The SEC has another huge contest this week, as South Carolina will look to knock off its second straight Top 10 opponent when it battles LSU. But can the Gamecocks get it done in Death Valley? Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Texas meet in the annual Red River Rivalry in Dallas, and Stanford travels to South Bend for a physical battle with Notre Dame.
So once again, dust off that grill and get it fired up because we’re starting this weekend’s tailgate.
The marquee matchups
Texas vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas)
X-Factor: Landry Jones...If Oklahoma is to win this game, star quarterback Landry Jones has to exorcise some of the demons that have plagued him in recent big games. The Sooners lost some depth on the interior of their offensive line in preseason, but that unit showed last week against Texas Tech that it could be rounding into form. However, the Longhorns defense will pose quite a different test than the Red Raiders. If Jones has time to throw, he is one of the best in the nation. But if the 'Horns get pressure on him, he will be subpar as he was in the Sooners' loss to Kansas State a few weeks ago. The key for OU is employing a healthy dose of tailback Damien Williams, who has shown big-play ability this season and who is coming off of a strong game against Texas Tech. Keeping the ball on the ground and using Williams on screens will help negate some of that Texas pass rush and make things a little bit easier for Jones, who has a 137.2 passer rating in his last two games against Texas, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 603 yards and 5 touchdowns against no interceptions as OU won both meetings.
South Carolina at LSU
X-Factor: The Tigers' offensive line...LSU was dominated up front by the Florida defensive line last week in its anemic loss at The Swamp. While quarterback Zach Mettenberger didn't look great, he had almost zero help from his boys up front and his receiver corps. The Tigers are already without Chris Faulk and could be without left tackle Alex Hurst because of personal reasons. The senior Hurst moved from his right tackle spot after regular left tackle Faulk was lost for the season with a knee injury after the first game. Adding to the team's woes is the fact that right guard Josh Williford is questionable because of a head injury. So Les Miles and Co. have major depth issues across the line. And that could be problematic against a filthy Gamecocks defensive line, led by the freakish Jadeveon Clowney, who is second in the SEC with 6.5 sacks. But the Bayou Bengals will be salty coming off of their loss to Florida, and playing in the hostile nighttime environment of Baton Rouge will be a tough test for Steve Spurrier's team. I can't see the Tigers suffering back-to-back losses, but they have to find a way to keep Mettenberger upright and get their ground game to be productive against the Carolina front seven.
Other games to keep an eye on
Stanford at Notre Dame: With wide receiver Ty Montgomery doubtful for this game, Josh Nunes will have an even tougher job moving the football against this Notre Dame defense. If Stepfan Taylor has trouble on the ground against the Irish front seven, then Bob Diaco's secondary will know that most of the passes will be thrown to tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. That duo will be a tough matchup for ND, but this Cardinal offense won't have any threat on the outside at receiver without Montgomery. Nunes is coming off of a strong game against Arizona last week, but a productive Taylor on the ground will be needed for this Cardinal offense to have a chance. Meanwhile, can Irish dual-threat signal-caller Everett Golson continue to grow after his improved play against Miami (FL)? This Cardinal defense, while subpar against Arizona, is still one of the nation's most physical groups.
Iowa at Michigan State: With Ohio State being banished from postseason play, the Big Ten is looking for at least one team to carry the national baton into the postseason. While the Spartans already have two losses, including one in league play, they have a chance to get back into the Legends division race and hand the Hawkeyes their first conference loss. Andrew Maxwell and the Spartans offense must be able to build on the momentum from last week's second half against Indiana.
USC at Washington: The Huskies have shown that they can rise to the occasion and beat a highly ranked team, as Steve Sarkisian's squad has already defeated Stanford. But the Huskies were also blown out against LSU and Oregon on the road. They'll get the Trojans at home, however, and Sarkisian has a 2-1 mark against his former school. Meanwhile, 'SC will look to continue to claw its way back up the national rankings and perhaps into the BCS title race.
Don't forget about...
Oregon State at BYU
Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech
Tennessee at Mississippi State