By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 6
1. Considering his success at Florida, it’s been a surprise to see Steve Spurrier struggle with quarterbacks during his tenure at South Carolina. And the revolving door under center will continue for the Gamecocks this Saturday. After watching Stephen Garcia throw six interceptions in the last two games, Spurrier has decided to turn to Connor Shaw. The sophomore started the opener against East Carolina, but has played sparingly since. There’s not much of a sample size on Shaw (27 of 44 for 252 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs), and South Carolina needs to figure out if he’s the answer, or if Garcia gives the team a better chance to win. Regardless of who starts under center, the Gamecocks need to do a better job of establishing running back Marcus Lattimore, particularly after last week’s game against Auburn. South Carolina should cruise to an easy win over Kentucky, but all eyes in Columbia will be focused on Shaw and his performance this Saturday.
2. Its not quite desperation time, but Virginia Tech and Miami both need a win in conference play. The two teams square off in Blacksburg this Saturday, looking to get their first ACC victory of the season. The Hokies started off 4-0 thanks to a soft non-conference slate, but was handled 23-3 by Clemson last Saturday. Both of the Hurricanes’ losses were close, but they can’t afford an 0-2 hole in conference play. Quarterback play is a question mark for both teams and will be a key factor in this game. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas has no touchdown passes in his last two games, while Miami’s Jacory Harris has thrown three interceptions against BCS opponents this year. Both teams should have success running the ball, but the play of Thomas and Harris will likely define who wins this key ACC Coastal showdown.
3. Florida’s SEC East title hopes took a hit in last Saturday’s loss to Alabama. Quarterback John Brantley suffered an ankle injury at the end of the first half and will miss Saturday’s game against LSU. The Gators can still win the SEC East, but with Brantley sidelined at least this week, they will be staring at a 2-2 record in conference play. Replacing Brantley is expected to be Jeff Driskel. The true freshman ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the 2011 recruiting class by Athlon Sports. Driskel certainly has the talent, but getting your first start on the road in Baton Rouge is a difficult task. True freshman Jacoby Brissett and redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy could figure into the gameplan, along with fullback Trey Burton taking snaps out of the Wildcat formation. With a suffocating LSU defense ready to pounce on a young quarterback, the Gators could be in for a long afternoon on Saturday.
4. The annual Oklahoma-Texas matchup is relevant on the national scene once again. Texas’ struggles last season moved this game out of the spotlight, but both teams are 4-0 and ranked in the top 10 of Athlon’s weekly 120 poll. If the Longhorns are to have any shot at winning this game, the young quarterback duo of Case McCoy and David Ash has to play well. Oklahoma’s defense is allowing only 15.3 points a game, which figures to make life tough on the Longhorns’ offense. The Sooners own one of the top passing attacks in college football, but face a Texas secondary allowing only 178.3 yards per game. Considering the firepower on the Oklahoma sideline, the Longhorns’ best shot at winning is a low-scoring game. If the Texas’ quarterbacks struggle with turnovers, the Sooners will be able to get a couple of touchdowns ahead and cruise to a victory. Don’t be surprised if Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has a few trick plays in the bag to throw at Oklahoma’s defense.
5. With South Carolina’s struggles on offense and Florida’s loss to Alabama last week, the door is open for the winner of Saturday’s game between Georgia and Tennessee to contend in the SEC East. The Bulldogs have a conference loss to South Carolina, while Tennessee suffered a defeat to Florida in Week 3. The Bulldogs have lost their last two games in Neyland Stadium, which is the site of Saturday’s matchup. After allowing 80 points in its first two games, Georgia has given up only 23 over the last three contests. Although the competition didn’t match Boise State and South Carolina, the Bulldogs are clearly finding a comfort level in coordinator Todd Grantham’s scheme. The Georgia secondary will be tested by Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, who has 14 touchdown tosses in four games. Is a young Volunteer team ready to state their presence in the SEC East? If the Bulldogs win this one, you have to like their chances to emerge as the No. 1 team in the East.
6. Florida State entered 2011 with hopes of contending for a national title. A 2-2 start has put those dreams on hold for another year, but the Seminoles can still win the ACC – provided Clemson loses two more conference games. Quarterback EJ Manuel injured his shoulder in the loss to Oklahoma and did not play against Clemson, but will return for Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. Although the Seminoles are a big favorite, they cannot overlook the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest is off to a 3-1 start and has ACC victories over NC State and Boston College this season. If Florida State wants to have any shot at knocking off Clemson in the ACC Atlantic, a victory over the upset-minded Demon Deacons on Saturday is a must.
7. When the Big Ten schedule for 2011 was released, the Nebraska-Ohio State matchup was expected to play a key role in determining the division champs. Many expected these two teams to meet in Indianapolis in December to decide the conference title. After last weekend’s performances, it’s more about both teams just getting a victory in Big Ten play. The Cornhuskers were embarrassed in a 48-17 loss to Wisconsin last Saturday, while the Buckeyes lost 10-7 to Michigan State. Nebraska’s defense has not played up to its Blackshirt level, allowing 27.2 points a game and ranking 64th nationally in total defense. However, Ohio State’s offense hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Will Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller find any success this week? On the other sideline, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is feeling the heat after a disappointing performance against Wisconsin. There’s a lot of question marks surrounding both teams and there’s a lot of urgency to get a win this week.
