Saturday Storylines: Week 5
Red River is getting overlooked, but it still has national title implications
Stanford has not played a game of this magnitude since the 1970 season
If Florida hopes to upset Alabama, it must find a way to stop the run
The 10 storylines we're buzzing about this week:
Red River rolls on: At some point, reality must have morphed into Larry Scott's dream world. How else to explain a Week 5 slate in which the Pac-10 clash between Stanford and Oregon is a bigger deal than the Red River Rivalry? Well, for one, the Ducks and Cardinal are pretty good (more on that in a moment). For another, the Sooners and Longhorns haven't been. Oklahoma currently sits eighth in the AP poll, but Bob Stoops' squad has been a model of inconsistency, dominating Florida State while struggling to put away Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati. Then there's Texas, which has looked lost offensively all season and was manhandled on both sides of the ball in a home loss to UCLA last weekend. So, no, Red River isn't what it has been. But it still matters. Chances are, the winner of this contest will go on to win the Big 12 South. And chances are, that team will go on to play for the national championship if it wins the Big 12 title game, because either Texas or Oklahoma has played for five of the past seven BCS championships. One thing's for sure, though. Regardless of the public's interest, there will be one party very interested in which squad goes home with the Golden Hat: Nebraska.
Speaking of Stanford-Oregon: In some ways, Stanford is in unfamiliar territory. The Cardinal have not played in a top 10 matchup since 1970, carried a top 10 ranking since 2001 or started a season 4-0 since 1986. But Jim Harbaugh's team is no stranger to punching Oregon in the gut. Last November, the Ducks were coming off a colossal win over USC when they fell into Stanford's trap, surrendering 51 points while managing 42. Jeremiah Masoli and Toby Gerhart may be gone, but these squads can still score in bunches. Oregon boasts the nation's No. 3 offense (560 yards per game), Stanford No. 24 (457.5), so this could come down to which defense can do just enough. The Ducks' D will be looking for redemption after allowing 597 yards to Arizona State last week, while Stanford will display the newly aggressive unit that has emerged under Vic Fangio's tutelage.
Florida's line of defense: In the wake of his six-touchdown explosion last week against Kentucky, do-it-all Florida freshman Trey Burton has become an instant celebrity. But if the Gators hope to upset No. 1 Alabama, Florida's defensive line will have to be the unit generating headlines. When Florida and Alabama last met in the 2009 SEC title game, the Tide rushed for 251 yards on the way to a 32-13 victory. The Gators are determined not to let Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson run all over them again. Enter the "heavy package," the Florida formation designed to stuff the lanes and suffocate the run. The Gators debuted the look against Tennessee in Week 3 and promptly held Vols starter Tauren Poole to 23 yards just one week after Poole took Oregon for 162. Of course, Tauren Poole is not Mark Ingram, who has rushed for 308 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games back from knee surgery. Likewise, Vols QB Matt Simms is not Tide QB Greg McElroy. Florida leads the nation with 12 picks, but if the Gators commit fully to stopping the run, McElroy will find Julio Jones.
Virginia Tech looks to stay on track: Not surprisingly, Saturday's contest between NC State and Virginia Tech features an undefeated Top 25 squad playing like a true conference contender and a 2-2 team languishing in the middle of the pack. Surprisingly, the Wolfpack are the ones sporting the 4-0 mark. Might ACC order be restored this week? NC State QB Russell Wilson has played his way onto Heisman watch lists while averaging a league-best 299 total yards per contest, but the Virginia Tech defense returned to form last week while shutting out Boston College. Though the Hokies will again be without star tailback Ryan Williams (hamstring), they'll be fueled by that rejuvenated D -- and by the knowledge that their BCS hopes remain intact despite season-opening loses to Boise State and James Madison.
Denard Watch continues: The college football community was already tuning in to Michigan games to see what Denard Robinson would do next. Now, we're tuning in to see what he can do, and whether he'll get hurt doing it. Michigan has played four games this season. The Wolverines' savior has left with an injury in three them. Robinson practiced all week after a bruised left knee knocked him out of last week's Bowling Green contest in the first quarter, and he's set to play this weekend against an Indiana team that ranks 10th in the Big Ten against the run. But if Shoelace goes down again, watch out. Ben Chappell (72 percent completions, nine TDs, no picks) and a potent Indiana passing attack will have no trouble putting up points against a sieve-like Michigan secondary.
Welcome back, Clayborn: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn was a very good player before last year's Iowa-Penn State game. He just wasn't a very well known one. That changed with Clayborn's blocked punt and subsequent touchdown return, which sparked Iowa's upset and BCS run and turned Clayborn into a household name. That renown carried over to this preseason, when Clayborn was routinely mentioned as the heir apparent to Ndamukong Suh as the nation's most dominant defender. But Clayborn's been very quiet early, notching just 15 tackles and failing to record a sack or force a turnover. Maybe all he needs is a visit from Penn State. The Nittany Lions' offensive line has allowed just one sack of quarterback Rob Bolden, but starting right tackle Lou Eliades will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL in a win over Temple. Starting in his place against Iowa: Chima Okoli, a converted defensive end. Some welcome present.
Nevada not packing it in: Don't bother asking Nevada coach Chris Ault about his team's newly acquired Top 25 ranking, or about the much-anticipated November showdown with Boise State. Right now, Ault only cares about one thing: beating 1-3 UNLV. "It is a championship game," Ault told media this week. "It is a chance to win a championship and be state champs. That is what you are playing for." Well, yes, Nevada needs to beat UNLV-- but not because of in-state bragging rights. The Pack need to win because doing so will preserve their perfect record, and thus their chance of facing Boise for a shot at an actual championship. Rest assured, Coach Ault, the unstoppable Colin Kaepernick (924 passing yards, 451 rushing yards, 15 total touchdowns) will secure the 2010 Silver State title for Nevada.
Kiffin and Sark face off: Yes, USC's postseason ban takes a bit away from each Trojans contest and, yes, 1-2 Washington has failed to live up to expectations, but there's still plenty to like about this Pac-10 contest. For one, the Trojans will be seeking revenge after last year's 16-13 upset loss. For another, this is the first meeting between Matt Barkley and Jake Locker, two of the nation's most hyped quarterbacks (Barkley missed last year's game with an injury). But it's also the first head coaching showdown between Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, who worked together as assistants and then co-offensive coordinators under Pete Carroll at USC. Their defensive coordinators, Ed Orgeron and Nick Holt, were on Carroll's staffs as well. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but these staffs clearly respect each other. They also know each other, which might be more pertinent. Give Sarkisian the edge there; in addition to being familiar with schemes and tendencies, he also recruited many of USC's upperclassmen. Of course, those same recruits give USC the edge in talent, which should matter most.
UCLA looks to build on its big win: UCLA opened the 2009 season with three straight wins. Then October came, and the Bruins lost five times. Rick Neuheisel's squad didn't begin 2010 with quite the same bang (a 35-0 loss to Stanford followed a 31-22 loss to Kansas State), but the Bruins have evened their mark thanks to a win over Houston and a massive 34-12 upset over then No. 7 Texas. Will this October bring equal heartbreak? Not likely. For one thing, UCLA plays four games this month, not five. For another, the Bruins face Washington State this weekend, which is the closest thing to a guarantee that side of the Mississippi.
Desperately seeking success: Does anyone need a win more than Mark Richt? (Don't say Tim Brewster, because his fate is sealed.) With preseason sleeper Georgia falling to 1-3 overall and 0-3 in SEC play, Richt has resorting to motivating his players by telling them "it could get worse." That's a fact. Losing to Mississippi State is bad. Losing to Colorado would be unforgiveable.