College Football: The Most Important Players in Week 5's Biggest Matchups
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Finally, October is here.
Few and far between are the games between perennial powerhouses and FCS bottom-feeders that dominated the first four weeks of the college football landscape.
The meat of conference play has arrived, along with a host of contests that will have dramatic effects on this season's BCS title chase.
Huge games in the Big 10, Big XII, Pac-10 and SEC will have lasting implications in deciding each conference's champion.
Following is a breakdown of the most important players from week five's matchups featuring Top 25 teams.
Red River Rivalry: #21 Texas VS. #8 Oklahoma (3:30 ET, ABC)
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If the Longhorns are to salvage their season Saturday with a win over their biggest rival, they will do so on the shoulders of sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert.
In last week's embarrassing home loss to unranked UCLA, Gilbert was adequate, throwing for 264 yards to go along with one touchdown and one interception.
With no run game to speak of, though, Coach Mack Brown has to get more out of his talented young QB.
If Gilbert and his myriad of receivers get on the same page, UT will take advantage of the Sooners' vulnerable defense and have a chance to spring the upset.
The Sooners have struggled this season despite their undefeated record.
OU has three uninspiring wins against unranked opponents to go along with their Week Two rout of Florida State.
Considered his team's best player coming into the season, senior RB Demarco Murray needs to get on track against the Longhorns.
He rushed for only 67 yards on 28 carries (2.4 average) last week against Cincinnati. For a player with Murray's considerable athletic gifts, those numbers are unacceptable.
Though some of the fault lies with OU's offensive line, guys like him are expected to put up numbers regardless.
If Murray can be effective churning out yardage and make an explosive play or two, QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles will put the Longhorns away.
#11 Wisconsin at #24 Michigan State (3:30 ET, ABC)
Culmer St. Jean needs to help make up for the loss of star Badgers LB Chris Borland against Michigan State.
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The Spartans got too much credit for their exciting victory over Notre Dame two weeks ago and found themselves ranked in the polls.
If they are to live up to newfound expectations and upset the Badgers, Junior QB Kirk Cousins needs to be more than a game manager.
He has enjoyed perhaps the best two-game stretch of his career the last two weeks, going 39-53 for 535 yards and four touchdowns against only one interception.
He will face a much stiffer test this week, though, as Wisconsin boasts one of the nation's top defenses.
If Cousins can make a few big plays through the air while keeping mistakes to a minimum, MSU's formidable ground game could lead them to victory.
Having lost star Sophomore Chis Borland to injury, the Badgers need their other LBs to step up to stop Michigan State's dynamic running game.
Senior Middle LB Culmer St. Jean is just the man for the job, possessing great athleticism and underrated strength.
If St. Jean and company can keep MSU RBs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell at bay, it will be a long day for Cousins trying to throw against UW's talented secondary.
#22 Penn State at #17 Iowa (8:00 ET, ESPN)
Iowa RB Adam Robinson needs to affirm his status as one of nation's top backs against Penn State.
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If not for his inspiring performance against Temple last week, Senior RB Evan Royster would get this spot.
Assuming he is back on track, true Freshman QB Robert Bolden is Joe Paterno's most important player this weekend against Iowa.
Bolden has been solid against inferior opponents this season, but was exposed in PSU's humbling loss at #1 Alabama, going 13-29 for 144 yards and throwing two picks.
If he can limit big mistakes, manage the game and make a big play or two (via his arms or legs), Royster and PSU's offensive line should keep the Nittany Lions close going into the game's final minutes.
Sophomore RB Adam Robinson is being touted as one of the country's best ball carriers. Look closer, though, and he has done most of his damage against far inferior competition.
In Iowa's week 3 loss at Arizona, Robinson managed only five yards on ten attempts.
Clearly, that won't get the job done against the Nittany Lions' stingy defense.
Robinson and his offensive line have to be on the same page Saturday, as QB Robert Stanzi, despite his stellar play this season, is not the type of player who can get the job done by himself.
As Robinson goes, so go the Hawkeyes, and if he plays well this weekend, Iowa should come out on top against PSU.
#9 Stanford at #4 Oregon (8:00 ET, ABC)
Oregon DT Brandon Bair needs to slow down Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
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Cardinal QB Andrew Luck is widely considered one of the best signal callers in the country and a legitimate threat to win the Heisman Trophy.
While it may be obvious, his play is absolutely pertinent to his team's chances of taking down Oregon.
The Ducks, led by LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, boast perhaps the nation's most explosive offense.
It is asking too much of LB Owen Marecic (who also plays FB) and the rest of Stanford's defense to slow down UO. Therefore, Luck must be on top of his game.
If he shows off the tools that make him a potential No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft, Coach Harbaugh's offense will have lit up the scoreboard, perhaps putting the Cardinal in the Pac 10's proverbial driver's seat with a victory.
As previously noted, the Ducks are known for their amazing offensive prowess. James, Thomas and company should not have problems scoring on the Stanford defense.
Limiting Luck and his offensive mates will be what will decide this game.
In that vein, Senior DT Brandon Bair is vital to his team's success. Oregon's best pass rusher, Bair has three sacks on the season.
If he is able to consistently pressure Luck, Stanford will be forced to run the football, an area in which they sorely miss 2009 Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart.
#7 Florida at #1 Alabama (8:00 ET, CBS)
Freshman Trey Burton's versatility could give Alabama's defense fits on Saturday.
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First year starting QB John Brantley has hardly made Gator Nation forget about Tim Tebow.
Expecting him to thrive against Alabama's defense, which allows the fewest points per game in the country, is perhaps too big a request.
Enter Freshman QB/TE/RB Trey Burton, who set a UF record last week against Kentucky by accounting for six touchdowns.
Burton poses an issue for UA HC Nick Saban, as he is a great runner, a proven receiver and supposedly a good passer. Preparing for a player like Burton is no small task.
With that in mind, Head Coach Urban Meyer should get him on the field as much as possible, whether he's lined up at QB, TE, RB or anywhere else.
Burton has the potential to break the game wide open for Florida, which will need an early lead playing in the unfriendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Junior RB Mark Ingram needs to have a big day for the Crimson Tide.
Given his performance in the two games he's played since returning from injury, anything less would be a surprise.
If Alabama is able to efficiently pound the football on the ground, the field will open up for QB Greg McElroy and WR Julio Jones to make plays in the passing game, effectively ending UF's chances of pulling the upset.