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Posted: Saturday October 17, 2009 1:07AM; Updated: Saturday October 17, 2009 1:07AM
Mallory Rubin Mallory Rubin >
INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Saturday Morning Splurge

Story Highlights

The Sooner-Longhorn showdown will be keyed by, among other things, defense

This is Charlie Weis' last opportunity to secure a signature victory

If the Hokies' offense clicks, it could be a long night for Georgia Tech

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jordan-shipley.jpg
Jordan Shipley is on pace to smash Texas' single season receptions record.
AP

• Will Oklahoma thwart Texas once again? This year's Red River Rivalry won't carry the significance we thought it would when Texas and Oklahoma began the season ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. But it's still got plenty of sizzle, especially for a Texas team that likely can't afford a loss. The Longhorns have done little to impress so far this season and face this bleak reality: If they don't beat Oklahoma, they won't get another chance to prove themselves against a marquee opponent. Last year, the 'Horns left their fate to the system, and we all know how that ended. But, already, things are very different now than in 2008. Injuries and subpar play have pushed the Bradford-McCoy subplot to the back burner. This game's no longer about Heisman campaigns (though if McCoy stands a chance, he needs to start dazzling, and soon) and unlikely friendships; it's about survival, which means defense will be key. So while this one could easily come down to a Jordan Shipley shake-and-shimmy, here's guessing it comes down to sacks, stops and Sergio Kindle.

• Can Charlie Weis and Notre Dame finally beat USC? Who's to say how different Charlie Weis' Notre Dame tenure could have been if the Bush Push had never happened and the Irish had staged an upset for the ages against the epic 2005 Trojans. Revisionist history can't do much for Weis at this point, which is why it's refreshing to see he's so grounded in reality and the here-and-now. This week Weis told his team, "Saturday night, fellas, you're going to be the lead story in the country, one way or another. So which lead story do you want to be?" Weis knows this is his final chance to secure the signature victory he's so far failed to earn, knows he won't be able to survive a fifth lose in five tries against USC, knows that, though there's still a long season ahead, it's finally make-or-break time in South Bend. The Irish stand a chance. Jimmy Clausen's playing out of his mind, his counterpart is a true freshman and a string of close games have made the Irish believe they can win hard-fought battles. This is Weis' best shot, but it's also his last.

• Will the Hokies' offense keep rolling? Virginia Tech's season began with a disheartening loss, but it didn't take long for the Hokies to firmly reassert themselves into the national picture. Even more impressive than their resiliency, though, is the fact they're cruising thanks to uncharacteristically potent offensive play. That's bad news for Georgia Tech, whose triple-option attack can paralyze any opponent, but whose defense ranks 82nd nationally thanks to 385.2 yards allowed per game. Virginia Tech's defense hasn't been so stout itself, but delivered a dominant performance by holding Boston College to 163 total yards of offense last weekend. With control of the Coastal Division and BCS clout on the line, the Hokies need to do exactly what they did in a rout of Miami: play in concert.

• Who will take the snaps for Michigan? The Wolverines expected a quarterback controversy to cast a cloud over their preseason -- not the seventh week of their regular season. Tate Forcier, Michigan's stellar freshman signal-caller, sustained a concussion against Iowa last week and spent the game's final two series on the sideline. Better safe than sorry, of course. But here's where the controversy comes in: Coach Rich Rodriguez didn't know about the concussion at the time, but opted to trust the team's comeback attempt to his other true freshman QB, Denard Robinson, anyway. To complicate matters further, Forcier's older brother, Jason, told The Michigan Daily that baby bro's shoulder injury is more serious than the coaching staff seems to realize. (When one of the QBForce webmasters gets involved, it's serious.) Perhaps "quarterback drama" is the more accurate term.

• Can Florida escape the trap? Coming off a tough, emotional and potentially hugely important win over LSU, Florida faces a classic trap game scenario against an often explosive Arkansas team. Florida should not lose to Arkansas. Florida will not lose to Arkansas. And yet analyst after analyst has branded this matchup with the "trap game" distinction. But trap games don't hurt championship teams with enviable talent and focus, experience on top and home-field advantage. Teams like Florida, in other words. They hurt teams that tease with talent but lack focus, always crumble in the limelight and, as fate would have it, are scheduled to fly into an opponent's lair. You know, teams like Cal. Ryan Mallett and the Hogs can air it out with the best of them, but were rendered rather ordinary against an Alabama defense that, while vastly talented, still isn't as fierce as Florida's.

• How will Oklahoma State handle adversity? The Cowboys entered the season boasting the nation's most formidable trio of offensive stars. When they suit up to play Missouri this weekend, only one of those players -- quarterback Zac Robinson -- will take the field. A bum ankle has sidelined tailback Kendall Hunter since Week 2, and the NCAA has stripped Dez Bryant, the nation's best receiver, of his eligibility (at least for now). With both out last week, the Cowboys barely eeked out a W against resurgent Texas A&M. This week, they'll face a young but talented Missouri team anxious to avenge the paltry primetime performance against Nebraska that knocked it out of the Top 25. The Cowboys simply haven't looked the same since their resounding Week 1 win over Georgia (which looks a lot less impressive now that the Dawgs are fighting to stay above .500) and will struggle to stop Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert through the air, and on the ground.

• Will the Gruden rumors distract Louisville? Steve Kragthorpe must feel pretty strange. The college football community's abuzz over an NFL.com report stating Louisville has tabbed Jon Gruden as its No. 1 candidate to replace Kragthorpe. Only the Cardinals haven't, you know, actually fired Kragthorpe. That said, they probably will. He's 2-3 on the season, 13-16 since taking over for Bobby Petrino and will almost surely lose again this weekend against a superior and motivated UConn team. Still, if Louisville wants to spark a resurgence, it should probably avoid making its current, and for the time being gainfully employed, coach feel like a lame duck.

• Can Kansas keep skating by? The Jayhawks keep winning. They also keep almost losing. Two weeks in a row, quarterback Todd Reesing and receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier have bailed out a Kansas defense incapable of shutting down Southern Mississippi (35-28) and Iowa State (41-36). Colorado, this week's opponent, is a feebler squad than both the Golden Eagles and Cyclones, yet still put a scare into Texas last weekend. The Buffs showed surprising defensive fortitude against the Longhorns, holding them to a season-low 313 total yards; but they still rank last in the Big 12 in allowing 30 points per game. Add to that the fact sophomore Tyler Hansen's starting at quarterback in place on three-year incumbent Cody Hawkins, and it seems this is Kansas' chance to win in resounding fashion and prove it's no fraud. Equally likely: this'll be the week the Jayhawks' luck runs out.

• Can the Badgers battle back? Last week, Wisconsin and Iowa entered their respective conference matchups with something to prove. And, to an extent, they both rose to the challenge, though only one emerged with a win. Wisconsin outgained Ohio State 368-184, but poor offensive line play, two pick-sixes and a kickoff return led to a misleading 31-13 defeat. Iowa won, meanwhile, but barely (for the third time this season, for those keeping count at home), and have still failed to seriously impress in any game save Penn State. This week could bring real proof that bruising back John Clay and the Badgers can hang with the big boys.

• Who will win (or lose, really) the Battle for The Bottom? Six games into last season, Ball State stood at 6-0. It seems losing standout quarterback Nate Davis to the NFL and coach Brady Hoke to San Diego State hurt, because six games into this season the Cardinals are 0-6. This week, they face the unfortunate distinction of battling Miami (Ohio) for the Anti-Florida Award, a dishonor unofficially bestowed on the first team to reach the 0-7 mark.

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