Washington at UCLA
KICKOFF: Friday, 9 p.m. ET
SITE: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TV: Fox Sports 1
SERIES: UCLA leads the series with Washington 38-30-2. The teams have not met since the 2010 season, a 24-7 Washington win in Seattle. UCLA captured the last meeting in the Rose Bowl, a 24-23 decision, in 2009. The Bruins have won the last seven meetings in the Rose Bowl.
BCS RANKINGS: UCLA 13th, Washington unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Maybe we should not be that surprised that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack ran for 120 yards on six carries, including an impressive 66-yard touchdown run, against Arizona last Saturday.
A year ago to the day, Jack rushed for two touchdowns for Bellevue (Wash.) High School in a state playoff game. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said after the loss to the Bruins that he recruited Jack as a running back.
Although he is a starting linebacker who also played effectively at that position against the Wildcats, Jack was selected the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.
"I pride myself on defense, but apparently I won (the Pac-12 honor) on offense," Jack told reporters. "I'll take it."
Jack matched his running skills against Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who gained 29 more yards than Jack last Saturday. Carey, however, had 22 more carries.
Next comes Washington tailback Bishop Sankey Friday night at the Rose Bowl. UCLA coach Jim Mora said Sankey and Carey are two of the best tailbacks in the nation, "maybe the best two backs in the nation, back to back ? it's going to be tough."
"He's a glider and tough to tackle, you know, he's a really good football player," Mora said of Sankey. "It's quite a challenge."
The Bruins must prepare for Sankey, Washington quarterback Keith Price and a respectable Husky defense in a short week. That's a difficult assignment because of UCLA's recent rash of injuries.
Mora noted that linebacker Eric Kendricks, who played against Arizona after nursing shoulder and back injuries, was not "ultra effective" against the Wildcats but showed signs of dusting off the rust after missing the previous game.
Kendricks may not have had an ultra effective game but he was effective. He led the Bruins with 13 tackles and had a pass breakup. He had four tackles on Arizona's first drive.
Damien Thigpen injured his ankle against the Wildcats. The ankle injuries have doomed the Bruins' backfield with Jordon James and Steve Manfro missing significant time.
At least Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone know they have the resources to use Jack and fellow defensive players as lead blockers to boost the running game.
"Noel is kind of a mad scientist," Mora said. "It might be five minutes before we take the practice field and he's up on the board drawing something up."
Washington has three regular-season games remaining to do what it could not the past three years: win more than seven games.
At 6-3 following a 59-7 demolition of Colorado last Saturday, the Huskies head to Los Angeles to face 13th-ranked UCLA for a primetime game Friday night.
The Huskies haven't beaten UCLA at the Rose Bowl since 1995, and the Bruins haven't lost there this season.
And Washington hasn't defeated a ranked team on the road since Oct. 2, 2010, when it won at No. 18 USC, 32-31.
The last time the Huskies went on the road was Oct. 19 when Arizona State blew them out 53-24 as part of what has become an annual October swoon.
Washington has two road games left during its final three. After playing UCLA, it has to go to Oregon State. The Huskies close the season at home the day after Thanksgiving in the Apple Cup against rival Washington State.
In order to get win seven, the Huskies will have to counter two people they thought may end up part of their program.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora was thought to be the lead candidate for the Washington opening when Tyrone Willingham was fired following the winless 2008 season.
Mora, who went to Washington, was instead hired to coach the Seattle Seahawks. Sarkisian was hired to coach the Huskies.
On the field, Washington will have to deal with freshman two-way threat Myles Jack. Jack plays linebacker and made his debut as a running back last week. He ran for 120 yards on six carries last week.
Jack is among the local big fish that have gotten away from Sarkisian in recruiting. Jack went to high school power Bellevue, about 15 minutes from Husky Stadium. Sarkisian said he envisioned Jack as a two-way player.
"He's such a different back from what they have," Sarkisian said. "There other guys are a little more quicker, other scat-back types.
"Myles is obviously a very physical runner. Different style. A little different approach to tackling. But the plays are similar. They're not running necessarily different plays. They give you a few different formational deals there but he's a physical player."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--LB Anthony Barr was held to without a tackle for the first time in his career Saturday at Arizona. That happened a week after Barr did not make a tackle for loss against Colorado. Part of the reason for Barr's lack of production is a shift to playing mostly at defensive end in the last month. Barr projects to be an NFL linebacker. "I put that on my shoulders," Barr told reporters about his zero tackles against Arizona. "I should never go an entire 60 minutes, or however long we were out there on the field, without making a tackle." UCLA coach Jim Mora blamed the refs saying that Barr was tackled at least six times in pursuit of the ball carrier.
--LB Jordan Zumwalt played on offense against Arizona and was one of the blockers for fellow linebacker Myles Jack. Expect to see more of that formation for the Bruins down the stretch. Defensively, Zumwalt is difficult to handle. He has led UCLA in tackles over the last four games with 38. DE Keenan Graham, DT Kenny Clark, DT Eddie Vanderdoes and DE Cassius Marsh also played offensively for UCLA against Arizona.
--WR Shaquelle Evans is becoming more of a big-play threat. He has caught at least one pass in the last 24 games. He has also caught a touchdown pass in six games this season, including a 66-yard reception against Arizona last week. He is two touchdown receptions away from entering the top 10 chart in UCLA history. He currently has seven touchdown receptions this season.
--QB Brett Hundley notched his sixth game with at least 50 rushing yards in the victory at Arizona last week. He has rushed for 200 yards in the last three games. In two games against Arizona, the alma mater of his father who played running back with the Wildcats, Hundley has not thrown an interception. He has completed 41 of 53 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns. He faces Washington for the first time Friday night. The Huskies rank 12th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
--TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is starting to push his numbers up. After being suspended for the opener because of an offseason DUI arrest, Seferian-Jenkins has not put up the large receiving numbers he did in his first two seasons. That's in part because Washington is spreading the ball around more this year. He took the team lead in receiving touchdowns With his score against Colorado last week and is averaging a career-best 13.3 yards per catch this season.
--WR Demore'ea Stringfellow again had no impact despite the absence of Kasen Williams, who is out for the year with a lower leg injury. Washington quarterback Keith Price threw for 312 yards while hitting seven different receivers against Colorado. Stringfellow had zero catches for zero yards. He has three catches on the season and one in the last six games.
--WR Jaydon Mickens has 50 catches, more than doubling the 20 he had his freshman season. Mickens catches screens and deep routes. He's small -- 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds -- but extremely fast. He has a 68-yard touchdown among his 50 grabs. Mickens is seventh in the conference with 5.6 receptions per game.
Ohio State at Illinois
KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
SERIES: Ohio State possesses a 65-30-4 lead in the series and has won nine in a row in Champaign, dating back to 1991. Last year, the Buckeyes cruised past the Illini 52-22 in Columbus.
RANKINGS: Ohio State 3rd, Illinois unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
The weather forecast for Saturday's game with third-ranked Ohio State is gloomy -- a chance of showers with temperatures in the low 50s. So, too, is the Fighting Illini's outlook.
Last week's 52-35 loss at Indiana, a game which Illinois was tied in early in the fourth quarter, ended any realistic chance this team had of finishing 6-6 and picking up a bowl bid. At 3-6 and facing the Big Ten Conference's best team, it looks like the Illini will miss out on a bowl game for the second straight year.
But coach Tim Beckman said this team has definitely made progress over last season's 2-10 debacle, pointing to the improvements on offense and the defense's integration of many young players as bright spots.
"Offensively, what we've done in a matter of a year has been unbelievable," Beckman said. "Defensively, we lost some very good players that are playing on Sunday. These players that we're playing with now have to continue to mature."
Maturity might take another week to happen, based on Illinois' inability to stop the kind of spread offense that Ohio State brings to Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes have only been held under 40 points twice and the Illini have limited just three opponents under 30 points.
The defeat at Indiana was particularly disheartening for two reasons. First, the Illini wasted quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's 495 total yards of offense and wide receiver Steve Hull's 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Secondly, the defense looked so helpless that even had the offense not come up short on a couple of critical fourth quarter possessions, Indiana probably would have scored whatever it had to to win the game.
"It's missing tackles or overrunning plays," Beckman said of the Hoosiers' three touchdowns in a six-play stretch. "I don't think it's an effort thing and our offense understands it's not an effort thing. We're just not capable of making some of those plays."
Ohio State continues to charge forward, leading the Big Ten and staying on the fringe in the BCS discussion about the potential combatants in the National Championship Game.
The Buckeyes went 12-0 last year, their first season under head coach Urban Meyer, and they have won nine straight to open the 2013 season. Looking out over the landscape, Meyer sees some distinct differences in the two units.
"We're a better team," Meyer said about the 2013 edition of the Buckeyes. "We're a better functioning team. I don't want to ever disrespect our seniors from last year. But we're just more functional, certainly on offense. On defense I'm not sure we're quite as good. Remember this time last year is when we hit the accelerator and we played excellent defense."
The Ohio State defense, which this week hopes to wrap up Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase and limit his surprisingly effective passing attack, earns some kudos from Meyer, especially since that group got cleaned out by graduation.
"I understand we're in the top 10 in the country in defense, rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense, and that's pretty good, with replacing nine starters," Meyer said about the Silver Bullets defense.
But Meyer, ever pushing for more despite his team's perfect record, qualified those comments.
"We are getting a little better on defense," he said. "Comparing the teams to last year, I think that's an interesting conversation, but we're just more functional, certainly on offense. We're much better on offense than we were a year ago. Defensively, so I'm not sure. And special teams, we're much better this year."
One thing Meyer won't involve himself with at this point, as he prepares to face an Illinois team that has lost 19 straight Big Ten games, is the post-season speculation over where the Buckeyes might end up in the BCS shuffle. Meyer said it's not about style points or trying to impress the poll voters.
"It's win the game," Meyer said about the focus each week. "But the message is you have to play great. We do. I mean, to be even mentioned with those other teams, be careful what you wish for. That means you have to practice and play at a certain level. So that's all I mentioned to our team."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Nathan Scheelhaase is one of 12 finalists for the Wuerffel Trophy, the award which honors the college football player that best combines community service with athletic and academic achievement. Scheelhaase is coming off a 495-yard day (450 passing, 45 rushing) at Indiana, the third-most in school history.
--WR Steve Hull has come out of nowhere to post some remarkable numbers lately. Hull torched Indiana's bad secondary for nine catches, 224 yards and two TDs last week. Only A.J. Jenkins, who bagged 268 yards against Northwestern two years ago, has ever had more receiving yards in a game in school history. Hull has 21 catches for 388 yards in the last four games.
--RT Corey Lewis got to experience an offensive lineman's dream with a TD in the fourth quarter at Indiana, falling on a Josh Ferguson fumble in the end zone to tie the game at 35. Lewis will start his 10th straight game Saturday, continuing his amazing comeback from multiple knee surgeries which cost him 2 1/2 seasons and ultimately earned him a sixth year from the NCAA.
