October 24, 2007

Thursday night features key matchup

ESPN sure knows how to pick its Thursday night games.

For the second week in a row, the undefeated No. 2 team in the country goes on the road for a key conference game and a key game in the national-title picture.

Second-ranked Boston College faces its toughest test of the season when it visits Virginia Tech on Thursday night, and it will hope for better luck than former No. 2 USF had last week, when the Bulls lost to Rutgers.

The undefeated team atop the polls, No. 1 Ohio State, also faces its toughest test thus far when it visits No. 24 Penn State on Saturday.

Could it be another rough weekend for top ranked teams or will there finally be some stability atop the polls? Rivals.com will help you sort out the madness in the Five to Watch.

All times Eastern.

Boston College (7-0, 3-0 ACC) at Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0 ACC)

Time: 7:30 p.m.
Network: ESPN
Storylines: The game between two top-10 ACC teams could be a preview of the conference title game, as well as Boston College's biggest obstacle to date. Virginia Tech is 13-2 when playing on ESPN on Thursday night but both losses have been to Boston College. After leading his team to five consecutive wins, Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor (ankle) is questionable.
Player to watch: Virginia Tech's offense has been among the worst in the country, ranking last in the ACC in yards per game. Given the quarterback situation, tailback Branden Ore, who has yet to run for 100 yards in a game this year, needs a breakout performance. But it will have to come against one of the nation's best run defenses.
Best matchup: Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan vs. Virginia Tech's defense. If Ryan is to remain a Heisman candidate, he will have to do so against a Hokies defense that remains formidable even without linebacker Vince Hall (out with an injured wrist).

USC (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) at Oregon (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10)

Time: 3 p.m.
Network: Fox Sports Net
Storylines: Oregon is ranked fifth in the BCS standings. Arizona State and UCLA top the Pac-10 standings, but we all know the rest of the Pac-10 is chasing USC. Despite the loss at home to Cal, the Ducks remain in the national-title hunt and can pad their resume by putting a dent in the Trojans' hopes of winning their sixth consecutive Pac-10 title. USC's Mark Sanchez may earn a third consecutive start at quarterback. John David Booty is questionable with a broken finger.
Player to watch: Has tailback Jonathan Stewart replaced quarterback Dennis Dixon as Oregon's offensive MVP? Stewart is sixth in the nation in rushing after running for 251 yards last week against Washington.
Best matchup: Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon vs. USC's defense. Lost in USC's struggles this year is that its defense is continuing to play well despite injuries. The Trojans are coming off a shutout of Notre Dame and successfully contained the only dual-threat quarterback (Washington's Jake Locker) they've faced this year.

Florida (5-2, 3-2 SEC) vs. Georgia (5-2, 3-2 SEC) in Jacksonville.

Time: 3:30 p.m.
Network: CBS
Storylines: Florida and South Carolina are the only two teams that control their destiny in the hotly contested SEC East. Georgia's not out of the race, but needs to beat Florida for only the third time in the past 18 meetings in the rivalry.
Player to watch: It was Matthew Stafford, not Tim Tebow, who was the top-ranked quarterback in the class of 2006. Stafford hopes to show why against Florida's leaky secondary. Kentucky's Andre' Woodson torched the Gators for 415 yards last week.
Best matchup: Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno vs. Florida's run defense. Behind linebacker Brandon Spikes, the Gators remain solid against the run (94.4 rushing yards per game). With Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin out, Moreno is coming into his own as the Bulldogs' feature back. Georgia also may take the redshirt off touted freshman tailback Caleb King for this one.

Kansas (7-0, 3-0 Big 12) at Texas A&M (6-2, 3-1 Big 12)

Time: 7 p.m.
Network: ESPN2
Storylines: When should you start taking undefeated Kansas seriously? If wins at Kansas State and at Colorado didn't convince you, is there a chance a win in College Station could? The world will be turned upside down if this turns out to be a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game.
Player to watch: Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing returns to his home state (he's from Austin). Reesing has passed for 1,805 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading the surprising Jayhawks into Big 12 contention.
Best matchup: Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen vs. Texas A&M's running game. Mortensen leads the Big 12 in tackles for a loss with 11, but he will be tested by the league's best rushing attack.

Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) at Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten)

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: You know all those complaints about Ohio State's soft schedule helping the Buckeyes to No. 1? That easy start ends here, when the Buckeyes face Penn State at night in State College.
Player to watch: Penn State tailback Rodney Kinlaw has 349 rushing yards in the absence of Austin Scott, but Ohio State's run defense is ranked second in the country. Big Ten starting tailbacks are averaging 32.8 yards against the Buckeyes' "D."
Best matchup: Ohio State tailback Chris Wells vs. Penn State linebacker Dan Connor. Wells is coming off a 221-yard day against Michigan State for his fifth triple-digit game of the year. Penn State remains "Linebacker U," and the stout run defense led by Connor (76 tackles, five sacks) will be a formidable foe for Ohio State's top offensive weapon.

Other games to watch

West Virginia (6-1, 1-1 Big East) at Rutgers (5-2, 2-1 Big East), noon, ABC regional
The Mountaineers have to be kicking themselves for losing to USF.

Nebraska (4-4, 1-3 Big 12) at Texas (6-2, 2-2 Big 12) 3:30 p.m., ABC regional
Texas' Big 12 hopes are hanging by a thread. So are Nebraska's hopes for a bowl.

USF (6-1, 1-1 Big East) at Connecticut (6-1, 2-0 Big East), 3:30 p.m., ABC regional
These teams have spent a combined 15 years in Division I-A but have aspirations for a BCS bowl this season.

South Carolina (6-2, 3-2 SEC) at Tennessee (4-3, 2-2 SEC), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Has anyone caused more trouble for Phillip Fulmer than Steve Spurrier? Another Tennessee loss will only cause Fulmer more headaches.

California (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) at Arizona State (7-0, 4-0 Pac-10), 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net
This would have meant more a lot more if not for back-to-back fourth-quarter gaffes by Cal in its past two games.

David Fox is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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