Saturday Storylines: Week 10
TCU and Utah are battling to stay alive in the BCS championship hunt
Alabama is back in the picture, but the Tide have a tough road ahead
Auburn should run all over Chattanooga -- unless distractions intervene
The 10 things we're buzzing about as the Big East continues to court Villanova:
A mountain of a game: Championship week has come early in the Mountain West, where TCU and Utah will stage a de facto title game on Saturday in Salt Lake City. And while the Horned Frogs would surely like to give the Pac-12-bound Utes a parting gift to remember, this one's about quite a bit more than league bragging rights. For the winner, a cozy spot among the BCS title-game contenders awaits; for the loser, the harsh reality that one-loss teams from non-AQ conferences don't even get to sniff the big games. Utah fans know this, which means The MUSS will be making quite a fuss when Gary Patterson's squad comes a calling. But Andy Dalton and TCU are used to playing in pressure situations and aren't likely to be flustered by a false start penalty or two. We're about to find out if the same is true for Dalton's counterpart, Jordan Wynn. The Utes rank third nationally with 45.3 points scored per game, but have yet to face a defense like TCU's, which leads the country in total defense (217.3 yards per) and scoring defense (8.7 points per) and will pursue Wynn relentlessly.
Bama's back: There's nothing easy about Alabama's remaining schedule, which features dates against ranked SEC foes LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn -- all of which will be coming off byes. (Thank the football gods for that Week 12 breather against Georgia State!) But if the Tide can win out, they'll likely enter the SEC title game with a national championship berth on the line. Things are already starting to go Alabama's way. Without even playing, the Tide moved up to No. 5 in the AP and No. 6 in the BCS thanks to losses from previously undefeated Michigan State and Missouri. Now, the Tide need things to go their way on the field. Patrick Peterson is one of the few cornerbacks in the country who can lock down a receiver like Julio Jones, but the threat of Alabama's passing attack should give Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson some room to run. Alabama only needs a couple of scores, because that's all LSU's paltry offense is capable of matching.
Pac-10 pecking order: It doesn't look like Oregon's going to stumble any time soon, but that doesn't mean Arizona and Stanford are going to stop trying to win the Pac-10. The Wildcats and Cardinal are tied for second in the league standings (7-1 overall, 4-1 Pac-10) heading into their Saturday meeting, but the 'Cats have a distinct advantage: They've yet to play the Ducks. If Arizona beats Stanford -- which lost to Oregon, 52-31, on Oct. 2 -- it could be playing for its first Rose Bowl berth when it heads to Autzen on Nov. 26. Of course, beating Stanford is no small task. The Cardinal are off to their best start in 40 years behind presumptive No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck and the nation's fifth-ranked scoring offense (42.4 points per game). The 'Cats get an offensive boost this weekend with the return of starter Nick Foles, but have been winning behind a defense that's allowing just 14.4 points per game. Here's the rub: Stanford's defense isn't exactly a slouch. In a 41-0 win over Washington last weekend, the Huskies never advanced beyond the Cardinal 42-yard line.
Clouds gather over Jordan-Hare: Auburn coach Gene Chizik has made it abundantly clear that Cam Newton is eligible to play and will be on the field Saturday. Luckily for the Tigers, Georgia and Alabama are still a couple of weeks away, and Chattanooga is the opponent as controversy swirls around Auburn and its star quarterback. The Auburn and Newton camps have proclaimed their innocence after news broke Thursday that a man claiming to represent Newton sought $200,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for Newton's commitment, but this has been the biggest story in sports since and is sure to be a distraction for the Tigers. Auburn should beat the 5-3 Mocs just by showing up, but at this point in the season style points matter -- for Heisman voters, poll voters and computers.
JoePa goes for 400: Joe Paterno is good at a lot of things, most notably winning football games. But the Penn State legend is also rather adept at understatements. When the topic of his impending 400th win came up during this week's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, Paterno had this to say: "I've been in so many football games and I've been fortunate enough to win a sizeable number." Yes, 399 is certainly a sizeable number. To reach the milestone this weekend, Paterno's Nittany Lions will have to beat the visiting Northwestern Wildcats, who are 6-2 behind quarterback Dan Persa. Right now, Paterno is more concerned with figuring out whether Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin will start at quarterback, but just because JoePa's not making a big deal out of No. 400 doesn't mean we shouldn't. And bonus: Penn State would become bowl eligible with a win Saturday.
