Saturday Morning Splurge
Florida's defense, not Tim Tebow's presence, will decide the LSU-Florida game
Florida State's dysfunctional season hangs in the balance against Georgia Tech
Jevan Snead has a chance to make up for a slow start against Alabama
The 10 storylines to watch this Saturday:
How will Tebow Watch end? Tim Tebow is questionable for Saturday's showdown with LSU. You might have heard. But while fans nationwide are anxiously awaiting that game-day decision, the fact remains Florida doesn't need Tebow to win. At least not this time. John Brantley is more than capable of holding down the fort in Tebow's stead, and running backs Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody should chip away at the Tigers' D. LSU boasts as many playmakers as any team in the country, but the Tigers have yet to dominate this year. They've been particularly mediocre on offense, ranking last in the SEC with 335 yards per game. Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap and the Gators D, meanwhile, have been the shutdown force we all expected. Of course, it's hard to brush off losing a Heisman and two-time national championship winner when the stakes are this high. The winner of Florida-LSU has gone on to win the last three national titles, and with the list of undefeated, dominant teams dwindling, there's no reason to assume that won't hold true for a fourth. But here's the bottom line: Florida's defense was always going to matter more in this game than its offense, no matter the quarterback.
Will Florida State win one for Bowden? If you've missed all the glowing reviews of standout Seminoles defensive back Greg Reid, you're forgiven; it's hard to keep tabs on breakout freshmen when Florida State keeps making news for NCAA rules violations, shockingly inconsistent play, and a public coaching coup attempt. This Monday, following the Seminoles' third loss of the season, Florida State board of trustees chairman Jim Smith called for legendary head coach Bobby Bowden to step down at season's end. Bowden maintains he won't give up on righting the ship he's built and captained, and he better hope his players won't give up, either. If they're to temporarily silence the critics -- both internal and external -- the Seminoles need to play a stronger brand of defense against Georgia Tech's triple-option attack than the leaky unit they've fielded so far.
Can Sam Bradford save Oklahoma's season? Absolutely. But in order to do so, he'll have to lead the Sooners to victory over Texas next Saturday. That's why it was crucial Bradford returned this weekend for a tune-up against Baylor, which is not the same team without the electric Robert Griffin under center. Remember, a two-loss LSU team won the national championship two short seasons ago, so there's precedent. And luckily for the Sooners, both their losses came before conference play, which means they can still run the Big 12 table. "With a Big 12 championship comes another BCS shot," left tackle Trent Williams told reporters this week. The No. 19 Sooners are the only two-loss team currently ranked, so the voters haven't written them off yet. And as Williams' remarks show, they haven't written off themselves.
Can Oregon win on the road? It seems we're finally ready to stop harping on the Boise loss and Blount punch and start talking about Oregon's revival, which is unfortunate timing considering the Ducks could easily lose this weekend. Chip Kelly's squad hasn't hit the road since that opening-week debacle and may find it harder to maintain its momentum outside the Autzen Stadium walls. Further complicating matters: the injury bug. QB Jeremiah Masoli, who went from inept to unstoppable the last two weeks, will likely miss the game with a bum knee. Defensive leader Walter Thurmond is out for the year with a torn ACL ... and so is his replacement Willie Glasper. Maybe instead of breaking out another new uniform against the Bruins, the Ducks should debut some new knee braces.
Will Jevan Snead regain his form? The preseason dark horse Heisman candidate's uninspired performance (107 yards, 1 TD) was a big reason Ole Miss fell to South Carolina in Week 4. The Rebels rebounded last week to beat Vandy, and Snead notched three scores. But he also threw three picks. And once again failed to complete 60 percent of his passes. If the Gamecocks and Commodores proved that challenging, it's hard to imagine Snead finding his comfort zone against a ferocious Alabama front. The Tide, though, have an unproductive offensive star on their hands, too. Julio Jones established himself as one of the nation's most dangerous receiving threats last season, but he's done next to nothing this year. Greg McElroy has admitted he wants to avoid forcing too many passes Jones' way, but a top five national talent should have more than nine catches -- and one Big Play -- through five games.
Is Wisconsin the real deal? It's always a physical battle when Ohio State and Wisconsin play, and that's great news for the Badgers. Not because they're stronger or better conditioned than the Buckeyes, but because they need an opportunity to prove themselves. The 5-0 Badgers are the only undefeated team not currently ranked in the AP Top 25, a slight caused by: 1) a lack of voter respect for those five wins (even though two came against Michigan State and Minnesota) and 2) a lack of voter respect for the Big Ten. Emerging victorious from a grudge match with a top 10 conference foe would rapidly rectify that, but if the Badgers hope to knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus, they're going to need a monster game from dominant tailback John Clay and surprisingly effective quarterback Scott Tolzien.
Can Iowa stay perfect? Wisconsin's not the only undefeated Big Ten team with something to prove this weekend. Iowa's ranked 12th, but that's got more to do with the voting guidelines that dictate placing Iowa ahead of the Penn State team (ranked 14th) it already beat. The Hawkeyes needed two blocked kicks to survive Northern Iowa in Week 1, then, after seemingly turning things around and finding their rhythm, barely inched past Arkansas State for a three-point win in Week 5. That's not good enough. Ricky Stanzi and Co. could find their groove against a Michigan defense allowing over 400 yards and 23 points per game, but this could come down to the Hawkeyes' ability to prevent Michigan's sparkplug signal-caller Tate Forcier from leading too many awe-inspiring drives.
Who will win the Pac-10's Battle of the Backs? The Pac-10's fleet of fearsome running backs has grown a tad less fearsome since Oregon's LeGarrette Blount lost his cool and Cal's Jahvid Best lost his ability to find his groove -- or the end zone. No such problems have slowed Stanford's Toby Gerhart, though, who's already racked up 650 yards on 120 carries. Saturday, Gerhart faces off against Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, who stormed onto the scene with an award-winning freshman campaign in 2008, but has failed to hit the 100-yard mark in his last three games. These two as about as different as they come -- Quizz beats teams with shifty cutting and breakaway speed; Gerhart beats them by plowing through anyone in his way. Saturday, we'll see which style prevails.
Who will challenge Cincinnati in the Big East? Most likely South Florida, but the winner of UConn-Pitt stands a pretty good shot as well. The Panthers score a lot of points, and the Huskies allow very few. The Huskies score very few points, and the Panthers don't allow that many, either. The Huskies are on the road, and the Panthers are playing at home. Score two-of-three for Pitt. Don't score any for Pitt's freshman running back Dion Lewis, though; with eight touchdowns already to his name, the freshman sensation knows how to cross the plane on his own.
How will Mark Richt and Lane Kiffin get along? Swimmingly, it would seem. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or so the ancient proverb goes. Which means, of course, the SEC head honchos should have a grand ole time hanging out in Knoxville this weekend, stomping in the end zones, blurring the lines between gamesmanship and slander and swapping stories about that pesky Urban Meyer.
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