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25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 6

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIINovember 26, 2016

25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 6

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Ohio State will have little time to celebrate its win over Wisconsin, as the Buckeyes will immediately move on to one of the biggest Week 6 matchups against Northwestern.

    Meanwhile, Georgia and LSU will both have to move on quickly from their pulse-pumping contest in Athens, as the two foes will each face SEC challengers this week.

    UGA might have to do so without running back Todd Gurley, who sprained his ankle in the win over the Tigers. Oregon is in a similar situation with its star back De'Anthony Thomas, who rolled his ankle in the Ducks' win over Cal last week.

    Meanwhile, UO's biggest Pac-12 challenger, Stanford, is on upset alert this week, taking on an explosive Washington club.

    Week 6 will also bring an intriguing coaching battle in the SEC, a fashion showdown in Dallas and much more.

     

Injured Stars: De'Anthony Thomas, Todd Gurley, Marqise Lee, Connor Shaw

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    De'Anthony Thomas: RB, Oregon

    De'Anthony Thomas injured his right ankle on the opening kickoff of Oregon's 55-16 rainy win over Cal Saturday night and did not return. He told Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com that he rolled his ankle on the wet surface in Eugene. 

     

    Now, it doesn't appear as though Oregon's speedster will be in action this week. Andrew Grief of The Oregonian quoted UO running backs coach Gary Campbell saying that, though the goal is for Thomas to play this week, that isn't going to happen.

     

    Todd Gurley: RB, Georgia

    Georgia's Todd Gurley also suffered an ankle injury Saturday. The ugly-looking ankle turn occurred just before the second half, and the UGA back did not return against LSU. 

    Seth Emerson of the The Macon Telegraph tweeted that the sophomore is day-to-day with a sprained ankle, according to head coach Mark Richt. Georgia will take on Tennessee this week.

     

    Marqise Lee: WR, USC

    As if the situation at USC wasn't bad enough with the firing of Lane Kiffin, the Trojans also lost star receiver Marqise Lee to a knee injury Saturday night. 

    Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that Lee has a "severely sprained knee" but hopes to return by Oct. 10 when USC takes on Arizona. The Trojans have a much-needed bye in Week 6.

     

    Connor Shaw: QB, South Carolina

    South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw went down with a shoulder sprain in the first quarter against UCF, not to return. Josh Kendall of The State reported that he and running back Brandon Wilds are expected to miss 2-3 weeks.

    The Gamecocks still have the SEC's leading rusher, Mike Davis, at running back and an experienced back up under center in Dylan Thompson. They will take on Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee in the next three weeks.

Ohio State's Second Straight Test

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    BCS Championship hopeful Ohio State will be seriously tested for the second straight week after edging Wisconsin 31-24 at home in Week 5.

    Now the Buckeyes will head on the road to take on Northwestern, the highest ranked opponent left on their schedule. To make the matter more difficult for OSU, the Wildcats will be coming off a bye week.

    In his post-Wisconsin press conference Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer acknowledged the challenge of facing a well-prepared NU team on the road:

    Really difficult game coming up, back to back games against ranked teams...GameDay I hear is going to be there, and it will be a heck of an atmosphere so we look forward to this challenge.

    (Given NU's bye week,) it could be harder. Some people say bye weeks don't matter; you'll never hear me say that. Bye weeks are very important. Matter of fact, if I was scheduling, I'd almost try to put it...against a team that you deal with injury and fatigue the middle of the season and then obviously back to back opponents, especially when you play against a team like Wisconsin, a physical game. So we had to be very cautious on how we operated yesterday.

    After Northwestern, OSU has only one ranked foe, Michigan, which won't host the Buckeyes until Nov. 30.

Northwestern's Big Ten Title Bid

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    Stephen Lam/Getty Images

    Northwestern has been on the rise under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Last season was a monumental one for the Wildcats program, as they notched their first 10-win season since 1995 and their first bowl win since 1948.

