The most interesting team in college football has had a rash of injuries that hasn't gotten a ton of attention.
Oregon's defense has suffered so many injuries that running back De'Anthony Thomas and backup quarterback Bryan Bennett were reportedly being considered for duty in the secondary this week. Last week, tight end Koa Ka'ai had to play on the defensive line because the Ducks' top five defensive linemen were out. Ka'ai was joined by as many as three true freshmen on the defensive line.
The critical injury situation comes at a time that Oregon's schedule is getting pretty tough, including Saturday's 8 p.m. ET kickoff against Stanford.
The good news for Oregon is that The Oregonian reported some of those injured defensive linemen and defensive backs could return this week. The other good news is that none of those issues have mattered yet.
Perhaps the reason Oregon's injury situation hasn't gotten much attention nationally (along with the Ducks playing on the West Coast and the college football world being mostly obsessed with the SEC) is that the Ducks dealt with those injuries last week and beat Cal 59-17. In the final 21:37, Oregon outscored Cal 35-0. For a while, the Ducks appeared to be in legitimate trouble at Cal. And they still won by 42.
Stanford will be a tougher test, but until people see proof that the Ducks can't simply outscore anyone they play, their injury situation on defense won't be taken too seriously, even if it's a big storyline with just a few weeks left in the BCS Championship Game chase.
Here's the rest of what to watch in Week 12:
A win would be an excellent way for UCLA coach Jim Mora to put a huge stamp on his first, mostly successful, season at UCLA. USC has won 12 of the last 13 games in the series and won last year's game 50-0. The Bruins could make a statement in the rivalry and clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a win. UCLA has won four in a row since a weird blowout loss to a bad Cal team.
But USC has plenty of motivation too. This season that started with national championship hopes has been pretty disappointing, with three losses, but the Trojans can also get an important win against a resurgent cross-town rival and win a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a win. It has been a while since this game meant so much to both teams.
• The SEC won't be in the spotlight this week, because five of its best teams play nonconference games against bad competition. Alabama hosts Western Carolina (12:21 p.m. ET), South Carolina hosts Wofford (1 p.m. ET), Florida hosts Jacksonville State (1 p.m. ET), Georgia hosts Georgia Southern (1:30 p.m. ET) and Texas A&M hosts Sam Houston State (3:30 p.m. ET).
The main story of all those awful games -- assuming none of the SEC teams get upset, which would send some shockwaves through the college football world -- is Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's quest to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Sam Houston State is ranked No. 3 in FCS and does have a good defense, giving up just 17 points in its last three games. The Bearkats did give up 48 points to Baylor earlier this season, but it still should be a little tougher test for Manziel than it appears on the surface.
• LSU and Mississippi play in one of the few interesting SEC games this week (3:30 p.m. ET). Ole Miss is trying to get bowl eligible with its sixth win, and while it will have another chance at it next week against Mississippi State, getting that win in an upset against LSU would be a heck of a way to become eligible.
''It's something you wish wasn't talked about as much,'' Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said of getting six wins, according to AP. ''It would be nice to have that out of the way, but we don't. There's still a lot to play for. You want it so badly for the fans, but also for the few seniors that we do have. You want the young ones to experience what that is like because we need the extra practices.
''We need that badly, to start building our program.''
Ole Miss is going up against a LSU team that appears to be peaking because of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger continued the momentum from his great second half two weeks ago against Alabama with 273 yards against Mississippi State last week. LSU has a great defense and a competent rushing attack, and the Tigers don't have many weaknesses if Mettenberger can keep throwing the ball this well.
• Wisconsin and Ohio State (3:30 p.m. ET) play in the first meeting between Urban Meyer and Bret Bielema. The two feuded a bit during the recruiting season, but obviously aren't interested in keeping that fire burning. Both went out of their way to play down any personal rivalry this week.
"I think on Saturdays, you just kind of play, shake hands afterwards, and move on," Bielema said, according to AP. "Recruiting, you wear that on your sleeve. That's something that's the lifeline of your program, and a lot of times that's where feelings get very emotional."
The AP said Meyer was asked if he's on the same page as Bielema.
"Same page? I have a lot of respect for his team," Meyer said. "Other than that, we're fine. That was kind of a lot of stuff that was blown up. I've never had any issue other than they're a good team."
That takes some of the fun out of this game. Wisconsin is already locked into the Big Ten Championship Game, but it can make an argument it isn't simply backing into that spot by beating Ohio State. Also, Montee Ball's next touchdown ties Travis Prentice's FBS record for total touchdowns. For the Buckeyes, they only have two games remaining and can finish the season undefeated with wins against Wisconsin and Michigan.
• This week, David Morrison of the Greensboro News & Record made an observation that shows how crazy the ACC's Coastal Division is.
"Duke wins out, wins the Coastal," Morrison tweeted. "Duke loses out, Virginia wins out, UNC beats Maryland, Virginia Tech beats Boston College, Duke is last."
