10. Texas Tech @ #10 Texas (3:30 PM EST, ABC)
This one promises to be a wild affair, but who wins this game could depend entirely upon how well the Red Raiders play on defense. More specifically, can they tame the red-hot Jamaal Charles at running back? Tech will have the edge through the air, but they have proven to be turnover-prone in losses to Missouri and Colorado. With a win, Texas hangs on by their fingernails in the Big 12 South race. Texas Tech, on the other hand, is playing for bowl positioning in addition to bragging rights.
9. Fresno State @ #16 Hawaii (11 PM EST, ESPN2)
This showdown on the islands is about more than Colt Brennan’s Heisman chances, which have taken a hit of late due to lack of exposure and the increased television time of players such as Dennis Dixon, Matt Ryan and Darren McFadden. The visiting Bulldogs are only a half game out of first place in the WAC, and any hopes the Warriors have of crashing the BCS party hinge on their remaining four games, beginning with this one. But also keep an eye on Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews, who’s the leading rusher for the WAC’s third-best rushing offense.
8. #17 USC @ California (8 PM EST, ABC)
This one has lost some of its luster in regards to the Pac-10 title hunt, but it’s still a big game for both the Trojans and the Golden Bears. Winning out for USC could mean a lucrative BCS payday, especially if Oregon were to run the table and end up in the national title game (you think the Rose Bowl wouldn’t jump at the chance to snag USC?). The Golden Bears, on the other hand, could add an important win to what has otherwise been a disappointing season despite their 6-3 mark. There will be plenty of skill position playmakers on the field in this one, so at the least it should be entertaining.
7. #12 Michigan @ Wisconsin (Noon EST, ESPN); Illinois @ #1 Ohio State (3:30 PM EST, ABC)
One roadblock remains for both the Wolverines and Buckeyes before their showdown in Ann Arbor next week. Despite the 0-2 start and injuries to key players, Michigan is undefeated in conference play and if they can pull off a win in Madison then they will play for the Big Ten title next weekend. Ohio State, on the other hand, hasn’t found a whole lot of resistance on the road to 10-0 and while the Illini have some young talent that can cause some problems, the youth factor is the key. The Buckeyes have played as if they’re on a mission to rectify what happened in Glendale last January, and Michigan may be the only team able to keep them away from a date with redemption at this point. How much is on the line, however, will depend on what the two do this week.
6. #9 Arizona State @ UCLA (3:30 PM EST, ABC)
The Sun Devils, coming off of their first loss of the season, head to Pasadena to take on the Bruins of UCLA. Whether or not ASU leaves the Rose Bowl with the opportunity to make a return on January 1st may depend on which UCLA team shows up. Karl Dorrell’s team has the ability to show up for games against top teams, and then get lost on their way to the stadium for games against teams they should beat. Rudy Carpenter is still dealing with the thumb injury on his throwing hand, but he’s in better shape than he was in Eugene last weekend. And with their corps of running backs, the Sun Devils could have a field day on offense if UCLA doesn’t show up. And don’t laugh, but with games against Oregon and USC still on the schedule, UCLA still has a shot at the Pac-10 title. Just don’t ask how; you may confuse yourself.
5. #4 Kansas @ Oklahoma State (8 PM EST, ABC)
Since Kansas gets struggling Iowa State at home next weekend, this road game in Stillwater may be their final test before the meeting with rival Missouri on the 24th. Oklahoma State lost a heartbreaker at home last weekend, losing to Texas 38-35 after leading 35-14 in the third quarter. The Cowboys have struggled at times on defense, and KU comes to town with one of the nation’s best offenses. Expect some points to be put on the scoreboard, but the Pokes will need a few stops if they want to have a shot at winning this one.
4. Arkansas @ Tennessee (12:30 PM EST, ESPN GamePlan); #18 Auburn @ #10 Georgia (3:30 PM EST, CBS)
Just like the number seven selection, these two games will have a huge say in who wins a conference title. In this case, however, the two home teams are in a race for the SEC East title. Tennessee blew out Georgia at home, only a few weeks after getting pasted in Gainesville. But Georgia’s win over Florida put the Volunteers in the driver’s seat; win out and they’re going to Atlanta. But with a serious Heisman contender (Darren McFadden) and his partner in crime (Felix Jones) running into Neyland Stadium, getting a win they desperately need will be a challenge. Following that is the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry”, a game that throughout the years has given fans some great entertainment. Auburn is a long shot to win the West, but they’d like nothing more than to eliminate the Dawgs from contention in the East after Georgia whipped them at Jordan-Hare last season.
3. Wake Forest @ #21 Clemson (Noon EST, ESPN2)
While it looked like the race in the ACC Atlantic was practically over for most of the season, few people paid any attention the Clemson Tigers. Dismissed as too young by many (yours truly included), Clemson has quietly positioned themselves just a game back of Boston College in the loss column. But before they get the Eagles on their turf next week, they have to take care of a Wake Forest team that’s also only a game back in the loss column (but they’ve already lost to BC). James Davis and C.J. Spiller have played well of late, but an opportunistic Demon Deacon defense will be looking to force some turnovers. These are also two of the top three scoring teams in the ACC, so this could be a wild one, especially with the number of skill position players on both teams at or near the top of the league in their respective categories.
2. #13 Connecticut @ Cincinnati (3:30 PM EST, ESPNU)
While the 4-0 Huskies control their own destiny in the Big East race, a win here by the Bearcats could make this race rather complicated. Even though they’re 2-2 in league play, Cincy also has West Virginia at home next week. Win both of those games, and have WVU then knock off UConn on the 24th, and guess who gets the automatic BCS bid? But that’s all a long ways away, so focusing on this one, and pay close attention to the turnover battle. The Bearcats (3rd) and Huskies (4th) are two of the best in the nation in turnover margin, so whichever team keeps the ball will have the upper hand.
1. #19 Virginia @ Miami (7:15 PM EST, ESPN2)
Given the number of great games played in the Orange Bowl involving “The U”, it’s a crying shame that in Miami’s last game in the “OB” the ‘Canes have been relegated to the role of spoiler. It doesn’t seem right, but it’s the Cavaliers who have a chance at representing the Coastal in the ACC title game. Kyle Wright, who missed last week’s loss to NC State due to injury, is back in as starter after Kirby Freeman’s poor display at the helm. Virginia has been without running back Cedric Peerman for weeks (he’s done for the season in fact), but they somehow find someone to plug into any given hole…and that guy ends up producing as well. So while watching this one, it may be better to simply sit back and remember some of the great football that was once played in this relic, because this Miami team is in danger of missing a bowl game (Virginia Tech and Boston College on the road to end the season).
And I'll try to have my first "Northeast Hoops Blog" of the season up on Monday. Take care.