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What to watch, Week 9: Notre Dame looking to prove itself yet again

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(US Presswire)

Notre Dame is 7-0 against a schedule that includes five BCS conference opponents, three that were ranked at the time. The two "other" games came against Navy, which is 4-3, and against a strong BYU team last week. The schedule has been tough and Notre Dame has passed every test. Every game seems to be close, but the Fighting Irish have won them all.

Yet, the Irish are just fifth in the national polls and BCS standings, and the national title talk has mostly focused on the four teams ahead of them. If Notre Dame is being discussed as a legitimate contender for the BCS Championship Game, we've missed most of that chatter.

Part of the reason is that Notre Dame's schedule doesn't let up, and includes a trip to No. 8 Oklahoma on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.

[Pat Forde: Notre Dame faces breakthrough game against Oklahoma]

The Irish have surely noticed, or been told, they are about 11.5-point underdogs for this game. That is rare for any team ranked fifth in the nation. The spread has gotten larger through the week, another indication that people aren't yet ready to buy in on Notre Dame.

Notre Dame's defense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te'o, has allowed just five offensive touchdowns this season, which is best in the nation. If the Irish can keep that pace it will be an impressive feat, because the Sooners are rolling on offense.

Oklahoma has scored 156 points in its last three games behind hot quarterback Landry Jones. The Sooners are 79-4 at home under Bob Stoops. Oklahoma fell off the national radar a bit with a home loss to Kansas State, but that loss doesn't look bad at all now.

If Notre Dame can go to Oklahoma and win this one, there shouldn't be any more questions about the Irish's viability as a national title contender. And if they win, in all likelihood they would go into a game at USC on Nov. 24 with an 11-0 record. That would be interesting.

Here's the rest of what to watch in Week 8:

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(Saturday Down South)

• Florida can clinch the SEC East Division title and grab a spot in the conference's championship game with a win against Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET). Apparently Gators fans are feeling pretty good about their chances of getting that win.

According to Saturday Down South, Florida's fans took out an advertisement in the Georgia student paper, predicting a three-touchdown win.

"Give it up! Your bite is now weaker than your bark!" the advertisement says. "Try again when your team learns how to block and tackle."

The advertisement points out Georgia's various shortcomings, and it's such an agitating message we wonder if there isn't some subterfuge going on here. Maybe a full-page ad that looks like it came from Florida to get the players even more amped up for a rivalry game? Really, what student paper sells a full-page ad to another team's fans allowing them to rip their team mercilessly like this? Either it's a devious motivational tool or a pretty nice troll by Gators fans.

[Related: Will Muschamp jack-o'-lantern is creepy]

As for the game, the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" held in its usual Jacksonville location, Florida has been thriving off turnovers and defense. Last week the Gators did have just 191 yards despite the 44 points on the scoreboard against South Carolina. If Georgia's talented defense decides to show up and the Bulldogs take care of the ball, this game could be pretty good.

• Texas Tech travels to Kansas State (3:30 p.m. ET) in a battle of two surprising teams.

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(US Presswire)

The Red Raiders are ranked 14th and the Wildcats are No. 3. Before the season, Kansas State was 22nd in the preseason AP poll and Texas Tech wasn't ranked at all.

The focus will be on Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner after he was responsible for seven touchdowns against West Virginia last week. But the Heisman race can change quickly (right, Geno Smith?) and Texas Tech has a strong defense that can give Klein and the Wildcats some trouble.

If Kansas State wins it still has plenty of challenges if it wants to stay undefeated and remain in the BCS title hunt. After a tough test against Texas Tech, the Wildcats' final four games are against Oklahoma State, at TCU and Baylor, and against Texas.

[Heisman Watch: K-State's Collin Klein steps into spotlight]

• Kent State and Rutgers play in an oddly timed nonconference game (3:30 p.m. ET) that should be interesting. Kent State is 6-1 and bowl eligible (the Golden Flashes haven't been to a bowl since 1972) and riding some momentum into a game against the No. 18 team in the nation. Rutgers proved a lot last week by rallying to overcome a poor start and beat Temple. The Scarlet Knights have back-to-back nonconference games against Kent State and Army before finishing with a Big East gauntlet of road games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and the finale at home against Louisville. Kent State can gain a measure of respect with a win against a top 20 team -- and that's not a small thing for a team that hasn't been to a bowl in 40 years.

