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25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 10

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIOctober 28, 2013

25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 10

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    In Week 9, two more BCS National Championship hopefuls, Missouri and Texas Tech, were exposed as pretenders and saw their crystal football dreams shattered.

    In Week 10, at least one more team will have its national title dreams destroyed when the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles host the No. 7 Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes in a momentous rivalry renewal.

    Several other rivalry games will be waged, including a battle of the walking wounded between Georgia and Florida and a crucial Big Ten tilt between Michigan and Michigan State.

    The Big 12 will also see one of its title hopefuls eliminated when Texas Tech squares off with Oklahoma State.

    Check out previews of those tilts and everything else you need to know heading into college football's Week 10, as well as updates on what you might have been missing all season long.

    Note: All rankings based on Week 10 BCS standings.

1. Bye Week Blues

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    Several of the nation's top teams aren't in action this week.

    No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 5 Stanford, No. 6 Baylor, No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 13 LSU are all on byes this week.

    They are all setting up for critical clashes next week.

    However, despite half of the Top 10 being out of action, there is plenty to look forward to this week.

2. Heisman Update

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    Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer's Week 10 Heisman Trophy countdown looks like this:

     

    1. Marcus Mariota: QB, Oregon

    2. Jameis Winston: QB, Florida State

    3. Johnny Manziel: QB, Texas A&M

    4. Teddy Bridgewater: QB, Louisville

    5. Lache Seastrunk: RB, Baylor

     

    As Kramer said in his weekly Heisman update, it's really just a three-man race among Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

    Mariota is still the leader and will likely stay there, as long as Oregon keeps winning. The redshirt sophomore is having a massive year and has accounted for 29 total touchdowns without an interception.

    Winston isn't far behind, as Florida State continues to look like an elite team. The redshirt freshman has the Heisman numbers with 26 total touchdowns and just four picks.

    In third is reigning Heisman winner Manziel, who showed off his toughness while leading Texas A&M to another blowout win, despite playing through an injured shoulder. The Aggie signal-caller has already eclipsed 3,000 total yards, but interceptions have been a bit of an issue, as he has completed eight passes to the wrong team.

3. Doak Walker Race

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    The race for the Doak Walker Award will likely be a roller coaster all the way through the season.

    Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey seemingly took the top spot last week after a rough day from Bishop Sankey. However, the Washington running back answered back with a 241-yard, two-touchdown performance against California.

    Carey leads the nation with an average of 154 yards per game, while Sankey is No. 2 in total yards at 1,162.

    The nation's leading rusher, Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky, can't be counted out either. Other names in the running are Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, Mike Davis of South Carolina and Marion Grice of Arizona State.

    With the running back position flooded with talent this year, there are plenty of contenders to keep an eye on.

4. Is Biletnikoff Evans' to Lose?

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    The wide receiver position is also laden with talent, but the Biletnikoff Award race might be down to just two players.

    Texas A&M's Mike Evans is the most physically impressive receiver and has the numbers (1,100 yards, 11 touchdowns) to show for it. The redshirt sophomore caught five passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt in Week 9.

    ESPN's Lee Corso recently declared Evans the best receiver in college football, and when Corso speaks, mountains move.

    However, Evans is being challenged mightily for the award by Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, who is proving to be this year's Tavon Austin. The speedster out of Lincoln, Calif., has 1,256 yards and 13 touchdowns. The OSU offense had a down day over the weekend against Stanford, but Cooks still brought in nine receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. He also notched 74 punt return yards. 

    After these two, there is a bit of a drop-off in production at the position so far this season.

5. Barr vs. the Field: Who Is the Nation's Best Defender?

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    Just past the midway point of the season, there is one overwhelming favorite for the Bednarik Award, which is given to the nation's best defender.

    UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr has been far and away the best defensive player in the country thus far. The senior has 39 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss (No. 6 nationally), six sacks (No. 18 nationally) and an NCAA-leading five forced fumbles. 

    Recently, Barr was named a semifinalist for the Butkus (best linebacker) Award, as tweeted by Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News. 

    It isn't quite a done deal, as he'll be challenged by Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Clemson defensive lineman Vic Beasley and Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam.

    However, Barr is the one defender everyone is talking about, leaving the rest of the contenders with plenty of ground to make up.

6. Miami-FSU: A Pivotal Rivalry Once Again

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    Since the late 1980s, Miami-Florida State has produced as many thrilling finishes as any rivalry in college football.

