October 2, 2009

Plenty to keep an eye on in Week 5

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend.

Cal trying to bounce back against USC. Throughout the offseason and in the first three weeks of September, there was confident talk coming out of Berkeley that this was Cal's year to knock off USC, win the Pac-10 and return to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 50 years. Then, the Bears were annihilated by Oregon 42-3 last week. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said the lopsided loss wasn't as bad as it looked; Cal players said it wasn't truly indicative of their team. We'll see. All their preseason goals are possible, but it all starts with facing USC this week. Cal may prove it's still a championship contender. But Cal teams have collapsed before. It will be interesting to see which direction the Bears go.


Oklahoma's quarterback situation. It's official: Sam Bradford won't play at Miami. The reigning Heisman winner has been sidelined since injuring his throwing shoulder in a season-opening loss to BYU. Redshirt freshman Landry Jones has impressed in starting - and winning - the past two games. But beating Idaho State and Tulsa is one thing; toppling Miami on the road is another. It will be vital for OU's still-developing offensive line to run block well to take the heat off Jones, who surely will face myriad looks and blitzes from Miami. How big is this game for OU? A loss here, and the Sooners' national championship hopes are finished.


Who to take seriously in Palo Alto. Stanford plays host to UCLA in the undercard to the other L.A.-Bay Area matchup. This game is just as important for UCLA and Stanford as the USC-Cal game is to those schools. Both are off to hot starts - the Bruins at 3-0, the Cardinal at 3-1. The winner should get to a bowl this season and could finish in the top half of the Pac-10. The loser will have to claw for a chance at the postseason. UCLA's defense remains untested after facing Tennessee and Kansas State. Jim Harbaugh's Stanford teams keep teasing us, but it's time for the Cardinal to finally have a breakout season.


Big weekend in the Big Ten. There definitely are some "shakeout" games in the Big Ten on Saturday, games that will give us an idea of the pecking order in the league. The biggest is the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, with Minnesota playing host to Wisconsin. Badgers coach Bret Bielema started the season on the hot seat, but a 5-0 start would cool that chair considerably. QB Scott Tolzien has been extremely steady, and the Badgers' ground game has been strong. Minnesota is hoping for a top-four or top-five finish in the league, but that will be tough to attain if the Gophers lose this. Michigan-Michigan State has added intrigue; the Spartans won last season, and it appeared as if the program had turned the corner. But Michigan is 4-0 and Michigan State is 1-3 heading into this one in East Lansing; neither defense has done much this season. Ohio State is at Indiana, which played Michigan to the wire last week. IU is 3-1, but none of the wins are that impressive. Still, that IU hung with Michigan in Ann Arbor makes this one at least a wee bit interesting. Northwestern is at Purdue, and as with Minnesota, Northwestern has a lot on the line. The Wildcats were a feel-good story last season, but a loss to the Boilermakers would make you think there's no shot at a bowl for Northwestern this season. Finally, there's Penn State at Illinois, which has been horrible this season. The Nittany Lions played poorly offensively in losing to Iowa last week, but Illinois looks like just the tonic Joe Paterno's team needs.


Baylor without Robert Griffin. The Bears lost their standout quarterback to a knee injury suffered in last week's victory over Northwestern State (La.). All of a sudden, a team that had legitimate bowl hopes for the first time since 1994 may struggle to win another game - unless, of course, Griffin's replacement is serviceable. Senior Blake Szymanski has had some decent outings in the past, but he injured his shoulder last week and is questionable for Saturday's game against Kent State. Even if Szymanski plays, he's not nearly as mobile as Griffin, meaning Baylor will have to adjust its entire offensive approach. The other option is Nick Florence, a highly touted freshman from Garland, Texas, who may be thrown into the fire before he's ready. Whatever the case, Griffin's injury has killed the morale of an up-and-coming Baylor team and a fan base that was excited as it has been in years.


Georgia-LSU - which team is legitimate? We're just about a month into the season, and I still don't know what to make of either of these teams. LSU is unbeaten, but the Tigers didn't look particularly impressive against Washington or Vanderbilt and arguably should have lost at Mississippi State last week. In a loss to Oklahoma State and a win over Arizona State, Georgia looked good on defense and bad on offense. In wins over South Carolina and Arkansas, Georgia scored a bunch of points but struggled on defense. We know Florida and Alabama are the two best teams in the SEC, and I'm guessing one of these teams is probably third in the pecking order. Which team is better? Can either of these teams make a serious run at the conference title? Saturday's game will definitely answer the first question and could offer some clues about the second question.



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