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2011 NCAA College Football – Week Nine Preview

Tajh Boyd has Clemson off to its best start in 30 years.
Scott Halleran, Getty Images

While much of the college football world is either looking back at last week’s upsets or looking ahead to next week’s #1 vs. #2 matchup between LSU and Alabama, there is still a lot of football left to be played this week. There are a number of intriguing games this week, many of which will have big effects on the ultimate conference and national championship races. Here are the highlights from this week in the AP Top 25.

#1 Louisiana State (8-0) BYE

The top-ranked Tigers rolled over the defending national champions and get a week off to prepare to make their case to be this year’s version in next week’s showdown with #2 Alabama.

#2 Alabama (8-0) BYE

The Crimson Tide had no trouble dispatching Tennessee last weekend, and now have a week off to get ready for a visit from #1 LSU.

Baylor (4-2) at #3 Oklahoma State (7-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN2]

Expect a high-scoring shootout in Stillwater when two of the top offenses in the country meet up. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III leads the nation in pass efficiency and has the Bears offense ranked second nationally in total offense and sixth in scoring. But OSU’s offense is every bit as good, ranking third in yardage and second in scoring. Cowboys All-American wide receiver Justin Blackmon left last week’s game at Missouri with a concussion, but is expected to be cleared to play this week. OSU’s number three ranking matches its highest in school history, with the other time coming in 1984. Baylor has lost 14 of 15 — including the last five — in this series. Oklahoma State is beginning a two-game homestand after playing four of its last five games on the road.

#4 Stanford (7-0)at #20 Southern Cal (6-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

Playing against Stanford’s offense is a matter of picking your poison. Quarterback Andrew Luck is obviously one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but he is now complemented by a running game that ranks 17th in the nation and just put up five touchdowns and a school-record 446 rushing yards last week versus Washington. USC will need quarterback Matt Barkley to continue his strong play (nine touchdowns, one interception in the last three games) to keep Andrew Luck on the sideline and give USC its best shot at pulling off the upset. Trojans receiver Robert Woods missed practice time earlier this week with an undisclosed in jury, but is expected to be ready to go this weekend. Stanford has won three of the last four in this series, including last season’s matchup that marked the first victory in the Cardinal’s current NCAA-best 15-game winning streak.

#5 Boise State (7-0) BYE

The Broncos struggled to contain Air Force’s triple option offense last week, but still pulled out a win. They now have a week off before returning to action next week at UNLV.

#6 Clemson (8-0) at Georgia Tech (6-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

Quarterback Tajh Boyd has the Clemson offense clicking on all cylinders (15th in the nation in total offense, 12th in scoring), but this week they’ll face an offense almost as proficient as their own. While the Yellow Jackets have struggled during their recent two-game losing streak, coach Paul Johnson’s triple option offense has proven to be remarkably effective over the course of the season, ranking fifth in the nation in rushing and putting up over 38 points per game. Clemson won this game at home last year, but has lost three in a row on the road versus Georgia Tech. A win this week would move Clemson to 9-0 for the first time since their national championship season of 1981.

Washington State (3-4) at #7 Oregon (6-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:00 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

These are two teams heading in opposite directions. Oregon is riding a six-game winning streak this season and a 21-game home winning streak. Meanwhile, the Cougars are hoping to snap their current four-game losing skid. It is unknown if running back LaMichael James (elbow) and quarterback Darron Thomas (knee) will be able to go this week for Oregon. The Ducks showed last week they have plenty of depth, as their offense, filled with backups, still rolled up 45 points and over 500 yards of offense at Colorado. They’ll be going against a Wazzu defense surrendering over 30 points per game.

#8 Arkansas (6-1) at Vanderbilt (4-3)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:21 PM ET on SEC Network]

Arkansas has struggled out of the gate recently, trailing in the first half of their last three games. But the Razorbacks have shown the ability to step on the gas, outscoring their opponents 64-10 after halftime. Vanderbilt’s offense (111th nationally in total offense, 65th in scoring) doesn’t look like it’s set to go toe-to-toe with the Razorbacks. But the offense did appear to have a spark last week after Jordan Rodgers (the younger brother of Green Bay Packers’ star Aaron Rodgers) got his first start and snapped a three-game Vandy losing skid, with the Commodores putting up a season-high 530 yards versus Army. Arkansas is 6-2 all-time in the series. Vanderbilt is 4-1 at home this year and is looking to win five home games in a season for the first time since 1974.

