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College Football 2012 — Week 10 Preview

Alabama v LSU, Round 3
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Last week’s showdowns knocked several teams from the ranks of the unbeaten and shook up the rankings. This week, we get two of the biggest games of the season, with Alabama-LSU and Oregon-USC setting the stage for conference- and national-championship runs.

But the excitement doesn’t stop there. Here is what to watch for around the top 25:

[All times Eastern.]

#1 ALABAMA (8-0) AT #5 LOUISIANA STATE (7-1)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on CBS]

Last year, these two teams gave us the two most anticipated games of the year, and this season isn’t much different. Alabama and LSU boast two of the top defenses in the game, ranking first and third, respectively, in total defense. The Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, with quarterback A.J. McCarron leading the nation in pass efficiency. However, while Alabama has blown away the opposition by an average of over 37 points per game, they have played just one ranked team and aren’t as battle-tested as an LSU squad that is playing its fourth consecutive ranked opponent and has had a bye week to prepare. Last year’s matchups turned on key mistakes (Alabama’s missed field goals in the first game and LSU’s fourth-quarter fumble that set up a Trent Richardson touchdown in the BCS title game). With both defenses playing at such a high level, this game could once again come down to which offense makes the fewest mistakes.

#2 OREGON (8-0) AT #18 SOUTHERN CAL (6-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on FOX]

Oregon is undefeated since last season’s home loss to USC, and the Ducks have both revenge and national title hopes on their mind. In last week’s loss to Arizona, the Trojans surrendered a season-high 222 rushing yards, but things aren’t likely to get any easier against the nation’s seventh-best rushing offense and top scoring offense. Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas have combined for almost 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns despite sitting in the second half of most of Oregon’s blowout wins. However, USC has the ability to compete in a shootout, with receivers Marquise Lee and Robert Woods putting up over 1,700 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. This is the ninth straight time the two teams have met when both were ranked. Oregon has won 12 straight road games.

OKLAHOMA STATE (5-3) AT #3 KANSAS STATE (8-0)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

The defending conference champions will try to take down the undefeated Wildcats in this matchup of the only two teams who control their own destiny in the Big 12. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein continues to bolster his Heisman resume, scoring 18 touchdowns in the last four weeks. He’s been helped by a stingy defense that ranks 13th nationally in scoring and has only given up more than 21 points once this season. However, they’ll be challenged this week by an Oklahoma State offense that leads the nation in total offense and is sixth in scoring. After missing three games with a knee injury, Cowboys starting quarterback Wes Lunt returned to throw for 324 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over TCU. Kansas State is off to its first 8-0 start since 1999.

PITTSBURGH (4-4) AT #4 NOTRE DAME (8-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on NBC]

After their big win at Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish return home to face a Pitt squad that has won two in a row but has yet to face a team as dominant as Notre Dame. Pitt ranks 63rd nationally in scoring offense, and it’s unlikely they’ll find much success against an Irish defense that is second in the nation in scoring defense and has only given up more than 14 points once this season. Linebacker Manti Te’o is averaging ten tackles a game for a defensive unit that is giving up less than 300 yards per game. Notre Dame has beaten Pitt the last two years, but the Panthers have won two of the last three in South Bend. The Irish are seeking their first 9-0 start since 1993.

ILLINOIS (2-6) AT #6 OHIO STATE (9-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN]

Quarterback Braxton Miller leads the Big Ten in rushing and should be able to have another big game against an Illinois defense that ranks 86th nationally in scoring. The Buckeyes’ signal caller left their Week Eight game against Purdue with a neck injury, but has rushed for 130+ yards in each of Ohio State’s other four games in the last five weeks. The Illini’s losses have come by an average of 26.4 points per game, with the offense managing just 62 total points in the teams last five games combined. Ohio State is seeking its first 10-0 start since 2007, while the Illini are looking to avoid a six-game losing streak.

MISSISSIPPI (5-3) AT #7 GEORGIA (7-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

After upsetting Florida last week, the Bulldogs now control their own destiny in the SEC East. Georgia’s defense had given up 300+ yards in every game prior to last week and at least 20 in all but one this season. But they picked a great week to turn things around with their best game of the season, holding the Gators to just 266 yards and forcing six turnovers. This week, they’ll face off with an Ole Miss offense that is sixth in the SEC in scoring but has put up 71 points combined in its last two games. The wild card in this game could be the Georgia offense’s ability to rebound—after scoring at least 41 points in their first five games of the season, the Bulldogs have managed just 45 total points in their last three games. Ole Miss is seeking its first three-game winning streak in three years, but Georgia has won nine straight over the Rebels.

