The day's most pivotal players.
• CURTIS McNEAL, Running Back, USC.
Former blue-chip Marc Tyler is a game-time decision. Former blue-chip D.J. Morgan has carried five times for six yards in the last four games. Former blue-chip George Farmer has barely played the position. Former blue-chip Dillon Baxter didn't even make the trip. The only reliable back left tonight at Notre Dame? The 5-foot-7, 180-pound McNeal, the only member of the Trojan backfield who wasn't once tabbed as a five-star All-American-in-waiting.
Even if the competition was healthy, McNeal would be the most promising candidate for lifting the sagging running game in South Bend, off a career-high 17-carry, 86-yard effort after Tyler was knocked out of the Trojans' 30-9 win at Cal on Oct. 13. As reliant as the offense remains on Matt Barkley's right arm — and as flammable as the Irish secondary has looked on occasion — USC needs a steady presence on the ground to keep the pass rush in check and the downfield connection between Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee viable.
• JEREL WORTHY, Defensive Tackle, Michigan State.
Worthy extended an official welcome to Russell Wilson in June, when he took to Twitter to mock the assumption that "Wilson gona change something at Wisconsin," and promised the Badgers' new quarterback would "see how the Big Ten gets down" tonight in Spartan Stadium. In one sense, he was right: Wilson's arrival hasn't changed Wisconsin's focus on establishing the power running game to set up the pass, and Wilson has yet to throw against a defense that isn't primarily concerned with being bludgeoned between the tackles — at least one reason he's leading the nation in pass efficiency and Wisconsin is leading the nation in scoring.
Wilson is facing one new situation tonight: His first Big Ten road trip. If Worthy can clog, occupy and otherwise disrupt the Badgers' blocking in the middle of the line, he'll have another new experience in the form of an opposing defense that can occasionally pin its ears back on the pass rush.
• BARKEVIOUS MINGO and SAM MONTGOMERY, Defensive ends, LSU.
On the same note, no one really expects Auburn's new quarterback, Clint Moseley, to present any kind of serious threat to a defense as nasty as LSU's, in an environment as nasty as Tiger Stadium, in his first career start. Still, with star cornerback/chaos machine Tyrann Mathieu and nickel corner Tharold Simon out of commission, the secondary wouldn't mind a little help from the Tigers' freakish bookends up front in keeping the afternoon on-script.