College Football 2011: 25 Things to Watch for on Saturday
Week 7 of the college football season is here and the season is beginning to take shape. Some teams find themselves out of the race for conference champion, and some find themselves at the front of the race after a strong start.
There are a few teams that have a realistic chance at a national championship appearance, but one team that is head and shoulders above everyone else, and they've displayed it on the field (LSU).
So, before Week 7 kicks off, here are 25 things to watch for on Saturday.
Wolverines on Upset Alert
Let's start this show off with a bang. Michigan is lead by star athlete Denard Robinson, who happens to play quarterback. Yes, he's put up some big numbers through the air, but most of that is due to the big play.
He's a phenomenal runner and can break a play wide open at any moment. However, Robinson makes way too many mistakes, and that's going to catch up with him on the road in East Lansing this week.
The Spartans are allowing just over 10 points per game. Defense should prevail in this one.
Robinson for the Heisman...Really?
It's hard to believe that Denard Robinson is at the top of some people's list to win the Heisman trophy. Sure, it's still early, but let's take a closer look.
Robinson certainly has a Heisman moment after leading the Wolverines to an improbable comeback against Notre Dame.
However, he's completing 57 percent of his passes (not bad, but not great), has 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions and the Wolverines haven't played a tremendous schedule.
Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, San Diego State and Minnesota is not an impressive slate. Notre Dame was a good win and Northwestern isn't exactly something to write home about.
These things work themselves out, and Robinson's Heisman hopes will likely take a big hit this week.
Fireworks in College Station
The Aggies return home after their neutral site loss to Arkansas in Arlington and a win against Texas Tech on the road, after Red Raider fans and students covered the Aggies bus, which was registered in Lubbock, in manure; not exactly something to be proud of if you're part of the Texas Tech fanbase.
However, the Aggies get to face Robert Griffin III and the 20th-ranked Baylor Bears. Griffin III is to Baylor what water is to a human being. The Aggies defense has struggled in recent weeks, and if you think a big lead at half time means it's over, you haven't been watching Texas A&M very closely.
This game has all the makings of a shootout, but the Aggies defense is stronger than Baylor's. That has to mean something in a game like this.
Wisconsin Keeps Rolling
Wisconsin is set to host Indiana this weekend. Not much to really talk about here, other than the fact that they'll be undefeated after Week 7. Russell Wilson continues to lead this team, and there's a very good chance that Wisconsin finishes the year unscathed.
In fact, let's go ahead and call it now: Wisconsin will take on LSU in the national championship. It just feels right, and both teams haven't given us a reason to think otherwise.
Speaking of LSU...
LSU will go on the road to take on the 3-2 Tennessee Volunteers this week. There may be a mini quarterback controversy on offense, but on defense there's no doubt who the quarterback is: Tyrann Mathieu.
If there will ever be another defensive player to win a Heisman, it should probably start with Mathieu. This guy's a stud if you haven't noticed. Replace stud with ball-hawk, beast, freak of nature, or whatever adjective you feel appropriate, and it will work.
LSU has one of the strongest defense's in the nation, and as long as Mathieu is on the field the Tigers will be tough to beat.
How Long Is the Leash for Jarrett Lee
Jarrett Lee has done a great job this season of first learning to manage the games, but then to take the next step and become a quarterback who can win you the game.
However, Jordan Jefferson is in his rear view and he wants to be in front. Jefferson is the better athlete, but if you're honest, Jefferson wasn't that impressive last year as a passer.
Lee gives them a good shot to win, but is he a couple of bad series from losing his job—or one bad game?
Four of the six teams in the SEC west are ranked in the Top 25. Three of those four are in the Top 10. Two of those three are in the top two. That's a pretty stout division within a conference.
LSU travels to Tennessee, Alabama is on the road in Mississippi, Auburn hosts Florida and Arkansas has a bye.
There's a good chance the best in the SEC west (LSU, Alabama, Auburn) will win again in Week 7.
The Best Non-Ranked Team
Any idea why Penn State doesn't have a number next to their name in the AP Poll? They're 5-1 with a loss to Alabama, and, yes, they almost lost to Temple but a win is a win.
Other than Alabama they haven't played a tough schedule, but their defense is absolutely worth a Top 25 ranking even though their offense may not be.