    However, as the two programs endured lulls in recent years, the rivalry lost a bit of its luster. Now, it's back, as detailed by ESPN's Heather Dinich:

    On Saturday, No. 3 Florida State will host No. 7 Miami in a rivalry game that finally means something again. They’re both undefeated. They’re both ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings -- the first time since 2004 that they’ll play each other with both teams ranked in the top 10. Florida State is knocking on the door of a national title again. Miami is 7-0 for the first time since 2003. And no matter how both teams have looked to this point -- sheer opposites, with the Seminoles a bunch of bruisers and the Cardiac Canes waiting until the final minute to seal the deal -- anything can happen in Tallahassee on Saturday night. 

    FSU will enter the game as an overwhelming 21-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com. However, as well as the Seminoles have been playing, the Hurricanes can't be completely counted out.

    In a rivalry like this one, no outcome is beyond the realm of possibility. Miami and FSU are slated for an 8 p.m. ET kickoff on ABC.

7. Are the 'Canes a Top 10 Team?

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    Yes, the rankings have Miami at No. 7 in the nation, ahead of several preseason national title hopefuls, including Texas A&M, Clemson and LSU.

    The Hurricanes have a shot at the national title, while many others don't. However, they haven't quite earned that distinction yet. They nearly lost in the past two weeks to both Wake Forest and North Carolina. Their opponents have a combined record of 20-34. 

    Miami has been inconsistent and has notched a frightening 14 turnovers. However, none of that will really matter if The U can top Florida State this weekend.

    The 'Canes will need plenty of turnovers from its ball-hawking defense and heavy doses of Duke Johnson and Dallas Crawford to do so.

8. World's Smallest Outdoor Cocktail Party: Florida vs. Georgia

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    A few weeks ago, the Florida-Georgia rivalry game (previously known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party) looked like it would be played for an SEC East title and perhaps for positioning in the national title race.

    However, now the two rivals will each enter the game on two-game losing streaks. Not only that, but they are also both just shells of the teams they were to begin the season. UF and UGA have both been decimated by injury.

    Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution updated the Bulldogs' injury situation, saying they are likely to bring back running back Todd Gurley, receiver Michael Bennett and safety Tray Matthews. However, they will still be without Chris Conley, Josh Harvey-Clemons and several other key players who are out for the season.

    Meanwhile, Florida recently added an eighth player to its "out for the season" list: linebacker Jeremi Powell, as reported by the Associated Press, via ESPN.

    If both teams can make it through this game without losing another player to injury, it'll be a win. The two injury-riddled rivals will meet in Jacksonville, Fla., at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

9. Big 12 Title Eliminator: Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech

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    The Big 12 Conference is still wide open, but one team is likely to be eliminated from the race this weekend.

    First, here's a look at the Big 12 standings:

    TeamB12 RecordOvr Record
    Baylor4-07-0
    Texas4-05-2
    Oklahoma4-17-1
    Texas Tech4-17-1
    Oklahoma State3-16-1

    When Oklahoma State and Texas Tech square off in Lubbock this weekend, one of the two will be all but out of the league title race.

    OSU is as hot as it has been all season.

    Running back Desmond Roland led the Cowboys to a 58-27 win over Iowa State last week with a 219-yard, four-touchdown day. Meanwhile, TTU is coming off of its first loss of the season last week to Oklahoma. The Red Raiders were gouged for 526 total yards by OU in the 38-30 defeat.

    The two will kick off at 7 p.m. ET on Fox.

10. Big Ten Legends Battle: Michigan vs. Michigan State

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    While OSU and TTU hash out their Big 12 title eliminator, Michigan and Michigan State will play for pecking order in the Big Ten Legends Division.

    MSU currently leads the division as the only Legends team without a loss in Big Ten play. UM is stuck back in a tie for second place with Nebraska. With a win, the Wolverines will pull the Spartans down into the fray. 

    The Spartans took the driver's seat of the division last week with a dominating 42-3 win over Illinois and a 34-23 loss by Nebraska to Minnesota.

    Michigan's loss came a few weeks back on the road against Penn State. The Wolverines will head to East Lansing coming off of a bye.

    The two neighboring rivals will square off at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

11. Still Winless

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    Five teams—Connecticut, Southern Mississippi, Miami (Ohio), Hawaii and Georgia State—are still searching for their first wins this season.