#9 Michigan State (6-1) at #13 Nebraska (6-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

A week after upsetting then-#4 Wisconsin in one of the most exciting finishes in history, the Spartans face another challenge this week going on the road to Lincoln. Michigan State boasts the second-ranked defense in the nation, but gave up 220 rushing yards last week against Wisconsin. That will be a key point to watch as the Spartans go up against a powerful Huskers rushing attack led by quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, who together are averaging almost 200 rushing yards and 2.7 touchdowns per game. The Spartans defense should be helped by the return of defensive end William Gholston, who was suspended for the Wisconsin game after throwing a punch a week earlier against Michigan. The winner of this game will have the inside track to the Legends Division title and a shot in the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game.

#11 Oklahoma (6-1) at #10 Kansas State (7-0)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN]

These two teams are really mirror images of one another. The Wildcats success is entirely dependent on a strong running game (19th nationally in rushing versus 113th in passing) and a stingy defense (23rd in scoring defense, 30th in turnovers forced). They’ll be going against a Sooners defense that was dominant against lesser foes earlier in the season, but has struggled somewhat the last two weeks, giving up 264 combined rushing yards against a woeful Kansas offense and pass-first Texas Tech. Oklahoma, meanwhile, relies on an aerial assault, with quarterback Landry Jones ranked third in the nation in passing. He’ll be going against a Kansas State unit that, while the best defense in the Big 12 statistically, has given up 671 passing yards the last two weeks. The Sooners have lost back-to-back regular season games just once in the Bob Stoops era, and that was in his first season, 1999.

#12 Wisconsin (6-1) at Ohio State (4-3)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8:00 PM on ESPN]

The Badgers will look to rebound from their heartbreaking loss last week with a road trip to Columbus. Ohio State’s offense, while showing sparks at times, has struggled this year, ranking just 110th in total offense and 91st and scoring. In their last game, they beat Illinois despite completing just one pass. They’ll certainly need a more balanced attack to pull off the upset this week, but the return of running back Dan Herron from suspension gives the Buckeyes a boost. The Badgers offense, meanwhile, continues to steamroll opposing defenders, ranking eighth in total offense and fifth in scoring. Despite last week’s loss, the Badgers still have a lot to play for — a win this week would put them squarely in the driver’s seat for a place in the Big Ten Championship Game.

#14 South Carolina (6-1) at Tennessee (3-4)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7:15 PM ET on ESPN2]

The Gamecocks have had a week off to prepare for their first game without star running back Marcus Lattimore, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Lattimore, who was leading the SEC in rushing prior to his injury, will be replaced by freshman Brandon Wilds who has just 13 carries and 75 yards this season. He’ll be going against a Tennessee defense that ranks 63rd in the nation against the rush. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee will be starting its third different quarterback  of the season, as senior Matt Simms (who stepped up when starter Tyler Bray was lost with a thumb injury) has been benched in favor of freshman Justin Worley. He’ll be facing the best pass defense in the nation and one that has already forced 14 interceptions this year.

#15 Virginia Tech (7-1) at Duke (3-4)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 1:00 PM ET on ACC Network]

Duke could be in for a tough day on both sides of the ball. Although the Virginia Tech defense has lost three starters to season-ending injuries, it continues to dominate opponents, ranking 13th in the nation in total defense, seventh in rushing defense and 10th in scoring defense. On offense, they are getting a strong run/pass showing from running back David Wilson (currently fourth nationally in rushing at nearly 130 yards per game) and quarterback Logan Thomas (first quarterback under Frank Beamer to throw for 260-plus yards in three straight games). Duke has not beaten the Hokies since 1981. Virginia Tech is currently riding the nation’s longest road winning streak at 10 games, an ACC record.

Missouri (3-4) at #16 Texas A&M (5-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:00 PM ET on FX]

With A&M already out the door and a Missouri announcement possibly coming any day, this contest could still be a conference game next year, only in the SEC instead of the Big 12. The key matchup this week is in the Missouri run game. Texas A&M ranks fifth in the nation in rushing defense, but could be without three starters. They’ll be going against Tigers running back Henry Josey, who leads the Big 12 in rushing (122 yards per game). Missouri could be without kicker Grant Ressel (hip flexor). The senior had been automatic in previous years (43 of 46 on field goals as a starter), but has struggled this season (nine of 16).