--OT Jack Mewhort is the best of a premium group of offensive linemen the Buckeyes have this season. His coach expects Mewhort to be playing on Sundays next season. "Jack Mewhort has turned himself into a definite high level pro prospect. He's one of the best leaders I've been around," Meyer said. "He's a tough guy that I like to think that when people say that Ohio State is a tough program, then he's kind of the benchmark."
--TE Jeff Heuerman showed the Big Ten what he is capable of in the recent win over Purdue, grabbing five passes for 116 yards. Heuerman had a 40-yard grab, and four of his catches went for first downs.
--RB Carlos Hyde has 701 rushing yards in six games. After sitting out the first three games serving a suspension, Hyde has taken off. He averages 132 yard per game in Big Ten competition. Hyde is one of just two regular players nationally that has not had a negative carry this season.
--PK Drew Basil has been perfect this season. He has hit 7 of 7 on field goals and 52 of 52 on extra points. Basil has a streak of 96 consecutive made extra points, a school record.
--P Cameron Johnston, a freshman, ranks second in the nation in the percentage of punts downed inside the 20-yard line, with 61.5 percent of his punts pinning the opponents deep in their own territory. More than 25 percent of his punts have been downed inside the 10 yard-line.
Central Florida at Temple
KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
SITE: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
TV: PPV, ESPN3
SERIES: This is the first meeting between Temple and Central Florida.
BCS RANKINGS: UCF 17th, Temple unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
What's shaping up as potentially the best UCF season in the history of the football program is still alive thanks to a huge red-zone stand by the defense, preserving a 19-14 victory over Houston that kept the Knights undefeated in the American Athletic Conference.
UCF now merely has to win out against the quartet of Temple, Rutgers, USF and SMU. Of those four teams, only Rutgers has a winning record. The final gantlet begins against Temple (1-8) this coming Saturday in Philadelphia.
The victory over Houston gives UCF some serious momentum heading into the final stretch. It also elevated the Golden Knights to 15th in The Associated Press Top 25, 19th in the coaches' poll and 17th in the BCS standings. All three rankings in those respective polls are program highs.
The win over Houston marked UCF's fourth victory this season decided by seven or fewer points. It came down to the final few seconds, when the Cougars gave themselves a first-and-goal with less than a minute remaining, only to have UCF keep Houston out of the end zone on a stand capped by Brandon Alexander's pass break up with just 14 seconds to go in the game.
"I've been around football a long time and it doesn't get any closer than that," UCF head coach George O'Leary said during his postgame news conference. "We made the play on defense. The coverage was good. I thought the kids hung in there and did what they had to do at the end to win the game."
In the process, UCF enjoyed a fantastic defensive performance against one of the most potent attacks in the FBS. Houston came into the game averaging 41.1 points and 483.1 yards per game. UCF limited Houston to 367 yards, more than 100 yards below its average, and held the Cougars scoreless in the first half.
Down the stretch, you can expect UCF fans to be rooting for Fresno State as well as the Knights. Fresno State currently is ahead of UCF in the BCS standings thanks to a 9-0 start that's included wins over Rutgers and Boise State, among others. If Fresno can retain that status, it would put both the Bulldogs and The American's automatic qualifier in the BCS at season's end, and send UCF most likely to the Sugar Bowl rather than the Fiesta.
The signs are coming in increments, though Temple coach Matt Rhule would like them to congeal much faster than they are. Temple is now 1-8 overall and 0-5 in the American Athletic Conference getting ready to host No. 15 Central Florida (7-1, 4-0) this Saturday, Nov. 16 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Owls are coming off a very winnable game two weeks ago against Rutgers, 23-20, and had a bye week to heal the hurt from that devastating setback. It was a game in which the Owls led up until the final :35 of the game.
"I always tell them the truth. I try to tell them where we are going to head to. All it's about is what's next. You don't right after the game tell them everything they did wrong," Rhule said, about looking ahead. "I know how much they want to go out there and win and how passionate they are. If you are a Temple fan, while you might be frustrated with the result, you have to be proud of how they are flying around out there, playing physical. This is like the year we went 5-7.
"We lost to Navy on the last play of the game. We lost to Buffalo on the last play of the game. We can't keep doing it. The game came down to that. We've got to get that last half yard. We didn't' get it. I don't believe in moral victories, I believe in what's ahead of us. That would have been a great win."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Sophomore WR Breshard Perriman was taken off the field on a stretcher in the second quarter of UCF's eventual 19-14 win over Houston, after he took a wicked hit from Cougars DB Zack McMillian that had McMillian flagged for targeting and ejected. Perriman, who was diagnosed with a concussion but otherwise is in good condition, left the field on a stretcher to a standing ovation from a rowdy crowd at Orlando's Bright House Networks Stadium.
--Junior DB Brandon Alexander, a preferred walk-on, was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against Houston. Alexander made seven tackles, broke up two passes including one on Houston's final offensive play to preserve the win, and picked off an interception.
--UCF junior PK Shawn Moffitt was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the top kicker in the nation. Moffitt is perfect on field-goal attempts through his first nine tries, including a career long of 50 yards, and he's gone 28-of-28 on extra-point tries thus far this season. Moffitt ranks third on UCF's school record book for best field-goal percentage (.743), making 26 of 35 kicks. Michael Torres' .771 mark leads the way, as he made 37 of 48 attempts.
--RB Kenneth Harper had his fourth multiple-touchdown game against Rutgers. It also marked the second-straight game in which Harper had a rushing and receiving TD. He has 11 TDs in nine games and has scored at least one TD in seven of those contests.
--WR John Christopher had a personal best 5 catches against Rutgers for 41 yards. He became the 6th different player be the game's leading receiver this year joining WRs Ryan Alderman, Robby Anderson, Jalen Fitzpatrick, TE Chris Coyer and RB Zaire Williams. Only Alderman (3 times) and Fitzpatrick (twice) have done it more than once.
--DL Matt Ioannidis made an impact in the Rutgers game, making two solo tackles, one for a minus-4 yard loss, and forced a fumble.
--QB P.J. Walker was 21 of 31 passing for 203 yards and two TDs. He has now thrown for 11 TDs on the season in just four starts. That total would have led the Owls in each of the past two seasons. He has thrown for at least 200 yards and at least two TDs in each of his four starts.
--LB Tyler Matakevich added to his team leading total against Rutgers with 10 tackle, four solos, one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. He now has 113 tackles for the season, and has 10-plus tackles in seven of nine games.
--SS Jihaad Pretlow, a true freshman, made his second career start at Rutgers making four tackles.
Iowa State at Oklahoma
KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
SITE: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
TV: Fox Sports 1
SERIES: Iowa State is 5-70-2 against Oklahoma. The Cyclones lost 35-20 to the Sooners last season.
BCS RANKINGS: Iowa State unranked, Oklahoma 18th
KEYS TO THE GAME
The week changes, but the plan is still the same. Iowa State will head into its game with No. 22 Oklahoma trying to find a way to fix a stagnant offense.
It's been a season-long dilemma, with the Cyclones, who are riding a six-game losing streak. They unable to move the football with any consistency. ISU is last in the Big 12 in total yards and has averaged 14.5 points over its last four games.
Any offensive improvement begins at quarterback, where Grant Rohach was 18 of 38 for 148 yards in a 21-17 loss to TCU on Nov. 9.
"It was not very good," coach Paul Rhoads said. "He missed too many passes. He made too many poor decisions."
It's why he's completed just 50.0 percent of his passes and thrown for more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two).
"Part of those throws were fundamentals, a foot stepping in this direction when the ball has got to be delivered over here," Rhoads sad. "The reads are making a decision too quickly before the ball is snapped, I am going to look for this guy instead of letting a play develop and the philosophy of reading this first before you go to your second key taking place and it's youth and inexperience and wanting to force something to happen."
The Cyclones have no choice but to turn to Rohach at this point, at least on passing downs. Quarterback Sam Richardson, who started the first eight games, is dealing with a thumb injury.
The injury is severe enough that it is impacting his ability to pass, but Rhoads said the Cyclones aren't afraid to call a passing play for Richardson.
That notion didn't hold true with the play calling in the TCU game. Both Richardson and Rohach rotated during the game, sometimes on the same drive, but Richardson threw only one pass in the fourth quarter with ISU looking to secure a victory.
Richardson served as the running quarterback, with Rohach the thrower. On Monday, Rhoads said it was too early in the week to know if the same plan would be utilized this week.
If it's the quarterback rotation or not, something must change with the ISU offense, otherwise the final three games could look a lot like the last several.
But don't count Bob Stoops among those who figure the game to be a walk-over.
"They play really good, disciplined football," Stoops said. "Watch every part of what they're doing; it's executed really well all the time.
"They make you work hard to beat them defensively. Offensively they've got good balance run and pass, (and they're) always very sound in the kicking game. And their players play really hard. So all of it together, they're always in good, tight games."
Stoops and his staff must decide whether to stick with quarterback Blake Bell, who has struggled the past few weeks, or go back to freshman Trevor Knight, who started the first two games of the season. Kendal Thompson also has been practicing for the past month, but Stoops doesn't feel confident that he's ready for game action.
"I'm not going to sit here and make wholesale changes in the ninth game of the year when we've done some good things through the year. Kendal has done an awesome job. We love what he's doing. He's got a bright future. It's no one's fault that he was injured and missed 40 practices to start the year. Are we going to go and experiment now? I don't think that's the case."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--TE E.J. Bibbs is turning into a favorite target of QB Grant Rohach. Bibbs set a career high with seven receptions and 63 receiving yards against TCU on Nov. 10. He could see more passes headed his way in the final three weeks.
--QB Grant Rohach has become ISU's passing quarterback. Fellow quarterback Sam Richardson is dealing with a thumb injury that is impacting his throwing. Richardson was primarily in on passing play against TCU. Rohach must improve his 50.0 completion percentage.
--RB DeVondrick Nealy has done nothing but make plays in recent weeks. His most recent was a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Horned Frogs. Nealy is pushing for more playing time in the backfield with Aaron Wimberly and Shontrelle Johnson.
--LB Jeremiah George continues to put together an all-conference type season. He leads the Big 12 with 102 tackles and made nine tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception against TCU.
--QB Blake Bell must rebound from a terrible game against Baylor. Stoops gave credit to Baylor's defense, but a 15-of-35 performance is not acceptable. If he doesn't improve, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson are ready to take over. Knight was effective against Baylor. Thompson has not seen action this year after a foot injury in preseason.
--DE Charles Tapper will be suspended for the first half after throwing a punch in the Baylor game. He must put it in the past when he gets in the game in the second half.