    Now, NU is looking to take the next step and win its first Big Ten title since 2000.

    The Wildcats are the second highest ranked team in the conference behind OSU and have been outstanding on offense thus far.

    It'll likely be a shootout in Evanston with ESPN's College GameDay on hand. Will the Wildcats put together enough defensive stops to take down the Buckeyes?

Jameis Winston and Florida State Face First Test

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Florida State won't take on Clemson until Oct. 19, but it will have a perfect warmup test this week against Maryland.

    The Terrapins are currently No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 points per game. That should provide a nice challenge for young Heisman Trophy hopeful Jameis Winston.

    The redshirt freshman has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns through four games but hasn't faced a defense as tough as that of UMD.

    Maryland also has its share of offensive talent. On Monday, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher identified quarterback C.J. Brown and receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long as potential problems for the Seminoles.

    "Maryland is a very good team," Fisher said in his weekly press conference. "Brown's playing lights out. Diggs is a great player. Long is catching balls everywhere...They have a good football team."

Alabama's Absent Downfield Passing Game

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    Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

    Alabama has been excellent defensively and has generated an effective rushing attack.

    However, the downfield passing game just hasn't been there for the Tide, who rank No. 74 in the nation in passing offense. 

    They are also just 57th nationally with 14 passing plays of 20 yards or more and are 70th with only five plays of 30 or more yards.

    The most notable absence has been sophomore receiver Amari Cooper, who has been hampered by injury. As a freshman, Cooper was Alabama's best deep threat, tallying 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. So far this year, he has just nine catches for 100 yards and no touchdowns.

    This week, the Tide will face an opponent in Georgia State that they should be able to torch downfield.

Will Oregon Ever Let Up?

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Not even driving rain could slow down the Oregon offense in its 55-16 win over Cal.

    The Ducks have now outscored their opponents by 196 points this season, 239-43. As they have mercilessly pounded every challenger, they rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense and No. 4 in scoring defense.

    Six different rushers have reached the end zone in four games for the Ducks, who have shown no signs of letting up.

    UO will head on the road for just the second time this season as it takes on Colorado Saturday night.

Stanford on Upset Alert vs. Washington

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    Stanford has improved steadily with each passing week this season but will face its toughest test yet against Washington this weekend.

    The Cardinal struggled in their first two games against San Jose State and Army, but turned things around in conference wins over Arizona State and Washington State.

    Now they will be tested even further as they host a red-hot UW squad. 

    Quarterback Kevin Hogan will enter the game with plenty of momentum, as he tossed three touchdown passes in last week's win over Washington State. He'll have to contend with an underrated Washington defense this week, which ranks No. 4 in scoring defense nationally.

    Meanwhile, the Cardinal defense has been strong as usual, but will be challenged mightily by the Huskies' backfield duo of Keith Price and Bishop Sankey.

    UW's total package has the Cardinal on upset alert this weekend.

Can Price and Sankey Lead UW into Pac-12 Contention?

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Washington's Keith Price and Bishop Sankey are one of the most prolific backfield duos in college football and have their team on the verge of serious Pac-12 title contention. 

    However, to take the next step, they'll have to lead their squad against the defending conference champion, Stanford.

    UW is currently No. 5 in the nation in total offense, amassing 574 yards per game.

    Sankey currently leads the nation with nearly 152 rushing yards per game, while Price has averaged more than 270 yards of offense per contest.

    If the Huskies expect to contend for the conference crown, they'll lean heavily on this duo to do so.

UCLA Embarks on Rough October

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    UCLA will face Pac-12 favorites Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks at the end of October but will have a couple of warmup games before then.

    The Bruins will travel to Utah this week and host Cal next week before putting their league title hopes on the line in Stanford and Eugene.

    The Westwood kids rank No. 3 in scoring offense, posting nearly 53 points per game and have also been solid on defense.