MISSOURI (4-4) AT #8 FLORIDA (7-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN2]

Following their six-turnover loss to Georgia, the Gators will look to regroup against a Missouri squad that has struggled mightily in its first year of SEC play. The Tigers just got their first conference win last week (over Kentucky), but face a much tougher task this week against a Florida defense that is sixth in the nation in total defense and fourth in scoring. The Tigers offense ranks 91st in points scored and has only put up more than 24 points twice this season. However, that is still head of Florida’s offense, which 102nd in total offense. This is Missouri’s first-ever visit to Gainesville.

#9 FLORIDA STATE, BYE

The Seminoles have a week off before returning to action next Thursday night at Virginia Tech.

#10 CLEMSON (7-1) AT DUKE (6-3)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2]

Duke gave up 48 points in last week’s loss to Florida State and faces another tough task this week against a Clemson offense that ranks 10th nationally in scoring (41 points per game). In last week’s win over Wake Forest, Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards and five touchdowns, part of Clemson’s 534 total yards. Clemson has put up at least 38 points in each of its last seven games. Duke is bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, which is also the last time they beat a ranked opponent. However, they could go into this game shorthanded as the status of quarterback Sean Renfree, who left last week’s game with a head injury, is uncertain.

#11 SOUTH CAROLINA, BYE

After losing star running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury last week, the Gamecocks have a week off to regroup and prepare for next weekend’s game against Arkansas.

TEMPLE (3-4) AT #12 LOUISVILLE (8-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ABC]

Louisville needed a stop in overtime last week against Cincinnati to keep its hopes for an undefeated season alive. This week, they should face an easier task against a Temple squad that has lost two in a row by a combined score of 82-27. Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for a career-high 416 yards in last weeks win and ranks 12th nationally in pass efficiency. He’ll go against an Owls defense that ranks 77th in passing defense. Temple is even worse on offense, ranking 121st in total yards. Louisville is seeking its first 9-0 start in school history.

ARIZONA STATE (5-3) AT #13 OREGON STATE (6-1)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2]

The big story going into this game is the upheaval with the Beavers’ quarterback situation. Sean Mannion started the first four games of the season for Oregon State before missing two games with a knee injury. He returned to action last week but threw four interceptions before being benched in favor of backup Cody Vaz. Now Vaz, who threw for 506 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in his two games replacing Mannion. Vaz will face an interesting test against an Arizona State defense that leads the PAC-12 in both total defense and pass defense, but that has given up 88 points and 930 yards in back-to-back losses to Oregon and UCLA. Arizona State has not beaten a ranked team on the road since 2002.

#14 OKLAHOMA (5-2) AT IOWA STATE (5-3)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ABC]

Oklahoma’s only two losses this year have been at the hands of #3 Kansas State and #4 Notre Dame. But two home losses in one season will start raising eyebrows among the Sooner faithful. Bob Stoops and the Sooners will look to rebound with a road trip to Iowa State. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has fared well against the Cyclones, throwing for 590 yards and three touchdowns in two previous meetings. Despite being held to just 13 points by Notre Dame’s stifling defense, the Sooners still average over 40 points per game (14th nationally). Iowa State has struggled on offense, scoring just 25 points per game. But quarterback Steele Jantz threw for 381 yards and a school-record five touchdowns last week. The Cyclones have lost 13 straight to Oklahoma.

#15 STANFORD (6-2) AT COLORADO (1-7)

[Saturday, 2 p.m. on FX]

Stanford’s offense has struggled this year without Andrew Luck (90th in total offense, 69th in scoring), but should still be able to find some success against an atrocious Colorado defense that ranks 114th in scoring defense and has given up 42 or more points in each of the Buffs’ current four-game losing streak. Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes has had some great moments, but has also struggled at times. Backup Kevin Hogan has played sparingly in the last two games, mostly running plays out of the wildcat formation, but coach David Shaw said he plans to give Hogan 12-20 snaps this week against Colorado.

