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College Football 2012 — Week Six Preview

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While last week gave us a number of exciting games (West Virginia/Baylor shootout, Texas’ controversial last-minute touchdown to beat Oklahoma State, Nebraska’s comeback win over Wisconsin, etc.), it was lacking in marquee games between ranked teams or conference rivals. But this week will make up for it in a big way with five games between ranked teams, including not one but two Top Ten matchups in the SEC.

Here are all the highlights from this week in the Top 25.

(All times Eastern.)

#1 Alabama, bye

The top-ranked Crimson Tide has the week off before returning to action with back-to-back road games at Missouri and Tennessee.

#23 Washington (3-1) at #2 Oregon (5-0)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN]

After upsetting then-#8 Stanford last Thursday, the Huskies will face an even tougher task on road against #2 Oregon. Washington held Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor to just 75 yards (came in averaging 113) but will have to face the Ducks’ sixth-ranked rushing offense and the running back duo of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas that has already put up 907 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Washington’s defense will have to step up to the plate and slow down the Ducks to give the Washington offense (ranked 98th in passing and 104th in rushing) any shot.

#3 Florida State (5-0) at North Carolina State (3-2)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ESPN2]

NC State gave up 44 points and an ACC-record 566 passing yards to Miami last week and things don’t look to get any easier with the Seminoles coming to town. The Wolfpack ranks 97th nationally in pass defense and will be tasked with trying to stop E.J. Manuel, who ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency. The Seminoles defense continues to be dominant, ranking third in total defense and seventh in scoring. They could feast on a Wolfpack offense that has already turned the ball over 13 times this year (110th nationally).

#4 Louisiana State (5-0) at #10 Florida (4-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

While everybody had already penciled in LSU’s November matchup with #1 Alabama, the Tigers may have more immediate concerns before making SEC championship plans. The last two weeks, LSU has struggled to eke out wins against 1-3 Auburn and FCS team Towson. Coach Les Miles had better figure out the Tigers’ problems soon, as LSU now faces #10 Florida and #6 South Carolina in back-to-back weeks. LSU’s defense has continued its traditional dominance, ranking 4th in total defense and ninth in scoring. But they will face their toughest test to date against running back Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC in rushing yards per game.  Les Miles is 1-2 all-time in The Swamp.

#5 Georgia at #6 South Carolina

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN]

This game, which could well decide the SEC West title, features a contrast in styles. Both teams feature strong running games, with Georgia’s Todd Gurley and USC’s Marcus Lattimore ranking first and second in the conference in rushing touchdowns. But Georgia also features quarterback Aaron Murray (third in the nation in passing efficiency) and a potent offense that has put up 41 or more points in every game this season, a first in school history. South Carolina, meanwhile, showcases a stifling defense that ranks seventh nationally in total defense, sixth in scoring defense and ninth in tackles for loss. This could be a great game for fans of smash mouth and “defense wins championships” football.

Kansas (1-3) at #7 Kansas State (4-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on FX]

After having a week off following their upset of Oklahoma, the Wildcats should have little trouble this week against their in-state rivals. Kansas ranks 109th in the nation in scoring and is facing a Wildcat defense that is giving up an average of just 15.5 points per game. On the other side, Kansas State continues to pound the ball, ranking 14th in the nation in rushing behind quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert, who average a combined 179 yards per game on 5.5 yards per carry.

#8 West Virginia (4-0) at #11 Texas (4-0)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on Fox]

Texas showed last week that it can win a shootout if it has to. That experience may come in handy this week against the Mountaineers’ high octane offense that ranks first nationally in passing and third in both total offense and scoring. However, Texas can light up the scoreboard as well–the Longhorns rank ninth nationally in scoring and have put up at least 37 points in every game this season. West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Texas’ David Ash rank first and second in the nation, respectively, in pass efficiency. West Virginia’s defense, which gave up 63 points to Baylor, will need to get some stops against a Texas offense that was 9-for-17 on third down conversions last week against Oklahoma State and  3-for-3 on fourth down. The Longhorns have given up 67 points in two games against BCS conference opponents this year.

