among FCS teams after a 17–16 win last week over Delaware.
Mike Callahan, who had missed two games with a separated shoulder, returned in relief of Paulus to complete 7 of 10 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in the victory.
Paulus, who was a headliner of UNC coach Butch Davis’ first recruiting class, will likely will be the backup quarterback this week against his former teammates, one of whom will make his season debut.
All-ACC cornerback Kendric Burney, who missed UNC’s first seven games as a result of the NCAA and university investigations into the program, has been cleared to return.
That’s great news for the Tar Heels, who played without starting safety Da’Norris Searcy (concussion) and cornerbacks Mywan Jackson (groin) and LeCount Fantroy (shoulder) for much of last week’s 33-10 loss at Miami.
West Virginia at Connecticut, Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST
This should be a game that showcases two of the nation’s best backs: West Virginia’s Noel Devine and Connecticut’s Jordan Todman. The bigger storyline, however, has to do with the courses of the teams involved.
West Virginia seemed to be the class of the Big East, with the only blemish a close loss at LSU. That is, until Syracuse visited Morgantown and ruined Homecoming for the Mountaineers. Now head coach Bill Stewart is back on the hot seat in the Mountain State at 1–1 in league play. “I hope that (the Syracuse loss) serves as a wake-up call to our football program so that we can get back on track,” Stewart said on Tuesday.
WVU, now 5–2, hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2008. But previously steady quarterback Geno Smith threw three interceptions against SU, and the rushing attack the Mountaineers used to be known for is now ranked 73rd nationally.
Connecticut, though, has bigger problems. The Huskies are 3–4 overall and in the Big East cellar at 0–2. Also, Randy Edsall has a mess on his hands at the quarterback position. The team’s best QB this season, Cody Endres, has been tossed from the team. Zach Frazer didn’t appear to be the answer. And redshirt freshman Michael Box, who probably will get this start, has completed 6-of-17 passes for 65 yards with a pick.
Watch the standoff between Connecticut’s rushing attack, led by Todman, the nation’s No. 5 runner, and WVU’s rush defense, ranked No. 11 nationally.
Louisville at Pittsburgh, Saturday, noon EST
Charlie Strong has made some early strides in his first season as the Louisville coach. Evidence could be seen last week when the Cardinals shut out Connecticut 26–0. This week? “We’re going to see exactly where we are as a football team,” Strong said.
Seems that way. Both teams are 4–3 overall, but Pitt has averaged 43 points in winning its two Big East games this season and is now looking like the team picked to win the league in the conference’s preseason poll. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are still trying to prove themselves at 1–1 in league play.
The key matchup in this game will be Louisville’s rushing attack, ranked No. 1 in the Big East, against Pittsburgh’s rush defense, also ranked No. 1 in the league. The Cardinals boast the nation’s No. 4 rusher in Bilal Powell, who is averaging 143.29 yards. Also, Strong says that running back Victor Anderson has a “50-50" chance of returning from a shoulder injury.
On the other side, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt hasn’t ruled out the return of standout defensive end Greg Romeus for the contest. Romeus, who was considered one of the nation’s top ends, is recovering from back surgery.
U of L quarterback Adam Froman has been steady this season. The wildcard, however, is Panthers QB Tino Sunseri, who has been on fire the last two games, completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 588 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception.
Syracuse at Cincinnati, Saturday, noon EST
Check this out. On paper, Cincinnati, the Big East’s back-to-back champions, has a battle on its hands with Syracuse, which has been sweeping the league’s cellar of late.
The Orange has sandwiched a blowout loss at the hands of Pittsburgh with victories over South Florida and West Virginia. The latter win was a stunning 19–14 decision over the then-ranked Mountaineers in Morgantown on Homecoming.
“There was a different sense in the locker room after the West Virginia game,” said coach Doug Marrone.
That sense carries over to this game. SU is now in second place in the Big East with a 2–1 record. The Orange have the league’s No. 2 total defense. And when standout tailback Delone Carter went down with a hip bruise in Morgantown, junior Antwon Bailey stepped in and had 94 rushing yards.
What SU will have to contend with, however, is the Big East’s No. 1 offense, which averages 446.43 yards. There is a question, though, whether UC quarterback Zach Collaros will play after suffering a bruised knee in last week’s 38–30 loss to South Florida. If Collaros can’t go, Chazz Anderson is expected to get the start.
This should be interesting. Cincinnati saw its 14-game winning streak at Nippert Stadium end last week as well as its 13-game winning streak against Big East opponents. The team is 3–4 overall. The Bearcats are also ranked last in the league in total defense and No. 64 nationally, allowing an average of 367.71 yards a game.