Each week, I take a look at the week ahead, including games, upsets and players to watch for. This week, I am adding a guide to the best games of the week.
What I am watching: After a lackluster non-conference season, which teams get off to a good start in the conference season and set the tone for what could be a wild, should be an open and might even be a surprising run to Indianapolis. How will Michigan State's offense respond in a big opener at home against unbeaten Ohio State? Can Braxton Miller be contained by the best defense he has faced all season? Will Nebraska's running game continue to run roughshod over Wisconsin and establish Nebraska as the team to beat? Or will Wisconsin's offense come around in time to make the 2-time defending champs a factor with an upset in Lincoln? Can Northwestern and Minnesota continue to ride the momentum of the non-conference season and be taken seriously in the conference race? It all gets started this week.
Upset alert: Minnesota over Iowa. I don't see the Buckeyes winning in East Lansing as much of an upset (although it qualifies), so I will put the Hawkeyes on upset alert. How Iowa responds to last week's meltdown will show a lot about this team and coaching staff. Minnesota has already shown some moxie by surviving an injury to their quarterback, but can they continue their surprising play on the road in a tough venue. Last week: Louisiana Tech over Illinois (should have been Louisiana Tech over Illinois or Central Michigan over Iowa).
Player on the spot: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska. Nebraska wants revenge for their 48-17 embarrassment at Wisconsin in their first ever Big 10 game. Martinez did not play well last year in Madison and a series of interceptions by Martinez changed the game a year ago. The Martinez of 2012 looks like a different player and Cornhusker fans hope last year does not repeat itself Saturday night. Last week: Max Shortell, QB, Minnesota - 16-30, 231 yards, 0 TD, 0 Int in a 17-10 win over Syracuse.
What I am watching: Now that Florida State has wrapped up the conference and Clemson appears to be the second best team, who will emerge behind them? North Carolina State and Miami play Saturday with the winner staking claim to one of the spots right behind the top. Virginia Tech also tries to stay in the conversation with a tough non-conference road game at Cincinnati.
Upset alert: Cincinnati over Virginia Tech. The Hokies running game has been slow to get going and an experienced and deep Cincinnati defense is going to get after Logan Thomas. If the Bearcats protect the ball and run the ball on Tech, a second loss to a Big East school could be in the making. Last week: Army over Wake Forest (should have been Miami over Georgia Tech)
Player on the spot: Mike Glennon, QB, NC State. I am putting the Wolfpack in the spotlight two weeks in a row, this time with their senior quarterback who needs to play well in a pivotal conference road game. After a season opening loss where Glennon threw 4 interceptions, he has responded with 5 TD's and 0 Int's over the last three weeks. That trend needs to continue for the Wolfpack to prevail Saturday. Last week: NC State rushing defense - The Citadel had 199 yards rushing on 41 carries and just 226 yards total offence in a 52-14 NC State victory.
What I am watching: Actually a pretty light schedule for the SEC this week (the calm before the storm), with Georgia having the toughest game of the heavyweights with Tennessee coming to town. These is also the continuing saga of Arkansas, who visits newbie Texas A&M and tries to save a season that is already a disappointment.
Upset alert: None. The 5 favored teams in the SEC should all win this week. UCF is actually favored over Missouri, so the Tigers do not qualify for the alert. Last week: Rutgers over Arkansas (should have been Rutgers over Arkansas)
Player on the spot: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee. If the SEC race is going to get a wrench thrown in it, a player like Bray is the one to do it. Thought by many as the best QB in the conference, Bray can prove that by topping Aaron Murray and Georgia on the Dawgs home field. In order to do so, Bray is going to have to play one of the best games of his career and get his myriad of weapons going against a tough, but not impenetrable Georgia D. Last week: Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt - 12 carries for 83 yards in a 48-3 loss to Georgia.
What I am watching: The scoreboard in Morgantown. I am sure by writing this Baylor's visit to West Virginia Saturday will result in a 10-6 final. I expect both teams over 30 and potentially both over 40. We get to see Geno Smith and Nick Florence on display. After recovering from that game, come back at night and see if Texas is for real and can win in Stillwater against an Oklahoma State team that is still a bit of a mystery. The Texas defense has not been overly sharp, so the scoreboard could get going in this one as well.
Upset alert: Oklahoma State over Texas. A home underdog who just happens to be the defending league champion is a dangerous proposition. The Cowboys have the Arizona eyesore working against them, but that game was directly affected by the turnover battle, something Oklahoma State has thrived at in recent years. If Texas does not protect the ball, the Big 12 race will have another curve by Saturday's end. Last week: Louisiana-Monroe over Baylor and Kansas State over Oklahoma (should have been Kansas State over Oklahoma).