    New Mexico State and Western Michigan both made it off of the zero-win chopping block last week. The Aggies edged Abilene Christian 34-29 for their first win of the season, while the Broncos topped Massachusetts 31-30 for win No. 1.

    UConn, the only BCS automatic qualifying team without a win, has a bye this week and will play Louisville next week. With that game looming, the Huskies aren't likely to quench that thirst anytime soon.

    Southern Miss will have a tough contest against Marshall (4-3) and won't have a really great chance to pick up that first win until it takes on Florida Atlantic on Nov. 16.

    Hawaii also has a tough game this week against a Utah State team that still has Mountain West Conference title aspirations. Miami (OH) will have a bye week before facing a similar test against MAC title hopeful Bowling Green next week.

    Georgia State has perhaps the best shot of any winless team to break through. The Panthers will take on Western Kentucky (4-4). The Hilltoppers have lost two straight.

12. Mizzou Moves on

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    Although it certainly felt like it, Missouri's season didn't end when its game-tying field goal clanked off the post in overtime against South Carolina.

    As Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star explained, there is still plenty on the table for Mizzou, even after the heartbreaking 27-24 loss to the Gamecocks:

    There is still a lot for Mizzou to look forward to, actually. The Tigers still lead the SEC East by a game over the Gamecocks. Win out, and the Tigers will play in the conference championship. They can still do so much. They have already beaten two traditional SEC powers. All is not lost.

    As well as Mellinger broke the situation down, Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel did it better. “This loss will not define us,” Pinkel said. “What will define (the season) is how we deal with it.”

    That process will begin immediately, as the Tigers will turn right around and host Tennessee in another prime-time game.

    Mizzou will have to quickly turn its sadness into anger and let that play out against the Volunteers under the lights at Faurot Field. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN.

13. More Jeremy Johnson for Auburn?

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    Nick Marshall has done an admirable job at quarterback for Auburn this year, leading the Tigers to a 7-1 record and a monumental upset over Texas A&M.

    However, he has now missed time on two separate occasions with two different injuries. Most recently, the junior suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of AU's 45-10 win over Florida Atlantic and didn't return.

    Freshman Jeremy Johnson, the perceived future of the program, filled in well against the Owls, finishing 10-of-16 for 192 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. 

    Marshall's injury situation might not be clear until later in the week. Johnson told James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser that he will be ready to go if necessary, though he hopes Marshall will return:

    The team is going to be fine. Coach Malzahn keeps me well-prepared. He makes me prepare as a starter, so if I have to go in and start, that’s good. But hopefully Nick will be back because he’s the starter, and he’s doing a really good job leading this team.

    Both of Johnson's extended appearances have come at home. The Tigers will go on the road this week to take on an Arkansas squad that has lost its past five games. The Tigers and the Hogs will kick at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN 2.

14. After Near Knockout, Fresno State Will Blackout

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    For those who missed the Week 9 nightcap, it was a nail-biter.

    Fresno State was just inches away from being bounced from the BCS race against San Diego State. The Aztecs lined up for a game-winning 37-yard field goal at the end of regulation, but it was blocked by Fresno's 6'6" tight end Marcel Jensen.

    The Bulldogs then punched in a quick touchdown in overtime and escaped with a 35-28 victory, keeping their BCS hopes alive. It was Fresno's second overtime win and fourth one-possession victory.

    After nearly being knocked out of the BCS picture, the Dogs will stage a blackout when they host Nevada, as reported by Bryant-Jon Anteola of The Fresno Bee

    With all-black uniforms and black-clad fans, can Fresno avoid being taken down in the nightcap once again? Find out at 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

15. What Can't Jordan Lynch Do?

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    While Fresno State is edging out victories, the other non-automatic qualifying BCS hopeful, Northern Illinois, is just playing with its weak MAC foes.

    A week ago, NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch broke the NCAA single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback, amassing 319 yards on the ground against Central Michigan. Last week, Lynch had a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown against lowly Eastern Michigan.

    What will he do this week?

    Considering the Huskies are playing their second straight one-win foe, Massachusetts (1-7), he might as well line up on defense and try for an interception or fumble return.

    NIU won't have a real test until Wednesday, Nov. 13 against Ball State (8-1), its biggest contender for the MAC title.

16. Mora Wants More

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    UCLA hung right with Oregon on the road, only to see the Ducks run away with a 42-14 lead after scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half.

