Saturday Storylines: Top-secret top 10 game
It came as something of a shock to learn there are games being played this weekend other than LSU-Alabama. Just about every other able-bodied analyst at SI.com has already weighed in on Tigers vs. Tide, so I’m going to leave you in Andy Staples’ capable hands for talk of Tuscaloosa and focus on the rest of Week 10 below. To start, there’s another top 10 SEC showdown in the offing. Did you know?
• No. 10 South Carolina @ No. 8 Arkansas: This feels like an overrated spot for the Gamecocks at this point in the slog to Atlanta, even given their ferocious defense. End Melvin Ingram is good television, and the unit ranks sixth nationally in yards allowed, but the Gamecocks are not going to beat Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson on every possession. Alabama was the only team capable of holding the 7-1 Razorbacks in check on offense this entire season, and Arkansas has scored more than 29 points every other week. Scoring enough to keep up with Wilson, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams is going to be a real concern.
This is all assuming the Arkansas team we think we know is the one that shows up, of course. The Hogs experienced nail-biting scrapes against Vanderbilt last week and Ole Miss the week before, and because the games came on back-to-back weeks it’s hard to tell whether both were cases of playing down to competition (understandable, if not excusable) or some actual systemic meltdown. Needing a fumble return to beat Vanderbilt, even shiny new swaggery Vanderbilt, would bode ill for most teams in this season’s SEC, but it bodes particularly ill for a team carrying a top 10 ranking and harboring visions of a prestigious January bowl game.
• No. 17 Kansas State @ No. 3 Oklahoma State: There’s a joke in here somewhere about Oklahoma State’s defenders turning back into virulent orange pumpkins following that heroic stand against Baylor, but this is a serious time in Stillwater, where a community contemplates the very possibility of a national title game berth. Two ranked opponents are downed; two remain. The ‘Pokes get both at home. How will Bill Snyder pick up a Wildcats squad that had an astonishing undefeated run all its own? Can quarterback Collin Klein outscore every Cowboy by himself, using only his feet? And will running back Joseph Randle’s feet find purchase against KSU’s solid ground defenses, or are we in for all Brandon-Weeden-and-Justin-Blackmon, all the time?
• Texas A&M @ No. 7 Oklahoma: I like Stewart Mandel’s cold comfort here in his picks: At least the Aggies won’t have a lead to blow in the second half. Even down leading rusher Dominique Whaley, the Sooners should find points ripe for plucking against A&M’s dead-last-in-FBS pass defense. A unit allowing 318 aerial yards on average should show Landry Jones and the nation’s No. 2 passing attack a rollicking good time. Is a second consecutive 500-yard game out of the question for Jones this week?
Intrigue in the undercards
• Notre Dame @ Wake Forest: Look favorably upon Tanner Price’s chances against that Irish secondary all you want, but I get the feeling Wake might end up on the wrong end of a very messy shootout this time around.
• Texas Tech @ Texas: Keys to the game: The Red Raiders’ passing offense; the Longhorns’ extremely promising defense, and whether Tech shows up at DKR in an “upset Oklahoma” mood or a “get pantsed by Iowa State at home” frame of mind.
• Louisville @ No. 24 West Virginia: The Cardinals’ spirit squads will, in fact, be making the trip to Morgantown for the game, putting Saturday’s focus back where it belongs: The resolution of the third leg of the “Syracuse > West Virginia, and Louisville > Syracuse, therefore West Virginia > Louisville” triangle, a lobster-pot phenomenon so prevalent in late-season conference races that it never ceases to entertain.
• UNC @ NC State: Bank on Everett Withers and Tom O’Brien having the frostiest post-game handshake of Week 10. Who saw that coming?
Non-AQ not-to-be-missed tilt of the week
• No. 14 Houston @ UAB: The Blazers would have Houston scheduled as their homecoming opponent the year Case Keenum gets a sixth season of eligibility on a medical redshirt. We’re betting he breaks the NCAA’s career passing yardage record by the second quarter at the latest, right? Think we can change the university’s position on bobbleheads?
Not for human consumption
Three contenders for this week’s Worst Looming Bloodbath: Will Minnesota, Oregon State, or UNLV suffer worst at the hands of Michigan State, Stanford and or Boise State, respectively? And the most depressing squads in the SEC East and West collide when Kentucky plays Ole Miss, which I cannot recommend watching under any conceivable circumstances.
Louisiana Tech and Fresno State kick off at 10:30 p.m. ET, if you’re interested in seeing what Sonny Dykes’ wee fledgling version of the Air Raid can do with a very, very bad defense. Oregon and Washington commence play at the same time, in a tantalizing late-night tilt where the only rule is this: There Will Be Points. And Utah State and Hawaii occupy the true addicts’ slot at 11:59, but knowing the Aggies they’ll jump out to a promising lead and then end up disappointing everybody watching.
SI.com in the field
It’s an all-Alabama reunion for us in Week 10. Mandel and Staples will be on hand in Tuscaloosa to witness Messrs. Saban-and-Miles duke it out, while I’m bound for Birmingham to watch Keenum break his next record.