Unit on the spot: Iowa State defense. There is a match-up of two undefeated teams in Ames on Saturday that bears mention. Texas Tech brings its passing attack to town and how a very good Cyclone defense deals with Seth Doege & Co. will go a long way in determining which of these teams will keep its bowl chances alive for 2012. Last week: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma - 28-43, 298 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int in a 24-19 loss to Kansas State.
What I am watching: Is it separation week in the PAC-12 or just a big muddy mess? Consensus says Oregon is the best team in the PAC-12 and USC is really good, but more flawed than thought. 3 games in the PAC-12 will tell us a story this week. It starts Thursday with Stanford travelling to Washington. Conventional wisdom says Stanford continues their post-Luck roll, but a road game in Seattle is never easy. Arizona State travels to Cal and Oregon State to Arizona in the other pivotal games. If the Sun Devils and Beavers prevail, they will separate themselves into the upper tier of the conference and leave Arizona and Cal scrapping for best of the lower tier. If Arizona and Cal hold home field, the PAC-12 gets messy.
Upset alert: Arizona State at California. The Sun Devils enter as underdogs, but their early season play dictates they are a better team right now than the Golden Bears. If they can avoid turnovers, their offense should be too much to handle for Cal on Saturday. Last week: Oregon State over UCLA (should have been Oregon State over UCLA or Colorado over Washington State).
Player on the spot: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona. The Oregon State defense has shut down the Wisconsin and UCLA running games, so it might be Scott who has to engineer a home victory over the Beavers. After having a 7-1 TD/Int mark through 3 weeks, Scott threw 3 interceptions in being shutout by Oregon a week ago. He needs to rebound in a big way this week for Arizona. Last week: Matt Barkley, QB, USC - 22-34, 192 yards, 2 TD, 2 Int in a 27-9 victory over Cal.
What I am watching: Is Cincinnati for real and does South Florida continue its tailspin? Cincinnati has an opportunity to show they are to be mentioned with Lousiville and Rutgers if they can beat Virginia Tech on Saturday. A close loss could also validate them, but Pittsburgh dismantled the Hokies a few weeks ago. South Florida is coming off losses to Rutgers and Ball State and now hosts Florida State. This game could either stay close or the Bulls could be in for an ugly one if they are not up for the Seminole challenge.
Upset alert: I just don't see Louisville losing at Southern Miss or UConn to Buffalo, so the Big East is off upset alert this week. Last week: Western Michigan over Connecticut (should have been Western Michigan over Connecticut or Ball State over South Florida).
Player in the spotlight: Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati. The dual threat quarterback will be the key to Cincinnati upsetting Virginia Tech this week. The Hokies can be run on and the added dimension of Legaux with RB George Wynn could cause Virginia Tech problems. He will have to make plays with his arm too, but a couple big plays with his legs might make the difference. Last week: B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida - 19-30, 312 yards, 3 TD, 2 Int, 75 yards rushing in a 31-27 loss to Ball State.
What I am watching: I am always watching for how many victories the Non-BCS schools can accumulate against the BCS conferences. Ohio, Nevada, Colorado State, Utah State, Louisiana-Monroe, Rice, Western Kentucky, Ball State, Fresno State, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State(again) and Louisiana Tech have done it the first four weeks with the victories over Penn State, California, Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado(again), Iowa, Connecticut, Kansas(again), South Florida and Illinois respectively. Last season the total was 15. The chances are dwindling as the non-conference season slows, but which games this week might add to the current 14? Let's watch these 3...Missouri at UCF, Marshall at Purdue, and Louisiana Tech at Virginia.
Upset alert: Rice over Houston. In a bitter battle of two schools in the same town anything can happen. Rice has actually played well in 2012 well Houston, well, they have not. The scoreboard should be jumping here too and if Taylor McHargue is healthy enough to play, Rice can definitely pull the upset. Last week: Hawaii over Nevada (yuck, should have been San Jose State over San Diego State, UNLV over Air Force or New Mexico over New Mexico State).
Players on the spot: Colby Cameron, QB, Louisiana Tech. A name many have not heard of leads an undefeated Bulldogs team at Virginia as they try to knock off a BCS school two weeks in a row. Cameron has 913 yards and 11 TD's in 3 games this season and looks to take advantage of an underachieving Virginia team this week. Last week: Derek Carr, QB and Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State - 366 yards and 2 TD's combined in a 27-26 loss to Tulsa.
Week 5 Game Guide
Stanford at Washington, Thursday, 9 PM EST, ESPN
Baylor at West Virginia, Saturday, 12 PM EST, FX
NC State at Miami, FL, Saturday, 12 PM EST, ESPNU
Tennessee at Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 PM, EST, CBS
Ohio State at Michigan State, Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, ABC
Virginia Tech at Cincinnati, Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, ESPNU
Arizona State at Cal, Saturday, 4 PM EST, FX
Texas at Oklahoma State, Saturday, 7:50 PM EST, FOX
Wisconsin at Nebraska, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ABC
Oregon State at Arizona, Saturday, 10 PM EST, PAC-12 Network