--LB Dominique Alexander had what Stoops called "one of his best games." Against Iowa State's weak offense, look for him to continue his outstanding play.
Indiana at Wisconsin
KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
SITE: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisc.
SERIES: Wisconsin leads Indiana 39-18-2 (last meeting, 2012, 62-14 UW).
BCS RANKINGS: Wisconsin 22nd, Indiana unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
After a frustrating loss at Arizona State and a tough defeat to Ohio State, the Badgers are standing strong after winning four straight games heading into their contest against Indiana.
Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) has three Big Ten games left on its schedule, with two of those teams -- Indiana and Penn State -- possessing at least four losses. The Badgers are still conceivably in the race to land a BCS bowl spot.
"In the back of everyone's head, they're wondering what's going on with the standings because we do care what bowl game we play in," senior safety Dezmen Southward said. "It's hard not to think about what possible games you could play in, but our job as players has to take it one game at a time. If we don't we won't be as successful as we have the past six weeks."
The Badgers have become a consistent winner in the month of November. Since 2006, the Badgers have a 24-5 mark in November. They defeated BYU 27-17 last week to rise up to the No. 17 in the AP rankings and 22nd in the BCS standings.
Wisconsin now gears up for an Indiana team coming off a big win over Illinois. The Hoosiers (4-5, 2-3) have lost eight straight games to the Badgers by an average of 35.4 points.
The Hoosiers, though, can put points on the board, averaging 327.4 passing yards per game. But Indiana tailback Tevin Coleman is not likely to play against Wisconsin. That's a huge break for the Badgers. Coleman rushed for a career-high 215 yards on 15 carries against Illinois. He scored on touchdown runs of 75 and 64.
"He's physical. He's tough-minded, he's very fast," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said of Coleman. "He's outran a lot of defenses. It's four or five runs of 40-plus yards this year for touchdowns. They'll miss him, but they've got other talented kids to go around."
Some more good news for the Badgers is that linebacker Chris Borland is healthy and not feeling any effects from his hamstring injury. He had 13 tackles and two sacks against BYU after sitting out the Iowa game.
Andersen guards against looking past the Hoosiers and at the bowl picture. But he admitted the team would like to finish strong.
"Everybody wants to play in as big a bowl and as big a stage as you can at the end of the year," Andersen said. "No one's ever going to say we don't want that in any way, shape, or form. As this team continues, they've labeled themselves as a good team, and they deserve it. Right now, if it was over, they'd be known as a good team regardless of what happens. They want to be a great team. If they're a great team, then they're going to play in a very, very prestigious bowl game at the end of the year wherever it may be."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--LB Chris Borland has forced 13 fumbles in his career, the most in school history and he needs one more fumble forced to tie the FBS career record of 14.
--QB Joel Stave has thrown 16 touchdown passes this year, and ranks eighth in the country in passing efficiency at 147.2.
--C Dan Voltz, a redshirt freshman, is expected to get his second straight start against Indiana.
--RB Stephen Houston is expected to start in place of Big Ten leading rusher Tevin Coleman, who is battling an ankle injury. Coleman had 215 rushing yards at Illinois last week. Houston is averaging more than 7.0 yards per carry.
Syracuse at Florida State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
SERIES: Seventh meeting; FSU leads all-time, 5-1, including five wins in a row. Syracuse's lone victory was 37-21 in the series' first meeting in 1966. FSU has outscored Syracuse 170-31 since then, including a 38-14 romp in the last meeting in 2005.
BCS RANKINGS: Florida State 2nd, Syracuse unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
And with only Syracuse, Idaho and Florida -- teams with combined 10-18 records -- remaining on the regular-season schedule, it appears FSU could cruise to the finish line.
Instead, this is when the real pressure begins.
Any slipups, looking ahead or successful distractions won't just be an "L" -- it will also mean losing a chance to play for the national title.
Lucky for the Seminoles, their coach has prepared them all year for these very moments.
"This team is doing a really nice job of eliminating that clutter, and we have to continue to do that -- and we will continue to do that," FSU's Jimbo Fisher said of his secret to keeping his guys focused when everyone can see the proverbial finish line, where a chance to play -- or be -- the No. 1 team in the nation at the end of the season awaits. "In all three phases, we still want to work on and improve on and clean up (any mistakes)."
The loss by then-No. 2 Oregon to Stanford allowed FSU to move up in the BCS polls, and Florida State's 59-3 rout of Wake Forest also locked up the ACC's Atlantic Division title for the Seminoles, who could play any one of five Coastal Division opponents for the ACC championship on Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C. So while FSU (9-0 overall, 7-0 in the ACC) watches the conference title race shake out, the road to finishing strong begins Saturday at home with the Orangemen (5-4, 3-2).
And just like almost every other week prior, Fisher didn't change his tune when talking about the Seminoles' next seemingly overmatched opponent, peppering Syracuse -- which will enter the game as whopping 40-point underdogs -- with compliments aplenty.
All part of staying locked in on the task at hand, Fisher says.
"We'll have a great game with Syracuse," said the coach, whose team has beaten its first nine opponents this season by an average of 40 points a game. "Syracuse is playing extremely well. They come in on a two-game winning streak. They've give up three points total in their last two games. And they're tough to defend."
All that might be true, but there's also no denying the Seminoles are simply playing on another planet right now. FSU freshman quarterback and likely Heisman Trophy frontrunner Jameis Winston leads the nation's second-ranked scoring offense that's averaging 52 points a game and has outscored three top-25 opponents by a combined 155-28 in a span of four games, while the Seminoles' fourth-ranked total defense seems to have a new star every week.
Last week it was freshman safety Nate Andrews, who made the most of his first career start by picking off two passes -- including a pick-six -- and forcing a fumble. Of course, FSU's defense intercepted Wake's QBs six times last Saturday to move them into a tie for the FBS lead with nine, and they also got their first boost from special teams this year when Kermit Whitfield returned a kickoff 97 yards for a score, adding to FSU's arsenal of weapons.
"Obviously, that's a great team," Wake Forest offensive lineman Frank Souza said after Saturday's game to surmise the Demon Deacons' 56-point beat down.
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer feels the same way -- and he's only watched FSU on film.
"They're one of the best college football teams I've seen in a long time," the Orange's first-year coach said this week. "I thought (earlier in the year) when we saw Clemson (and lost 49-14) that that group was really special, but this group (at Florida State) is unbelievable."
Syracuse is coming off back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and Maryland, giving up just a field goal against the Terps and blanking the Demon Deacons. The Orange also boast the ACC's fourth-leading rusher in Jerome Smith, who is second in the conference in touchdowns with 11.
Florida State almost saw its season derailed earlier this year by another talented running back, ACC leading rusher Andre Williams. Williams ran for 149 yards and helped Boston College jump out to the biggest lead any team has had on the Seminoles this year, 17-3, in late September before FSU stormed back to win, 48-34.
"Physical, hard, tough, downhill ... " Fisher said when asked to describe Smith. "They bring it now."
FSU must do the same, now more than ever.
Even at home against a four-loss team. Even against a first-year ACC school like Syracuse. After all, the pressure's officially on like never before.
"Where we're at (in the BCS) should not matter. How we play and prepare is what should matter. If they ever believe in our system, if they ever believe in eliminating the clutter, if they believe in what we're teaching, then now is the time," Fisher said. "Success, to me, reveals what you really are, where you're at, what you're doing. If you can keep the selfishness out of it and then (have) the ability to focus and play one at a time, then that's the key. And that's what we have to do."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Freshman LB E.J. Levenberry and sophomore LB Reggie Northrup are coming on for the Seminoles. Two weeks ago, it was Levenberry who led FSU in tackles against N.C. State, and last week it was Northrup against Wake Forest. The emergence of these two has answered any question marks about the Seminoles' defense this season after it lost seven players to the NFL and hired a new defensive coordinator. Head coach Jimbo Fisher raved about Levenberry and Northrup this week and said both could see increased playing time. "Reggie is really grasping the system ... and E.J. Levenberry, there are two guys that are growing," he said. "You saw Reggie play with the (first team) in the (Wake) game. Came in, did a real nice job. He's very physical. E.J. flashed at me a bunch of times in that game -- really big, long, making plays. Those guys are really growing."
--Freshman QB Sean Maguire was the forgotten man in the preseason QB race after it appeared it would come down to starter Jameis Winston and eventual backup Jacob Coker. But now that Coker is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Maguire -- and how he handles the offense -- will be thrust into the spotlight if Winston's day ends early in another blowout. The inexperience of McGuire, who has seen limited action in five of FSU's nine games, is a concern should he have to replace Winston at any point but mop-up time. He is just 1 of 2 passing for 11 yards, while Coker was seen as a legitimate No. 1 quarterback playing backup who barely lost a head-to-head competition to arguably the best player in the nation.
--Junior RB Devonta Freeman had an all-world game against Miami, the school that he grew up next to in South Florida and the one that didn't recruit him. The 5-9 former Miami Central star finished with 176 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the 41-14 win. Then he followed that up last week with another TD in very limited action during FSU's 59-3 blowout of Wake Forest in an effort to rest Freeman for the crucial stretch late in the season against Florida, in the ACC title game and whatever bowl FSU ends up landing. Freeman will once again stay on the field only as needed Saturday against Syracuse, but he has emerged as the Seminoles' go-to back in every scenario but short yardage.
--Senior RB Andre Williams has had a remarkable and record-setting senior season. Last week, he ran for a school-record 295 yards and had runs of 80, 56 and 47 yards, scoring from 80 and 47 and leading his team to a 48-34 win at New Mexico State. Williams now leads the country in rushing with 163.4 yards per game and is on track to break the school and the ACC single-season rushing yardage marks. He has 1,471 yards. The school record is 1,726, the ACC mark 1,798. Williams has at least three games left, four if the Eagles qualify for a bowl game. He is also the fifth 3,000-yard rusher in BC history and could make a run at that all-time mark as well. Amazingly, Williams' day wasn't good enough to beat out Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas, who led the Hokies to their upset of No. 14 Miami, for ACC Offensive Back of the Week (it seems like they could have had co-winners).
--Senior WR Alex Amidon caught eight passes for 88 yards last week, becoming BC's all-time receiving yards leader. He passed current graduate assistant Rich Gunnell. "I was always the one saying to him, 'Can you break this finally and cut out the drama and just do this?'" Gunnell said. Amidon broke the record on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Chase Rettig but was guilty of what could have been a costly turnover with the game tied 34-34. Amidon has 2,494 career yards.
--Senior LB Steele Divitto had a huge game in the win at New Mexico State. He tied his career high with 18 tackles, six of them solo, 1.5 for loss. He was named Co-Linebacker of the Week in the conference and sits third in the league with 8.9 tackles per game.
Georgia at Auburn
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
SERIES: Tied 54-54, eight ties (Last meeting, 2012, Georgia 38-0)
BCS RANKINGS: Auburn 7th, Georgia 25th
KEYS TO THE GAME
For the second season in a row, Georgia is heading to the plains to play at Auburn.
