Saturday Morning Splurge
TCU has shot past Boise, but it won't matter if the Frogs can't handle Utah
After a Week 10 shakeup, Iowa and Ohio State battle for a Rose Bowl berth
Plus Arizona's next test, an upset alert, coaches on the hot seat and more
The 10 storylines to watch this Saturday:
Will TCU continue its BCS run? TCU sports a 9-0 mark, checks in at No. 4 in the latest BCS rankings and stands a better chance of snagging an at-large berth to a primo bowl than fellow would-be buster Boise State. None of that will matter, though, if the Horned Frogs fail to seal up the Mountain West against Utah this weekend. The voters certainly aren't the only ones drinking the purple Kool-Aid; No. 16 Utah has won six straight since losing to Oregon, but heads to Forth Worth a shocking three-touchdown underdog. Seems the bookies don't like freshman QB Jordan Wynn's chances against Jerry Hughes, the nation's best defensive end, and TCU's quick, athletic defensive front. And with the Frogs allowing just 11 points per game, it's easy to see why.
Who wants roses? What a difference one week makes. When Week 10 began, undefeated Iowa sat in the Big Ten driver's seat, while two-loss Ohio State was skirting in the shadows, trying to stay alive. But Iowa fell to Northwestern and Ohio State knocked off Penn State, and now the squads will face off for a Rose Bowl berth in the defacto conference title game. While a rejuvenated Terrelle Pryor (one interception in his last three games, all wins) will feed off the raucous Horseshoe crowd, redshirt Iowa freshman James Vandenberg, starting in place of the injured Ricky Stanzi, might not find the confines so friendly. The Buckeyes rank sixth nationally in totally defense and fourth nationally in points allowed, and while Stanzi rarely wowed (56 percent completions, 15 TDs-14 INTs), he was rather adept at the art of the comeback. If Iowa finds itself down, Vandenberg won't have the same luck with Ohio State's stellar bookends, Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson, haunting his steps.
Will Pitt and Notre Dame continue on diverging paths? Charlie Weis must tire of all this "do or die" talk, seeing as he's heard it on a near-weekly basis all season. Conventional wisdom held Notre Dame needed 10 wins to secure a BCS berth, and that Weis needed that BCS berth to save his job. But since last week's loss to Navy means the Irish can at best finish 9-3, maybe it's time the college football world does the unthinkable and turns away, at least for the time being, from a Notre Dame program treading water. Let's instead focus on rising Pittsburgh, No. 8 in the nation, boasting its best record (8-1) since 1982 and alive and well in the Big East race. Shine that spotlight right on Pitt tailback Dion Lewis, racking up 126.6 rushing yards per game. It won't matter what jaw-dropping stats Irish QB Jimmy Clausen puts up this week (he passed for 452 yards in the Navy loss) if the defense, which gave up 348 yards on the ground to the Midshipmen, can't stop the Panthers' freshman sensation.
Will Arizona get caught looking ahead? Arizona's about to find out what it means to control one's own destiny. With four conference games remaining, the Wildcats sit second in the Pac-10 standings, and have yet to play the one team ahead of them (Oregon) or the other team most likely to still be hanging around come Dec. 5 (USC). And so the path to Arizona's first-ever Rose Bowl berth is straight and clear. Win, and go to Pasadena. Lose, and, well, wait and see. So while beating Cal Saturday isn't strictly necessary, Mike Stoops wants his player focused on the task at hand -- a task made easier with star Cal tailback Jahvid Best out with a concussion. "They understand exactly what's at stake," Stoops said this week. "They can count very well, and they understand what wins and losses do for you."
Can Oklahoma stop the bleeding? Oklahoma entered the 2009 season expecting more of the same. A fourth straight Big 12 title. A second straight BCS Championship Game berth. Another Heisman run for Sam Bradford. Four losses and two shoulder injuries later, the Sooners find themselves in an unfamiliar position: battling for bowl eligibility. And the hits just keep on coming. This week, Oklahoma lost three more starters for the season. While two of those injuries (to guard Brody Eldridge and tackle Jarvis Jones) further decimated an already thin offensive line, the Sooners' defense remains intact, and top-flight. Though the unit allowed just seven first downs in last weekend's loss to offensively woeful Nebraska, it will face a stiffer test against Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who leads the Big 12 in total offense.
Who needs to be on upset alert? Texas' remaining schedule is so lame, any loss would qualify as shocking. But the Longhorns are cruising and figure to easily handle Baylor. Alabama faces the same Mississippi State squad that gave Florida all it could handle, but regained its mojo against LSU (with a timely assist from the refs). Reserve an eye then for Florida, which heads to Columbia to face the Old Ball Coach and sputtering South Carolina. The Gamecocks have lost three of four, but still field a solid defensive unit that could pose problems for the Gators' lackluster offense. Steve Spurrier's not exactly singing his squad's praises ("We are just not real good right now," he said this week), but the Gamecocks are desperate to avoid a third straight season-ending slump, and that motivation could be the tipping point.
How will EJ Manuel fare in his debut? Bobby Bowden may not be a Seminole next season, but EJ Manuel will. With starting quarterback Christian Ponder lost for the season to a separated throwing shoulder, Manuel, the heralded redshirt freshman, will make his starting debut against Wake. Ponder had been a consistent bright spot during FSU's up-and-down 2009 campaign, but at least Seminole Nation gets to catch a glimpse of its future: a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder with great pocket presence, a cannon arm and touch-passing ability. We know Manuel boasts the physical tools to succeed. We'll get a pretty good sense right off the bat if he can cope with the pressure of carrying a program: Florida State's 27-year bowl streak is on the line.
Will Oregon feature Blount? LeGarrette Blount's back. You might have heard. It remains unclear, though, how much action Oregon's reinstated runner will see Saturday against Arizona State. Though Blount entered the season as one of the nation's top backs, the fact is Oregon hasn't missed him. LaMichael James has excelled in the starting role (1,042 yards, eight TDs) and Kenjon Barner, Remene Alston and Andre Crenshaw have contributed as backups. Blount's return won't threaten James' starting role, but it will further crowd a backfield already spreading carries thin. Not surprisingly, Oregon's coaches think that's great news. "The more talent and the more competition you have, the more you are going to get from the other guys," running backs coach Gary Campbell told The Oregonian this week. In case you're wondering, no, the Sun Devils won't enter the game with an NFL prospect as their fifth-string back.
Can Duke spoil Georgia Tech's BCS chances? Paul Johnson isn't the only ACC coach working miracles. Georgia Tech sits one win from an ACC title-game berth, but it must first beat Duke. Since these aren't your daddy's Devils, that's no longer the gimme it once was. In Dave Cutcliffe's second year as coach, Duke has marched to a surprising 5-4 mark. That's due in large part to four-year starter Thad Lewis, who ranks second in the ACC with 2,428 passing yards on the year. That breaks down to 289.4 per game, which sounds impressive until you remember Georgia Tech leads the league in total offense and points scored. Duke's 62nd-ranked run defense won't be able to stop Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt, but Georgia Tech's defense might not be able to stop, well, anyone. Strange thing, this parity. Strange place, this ACC.
Can Steve Kragthorpe survive the weekend? Failing to deliver a winning season in three tries could cost the Louisville head coach his job; going 0-3 against Syracuse during that time surely will. The Orange have carved out a comfy nook in the D-I cellar over the past four seasons, but even they have bested the Cardinals. Saturday the teams battle for last place -- and employment.
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