Athlon previews the action for Week 6 of the college football season.
College football's Week 6 slate is filled with plenty of intriguing games, starting in the SEC with Florida-LSU and Georgia-South Carolina. These two match-ups will play a key role in determining the SEC division winners. Ohio State and Nebraska both won close games last week and meet in Columbus this Saturday. West Virginia won its Big 12 opener against Baylor, but the stakes are even higher against Texas on Saturday night.
Top Storylines to Watch in Week 6
1. SEC East Supremacy
The first weekend of October is a big one in the SEC. Florida may have something to say about the SEC East title race, but Georgia and South Carolina were the preseason favorites and enter Saturday’s game ranked among the top six teams in the nation. Both teams have been impressive this year, but the real test to win the SEC starts this Saturday. Although the SEC is regarded as college football’s top defensive conference, there should be plenty of points between these two teams. The Bulldogs’ defense has been a disappointment, ranking 55th nationally in yards allowed and 46th in points allowed. This unit will be tested by South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who looks closer to 100 percent (torn ACL) as each week passes. South Carolina has won the last two matchups in this series, including a 45-42 shootout in Athens last season. However, the Gamecocks’ secondary will be under fire from Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who could vault to a Heisman frontrunner with a victory in Columbia. There’s not much separating these two teams, but Murray’s poise and the emergence of freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should be enough for Georgia to edge the Gamecocks and take an early lead for the SEC East title.
2. Which LSU team will show up this week?
Thanks to back-to-back underwhelming performances against Auburn and Towson, LSU has dropped in the polls and there are plenty of question marks about this team heading into a road date against Florida. Are the Tigers the team that demolished their first three opponents or is LSU closer to the squad that struggled to beat Towson last week? It’s still early in the season but some of the same concerns this team had in the preseason continue to show up. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been far from spectacular this season, throwing for 169 yards against Auburn, while struggling out of the gates against Towson. Mettenberger and the Tigers can’t afford to get off to a slow start this Saturday, especially against a Florida team that is already battle tested with wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee. For the Gators to knock off LSU, they have to win the battle in the trenches. Florida’s offensive line is allowing three sacks a game – a bad sign against one of the nation’s deepest defensive fronts. The Tigers may not be playing at a dominant level yet, but if Les Miles’ team gets their ground game on track, LSU should find a way to pull out a close victory against Florida.
3. Another Big 12 shootout?
Last week’s West Virginia-Baylor matchup was one of the year’s most entertaining games – if you like offense. Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith is the Heisman frontrunner and against Texas will have the chance to impress a national television audience to build on his early lead. The Longhorns are coming off an impressive 41-36 road win against Oklahoma State and Saturday night’s matchup against West Virginia will be crucial to determining the winner of this conference. Texas’ defense has been a disappointment so far, ranking 63rd nationally in yards allowed and 43rd in pass defense. The key to this match-up should be along the line of scrimmage, especially since the Mountaineers have yet to play a defense with two potential first-round picks at defensive end. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor need to get pressure on Smith, which in turn will help take some of the pressure off of the secondary and eliminate some of the big plays West Virginia has accumulated this season.
4. Can Miami upset Notre Dame?
With a 42-36 win over Georgia Tech in Week 4 and a 44-37 shootout victory over NC State last week, Miami has been one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the nation. Quarterback Stephen Morris has thrown for 1,002 yards in those two games, while running back Duke Johnson leads the ACC in all-purpose yards per game. Although the Hurricanes have been red hot on offense over the last two weeks, Saturday’s game against Notre Dame will be a different challenge. The Irish are averaging 3.5 sacks a game and rank third nationally in scoring defense. If Miami can protect Morris, there should be opportunities to make plays against the Irish’s secondary. However, Notre Dame’s pass rush will be difficult to slow down, and the edge in the trenches will be enough for the Irish to improve to 5-0.
5. Big Ten Showdown in Columbus
The Big Ten finally had some good news last week. There were no disappointing non-conference losses and most importantly, Ohio State-Michigan State and Nebraska-Wisconsin were two of Week 5’s best games. Nebraska and Ohio State are the top two ranked teams from the Big Ten, so Saturday’s game in Columbus should provide plenty of intrigue. Nebraska has emerged as the early favorite in the Legends Division, while the Buckeyes might be the Big Ten’s best team but won’t be eligible for the postseason due to NCAA penalties. Both teams have been getting tremendous quarterback play this season, as Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez rank No. 2 and No. 3 in the Big Ten in total offense. The key to this game is all about the supporting cast. Ohio State has leaned heavily on Miller to win games, which is a strategy that may not hold up for a full season. The Cornhuskers have a better supporting cast, but running back Rex Burkhead will have trouble getting on track against a Buckeye defense that ranks 19th nationally against the run. This matchup also marks the return of Bo Pelini to Columbus. Pelini played at Ohio State from 1987-90 and has downplayed his return this week. However, there has to be a little extra motivation to lead his team to a victory against his alma mater.
