After the rash of upsets last weekend, some of the marquee games for this upcoming Saturday take on a whole new meaning. Instead of harboring national title ambitions, teams such as Florida, Oklahoma and Texas are looking to stay in control of their conference races. All of a sudden, the Big 12 North looks a lot stronger than anticipated, with two key games this weekend setting the pace for the remainder of the season. In the SEC, two important Eastern Division games will serve as eliminators for the division race. Lastly, games in the Big Ten and Big East match up preseason contenders and upstarts looking to make their own move. Here are the top ten games for this upcoming weekend along an honorable mention choice for each conference. Lastly, my condolences go out to the family of late Memphis football player Taylor Bradford and the rest of the Tiger family as well.
10. Kansas @ #24 Kansas State (Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports Net)
The annual showdown between Sunflower State rivals takes on added importance this season, with the Jayhawks heading to Manhattan to take on a KSU bunch coming off of an impressive 41-21 win at Texas. Not to take away from KU's 4-0 start, but here are their four victims: Central Michigan, SE Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International. All at home, all blowout wins. QB Todd Reesing has thrown for nearly 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns thus far, and running backs Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp have both run for more than 300 yards on the season. Mark Mangino's offense has been clicking thus far, but their first road game of the season will give a definitive answer as to whether or not they can compete in the Big 12 North.
9. #15 Virginia Tech @ #22 Clemson (Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN)
Freshman QB Tyrod Taylor gets his first road test as the starter for Virginia Tech (he replaced Sean Glennon in their loss at LSU), but the real story in this one will be how much have Clemson's special teams improved over the last week. Four missed field goals, in addition to having one blocked, helped contribute to the Tigers' 13-3 loss at Georgia Tech last week. And I'm sure you know about the Hokies and their history when it comes to blocking kicks. How well Taylor performs could rest on the shoulders of the running game, which is ranked 91st nationally despite the presence of Branden Ore, who ws second in the ACC in rushing last season. Virginia Tech is undefeated in the ACC, so a loss to a team in the other division won't kill them. But Clemson, already a game behind Boston College in the Atlantic, needs this one to keep pace with the Eagles.
8. #4 Ohio State @ #23 Purdue (Saturday 8 PM EST, ABC)
The nation's tenth-best offense gets its first true test of the season when Ohio State visits West Lafayette on Saturday night. Both teams enter with 5-0 marks, but it's the Buckeyes who have the second-best defensive unit in the country. QB Todd Boeckman has been allowed to pace himself, thanks to the other side of the ball along with RB Chris Wells. Boeckman won't put up the numbers that Purdue's Curtis Painter has (1542 yards, 18 touchdown passes), but that's not his job. Another player to watch is Purdue's Kory Sheets, who is currently sixth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 103 yards per game on the ground. Just how good is Purdue? We're going to find out here.
7. #25 Nebraska @ #17 Missouri (Saturday 9:15 PM EST, ESPN)
Well, this is the game that all the experts on the Big 12 North have been waiting for. Missouri comes into this one undefeated, led by QB Chase Daniel and the best tight end combo in the country, Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. Nebraska will counter with QB Sam Keller and running back Marlon Lucky. Both teams have struggled on the defensive side of the football at times this season, which is more of a suprise for the Nebraska unit, which hasn't done a whole lot to earn that "Blackshirts" nickname when compared to units during the program's glory years. The winner takes a big step in winning the North, and a win may be more important to Mizzou because they're at home, and they've had trouble in recent years getting over that North Division hump.
6. #20 Cincinnati @ #21 Rutgers (Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN2)
Last season, the Bearcats stopped the "Rutgers BCS parade" cold one week after RU had knocked off Louisville to make their first appearance in the Top Ten. Seems like the Scarlet Knights decided to take care of a repeat performance last weekend, falling 34-24 at home to Maryland. This time around it's Brian Kelly's bunch who come into this game undefeated and flying high. Even after the loss last week some were pegging Rutgers as the team to beat in the Big East, but don't sell Cincinnati short. Both teams are in the top 25 nationally in terms of offensive output, and the Knights did have trouble slowing down Maryland in the second half last week. The Oregon State win was supposed to be a good one to add to their resume for Cincy, but the Beavers have since shown themselves to be nothing more than mediocre, so a win here would do wonders for their national profile.
