• Who wants roses? Maybe, just maybe, the Ducks have gone from a doomed team to a team of destiny. We'll find out Saturday night when USC comes a callin' with Pac-10 supremacy on the line. As is so often the case when top 10 teams meet, the D will be key. USC boasts the more talented unit, but it has struggled the past two games (20 second-half points allowed against Notre Dame, 27 against Oregon State). Oregon, meanwhile, fields a crew decimated by graduation and injury, but still somehow leads the Pac-10 in scoring defense. True freshman QB Matt Barkley has handled hostile road crowds as well as USC could have hoped, but we'll see what affect an electric Autzen Stadium crowd has on him and the Trojan collective, which tends to struggle in the Beavers State.
• Can Oklahoma State clear a Texas-sized hurdle?Mike Gundy may be a man, but he's never led his Cowboys to victory over the Longhorns or Sooners. Well, there's no time like the present. Oklahoma State can take control of the Big 12 South with a win over Texas, but the Pokes are catching the 'Horns at a bad time. Colt McCoy and Co. finally looked like national title contenders against Missouri last week, while OSU's offense has officially lost receiver Dez Bryant, its most potent weapon, to a year-long suspension. Texas blew its shot at the national title by losing to Texas Tech exactly one year ago. Its determination to avoid a similar fate should doom the Cowboys to a 12th straight 'Horn-hooking.
• Will Florida get into rhythm? A great deal of drama accompanied the two previous meetings between Florida and Georgia. This time, desperation is at work. The Gators may be No. 1, but they're coming off back-to-back scares and subpar offensive performances. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, may be 4-3 and out of the hunt, but they can salvage their season -- and very likely, some jobs -- with a W this weekend. So instead of looking for lavish touchdown celebrations or rub-it-in timeouts, expect to see one thing in this contest: focus. Brandon Spikes' return on defense should give Florida a boost. Georgia's 90th-ranked pass defense should do the same for Tim Tebow.
• Can Iowa cope with a big loss? Quarterback Ricky Stanzi orchestrated a game-winning drive against Michigan State last Saturday, and in so doing proved he can lead Iowa to victory. Good thing, because a sprained ankle just knocked out starting tailback Adam Robinson for the season. (The Hawkeyes have ridden quite the running back roller coaster of late. Robinson was himself an injury replacement for Jewel Hampton, who was supposed to take over the starting role after Shonn Greene's departure.) Stanzi has posted fairly pedestrian numbers this season (214.4 yards per game, 57.1 completion percentage), but should perform well against a Hoosiers' defense that ranks last in the Big Ten. And though Robinson may be out, Stanzi still has his best weapon -- the Iowa defense.
• Has a new Heisman force emerged? Thus far we've witnessed a pretty uninspired Heisman race. That said, the lack of truly dominant contenders has opened the door for new players to emerge each week. With current top dog Mark Ingram out on a bye, a few other players have a chance to shine. The most intriguing among them: Clemson's C.J. Spiller. The Tigers' speedster re-entered the Heisman consciousness with a jaw-dropping 310 all-purpose yards against Miami, and could repeat the feat this week against Coastal Carolina. Yes, the Tigers could very likely limit Spiller's touches to prevent injury. And no, a big game against the Chanticleers won't impress many voters. But momentum is important, especially with so many similarly credentialed players lumped together this late in the season. Of course, Spiller doesn't need 20 touches to put up impressive yardage; he's broken off a 60-plus yard play in each game this season.
• What are the real SEC battles to watch? Week 9 might be light on marquee SEC matchups, but the coaching battles are generating plenty of buzz. When the Urban Meyer-Mark Richt showdown ranks third on the intrigue scale, you know the human drama is running high. In Auburn, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will share a field for the first time since their tumultuous season together at Arkansas. The two swear there's no bad blood, but Malzahn would undoubtedly love to show his offensive genius against the man who wouldn't let him do so in Fayetteville. Up on Rocky Top, Lane Kiffin looks to best the coach he grew up idolizing on the field -- and in the postgame press conference. If he can't do that, at least Kiffin knows he's already achieved something Steve Spurrier never has: a name-check in a Lil Wayne song.
• Is the Big 12 North still Nebraska's to win? The Big 12 North has transformed into a realm of inadequacy and despair. Perhaps you've heard. Last weekend, Nebraska coughed the ball up eight times in a humiliating home loss to Iowa State, Kansas came up (very) short against Oklahoma and two-time defending champ Missouri all-but eliminated itself from the hunt by falling to 0-3 in conference play. Nebraska's slide has been the most surprising, but the 'Huskers also stand the best chance of rebounding this week against the Robert Griffin-less Baylor Bears. Coach Bo Pelini remains hesitant to pull starting QB Zac Lee in favor of Cody Green, but defensive tackle extraordinaire Ndmandguh Suh can't shoulder the load all on his own. Until Pelini makes a move and sparks the offense, Nebraska will keep looking up at ... uh ... Kansas State?
• Are Boise's BCS dreams dashed? After Boise State debuted at No. 4 in the first BCS standings, many predicted the Broncos would eventually hit the rankings ceiling due to their weak schedule. Wrong. Boise didn't stand pat as punishment for a season-long cupcake-fest. It dropped. Down to No. 7. Below TCU. From here on out the Broncos really need to impress the voters, because the computerized third isn't drinking the Kool-Aid -- after Boise obliterated Hawaii in Week 8, the computer rankings dropped it from fifth to eighth. The Broncos should hang 50 on San Jose State, too. The question: Will it matter? The answer: Not until TCU loses.
• Can Georgia Tech keep the ACC in the discussion? Two weeks ago, the ACC seemed poised to finally send two teams to the BCS. All of a sudden, Georgia Tech is the conference's best/only chance for a top 10 presence. This week the 7-1 Jackets take a break from conference play to face Vanderbilt, and while the Commodores may be SEC cellar-dwellers, it's still important for Tech to make a statement against a nonconference BCS foe. The last thing the ACC needs is for its best team to struggle against a 2-6 opponent that is averaging 7.8 points per game vs. BCS competition.
• Will Notre Dame continue living dangerously? There's a reason half the college football world has started calling the Fighting Irish the Cardiac Kids: Since romping Nevada in Week 1, Notre Dame has yet to win by more than one score. This week against a Washington State team that's notched one rush yard in its past two games, the Irish need to stop playing with their food and finally chow down.
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