The SEC takes centerstage this week, with Florida and South Carolina looking to take care of business at home against LSU and Georgia, respectively. Meanwhile, Nebraska looks to steal a road win at the Horseshoe in Columbus against Ohio State.
So once again, dust off that grill and get it fired up because we’re starting this weekend’s tailgate.
The marquee matchups
X-Factor: Tigers defensive line vs. Gators offensive line...One of the issues Florida head coach Will Muschamp was concerned with heading into his second year in Gainesville was the play of his offensive line. He wanted the unit to be more physical, which would help protect quarterback Jeff Driskel and open up running lanes for tailback Mike Gillislee. So far, the O-Line has looked like a completely different unit than the one we saw in 2011. It has helped get the Gators off to an undefeated start. However, it faces a different animal this week when it matches up against a Bayou Bengals line that is arguably the best in the nation.
X-Factor: The health of Connor Shaw...The Gamecocks quarterback has shown the last couple of weeks that he won't let his injured throwing shoulder affect him while he's on the field. He has shown that he can still run the ball effectively, and the Gamecocks need that rushing ability from the quarterback position even with star running back Marcus Lattimore getting more and more comfortable coming off of his knee injury. But against the Bulldogs, Shaw will be facing a physical defense that will bring a lot of consistent heat Shaw's way. If the 'Dawgs crowd the line of scrimmage to try to stop Lattimore, who has been effective against Mark Richt's squad in the past, Shaw will need to make plays in the passing game. And in passing situations, that's when Shaw will see the occasional blitz. He needs to avoid a lot of hits in this one or else Steve Spurrier may have to get Dylan Thompson ready if Shaw re-injures the shoulder. Also keep an eye on South Carolina's secondary, which will need improved play in order to stop the potent Georgia passing attack, led by Aaron Murray.
X-Factor: The Longhorns' ground game...Prolific quarterback Geno Smith will get his yards and the Mountaineers will score their points. The Longhorns have given up five touchdowns of 40 yards or longer this season, while Smith is still throwing touchdowns as of this moment against the Baylor defense. Even if Longhorns coordinator Manny Diaz has a defense that is able to generate pressure while just rushing four and dropping back seven, WVU will be able to move the ball as it did last season against LSU. But when Texas has the football, it will want to control the tempo of the game, especially if it is able to grab a lead. And that's where Joe Bergeron, the bruiser, and Johnathan Gray, the dynamic freshman, will come into play. Longhorns quarterback David Ash will be able to move the ball through the air against the Mountaineers' defense, but grounding it out will also keep the clock moving and Dana Holgorsen's offense off of the field.
X-Factor: Nebraska's defensive line trying to stop Braxton Miller...The Cornhuskers’ front seven, led by defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and middle linebacker Will Compton, will catch a break because Buckeyes tailback Jordan Hall will miss this game with a partially torn ligament in his right knee. And fellow backs Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn don't give the Buckeyes that burst for their rushing attack. However, Braxton Miller has proven that he can be a one-man show when there has been no other productive Buckeye on the ground. But while Miller has the ability to carry a team, the Buckeyes saw him get hit a lot last week against Michigan State. And this week they'll be seeing a Nebraska front that played very well last week against Wisconsin, especially in the second half when it contained Montee Ball. OSU can't afford too many hard hits on its star, because he was banged-up last week by the Spartans.
Miami vs. Notre Dame (Soldier Field)
For a look at the Hurricanes-Fighting Irish series from a historical perspective, check out my post from Friday at the NFP.
Both the 'Canes and Irish enter this matchup riding high. Al Golden's squad is sitting at 3-0 in the ACC and has bounced back nicely from the debacle on the road against Kansas State. Meanwhile, Brian Kelly's team looks to remain unbeaten and in the hunt for a BCS bid despite a difficult slate.
Keep an eye on that young Irish secondary, which has yet to really be tested. Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris is having a breakout campaign, and he has skill all around him in sophomore receivers Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott as well as running backs Duke Johnson and Mike James.
Other games to keep an eye on
Florida State at N. C. State
Oklahoma at Texas Tech
Arizona at Stanford
Washington at Oregon
Don't forget about...
Northwestern at Penn State
Michigan at Purdue
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