Virginia lost on Thursday to North Carolina to throw off that specific scenario, but that doesn't change how up in the air things are for Duke as it gets ready to play at Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m. ET). Duke already is a big surprise this season just by being bowl eligible. Try to find anyone that figured the Blue Devils would still be alive for a conference championship in mid-November.
Georgia Tech is also a surprise. The Yellow Jackets started 2-4 but have won three of their last four games, including a 68-50 win against North Carolina last week, and like Duke, they are also alive to win the crazy Coastal. They'll need a victory Saturday and some help.
• Rutgers might not be full strength for an important Big East game at Cincinnati this week (12 p.m. ET). Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said running back Jawan Jamison had a 75 percent chance to play with a sprained right ankle. Jamison has been Rutgers' workhorse offensive player, with a team-best 953 yards. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones told Cincinnati.com that he figures Jamison will play.
"We fully anticipate him playing," Jones said. "He's a competitor. "Just like us, they're in the hunt for a Big East title. We fully anticipate him playing. Huggins was a top recruit coming out of high school. He's a very, very good, very good running back as well. Whoever is back there, their offense isn't going to change."
Rutgers is all alone atop the Big East at 4-0, but Louisville and Cincinnati each have just one conference loss right behind the Scarlet Knights.
• Wake Forest could make a name for itself this weekend at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET). The Irish are trying to stay undefeated and keep its hopes of a national championship alive. Wake Forest is just 5-5, but looking for an enormous upset in its first visit to Notre Dame Stadium.
"We certainly hope our guys don't go there for sightseeing," coach Jim Grobe said, according to AP. "That's going to be a key. I think we just have to go play. I'm going to try not to make too big of a deal out of it."
This is Notre Dame's last home game, which means the last home game for linebacker Manti Te'o, who is the most popular Irish player in some years. He has been a great ambassador for Notre Dame, and he talked about Senior Day in a great profile by the Notre Dame student newspaper The Observer.
"I don't know what it will feel like, honestly," he said. "I know it's going to be emotional … so I'm trying not to be too distracted."
• The MAC has had good races for both division championships, and the East will likely be decided on the field Saturday. Kent State, which is 9-1 overall and 6-0 in conference, goes against Bowling Green (12 p.m. ET), which is 7-3 and 5-1 in conference games. Kent State could still get into the MAC Championship Game with a loss on Saturday, if it wins its finale and Bowling Green loses to 3-7 Buffalo, but the Golden Flashes probably can't depend on that.
Kent State is in the middle of a storybook season, in which it is ranked for the first time since 1973 and on its way to a bowl for the first time in 40 years. Bowling Green is playing very well too. Since a 37-0 loss at Virginia Tech on Sept. 22, the Falcons have won six in a row, and the closest game in that streak was a 12-point win at 8-3 Ohio last week. The winner of the East will play Northern Illinois, which won the West with a 31-24 victory over Toledo on Wednesday.
• Vanderbilt can officially end Tennessee's hopes at making a bowl this season, and wouldn't that be sweet for the Commodores. Last year, after a win over Vanderbilt, a video that found its way onto the Internet showed Tennessee coach Derek Dooley saying, "The one thing Tennessee always does is kick the [expletive] out of Vanderbilt," as the Nashville City Paper, among others, repeated this week.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, on the Monday after that game, was heated about that statement.
"We'll talk about it next year — a lot," he said, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We'll talk about it as much as you guys want to talk about it next year. We'll watch it as many times as we've got to watch it next year. That's a wound that I'm going to leave open that's not going to heal."
This week Franklin smiled and said in his weekly press conference, "I have matured dramatically since that game," and Dooley downplayed the comment too. There's a good chance the Vanderbilt players have been reminded about that comment dozens of times every day this week, and a chance to end their in-state rival's postseason hopes -- and possibly Dooley's tenure at UT -- just adds to their motivation.
• The top team in the BCS standings has just two games left to punch its ticket to the title game in Miami. Kansas State plays its final road game at Baylor (8 p.m. ET). The Wildcats can clinch a Big 12 title with a win, and there has been no reason to believe Kansas State will falter now.
Even though Baylor is just 1-5 in Big 12 play, and Kansas State's national profile continues to increase with a Sports Illustrated cover for quarterback Collin Klein, the Wildcats are keeping focus.
''[Focus] is a pretty fragile thing. If you don't take care of business, any team in our conference and any team is capable of beating you. We understand that,'' Klein said, according to AP. ''It's about having that mindset to be the best you can possibly be. We've been able to learn a lot of lessons while still winning. And that's a great thing to be able to do. We all believe we haven't played our best game yet, and that's what we're striving for.''
If Baylor has any shot, it's that it has the offense to outscore Kansas State. The Bears are second in the nation in yards per game, so they have the ability to put a lot of points on the board. But Baylor is also dead last in FBS in yards allowed per game, so this game will probably just serve to help Klein's Heisman Trophy campaign and get the Wildcats one step away from playing for a national championship.
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