Saturday Morning Splurge
Oklahoma will have to knock off Miami with backup Landry Jones
Stanford, yes Stanford, could become the front-runner in the Pac-10
Alabama has a shot to steal some first-place votes with Florida and Texas off
The 10 storylines to watch this Saturday:
Will Oklahoma or Miami save its title chances? Mustache Mafia, start your engines! With Sam Bradford still nursing a sprained AC joint, the Sooners' title hopes once again rest with Landry Jones and his legendary lip hair. Bradford's understudy has shown some flash since taking over the starting role (nine touchdowns in two-plus games), but those offensive fireworks primarily came against Idaho State and Tulsa. While Jones was busy setting Oklahoma single-game passing records, Miami's Jacory Harris was busy coming back to Earth against Virginia Tech. The 'Canes hope to prove their impressive wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech were more than just a tease, but it won't be easy against a ferocious Oklahoma front seven. Sooners DT Gerald McCoy hunts all QBs, whether or not they've got the swagger.
Who will gain redemption, USC or Cal? Two weeks ago, it looked like USC and Cal would face off as top 10 teams. USC would fight to preserve its eighth straight BCS berth; Cal would gun to unseat USC from the Pac-10 throne at long last. But USC lost to Washington in Week 3 and Cal suffered a meltdown against Oregon in Week 4. Now, instead of determining who will play in the Rose Bowl, this one will likely only determine who won't. It's hard to say what impact Stafon Johnson's injury will have on USC's psyche, but here's guessing it'll motivate rather than distract. History, meanwhile, should serve as motivation enough for the collapse-prone Bears. Cal's got home-field advantage, but the offensive line needs to do a much better job of protecting quarterback Kevin Riley and creating holes for tailback Jahvid Best if the Bears hope to penetrate USC's stifling defense.
But is USC-Cal really the West's best? Well, the Pac-10-leading Cardinal and undefeated Bruins might have something to say about that. No, UCLA's trip to Stanford hasn't generated anywhere near the buzz USC's trip to the Bay Area has, but a win would move Stanford to 4-1 on the year and 3-0 in the Pac-10, all but assuring its first bowl berth since 2001. For the Cardinal to continue its momentum, bruising tailback Toby Gerhart and strong-armed redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck will need to penetrate a UCLA defense holding opponents to 13 points per game.
Will LSU's talent finally shine through? Georgia and LSU have spent the season underachieving. LSU boasts as much talent as any team in the country, but it's yet to translate to on-field dominance. It's not often the nation's No. 4 team enters a game -- even a road game -- as the underdog, but LSU's play to date has inspired little confidence. The offense in particular has struggled, and the Tigers are managing only 310 yards per game. With No. 1 Florida coming to town next week, the Tigers need to figure things out against A.J. Green and an offensively explosive Georgia squad.
Can Alabama jump Florida and Texas? Many voters considered bumping up 'Bama last week even though the Gators and Longhorns stomped Kentucky and UTEP, respectively. So with No. 1 and No. 2 both on byes and Alabama playing a vastly inferior Kentucky team, the Tide could scoot right into that top spot. The fact that Nick Saban's squad is playing the same team Florida faced last week will make it very simple to compare performances. Remember, the Tide easily neutralized Arkansas' potent offense; that doesn't bode well for the Wildcats' much more meager unit. Meanwhile, the Tide continue to play consistently effective offense. Keep an eye on true freshman tailback Trent Richardson, who showed some spectacular tackle-breaking ability against the Hogs.
Can Auburn win over the voters? Auburn earned the 16th and final spot in SI's inaugural Top 16 poll and playoff bracket, but while we at SI are drinking the Tiger Kool-Aid, the rest of the sports media world remains skeptical; despite notching its fourth win, Auburn failed to crack the AP, coaches or Harris polls after Week 4. If the Tigers beat SEC foe Tennessee on the road this weekend, though, the voters won't be able to ignore them any longer. Sure, Tennessee is 2-2 and barely handled Ohio last week, but a road win is a road win. More importantly, Gus Malzahn's rebuilt Auburn offense (which has catapulted from No. 104 in 2008 to No. 3 this season despite limited personnel changes) has a chance to make a statement against a robust Tennessee D.
How will Boston College handle the attention? Meet David Shinskie, the 25-year-old true freshman quarterback saving BC's season. After sharing snaps with Justin Tuggle in the season's first three games (including a painful Week 3 loss to Clemson in which the Eagles failed to notch 100 yards of total offense), Shinskie emerged in the overtime win over Wake Forest. That, of course, was after a seven-year football hiatus and stint in minor league baseball. Even ESPN's Gameday crew is heading to Chestnut Hill to check out the next Chris Weinke -- and, you know, to see how Florida State's multiple personality disorder manifests this week. But the spotlight's on more than just Shinskie. Friday, BC linebacker and 2008 ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich announced he's 99 percent cancer free and hopes to return to full workouts this fall. Talk about a boost.
How will Cincinnati adjust to life in the top 10? Yes, Cincinnati earned an Orange Bowl berth in 2008 without ever cracking the top 10. The Big East was that bad. The Bearcats should adjust to being among the elite with ease, though, thanks to a gift from the scheduling gods: a matchup with 0-4 Miami (Ohio). The Bearcats hope that as they send the RedHawks further down the unofficial Ohio football pecking order, they will take a step up -- this time into the top spot. Coach Brian Kelly admitted that until the college football world starts viewing his team as an equal to Ohio State, it'll play with a chip on its shoulder. Then again, quarterback Tony Pike, the nation's fifth-rated passer, has shown his shoulder can handle plenty.
Is another Big Ten shakeup in store? Michigan's defense is really bad. The good news for the Wolverines, though, is Michigan State's is even worse. The Spartans are 1-3 and desperate for a win, which means Big Blue needs little Tate Forcier healthy and able to play. The freshman sparkplug injured his shoulder in a near-loss to Indiana, but when Michigan issued its customary injury report this week, he wasn't on it. Could be gamesmanship, could be rapid-healing. Hard to say. Meanwhile, the aforementioned upset-minded Hoosiers get a crack at Ohio State, which is back in the Big Ten driver's seat after Penn State's loss. A word of caution for those in attendance: watch out for rogue wads of chewing gum.
Will Ralph Friedgen still have a job come Monday? Yes. Come Tuesday, though ... . Right now the Terps can barely hang with James Madison (their lone win) let alone Clemson. And so, they'll probably beat the Tigers on Saturday. That's just what they do. But even if the Terps work their annual magic and steal a game they have no business winning, the ACC will still boast the BCS conferences' most pathetic trio of cellar-dwellers in Duke, Maryland and UVA.
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