Purdue (4-3) at #17 Michigan (6-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

After upsetting then-#23 Illinois last week, the Boilermakers are setting their sights higher this week, trying to win back-to-back games in Ann Arbor for the first time in 45 years. On the other side, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is looking to rebound from the worst game of his career two weeks ago versus Michigan State (9-24 for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception; just 42 rushing yards). Purdue seems to have finally settled on a quarterback, as junior Caleb TerBush played the whole way last week after splitting snaps with senior Robert Marve in the previous five games.

Rice (2-5) at #18 Houston (7-0)

[Thursday, Oct. 27 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

This could get ugly early as a Rice team that ranks 115th in the nation in scoring defense will try to slow down Houston quarterback Case Keenum and a Cougars offense that ranks first nationally in passing yards, total yards and scoring and has put up at least 56 points in three of the last four weeks. Last week, Keenum broke the NCAA record for career total offense and needs just five touchdowns to tie the record for career touchdowns. A win would move Houston to 8-0, matching the best start in school history.

Iowa State (3-4) at #19 Texas Tech (5-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7:00 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

After pulling off the biggest upset of the season last week, Texas Tech will look to avoid a letdown against a struggling Iowa State team that is trying to break out of a four-game losing streak. The Cyclones defense, which has given up 500-plus yards in each of their last three games, ranks 74th in the nation against the pass and 115th in scoring defense. They will be going against a potent Red Raiders air attack that ranks third in passing and ninth in scoring. Iowa State’s Jared Barnett will get his first start at quarterback after replacing the struggling Steele Jantz in last week’s loss to Texas.

Illinois (6-2) at #21 Penn State (7-1)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN2]

Despite continued uncertainty around the quarterback position, Penn State has won six straight thanks in large part to a pounding ground game led by sophomore running back Silas Redd, who has at least 129 yards each of the last four games. On the other side, the Illini are struggling with back-to-back losses and an offense headed the wrong direction. After averaging almost 35 points per game during its first 6-0 start since 1951, the Illinois offense has faltered, putting up just 325.5 yards and 10.5 points per game in its last two losses. With a win, the Nittany Lions would remain in the Leaders Division race for the Big Ten Championship. Penn State coach Joe Paterno could also pass former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson for the most wins in college football history — the two are currently tied at 408.

Florida (4-3) vs. #22 Georgia (5-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS; Game Played in Jacksonville, FL]

In the two-and-a-half games since Gators quarterback John Brantley went down with an ankle injury, Florida has scored only 17 points, while Brantley’s replacements have combined for just 228 yards passing, one touchdown and three interceptions. Fortunately for the Florida faithful, Brantley is expected to ready to go this week against the Bulldogs. However, he will be thrown right into the fire, going against a Georgia team that ranks sixth in the nation in total defense. Florida is trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 1988, while Georgia is hoping to keep the momentum of its current five-game winning streak going.

Colorado (1-7) at #23 Arizona State (5-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 6:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Arizona and Root Sports Rocky Mountains]

Colorado is riddled with injuries on both sides of the ball and it is still unknown if Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen (concussion) will be able to play. However, it may not matter as CU’s defense, which has given up 500-plus yards in each of the last three games and ranks 93rd in total defense and 117th in scoring defense, goes against Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler, who ranks 17th in the nation in passing. The Sun Devils control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South, with all but one of their five remaining opponents being under .500.

#24 Cincinnati (6-1) BYE

Riding a five-game winning streak, the Bearcats enter the Top 25 for the first time since 2009. They now have a week off before returning to action next week

#25 West Virginia (5-2) at Rutgers (5-2)

[Saturday, Oct. 29 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC]

After suffering their worst loss since 1991 last week against Syracuse, the Mountaineers will look to regroup against Rutgers, with both teams still eyeing a potential Big East championship. West Virginia has put up big numbers (fifth nationally in passing, 18th in scoring) but have struggled to run the ball (100th in the nation; held under 100 yards in four of the last five games). They’ll be going against a Rutgers defense that ranks ninth in scoring defense and prides itself on taking away the pass (ranked 20th in pass defense) and big plays (NCAA-best 25 takeaways). Rutgers will need a strong defensive effort to help out an offense that ranks 99th in total offense. West Virginia has won 16 straight against the Scarlet Knights.

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