10. Penn State @ Indiana, Saturday Noon EST (ESPN)
The Lions, fresh off their blowout of Wisconsin, head to Bloomington to take on the 5-2 Hoosiers, who look to be on their way to reaching that elusive bowl game. The key to this one will be how the Indiana offense, led by quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy, deals with a stout Penn State defense led by standout linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee.
9. Texas A&M @ Nebraska, Saturday 2:05 PM EST
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. These two, normally to be found on some form of television every weekend, have failed to make the conference rotation of television games this weekend. Why? Two coaches on the hot seat, that’s why. While Bill Callahan’s fate may already have been sealed with the firing of AD Steve Pederson, Dennis Franchione may still have a small chance of saving himself with a hot streak to end the year. Is this the beginning of the trip back to redemption, or the beginning of the end?
8. #21 Tennessee @ Alabama, Saturday 12:30 PM EST (Lincoln Financial; ESPN GamePlan)
The third Saturday in October means one thing in the SEC: the Volunteers and Crimson Tide clash on the gridiron. The task for Nick Saban’s bunch will be to put pressure on Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge. But that’s easier said than done, as the Vols have only allowed two sacks on the season. The calls for Phil Fulmer’s job have subsided with wins over Georgia and Mississippi State, but a loss to their bitter rivals could get the call-in show phone lines going once again.
7. #12 California @ UCLA, Saturday 3:30 PM EST (ABC)
For as inconsistent as the Bruins have been to this point in the season, you can’t deny them this: they’re in first place in the Pac-10. While Nate Longshore is slated to return this week after missing the Oregon State loss with an ankle injury, it’s unknown who will run the UCLA offense. Walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who struggled mightily in their 20-6 loss to Notre Dame, could get the call, but if Patrick Cowan is able to go on a partially torn knee ligament expect Cowan to be in there. The Golden Bears are upset following last weekend’s loss, but the Bruins can compete so long as they take care of the football.
6. #13 Kansas @ Colorado, Saturday 5:30 PM EST (ESPN)
The Jayhawks, off to their best start since 1995, head to Boulder to take on a Colorado team coming off a blowout loss at Kansas State. But the Buffs, as we saw in their upset win over Oklahoma, are more than capable of pulling another shocker. The key for Colorado will be to have success running the football, as they were unable to keep up with K-State last week with the pass alone. Kansas has lost the last five in this series, so there are also some recent demons to face for KU.
5. #24 Texas Tech @ #16 Missouri, Saturday 3:30 PM EST (ABC)
This one promises to produce some offensive fireworks with two of the nation’s most explosive units on the same field. Red Raiders quarterback Graham Harrell and Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel do it in somewhat different ways (Daniel’s a better runner), but they both move their offenses up and down the field, making it look almost effortless at times. Tech’s defense has improved with the coordinator change, but this will be their first true test of just how much of an impact the switch had. The winner stays alive in their division race, while the loser ends up with a lot more work to do between now and the end of the season.
4. Michigan State @ #1 Ohio State, Saturday 3:30 PM EST (ABC)
The last time the Spartans and Buckeyes met in Columbus with Ohio State ranked number one, Michigan State (coached by Nick Saban at the time) went out and derailed their national title hopes. While it may be a long shot this season, the Spartans are coming off of an impressive win over Indiana (thus winning the Old Brass Spittoon), and they have one of the country’s best running back tandems in Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. Their task is to crack the nation’s best defensive unit (211.8 yards per game allowed), led by linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, and corner Malcolm Jenkins. Good luck.
3. #17 Auburn @ #4 LSU, Saturday 9 PM EST (ESPN)
The battle of the Tigers usually goes a long way in deciding who represents the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game. Both defenses are currently ranked in the top ten nationally (LSU second, Auburn ninth), and the last three meetings have been decided by a combined eight points. I wouldn’t expect too many points in this one, and don’t be surprised if LSU backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux makes a play that goes a long way in deciding the victor. Also, LSU will get back wide receiver Early Doucet, whose return should do wonders for their passing game.
2. #2 South Florida @ Rutgers, Thursday 7:30 PM EST (ESPN)
Suddenly ranked number two in the country is uncharted territory for the eleven year-old South Florida program…similar to where the Scarlet Knights were last year (but the Rutgers program is a lot older than USF’s). Now, Rutgers has had some issues with the offensive line, and injuries have sapped the depth at linebacker, but this game presents an opportunity to make an absolute mess of the Big East race. USF will look to remain undefeated in conference play while staying in the midst of the BCS title hunt. This should be an entertaining affair, unlike the blowouts both teams enjoyed last week. Is Ray Rice ready for that breakout game? Not if George Selvie, Ben Moffitt and the rest of the Bulls have anything to say about it.
1. #15 Florida @ #7 Kentucky, Saturday 3:30 PM EST (CBS)
The Gators, fresh off a bye week, head to Lexington to take on a Kentucky team recovering from their triple-overtime win over LSU. The question is this: will the Wildcats suffer a hangover from last week’s huge win? If they do, Tim Tebow and the Gator offense could pick them apart. In good news for Kentucky, Rafael Little should be available at running back after missing last week’s game. That young Florida secondary will get a workout thanks to the talented Andre Woodson and his solid corps of receivers.
Honorable Mention (Saturday unless noted otherwise)
ACC: Miami @ Florida State 3:30 PM EST (ABC)
Big 12: Kansas State @ Oklahoma State 7:05 PM EST (Fox Sports Net)
Big East: Louisville @ Connecticut, Friday 8 PM EST (ESPN2)
Big Ten: #25 Michigan @ Illinois 8 PM EST (ABC)
C-USA: NC State @ East Carolina 4:30 PM EST (CSTV)
MAC: Miami-Ohio @ Temple Noon EST (ESPN GamePlan)
MWC: Wyoming @ Air Force 2 PM EST (Versus)
Pac-10: #10 Oregon @ Washington 7:30 PM EST
SEC: Arkansas @ Mississippi 2 PM EST
Sun Belt: Arkansas State @ Middle Tennessee 3:30 PM EST
WAC: San Jose State @ Fresno State 5 PM EST (ESPN GamePlan)