The Nittany Lions host Purdue this weekend, and a win should catapult Joe Pa's squad into the Top 25.
What's going on with this team? Are they good or did they get lucky against USF? They almost beat Notre Dame, but then destroy conference foe USF who destroyed Notre Dame.
The Panthers also have a loss to Iowa and are coming off a 24-point loss to Rutgers. That sounds like an ACC team if I've ever heard of one, so maybe they're just trying to fit in before they actually arrive.
This week, Utah travels across the country to take on the Panthers, so there's no excuse for Pittsburgh to come out flat. This group needs to start finding some consistency if they want a shot to win a Big East title.
Connor Shaw on the Road
Connor Shaw is taking the 15th-ranked Gamecocks on the road to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are winless in SEC play, and Shaw is coming off a strong performance in his debut as the new starter against Kentucky.
The Gamecocks are the more talented team, but the Bulldogs do have a solid defense. It's just their offense that has let them down the majority of this year. Shaw should lead the Gamecocks to another victory on Saturday.
Miami Looks to Stay in ACC Contention
The Miami Hurricanes knew this season was going to be tough, and after an emotional loss to rival Virginia Tech last week, the Canes' ship is sinking fast.
However, they can keep their head above water for another week with a win against North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the ACC with a loss to Georgia Tech.
The Hurricanes are 0-2 in conference play, but they have the biggest offensive line in the ACC, one of the best rushers in Lamar Miller and a solid quarterback in Jacory Harris.
If Miami wants to try and salvage their season, it has to start in Week 7, even though it's probably too late.
Are the Tar Heels Pretenders or Contenders?
It's hard to tell how good North Carolina is. Bryn Renner has played well in his first season as the starter. The Tar Heels are off to a 5-1 start under the sophomore. However, Renner hasn't faced a defense as athletic as Miami's since their loss to Georgia Tech.
This is a big game for both programs and a loss will destroy Miami's chances at an ACC title appearance and set the Tar Heels' chances back big time.
This is a home game for the Tar Heels, and with a pending road trip to Clemson scheduled for next week, this game is a must win.
If Missouri has three losses while they're still in the Big 12, then a potential bid to the SEC may be a bad call for the Tigers.
Missouri hosts Iowa State this week, who is also winless in Big 12 play and needs to win to get back to a .500 winning percentage.
Missouri is 2-3, but they've been in every game and almost staged a huge comeback against Kansas State, but came up short.
Can Navy Right the Ship?
It looks like Navy may be heading to the Big East next season or at least soon. However, the Midshipmen are sinking fast in 2011.
They've lost three in a row, and the first loss in that string was a near upset over South Carolina. Navy travels to New Jersey to take on Rutgers, who is 4-1 despite ranking 115th in the nation in rushing offense.
That's why the Scarlet Knights are on upset alert and will likely lose. Navy will dominate the clock, run the ball and outlast Rutgers.
The Woeful Seminoles
What in the world has gone wrong in Tallahassee? Florida State was a preseason top five, and nearly upset then top-ranked Oklahoma.
However, they lost E.J. Manuel to injury in that game and he was unable to go against Clemson. The 'Noles lost to Clemson despite a strong performance by backup Clint Trickett. No one was really surprised about those two weeks.
But after getting Manuel back, many thought FSU would find the win column at Wake Forest. That didn't happen, as Jimbo Fisher's club drops to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in the conference.
If they lose to Duke this week (who has won three in a row), the ACC will be humiliated again.
If you haven't heard, Logan Thomas went off last week against Miami. A week after his abysmal performance against Clemson in which he completed 55 percent of his throws for 125 yards and a pick, Thomas completed 23-of-25 for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
Add two rushing touchdowns to his day, including the game winner with only seconds left, and Thomas had one of the greatest days by any quarterback in Virginia Tech history.
He also has the highest completion percentage for one game by any quarterback in college football this season.
If Thomas can keep anything close to that up moving forward, the Hokies have a very good chance of winning their fourth ACC title in five years.
Don't look now, but the Demon Deacons are 3-0 in ACC play and 4-1 overall after their stunning win over Florida State last week. Their reward is not having to go on the road to Blacksburg.