5. #5 Wisconsin @ Illinois (Saturday Noon EST, ESPN)
Illinois, a program that had won two conference games total the last three seasons, sits atop the Big Ten with a 2-0 conference record. Just like preseason favorite Wisconsin, a team that's put up more points than many originally expected, but the defense has struggled at times. As for the young Illini, this was supposed to happen next year for Ron Zook's club, but young talent in the form of sophomore QB Juice Williams and WR Rejus Benn have proven to be quite impatient. Of course it helps to have an experienced running back (Rashard Mendenhall) and defensive leader (LB J Leman) as well. Can Illinois do the unthinkable and compete for a Big Ten title this season? Can Wisconsin rectify the defensive errors that have plagued them the past couple of weeks? We'll find out Saturday afternoon.
4. #12 Georgia @ Tennessee (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, CBS)
If you go by some reports, the wolves are starting to hover around Phil Fulmer in Knoxville, which may mean this is a bad time for the Vols to host the SEC's most successful road performers over the past seven seasons. Under Mark Richt, Georgia is 23-3 in opponents' stadiums, and they've won their last three games in Knoxville. QB Erik Ainge will have to control things for Tennessee to have a shot in this one, but they will have about 110,000 teammates lending their voices to the cause. But if they haven't solved some of their recent defensive woes, running backs Thomas Brown and Knowshown Moreno coud have a field day for the Dawgs. And after getting toasted to the tune of 51 points last season, expect the Georgia defense to be ready to hunker down and look to pay back Tennessee.
3. #8 Kentucky @ #11 South Carolina (Thursday 7:30 PM EST, ESPN)
Heisman contender Andre Woodson and the rest of his Wildcats get their first SEC road test, this time in Columbia against a South Carolina team smarting over their loss to LSU. Chris Smelley will once again start at quarterback for the Gamecocks, looking to score some points on a defense that is ranked 69th nationally and trouble slowing down Louisville and Arkansas (then again, who hasn't?). As for the other side of the football, Thursday night is the first opportunity of many to come for Woodson to buid his Heisman resume, and for the Wildcats to prove that they are indeed a threat in the SEC. Neither team can afford a loss within the division if they want to end up in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, making this one that much more important.
2. #10 Oklahoma vs. #19 Texas in Dallas (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, ABC)
Just how much of an impact did these two rivals' losses have on television this week? This game is now a regional telecast, but the Sooners still can entertain thoughts of playing in the BCS Championship this year. As for Texas, you've got a defense that was run ragged last week, a quarterback who got his bell rung a couple of times last week, and a special teams unit that was flat-out poor against Kansas State. Oklahoma, for all their turnovers and penalties at Colorado still had a shot to win that game. Sam Bradford gets is introduction to the Red River Rivalry (they did away with "Shootout" due to the violent implications I guess), one of the more special scenes in college football. The Cotton Bowl is split in half at midfield, and the backdrop of the Texas State Fair makes this a tradition unlike any other. But unlike previous editions since the beginning of the Big 12, the winner may not be "guaranteed" the South due to their losses last weekend. But a win would go a long way in getting either team to that point.
1. #9 Florida @ #1 LSU (Saturday 8:28 PM EST, CBS)
Nightfall in Baton Rouge is a scene that visiting teams hope to avoid. You give some of the nation's most passionate fans a full day to tailgate, capped by a game in which both teams harbor national title aspirations, and strange things could happen. Tim Tebow gets his first taste of a hostile SEC environment as a starter, but it will be interesting to see how LSU chooses to use backup QB Ryan Perrilloux on Saturday night. Ryan is a change of pace from Matt Flynn, who is the more conservative of the two. Also, will Florida safety Tony Joiner get to play following his arrest earlier this week? Given the struggles of this young unit of late, they'll need their defensive captain on the field. Even though a loss could put a dent in their national title hopes (especially Florida), these two could still see other again in December.
Honorable Mention (all games Saturday unless noted)
ACC: Georgia Tech @ Maryland (Noon EST, ESPN GamePlan)
Big 12: Oklahoma State @ Texas A&M (7:30 PM EST, Fox Sports Net)
Big East: #13 West Virginia @ Syracuse (Noon EST, ESPN GamePlan
Big Ten: Minnesota @ Indiana (Noon EST, Big Ten Network)
Conference USA: UCF @ East Carolina (7:30 PM EST, CSTV)
MAC: Akron @ Western Michigan (7 PM EST)
Mountain West: Utah @ Louisville (Friday 8 PM EST, ESPN2)
Pac-10: Arizona @ Oregon State (4 PM EST)
SEC: Vanderbilt @ Auburn (12:30 PM EST, ESPN GamePlan)
Sun Belt: #6 South Florida @ Florida Atlantic (3:30 PM EST, ESPNU)
WAC: New Mexico State @ Boise State (Sunday 8 PM EST, ESPN)