Saturday Morning Splurge
LSU and Alabama both feature tough defenses and ball-control offenses
Ohio State still controls its destiny in the Big Ten race
Case Keenum has another chance to boost his Heisman resume against Tulsa
The 10 storylines to watch this Saturday:
Can LSU shake up the SEC race? In one important respect, Alabama and LSU are two similar teams moving in different directions. Built around stout defense and a ball-control approach, Alabama surprised many by opening the season with a new-found propensity for the big play, while LSU surprised exactly no one by struggling mightily to move the ball. In recent weeks, though, Tide QB Greg McElroy has gone from something of a revelation to a non-factor (359 total yards and zero touchdowns in his last three games), while Tigers QB Jordan Jefferson has hit his stride (163.45 passer rating since a Week 7 bye). Alabama doesn't need McElroy to turn into Case Keenum; it simply needs him to effectively manage the game. Mark Ingram, Rolando McClain and Terrence Cody will take care of the rest.
Can Ohio State topple Penn State? Sure, Terrelle Pryor hails from Pennsylvania, but those expecting the Beaver Stadium crowd to warmly welcome home their native son clearly haven't purchased their "Terrelle Cryer" T-shirts yet. Penn State fans still haven't forgiven Pryor for choosing to jet for Ohio State, and they certainly haven't forgotten how he fumbled away the game when the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions met last season. Turnovers led to Ohio State's Week 7 loss to Purdue, too, but since then Pryor's taken better care of the ball and returned to dual-threat form. The Buckeyes have lost two games, but they still control their own destiny. The stakes aren't much lower for Penn State, which can't afford to fall another game behind Big Ten leading-Iowa in the loss column.
What will Case Keenum do next? Last week, while a slew of pundits were lamenting the weak class of Heisman-worthy quarterbacks, Keenum completed 44-of-54 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns against Southern Miss, who until that game had boasted Conference USA' s stingiest defense. This week, he'll face a Tulsa team holding opponents to 20 points per game, but prone to engage in shootouts. Even for a "system quarterback" -- a label that could hurt Keenum's candidacy come December -- Houston's gunslinger has put up absurd statistics. Consider: Through eight games, Keenum has yet to register a quarterback rating lower than 130, a completion percentage lower than 65 or a yardage total lower than 233 (and if we scrape that game, lower than 359). Must be some system.
Can Cincinnati stay perfect? Tony Pike's status for Saturday's matchup with Connecticut remains unclear, but the Bearcats aren't worried. Backup Zach Collaros has filled in admirably for Pike, throwing seven touchdowns in easy wins over Louisville and Syracuse. Only, despite what the Big East standings might imply, the Huskies (currently in sixth place) aren't anything like the Cardinals (seventh) or Orange (eighth). Connecticut's four loses have come by a combined 13 points, and as far as .500 teams go, this is an unusually dangerous bunch. But if the X-factor is Connecticut's eagerness to notch its first win since Jasper Howard's murder, the Y-factor could be Zach Frazer, who will start in place of injured starter Cody Endres, and who threw three interceptions in a Week 9 loss to Rutgers.
Is the Big House in for a big letdown? After Michigan marched to a surprising 4-0 start, it seemed Big Blue nation was willing to forgive most of Rich Rodriguez's perceived sins and transgressions. But college football fans have remarkably short memories, and with the Wolverines dropping four of five, including last week's embarrassing 38-13 defeat to lowly Illinois, the faithful have again begun to stoke the hot-seat fire. Next up: Purdue, who totes a 3-6 mark, but had no trouble dismantling Ohio State -- or Illinois. If RichRod apologists hope to continue espousing the West Virginia Guarantee (quick recap: Rodriguez also lost nine games in his first year with the Mountaineers, but then rebounded with a 9-4 campaign in Year 2), Michigan needs to stop the bleeding.
How will USC bounce back? The Trojans are likely still shell-shocked after suffering the most lopsided loss of the Pete Carroll era, but they can't afford to sulk. Though they're no longer a factor in the national-title race, they remain in contention for a Rose Bowl berth. And while Oregon (and Oregon State) have been harbingers of doom for USC of late, Saturday opponent Arizona State has been something of a panacea. The Trojans have taken eight straight from the Sun Devils and should keep the streak alive against a talented (at least defensively) but underperforming squad.
Will Boise benefit from a publicity boost? In one respect, at least, the WAC has a leg up on its fellow BCS-aspirant, the Mountain West. Whereas the MWC chose to pursue equality in the hallowed halls of Congress, the savvy WAC realized the almighty dollar speaks much louder than most state representatives. In an effort to preserve Boise State's BCS dreams amid a drop in the polls (from fourth in the first BCS standings to seventh last week) and blossoming voter respect for TCU, the WAC hired Boise-based PR firm Scott Peyron & Associates to "keep Boise State in the forefront of the minds of the media." Seems someone on the inside finally realized homestretch matchups with Louisiana Tech, Idaho, Utah State, Nevada and New Mexico State weren't going to do the trick.
Will the weekend produce more SEC drama? Last-second field goal blocks? Hard to predict. Eye-gouges, verbal sparring between coaches and criticism of the officials? Almost a certainly at this point. Since LSU-Alabama rates as the league's most marquee matchup, and since Les Miles has yet to get in on the mudslinging (remember, he and the Tigers benefited from the botched excessive celebration call in the Georgia game), here's guessing the next controversial call or YouTube highlight comes from Tuscaloosa. Though perhaps the $30,000 fine the SEC levied on Urban Meyer for claiming the refs missed a late hit call in the Georgia game will tighten some lips. Yes, the league had announced it would fine or suspend critical coaches before Meyer spoke up ... but it neglected to mention the fine would cover tuition at most private universities.
Will Nebraska or Oklahoma stay above water? The Battle of the Big Reds has lacked a certain something (namely, competitive balance) in recent years, with Oklahoma winning four straight. But with the Sooners coming off a title-game berth and the Cornhuskers generating much preseason buzz, it seemed the rivalry would return to relevance this season. That, of course, was before Oklahoma lost its quarterback, and Nebraska realized it didn't have one to begin with. Now the squads enter battle with matching 5-3 records -- and matching desires to get back into the conference-title hunt. It'd take a major Texas stumble for Oklahoma to hop into the driver's seat, but Nebraska still controls its own destiny in the North. To keep those hopes alive, though, it'll have to make some noise in the South. Landry Jones, meet Ndamukong Suh.
How will Indiana lose next? Big Ten play has not been kind to Bill Lynch. As any self-respecting Hoosiers fan will tell you, the refs handed the game to Michigan and were trying to do the same for Iowa until Indiana's secondary did the job for them. In between, of course, came that memorable collapse against comeback-happy Northwestern. Luckily for Lynch and Indiana, Wisconsin relies on the run, not the pass. Unluckily, John Clay has already racked up 839 yards and 10 scores.
More College Football
College Football Truth & Rumors