6. A Breakout Game for Purdue?
With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible to play in the postseason, the battle to win the Leaders Division title is wide open. Purdue has quietly flown under the radar, racking up wins against Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Marshall, while suffering a 20-17 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 8. The Boilermakers have been solid statistically on defense, which figures to be put to the test by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. The senior is coming off of a horrendous performance against Notre Dame, throwing four interceptions and for only 138 yards. Although Robinson is capable of playing a lot better, the Wolverines have to give him a little help. The defense ranks 88th nationally against the run, and the offensive line is still working out a few kinks. Purdue’s offense is still a work in progress as well but could get quarterback Robert Marve back in the lineup after missing the last two games with a knee injury. If the Boilermakers can win this game, they will take a huge step towards solidifying their spot as a Big Ten title contender, while also gaining some national respect in the process.
7. Is Texas Tech a Big 12 title contender?
It’s still very early in the 2012 season but one of the most impressive stats through the first five weeks has to be Texas Tech’s No. 1 ranking in total defense. The Red Raiders were atrocious on defense last season, but have not allowed more than 14 points in a game this year. Saturday night will be the biggest test for Texas Tech’s rebuilt defense, as Oklahoma visits Lubbock. The Sooners have lost their last three games in Lubbock and struggled in a 24-19 loss to Kansas State in Week 4. Oklahoma’s offense is averaging 491.7 yards per game but looked out of sync against the Wildcats. With a win over the Sooners, the Red Raiders would have to be considered, along with Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas, as one of the favorites to win the Big 12. On the other side, after losing to the Wildcats, Saturday’s game in Lubbock is a must-win situation for Oklahoma. While this game isn’t as big as West Virginia-Texas, this match-up will be crucial for both teams and should provide a gauge of where they stack up in the Big 12.
Under the Radar Match-ups
Georgia Tech at Clemson – After a disappointing loss to MTSU, the Yellow Jackets will be a desperate team on Saturday in Death Valley. Georgia Tech has won seven out of the last nine meetings in this series, but its defense will have a tough time slowing down Clemson’s passing attack, which is averaging 311.2 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets should have success on the ground but they will have a hard time keeping pace with the Tigers’ potent offense.
Virginia at Duke – Don’t look now, but the Blue Devils just might snap their bowl drought and finish 2012 with six victories. Duke moved to 4-1 with a win over Wake Forest last Saturday and host Virginia this week. The Cavaliers have made a change at quarterback, going with Alabama transfer Phillip Sims over Michael Rocco. The Blue Devils’ injury concerns only got worse last week, as quarterback Sean Renfree suffered an elbow injury and is questionable to play Saturday.
Northwestern at Penn State – Are the Wildcats a Big Ten title contender? Although the Nittany Lions aren’t an elite team, this road test in Happy Valley should be a good barometer for where Northwestern stacks up against the rest of the conference.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina – The Hokies have lost two out of their last three games but remain the team to beat in the ACC Coastal. After struggling to stop Cincinnati’s offense last week, Virginia Tech will have its hands full trying to slow down the Tar Heels, who boast two of the ACC’s top playmakers in quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard.
Arizona at Stanford – How will the Cardinal bounce back after a 17-13 loss to Washington? Quarterback Josh Nunes didn’t have a lot of help from his receiving corps against the Huskies, but he needs to play better if Stanford will have any shot at pushing Oregon for the Pac-12 North title. If the Cardinal struggle to move the ball once again, Arizona could pull off the upset, especially with an offense that is averaging 34.8 points per game.
Navy at Air Force – Anytime the service academies meet, it’s absolutely worth a mention as a must-watch game.
Top Five Teams on the Road
Florida State at NC State – The Seminoles avoided a letdown loss against South Florida last week and is heavily favored to beat NC State this Saturday. The Wolfpack will be without three offensive line starters, which is a huge issue against one of college football’s best defensive lines.
Prediction: Florida State 41-20
Washington at Oregon – The Huskies are coming off an upset win over Stanford, while the Ducks took control in the second half and eventually pulled away from Washington State for a 51-26 victory. Although Washington’s improving defense may keep this one close in the first half, Oregon simply has too much firepower to be held in check.
Prediction: Oregon 45-24
Five Quarterbacks Under Pressure
Perry Hills, Maryland – Hills has been steady as a true freshman, throwing for 749 yards and six touchdowns. However, if the Terrapins want to knock off Wake Forest on Saturday, Hills needs to pick up where he left off against West Virginia (305 yards, three touchdowns).
Landry Jones, Oklahoma – Jones has been heavily criticized since throwing for 299 yards and one pick against Kansas State on Sept. 22. Although he has struggled on the road at times during his career, it’s unfair to blame Jones for all of Oklahoma’s offensive struggles. A good performance against Texas Tech would go a long way to get Jones back in rhythm before a showdown against Texas next week.