Miami (4-1) vs. #9 Notre Dame (4-0)

[Saturday, 7:30 p.m. on NBC; game played at Soldier Field in Chicago]

25 years ago, these were two of the preeminent teams in college football. This year, they are two teams that have been through some tough years but look to be on the rebound. This should be a classic offense/defense battle. Notre Dame is off to its first 4-0 start in 10 years and features the best defense it’s had since the Fighting Irish’s national title season of 1988. Miami, meanwhile, has put up at least 41 points in each of its four wins this year. Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris threw for an ACC-record 566 yards and five touchdowns in last week’s win over North Carolina State. Both teams struggle on the opposite side of the ball, however, with Notre Dame ranked 95th in total offense and Miami 114th in total defense.

#21 Nebraska (4-1) at #12 Ohio State (5-0)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

Taylor Martinez rushed for 107 yards, threw for 181 more and scored three times in leading Nebraska to the second-biggest comeback in school history against Wisconsin last week. This week, he’ll lead a Cornhusker offense that ranks fifth nationally in rushing against an Ohio State defense that is giving up only 100.8 yards per game on the ground and held Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, to just 45 yards. On the other side, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who is averaging 302 total yards per game, could be poised for a big game against a Nebraska defense that ranks tenth in the league in rush defense. Already the Buckeyes’ top offensive threat, Miller will have to carry an even bigger load with the news that starting running back Jordan Hall is doubtful this week after suffering a torn PCL in his right knee. Martinez and his running back tandem of Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah will need to hold on to the ball (fumbled six times last week, losing two) and keep Miller off the field to pull off the road upset.

#13 Southern Cal (3-1) at Utah (2-2)

[Thursday, 9 p.m. on ESPN]

After a bye last week, the Trojans return to action this week against a Utah squad that had PAC-12 title hopes coming into this season but now has more questions than answers. The Utes upset in-state rival BYU last month, but that win was sandwiched between disappointing losses to Utah State and Arizona State. Utah ranks 112th in total offense and 94th in scoring. The Trojans offense hasn’t clicked on all cylinders this year, but has shown what it can do with individual playmakers. Quarterback Matt Barkley is completing just 61 percent of his passes, but has thrown for over 1000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown in the Trojans’ last game against Cal.  However, we may not know just how good this USC squad really is—the Trojans have not beaten a team with a single FBS win this season. This is their first trip to Salt Lake City in 95 years.

Washington State (2-3) at #14 Oregon State (3-0)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. on PAC-12 Network]

After knocking off two ranked opponents to start the season, Oregon State needed a late game touchdown against Arizona to remain unbeaten. Led by quarterback Sean Mannion, the Beavers rank fourth in the nation in passing offense, putting up over 362 yards per game through the air. But this week, they’ll be facing someone who also knows a thing or two about aerial football. Under coach Mike Leach, the Cougars rank 12th in passing offense and played tough with #2 Oregon. Washington State and Oregon State rank 112th and 113th, respectively, in pass defense. So look to see some big passing numbers in this game.

Georgia Tech (2-3) at #15 Clemson (4-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN]

Despite missing All-American receiver Sammy Watkins for three games this year, Clemson’s offense has still been very effective, ranking 16th in total offense and 20th in scoring. They certainly have the offensive weapons to roll up big numbers in this game against a Yellow Jacket defense that is giving up almost 27 points per game (67th nationally). However, Georgia Tech’s option attack is the third best rushing offense in the country and has taken both Virginia Tech and Miami to overtime. If the Yellow Jackets defense can get a few stops, the offense should be able to have some success against Clemson’s 81st-rated rush defense.

Iowa State (3-1) at #15 Texas Christian (4-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Net]

Gary Patterson’s teams have always been known for stout defenses, and this year is no exception. The Horned Frogs rank seventh in total defense and second in scoring. They have given up just three touchdowns this season. This week they’ll face an Iowa State squad that has not had much luck on offense this year (88th in both total offense and scoring), but features a pretty tough defense of its own (17th nationally). The difference maker in this game could be TCU quarterback Casey Paschall who, despite a down week against SMU last week, is still completing two-thirds of his passes for 10 touchdowns and just one interception.  TCU is riding a nation’s-best 12-game winning streak.