    However, as reported by Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, that isn't enough for UCLA head coach Jim Mora:

    We're close but it doesn't matter. We're not after being close. Heck with being close. Losers can be close. We want to get it. We want to win those games. The coulda, the woulda, the shoulda -- all that crap, we don't want that. I'm tired of that. It's time for UCLA to turn the freaking page and be something different and win those games. That's what it's time to be.

    The fire from Mora is outstanding, and it is just the type of no-baloney attitude that players respond to. The Bruins should do just that this week, as they'll take on potential punching bag Colorado at just the right time.

    The Buffaloes are No. 113 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing more than 37 points per game on average. The Bruins could really use the return of running back Jordon James, who has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Although, they might not even need him against CU.

    UCLA will host Colorado at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

17. Wisconsin and Iowa with Plenty to Play for

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    At 5-2, Wisconsin isn't earning much respect in the polls, though the Badgers could certainly beat several teams ranked ahead of them.

    UW is still shooting for a BCS at-large bid and could attain it with a string of wins. It will take on rival Iowa this week. The Hawkeyes also have plenty to play for, as they're just one win away from bowl eligibility.

    ESPN's Adam Rittenberg broke down the upcoming Iowa-Wisconsin battle:

    Wisconsin is one of the few Big Ten teams with a front-loaded schedule, but the Badgers have November rivalry games against Iowa and Minnesota as they try to end the season with another BCS bowl berth. 

    Wisconsin needs some help to win the Leaders Division but could make a run at a BCS at-large berth if it wins out, while an improved Iowa team is a win away from bowl eligibility. No long-term rivalry in college is more evenly matched than this one: the series is deadlocked at 42-42-2. 

    As the two foes break that tie this weekend, one will come away with a monumental win for the season. 

    The Badgers will head to Iowa City for a noon ET kickoff on either ESPN 2 or ABC.

18. Northwestern and Nebraska Both Desperate for Wins

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    Both Northwestern and Nebraska have some major issues to work through when they square off this week. And given the teams' recent results, that might not even happen this week.

    Tom Shatel of The Omaha World-Herald ripped Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini after the Cornhuskers' 34-23 loss to Minnesota last week:

    This is the most maddening thing of all for those of us who thought Pelini was hired to instill a spirit of physical and tough football. Smart football. Resilient football. Soulful football.

    But teams are often a reflection of their head coach. And while Pelini has always talked a tough game, his teams don't play one when they need it.

    This game was Pelini's Huskers to the core. This is an inconsistent program, one that gets in its way too frequently. Not showing up? Not playing smart? Wasting timeouts to get organized so you avoid delay of game? Six years later?

    Kevin Trahan of InsideNU.com was much more understanding of the plight of head coach Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern, even though the Wildcats dropped their fourth straight game to Iowa over the weekend:

    The bigger issue this game was turnovers and penalties. Usually, Pat Fitzgerald is overly simplistic in blaming entire losses on those mistakes, but they were the clear difference in this game.

    After a solid start to the season, the offensive line has gone downhill. Iowa had six sacks and Colter avoided a lot more sacks. Left tackle Jack Konopka had a rough day and guard Ian Park was pulled in favor of Matt Frazier. For the offense to find its mojo again, the offensive line must be better.

    It's pretty clear what Shatel feels regarding Pelini. However, as grave as that situation may seem, the Wildcats have bigger issues, as they haven't scored more than 17 points their past three games after hitting 30 or more in their first five contests.

    Which struggling squad will pick up the much-needed win this week? The Huskers will host the Cats at 3:30 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network.

19. Big 12 Newcomer Year 2 Litmus Test

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    It has been a rough Year 2 for Big 12 newbies TCU and West Virginia.

    The Horned Frogs and the Mountaineers both sit at 1-4 in league play and 3-5 overall. WVU has lost three straight while TCU has dropped its past two, leaving both programs in turmoil.

    Jake Trotter of ESPN summed up TCU's situation in his Big 12 power rankings:

    The Texas game revealed a lot about where the Horned Frogs are. And where are they? Pretty much in shambles. Casey Pachall’s return to QB did little to alleviate the overwhelming problems offensively. Now, the players’ preseason pick to win the Big 12 is unlikely to even become bowl eligible. The college football season can’t end fast enough in Fort Worth. 

    Meanwhile, in Morgantown, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen can't sleep, his offense is so bad. Before the season, Holgorsen said he wasn't losing any sleep over the departures of Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, but now he is, as Dave Hickman of the The Charleston Gazette wrote:

    "I'm losing sleep now,'' Holgorsen said.

