Plot threads to track in Week 9:
• No. 11 Oklahoma @ No. 10 Kansas State: The Wildcats actually cracked the top 10 of the BCS standings this week, though they remain the lowest-ranked undefeated team outside of Conference USA. Since the beginning of October, voters and onlookers anxious to take the true measure of K-State have been waiting for this stretch of games, when home stands against Oklahoma and Texas A&M bookend a road trip in Week 10 to Oklahoma State.
Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein has his work cut out for him; he’s a running threat more than anything, but the Sooners are allowing a mere 117 yards per game on the ground. They’re even stingier against the pass, allowing 114 yards on average, but passing isn’t something K-State’s too keen on anyway. Klein’s offensive line will face an even stiffer test against a defensive front that’s producing sacks at the terrifying rate of close to four per game.
And lest we forget, Oklahoma has a little something going on offense as well, with Landry Jones captaining the nation’s fourth-ranked offense and the bulk of that production coming through the air. Bad news for the Wildcats, who’ve proven much more capable of stopping the run, and who were cut to ribbons by Robert Griffin in Week 5′s one-point victory over Baylor.
Other necessary events
• No. 9 Michigan State @ No. 13 Nebraska: Legends Division, advance! The Spartans have never beaten the Huskers, but have the Huskers ever faced Spartans quite this potent? Nebraska’s actually a four-point favorite here, for reasons that escape much of the nation’s understanding. The Huskers were handled easily by common opponent Wisconsin, which State toppled just last week. The Huskers are only better than average at defending the pass, but will have to be better than better to contain Kirk Cousins. In opposing possessions, the real story will be whether State’s second-ranked defense will be able to contain a Nebraska ground attack that’s just as potent as the Badgers’. How much luck did the Spartans need to win in Week 8, and has it run out?
• No. 6 Clemson @ Georgia Tech: Just two weeks ago this would’ve loomed as the Tigers’ greatest remaining challenge to staying undefeated; now, the question is whether the Yellow Jackets can hold their own against a team they’re not supposed to beat after faceplanting in two games they should’ve had well in hand. Tech does field a pass efficiency defense more statistically adept than any Clemson has faced so far save Virginia Tech’s … and Tajh Boyd managed more than 200 yards against the Hokies even while completing fewer than half of his passes.
• No. 12 Wisconsin @ Ohio State: Now here’s an interesting time brewing in Columbus: Wisconsin has proven fallible, falling in jaw-dropping fashion to Michigan State in last week’s marquee clash, and Ohio State’s defense isn’t all that much softer than the Spartans’. The Buckeyes may not be able to score, but they’re a damn sight better at preventing their opponents from doing so. Attitude adjustments will be invaluable in the Badgers’ camp this week in order to avoid a two-game slump in conference play.
• No. 4 Stanford @ No. 20 USC: The sway the Trojans hold in our national esteem is really something to behold. USC’s pass defense has been the softest point in its armor, allowing 265 yards in any given game against a fairly yielding early schedule. Thanks to holding Tommy Rees under 200 yards last week, the Trojans are only a 7.5-point underdog with Andrew Luck coming to town.
Intrigue in the undercards
• Illinois @ No. 21 Penn State: I still think the Nittany Lions are destined for a late-season collapse thanks to a back-loaded schedule and playing with two-thirds of a working quarterback, combined. But will that collapse come this week or can they hold on until a November 12 visit from Nebraska?
• Baylor @ No. 3 Oklahoma State: The ‘Pokes face a particularly stern gauntlet to remain undefeated, with Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma standing between them and a BCS bowl berth. They’re two-touchdown favorites over the Bears, but if you’re into gaudy displays of scoreboard acrobatics, this one’s a can’t-miss prospect for entertainment.
• No. 25 West Virginia @ Rutgers: The Mountaineers are currently favored by a touchdown, but with Eric LeGrand slated to lead the Scarlet Knights out of the tunnel, maybe bump this one up to a pick’em just on pure heart and moxie.
• Navy @ Notre Dame: There’s a special kind of predatory anticipation leading up to a rivalry game in which it’s presumed one team is absolutely going to blow another team off the grass, isn’t there?
Non-AQ not-to-be-missed tilts of the week
Ball State-Western Michigan, SMU-Tulsa and (just for giggles) Louisiana-MTSU.
Not for human consumption
Do not allow children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers near the following football contests: Akron-Central Michigan (three wins between two teams), Virginia Tech-Duke (not an upset, but somehow the Hokies will wind up looking bad), or Kansas-Texas, which, if it were a work of literature, would be that William Carlos Williams poem about the stupid plums. It’s gonna be that ungainly.
Two potential bloodbaths comprise the post-8 p.m. slate, with Wyoming-San Diego State kicking off at 10:00 as a prelude to the shootout horrorshow that will be Arizona-Washington at 10:30.
SI.com in the field
Andy Staples is out west for Stanford-USC this week. Stewart Mandel is tending the home fires elsewhere in Pac-12 country. I’m in Jacksonville for Georgia-Florida, in a hilariously ill-considered development that involved a non-refundable deposit on a beach house we reserved in August, back when this game was supposed to mean something. ESS-EEE-CEE!