Saturday Morning Splurge
BYU will look to turn the tables against TCU in a battle of nationally-ranked teams
Penn State needs a win in Ann Arbor to keep pace with Iowa in the Big Ten race
UConn faces West Virginia with heavy hearts after Jasper Howard was murdered
Will BYU spoil TCU's bowl bid? There are a few things you should know about TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes: He used to be a great running back, he's since blossomed into the nation's best collegiate defensive end, and he tends to hunt BYU QB Max Hall like a man possessed. Last season, TCU spoiled BYU's BCS bid, and Hughes' four sacks and persistent disruption were a big reason why. This year, the roles have reversed. The Frogs head to Provo ranked eighth in the BCS standings, and the Cougars hope to spoil those bowl dreams. TCU needs this win to remain neck-and-neck with Boise State in the BCS conversation, and deploying Hughes and the rest of a speedy, athletic defensive front is the best way to set up Hall for a repeat of his seven-sack, two-pick performance from 2008.
Does Dan Mullen have Florida's number? Coming off a near upset and likely short three defensive starters, the Gators head to Starkville, where they haven't won since 1985. There waiting will be Mullen, the first-year Bulldogs coach who earned his stripes on Urban Meyer's Bowling Green, Utah and Florida staffs. Mullen knows Meyer, Tim Tebow and the Florida offense better than anyone not wearing blue and orange, and that has Florida openly concerned. Said Meyer: "You name it, if it bothered us, they're doing it." Said Tebow: "He knows a lot of what we do." Said offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, Mullen's replacement: "Yeah, Dan knows everything (about the offense)." Ultimately, though, Mullen's comment might be the only one that matters: "Florida's is obviously the best in the country right now."
Can Penn State win in Ann Arbor? With Iowa off to a 7-0 start, the Nittany Lions' loss to the Hawkeyes looks a lot less damning. Michigan Stadium, though, still looks like the same Big House of Horrors for JoePa's crew. Penn State has dropped five straight in Ann Arbor and, until it snapped the skid last season, had lost nine in a row to Michigan overall. Whether or not the Hawkeyes stumble and open the door to the Big Ten title, the Lions are still in line for an at-large BCS berth. To stay on that path, they'll need to face those Midwestern demons and deliver a dominant defensive performance against a feisty and efficient Michigan offense. That'll be a more manageable task if star linebacker Sean Lee returns from a pesky knee injury.
How will Mark Ingram deal with life atop the Heisman Watch? Always a bit distressing when The Third Saturday in October takes place on the fourth Saturday of the month, isn't it? Alas, Mark Ingram looks to soothe any suffering Tide fans by following up on his monster 246-yard Week 7 performance with another Heisman-worthy game. While it'll be interesting to see how Ingram runs against a stingy Vols D, it'll be downright fascinating to watch Alabama's unit have its way with Jonathan Crompton and the Tennessee offense. Crompton has morphed into a competent passer in his past three games, but he could regress rather quickly with Rolando McClain breathing down his neck.
Will UConn be able to focus on football? The Huskies enter this contest with heavy hearts following the murder of teammate Jasper Howard, but they won't use that as an excuse. In fact, they'll use it as inspiration. "It's definitely hard to move forward, with a loss like that," linebacker Lawrence Wilson told reporters this week. "But ... Jasper would want us to win." The tragedy will weigh on the home team, too. West Virginia plans to honor Howard with a moment of silence and helmet decals, and while coach Bill Stewart expressed great sadness over the killing, he also stressed the importance of focus for a team that just returned to the Top 25. "We have a good group of young men here that are saddened by a situation," Stewart said, "but after that coin toss, the Mountaineers need to be ready to play football."
Will Texas suffer from a post-Red River hangover? It wasn't easy, but Texas cleared the Oklahoma hurdle. Now, a manageable second-half slate stands between the 'Horns and a shot at the national title. First up: a trip to Columbia. Missouri has struggled in Big 12 play (0-2), but the Tigers are still dangerous. That said, they've been a lot less dangerous since quarterback Blaine Gabbert injured his ankle against Nebraska. (Gabbert had thrown 11 TDs and no picks through Week 4, but has managed just one TD to five picks since.) It's hard enough for fully mobile QBs to escape from Sergio Kindle, let alone gimpy ones. A bruised right thumb, meanwhile, could slow Gabbert's opposite number Colt McCoy, but Texas has survived anemic offensive performances already this year. Plus, the 'Horns haven't lost the week after playing the Sooners since 1997. Got to like those odds.
Does a clash of Pac-10 titans await? Since taking its annual tumble against an inferior opponent, USC has managed not just to climb back into the Pac-10 race, but also the national title hunt. On Saturday, the Trojans host Oregon State, the squad that last season cost them that shot. But USC's biggest threat remains Oregon, which itself faces a test this weekend against a Washington team that's already proven it can knock off the conference elite. Chip Kelly will undoubtedly feel more confident if quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, currently day-to-day with a knee, returns. If the Ducks and Trojans both escape, we'll finally get the epic Pac-10 clash we thought USC-Cal would bring.
How will Notre Dame rebound? Notre Dame took USC to the wire, but failed to deliver a signature win. Despite all the make-or-break talk prior to that contest, though, Charlie Weis and the Fighting Irish still have life. The BCS bowls would presumably lick their chops over a 10-2 Irish team, but Notre Dame needs to go six-for-six to hit that mark. Boston College, Washington State, Navy -- these are inferior teams. But so were Michigan State, Purdue and Washington, and the Domers still struggled to put them away. If Weis, Jimmy Clausen and the rest of the Irish choose to look at the USC loss as a death sentence, it will be. If they leave it in the past and play their best football moving forward, it will just have been a speed bump.
Can Virginia continue its turnaround? Georgia Tech hopes not. First, a refresher: UVA opened the 2009 season with three straight losses to non-BCS teams (William & Mary, TCU and Southern Miss), allowing an average of 31 points. Since coming off a blissfully timed Week 4 bye, the Cavs have rolled off three straight (North Carolina, Indiana, Maryland) wins, allowing 19 total points. Now, what it means: The Cavs host surging Georgia Tech on Saturday with first place in the ACC Coastal on the line. Al Groh's squad largely owes its bizarre turnaround to an improved rush defense (180.7 rushing yards per game allowed during the losses, 82.3 during the wins), but that unit will need to be in top form to slow down Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and the Tech rushing attack, which ranks first nationally with 1,917 rushing yards on the year.
Dare we begin the Indiana Bowl Watch? So, uh, how 'bout them Hoosiers? After falling victim to the mighty aforementioned Cavaliers, Indiana rebounded to notch its fourth win and screw the lid tight on Ron Zook's coffin. Sure, Indian's wins have come over Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, Akron and Illinois, the feeblest of the lot -- kidding ... but not really -- but they counts as W's just the same. With Northwestern on tap and Purdue waiting in the weeds, it's not crazy to start thinking bowl berth. And that's pretty crazy.
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