• Michigan State and Wisconsin played two classic games last year -- a Hail Mary win for the Spartans in the regular season, and a high-scoring payback by the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game. While the start of the season was dubious for both teams, one of them seems to be regaining last year's form heading into this week's game (3:30 p.m. ET).

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Wisconsin RB Montee Ball (US Presswire)

Wisconsin's offense suddenly showed up during a three-game winning streak, scoring 31, 38 and 38 points. The Badgers are 3-1, and the other Leaders Division are either ineligible for the Big Ten title game (Ohio State and Penn State) or winless in conference play (Purdue, Indiana and Illinois). So we'll see them in Indianapolis. And Montee Ball has stormed back too after a slow start, and that could be because he's back to the name that brought him his 2011 success. As he explained to Fox Sports Wisconsin, he's not Mon-TAY anymore, as he wanted to be called at the beginning of the season:

"The coaches have been calling me Mon-TEE now," Ball said. "They said, 'Mon-TAY is done with. We don't want to see him anymore and it's back to Mon-TEE.' I'm just going with it now."

Meanwhile, Michigan State might want a identity change after a brutal stretch in which it lost three of four games. The Spartans had a one-point loss to Ohio State, a three-point overtime loss to Iowa and a last-second two-point loss to Michigan last week. That shows the Spartans are right there in every game, but their psyche has to be an issue after that streak.

• Ole Miss and Arkansas play this week (12:21 p.m. ET), and while the game isn't that thrilling, it did produce this interesting picture on Twitter from @PJDeen with Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork tagged on it and the hashtag #beatarkansas:

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(@pjdeen)

• No animals were killed (we think) in the buildup to USC at Arizona (3:30 p.m. ET). The Trojans, despite feeling the need to change jerseys to run trick plays against a 40-point underdog last week, continue to play good ball. Quarterback Matt Barkley is creeping back into the Heisman conversation and doing a lot for his draft stock as well. You'll have to excuse us if we are hoping the Trojans survive this game -- because we don't want any luster taken off the Oregon-USC treat next week.

• We'll go out on a limb and say Oregon will go into next week's game at USC undefeated. The Ducks play Colorado (3 p.m. ET) in what could be an incredible blowout. Oregon hasn't scored fewer than 42 points in a game this season. Colorado is allowing 42.6 points per game, the second worst in FBS (good job, good effort to Baylor, which ranks last). The Buffaloes might be saved historical embarrassment by the fact that Oregon has fallen into a habit this season of building a huge lead and letting up in the second half.

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Mississippi State RB LaDarius Perkins (US Presswire)

• The other marquee Week 10 matchup we're hoping to preserve is the Alabama-LSU clash. The Tigers have the week off, so we know they'll go into that game with just one loss. Alabama should be undefeated going into that game, but Mississippi State will provide a challenge (8:30 p.m. ET) to the top team in the nation. The Bulldogs are 7-0 and ranked No. 11 in the nation, and beating the mighty Crimson Tide on the road would be a program-changing win. This is being touted as the biggest game of the Dan Mullen era for Mississippi State:

"When we came here we certainly wanted to be in this position," Mullen said, according to BulldogBlitz.com. "We've had some good years but we haven't had the opportunity to play a game in the last weekend in October where the winner of this game is in first place in the SEC West. We haven't been in that position before and that's something I wanted to build. We wanted the opportunity to compete for SEC West championships and here we are in our fourth year in this position."

• There's a nice matchup on Friday night, as Louisville hosts Cincinnati (8 p.m. ET,

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Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater (US Presswire)

Friday). The Bearcats are coming off a loss to Toledo, but that didn't affect the Big East race. This is the biggest game of the season in the conference race, as the winner will join Rutgers as the only undefeated teams in Big East play.

The game will feature two of college football's most exciting quarterbacks. Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux is 27th in the nation in total offense at 283.2 yards per game. He's a versatile player who has thrown the ball very well and can also create plays with his feet. And he has a great name. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater has a pretty cool name too, and he is responsible for 253.7 yards of offense per game, which is 46th best in the nation, because he is throwing the ball very well. He's completing 73.4 percent of his passes, and Cincinnati will have a challenge slowing him down.