But the team the Bulldogs will face this Saturday is vastly improved from the team they beat 38-0 a season ago. Under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn is 9-1 and still in contention for the SEC West division crown.
"We're walking into a situation with a team that is very confident and has a lot of momentum and is already used to winning," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Going into the season you wouldn't have said that, but by game ten they are used to winning. Teams like that are very difficult to beat. It's a great challenge for us and we are looking forward to it."
Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC) is 1-2 on the road this season with losses at Clemson and at Vanderbilt. The Auburn game presents another huge road challenge.
"Every time you go to somebody else's house, you feel like an underdog," Richt said. "You are outnumbered. You are the team that they don't want to win. The other team's getting cheered, and you're getting booed. Every time something good happens for them, they go crazy. Every time something good happens for us, they get quiet or whatever they do. I think you feel like an underdog every time you go to somebody's house. You get that sensation."
Georgia needs to pull things together to stay in contention for the SEC East Division crown. A loss would all but eliminate the Bulldogs from winning their third straight SEC East Division title.
Coming off a 45-6 win over Appalachian State, Georgia is getting healthier. The return of running back Todd Gurley has provided a boost. The Bulldogs are 5-1 when Gurley is healthy.
Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray is looking forward to the challenge of playing at Auburn.
"They've assembled a couple new parts here and there, but we just have to execute," Murray said. "We know if we do our thing offensively, if we prepare hard Monday through Friday, if we understand the game plan and we go out there and do our thing on Saturday then we can put points up."
The Tigers will host two of the biggest football games of the 2013 college football season beginning Saturday when they host No. 25 Georgia in the 117th edition of the game known famously as the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry."
"Obviously, we have a big challenge for us this weekend. We are playing what was one of the top teams in the country at the first of the year before they had injuries. They are getting healthy. They have 16 returning starters from a team that almost won the SEC Championship last year. They have one of the better quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It will be a huge challenge for our guys."
Two weeks later, the challenge only gets greater.
Provided Auburn (9-1 overall, 5-1 in the SEC) survives Georgia (6-3, 4-2) -- which is no easy task, considering the Bulldogs have won six of the last seven meetings, including a 38-0 romp last year -- awaiting the Tigers in the annual Iron Bowl on Nov. 30 will be No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0), which will also have to come to Jordan-Hare Stadium. That would set up a showdown for the SEC West title and trip in the conference championship game.
The winner of that game, of course, has historically gone on to play for the BCS national title. Although, with one blemish on its record already (vs. LSU on Sept. 21), Auburn may still need help in the form of a loss by any of the other teams ahead of the Tigers to slip into the back door of the national championship game.
These scenarios, however, don't concern Malzahn and Auburn with the Bulldogs and SEC record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray bearing down this weekend.
"No, we have not said anything (to the team about what's at stake). We have not even gone there," said Malzahn, the Tigers' first-year coach who is widely believed to be the leading candidate for college football's 2013 Coach of the Year award after turning last year's 3-9 Auburn team completely around in one season. "All we have talked about is we have our hands full with Georgia, playing at home, and that is the only thing on our mind. At the end of the season, we will look back and deal with all that stuff."
First, the Tigers will have to deal with Murray, the Bulldogs' star senior who broke his third SEC record of the season last week in UGA's 45-6 rout of FCS program Appalachian State. He's now the all-time SEC leader in touchdowns (115), total offense (12,896 yards) and passing yards (12,568), and Murray will bring a personal two-game win streak into Saturday's game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Aaron Murray passed Danny Wuerffel for the SEC all-time lead in TD passes when he threw his 115th career TD pass last Saturday against Appalachian State. For the game, Murray completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards and 2 TDs before being relieved by Hutson Mason in the second half. For the season, Murray's TD-to-interception ratio improved to 20 to 7.
--RB Todd Gurley rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries and one TD against Appalachian State before being relieved in the second half. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley's injured ankle is getting stronger each week in practice. The Bulldogs will be counting heavily on Gurley in the running game to provide balance against Auburn.
--WR Rantavious Wooten had a career-day against Appalachian State, finishing with four catches for 104 yards and a TD. The Bulldogs will need for Wooten to continue to step up and perform well to help Georgia's injury-depleted receiving corps.
--LB Amarlo Herrera had seven tackles and an interception against Appalachian State. The junior inside linebacker has been one of the most consistent players on Georgia's defense this season. For the season, Herrera has 79 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and one interception.
--Senior CB Chris Davis' 85-yard punt return for a TD against Tennessee last week vaulted him to No. 1 in the nation in punt return average at 24.1 yards. He was named the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Week
--Auburn's offensive/defensive lines. Both sides of the ball up front have been dominant as of late. The OL is 14th nationally in sacks allowed and 11th in the country in tackles for loss allowed. The OL has also led to Auburn having 11 players go over 100 yards this year, and its rushing attack is No. 1 in the SEC at 320 yards per game. On the defensive side, 11 different players have recorded sacks this season and the Tigers are ranked 19th nationally with an average of just over seven TFLs a game.
Oklahoma State at Texas
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
SERIES: Oklahoma State is 4-23 against Texas. Last season, QB J.W. Walsh threw for 300-plus yards and Joseph Randle added a career-best 199 yards rushing, yet the Longhorns won a tight clash, 41-36, by scoring a touchdown inside the final minute. The return to Austin should not weigh heavily on the Cowboys, who have won the past two matchups there. Texas leads the series, 14-3, since the inception of the Big 12.
BCS RANKINGS: Oklahoma State 12th, Texas 24th
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Big 12 race had just started when Oklahoma State lost its league opener and Texas had bounced back from back-to-back defeats to outlast Kansas State.
Neither team looked like a title contender. Now, with more clarity added, the Cowboys have won five straight, all in league play, while the Longhorns are leading the Big 12 with no conference defeats.
The Nov. 16 clash in Austin could very well shape the Big 12 chase, though undefeated Baylor also has a say in the matter. Whatever the case, the winning streak for the Cowboys is nice considering the humbling loss suffered at West Virginia left them for dead.
Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1 Big 12), remember, was picked as the conference favorite in a preseason media poll, though the veteran club may have needed the wakeup call in Morgantown to regain focus.
"It takes a lot to get to this position,'' OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "You never know how things are going to fall. These guys have worked hard and it's probably the most growth and development of team chemistry that I've seen on a football team that I've been the head coach of over a six-week period. Guys have come together and really worked and put time and effort in and play unselfish.''
The Cowboys asserted themselves as much with existing leadership as they did vast improvement.
The talent was there, hence their preseason climb into the role of Big 12 favorite.
Clint Chelf, a senior who began the year as the starting quarterback, then was benched, returned to give Oklahoma State some needed direction. The offense changed into a scheme that relied more heavily on the run game, but that has given Chelf a better chance to capitalize on openings through the air.
Defensively, the Cowboys have focused on procuring turnovers, something they thrived on during their Big 12 title run in 2011 when they led the nation with 44 takeaways. Although they are not on pace to reach that mark, the work of veterans has solidified each position group and made the Oklahoma State defense tough to budge.
While there is a swagger to how the Cowboys play, which includes special teams and the threat they pose in the return game, the early loss to West Virginia had a humbling effect.
"We're not good enough to look past the next game. We don't have that luxury,'' Gundy said. "Our players understand that and it's not just coach-talk for us. We've got to identify what was good and bad in this game, clean it up and come up with a plan for the next game.''
Oklahoma State will be seeking its third straight win at Texas. Since 1940, Colorado and Texas A&M are the only programs to accomplish that feat.
The Longhorns also use a senior quarterback, Case McCoy, who was passed over as a starter at times, much like Chelf. Yet the leadership McCoy has provided was instrumental in the turnaround by Texas (7-2, 6-0), which has survived some close games to stay atop the league, including an overtime win at West Virginia on Nov. 9.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--KR/CB Justin Gilbert was named the Big 12 special teams player of the week after scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return to begin the Nov. 9 win against Kansas. The kickoff return was the sixth of Gilbert's career, making him the active NCAA leader. He needs one more TD return of a kickoff to tie the NCAA record of seven.
--RB Desmond Roland has scored nine touchdowns over the last three games, which happened to be the first starts the junior has drawn in his career. Eight of the touchdowns came off rushes and Roland's 10 rushing touchdowns ranks him second in the Big 12. He has an 8.0-point scoring average.
--LB Caleb Lavey leads the Cowboys with 68 tackles and is adept at penetration with 10.5 tackles for loss, which is tops among all Big 12 linebackers. He also has three interceptions.
--DT Desmond Jackson played well in relief of Chris Whaley against West Virginia, but suffered a hip injury of his own. He's been limited in practice early in the week, but should be ready to go against the Cowboys. Whaley had become the playmaker of the defensive line before getting injured, so Jackson has some big shoes to fill.
--RB Joe Bergeron won't get the start in Johnathan Gray's place. That honor goes to Malcolm Brown. But Bergeron does stand to pick up a lot of carries now that he's No, 2 on the depth chart, and he should get more work that usual against Oklahoma State this weekend.
--QB Case McCoy rarely makes it look pretty, but he keeps on winning Big 12 games. He made a nice play to secure the winning points in overtime against West Virginia, and while his legacy won't match his brother's in Longhorns' lore, he's taking advantage of this last opportunity to make an impact in his senior season.
--K Anthony Fera continues to get the job done. His 24-yard field goal against West Virginia forced overtime with 13 seconds left, and he finished the day 4 of 4 on his field-goal attempts. He also averaged 42.8 yards on his six punts, and three times his punts pinned the Mountaineers inside the 20.
Michigan State at Nebraska
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
TV: ABC, ESPN2 (regional)
SERIES: Michigan State is 0-7 against Nebraska, including a 28-24 loss last season in East Lansing
BCS RANKINGS: Michigan State 16th, Nebraska unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Nothing can be clinched this week for Michigan State except a share of the Legends Division in the Big Ten. However, even that guarantees nothing in terms of reaching the conference championship game and it's not exactly what the Spartans are playing for.
But coach Mark Dantonio is still aware of what a victory at Nebraska could mean for his team.
"We're to a point where we go to this game and have an opportunity to at least clinch the Legends Division title if we win this football game," he said. "It doesn't mean we would be the outright winners going to the championship game, but we will have at least clinched a co-championship with a win, and that's real, that's something our players can understand and touch and there should be no lack of motivation.
"I guess what we talk to our players about is that this is a tremendous opportunity for us. The reality is that people work their entire four and five years as a player to get to a point where there in November and have an opportunity to take steps toward reaching those goals, and that doesn't always happen because there are so many different variables that come into play."
The Spartans are coming off a bye week following their one-sided win over Michigan and have a chance to open a two-game lead in the division with just two games to play if they can manage to win in Lincoln for the first time.
