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What We're Watching - Week 10

Two months of the 2012 college football regular season are gone, and only one remains. Here's what we'll be keeping an eye on throughout another packed Saturday. 

Oklahoma at Iowa State (12 p.m. ET, ABC). Since Paul Rhoads first roamed the sidelines in Ames it has not been safe to be a power program in Iowa State's line of sight. It started with the 9-7 win over Nebraska in 2009, continued with the 52-38 win over Texas Tech and the 28-21 defeat of Texas in 2010, and rolled into the 44-41 triumph over Iowa and the 37-31 stunner over Oklahoma State last season. Other than the 27-21 near miss versus Kansas State on Oct. 13, Oklahoma is the only power program that hasn't been bitten by Rhoads' Cyclones. Oklahoma has won 19 straight regular season games following a loss but not all losses are as emotional as the prime time defeat to Notre Dame, and not all games after losses call for a trip to Ames for a morning kickoff. Iowa State won't have Oklahoma's talent, but the Sooners had better come out ready to play.

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (12 p.m. ET, ESPN). If the de facto SEC West championship is Saturday night at Baton Rouge, then consider this the de facto SEC West consolation game. These BCS top 20 teams have just one top 25 win between them, so the winner claims the right to the biggest challenger to Alabama and LSU. Mississippi State will try to produce a carbon copy of Florida and LSU's game plans, making the dynamic Johnny Manziel beat them with his arm and therefore keep the score in the 20's. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury will try to do what they couldn't in their two losses - break Manziel loose. Manziel averages 138 rushing yards per game in the Aggies' six wins and 42 yards per game in their two setbacks. Not coincidentally, Texas A&M scores 55 points per game in wins and 18 points per game in losses.

Temple at Louisville (12 p.m. ET, ABC). With all due respect to everything else on the schedule, this game may be the most interesting chess match as former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, the current Louisville head coach, squares off with former Florida offensive coordinator and current Temple head coach Steve Addazio. Temple has allowed more yards and gained fewer yards than any team in the Big East. After a 2-0 start in the league, the Owls have dropped back-to-back games to Rutgers and Pittsburgh. This game should be close, though, as the Cardinals tend to play to the level of their competition. Despite the 8-0 record, five of their last six games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC). As long as Notre Dame, Oregon, Kansas State and Alabama, every one of the Fantastic Four's games become appointment television. Notre Dame football can't run a play without hearing the phrase "wake up the echos" but for this Saturday the Irish will hope a few echos remain asleep. In 1993 Notre Dame suffered a 31-24 setback to Boston College following a defeat of No. 1 Florida State that moved the Irish to 10-0, and in 2002 Notre Dame again fell to Boston College, 14-7, after the Irish topped No. 16 Florida State to improve to 8-0. Pittsburgh gone 4-2 after a very slow start to the Paul Chryst era, but a two-game winning streak over Buffalo and Temple won't scare Brian Kelly's team. Notre Dame has played four games decided by seven points or less, and all four occurred at Notre Dame Stadium. 

Texas at Texas Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2). The struggles of the Texas defense have been well-publicized, but nothing sums up the season that Texas has had more than this: the Longhorns have allowed an opposing rusher to set a career high in all five Big 12 games this season. Texas Tech will never be confused with Navy or Air Force, but the Red Raiders do run the ball for 4.6 yards per carry, led by Kenny Williams' 6.19 yards per rush on 83 carries. When Texas has the ball, the Big 12's No. 3 rushing offense will square off against the Big 12's No. 3 rushing defense. If this preview seems heavy on rushing anecdotes, especially since both offenses rank in the nation's top 20 in passing efficiency, consider this: the team that rushes for more yardage has won every Texas-Texas Tech game since 1990. 

Nebraska at Michigan State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2). Michigan State's last five games have been decided a sum of 13 points. Unfortunately for Mark Dantonio, his team has come down on the right side of things just twice in that handful of games. The Spartans have struggled to score this season, ranking No. 108 nationally at 19.2 points per game and registering less than 20 points six times in nine games, including three straight. That's not good news as Michigan State prepares to host the Big Ten's best offense. Nebraska leads the conference in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and passing efficiency. Pat Narduzzi's defense has put the clamps down on some proficient offenses this season, though, holding Ohio State to 17, Michigan to 12, and an improved Wisconsin offense to 16 points and 19 rushing yards. 

Oregon at USC (7 p.m. ET, FOX). Oregon has thoroughly feasted on a relatively soft schedule to this point, but now things get real for Chip Kelly's squad. The Ducks close the year with three top 20 foes in the final four games, starting with a chance to avenge last season's 38-35 loss, the only setback Oregon has suffered in its last 27 Pac-12 games. USC's most scrutinized unit, its defensive line, has played productive run defense this season but all of that is for naught unless it can find a way to slow down Oregon's light-speed avalanche of an offense. The Ducks have run for 34 scores this season, more than USC, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State combined. In light of Alabama's dominance, it's somewhat startling to remember that it was the Trojans who were the AP's preseason No. 1 as USC faces the possibility of its third loss of the season with Notre Dame and a much-improved UCLA team still ahead.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (8 p.m. ET, ABC). The shoe was on the other foot last season when the 14th-ranked Wildcats challenged No. 3 Oklahoma State, 52-45, with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein throwing into the end zone as time expired. The close loss marked the only setback Bill Snyder's team has suffered in its last 11 games decided by seven points or less. In a conference that boasts four of the nation's top six passing offenses, it is Kansas State that leads the Big 12 in scoring at 44.4 points per game. The Wildcats accomplish that by producing almost no negative plays - they complete more than 70 percent of their passes (No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency), endured only 32 tackles for loss in eight games (tied for sixth nationally) and have allowed only four turnovers (second-least in the FBS). Oklahoma State has sacrificed last season's high risk, high reward style of defense (No. 1 in turnovers forced, No. 107 in yards allowed) in favor of a more steady and consistent approach (No. 109 in turnovers forced, No. 42 in yards allowed). The results have shown that the Cowboys are three points per game better in scoring defense, but let's see where they stand after facing the Big 12's most punishing offense.

LSU at Alabama (8 p.m. ET, CBS). It's without a doubt the most anticipated game of the 2012 regular season. In lieu of my preview, a series of tweets from FootballScoop President Scott Roussel and ESPN's Brett McMurphy will tell you all you need to know about the Battle in the Bayou.

 

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