College football is set to change gears this weekend. Oct. 10th and 11th feature 17 games showcasing 22 of the nation’s top teams. Five games involve matchups between two Top 25 teams. With only a few exceptions, just about every Top 25 team will be tested this week. All nine of the remaining unbeaten teams from BCS conferences play in key conference or national tilts this weekend.

Teams that have padded their records by playing soft schedules finally get tested this week, and we also are offered a glimpse at some of the teams that fell off of the national radar earlier this year who are salvaging already-disappointing seasons. Hated rivals will try to extend their recent mastery over their hapless opponents. One-loss national championship contenders will attempt to keep their faint hopes at glory alive. Two-loss conference championship contenders will try to keep their BCS-bowl chances alive, as well. Here’s a look at this weekend’s two most important gridiron battles.

(2) Miami at (5) Florida State

This is the last time the “Wide-Right Bowl” will not count for conference standings, as the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Tech Hokies are set to remove themselves from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. But the biggest storyline of this game is the re-emergence of Florida States dominant defense. The Seminoles enter the week number one in scoring defense, surrendering a paltry 7.4 points per contest. Even worse for Miami is that Florida State’s defensive line has been the catalyst behind the defense’s stalwart performances. Although Florida State has not played against a good offense this season, the Seminoles have looked like Sugar Bowl favorites, provided they can get past Miami – no small task, mind you.

Miami, already short on running capability, had their running game woes compounded last week at West Virginia where they lost their star tailback, Frank Gore, for the remainder of the year. Miami’s normally-impenetrable defense has been picked apart this year by solid offensive line play and fearless backs. But with all that is wrong with Miami this year, they are still Miami, which means that they reload with enough NFL talent to make the Jaguars flinch and play their best ball with their backs against the wall, like last season’s come-from-behind win over FSU in the “Wide Left Bowl,” and like this season’s comeback victory over Florida. The difference between this Florida State team and those four FSU teams that squandered opportunities to beat Miami on field goals is that this year’s squad might not let kicking become an issue.

(1) Oklahoma vs (11) Texas

Oklahoma, for its part, brings the nation’s most dominating team into the Cotton Bowl. The defense has lived up to the hype, allowing only 14 points per game – most points against OU come during the fourth quarter, and the Sooners first team actually gives up less than a touchdown per contest. Offensively, few quarterbacks have been as efficient as Jason White. He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns to only three interceptions. The Sooners score almost at will, averaging 44 points. Oklahoma only averages 140 rushing yards per game, but that’s to be expected when teams play eight or nine defenders in the box. On special teams, the team has had four returns for touchdowns. Texas coach Mack Brown calls Oklahoma the best team in the land. Nothing Oklahoma has done suggests otherwise.

Texas is not backing down from the challenge. Losers of three straight Red River shootouts, the Longhorns’ offense looks to break Oklahoma’s hex over them. In the past three years, Texas has been held to 14, three and 17 points against Oklahoma – their lowest outputs of the seasons. The Longhorns feature a Texas two-step of quarterbacks – Chance Mock and Vincent Young. Starter Mock is a fine pocket passer, but is a sitting duck for Oklahoma in the backfield. Besides that, he is not as preternaturally gifted as Chris Simms, whom Oklahoma had field days with the past few years. Freshman quarterback Young is of the Michael Vick-Seneca Wallace ilk. His feet led Texas to a fourth-quarter comeback victory over Kansas State last weekend. This weekend he could be called upon to do the same against the Sooners. His deep passes are not as crisp as Mock’s, but he more easily avoids sacks with his nimble footwork. Against Oklahoma, Texas will have to pick their poison.

Still Undefeated

In this 8th week of college football action, nine major BCS conference teams are still undefeated. (1st ranked) Oklahoma, (2) Miami, (3) Ohio State, (4) Virginia Tech, (5) Florida State, (6) Louisiana State, (7) Arkansas, (10) Nebraska, and (17) Minnesota are the only major BCS conference teams that are still without a loss. Miami and Florida State play each other this Saturday, so the number of undefeated teams is guaranteed to shrink.

The undefeated team that has the most question marks entering this weekend is Minnesota. Their opponent this weekend will be Michigan – a team that could lose eight starters to the NFL draft next spring and has already played three big games this season. The Golden Gopher’s toughest opponent thus far has been disappointing 2-4 Penn State. Minnesota has piled up blowout wins against the likes of Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Northwestern. This weekend presents the opportunity for Minnesota to try to beat a team that actually has a pulse.

Besides the Miami-Florida State and Oklahoma-Texas wars, the most exciting game on this weekend’s slate is the Arkansas-Auburn game. Arkansas flew under the radar this season until quarterback Matt Jones and tailback Cedric Cobbs ran roughshod over the Texas Longhorns three weeks ago. Arkansas has earned its lofty ranking this year by simply lining up and hitting teams in the mouth. The Razorbacks average over 300 rushing yards per game. The Hogs don’t like giving up yards either – their defense surrenders a stingy 19.8 points per game. Auburn, on the other hand, has finally started playing up to preseason hype. After opening the season with embarrassing losses to Southern California and Georgia, the Tigers fell into obscurity and out of the Top 25. After two straight wins against overmatched opponents, Auburn used last weekend’s game against then-unbeaten Tennessee to announce its return to the big time college football scene. The Tigers amassed 264 rushing yards, while holding two of the SEC’s top ten rushers to only 14 rushing yards on ten attempts.

Tipton can be reached at rtipton@campustimes.org.



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