What We're Watching - Previews of Saturday's Biggest Games
Week 10 of the college football season doesn't boast the number of marquee games of last week, but there are more than enough interesting match-ups to keep the viewer entertained throughout the day. Here's what we'll be keeping our eyes on throughout Saturday.
Iowa State at Texas (12 p.m. ET, LHN): The irony of putting a game that 99 percent of the country can't see on a Saturday viewing schedule is not lost on me, but there are some intriguing story lines heading into this game. Texas' defense has improved from 'horrific' to 'competent' in the last two weeks, holding Kansas and Texas Tech to 39 combined points. That turnaround figures to improve Saturday against an Iowa State offense that has Kansas to thank for keeping it out of the Big 12 cellar in all four major offensive categories. The Cyclones are ninth in the league in total offense, scoring offense and passing efficiency, and 10th in rushing offense. That being said, Paul Rhoads continually gets the most out of his team and the Cyclones will do nothing less but fight for all 60 minutes on Saturday.
Northwestern at Michigan (12 p.m. ET, ESPN): While the run of Denard Robinson is in the air, Devin Gardner figures to garner his second straight start as Michigan's quarterback. Gardner compiled 255 total yards and three touchdowns last week in a victory over Minnesota, and will need a repeat performance on Saturday in a must-win game. With each team saddled with a loss to Nebraska, the loser will likely be out of the Big Ten Legends Division race. Fourth quarter execution will be key for Pat Fitzgerald's team. Northwestern has led eight of its nine games entering the fourth quarter, but allowed late rallies by Penn State and Nebraska in its two losses.
Wisconsin at Indiana (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Raise your hand if you pegged this game as the de-facto Big Ten Leaders Division championship. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the championship and Purdue and Illinois mired with 0-5 records, 3-2 Wisconsin's visit to 2-3 Indiana could decide who gets a shot at the Rose Bowl. Hoosiers quarterback Cameron Coffman threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 24-21 win over Iowa and will need more of the same on Saturday. Wisconsin's up-and-down rushing offense (337 yards two weeks ago vs. Minnesota, 19 yards last week vs. Michigan State) will look to get back on track against the nation's 107th-ranked rush defense.
Oregon State at Stanford (3 p.m. ET, FOX): The winner of this game will emerge as the greatest threat to Oregon's streak of three straight conference championships and stand in prime position to claim a Rose Bowl berth should the Ducks qualify for the BCS National Championship. Both of these teams have flip-flopped its quarterbacks in recent weeks. Stanford freshman Kevin Hogan threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 48-0 rout of Colorado, while freshly-named Beavers starter Cody Vaz compiled 267 yards and three scores in a 36-26 defeat of Arizona State. Each quarterback will need to be sharp as rushing yards figure to be hard to come by; Stanford leads the nation in rushing defense (57.8 ypg, 1.98 ypc) and Oregon State checks in fifth (91.8 ypg, 3.18 ypc).
It's been 50 years since Oregon State and Stanford played a football game where both were in the Top 25.— John Canzano (@JohnCanzanoBFT) November 9, 2012
Texas A&M at Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): The dichotomy has been fairly simple for Texas A&M this season: when quarterback Johnny Manziel gets loose, the Aggies win; when the opponent finds a way to corral him, the Aggies lose. The dynamic freshman has thrown for more than 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns this point, and he is also the SEC's leading rusher with 922 yards. Nick Saban detailed the steps Alabama has taken in defending Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury's offense to SI.com's Andy Staples as the Crimson Tide prepare to face a challenge unique to anything they've seen this season. LSU last week proved that the Alabama defense, while still dominant, isn't an immovable object, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for nearly 300 yards (when, truthfully, half of that total would have been considered a productive night). In its two losses the Texas A&M defense has fallen victim to a battering ram offense employed by Florida and LSU - the teams ran the ball a combined 93 times against the Aggies. Neither of those teams can throw the ball as effectively as Alabama, however.
Air Force at San Diego State (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network): Among the gaggle of four teams atop the Mountain West standings sit Troy Calhoun and Rocky Long's teams. Last week San Diego State became the first team to win at Boise State and Nevada in the same season since 1988, and the win also gave the Aztecs their longest in-season winning streak since 1995. Last year's 86th-ranked total defense has jumped to No. 20 nationally in total defense and No. 19 in scoring defense. The key match-up will be when Air Force's third-ranked rushing offense battles San Diego State's Mountain West-leading rushing defense. Each team is in pursuit of its first conference championship since they shared the WAC title in 1998.
Kansas State at TCU (7 p.m. ET, FOX): With the status of All-Everything quarterback Collin Klein in question, Kansas State will need do what it has done all season - execute at a razor-sharp level unmatched across the country. Examine where Bill Snyder's team falls in the following statistics and then try to name a better-coached team this season: 1st in turnover margin (the Wildcats have lost the fewest turnovers of any FBS squad) , 1st in fewest penalties per game, 2nd in fewest yards penalized per game, 6th in tackles for loss allowed, 9th in sacks allowed and, as sports information director Kenny Lannou pointed out this week, they've compiled an 111-0 points off turnovers advantage. This is a team that simply does not make mistakes.
Mississippi State at LSU (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Both squads are looking to get off the mat following tough home losses last week. Mississippi State will look to prove its 7-0 start meant something after consecutive losses to Alabama and Texas A&M by a combined score of 76-20, while LSU hopes to breathe some air back into the invincibility of night games at Tiger Stadium after suffering just their second loss in 38 tries under Les Miles. The Tigers at least have something to build off last week's performance in which they threw for 296 yards and suffocated Alabama's efficient offense for all but one drive in the second half. Mississippi State, meanwhile, will look to forget a game in which it was out-gained 693-310 and trailed by 31 points before making a dent in the scoreboard.
Notre Dame at Boston College (8 p.m., ABC): For as much struggles as Brian Kelly's team has endured at home, Notre Dame has played lights out away from South Bend. The Fighting Irish have won games by an average score of 35-7, with a turnover margin of 6-1 in their favor, against competition that is a cumulative 21-14 this season. Enter Saturday's game with Boston College, the team that ended the Irish's last two undefeated forays into mid-November with a 41-39 stunner in 1993 and a 14-7 upset in 2002. Both of those games were in South Bend and, most importantly, both of those Boston College teams are better than the 2012 Eagles. BC's only win versus FBS competition came in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Maryland. Boston College ranks 90th or lower in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense so if an upset were to happen it would require lots of help from Notre Dame's side.