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November 14, 2007

Ducks likely can't afford to look ahead

Attention players for highly ranked teams: Listen to your coaches and don't look ahead, for the sake of fans everywhere.

Just take a look what happened to Ohio State and Michigan. Both stumbled a week before their rivalry game this week, and now the showdown in Ann Arbor lacks a top-ranked team to give the rivalry some extra oomph.

Let that be a lesson for the top BCS teams, all of whom have potential trap games this week.

Each of the top six BCS teams play games with upset potential. No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Missouri and No. 6 West Virginia go on the road to face upset-capable competition. No. 3 Kansas and faces the same at home against Iowa State.

As long as none of those top teams stumble this week, the final two weeks of the season will bring us epic matchups. Who needs a playoff when top-five teams Kansas and Missouri play for a berth in the Big 12 title game? There's also the Big 12 title game, the SEC Championship Game and the "Civil War" between Oregon and Oregon State.

So here's a message for LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and West Virginia: We know upsets have been the story of the year, but do the viewer a favor and keep this week upset-free.

We'll sort out this week's best games in Five to Watch.

All times Eastern.

THURSDAY
Oregon (8-1 overall, 5-1 in the Pac-10) at Arizona (4-6, 3-4)

Time: 9 p.m.
Network: ESPN
Storylines: Arizona coach Mike Stoops could do his brother a favor by clearing a path to the national-championship game. Bob Stoops, whose Oklahoma team is ranked two spots behind Oregon in the BCS, admitted he and his brother spoke earlier this week about the Ducks. The Pac-10 makes a rare appearance on Thursday night on ESPN. Thursday night hasn't been kind to highly ranked teams: No. 2 USF and No. 8 Kentucky lost on Thursdays, and No. 2 Boston College and No. 7 West Virginia each survived close calls.
Player to watch: Oregon QB Dennis Dixon left his team's last game against Arizona State with a knee sprain but expects to be healthy against the Wildcats after a week off. If the knee is mended, he could have a huge day against an Arizona defense that has struggled against mobile quarterbacks.
Best matchup: Oregon's pass defense vs. Arizona QB Willie Tuitama. The Ducks lead the Pac-10 in pass defense, but Arizona State passed for 379 yards against them two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Tuitama has clicked in the new pass-happy offense to the tune of 851 yards and eight touchdown passes in the past two games.

SATURDAY
Ohio State (10-1 overall, 6-1 in the Big Ten) at Michigan (8-3, 6-1)

Time: Noon
Network: ABC
Storylines: Last season, this was one of the most anticipated showdowns of the year. This season, there are no national-title implications but it will be for the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. For the first time since 1959, this game will be played with both teams coming off a loss. Adding to the intrigue is the possibility this will the final Ohio State game for Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who is 1-5 vs. Jim Tressel and 6-6 overall against Ohio State.
Players to watch: Mike Hart will leave Michigan as the school's leading career rusher, Chad Henne its leading career passer and Jake Long as one of the best linemen in school history and a guaranteed first-round pick. Yet they have gone 0-3 against Ohio State (and 0-3 in bowl games). Think this game means a lot to them?
Best matchup: Long vs. Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston. Long has played to near-perfection this season: He hasn't allowed a sack nor has he been called for a penalty. Gholston has 10 sacks and will challenge Long.

West Virginia (8-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big East) at Cincinnati (8-2, 3-2)

Time: 7:45 p.m.
Network: ESPN
Storylines: Cincinnati appeared to fall out of the Big East race with back-to-back conference losses, but the Bearcats have returned to the race after defeating Connecticut and USF. Suddenly, this game is huge in the Big East title hunt. Ranked sixth in the BCS, West Virginia has an opportunity to move up in the standings once the three Big 12 teams in front of the Mountaineers play each other. Could there be enough of a shakeup in the top five to put West Virginia in the title game?
Player to watch: West Virginia QB Pat White will be the most dangerous offensive player on the field, but Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk has shown he can be something of a dual-threat himself. Mauk and his surgically repaired arm have thrown 21 touchdown passes (to six interceptions), and he has rushed for 278 yards, including a 55-yarder against Pittsburgh.
Best matchup: West Virginia's offense vs. Cincinnati's ball-hawking defense. Its ability to force a nation-leading 35 turnovers, including 22 interceptions, has led Cincinnati to eight wins. West Virginia has been able to hold onto the ball for most of the year (14 turnovers), but the Mountaineers are coming off an uncharacteristic performance against Louisville (three fumbles) and they committed six in their loss to USF.

Boston College (8-2 overall, 4-2) at Clemson (8-2, 5-2)

Time: 7:45 p.m.
Network: ESPN2
Storylines: It's the streaking vs. the struck-down. Clemson has won four in a row, averaging 47.8 points per game. The Tigers can clinch a spot in the ACC Championship Game with a win over Boston College. Meanwhile, the Eagles' season has gone in the other direction. The scare against Virginia Tech turned out to be an omen, as BC has lost back-to-back games to Florida State and Maryland since being ranked No. 2 in the country.
Player to watch: How bad has Boston College's pass defense been the past two games? The Eagles have allowed Drew Weatherford and Chris Turner to pass for 300 yards against them. That bodes well for Clemson's Cullen Harper, who has nearly overshadowed his touted tailbacks by completing 77 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and one interception during Clemson's four-game winning streak.
Best matchup: Clemson's tailbacks vs. Boston College's run defense. James Davis and C.J. Spiller are still the bread-and-butter of Clemson's offense. And its ACC-leading run defense remains the strength of Boston College's defense.

Oklahoma (9-1 overall, 5-1 in the Big 12) at Texas Tech (7-4, 3-4)

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: Oklahoma remains in the national-championship picture. Tech coach Mike Leach might find some sympathy from OU coach Bob Stoops on the "sham" and "travesty" of instant replay. All eyes will be on the sideline when the first questionable call goes to the replay booth.
Player to watch: Oklahoma freshman TB DeMarco Murray ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 91 yards for a score last week against Baylor. Texas Tech's rush defense is worse, statistically, than Baylor's.
Best matchup: Texas Tech's pass offense vs. Oklahoma's pass defense. As always with Texas Tech, the ability to defend the pass will determine if an opponent can defeat the Red Raiders. The Sooners have had multiple interceptions against pass-happy offenses from North Texas (three picks), Tulsa (two) and Missouri (three).

Other games to watch

Hawaii (9-0 overall, 6-0 in the WAC) at Nevada (5-4, 3-2), 11 p.m. Friday, ESPN
Hawaii's bid to play in the BCS begins in earnest with a season-ending stretch against Nevada, Boise State and Washington.

Kentucky (7-3 overall, 3-3 in the SEC) at Georgia (8-2, 5-2) 12:30, Lincoln Financial Sports/GamePlan
Georgia is the hottest team in the SEC not named LSU. The Bulldogs need to win out and a Tennessee loss to play in the conference title game.

Duke (1-9) at Notre Dame (1-9), 2:30 p.m., NBC
Can the season get any worse for Notre Dame? Yes.

LSU (9-1 overall, 5-1 in the SEC) at Ole Miss (3-7, 0-6), 3:30 p.m., CBS
LSU needed overtime to defeat ragin' Cajun Ed Orgeron and Ole Miss in Baton Rouge last season.

David Fox is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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