#17 Oklahoma (2-1) at Texas Tech (4-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

For all the success Bob Stoops has had at OU, Lubbock has been his own personal kryptonite. In Stoops’ 13 years with the Sooners, Oklahoma has won a road game against the Red Raiders just twice and they have not won in Lubbock since 2003. Mike Stoops was brought back to revitalize a sagging OU defense but, through three games, the Sooners have forced just one turnover. And with the offensive miscues the Sooners displayed against Kansas State (three turnovers and a sloppy performance from quarterback Landry Jones), OU can’t be thrilled to play a road game against a surprising Tech defense that ranks first nationally in both total defense and pass defense and is fifth in scoring defense. The Red Raider offense is also putting up big numbers (7th in passing, 11th in scoring) against admittedly weak opposition. However, we’ll find out in the next two weeks just how good Texas Tech is, as this is the first of five straight games against ranked opponents. This could be a dangerous trap game for OU, coming off a loss to one ranked opponent and looking ahead to next week’s matchup with archrival Texas.

Arizona (3-2) at #18 Stanford (3-1)

[Saturday, 3 p.m. on Fox]

Stanford will look to regroup from its upset loss to Washington by hosting an Arizona squad that has suffered back-to-back losses and will playing the third of a six-game stretch against ranked teams. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott leads the PAC-12 in passing yards and heads a Wildcat offense that averages almost 35 points per game. This week, he’ll be going against a Cardinal defense that leads the conference in turnover margin and ranks 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor averages over 103 yards per ground on the game. Look for him to have a good game against an Arizona defense that ranks 73rd against the run.

#19 Louisville, bye

The Cardinals get a week off before returning to action next week at Pittsburgh.

#20 Mississippi State (4-0) at Kentucky (1-4)

[Saturday, 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network]

Off to their best start since 1999, the Bulldogs are coming off a bye week and looking to get past the 1-4 Wildcats for their first road conference win of the year. Mississippi State features two running backs that are each averaging over 6.3 yards per carry and should be able to find plenty of running room against Kentucky’s 95th-ranked run defense. The Bulldogs defense, which ranks second nationally in takeaways and 13th in scoring defense, should be able to handle Kentucky, which will be starting its backup quarterback and has managed just 17 total points in the past two games.

Connecticut (3-2) at #22 Rutgers (4-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPNU]

The Scarlet Knights are ranked for the first time in three years and are off to a 4-0 start for just the 12th time in the 143-year history of the program. They’re getting it done with defense, ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense and giving up 13 or fewer points in three of their four games this season. They should have little trouble against a UConn offense that ranks 113th in rushing and 94th in scoring. But it could be a low-scoring affair, as the Huskies feature a pretty stout defense of their own (23rd nationally, giving up 15.6 points per game). The Scarlet Knights are at home for four of their next five games, all against beatable opponents.

#24 Northwestern (5-0) at Penn State (3-2)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN]

After starting the season 0-2, Penn State has rebounded with three straight wins. But they’ll face their biggest test of the season so far against an undefeated Northwestern team that is ranked for the first time since 2008. Kain Colter is listed as a quarterback on the Wildcats depth chart, but you wouldn’t know it from his stat line: after starting the first four games at quarterback, Colter moved to wideout in last week’s game against Indiana and finished with 161 rushing yards, 131 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

#25 UCLA (4-1) at California (1-4)

[Saturday, 10 p.m. on PAC-12 Network]

UCLA beat up on one one-win team (Colorado) last week and will have another opportunity this Saturday. The Bruins are getting it done this year with remarkable balance (18th nationally in passing, 13th in rushing) and on both sides of the ball (35th in scoring defense and fourth in takeaways). Running back Johnathan Franklin is third in the nation in rushing yards. This week, he’ll be going against a Cal unit that ranks last in the PAC-12 in run defense but has only given up two rushing touchdowns in its last four games.

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