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2011 NCAA College Football – Week Five Preview

Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead leads the Huskers into their first Big Ten game at Wisconsin.
Eric Francis, Getty Images

Great games across the country this weekend, including some important conference showdowns, a handful of top 25 match-ups and games with national title and Heisman Trophy implications. Here’s a rundown of this week’s action in the top 25.

Kentucky (2-2) at #1 Louisiana State (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:21 PM ET on SEC Network. ]

LSU will return to the friendly confines of Baton Rouge for its first game since taking over the #1 ranking in the AP poll. After navigating a tough early schedule with wins away from home over Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia, the Tigers should have an easier time with a Kentucky team that ranks 113th in total offense and 111th in scoring offense. Kentucky’s biggest challenge may be just holding onto the ball—the Wildcats have already given up 10 turnovers this year and will be facing a swarming LSU defense that has forced eleven in four games.

Ball State (3-1) at #2 Oklahoma (3-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:00 PM ET on Pay-Per-View]

The Sooners have only lost two games at home in Bob Stoops’ 13 years at Oklahoma’s helm, and that trend likely won’t change with Ball State coming to Norman this week. Yes, the Cardinals are enjoying their best start in three years, but those wins (Indiana, Buffalo and Army) didn’t prepare them for the 6th best offense in the nation. The Cardinals have lost 11 in a row to top 25 opponents. Oklahoma will be without starting center and team captain Ben Habern who suffered a broken arm against Missouri.  It is also unknown if star receiver Kenny Stills, who missed last week’s game with a concussion, will return for the Sooners.

#3 Alabama (4-0) at #12 Florida (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8:00 PM ET on CBS]

The road to the SEC (and national) championship runs through Florida, as the Gators play Alabama and LSU the next two weeks. This match-up will be a battle of strength versus strength, as both teams rely on pounding running games and a stifling defense that stuffs the run. Both teams rank in the top 20 in rushing offense and top five in rushing defense. Neither quarterback has been called on to do much yet this year, but with the running games and defenses being so equally matched, this game could come down to which quarterback can make a big passing play. The Crimson Tide has won five of the last seven games against Florida.

Nevada (1-2) at #4 Boise State (3-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 2:30 PM ET on Versus]

Last year, Nevada played the ultimate BCS Buster, ending Boise State’s 24 game winning streak—and a potential  shot at the national title game—with a 34-31 overtime win. This season, Nevada’s offense ranks 7th in the nation in rushing, but has struggled in other areas, ranking 90th in both passing and scoring offense. The Broncos, meanwhile, are led by superstar quarterback Kellen Moore, who has already thrown for 955 yards and 12 touchdowns in just three games. While Moore is obviously the big scoring threat for the Broncos, look for Boise State to try to get some work in for a mediocre running game (3.4 yards per carry) against a Nevada unit that ranks 108th in rush defense.

#5 Oklahoma State (4-0) BYE

The Cowboys get a week off to recover from their wild win over Texas A&M.  OSU will return to action next week against Kansas.

UCLA (2-2) at #6 Stanford (3-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 10:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

Stanford has the top rush defense in the country (giving up just 36 yards per game), but could be challenged this week by a UCLA rush attack that ranks second in the Pac-12 (214 yards per game). Additionally, Stanford will be without team leader and run-stuffing linebacker Shayne Skov, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury two weeks ago against Arizona. However, Stanford’s star quarterback Andrew Luck and a Cardinal offense that averages 46 points and 481 yards a game should be able to have success against a UCLA defense giving up an average of almost 31 points per game. With Luck under center, Stanford has won the last two meetings after UCLA had won five in a row.

#8 Nebraska (4-0) at #7 Wisconsin (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

Line: Wisconsin by 9 ½

Camp Randall will be rocking as the Badgers welcome Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ first-ever Big Ten game. This match-up could have serious national title and Heisman Trophy implications and be a preview of the first Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin’s offense, led by NC State transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, has been virtually unstoppable (532 yards and 48.5 points per game) against weak competition but they’ll face a hugh challenge this week against a finally healthy Nebraska defense. The powerful Husker running game (8th in the nation) should be able to point some points on the board.  While the focus will be on the star quarterbacks, look for a pounding running game from both teams.

#9 Oregon (3-1) BYE

The Ducks are idle and will take on California next Thursday night.

Auburn (3-1) at #10 South Carolina (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS]

The bad news for South Carolina is that their 4-0 record has happened in spite of what coach Steve Spurrier called a “putrid offensive performance.” The good news is that the Gamecocks’ struggling offense will have a chance to make some progress against a woeful Auburn defense that is giving up over 477 yards and 31 points per game. The Tigers have won seven straight in this series, including a regular season and SEC championship game win last year.

#13 Clemson (4-0) at #11 Virginia Tech (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 6:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

Clemson is riding high off back-to-back upset wins over Auburn and Florida State, but now must take their show on the road against a Virginia Tech team that features a lock-down defense giving up an average of just 10 points per game. Tajh Boyd, the Tigers’ sophomore quarterback, has been exceptional this year, averaging almost 314 passing yards per game with 13 touchdowns to just one interception. The Hokies’ offense has put up decent numbers (430 yards and 34.8 points per game), but has been inconsistent and turnover-prone late in games.