In fact, if Michigan State wins, it will be the first time ever against Nebraska.
But they'll have to do it against a team that has won five of its last six, despite not having quarterback Taylor Martinez. He has been replaced by a rotation of Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg, but running back Ameer Abdullah has picked up the slack. The junior running back has ran for 1,223 yards, including 887 (7.1 yards per carry) in the last six games.
"Nebraska is a very good football team," Dantonio said. "When you look at them offensively, Taylor Martinez is maybe doubtful to play, but Tommy Armstong and (Ron) Kellogg have done an outstanding job. Tommy Armstrong (Jr.) is going to be a tremendous player for them. He's a redshirt freshman and he's making all the throws, making runs and making things work.
"They have a big play receiver in (Kenny) Bell and an outstanding running back in Abdullah. Their offensive line has been injured a little bit, but they find a way."
Nevermind that Nebraska will be facing the nation's No. 1 defense without its veteran starting quarterback, three starting offensive linemen and a banged-up receiving corps that's relying on a pair of walk-ons for significant reps.
The Huskers, their coach says, won't be intimated. In fact, Nebraska, playing at home, may have the edge in momentum when its hosts Legends Division frontrunner Michigan State in a pivotal Big Ten Conference game on Saturday.
"It's not about being intimidated or anything else," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "It's about executing your football. If we are good enough, we will execute well enough."
But the Huskers will do it without Taylor Martinez, whom Pelini said likely won't play again in a Nebraska uniform as he continues to be hobbled by a foot injury. Freshman Tommy Armstrong will start again -- the Huskers are 5-0 when he does -- but will be operating behind an offense line that first lost All-American guard Spencer Long to a season-ending ACL injury, then guard Jake Long to an MCL sprain, and most recently, tackle Jeremiah Sirles, also to an MCL sprain.
Not exactly the ideal situation against a Michigan State defense that's limiting opponents to 43.4 rushing yards per game.
"First and foremost, what we have to do is figure out some things as the week goes on," Pelini said. "We have to figure out what we are going to do up front, obviously, with our different combinations and figure out what is best and what's going to give us the best opportunity to win this football game. That's all that we are concerned with right now.
"As far as intimidation or anything else, at the end of the day our guys have a lot of respect for this defense. I would anticipate that our approach would make our guys play that much harder and take the challenge. It's going to be a heckuva challenge playing against that group."
Nebraska, coming off yet another come-from-behind victory, this time at Michigan, is 7-2 overall, and 4-1 in the Big Ten's Legends Division, and can take control of the divisional race with a victory over Michigan State, which is 8-1 overall, and 5-0 in the Big Ten.
Nebraska has won seven straight November games, and is 18-4 under Pelini in November games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--CB Darqueze Dennard had what appeared to be the defining play of the game last season when he intercepted a Taylor Martinez pass and returned it nearly 100 yards for a touchdown to give Michigan State a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter. But a penalty negated the play and on Nebraska's winning drive, Dennard was flagged for a controversial pass interference call in the end zone. There is little doubt he'll be looking for some retribution this time around.
--RB Jeremy Langford has gained more than 100 yards in each of the last three games and should get another shot this week against a team that is allowing better than 160 yards a game. The Huskers have improved recently on defense, but Langford and Michigan State's offensive line have been the most consistent part of the offense.
--WR Bennie Fowler has bounced back from an early season demotion from the first team to become one of the Spartans' most reliable receivers. He dropped one early in the Michigan game but came up with numerous key grabs later in the game, including a 24-yard touchdown and a big third down grab on a fourth quarter drive that effectively put the game away.
--DE Shilique Calhoun has enjoyed a breakout season and should be a factor in pressuring Nebraska's quarterbacks. Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg are short on playing time and if Calhoun and his teammates up front can keep the pressure on, the Michigan State defense should capitalize with turnovers.
--FB C.J. Zimmerer doesn't play every snap, but when he's on the field, he'll be responsible for taking on some of the nation's best linebackers, beginning with MSU star Max Bullough. "Whenever my numbers called, I got to be out there," Zimmerer said, "whether it's an iso block or a toss out wide, I've got to be able to take care of my guy and make sure my guy doesn't make the tackle."
--DE Randy Gregory wreaked havoc against Michigan with three sacks, increasing his season total to 7.5, which leads the Big Ten. He's sparked a defense that's allowed only one touchdown in Nebraska's last six quarters. "He's still raw in a lot of respects," Pelini said of the sophomore transfer. "Obviously he's very talented. He's a very instinctive football player and he plays his butt off."
--RB Ameer Adullah has been Nebraska's top and most consistent player on offense, so much so that Pelini doesn't think Nebraska has as many wins as it does now without Abdullah, whom Pelini believes is worthy of All-America honors. Abdullah can show his worth by making some plays that aren't there against the nation's No. 1 defense.
Miami at Duke
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.
SERIES: Miami leads Duke 9-1, with Duke's only victory in the series coming in 1976 well before Miami joined the ACC.
BCS RANKINGS: Miami 23rd, Duke unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Blue Devils have overcome self-inflicted damage in their past two games and won anyway.
That could be the key to allowing Duke to be on the verge of a breakthrough season. The Blue Devils own a 7-2 record, and they remain in contention to win the ACC's Coastal Division.
"Even if we haven't played perfect the last two weeks on offense, we've had players make critical plays at critical times," coach David Cutcliffe said.
Duke committed four turnovers against both Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. So ball security is something that has been stressed with quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette.
The competition for the starting quarterback has been reopened. But Cutcliffe said he anticipates that Boone and Connette will be taking snaps at one point or another against Miami.
"We'll keep working them through the week," Cutcliffe said. "I would expect you'll see both of them."
While the offense has had some moments of sputtering, the defense has turned out to be solid. Receiver Jamison Crowder said the Blue Devils can make it all work smoothly, but he praised the defense for holding together while the offense works through some things.
"Our timing is not right," Crowder said. "We have to be much more consistent with what we're doing. We have those stretches when things aren't going right."
The Blue Devils might gain some confidence on offense by facing Miami. Last year, the Blue Devils put up big offensive numbers, but lost 52-45 to Miami in the regular-season finale.
"Obviously, having a little bit of success against this team last year (helps)," Duke offensive guard Dave Harding said.
A quirk in the ACC schedule because of expansion means that Miami visits Durham for the second season in a row -- both times in November.
Duke's path to the ACC championship game needs some help. If Clemson avoids an upset and defeats Georgia Tech, then the Blue Devils will control their own destiny if they defeat Miami in the home finale and then win road games against Wake Forest and North Carolina.
"These next three games are all winnable, so why not?" tight end Braxton Deaver said. "Let's win these next three games and go to the ACC championship."
While the Blue Devils have placed their attention squarely on Miami, they can't help but be aware of the possibilities. They'll be in a bowl game, but they want a trip to the ACC title game before that.
"The job is far from over," said Harding, a senior who'll play in his final home game when Miami visits. "We have at least four games left -- hopefully, five."
Miami is facing the need to readjust its goals for the 2013 season as it prepares for its trip to Duke.
The big losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech left the Hurricanes 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the ACC.
They are still mathematically alive in the Coastal Division race but need to win out and have Virginia Tech lose at least once among its remaining games (Maryland and Virginia) to have a chance.
That doesn't seem likely.
But even if they don't earn their first berth in the ACC title game, the Hurricanes still have a shot at their first double-digit win season since 2003, when they finished 11-2.
Some Hurricane players have noted that possibility, but coach Al Golden downplayed it is as he prepared for the Blue Devils.
"All they're really focused on is Duke, to be honest with you," Golden said. "If we can't play in the ACC championship game, they're smart enough to say, 'We better reset our goal,' which can still be significant.
"That really has no bearing on their preparation, in terms of Duke, which I think has been good."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--WR Jamison Crowder has eclipsed the 110-yard receiving mark in five of Duke's nine games this season. He had his longest reception of the season with a 75-yard touchdown play against N.C. State. He needs just 97 yards to notch his second 1,000-yard receiving season.
--LB Kelby Brown is one of the anchors in the middle of Duke's defense. The redshirt junior has posted back-to-back outings with double-figure tackles for the first time in his career. He had 14 stops against Virginia Tech and 10 tackles against N.C. State.
--S DeVon Edwards has been labeled as one of the team's best athletes, and he provided backing for that with three touchdowns against N.C. State. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns and ran back a kickoff for a score. It will be difficult for him to match that with an encore performance.
--Sophomore RB Dallas Crawford had one 35-yard burst against Virginia Tech, but other than that was pretty much throttled in his first start. He ended up with just 38 net yards rushing, and it's pretty obvious the Hurricanes need more from him than that.
--Freshman WR Stacy Coley has developed into a big-play guy along with senior Allen Hurns in the passing game. Coley had an 81-yard touchdown reception against Virginia Tech and also is averaging nearly 20 yards a return running back punts and 28 on kickoffs.
--Junior LB Denzel Perryman is Miami's leading tackler. He has 78 stops (four for losses, including 1.5 sacks) and also has broken up three passes.
--Junior DE Anthony Chickillo has started since his freshman year and has bulked up to 277 pounds, which allows him to move inside in pass-rush situations. He has 3.5 sacks to lead the Hurricanes in that category.
Utah at Oregon
KICKOFF: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
SITE: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
TV: Fox Sports 1
BCS RANKINGS: Oregon 6th, Utah unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Stanford likely ended Oregon's hopes at playing in the BCS Championship game for the second year in a row, but the Ducks say there is still plenty of season left to play.
"It's one game and one game doesn't define our season," sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "We will continue to chop away and eventually pick our heads up in December and figure out where we are at."
Oregon would likely have moved up to No. 2 in the BCS Standings with a win over Stanford and the Ducks may have remained there if they won their final three games, but instead a 26-20 loss to the Cardinal knocked Oregon down to sixth in the standings at 8-1. The loss also likely cost Oregon a shot at winning the Pac-12 title as Stanford now leads the North Division and holds the tiebreaker over the Ducks.
"It's not that hard to get over the loss," junior running back De'Anthony Thomas said. "We still have a lot to play for."
Oregon will still likely get invited to a BCS bowl for the fifth year in a row if it wins its final three games, and the Ducks will be favored in each game.
Oregon had a little extra time to get over the loss after playing on a Thursday against Stanford. The Ducks returned to practice Monday to prepare for a home game against Utah.
"There's a little lingering sludge of the hangover from the loss," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said after Monday's practice. "I thought our guys as a group responded well and finished strong. It is all systems Utah from here on out."
Helfrich said that win or lose, Oregon prepares each week in the same manner.
"Our guys believe 100 percent in our process," Helfrich said. "We got beat by a very good team and we will look at what we did well, what we didn't, and try to do more of the former than the latter and move on. The key to winning a bunch of games in a row or not losing a lot in a row is trusting your process."