    However, they can't overlook the Utes or the Bears, as both have the talent to knock off a UCLA club that isn't 100 percent focused.

    In his press conference looking ahead to Utah, UCLA head coach Jim Mora acknowledged that his team must continue to improve, rather than becoming complacent. "We gotta keep getting better," Mora said. "The first day that you say, 'Oh, we got that one licked,' or 'We got it,' those are three real dangerous words. We got it—you never got it."

    The Bruins will head to Utah for a Thursday night clash with the Utes at 10 p.m. EDT on Fox Sports 1.

The Uniform Wars: Arizona State vs. Notre Dame

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    Two talented and evenly matched teams will square off when Arizona State and Notre Dame meet at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

    However, the two squads will likely be outshined by their own uniforms.

    Notre Dame will sport shiny "Shamrock Series" uniforms, featuring candy painted gold helmets and a pretty sharp white-on-clover-green uniform.

    Meanwhile, Arizona State will be going the other direction with an all-black, flame-accent look, as tweeted by head coach Todd Graham on Monday.

    Tune in to NBC, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT to decide for yourself which is a better look.

Notre Dame's Missing Identity

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    Notre Dame has two losses to ranked teams, which isn't terribly concerning. However, the way the Irish have been playing thus far is a cause for worry.

    They don't rank higher than 46th in any statistical category on offense or defense through Week 5. Turnovers are an issue as well. The Irish are minus-2 in turnover margin, tied for 90th in the country.

    ND simply hasn't played well on either side of the ball and has no real identity. 

    Don't count on the Irish finding that sense of self this week—they'll face a dangerous Arizona State offense that has averaged more than 44 points per game.

New Big 12 Favorite: Baylor or Oklahoma?

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    With the falling of Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma now stand as the two highest ranked teams in the wild Big 12.

    Both squads have opportunities against conference foes this week to show that they are the new favorite in the conference.

    Baylor will host West Virginia and try to avoid the same fate as OSU, while Oklahoma will host TCU, looking avoid an upset as well.

    BU and OU won't play until Nov. 7. But at the rate the Big 12 is currently going, both could have multiple losses by then.

Can West Virginia Do It Again?

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    Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

    West Virginia came out of nowhere with the upset over the week, toppling Oklahoma State 30-21.

    No one really gave the Mountaineers a chance against the then-No. 11 Cowboys, and rightfully so after their embarrassing 37-0 loss to Maryland.

    However, they plugged in a new quarterback in Clint Trickett and came out looking like a different team. WVU still has its issues but will now take on Baylor with a fresh shot of confidence.

    Head coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged his team's tough situation immediately after the win over OSU in his postgame press conference:

    I just told the team, 'Enjoy the win—get ready because it's going to happen again next week.' We get to enjoy this one here for about 12 hours then we have to get back to work and play another undefeated, Top 10 team. That's just life in the big 12 and we're excited about it.

    If the game ends up looking anything like the 70-63 stock car race in Morgantown last season, don't expect the Mountaineers to keep up.

    WVU and Baylor will go green at 8 p.m. EDT on Fox Sports 1.

TCU Looks to Reenter Big 12 Race

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    Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    With the loss of the previous conference favorite Oklahoma State, it seems like no team will be able to make it through the Big 12 slate unbeaten.

    This gives TCU hope to make it back into the league title race as it takes on Oklahoma.

    The Horned Frogs lost their conference opener to Texas Tech and will face an overall difficult Big 12 slate, with five conference road games.

    An 0-2 start will likely knock the Frogs out of title contention, but a win over OU will put them right in the mix to earn a BCS bid.

Oklahoma State Regroups vs. Kansas State

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    Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

    Oklahoma State's BCS title hopes were dashed when it fell in its Big 12 opener to West Virginia.

    However, the Cowboys aren't completely out of the Big 12 title race, as long as they quickly regroup this week against Kansas State.