#16 TEXAS A&M (6-2) AT #17 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN]

After losing to LSU two weeks ago, Texas A&M’s offense rebounded in a big way against Auburn. at halftime, A&M had outgained the Tigers 464-91. The Aggies had 28 points on the board before Auburn ever made a first down. The Aggies scored on seven of their first eight possessions and jumped out to a 49-7 lead before the starters were pulled early in the third quarter. This week, however, the Aggies third-ranked scoring offense will face a much tougher challenge against a Bulldogs defense that ranks 15th in scoring defense and has held five of its eight opponents to 14 or fewer points. This is the second week of a brutal three-game stretch for Mississippi State, with consecutive games at Alabama, versus A&M and at LSU.

SAN DIEGO STATE (6-3) AT #19 BOISE STATE (7-1)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network]

Boise State has been getting the job done on defense this season, ranking fifth in the nation in scoring defense. This week, however, they could be shorthanded as starting safety Lee Hightower has been suspended and cornerback Bryan Douglas is out with a knee injury. Despite these absences, the Boise defense should still pose a stiff challenge to Aztecs quarterback Adam Dingwell, who is making just his second career start. With a young quarterback, expect San Diego State to try to get the job done on the ground, where they average over 223 rushing yards per game (18th in the nation). San Diego State is riding a four-game winning streak, and is hoping to earn its first five-game streak since 1995. However, they are just 1-27 in their last 28 games against ranked opponents.

TEXAS (6-2) AT #20 TEXAS TECH (6-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

Despite a shaky showing last weekend, David Ash will again start for the Longhorns. Ash was just 8/16 for 63 yards and two interceptions in last week’s game against Kansas before being pulled in favor of Case McCoy, who led the game-winning drive in the game’s final minute. But the Longhorns’ bigger concern might be a porous defense that has given up almost 33 points per game (97th in the nation) going against the Seth Doege (2,540 yards and 30 touchdowns this season) and the nation’s third-best passing attack. The Red Raiders defense has been stout this season (12th in total defense), but was lit up with eight straight scoring drives in a big second half by Kansas State. Texas has won three straight over the Red Raiders.

#21 NEBRASKA (6-2) AT MICHIGAN STATE (5-4)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

With a win over Michigan last week, Nebraska is now in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten Legends division. But they face a tough road test this week against the Big Ten’s top defense. However, they may be up to the challenge with the conference’s best offense. Nebraska is seventh in the nation in rushing offense and quarterback Taylor Martinez’s passing has been a pleasant surprise for the Cornhuskers this season, as he is completing 66 percent of his passes and ranks 18th nationally in pass efficiency. The Nebraska defense, which was humiliated in early losses to UCLA and Ohio State, has improved in recent weeks, giving up just 489 total yards the last two weeks. Even with running back LeVeon Bell already over 1,000 yards on the season, the Spartans still rank last in the Big Ten in rushing. They are trying to avoid their first three-game home losing streak since 2006.

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (5-3) AT #22 LOUISIANA TECH (7-1)

[Saturday, 4 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]

Louisiana Tech is coming off its first win ever as a ranked team, and will try to make it two in a row against the Roadrunners. UTSA is suffering through a three-game losing streak in which they’ve given up an average of 45 points per game. Things aren’t likely to improve this week against a Bulldogs offense that is second in the nation in scoring.

TEXAS CHRISTIAN (5-3) AT #23 WEST VIRGINIA (5-2)

[Saturday, 3 p.m. on FOX]

After back-to-back blowout losses, West Virginia had a bye week to try to regroup. This week, they’ll try to get back on track against their fellow Big 12 newcomers. The Mountaineers had been averaging 52 points per game in their first five wins of the season, but have put up just 14 in each of their last two losses. This week, they’ll face a TCU defense that gave up just 29 total points in their first four games but has been lit up for 150 in their last four. The Horned Frogs have lost three of their last four games and are hoping to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 1998. West Virginia has not lost back-to-back home games since 2003.

#24 ARIZONA (5-3) AT #25 UCLA (6-2)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on PAC-12 Network]

UCLA’s defense has given up 40 or more points in two of their last three games, which could spell trouble against Arizona quarterback Matt Scott. Scott is third in the nation in passing and accounted for 469 total yards and four touchdowns in last week’s win over USC. However, the Bruins have an offensive weapon of their own in running back Johnathan Franklin, the PAC-12’s leading rusher. Arizona has won five straight in this series. Last year’s matchup, a 48-12 Arizona rout, is best remembered for a bench-clearing brawl, so there is no love lost between these two teams.

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