— There’s no catchy labels for Saturday’s slate of games and too much time will be spent worrying about Sunday’s debut of the Bowl Championship Series standings, but there’s no shortage of important action set to take place from coast to coast, and even beyond. Here are five storylines to help guide you through another big day of college football:
1. Terrelle needs to be terrific
In 2008, just a few months removed from Jeannette (Pa.) High School and making only his third collegiate start, Terrelle Pryor calmly directed a touchdown drive at raucous Camp Randall Stadium that ended with him running the final 11 yards with 1:08 left, providing the winning margin in a 20-17 Ohio State victory.
Now a junior, Pryor returns to Madison on Saturday, carrying an even bigger load on his broad shoulders. Unlike two years ago when the Buckeyes were ranked at No. 14 when they visited with the Badgers, Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 in Big Ten) sits at the top of all the polls.
Another difference is that Pryor doesn’t have Chris “Beanie” Wells to lean on. Wells rushed for 168 yards against Wisconsin in 2008, and had three key carries in the final drive.
With the Buckeyes’ leading rusher, Dan Herron, averaging just 59.1 yards per game, Pryor is a much larger focal point this time around and much depends on his offensive production, especially on the road in games like this one and the showdown at Iowa on Nov. 20.
Ohio State can usually rely on its defense and special teams to come through in tough games on the road, as they did last November, allowing only seven points at Penn State and 10 points at Michigan, but the upcoming challenges will likely require more offensive punch.
If they can take care of the football against a Buckeye defense that has come up with 17 takeaways this season, No. 18 Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1) and No. 15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0) are fully capable of answering back. Pryor will need to have a huge game on Saturday or in five weeks at Kinnick Stadium (if not both) to keep the Buckeyes on their path to the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz.
Pryor, who has added polish to his passing abilities recently, seems ready to shine in the upcoming big games. While nursing a sore left thigh last week, he completed 24 passes for 334 yards, establishing a pair of career highs in only three quarters of action in a 38-10 victory over Indiana.
We’ll soon see how the player wearing No. 2 handles being at the controls of No. 1.
2. All lanes open in SEC race
Last year Arkansas beat up Auburn 44-23, starting a tailspin that saw the Tigers drop five of its last seven regular-season games. That was the Razorbacks’ third win in the last four series meetings.
Auburn’s suspect pass defense (91st in the nation) will be severely tested by Ryan Mallett’s NFL arm, but the game will be decided by the Hogs’ ability to corral the Tigers’ jumbo QB Cameron Newton.
With No. 7 Auburn (6-0, 3-0 in SEC) playing it close, winning half of their games by just three points, a key stop on Newton here and there will go a long way for No. 12 Arkansas (4-1, 1-1).
Since No. 9 LSU (6-0, 4-0) is playing footsie with McNeese State on Saturday, the Tigers are the only ones with a legitimate role to play in setting up what would be a titanic showdown of undefeateds next weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
If Auburn is able to continue on its roll and some of the nation’s other highly-ranked teams do the same, expect to hear a lot about the BCS snub the undefeated Tigers received in 2004.
3. Any aftermath from the upset?
No. 10 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 in SEC) is riding high after toppling No. 1 Alabama last week, but the Gamecocks can throw it all away if they don’t handle their business against Kentucky (3-3, 0-3).
The Wildcats nearly logged a big upset of their own last Saturday, giving Auburn all it could handle.
No. 8 Alabama (5-1, 2-1) is not out of the national title picture by any stretch of the imagination, but their margin for error no longer exists. The Crimson Tide can’t afford to waste any time licking wounds as Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1) deserves their full attention.
The Rebels have lost nine straight in Tuscaloosa, but Alabama won the last two by just a total of seven points (26-23 in OT in 2006 and 24-20 in 2008).
It would be an absolute shocker if the Tide dropped two in a row, but Houston Nutt has been on the case for two weeks.
4. Style points about to be in vogue
If those BCS busters weren’t trying to pulverize overmatched opponents before (as they love to claim), they will be now.
No. 3 Boise State (5-0, 1-0 in WAC) always knew that its front-loaded schedule would be the key to its BCS resume. What it didn’t know was that there would be so many undefeated teams still floating around and that voters in both polls would be so skeptical about the Broncos’ place among the elite, even though they started the season up near the top.
That’s really bad news for San Jose State (hosts Boise State), BYU (visits No. 4 TCU) and Wyoming (hosts No. 11 Utah), which have combined for only five victories this season (only three versus FBS competition).
No. 19 Nevada (6-0, 1-0 in WAC) is the only BCS buster candidate without a walk-over this weekend. The Wolf Pack have to make the long trip to Hawaii (4-2, 2-0 in WAC), where they’ll have to deal with the Warriors’ wicked passing attack.
Not only can Hawaii end Nevada’s first voyage as a ranked team, it can also take some wind out of Boise State’s sails.
Ever since the Broncos successfully navigated its early-season odyssey versus Virginia Tech and Oregon State, we’ve been hearing a lot about how the Bronco season will come down to its game at Nevada on Nov. 26.
Since neither of those two teams care very much about the WAC title, as both are heading out the conference’s door, only national implications apply there ... and they take a possibly catastrophic hit if the Warriors pull the upset at Aloha Stadium.
5. Moving day in the Big 12
None of the Big 12’s ranked teams are facing off against each other, but all four have important games on Saturday.
Texas (3-2, 1-1 in Big 12), which has lost its last two games, should welcome the opportunity it has at No. 5 Nebraska (5-0, 1-0). There’s nothing like beating a national championship contender on the road to change the mood.
After finally getting enough pollsters to recognize their undefeated record two weeks ago, No. 21 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) won’t have an easy time staying in the Top 25. The Tigers are susceptible to an upset bid by Texas A&M since QB Blaine Gabbert is less than 100 percent (hip pointer). Missouri also has to be fearful that Aggie QB Jerrod Johnson will break out of his slump (nine INTs and only seven TDs in last three games).
No. 20 Oklahoma State (5-0, 1-0) is another lowly-rated undefeated team looking to gain respect. On Saturday that would require beating Texas Tech in Lubbock for the first time since 1944.
Even though he could be without three wideouts (Michael Harrison, Hubert Anyiam and Josh Cooper) due to a variety of aliments, we won’t bet against Mike Gundy getting it done versus the Red Raiders. He deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with only eight starters back from 2009.