At 4-5, Utah is still in the hunt to become bowl eligible with two victories.
The Utes play at Washington State after visiting Oregon and finish the regular season at home against last-place Colorado.
"We are going to bounce back," Anderson told the Salt Lake Tribune. "That is what we are going to do. We are going to play our hearts out."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Marcus Mariota played his first full game with a knee brace against Stanford and was held to minus-16 rushing yards as his left knee seemed to limit his running. He had 493 rushing yards on 49 carries in his first seven games and had at least one rushing touchdown in each game, but has gained yardage on only one rush since putting on the knee brace at halftime against Utah on Oct. 26. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse," Mariota said. "My knee is what it is, it is not an excuse and I am not going to let it be an excuse."
--RB De'Anthony Thomas had a season-high four catches for 45 yards against Stanford after leading Oregon in receptions last year. Thomas was used as a slot receiver often last year, but began this season as the starting running back before Byron Marshall had five straight 100-yard games. Thomas said he hopes to play more receiver this season. "I love running routes, catching the ball, and love making people miss in space," he said.
--RB Byron Marshall ran for at least 100 yards in the first five conference games, but struggled against Stanford. He finished with 11 carries for 46 yards. With Thomas now playing more at receiver, Marshall looks like Oregon's feature back.
--S Brian Jackson had a career-high 14 tackles against Stanford. The senior had six solo tackles after not having more than six total tackles in any game this season. His previous career high in tackles was 10.
--QB Travis Wilson is 4-5 this season and 7-9 in his career as the starter. Wilson has played in all 21 games since his true freshman season in 2012 and has started the last 16. Wilson played the entire game against Arizona State last Saturday after being hampered by a hand injury in the two previous games against Arizona and USC. The 6-foot-6 Wilson is the Utes' second-leading rusher with 386 yards on 81 carries and five touchdowns.
--WR Dres Anderson leads the Pac-12 in yards per reception (20.1). He leads Utah in receptions (37), receiving yards (742), yards per game (82.4) and touchdown catches (6). His 742 receiving yards is nearly double that of second-leading receiver Sean Fitzgerald, who has 26 catches for 397 yards. His six receptions of 50 yards or longer ranks second nationally.
--LT Jeremiah Poutasi is the leader of an offensive line that is under scrutiny after allowing Utah quarterbacks to be sacked 13 times in the last three games. Poutasi has nine knockdown blocks and seven pancake blocks. He has participated in 623 offensive plays. Defensive linemen have 7.5 sacks against him, however.
--FS Eric Rowe has played in and started 32 games since his true freshman season. Rowe is tied for ?fth in the Pac-12 in pass breakups with seven. He has 21 career pass breakups (tied for seventh all-time at Utah). He has ?ve career double-digit tackle games
Texas Tech vs. Baylor
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
BCS RANKINGS: Baylor 5th, Texas Tech unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Baylor showed its depth in the win over Oklahoma when running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin went down with injuries and redshirt freshman Shock Linwood had to take over as the primary runner.
Linwood ran for 182 yards against the Sooners.
Now the undefeated Bears face a similar situation at wide receiver with the loss of senior Tevin Reese.
Reese will miss the rest of the regular season with a wrist injury as the unbeaten Bears begin their stretch drive for a Big 12 title and possibly more when they play Texas Tech. The game is Saturday (Nov. 16) in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"What we've got to do is figure out who we're going to lean, how we're going to lean on them and when we're going to lean on them," coach Art Briles said of potential replacements for Reese. "That's the situation."
Reese, who could possibly return for a bowl game, had 33 receptions for 824 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games, second on the team to junior Antwan Goodley in all categories.
Junior Clay Fuller, his backup and likely replacement at one of the inside receiver spots, has 15 catches for 215 yards and one touchdown.
"We do have players who are very capable," Briles said, "and it's a good chance for them to show their competence -- how they can help us and contribute with their accomplishments."
The game against the Red Raiders, who are 7-3 after losing their last three outings, is at a neutral site but is the first of three in a row away from Waco's Floyd Casey Stadium.
After the Raiders, the Bears are at Oklahoma State and at TCU, then finish at home against Texas.
After starting the season with seven consecutive wins and rising to No. 9 in the polls, the Red Raiders have lost their last three and dropped completely out of the Top 25.
One key factor in the skid is that the Raiders have had problems stopping the run, giving up 277 rushing yards to Oklahoma, 281 to Oklahoma State, and 291 to Kansas State.
Even in the win over West Virginia before the losing started the Raiders gave up 183 yards on the ground to the Mountaineers.
"I know it probably sounds repetitive, but we're making the same mistakes," senior defensive end Kerry Hyder said. "We're not tackling well. We're having too many missed assignments.
"So as a defense, if we can clean up those things and tackle better, we can definitely cut down on this large rushing number we've been giving up the past three weeks."
Stopping, or at least slowing, the rush is going to be a major concern going into the game against Baylor Saturday (Nov. 16) in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The unbeaten Bears are rushing for nearly 300 yards a game.
"We're looking at all angles," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Personnel is one thing we've hit on, and schematically just have to get better.
"There is no easy answer. We've tried to rectify the last three weeks and haven't had an answer. So we'll try to figure it out this week."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Redshirt freshman RB Shock Linwood took over when junior Lache Seastrunk and senior Glasco Martin went out with injuries against Oklahoma and rushed 23 times for 182 yards in Baylor's win. Linwood was Seastrunk's primary backup early in the season as Martin recovered from hamstring issues but had seen his role reduced with Martin's return.
--Junior WR Antwan Goodley is Baylor's top receiver. His 10 touchdown receptions are the fifth most in a season in Baylor history, and his 974 receiving yards also are the fifth-most in a season in program history.
--Senior LB Eddie Lackey recorded his first interception of the year in the win over Oklahoma, giving the junior college transfer five in his two seasons with the Bears. He is No. 2 on the team in tackles with 60, including 8.5 for losses.
--Senior DE Chris McAllister is Baylor's sack master. He has 5.5 for the season, which is tied for fifth-most in the Big 12.
--Junior TE Jace Amaro leads the Big 12 in receptions per game by a wide margin with 88 catches, 23 more than his teammate, senior WR Eric Ward. He has had nine consecutive games with at least eight receptions.
--Junior RB Kenny Williams needs to rush for just enough yardage to keep Baylor's defense honest and not go all-out against the pass. He is the Raiders' leading rusher with just 391 yards on 105 carries.
--Senior LB Will Smith is a big-play guy for the Raiders on defense. He leads the team in tackles with 64 with 3.5 of them sacks, and he has broken up two passes.
--Senior DE Kerry Hyder is one of the leaders on the defense. He has 40 tackles overall, among them 10 for losses, which ranks sixth in the Big 12.
Florida at South Carolina
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
SERIES: Florida leads South Carolina 24-6-3 (Last meeting, 2012, Florida 44-11)
BCS RANKINGS: South Carolina 10th, Florida unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
After a lackluster effort in its homecoming loss to Vanderbilt, Florida is trying to stay together.
The Gators (4-5, 3-4 SEC) are looking ahead to their SEC finale at South Carolina with hopes of a finding some kind of spark.
Florida needs to win two of its last three games to keep its string of 22 straight bowl appearances intact. But it won't be easy. After facing No. 11 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC), Florida plays its final two games at home against Georgia Southern and No. 2 Florida State.
"We have to make sure we stay on top of each other and make sure nobody gives up on the season because we still have three games," Florida senior quarterback Tyler Murphy said. "Things can get a lot worse if we do that stuff. We have to keep things going and try to find a way to pull out two of these next three so we can make a bowl game."
Florida showed little fire in its 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt. Familiar mistakes took their toll on the Gators. Florida was penalized 11 times for 84 yards and turned the ball over four times.
It all added up to a Florida loss despite the fact the Gators outgained Vanderbilt in yardage 344-183.
"We gave them a short field," Muschamp said. "They had two decent drives. Four turnovers led to 24 points. You can't win.
"It's frustrating to put ourselves in those positions and shoot ourselves in the foot. It's hard to win that way."
The question remains, do the Gators have enough left in the tank to pull off an upset against the Gamecocks? South Carolina, coached by former Gator coach Steve Spurrier, has won two straight and features SEC leading rusher Mike Davis, who averages 117.6 yards per game.
"We feel confident that we can definitely go into South Carolina and win," Murphy said. "But it's not going to be easy. We're going to have to have a great week of practice and show up on Saturday and execute and do the things we have struggled with throughout the season.
"We're going to have to have a lot of things come together and we're probably going to have to play our best game of the year. I'm going to make sure guys are focused and not giving up on the season."
A couple of different scenarios exist for South Carolina to make it to the SEC Championship Game, but the most realistic of those requires one thing first.
The Gamecocks must beat Florida in their final SEC game of the season.
The two teams meet Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
The Gamecocks are 5-2 and trail 5-1 Missouri in the Eastern Division. They need the Tigers, who are off this weekend before finishing against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, to lose at least once more, and if the two teams end up tied for the division, South Carolina holds the tiebreaker.
The Gamecocks also need Georgia, which also has lost two SEC games, to drop at least one of its last two against Auburn and Kentucky.
If South Carolina loses a third league game, the Gamecocks still would be mathematically alive but would need both Missouri and Georgia to lose their final two games as well, a longest of long shots.
"We can't win it this week," senior right guard Ronald Patrick said, "but we can lose it this week. So, we just need to focus on ourselves and go out there and prepare."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Tyler Murphy refused to use his injured shoulder as an excuse for his poor performance against Vanderbilt. Murphy finished the game with three interceptions that led to 21 Vanderbilt points. He finished the game 30 of 46 passing with 305 yards and one TD, but many of his yards came late against a Vanderbilt prevent defense. For the season, Murphy has passed for 1,216 yards with a TD to interception ratio of 6 to 5.
--RB Kelvin Taylor scored his second TD of the season on a 4-yard run against Taylor. Against Vanderbilt, Taylor finished with a team-high 47 yards rushing on 14 carries. For the season, Taylor has rushed for 295 yards on 4.8 yards per carry.
--WR Ahmad Fulwood caught his first career TD pass, an 11-yard catch that caromed off the leg of a Vanderbilt defensive back into his hands. The catch showed good awareness by the true freshman, who is starting to gain the trust of his coaches. The 6-foot-5, 196-pound Fulwood is a big target. He finished the Vanderbilt game with three catches for 33 yards and a TD.
--LB Ronald Powell was one of the few bright spots for the Gators on defense with one sack and three tackles for loss. It's been a long road back for Powell, who underwent a pair of ACL surgeries that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season. For the season, Powell has 6 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback hurries and a team-high 4 sacks.
--QB Conner Shaw has been banged up all season but may go without a knee brace against Florida. He is South Carolina's second-leading rusher with 375 yards and has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns against only one interception.
