We have reached the half-way point of the season, and it seems that every week the national title contenders are being shuffled around in the deck. The top game of week #7 has Florida needing to put their huge win behind them immediately to take on a frustrated Auburn team that saw its national title aspirations flattened versus Arkansas. There are not a great deal of top 25 matchups on the schedule, but numerous key conference battles are on the slate featuring must-wins if teams hope to keep their conference title hopes alive. Letís break down the top contests in detail for this weekendís action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
#2-Florida at #11-Auburn
Talk about a matchup with teams seemingly heading in two different directions. Florida arrives on the plains of Auburn fresh off of a 23-10 dismantling of an excellent LSU team, while Auburn needs to regroup after being blasted 27-10 at home versus Arkansas. Florida is now sitting squarely in the middle of the national title picture, and if they can emerge victorious in their next two games versus Auburn and Georgia, an undefeated season looks likely. Auburn never got either of their units on track on Saturday as Arkansas was able to jump out to an early 10-0 lead and then relied on a powerful running game to wear down Auburn, seemingly putting an end to the Tigers' national title hopes. These two SEC powers have not met since 2002, a game that the Gators won in exciting fashion, 30-23 in OT. Expect another close one as Auburn is fighting for its conference life while Florida looks to keep the train rolling towards an SEC title.
The Florida defense has not been recognized nearly enough to this point in the season. The Gator defense is 2nd in the nation in points allowed, allowing the opposition 9.5 points per game, trailing only the Ohio State defense. This past week, the Gator secondary intercepted LSUís JaMarcus Russell 3 times and held the Tigers' leading rusher to 43 yards on the ground. This was the 2nd consecutive week that Florida intercepted 3 passes, and opposing quarterbacks are having trouble dissecting the Gators scheme. Auburn struggled to get their offense rolling against Arkansas as the Tiger offensive line crumbled under the Razorback defensive pressure, leaving QB Brandon Cox under consistent pressure. For Auburn to have a legitimate shot at knocking off Florida, RB Kenny Irons has to find more room on the ground; otherwise the Florida front seven will have a field day in rushing Cox.
On the other side of the ball, the Auburn defense has not done as well as anticipated over the past two weeks after starting off the season on fire. The Tigers still rank 6th in the nation in scoring defense at 11.3 points per game, but they have yielded 44 points in their last two games. This past Saturday, two Arkansas running backs topped the century mark as the Razorback offensive line opened holes in the Tigers' defensive front. Florida may look even more to QB Tim Tebow to exploit the suddenly vulnerable Auburn run defense. Gator head coach Urban Meyer has done a great job in utilizing two quarter backs, providing opposing defenses with additional formations to prepare for with totally different looks in the back field. With RB DeShawn Wynnís status still in question, Tebow may even see more time to provide that critical offensive change of pace. This has the makings of a low-scoring affair with two top rated defenses, but so did Tennessee versus Georgia last week and that one ended at 51-33 in favor of the Vols.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Virginia Tech at Boston College
Both of these teams are coming off losses in their last conference contests as BC was stunned by a last-second touchdown pass in their loss to NC State, while Virginia Tech was manhandled by Georgia Tech 38-27. VT still looks like an unknown commodity on the national scene as their biggest win on the year is a 29-13 decision over Cincinnati. Boston College will look to attack the Hokie defense with the RB combo of Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth and then follow up with the controlled passing attack under the direction of QB Matt Ryan. Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon will work to exploit a vulnerable BC secondary that will yield yards in the air. This game has to be considered a must-win if either of these teams maintain ACC title aspirations.
#4-Michigan at Penn State
The Wolverines will invade State College in prime time on Saturday night as a team that is focused and on a roll. Their closest contests on the season have been two 14-point decisions in Big 10 play. The Michigan offense is humming and playing mistake-free football. If Penn State sits back in a zone to try and slow down the Michigan passing attack, RB Mike Hart will make them pay as he looks to be one of the top 5 backs in the nation right now. Penn State is looking improved on offense but still continues to struggle in getting points inside the red zone, failing on numerous occasions yet again versus Minnesota. If the Nittany Lions entertain any hope of pulling the upset, red zone opportunities must be turned into touchdowns, not field goal attempts. For the PSU faithful, they are hoping for a repeat of last yearís huge night win versus another top ten foe in Ohio State.