#14 Texas A&M (2-1) at #18 Arkansas (3-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Next year, this will be a conference game with the Aggies set to join the SEC. But this year, Arkansas and Texas A&M have more pressing concerns as both are looking to avoid a two-game losing streak. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has already thrown for over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns, but will be facing a Wrecking Crew defense that leads the nation in sacks (4.7 per game). This is the third year in a row the Razorbacks and Aggies will play each other at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. Arkansas won the previous two games.

#15 Baylor (3-0) at Kansas State (3-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN]

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is putting up video-game type numbers this year, with more touchdown passes (13) than incompletions but the Bears will face their toughest challenge since a win over TCU on opening day. Kansas State, which is coming off a wild win at Miami, features one of the top defenses in the country that ranks sixth in the nation in yards allowed (246.3) and seventh in scoring defense (10.3 points per game). Baylor is seeking its first 4-0 start in 20 years. In last year’s match-up, a 47-42 Baylor win, Griffin threw for a career-high 404 yards and four touchdowns.

#16 South Florida (4-0) at Pittsburgh (2-2)

[Thursday, Sep. 29 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

In each of the last two weeks, Pittsburgh has watched a fourth quarter lead disappear, losing to Iowa and Notre Dame. This week, they host a high-powered South Florida offense that beat Notre Dame in South Bend in week one and ranks tenth in the nation in both total offense (523.3 yards per game) and scoring offense (45.5 PPG). Pitt has won three in a row against South Florida.

#17 Texas (3-0) at Iowa State (3-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:00 PM ET on F/X]

Texas coach Mack Brown called last year’s home loss to Iowa State “the lowest point” of the team’s disappointing 5-7 season. This year, the Longhorns look to right the ship against an Iowa State team that is riding high after come-from-behind wins over arch-rival Iowa and Connecticut. Iowa State is seeking its first 4-0 start since 2000.

Minnesota (1-3) at #19 Michigan (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:00 PM ET on Big Ten Network]

A healthy Denard Robinson has lifted Michigan back into the top 25 and has the Wolverines ready to make some noise in the Big Ten race. Robinson leads the nation in rushing (168.7 yards per game) and will be facing a Gophers’ defense that has struggled to stop anybody this year. Minnesota has already lost to perennial FBS doormat New Mexico State and to North Dakota State. Their next three games (at Michigan, at Purdue, home against Nebraska) certainly won’t make things any easier. It is unknown if Minnesota coach Jerry Kill will be available for the game after being hospitalized for repeated seizures.

Southern Methodist (3-1) at #20 Texas Christian (3-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS SN]

Although not up to their 2010 standards, the Horned Frogs’ defense has improved each week since a week one 564 yard, 50 point debacle against Baylor. However, their run defense has still been suspect (69th in the nation), which could be problematic facing SMU running back Zach Line, who has rushed for 100+ yards in three of the Mustangs’ first four games and ranks second in the country with 11 rushing touchdowns. SMU must hold on to the ball if they want to give themselves a chance—they’ve turned the ball over 12 times this year. TCU has won ten of the last 11 in this old Southwest Conference rivalry, including the last seven at home.

#21 Georgia Tech (4-0) at North Carolina State (2-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN]

Georgia Tech’s offense has been virtually unstoppable this year by running coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense to perfection. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in total offense, scoring offense and pass efficiency and rank second in rushing offense. This week they face an injury-plagued Wolfpack defense that seems to be moving in reverse, giving up 78 points and 941 yards in losses to Wake Forest and Cincinnati. Five different defensive linemen have been injured this season for NC State and the Wolfpack defense is down to just two healthy tackles. Georgia Tech is 4-0 for the first time since its national championship season in 1990.

Bowling Green (3-1) at #22 West Virginia (3-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 PM ET on MASN]

The Mountaineers offense has shown flashes of greatness this season. Against LSU last week, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith set school records for completions (38), attempts (65) and passing yards (463) and WVU outgained the Tigers 533-366. Sloppy play, turnovers and special teams miscues doomed the Mountaineers’ chances. Defense and special teams will be a focal point going forward, as the Mountaineers rank 100th or worse in turnovers forced, turnover margin, sacks, net punting and punt return yardage allowed.

Northwestern (2-1) at #24 Illinois (4-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

The Illini defense (top 20 in rushing yards, total yards and points allowed) is to thank for their first 4-0 start since 1951 but they should face a test this week with the return of Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa who is expected to be on the field for the first time since rupturing his Achilles’ tendon last November.

Oregon State (0-3) at #25 Arizona State (3-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 1 at 10:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Arizona]

Oregon State’s offense has been awful this year, ranking last in the nation in touchdowns and total points scored. This week, they’ll take on an Arizona State team seeking to avoid a trap game coming between last week’s win over USC (ending an 11-game losing streak to the Trojans) and upcoming trips to Utah and Oregon the next two weeks. Oregon State is seeking to avoid its first 0-4 start since 1996.



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