What to watch, Week 7: South Carolina can stamp itself as a BCS title contender

Frank Schwab
October 12, 2012

Everyone expected South Carolina vs. LSU to be a tight contest featuring a legitimate national championship contender, but surprisingly, the Gamecocks are that elite team.

LSU obviously isn't bad, but it hasn't been great either. There were some concerns going into last week's game at Florida after some flat performances, and then the Tigers' deficiencies finally led to a loss. The offense couldn't move the ball. LSU had just eight first downs, and three of those came via penalty. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was under constant pressure and the running game couldn't do much either. But the LSU defense is still elite — it did shut out Florida in the first half and is third in the nation in yards allowed. That group will keep the Tigers in every game it plays.

Meanwhile, this South Carolina team looks like it has the chops to play for a national title.

[Video: South Carolina's tough stretch continues]

That won't be easy considering the No. 3 Gamecocks play at No. 9 LSU on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, then play at Florida next Saturday and still have potentially tough games against Tennessee and at Clemson on the schedule. And don't forget about probably having to beat Alabama in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game.

But the pieces are in place. Connor Shaw is completing 75.7 percent of his passes and is also South Carolina's second-leading rusher. Marcus Lattimore is a game-changing running back, and the defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in any game this season. The defensive line, led by end Jadeveon Clowney, is one of the best units in college football.

Before all that national championship talk hits full gear, South Carolina has to get past LSU. And with a win, the Tigers can resurrect their own BCS Championship Game hopes.

Here's the rest of what to watch in Week 7:

• By this point, the "is Notre Dame for real?" question should be answered. The Irish are for real, ranked No. 7 in the country at 5-0, coming off a 41-3 demolition of Miami. That doesn't mean the Irish aren't vulnerable to a loss or two the rest of the way.

This week won't be easy, as No. 17 Stanford comes to Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET). The Cardinal have physically handled Notre Dame the past two meetings, but this year's team has been tough to gauge. Stanford barely beat San Jose State, but then upset USC. Then the Cardinal lost at Washington, and gave up 48 points to Arizona but rallied for the win. While we pretty much know what to expect out of Notre Dame by now, Stanford is the wild card in this game.

• Did you know Texas and Oklahoma are playing this week (noon ET)? Considering Texas is ranked 15th and Oklahoma 13th, there has been very little buzz about the Red River Rivalry, but this should be one of the most interesting games on the Saturday schedule.

Both teams have had disappointing home losses - Texas was beat by the Geno Smith Express and West Virginia last week, and Oklahoma got Optimus Klein'd by Kansas State on Sept. 22. The unit with the most to prove in this game is Texas' defense (remember, only "outsiders" thought it would be good, Mack Brown is trying to convince us), which ranks 74th in the nation in yards allowed. Landry Jones could have a big day.

• BYU's defense has been amazing so far this season. The Cougars are fifth in the nation in yards allowed and third in points allowed. They have allowed 7, 0 and 3 points their last three games. This isn't exactly Ty Detmer and Co. lighting up the scoreboard, but BYU is 4-2 with the approach.

This week BYU gets Oregon State (3:30 p.m. ET), which will be without quarterback Sean Mannion, who is out with a knee injury. Cody Vaz has the support of Beaver students, but he has thrown just 17 college passes, all coming as a freshman in 2010. This is a very tough assignment for a first career start.

• Louisville is undefeated at 5-0, still looking for more respect from the polls, which have the Cardinals ranked 18th. While their game at 2-3 Pittsburgh (11 a.m. ET) looks like a mismatch, especially because Pitt is coming off a loss to Syracuse, this is a game that has given Louisville problems under Charlie Strong. Pitt has won four in a row in the series, including a 20-3 victory in 2010 and a 21-14 triumph last year, Strong's first two seasons on the job. Strong is well aware of the history, as he explained to CardinalSports.com:

"We've got to know what we're up against," Strong said. "We have to make sure that we go in as a football team and we have to be prepared to go play that game. And we haven't been as locked in with that game."

• Northwestern and Minnesota play an interesting Big Ten game (noon ET) between a pair of one-loss teams. Neither is ranked (Northwestern dropped out after losing to Penn State), but both are hoping to stay in the conference race with a win. While the Wildcats have some solid wins on their résumé, Minnesota's biggest win was at home against Syracuse, a team that Northwestern beat too, and its toughest test ended in a 31-13 loss to Iowa. The 4-1 Gophers could use a win against Northwestern to be taken seriously.

• Kansas State has risen to No. 6 in the nation, a remarkable start that further cements Bill Snyder's legacy. This won't be an easy game, however, even though Iowa State (noon ET) isn't ranked. Yet, anyway.

The Cyclones are 4-1 and last week beat TCU, even though that was against a Horned Frogs team without suspended quarterback Casey Pachall. Still, Iowa State put up 37 points and looked pretty impressive. And hey, if Iowa State wins hopefully we can get a repeat of this classic Paul Rhoads postgame speech:

• Boise State was picked to win the Mountain West despite losing a ton of talent that included quarterback Kellen Moore, as well as first-round picks Shea McClellin and Doug Martin. That respect for Boise State is well deserved, because it earned a reputation as a program that keeps on winning no matter its personnel losses.