Wake will host the Hokies in a critical ACC matchup. Tanner Price has been having a very good season and the Demon Deacons rank 17th in the country in passing.
However, they can't run the ball. Even though the Hokies have a number of injuries on their defensive line, they should be able to slow this lackluster rushing attack as there's no Lamar Miller in the backfield.
If Wake can't run the ball then it will be a long day for this offense. That being said, the Hokies are on upset alert for the third straight week.
Tajh Boyd's Hip
Eighth-ranked Clemson received a huge scare last week when Tajh Boyd was carted off the field. It turns out Boyd injured his hip, but the good news is that he was cleared to practice this week and will likely play against Maryland.
Clemson has a realistic shot of going undefeated this year, but Boyd has to stay healthy. They have a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball, but Boyd is the catalyst of the Tigers.
The Team No One Is Talking About
Oklahoma State is an interesting example of a team that can be ranked in the Top 10, be undefeated, be overlooked and be considered the second best team in a relatively small state.
If you haven't noticed, the Cowboys are good. So good that they may be the best team in Oklahoma, but they won't be considered the top dog until they beat the Sooners, win or lose.
They have a road game against Texas this week, so they'll look to hand the Longhorns their second straight loss after they lost to Oklahoma last week.
Why should you watch Andrew Luck this week? First off, he's one of the best college quarterbacks to ever grace the NCAA, and secondly, you probably haven't seen much of him this year.
The Pac-12 often is forgotten by people not located on the West Coast. The primary reason is game time. Stanford has a 7:30 EST kick off against Washington State and Luck should do nothing but dominate.
The problem is, the game is on Versus and not everyone gets that channel. If you have the chance, watch the first half and you'll see why Stanford is ranked so high. Otherwise, you probably won't see them until they play Oregon.
Huge Pac-12 Battle
Oregon plays host to Arizona State in Week 7, and if the Ducks don't have LaMichael James, which it's likely they won't, the Sun Devils could be tough to beat.
Arizona State is a solid team that's proven they can win a close game. They're not better than Oregon, with or without James, but they're good for a potential upset.
This could throw a wrench into the Pac-12 standings if the Sun Devils pull off an upset. Darron Thomas will need to have a big game, and don't be surprised to see the Sun Devils stay close throughout.
The Ducks are on upset alert in Week 7.
The surprise undefeated team remaining would have to be Kansas State. This week they travel to Texas Tech, and the biggest thing to look to avoid is having the bus they arrive on being covered in manure.
The Wildcats don't have a lot of believers so far, but they have beaten a decent Miami team, Baylor and Missouri in consecutive weeks.
It's doubtful they finish the season unscathed, as they still have Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas still left on the schedule. By the way, they face all of those teams in that order in consecutive weeks starting October 29.
For now, K-State is a pleasant surprise, but it's unlikely to last for much longer.
Landry Jones and the Oklahoma Offense
So far, the Kansas hire of Turner Gill hasn't paid off. Remember when Auburn was crying foul when Gene Chizik was hired instead of Gill? That seems like decades ago now.
Kansas just simply isn't very good. They have three straight losses and are coming off a loss to Oklahoma State in which they gave up 70 points.
The Sooners should continue to put the Jayhawks out of their misery. It's just a matter of how many points they're going to score before they pull their starters.
Florida Trys to Avoid Their Third Straight Loss
Both Auburn and Florida are coming off losses, but the Gators have lost two straight to Alabama and LSU. That's obviously a tough stretch, and the Gators are now unranked because of it.
Auburn lost to Arkansas last week and travel to LSU next week. This is a big game for both teams. It's unlikely Auburn will beat LSU, so a win this week is huge.
For Florida, losing three straight after their recent success in past years will be unacceptable. It's not a good situation for either team, but the winner can rest a little more easy for at least a couple of days.
A California Battle on Thursday Night
California looked good in the first half against Oregon; the second half was a different story. Cal has struggled with tougher competition this season and have dropped two straight, which includes a loss to Washington who's undefeated in conference play.
The Trojans haven't had the hardest of schedules thus far, but got dominated by their toughest opponent, Arizona State.
These two teams are close on paper, but USC has the better quarterback in Matt Barkley. This should be an entertaining rivalry game, so it's got that going for it. Other than that, these two teams won't make much noise for the rest of the season.