    OSU will need to put this loss in the past and move forward in hopes of stringing together some wins before the end of the season. The Cowboys will play Oklahoma and Baylor, the two new league favorites, in their final two games of the season.

    They should be able to take care of business against the Wildcats this week. K-State hasn't been impressive this season on offense or defense, particularly in its two losses to North Dakota State and Texas.

Will Michigan Dig out of Its Rut?

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan has gone through a gamut of results already this year and it hasn't even started Big Ten play.

    The Wolverines opened by annihilating Central Michigan 59-9 and followed that up with a thrilling 41-30 win over Notre Dame. Since then, they have been in a serious rut, as they nearly fell upset to Akron and Connecticut in consecutive weeks, winning the two games by a combined seven points.

    Last week, Michigan had a much-needed bye week to regroup as it begins conference play with a rivalry contest against Minnesota.

    Head coach Brady Hoke was happy with how his team practiced in the off week, but also acknowledged that they still have work left to do heading into their league slate:

    We got a lot accomplished as a team this week. I know we as a staff felt that way and the players feel that way about the practices that we had and the fundamental work that we needed to get back to—that's every position. 

    We'll take it one week at a time. We understand what the expectations are and what they should be for this program. We'll have a good week of practice and put our best foot forward (against Minnesota).

    The Gophers and Wolverines will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. EDT from Ann Arbor on either ESPN2 or ABC.

Can Michigan State or Iowa Sneak into Big Ten Race?

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    Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    After Iowa lost its season opener to Northern Illinois, it looked like it was going to be one of those years in Iowa City.

    However, the Hawkeyes rebounded are now coming off three strong wins over Iowa State, Western Michigan and Minnesota. The last two of which came by a combined score of 82-10.

    Meanwhile, Michigan State knows it has a strong defense, though serious offensive struggles remain. The Spartans have finally settled on Connor Cook at quarterback, which is a good start.

    Both teams will learn just where they stand in the league race after they meet in Iowa City, Saturday at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN2.

Northern Illinois Starts MAC Play, BCS Run

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Northern Illinois could probably be a competitor for the Big Ten crown along with Iowa and Michigan State. The Huskies are already 2-0 against Big Ten competition this year, with wins over the Hawkeyes and Purdue.

    Instead, they'll embark into MAC play, as they have Kent State on the slate this week.

    NIU still has a long road ahead but is gunning for another BCS bid. Last year the Huskies finished the regular season 11-1, with just a loss to Iowa, but that was enough to earn them an Orange Bowl berth against Florida State.

    NIU and its powerful rushing attack will take on the Golden Flashes Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

Maryland Begins Final ACC Season

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Maryland has been a member of the ACC since its inception in 1953, but will be jumping ship after this season.

    The Terrapins are one of college football's biggest surprises so far this season, as they sit at 4-0 after a demolishing West Virginia 37-0.

    UMD has a chance at leaving the ACC on a high note beginning this week against Florida State. FSU has national title hopes behind its star quarterback, but the Terps have different ideas.

    ESPN ACC blogger Heather Dinich pointed out just why UMD might give FSU trouble this weekend in Tallahassee: 

    On paper, it looks like the Terps could be exactly the kind of tricky opponent that has tripped up the Noles in the past.

    The Noles should and will be favored, but they fell behind 14-0 at Boston College and looked vulnerable...The Eagles are a one-dimensional offense that depends heavily on Andre Williams and the running game. Maryland is not. The Terps have more depth and more playmakers and will be an even bigger challenge for the FSU defense.

    The two will kickoff at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN.

Miami Starts ACC Title Try vs. GT

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    After its monumental win over Florida, Miami (FL) instantly became a serious contender for the ACC title behind Florida State and Clemson.

    The Hurricanes look great on paper thanks to the strong play of quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson, as well as stingy defensive play.

    Plenty of questions still remain for The U and even more work stands between the Canes and legitimate contention with the Seminoles and Tigers.

