Saturday Storylines: Week 6
Spotlight will be on Mark Dantonio, Denard Robinson in Big House battle
We might see more quarterbacks than points when LSU heads to Florida
Plus: Trap game for Tide; family affair for Vols-Dawgs; FSU-Miami; more
The 10 things we're buzzing about this week:
Big battle at the Big House: It's been more than a decade since Michigan and Michigan State met as undefeated teams. No chance Mark Dantonio was going to miss that. "You can't keep me down Michigan week," said Dantonio, who is expected to coach the No. 17 Spartans from the press box after missing two games in the wake of a mild heart attack. The question, though, is whether Dantonio's team can keep down Denard Robinson and the No. 18 Wolverines. Michigan ranks second nationally in total offense (565.0 yards per game) thanks largely to Robinson, who needs just 95 rushing yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark. But before Robinson can worry about securing the Heisman Trophy, he needs to focus on bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor. The Spartans have won two in a row over their bitter rivals, and despite the threat Robinson poses, the key the winning a third will be their offense, not their defense. The Spartans have a capable quarterback of their own in Kirk Cousins and a formidable tailback tandem with Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell. The Wolverines, who rank 103rd nationally in total defense, won't be able to stop any of them.
Mind the trap: In notching consecutive victories over top 10 conference foes Arkansas and Florida, Alabama answered every question that could conceivably be asked. Has Mark Ingram regained his Heisman form? Yep. Can a young 'Bama secondary hold its own? Seems so. Are the 2010 Tide as good as the 2009 Tide? Maybe better. (And so on and so on and so on.) But that doesn't mean it'll be smooth sailing the rest of the way. Sure, Alabama seemed to handle Florida with ease, but don't underestimate the emotion and energy that went into that performance. By extension, don't be surprised if the Tide come out flat on the road against a No. 19 South Carolina team coming off a bye. Do be surprised if a Gamecocks' D that surrendered 334 rushing yards in a loss to Auburn can slow down Ingram, who rushed for 246 yards when the teams met last season.
LSU and Florida ride the QB carousel: You're forgiven in advance if you mistake Saturday's LSU-Florida contest for an NFL exhibition game. Seeing five quarterbacks taking snaps will do that. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee will split time for LSU, while John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed will likely see action for Florida. Les Miles is using two quarterbacks because he has to; neither Jefferson nor Lee has proven fully capable of handling the starting role. Urban Meyer is playing multiple quarterbacks because he wants to; Brantley is the clear starter and will see a majority of the snaps, but Meyer has taken to using Burton in red zone situations and made it known this week that he's considering throwing a healthy Reed -- who has three receptions on the year but has yet to line up at QB -- into the mix as well. Both coaches hope the shakeups will spark their sluggish offenses, but it's even money that the carousel will impede each unit from finding a rhythm -- and an identity. Which begs a question: Think we'll see more quarterbacks, or points?
Guess who's back?: There's been a lot of talk lately about whether Miami and Florida State are "back," and with good reason. But keep this in mind: Even when the two were, er, gone, they staged some classics. The past nine meetings between the Hurricanes and Seminoles have been decided by an average of 4.1 points, and with the teams boasting two of the best quarterbacks and defenses in the ACC, this year's battle should be another goodie. And because both teams are ranked entering the game for the first time in four years, there'll be relevance in addition to excitement. That's not the only change, though. Jimbo Fisher makes his head coaching debut in the rivalry, and a win over Miami would help the first-year boss achieve what Bobby Bowden used to manage without even trying: regular sellouts.
Someone has to win, Volume I: After Georgia lost to Mississippi State in Week 4 to fall to 0-3 in the SEC, head coach Mark Richt cautioned his team that "it could get worse." The Dawgs promptly proved Richt right by losing to Colorado (yes, Colorado). To add grave insult to grievous injury, Georgia's all-time winningest coach, Vince Dooley, confessed he will be pulling for his son, first-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, when the Vols battle the Dawgs this weekend. (The elder Dooley will not, however, root against Georgia from within Sanford Stadium.) Of course, the rebuilding Vols have suffered their own heartache this season, most recently by losing to LSU because they had two too many men on the field. The difference is, Tennessee was supposed to struggle in a rebuilding year; Georgia was supposed to contend for the SEC East. As a result, what used to be a marquee conference battle has been reduced to a race to stop the bleeding -- and a quaint case of a son going up against his dad's old team.