Zach Maynard, California – It’s unfair to pin all of California’s struggles on Maynard, especially with an offensive line that is allowing five sacks a game. However, the senior quarterback has to play better, as he has not thrown for more than 173 yards in each of the last two games.
Josh Nunes, Stanford – Nunes didn’t have a lot of help from his receiving corps last week, but the junior is also capable of playing better. Nunes completed only 18 of 37 passes for 170 yards and one interception against Washington.
Trevor Siemian, Northwestern – The Wildcats will continue to use Siemian and Kain Colter at quarterback, but Siemian seemed to pull slightly ahead in terms of snaps under center against Indiana. Colter will be used as more of an all-purpose threat, which adds even more pressure to Siemian against a solid Penn State defense.
Four Teams Desperate for a Victory
Arkansas and Auburn – Whichever team wins this game won’t turn its season around but it will certainly help build some positive momentum after a disappointing start. Auburn is still searching for answers on offense but meets an Arkansas defense that ranks 116th in scoring defense.
California – The pressure on head coach Jeff Tedford is only increasing and Saturday’s game against UCLA is another must-win situation. The Golden Bears are off to a 1-4 start and still have to face Stanford, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State this year.
Virginia – The schedule won’t get any easier for the Cavaliers the rest of the way, and Duke could be without quarterback Sean Renfree. Virginia enters Saturday’s action with three consecutive losses.
Upsets to Watch
Utah State (+9) at BYU
Thanks to a victory over Utah in Week 2, the Aggies could claim the Beehive Boot with a win at BYU on Friday night. The Cougars expect quarterback Riley Nelson to return after missing last week with an injury, but running back Michael Alisa is out indefinitely with a broken arm. The Cougars caught a few lucky breaks to win last season’s game, but those bounces go in Utah State’s favor this year.
Prediction: Utah State 27, BYU 24
Boston College at Army (+8)
Preparing for an option team is never an easy task. Boston College’s rush defense has struggled this season, which should allow the Black Knights an opportunity to win this game in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Boston College 34, Army 31
Virginia Tech (+5.5) at North Carolina
It wouldn’t be that big of an upset if the Hokies win on Saturday, but the point spread has increased from North Carolina a two-point favorite to 5.5 by Thursday. Virginia Tech’s offense has gotten off to a slow start this year, which is a huge concern against a Tar Heel team that is averaging 43.2 points a game.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27-24
Iowa State (+10) at TCU
With quarterback Casey Pachall suspended, the Horned Frogs will be forced to go with redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin under center. Iowa State’s offense will struggle against TCU’s defense, but the Cyclones have a good chance to score the upset with Pachall out of the lineup.
Prediction: TCU 24, Iowa State 20
Injuries/Suspensions to Monitor
Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia – Alston did not play against Baylor due to a thigh bruise and has been ruled out for Saturday's game against Texas. With Alston out, Andrew Buie will get the nod at running back.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas - Brown suffered a sprained ankle in the win over Oklahoma State and whas been ruled out for Saturday's game against West Virginia.
Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest – Campanaro suffered a broken hand in last week’s loss to Duke and won’t play against Virginia this Saturday. With Campanaro sidelined, the Demon Deacons will turn to senior Terence Davis, redshirt freshman Sherman Ragland and sophomore Brandon Terry as the top options for quarterback Tanner Price.
Rob Crisp, OT, NC State – Crisp has not played since the season opener due to a back injury. Crisp won’t play against Florida State, which means NC State will be without three offensive line starters against one of the best defensive lines in college football.
Jordan Hall, RB, Ohio State – Hall suffered a partial tear of his PCL against Michigan State and is unlikely to play against Nebraska. With Hall likely sitting out Saturday’s game, Carlos Hyde and Bri’onte Dunn will help quarterback Braxton Miller shoulder the workload on the ground.
Casey Pachall, QB, TCU – Pachall was arrested for DWI on Thursday morning and has been suspended indefinitely. With Pachall out of the lineup, redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin will get thenod under center.
Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky – Smith suffered a knee injury in last week’s loss to California and is out indefinitely. With Smith sidelined, true freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow will share the quarterback duties for Kentucky.
Sean Renfree, QB, Duke – Renfree suffered an elbow injury against Wake Forest last week and is questionable to play in Saturday’s matchup against Virginia. If the senior can’t start, Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will share the quarterback duties for Duke.
Four Games to Avoid
Kansas at Kansas State
Bill Snyder is 16-4 in his tenure against the Jayhawks and that success should continue this Saturday in Manhattan.
Boise State at Southern Miss
The Broncos haven’t been overly impressive this year, but Southern Miss is off to an 0-4 start and ranks 100th nationally in scoring defense.
Mississippi State at Kentucky
The Bulldogs should have no trouble going to 5-0 with Kentucky starting a true freshman at quarterback (Jalen Whitlow).
Michigan State at Indiana
Kevin Wilson has the Hoosiers pointed in the right direction, but the Spartans defense will keep Indiana from making this one interesting.
by Steven Lassan
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