    They'll start ACC play with a tough opponent in Georgia Tech this weekend at 3:30 p.m. EDT. The Yellow Jackets will be hungry for a win after being dropped by Virginia Tech last Thursday.

Virginia Tech Looks for Offensive Momentum vs. North Carolina

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Virginia Tech isn't flash, but it is the kind of team that just finds ways to win. The Hokies have done just that so far this year, aside from their season opening loss to No. 1 Alabama.

    VT could hope to gain some offensive momentum this week as it faces a porous North Carolina defense. The 1-3 Tar Heels have allowed 32.5 points per game, good for No. 95 in the nation thus far.

    Most recently they were gouged by ECU for 55 points. However, even despite UNC's defensive struggles, VT head coach Frank Beamer isn't banking on his team generating an explosive offense overnight. 

    As Beamer told Dan Wolken of USA Today, he expects all of the Hokies' contests to resemble their gritty 17-10 win over Georgia Tech:

    I kind of feel like every (game) is going to be like this, and that's why I'm glad my guys are mentally tough, physically tough. I told those kids about after the last two games, I feel stronger than ever we can be a good football team.

    UNC and Virginia Tech will at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday in Blacksburg, Va.

Florida RB Matt Jones Looks to Continue Resurgence

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Florida running back Matt Jones wasn't happy with the way he started the season and neither was his head coach, Will Muschamp.

    He sat the Gators' opener against Toledo and returned the following two weeks, only to tally less than 50 yards in games against Miami and Tennessee.

    Then Muschamp brought his running back in for a meeting, as he told Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel: "I pulled Matt in Monday and said, ‘You need to cut it loose and play. You’re very tentative when you run it. You look like last year at the beginning of the year.'"

    Apparently, Muschamp's talk worked. Jones responded by running for 176 yards and a touchdown in Florida's 24-7 win over Kentucky.

    After the win, he called the game "a relief."

    He'll look to keep up the strong play when the Gators take on Arkansas this weekend.

Alex Collins vs. UF Rush Defense

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    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Matt Jones isn't the only premier back in the Arkansas-Florida matchup this weekend.

    The Razorbacks boast the No. 2 running back in the SEC and the best freshman runner in the nation in Alex Collins.

    The Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native will face a challenge like he has never seen before when he takes on UF this weekend.

    The Gator defense currently ranks No. 1 in the nation against the run, allowing just 53.5 yards per game on the ground. UF's opposition has averaged just 2.43 yards per rush, while Collins has averaged just shy of six yards per carry.

    Something has to give when the two butt heads this weekend at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN2 in The Swamp.

Gus Malzahn vs. Hugh Freeze

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Auburn and Ole Miss will square off this weekend both hungry for a victory. The contest will also feature an interesting matchup between a pair of new coaches and longtime friends.

    Gus Malzahn, in his first year at Auburn, and Hugh Freeze, in his second year at Ole Miss, have been friends since the two coached in the high school ranks.

    Freeze told Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger that they were going to put their friendship aside for the week and talk after.

    The Rebels are in dire need of a win after a 25-0 loss to Alabama, especially since LSU and Texas A&M loom in the next two weeks. Auburn needs a win as well after falling to LSU a week ago.

    The two will meet at 7 p.m. EDT Saturday in Auburn.

LSU and Georgia Move on from Emotional Bout

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    LSU and Georgia are both on letdown alert this week.

    The two played a draining 44-41 shootout in Athens last week and will immediately move on to take on SEC foes.

    The Bulldogs will head to the road for the first time since Week 1 when they take on Tennessee. 

    The Tigers will also be away from home and will have to deal with the cowbells ringing at Davis Wade Stadium when they take on Mississippi State. 

    LSU faces the tougher test, as MSU is in desperate need of a win, sitting at 2-2.

    LSU and MSU are set for a 7 p.m. EDT start on ESPN, while UT and UGA will be on CBS at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

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