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September 29, 2010

Viewer's guide: Top teams to be tested

September was a relatively quiet month for the top-ranked teams, but the first weekend of October should change that.

Five teams in the top 10 will face other ranked teams, including a top-10 matchup between Alabama and Florida. In addition to that SEC matchup, Stanford visits Oregon, Wisconsin visits Michigan State and Oklahoma meets Texas in Dallas.

Here's a look at the top five games to watch Saturday, plus Thursday's nationally televised prime-time game.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 5 VIEWER'S GUIDE
THURSDAY

TEXAS A&M AT OKLAHOMA STATE
When: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Rece Davis play-by-play, Craig James and Jesse Palmer analysts
The line: Oklahoma State by 3
Why you should watch: What has been a high-scoring series should continue to live up to that tradition this season; both teams are in the top 10 nationally in total offense, with Oklahoma State leading the nation in that category. Texas A&M hired defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to slow down offenses such as Oklahoma State's. So far, he has done a good job. The Aggies are allowing only 69 rushing yards per game -- but that's against Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech and Florida International. This week, the Aggies will face a potent offense led by RB Kendall Hunter and QB Brandon Weeden, who has exceeded expectations in his first season as a starter. The Aggies will look to disrupt Weeden, and they need LB Von Miller (no sacks this season, 17 last season) to break out of a slump. If Texas and Oklahoma continue their shaky play, the winner of this game could take advantage.

SATURDAY

WISCONSIN AT MICHIGAN STATE
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick play-by-play, Craig James analyst
The line: Wisconsin by 1
Why you should watch: Mark Dantonio announced he will ease back into coaching the team after recovering from a mild heart attack following the victory over Notre Dame. He'll spend Saturday coaching from the press box. On the field, both teams enter the game at 4-0 and were tested in tight games on Sept. 18 -- Michigan State used a fake field goal to beat Notre Dame and Wisconsin blocked an extra point to beat Arizona State. On Saturday, expect a run-dominated game. Michigan State's tandem of Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell are averaging more than 8.0 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is led by John Clay. He runs behind an excellent line, but Michigan State LB Greg Jones is one of the best in the nation.

TEXAS VS. OKLAHOMA (in Dallas)
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: Oklahoma by 4
Why you should watch: Texas' loss to UCLA has taken some of the luster off the Big 12's best rivalry, but both teams in the Red River Rivalry have come into this game undefeated only once in the past six meetings (2008). Given the way both teams have played this season, it's premature to talk about the game playing a role in the national title hunt. Texas is scrambling to find answers after a 34-12 loss at home to UCLA. The Longhorns shuffled their defensive starting lineup and plan to jump-start the run game with more carries going to D.J. Monroe. Oklahoma has had its own issues. The Sooners have struggled to stop the run and are among the most penalized teams in the country (13 for 113 yards against Cincinnati). For the first time since 1970, the game will have two quarterbacks starting their first Red River Rivalry. OU's Landry Jones was 24-of-43 passing for 250 yards with a touchdown and two picks last season, but Sam Bradford started the game.

VIRGINIA TECH AT N.C. STATE
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Ron Franklin play-by-play, Ed Cunningham analyst
The line: NC State by 3.5
Why you should watch: The ACC has struggled this season, but that shouldn't cause fans to lose sight of NC State's rise. The Wolfpack are the ACC's only remaining undefeated team and are ranked for the first time since Philip Rivers' senior season. If not for a 10-of-30 passing performance against UCF, QB Russell Wilson would get more mileage as a Heisman contender. Since that game, he's 54-of-81 for 701 yards, with six touchdown passes and an interception. NC State's defense, meanwhile, is sixth in the nation in sacks. Since the loss to FCS member James Madison, Virginia Tech is starting to find its stride. The Hokies overwhelmed Boston College QB Dave Shinskie in a shutout of the Eagles last week. This game could turn out to be a key contest in the ACC race. Tech may be without starting TB Ryan Williams, who missed the Boston College game with a hamstring injury.

FLORIDA AT ALABAMA
When: 8 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: Alabama by 9
Why you should watch: The first regular-season meeting between Florida and Alabama since 2006 is a rematch of the past two SEC championship games (and de facto BCS championship game semifinals). Maybe it's a preview of the 2010 SEC title game, too. One major streak will end in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has a 28-game regular-season winning streak; Florida has a similar streak of 24 games. For the first time since Nick Saban returned to the SEC, he gets to face Urban Meyer on his home field. Florida will find out in a hurry if it has fixed its first-quarter problems on offense or if last week's success was aided by facing Kentucky in Gainesville. One thing is certain, Alabama will be ready for freshman backup QB Trey Burton, who had a school-record six touchdowns for the Gators last week. The Gators lead the nation with 12 picks, while Alabama used two fourth-quarter interceptions (and an earlier pick in the end zone) to beat Arkansas.

STANFORD AT OREGON
When: 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN2
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Oregon by 7
Why you should watch: USC's probation has done nothing to make the Pac-10 less competitive or less interesting. The opposite has been the case. Oregon, Stanford and Arizona have their eyes on the Rose Bowl, with two of those teams meeting at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. The Cardinal have built a nice resume with a shutout of UCLA (the Bruins turned around to beat Houston and Texas) and convincing wins over Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Now, Stanford is seeking its first 5-0 start since 1951. Cardinal defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will spend plenty of time studying Arizona State's defensive game plan against the Ducks. The Sun Devils held Oregon to 145 rushing yards, their lowest total of the season by 100 yards. Meanwhile, the Ducks' defense (and the loud Autzen crowd) will try to disrupt Stanford sophomore QB Andrew Luck, who threw his first two interceptions of the season in South Bend. Keep an eye on Stanford FB/LB Owen Marecic, who had touchdowns on consecutive plays from scrimmage with a run and an interception returned for a score against Notre Dame.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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