Someone has to win, Volume II: Michigan and Michigan State aren't the only bitter in-state rivals waging war this weekend. But while the Big House battle will feature two undefeated teams, the 101st Rio Grande Rivalry will pit two squads that have yet to win a game. New Mexico is 0-5. New Mexico State is 0-4. The Lobos are averaging 12.2 points scored per game and 52.6 allowed. The Aggies are averaging 11.8 and 46. For those who don't like to extrapolate, consider: New Mexico has been outscored 263-61, New Mexico State 184-47. The Lobos rank 116th nationally in total defense, 118th in total offense. The Aggies rank 120th (dead last) and 116th. Yet despite the sheer horror of the numbers just presented, there's still plenty on the line in this one -- namely pride, Mike Locksley's job security and the dubious distinction of being the nation's worst team.
Can USC fix its leaky D?: Stanford just lost to Oregon by nearly 20 points. So it doesn't say much about USC that Jim Harbaugh's squad is a double-digit favorite this weekend. Or maybe it says plenty. The Trojans fell out of the AP poll after losing to Washington for the second consecutive year, but no one should have been surprised by Jake Locker's 420 total yards, or by the key missed tackles on the Chris Polk run that set up the Huskies' game-winning field goal. The Trojans have flailed defensively all season, and to pinpoint why, we've got to talk about practice (sorry, A.I.). Due to a lack of depth, USC has elected not to go live in practice in an effort to limit injuries. That means the Trojans aren't tackling until game day -- and then, not very well. Stanford ranks fourth nationally in scoring offense (44.6 per game), and last year's meeting taught us Harbaugh won't shy away from running up the score on USC. The Trojans might not be practicing their tackling, but hopefully Lane Kiffin is practicing asking, "What's your deal?"
Baylor bearing notice: Tommy Tuberville believes he'll be facing the nation's best quarterback when Texas Tech plays Baylor this weekend, and really, who are we to argue? A sampling of the praise Tubs heaped on Robert Griffin this week: "I can't imagine there's a better overall quarterback in the country." "He's so big and fast and quick." "He's got the height of Tebow and he's got the athletic ability of Vick." If Griffin is a hybrid of Tim Tebow and Michael Vick, maybe we should all start paying a little more attention to Baylor. Yes, Baylor got smoked by TCU, but the Bears have done some smoking of their own, too, beating Kansas 55-7 last week. Now comes a favorable stretch against Tech, Colorado and Kansas State, leaving open the possibility that Baylor could enter its Oct. 30 meeting with Texas sporting a better record than the Longhorns. (No word yet on whether Griffin's got any Colt McCoy in him.)
Oregon State looks to notch a top 10 win: Despite not playing this past weekend, Arizona moved up five spots to No. 9 in the AP poll. The jump came just in time for the Wildcats' meeting with Oregon State, which will be facing its third top 10 opponent in five games. (The Beavers lost to TCU and Boise State.) If recent history is any indication, the third time might be the charm for the Beavers, who have won nine of 11 against the Wildcats and four straight in Tucson. Then again, those victories were tallied before Arizona's transformation into a defensive juggernaut. The 'Cats rank second in the FBS in total defense (230.8 yards per game) and third in scoring defense (11 points per game) and have surrendered a grand total of three touchdowns on the year -- all to then No. 9 Iowa. That unit should continue to deliver against an offense that ranks 99th nationally with 306.8 yards per game.
The dandy (half) dozen: The following teams have a chance to exit the weekend with a shimmering 6-0 mark: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Nevada, Ohio State, Oregon, TCU and ... Northwestern. The Wildcats may be the unlikeliest name in the bunch, but with a Saturday date against Purdue, they're among those best positioned to reach the six-win mark. So why aren't more people counting Northwestern among the elite? Well, beating Vanderbilt and Minnesota by a combined three points might have something to do with it.
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