--RB Mike Davis has been the workhorse for the Gamecocks when it comes to running the football with 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He could be kept fresher with the return of backup Brandon Wilds.
--WR Pharoh Cooper, a freshman, has done a little bit of everything for the Gamecocks. He has just one reception for 12 yards but has 94 yards on 12 rushes and has averaged 21.4 yards on seven kickoff returns and 6.0 on seven punt returns.
--DE Jadeveon Clowney hasn't had the kind of numbers many expected of him (27 tackles, 6.5 for losses, 2.0 sacks), but he still has to be accounted for by opposing offenses. He also has had a bye week to get some rest, which should make him even more dangerous.
Houston at Louisville
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
SERIES: Louisville and Houston are tied 7-7, but they haven't played since 2004, when the Cardinals destroyed the Cougars 65-27 in what was a Conference USA clash. Louisville is leaving next year for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
BCS RANKINGS: Louisville 20th, Houston unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Seven little yards is all that stood in the way of Houston as it looked to take a gigantic step toward transforming a sub-.500 club last season into a potential BCS bowl participant this season.
But when Cougars quarterback John O'Korn just missed threading the ball in to Aaron Johnson on a fourth-down throw with only 14 seconds remaining on the clock, Houston left Orlando 19-14 losers to the lone conference's undefeated team, Central Florida. The loss, 7-2 Houston's first in American Athletic Conference play, cost the Cougars first place and front-runner status for the AAC champion's automatic BCS bowl bid with less than a month to play.
A defense that leads the nation with 31 forced turnovers kept Houston in the fight despite an offense, which boasted scores in every quarter dating back to the final seven periods of 2012 coming in, producing zero points through 30 minutes and little more first-half yardage. The defense added three more takeaways Saturday, including outside linebacker Steven Taylor's fumble recovery and a Trevon Stewart interception that stopped red-zone forays on UCF's first two possessions of the afternoon to establish the defensive-minded tone.
Houston responded to its only other defeat, a 47-46 Oct. 19 home loss to Brigham Young, with maybe its best performance to date this season in a dominating conference win at Rutgers. That same sort of resiliency will be a must as No. 20 Louisville is on deck in an 11 a.m. CST start on Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"They're athletic and fast and create a lot of turnovers," Louisville junior center Jake Smith said of the hustling Houston defense. "Texas is a hotbed of recruiting. You're going to find a lot of gems there."
Reviving a Houston offensive attack that totaled just 367 yards of offense will be no small trick for first-year coordinator Doug Meacham, even more so facing the nation's No. 1 scoring defense in Louisville, which allows 10.6 points a game.
One gauge Houston can use going into Louisville is success against common opponents, as the Cardinals fell 34-31 last month to UCF at home.
Although they were never in danger of losing at 0-8 Connecticut last week, Louisville would have lost if it had played even an average team, much less a good one. They committed 12 penalties for 101 yards, dropped numerous passes and generally had the mental sharpness of someone who hadn't slept in a day.
It will take a much more focused, detailed performance Saturday night to beat visiting Houston in an American Athletic Conference contest. The Cougars came within a late interception of winning at AAC leader Central Florida and have retooled quickly under second-year coach Tony Levine, coming into town at 7-2.
"They are similar to Central Florida," Cardinals coach Charlie Strong said. "They are going to run the zone read and they are always going to have an outlet for the quarterback, where they can throw the ball to the outside. If you go seal the run, then the ball is going to go to the outside."
Houston's similarity to the Knights might be bad news for Louisville. While they have the top-scoring defense in FBS at 10.6 points per game, the Cardinals hacked up 38 points to UCF last month.
Less imposing is the Cougars' defense, which is ranked 88th nationally and a weak 115th against the pass. If Teddy Bridgewater's receivers can quit doing Edward Scissorhands impressions, Louisville could light up the scoreboard.
Although the Cardinals still trail Central Florida by a game in the AAC, and the Knights don't play a strong schedule down the stretch, Strong is still trying to motivate his team to believe that an AAC title is still possible.
"A year ago, we were 9-0 and no one ever thought we would go into Syracuse and get slapped around," Strong said. "There is a lot of football that is still left to be played. We just have to make sure we take care of our business."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--S Trevon Stewart's interception was his fourth of the season, and he has now picked off a pass in three successive contests. Last year's Freshman All-American led all tacklers Saturday with 13 stops, his fourth contest with double-digit tackles on the season and 10th of his brief career.
--Backup DT B.J. Singleton still finds a way to continuously show up on film despite not cracking the starting lineup. While not recording a single tackle, the 6-3, 277-pound redshirt freshman made a huge play on special teams, blocking his third field-goal attempt of the season to keep the Cougars within a touchdown late.
--After punting five times for an average of 45.8 yards, P Richie Leone was named one of 10 semifinalists Monday for the Ray Guy Award. It was a third straight semifinalist appearance for Leone, who was the 2011 runner-up. The senior is averaging 42.9 yards on 37 boots, dropping 20 inside the 20 with just two touchbacks.
--QB Teddy Bridgewater extended his streak of games with a TD pass to 21 at Connecticut, hitting DeVante Parker with a 28-yard strike in the second quarter. Bridgewater, who has 24 TD tosses, needs seven more to break Brian Brohm's single-season record of 30. The junior threw a rare interception at UConn, only his third of the year.
--DE Marcus Smith is one of 18 players on the Mid-Season Watch List for the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation's top defensive end. Smith leads FBS in sacks with 10.5 after notching .5 in the win at UConn. Smith has 27 tackles, half of them for a loss, and has also forced a pair of fumbles.
--DE Lorenzo Mauldin joined Smith on the Hendricks Award list that was announced on Monday. Mauldin has 9.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks, and has forced three fumbles this season. His sack total ranks 15th in FBS.
Alabama at Mississippi State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET
SITE: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
SERIES: Alabama owns a 75-18-3 series advantage over Mississippi State, winning last year's game 38-7 in Tuscaloosa. Since falling in 2007 to the Bulldogs, the Tide has won the last five meetings by a combined score of 155-34.
BCS RANKINGS: Alabama 1st, Mississippi State unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Attention to detail. It is part of the process that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban espouses. To him, the need for it was proven last week when his top-ranked team pulled away in the second half for a 38-17 win over LSU.
It will have to be there Saturday night when Alabama makes the short trip to Starkville for another SEC game with Mississippi State, the kind of team which could pose a real problem if that focus doesn't get on the bus.
"If paying attention to detail was important to performance in the last game, which a lot of that happens in preparation and practice, then practicing correctly and paying attention to detail this week is certainly going to affect our focus and our ability to improve as a team and get the kind of preparation that we need to play well against a very good team," Saban said.
The Bulldogs are only 4-5, but all their losses are to Top 25 teams and they have been competitive in most of them. Just last week, they rolled up 41 points but fell victim to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M's high-powered offense.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has rolled up 2,264 total yards, including 1,542 in the air, and accounted for 17 touchdowns. The argument could be made that MSU, which is averaging 29.8 points per game, is one of the best offensive teams the Tide have played this year.
Of course, it can also be said that Alabama hasn't played many good offensive teams. Outside of A&M, Ole Miss and LSU, it hasn't been tested often. And the Bulldogs' leaky defense may render any worries about their productive offense moot.
But just in case, the Tide should pack their attention to detail before they face an opponent looking to make their season.
"This is a very good team that we are going to have to do a really good job of getting ready to play and play well," Saban said. "It is always important to play well on the road. Every place that we play is a difficult place to play and Starkville is no different."
For the third consecutive week, Mississippi State will square off against an opponent ranked inside the top 14.
The Bulldogs have lost two straight on the road to South Carolina and Texas A&M and return home to take on No. 1 Alabama -- a team that has claimed three of the last four national championships.
"It's a great opportunity for us this week," said MSU coach Dan Mullen. "We've got the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country and that's huge. Only nine teams in the whole country have had that opportunity so far this year so it's unique and you don't always get this. For our guys it'll obviously be a great challenge."
The Crimson Tide enters this week's game averaging 452.7 yards per game on offense and scoring 40.9 points. Alabama ranks sixth nationally reaching the end zone on 49-percent of its drives and only has 17 drives of three-and-out all season.
"They lead the nation in just about everything," Mullen said. "I don't know that they have many weak spots. They have a strong offense that's physical. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league and probably the country. They've got two big-time running backs and a fifth-year senior quarterback that knows the system, is a competitor and a winner. They have great wideouts on the perimeter to throw it to and two different tight ends. And they are more of a defensive team though right?"
Alabama is led by veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron, tailbacks T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake and an allotment of playmakers at receiver. As star-studded as Alabama is, it could easily be a high-scoring up-tempo spread team but coach Nick Saban instead chooses to run a pro-style attack featuring a power running game and physical offensive line.
"They are going to pound away at you," Mullen said. "It's not that they don't have talent to spread it out and throw it anytime they want with all the talent they have at receiver and a great fifth-year senior quarterback. But just within their style it's going to be a much more physical game."
The Crimson Tide has had the nation's top recruiting class in five of the last six years. Their 2014 recruiting class is also currently No. 1 according to Rivals.com. That overwhelming amount of talent is what Mullen attributes Alabama's successful depth chart to.
"They're deep," Mullen said. "They've got five-star players as back-ups sitting on the bench and not getting tons of reps. They've got talent at every position and what they've been able to do statistically has been pretty impressive."
Mississippi State has lost 14-straight games to ranked opponents. The Bulldogs come into the week with a 4-5 record with all five losses coming to teams currently ranked in the top 18.
"In this league and the type of schedule we're playing this year, you have to be on your 'A' game," Mullen said. "A 'B' just won't cut it. A 'B' will get you the little things around your neck in college on graduation but a 'B' on an SEC football field will give you a loss which is a failure. It's an 'A' or an 'F' in the SEC in terms of how you play as a team."
State's special teams let them down during Saturday's 51-41 loss at Texas A&M. The Bulldogs had a punt blocked for a touchdown, a field goal blocked, gave up a 97-yard kickoff return and were flagged for roughing the punter.
Mullen serves as Mississippi State's special teams coach and admits it was not a good outing for his unit.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--LB C.J. Mosley is one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, which is given to the nation's top linemen. Mosley leads the team in tackles with 71, including seven for a loss, and has five pass breakups. He was also the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against LSU as he notched a dozen tackles, a pair of pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for loss.
--P Cody Mandell is one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's best punter. Mandell is averaging a school-record 46.4 yards on 27 attempts and has given up only 60 return yards all season. He's downed 10 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line and forced five fair catches.
--RB T.J. Yeldon rushed 25 times for 133 yards and a pair of TDs against LSU, continuing his trend of coming up big in the biggest games. Yeldon is averaging nearly 135 yards per game when the Tide plays ranked teams this year. It was the ninth 100-yard performance in Yeldon's two seasons with the program.
