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November 23, 2011

Viewer's guide: 5 to see before Saturday

Last week was supposed to be a "quiet" week in college football. So much for that.

Four of the top seven teams in the BCS lost, shuffling the possibilities for the national championship game and the other BCS games.

The stakes are high this week, particularly in the SEC, the home of the top three teams in the BCS standings. Two of those teams, LSU and Arkansas, face each other in Baton Rouge on Friday, and the other, Alabama, goes on the road Saturday to face archrival Auburn.

[Video: Does LSU have margin for error?]

There will be a bittersweet element to Rivalry Week, though, because conference realignment could end or at least put on hiatus some of the nation's best rivalry games. After Thursday, Texas and Texas A&M might not play again in the foreseeable future unless it's in a bowl. The same could apply to Kansas-Missouri - which is the second-most-played rivalry in the nation - and perhaps to the Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

Because of the volume of key games this week, we've split the weekly Viewer's Guide into two parts. Today, we're looking at the top five games on Thursday and Friday. On Friday, we'll look at Saturday's top five games.

All times Eastern.


When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Rece Davis play-by-play, Craig James and Jesse Palmer analysts
The line: Texas A&M by 8
Why you should watch: A year's worth of squabbles, caused by conference realignment and Longhorn Network issues, finally will be settled on the field. In fact, the off-field drama makes this game more interesting than a typical meeting between two six-win rivals. Between A&M's woes in the second half of games and Texas' inconsistency at quarterback, neither program has distinguished itself this season. Texas still hasn't solved it quarterback issue. Both Case McCoy and David Ash played in last week's loss to Kansas State, combining to go 15-of-32 for 119 yards, a touchdown (from McCoy) and two picks (both by Ash). Texas' defense has been solid (the Longhorns held K-State to 121 total yards) but the offense hasn't. The Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak with last week's 61-7 bludgeoning of Kansas, but they may have lost leading rusher Cyrus Gray in the process. Gray is day-to-day with a shoulder injury; the Aggies already are without TB Christine Michael.


When: Noon, ESPN
Broadcasters: Bob Wischusen play-by-play, Bob Davie analyst
The line: Nebraska by 9.5
Why you should watch: Nebraska is out of Big Ten title game contention after a lopsided 45-17 loss to Michigan. Iowa also is out of the race. This game still should have a handful of intriguing matchups: Nebraska's Rex Burkhead and Iowa's Marcus Coker are two of the Big Ten's best tailbacks. They have 30 touchdowns between them, but Burkhead has been hobbled the past three weeks. Huskers CB Alfonzo Dennard will try to rebound from last week's subpar game against Michigan by shutting down Iowa WR Marvin McNutt, who has caught at least eight passes for 100 yards in three consecutive games. This is the first meeting between the schools since 2000 and only the third since 1982. (A side note: Bob Davie will be ESPN's analyst on this game; he was hired as New Mexico's coach earlier this week.)

When: Noon, Fox Sports Net
Broadcasters: Ron Thulin play-by-play, J.C. Pearson analyst
The line: Houston by 3
Why you should watch: Houston's 11-0 start has been helped by a less-than-stellar schedule. Despite their record, the Cougars have yet to clinch a trip to the Conference USA title game. That's because Conference USA West foe Tulsa also is 7-0 in league play. Its three losses have come to Boise State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Everyone knows Houston is going to put up points, but the Cougars' defense has come on of late, holding SMU to seven points last week. Tulsa also is potent on offense, especially on the ground.

When: 2:30 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: LSU by 12.5
Why you should watch: Could one more major upheaval at the top of the BCS standings be in order? Arkansas could shake things up with a win over the top-ranked Tigers. Arkansas has won seven in a row since 38-14 to Alabama on Sept. 24 and sits at No. 3 in the BCS standings. The Hogs have been dominant at times, especially in wins over Tennessee and Mississippi State, but they also had trouble on the road against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Special teams could be big. LSU P Brad Wing was a major factor in wins over West Virginia and Alabama. But Wing will be punting to (or more accurately, trying to avoid punting to) Arkansas's Joe Adams, who has returned three punts for TDs this season, including an incredible 60-yarder against Tennessee two weeks ago.

When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst
The line: West Virginia by 6.5
Why you should watch: As with Texas-Texas A&M, the "Backyard Brawl" could be another rivalry that could end because of conference realignment. Pitt is headed to the ACC and West Virginia is heading to the Big 12, perhaps as soon as next season for the Mountaineers. There's a lot at stake in this one. These are two of the five teams tied in the loss column in the Big East, and this is the only meeting between any of them this week or next. In addition, while Pittsburgh's Todd Graham and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen are first-year coaches, they have a history. When Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Houston, he accused Graham of instructing his Tulsa players to fake injuries to slow Holgorsen's offense. Both coaches say they have mutual respect and that the spats were in the spirit of competition. We'll see Friday.

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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