A different sort of bedlam: We all knew Baylor and Oklahoma State would duke it out this season; we just thought it would be to avoid finishing last in the division. So it's still a little hard to digest the fact that after Saturday's meeting, one of these two teams will control its own destiny in the Big 12 South. It would have been a lot better for Baylor if this game had taken place last week, when game-breaking Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon was serving a single-game suspension for a DUI charge. The Cowboys are averaging 45.3 points per game, but managed just 24 against K-State with Blackmon out. The Bears know how to post points too (34.3 points, 490.4 yards per game), but they rank 78th nationally in total defense. And while quarterback Robert Griffin has been electric, but he can't help slow Blackmon. Not that Blackmon is the only threat, of course. Running back Kendall Hunter has already rushed for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Eastern promises: Florida has won 19 straight over Vanderbilt, so it would seem there's little reason to discuss Saturday's meeting. But the thing is, it's time to start paying attention to Florida again. The Gators are alive in the SEC East after ending their three-game losing streak with an overtime win over Georgia and seem to have found an offensive spark. Fresh off a bye, the Gators debuted a no-huddle approach and delivered a season-high 450 yards of offense behind a trio of quarterbacks and a huge day from reinstated speedster Chris Rainey (241 all-purpose yards). They need to perfect that new attack against the Commodores, because they're in line for a winner-takes-all showdown with current division leader South Carolina a week later. The Gamecocks face a far stiffer Week 10 test against Arkansas, which was defanged a bit by the loss of top receiver Greg Childs, but still packs plenty of bite. South Carolina can afford a loss as far as the numbers go, but maybe not as far as the team's psyche goes: Steve Spurrier's squad has suffered three straight end-of-season meltdowns and can't risk opening the floodgates with a loss.
Bucking Broncos: There was a lot of talk early on about how Boise State wouldn't face a single stiff test after playing Virginia Tech and Oregon State in the season's opening stretch. Then Nevada made its way into the polls, and the talk shifted: Boise would get one more chance to prove itself against a legit foe, but just one more. Au contraire. Hawaii brings a 7-2 record to Boise this weekend and is the first team out of the AP and coaches' polls. The Warriors lead the nation in passing, have forced 21 turnovers during their six-game win streak and were the last team to beat Boise during the regular season, notching a 39-27 win in 2007. Now, for the flip side: Kellen Moore has thrown eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in two wins over Hawaii, and the Broncos have won the last four meetings on the mainland by an average of 30 points. Boise also ranks third nationally in scoring and total defense and should be able to key in on Warriors quarterback Bryant Moniz, who leads the nation with 25 touchdown passes but gets little help from the Hawaii run game. It's not an epic résumé-builder, but it's something.
Randy Shannon needs some coolant: Right now, things are not so great for Randy Shannon. A Miami team that was supposed to contend for the ACC title is 5-3 overall and 3-2 in conference play. Former Hurricane Melvin Bratton has declared that Shannon's program is in "a state of emergency" -- and that was before last week's 24-19 loss to Virginia, arguably the worst defeat of Shannon's Miami tenure. In addition to losing that game, Shannon also lost starting quarterback Jacory Harris, who will miss Saturday's must-win contest against Maryland while recovering from a concussion. Normally, Shannon would be able to shift the load to Damien Berry, but the 'Canes will also be without their leading rusher against the Terps, who boast the ACC's best run defense (1.9 yards per carry). Miami's still got a breath of life in the ACC, but Shannon's running out of wiggle room, and time. No pressure for Harris' replacement, true freshman and former fourth-stringer Stephen Morris.
A dubious distinction: Colorado-Kansas is one of the most meaningless games on the Week 10 slate, but there's something perversely fascinating about this contest. Colorado got off to a surprising 3-1 start that included wins over Hawaii and Georgia, but has lost four straight in Big 12 play. Kansas has been ever worse, notching a fluke win over Georgia Tech and beating one of the worst teams in football in New Mexico State, but losing its six other contests, including the opener against North Dakota State. How bad are the Jayhawks? They're more than a touchdown underdog Saturday. Against Colorado. At home. Yes, Turner Gill's squad might be just the ticket for Dan Hawkins' Buffs, who have not won a road game since 2007. No need to check the ledger: That's a 15-game road skid. Football has not been kind to Hawkins outside of Boulder. Which is just one of the many reasons Colorado should not bring him to the Pac-12.
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