#10-California at Washington State
The Golden Bears are rolling right now, putting over 40 points on the board for the 5th consecutive week after their recent 45-24 pasting of Oregon. California is clicking in all phases of the game as the defense held a talented Oregon offense in control into the 2nd half when the game was well in hand. The Bears will be ready to unleash their lethal running back combination of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, the best 1-2 punch in the nation. All that being said, Cal better be ready to rumble on Saturday against a Washington State team that had USC on the ropes in their last home game. The Cougars will need to play a perfect game this weekend to knock off the streaking Bears, but anything is possible in Wazzou.
Missouri at Texas A&M
Missouri got a much-needed win against a tough opponent last week to move to 6-0 on the year after opening the season against 5 relative lightweights. The Tigers took advantage of 5 turnovers to slow down Texas Tech as the Tigers shuffled home with a 38-21 victory. The win establishes Missouri as the top threat to Nebraska in the Big 12 North division, but there is much work to do before the two top contenders meet in a few weeks. Texas A&M needed a touchdown run with 34 seconds left on the clock to complete the Aggies comeback win over Kansas and even their conference mark at 1-1. A&M will need a much improved effort this week to knock off a vastly improved Missouri team that is now beginning to receive national attention.
UCLA at Oregon
Oregon returns home to the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium after their shellacking at the hands of California. Everything that could go wrong did for Oregon on Saturday, and this will be a great opportunity for the Ducks to launch themselves right back into the Pac-10 race. Oregon needs to get RB Jonathan Stewart established early as he was taken out of the game plan when Oregon fell behind quickly in their game at Cal. UCLA will be without QB Ben Olsen who suffered a torn MCL and will miss the next 4-6 weeks of action. In his place steps Patrick Cowan, who played extremely well against Arizona, throwing 2 touchdowns with 0 interceptions in the 27-7 win. This should be a high-scoring affair as Oregon lights up the scoreboard on their home turf, and UCLA will have to try and find a way to keep pace with the high flying Quack Attack.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Wake Forest at North Carolina State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Wake needs to bounce back after a 4th quarter collapse allowed Clemson to score the final 24 points as the Deacons upset bid fell short. North Carolina State, meanwhile, has been re-energized with back-to-back wins over Boston College and Florida State.
Rutgers at Navy - Saturday 12:30 PM CDT
Rutgers is focused on maintaining their national ranking and undefeated season, while Navy returns to Annapolis to celebrate homecoming after a huge victory over rival Air Force. Navy will need to control the ball on the ground against a much improved Rutgers defensive unit.
Ohio State at Michigan State - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The Buckeyes continue on cruise control, and next up is a Michigan State team desperate to save their season after suffering 3 straight defeats. The Spartans are always dangerous, and the question is can Michigan State still play with the level of intensity required to knock off the #1 team in the nation?
Minnesota at Wisconsin - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Wisconsin is putting all the pieces together and looks to be a major factor in the Big 10 race. Minnesota will need to rebound quickly from an extremely tough overtime loss at home to Penn State.
Iowa State at Oklahoma - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Oklahoma needs to get re-focused after a disappointing, mistake-filled performance against rival Texas. Iowa State will be looking to secure the upset in the Cyclones' 4th contest against a top 25 opponent this year.
Colorado State at Air Force - Thursday 7:00 PM CDT
This game will have huge implications on how the Mountain West title race shakes out this season. Air Force is off to a 2-0 league start, while Colorado State has only played one league contest, knocking off UNLV in that one.
Arizona State at Southern Cal - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
Southern Cal continues to win, but the dominance of past seasons is definitely not there after back-to-back six-point Pac-10 wins in which USC needed to hang on at the end. Arizona State is on the verge of losing its season and needs a win to avoid an 0-3 start in league play.
Nebraska at Kansas State - Saturday 6:10 PM CDT
Nebraska has been a tough team to figure out, manhandling Iowa State this past weekend but struggling big-time to hold off Kansas the week before. Kansas State is dangerous at home and comes off a big win over Oklahoma State, a game in which the Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes of play.
Houston at Southern Miss - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Houston will need to rebound from a brutal loss to Louisiana-Lafayette after the Cougars went out in front 21-0 before collapsing. Southern Miss looks to get back in the Conference USA win column after being handled in their trip to Tulsa.
Tulsa at East Carolina - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT
Tulsa is now the favorite to take home the Conference USA title, but this game looks dangerous. East Carolina is beginning to play well as they beat Virginia this past weekend at home and gave West Virginia all they could handle the week before.