Boise State's biggest challenge to the Mountain West throne might come this week against Fresno State (3:30 p.m. ET). The Bulldogs, under new coach Tim DeRuyter, are 4-2 with a loss at Oregon and a one-point loss at Tulsa. They've also put up 69 points against Colorado and 52 against San Diego State. Their new spread attack fits quarterback Derek Carr perfectly. He has 1,816 yards and 18 touchdowns in just six games. If Boise State wins this week and goes on to win the Mountain West crown (which probably also requires surviving a Dec. 1 matchup at Nevada, the other legitimate contender in the MWC), the Broncos will have earned it.

• No. 1 Alabama's physical defense usually pounds opposing quarterbacks, but this year opposing quarterbacks have gotten injured before they even face the Crimson Tide. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson missed a game against Alabama this year, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace played through a shoulder injury he suffered before taking on the Crimson Tide, and now Missouri will face Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET) without quarterback James Franklin, who has a knee injury.

[Forde-Yard Dash: Funny numbers with first BCS poll on its way]

Things could get ugly this week for Missouri, which is already 0-3 in conference play during its first SEC season. The Tigers shouldn't worry about the conference losing streak lasting all season, however. They get Kentucky next week.

• Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech square off (9 p.m. ET) in one of the most interesting nonconference games of the week. Texas A&M is 4-1 and ranked 22nd, with exciting quarterback Johnny Manziel becoming an instant star in the SEC. It has been a very promising start for Kevin Sumlin, who the Aggies hired in the offseason.

Manziel will need to get every point possible, because this game (which was postponed in Week 1 because of Hurricane Isaac) will be a shootout. Louisiana Tech, which is 5-0 and ranked 23rd, has scored 50 points in four of its five games and 44 points in the other game, and simply wants to outscore its opponent. It has to, because the defense has allowed 31 points in four of five games. Louisiana Tech has already beat Illinois and Virginia, and while neither of those teams are in Texas A&M's class, Sumlin knows his team is in for a (presumably high-scoring) battle:

"They are not going to be intimidated by us one bit and they shouldn't be ... they've played in big football games and this is a chance for them to make a statement on national TV so we are going to get their best shot," Sumlin said, according to the Associated Press.

• New Mexico at Hawaii (11:59 p.m. ET) isn't the most interesting game on the schedule, but it will be the last one of the day, allowing night owls to see the miracle Bob Davie has performed.

The Lobos won three games combined in the past three seasons. Mike Locksley was fired four games into last season, and in the offseason Davie was hired. During spring practice Davie was surprised at how depleted the roster was, and sounded like he was preparing Lobos fans for more painful years. Instead, New Mexico is 3-3, giving Davie more wins as Lobos coach than Locksley had in two-plus seasons, and has a chance to get above .500 against a struggling 1-4 Hawaii team. Notre Dame fans may dismiss him, but the job Davie has done to make the Lobos competitive right away is remarkable.

• USC has to be regretting its slip up at Stanford, because the Trojans have looked like the national title contender they were expected to be in all their other games. Every Trojans win has been by double digits. This week USC plays at Washington (7 p.m. ET), which took a step forward with a win against Stanford two weeks ago, then got beat 52-21 at Oregon last week. Washington's defense has played well at times this season, and will need to sharp to slow down Matt Barkley and the Trojans' great receiving corps.

[Related: Blair Holliday inspires suddenly relevant Duke football team]

• With a win at Virginia Tech (12:30 p.m. ET), Duke might start to get widespread recognition as one of the feel-good stories in college football this year. The Blue Devils are 5-1 and look poised to end a bowl drought that has lasted since 1994. They've rallied around receiver Blair Holliday, who suffered a horrible head injury in a jet ski accident this offseason, as Eric Adelson of Yahoo! chronicled this week. Duke can become bowl eligible Saturday, 2 1/2 weeks before Halloween. Not even the most optimistic Duke fan envisioned that.

Duke hasn't blown away opponents (the Blue Devils are ranked 54th nationally in total offense, 50th in total defense), and getting that key sixth win might not be easy. As the Associated Press pointed out, Duke has a 1-39 record against its six remaining opponents since the ACC expanded in 2004. That includes an 0-8 mark against Virginia Tech. The Hokies haven't been impressive this season, with a 3-3 mark so far, and maybe Duke can break that string. Duke coach David Cutcliffe is trying to keep his team focused on the task at hand, but also wants it to enjoy the great start:

''I told my wife, 'I don't want to spoil a good party,''' Cutcliffe said, according to the AP. ''That's not the only reason you're playing the game, but that's just human nature. How are you going to fool them?

''They're starving. Why wouldn't they feel that way? To ruin their party? I'm not going to do that. But I don't want to hear a bunch about it in the locker room before the ball game. Better start thinking about what you've got to do to win a game, period.''

• Will Texas Tech be able to slow down quarterback Geno Smith and West Virginia's great offense (3:30 p.m. ET)? If there has been any criticism of the clear Heisman frontrunner, it's that most of the defenses he has faced have been mediocre at best. That won't be the case this week.

Texas Tech is ranked second in the nation in yards allowed, and while that ranking was built against some bad competition (and exposed as inflated when the Red Raiders gave up 41 points to Oklahoma) it's not a bad defense. Not that Smith needs to prove anything after his 24 touchdown-zero interception start to the season, but this will be a fun test for the top player in college football.

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