--QB Dak Prescott is tied for third in the SEC with 12 touchdowns scored which leads all signal callers. Prescott is also fifth in the league with 2,264 yards of total offense and was rushed for over 100-yards four times this year.
--WR Jameon Lewis is the only non-quarterback in the country with three touchdown passes. Lewis threw his third score of the season against Texas A&M. He is a former state champion quarterback at Tylertown (Miss.) High School.
--S Nickoe Whitley had an interception against the Aggies over the weekend bringing his total to 14 for his career. That ties him for the lead among active FBS players. Whitley remains two interceptions shy of the school record shared by Walt Harris and Johnthan Banks.
Stanford at Southern Cal
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles
SERIES: USC leads the series with Stanford, 58-29-3 but the Cardinal has won four in a row against the Trojans, including last year's 21-14 victory when USC was ranked No. 2 in the country.
BCS RANKINGS: Stanford 4th, USC unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
USC is bowl eligible at 7-3 overall under interim coach Ed Orgeron after the Trojans appeared headed for a losing season before the firing of Lane Kiffin five games into the season.
Optimism now abounds around the Trojans' program, but the reality of is USC has yet to play a ranked team. Their first ranked opponent Saturday is one of the best in the nation, No. 5 Stanford, which is coming off a significant victory over Oregon at Palo Alto, Calif.
Given their schedule to this point, the Trojans could be 9-1 if placekicker Andre Heidari converted on two field attempts against Notre Dame and miss a field goal with another one blocked against Washington State. USC lost those games by a total of only seven points.
The Trojans might face a ranked UCLA team later this month and a ranked team in a bowl game.
Because of USC's schedule, a 7-3 record is not as noteworthy as in the past. This is only the seventh time in USC history that a 7-3 team is not ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The other years were 1951, 1963, 1966, 1975, 1987 and 1998.
The bottom line is USC is enthusiastic about its chances of catching ASU for the Pac-12 South title and a chance to play either Oregon or Stanford in the conference title game. Orgeron's rah-rah personality is responsible for the optimism.
A recent survey by the Los Angeles Daily News indicates a majority of USC fans want Orgeron to remain as permanent head coach. But the second vote-getter is Jon Gruden, who has reiterated he is not interested in returning to coaching.
ESPN's GameDay will undoubtedly delve into the subject when it is televised live from Los Angeles highlighting the Stanford-USC game. The Trojans are excited about the matchup.
"Hopefully our fans will show up," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. "It's going to be a showdown and exciting."
The Trojans' largest attendance this season was an announced crowd of 77,823 in the home opener against Washington State.
If Stanford (8-1, 6-1 in the conference) and Oregon finish tied atop the Pac-12 North Division at 8-1, Stanford would get to play in the conference title-game based on its victory over the Ducks. The Cardinal would earn the home field in that game because it would have beaten the three teams in the running for the Pac-12 South title (Arizona State, UCLA and USC).
The Cardinal also has a game against Notre Dame remaining on Nov. 30 at Stanford. And Stanford would also have to win that game to have a shot at a berth in the BCS national title game.
Even sweeping its final four games, including the Pac-12 title game, might not get the Cardinal into the national title game. Although it is No. 4 in BCS standings released Nov. 10, four of the top five teams in the BCS standings are unbeaten. Stanford probably would need three of those teams to lose a game for the Cardinal to get in. It's not even certain that Stanford would get the national title game berth ahead of another one-loss team.
What does seem clear is that Stanford's biggest remaining challenge will be the Trojans, who have become a different team since the firing of Lane Kiffin.
USC (7-3, 4-2) is 4-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron and have won three in row. The Trojans are loose and confident under Orgeron, much like they were under Pete Carroll.
"They're healthy now and they're dangerous," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--WR Marqise Lee, a junior, caught only one pass for 13 yards last week at Cal, making him quip, "I'm filing for unemployment." Look for Lee to have a marquee game against No. 5 Stanford in front of a national television audience Saturday. Lee is still within striking distance to reach Robert Woods' career receptions record at USC. Lee has struggled with an unproductive offense, especially earlier in the year, and a knee injury. But he is only 23 receptions behind Woods (252) with three regular-season games and a bowl game remaining. Lee missed the Arizona game and half of the Notre Dame game while he nursed his knee injury. Lee has caught 38 passes for 521 yards with just two touchdowns this season.
--WR Nelson Agholor has stepped forward in Lee's absence from injury and reduced production this season. He had two electrifying returns for touchdowns against Cal last week. Agholor was named to the Paul Hornung Honor Roll because of the performance.
--S Su'a Cravens, a talented true freshman like UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, has told USC coaches that he would also like to play tailback or receiver. Jack played tailback and linebacker against Arizona last week and rushed for 120 yards on six carries. USC interim coach Ed Orgeron is all for supporting his players but he does not approve of the idea. "He would probably be a great two-way player, (but) we have not discussed that," Orgeron said. "Being a freshman, he has enough on his plate. I just don't think we can afford to do it."
--PK Andre Heidari, who missed an extra point and 46-yard field goal against Cal, will remain the Trojans' kicker. Heidari, who missed two field goals that proved to be the difference at Notre Dame, has been inconsistent this season. Orgeron opened competition for the kicking duties after the Notre Dame game but stuck with Heidari.
--QB Kevin Hogan is 13-1 as a starter, but he has not played particularly well the past five games. Over the past two games he was just 15-for-31 for 191 yards. He did not throw any interceptions in those two games, though, and he ran the ball effectively against Oregon. He needs to pass and run effectively against USC.
--WR Ty Montgomery has emerged as a big-play threat as a receiver and kick-returner, something Stanford has lacked in recent years. He leads the team in receptions and receiving yards and is first nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 33.6 yards. He had only two catches for 20 yards against Oregon, but he did have a 57-yard kickoff return.
--RB Tyler Gaffney has become a workhorse and the epitome of the Cardinal's power running game. He had a school-record 45 carries against Oregon and has had 171, 145 and 157 yards rushing in the pivotal wins over UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon, respectively. He totaled 103 carries in those three games, all Stanford victories. He ranks 12th in the country in rushing at 112.5 yards a game.
--OLB Trent Murphy is the team's big-play defender. He has 14.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, an interception, three blocked passes, and one blocked kick. He is capable of turning the game around with one play. He needs to apply pressure on USC quarterback Cody Kessler.
Oregon State at Arizona State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Network
SERIES: Arizona State leads the series against Oregon State, 26-12-1. The Beavers won last season, 36-26 in Corvallis.
BCS RANKINGS: Arizona State 19th, Oregon State unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Arizona State is in control of the Pac-12 South, with a showdown at UCLA looming, but there is some tricky business first.
The Sun Devils (7-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference) have a home game against Oregon State before putting it on the line vs. the Bruins.
"Three steps away from where we want to be, and that is playing for a championship," coach Todd Graham said.
"Our guys are staying really grounded. This team is extremely close and they're finding ways to win games."
Oregon State is a challenge because of the passing of Sean Mannion and the receiving of Brandin Cooks. Mannion leads the nation with 393.3 passing yards per game, and Cooks is the nation's leader in receiving yards at 149.3 per game.
"Big-play capabilities," Graham said.
"Cooks, man, he is really special. In my opinion, he is the best receiver I have seen on film in this conference, and that is saying a lot. He is unbelievably productive."
ASU's offense has also been very productive, ranking eighth nationally with 43.7 points per game, although it managed a mere 20 points last week at Utah. That was just good enough, as the Utes scored 19.
"It doesn't matter if it was 50 or one point," Graham said. "That's what championship teams do. They find ways to win like that."
No. 21 ASU is finding ways to win, which is a new trait for the Devils. In the previous four seasons, they were 4-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less. In addition to beating Utah by one point, ASU held on to defeat Wisconsin by two points, although they did lost by three vs. Notre Dame. ASU is doing a good job of controlling its emotion, Graham said.
Another key factor -- and this will be a confidence boost at UCLA on Nov. 23 -- is that ASU has won two in a row on the road, another stumbling block in recent seasons.
ASU heads into its Saturday night game against Oregon State with a one-game lead in the South on UCLA and USC, which already has lost to the Devils.
"This team has been really, really special to watch, at night and at home," Graham said of his guys. "It's been a fun team to watch how they compete."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--DT Will Sutton had an All-American moment to seal last week's game at Utah, stepping into the passing lane and swallowing up an interception. He has 7.5 tackles for loss, and his pass-rush skills should be on display this week against Oregon State.
--DE Gannon Conway had a sack and shared a tackle for loss last week at Utah, which was the best game of the senior's career, said coach Todd Graham. "He's the most improved player in our program," Graham said. "He's different physically as a player this year than he was last year. I think he's stronger. He's faster. He's more mature. And I think he's smarter." Conway often has come out on third downs, but he'll stay in the game now, Graham said.
--QB Taylor Kelly is 34th nationally in passing efficiency (146.7 rating), and he has completed 214 of 341 passes for 2,655 yards, with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's coming off a game in which he passed for only 144 yards, but he typically plays better at home.
--RB Marion Grice hasn't scored in the past two games, dropping him into a tie for first nationally in scoring at 12.0 points per game. Perhaps that just means that Grice is due vs. Oregon State this Saturday. He has rushed for 783 yards and 12 touchdowns on 149 attempts, also catching 39 passes for 353 yards and six scores. He is the only player in the nation with more than 300 yards rushing, receiving and on kick returns.
--WR Malik Gilmore took over the slot receiver position with Kevin Cummings lost for the rest of the season due to a wrist injury. The redshirt freshman responded with three receptions for 39 yards against USC, after only one reception in the first six games. His role becomes even more important with teams focusing on Brandin Cooks, and increased pressure from pass rushes meaning there will be the need for more quick patterns on the inside, where Gilmore will need to be a factor.
--OL Josh Andrews and Grant Enger, OSU's starting offensive guards, will have to often deal with Arizona State's Will Sutton, who was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2012 and is back again terrorizing offensive lines. Andrews and Enger will often get help with Sutton, but they're going to need to sometimes deal with him alone. It's probably the most difficult task an offensive lineman faces in the Pac-12, and Andrews and Enger haven't had the best of senior seasons so far.
--QB Sean Mannnion is always in the spotlight for the Beavers, but perhaps never more so than in this game against ASU. He had his least productive games of the season in OSU's consecutive defeats, reminding everyone how important he is. But his lack of mobility showed up against Stanford as he was sacked eight times and he then rushed several throws against USC, resulting in three interceptions. ASU will be very aggressive, and it's something Mannion didn't see last season because he was the backup who didn't play against the Sun Devils. Against a different ASU system two years ago, he set OSU records with 40 completions in 66 attempts and those seem likely to be numbers he'll need to approach for an OSU win in this game.