• Just what Tennessee needed -- an angry South Carolina team. The Gamecocks have lost two in a row, albeit to the top two teams in the BCS standings on the road, and have had their championship dreams ruined. So now they get to take out their frustrations on Tennessee (12 p.m. ET), which limps into the game with an 0-4 SEC record.

Derek Dooley is already feeling some heat, and taking a beating in South Carolina wouldn't help. The first thing Tennessee needs to do is take better care of the ball, and Dooley put quarterback Tyler Bray on notice that he would bench him if he keeps turning the ball over.

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Oregon State QB Sean Mannion (US Presswire)

• Oregon State travels to Washington for an interesting Pac-12 game (10:15 p.m. ET). Washington is 3-4, but is at home and has beaten Stanford already. So the Huskies are capable of an upset. Sean Mannion is back at quarterback for the seventh-ranked Beavers (take a bow for your excellent fill-in work, Cody Vaz). Beavers coach Mike Riley told The Oregonian that it was a difficult decision to name Mannion the starter this week, considering Mannion is only a couple weeks removed from knee surgery and Vaz played so well.

"It was a tough conversation because I have so much respect for him and, obviously, what he's done,'' Riley said. "He wants to play.

"He made the plays that were there, and that's so important. And I thought he did it in a very cool, calm and collected way for a guy that hadn't played.''

• Florida State will be without running back Chris Thompson for this week's game against Duke (3:30 p.m. ET), and for the rest of the season. He suffered a torn ACL at South Florida last week. That's a big blow for the Seminoles, and sad news for Thompson, but they do have the depth to replace him.

Duke is bowl eligible, 6-2 and trying to legitimize its start to the season by playing well against Florida State. The Blue Devils have had some controversy this week, that started when North Carolina's Shakeel Rashad was suspended by the ACC for a dirty hit on Duke receiver Conner Vernon. North Carolina fans emailed us often this week to point out a cheap shot from a Duke player in apparent retaliation, and yeah Tar Heel fans, this looks really bad too:

The Duke player is center Brian Moore, and he hits defensive lineman Tim Jackson low a couple plays after Vernon was hit, well away from the play. Jackson will miss two or three weeks with an injury suffered on the play, according to the Greensboro News & Record. Moore was not disciplined by the league. That may have been a mistake by the ACC.

• The Big Ten schedule is filled with matchups that look good on paper yet have little juice because the conference is so down. With that, we present Michigan vs. Nebraska (8 p.m. ET).

This game will probably determine who represents the Big Ten from the Legends Division in the title game. Michigan is 3-0 in the conference and Nebraska is 2-1. Iowa, at 2-1, is the only other team in the division with a winning record, and after the Hawkeyes were pounded at home by Penn State last week, they have a long way to go before they can be taken seriously as a contender.

Nebraska and Michigan are coming off dramatic comeback wins, and perhaps another win on Saturday will propel one of these teams to finish strong.

[Eric Adelson: QB Matt McGloin helps Penn State put focus back on field]

• Ohio State and Penn State might be the two best teams in the Big Ten, but neither will

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Penn State TE Kyle Carter (US Presswire)

play for the conference championship. Welcome to the "Sanction Bowl" (5:30 p.m. ET), with both teams trying to create a great season without any hope of a postseason.

To this point both seasons have been memorable. Ohio State is 8-0, and coming off a dramatic overtime win against Purdue led by backup quarterback Kenny Guiton. Starter Braxton Miller should be back, and the Buckeyes will need him. Penn State is 5-2, and 3-0 in the conference. That's amazing considering the obstacles the Nittany Lions faced during an incredibly tough offseason. And Penn State apparently doesn't like being lumped in with Ohio State as two Big Ten schools that were hit with NCAA penalties:

"We're kind of in the same boat, but their boat is a little bit different than ours," Penn State outside linebacker Mike Mauti said, according to Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia. "We didn't do anything to get our sanctions. Ours are unrelated (to football). At the same time, we both can't go to a bowl game. Other than that, we didn't do anything to help our football team. … We didn't do anything to help our program cheat. I'm not saying they're cheaters. We have a lot of respect for Ohio State."

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