8. Auburn’s 16-13 win at South Carolina last week could end up as one of the most surprising outcomes in SEC play this year. The Tigers went into last Saturday’s game ranked as one of the worst defenses in the SEC, but somehow held South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in check. However, Auburn’s defense is going to be under fire once again, this time from an Arkansas offense averaging 39.4 points a game. Are the Tigers capable of pulling off another road upset this week? Considering Auburn’s penchant for finding ways to win games, don’t count out this team, even though the Razorbacks look like they should easily scorch the Tigers’ defense. Arkansas’ defense is dealing with a handful of key injuries, which should allow Auburn running back Michael Dyer to have another huge performance.
9. When the Pac-12 schedules were released, the Washington State-UCLA game was circled as a meeting between two coaches on the hot seat. Through five weeks, it’s fair to wonder whether its now a matchup of two programs headed in the opposite direction. The Cougars are off to a solid 3-1 start, while UCLA is 2-3 with wins over Oregon State and San Jose State. Washington State coach Paul Wulff has only eight wins during his tenure, but has a chance to get bowl eligible this year. Although the Bruins have a lot of young talent, they have yet to put it together under Neuheisel. Neither coach should feel secure about its chances to return in 2012, but a win on Saturday would certainly help move closer to bowl eligibility.
10. Brady Hoke’s first year at Michigan is off to a fast start. The Wolverines are 5-0, have a big win over Notre Dame and the defense has shown big improvement from last season’s debacle. Michigan hits the road for the first time this season, traveling to Evanston to take on Northwestern. The Wildcats lost a close game to Illinois last week, but quarterback Dan Persa made his return to the lineup. Persa left the game in the fourth quarter as a precautionary measure, but threw for 123 yards and four scores during his time on the field. The senior has been cleared to start on Saturday, and will test Michigan’s secondary. Can the Wolverines challenge for the Legends Division title? It’s certainly a good possibility, however, the Wolverines have a tough upcoming slate of Big Ten games – at Michigan State, at Iowa, at Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 6 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Oklahoma 31, Texas 20
LSU 27, Florida 10
Arkansas 38, Auburn 31
Missouri 31, Kansas State 27
Nebraska 27, Ohio State 13
Georgia 31, Tennessee 24
Texas A&M 38, Texas Tech 34
Arizona State 30, Utah 17
Notre Dame 34, Air Force 23
Michigan 34, Northwestern 31
Florida State 31, Wake Forest 24
Virginia Tech 26, Miami 20
Iowa 24, Penn State 17
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
Iowa at Penn State (-3.5)
Can the Nittany Lions generate any offense? If not, this should be an easy win for Iowa. The Hawkeyes have won their last three matchups against Penn State.
Georgia (-2) at Tennessee
The SEC East race is wide open. The Volunteers have a young roster, but with this game in Knoxville, don’t rule out an upset over Georgia.
Texas A&M (-9) at Texas Tech
Considering the Aggies’ struggles in the second half over the last two weeks, no lead is going to be safe in Lubbock on Saturday. Texas A&M’s secondary is ranked last in college football against the pass, which will be under fire against Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege.
Michigan (-7.5) at Northwestern
The improved Wolverines’ defense will be tested by Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, who looked sharp in his return from a torn Achilles last week.
Missouri (-3.5) at Kansas State
The Wildcats are off to a surprising 4-0 start. Quarterback Collin Klein has carried the offense, while Miami transfer Arthur Brown has lived up to the hype at linebacker. This matchup is relatively even, so winning the turnover battle is going to be crucial for both sides.
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 6
Could Washington's defense finally be ready to turn the corner?
Georgia Tech's defense could be without two key linebackers for Saturday's game against Maryland.
Iowa State's offensive line is banged up heading into a key conference game against Baylor.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong is looking for the right answers after last week's loss to Marshall.
Boston College running back Montel Harris will miss Saturday's game against Clemson due to a knee injury.
Arizona defensive tackle Justin Washington is out for Saturday's game against Oregon State due to a knee injury.
Duke's offense has found its rhythm over the last couple of weeks.
Arizona State center Garth Gerhart could play in Saturday's game against Utah. Gerhart is dealing with a sprained ankle.
In an effort to spark the passing attack, South Carolina is turning to sophomore Connor Shaw under center.
Who is to blame for Ohio State's slow start?
Miami safety Ray-Ray Armstrong is ready to get back on the field this Saturday.
Louisville's offensive line has a tough matchup against North Carolina's defensive front.
Want to know the reason for Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa's delay from Achilles' surgery?
The transition from Ralph Fridgen to Randy Edsall has not gone well for some Maryland players.
Washington State's Jeff Tuel is closer to a return (broken collarbone), but Marshall Lobbestael is expected to start Saturday's game against UCLA.
Rutgers has opened the quarterback spot and Chas Dodd and Gary Nova will compete to start Saturday's game against Pittsburgh.
Auburn freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier is heading back to Arkansas this Saturday.
USC freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson is an important part of the defense.
How will Virginia Tech replace Antoine Hopkins at defensive tackle?
Is UCLA on the right track? Coach Rick Neuheisel thinks so.