October 27, 2010

Viewer's guide: Top teams face road tests

In the first week of BCS standings, we saw the first shift in the championship race when No. 1 Oklahoma fell to Missouri. More changes could be in store this weekend as home-field advantages are put to the test.

Five of the top six teams in the BCS standings will be on the road this weekend, and two unbeatens (No. 5 Michigan State and No. 6 Missouri) face ranked opponents on the road.

There's also a key game involving USC, which is ineligible for the postseason. This week, the Trojans attempt to play spoiler in the national championship race when they play host to No. 2 Oregon.

Here's a look at the top five games to watch Saturday, plus Thursday's nationally televised prime-time game.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 9 VIEWER'S GUIDE
SATURDAY

FLORIDA VS. GEORGIA
When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: Georgia by 3
Why you should watch: "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" lacks the buzz and national significance of recent meetings, but each fan base is anxiously awaiting this game as a sort of progress report. As lackluster as the season has been, Florida controls its own path to the SEC championship game. Meanwhile, Georgia enters this game on a hot streak, having scored at least 40 points in its past three games (Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky). That may not sound like much, but the winning streak has Georgia alive in the SEC East race. Florida, which had a week off to tweak its stagnant offense, is looking to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 1988.

MICHIGAN STATE AT IOWA
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Iowa by 6.5
Why you should watch: Iowa is the biggest (last?) remaining obstacle to Michigan State finishing undefeated. After Saturday, the Spartans' remaining games are against Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State. Michigan State has shed its reputation of a collapse-prone team and now looks like a team of destiny. The Spartans struggled with Northwestern last week but used another fake kick (a fake punt called "Mousetrap"; the fake field goal to beat Notre Dame was called "Little Giants") to come away with a 35-27 win. Iowa's defense without coordinator Norm Parker hasn't been its typical run-stuffing self. The Hawkeyes were the last team in the country to allow a rushing touchdown, but Iowa suddenly has given up five TD runs in the past two games. Those games were against the Big Ten's most run-oriented teams, Michigan and Wisconsin, but Michigan State's rushing attack shouldn't be overlooked with Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell combining for 1,353 yards and 15 touchdowns.

MISSOURI AT NEBRASKA
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Ron Franklin play-by-play, Ed Cunningham analyst
The line: Nebraska by 7
Why you should watch: Missouri's win over Oklahoma last week put the Tigers in the discussion for the national championship. The question now: Can Missouri stay there? The Tigers face their toughest road trip of the season; they've won only one time (2008) in Lincoln since 1978. Missouri started the season with no fanfare, but the Tigers rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense at 13.1 points per game. QB Blaine Gabbert hasn't thrown an interception in conference play this season after throwing seven picks last season (two against Nebraska). The Huskers rebounded from their home loss to Texas by overwhelming Oklahoma State's defense. Redshirt freshman QB Taylor Martinez had his best game as a passer by far (323 yards and five touchdowns) a week after the worst outing of his young career. Suddenly, though, Nebraska's defense has issues; Oklahoma State put up 495 yards and 41 points last week, and the Huskers allowed Texas to look competent offensively two weeks ago.

STANFORD AT WASHINGTON
When: 7 p.m., Versus
Broadcasters: Ron Thulin play-by-play, Glenn Parker and Lewis Johnson analysts
The line: Stanford by 7.5
Why you should watch: Because of the quarterbacks involved, this is a game that may appeal more to NFL draftniks than those interested in the national title hunt. Stanford's Andrew Luck and Washington's Jake Locker are projected as first-round picks, but Locker may be limited in this game. Locker says he will play, but he sustained a thigh bruise against Arizona State on Oct. 9 and sore ribs against Oregon State on Oct. 16. Luck is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency and is 40-of-52 in his past two games. Stanford lost to Oregon, but still has a shot at a BCS bid if it can win out.

OREGON AT USC
When: 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Oregon by 7
Why you should watch The BCS computers aren't huge fans of Oregon. Both polls used by the BCS have the Ducks ranked first, but Oregon's average computer ranking is eighth. The Ducks have a chance to build that resume in the coming weeks, starting against USC. Though the Trojans are on probation, they are ranked 24th in The Associated Press poll; they are banned from being ranked in the polls used by the BCS, and while they can be ranked by the BCS computers, they are removed from the standings. Oregon's offense has been steamrolling opponents. USC's defense isn't what it was, but the Trojans' offense is putting up its best numbers since 2005. USC has lost twice, both on final-play field goals, but QB Matt Barkley has been great.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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