    Indeed, after Saturday's 35-12 collapse at Kansas State, there is plenty to lose sleep over for Holgorsen. His football team has lost three straight and, with just four games remaining, must win at least three of those in order to extend WVU's bowl-game streak to a dozen years.

    Both teams will end the season in a scramble just to make a bowl. Their 3:30 p.m. ET date in Fort Worth on ESPNU will be a big step on that road, one way or another.

20. Minnesota Winning for Jerry Kill

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    As Bleacher Report's BCS guru Samuel Chi noted, although Jerry Kill isn't on the sideline, he is still witnessing his work playing out and the culture changing around Minnesota football.

    Gophers acting head coach Tracy Claeys said as much during an on-field interview after their monumental 34-23 win over Nebraska last week.

    Claeys said the Gophers would fight very, very hard for Kill, in fewer words (via Chris Long, KSTP; h/t Rodger Sherman, SBNation). Warning: The video in the above link contains language that some might find offensive.

    With the big home win over the Cornhuskers, the Gophers are now bowl eligible at 6-2 and still have an outside shot at the Big Ten Legends division title. They will head on the road to take on Indiana this week.

21. Boise Looks to Bounce Back

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    Boise State's recent loss to BYU certainly stings, but it won't change too much for the Broncos. 

    It was just a nonconference defeat, so they'll still have a shot at the Mountain West Conference title. However, they'll need to figure out a way to win without quarterback Joe Southwick. 

    The Boise signal-caller suffered an ugly broken ankle a week ago against Nevada and recently had surgery to repair the break. BSU head coach Chris Petersen speculated that Southwick could return in a five-week window, per Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman.

    In the loss to BYU, Boise looked incapable of carrying on with junior Grant Hedrick at the helm. However, the competition should be a bit easier going ahead. The Broncos will take on Colorado State this week at 8 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Network.

    To win against the Rams and going forward, they will have to lean on their defense.

22. Louisiana-Lafayette's Brief Break from Sun Belt Title Run

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    Louisiana-Lafayette took down two-time defending Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State last week to take full control of the league title race.

    The Ragin' Cajuns had two runners eclipse 100 yards in the 23-7 win and will take a brief break from their conference title run to host New Mexico State this week.

    The turnaround will be quick from there, as they'll host Troy, their biggest standing competitor, just five days later on Nov. 7.

    Thanks to its powerful rushing attack, ULL leads the SBC in scoring offense and can play some defense as well. At 24.3 points per game, the ULL defense ranks No. 2 in the league.

23. MAC Update

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    Northern Illinois still looks like the favorite to win the Mid-American Conference, but it's far from a one-team race.

    There is some thrilling "MACtion" looming at the end of the season. 

    The MAC East Division is down to Buffalo, Ohio and Bowling Green. The Bulls are at the top at 4-0 in league play and will have this week off before hosting the Bobcats next Tuesday. The Tuesday after that, the Bobcats will turn around and go on the road against Bowling Green.

    The MAC West Division is down to NIU, Ball State and Toledo. NIU and Ball State are unbeaten in league play and Toledo has one loss, to the Cardinals. The West likely won't be won until Wednesday, Nov. 13 when the Huskies and the Cardinals meet.

24. C-USA Update

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    Like the MAC, Conference-USA is far from being decided.

    However, one key C-USA tilt will be waged this week when West Division title hopefuls Rice and North Texas meet on Thursday. If the Owls win, they'll likely play off with Tulane for the division crown on Nov. 30. Both the Owls and the Green Wave are 4-0 in conference play.

    The C-USA East Division looks to be down to just East Carolina and Marshall, the only East teams with just one conference loss. The Pirates and the Thundering Herd will also meet in their last game of the season on Nov. 29.

25. Looking Ahead

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    All of the aforementioned bye weeks are setting up for what should be an epic Week 11.

    The action will start early with a crucial Tuesday MAC tilt between Ohio and Buffalo. 

    Thursday will then bring two massive matchups. At 7:30 p.m. ET, No. 6 Baylor will host No. 10 Oklahoma with BCS implications on the line.

    Then, at 9 p.m. ET, No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon will place their national title hopes on the table and do battle.

    Finally, on Saturday, No. 1 Alabama will host No. 13 LSU for what should be another thriller between the SEC rivals.

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