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September 16, 2011
Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend. Here are some key things to watch this weekend.
Washington State. The Cougars are aiming for their first 3-0 start since 2006. In fact, the Cougars haven't posted three wins in a season since 2007. They've gotten off to a great start and lead the nation in scoring, but that was against Idaho State and UNLV. Now, they're facing San Diego State, a respectable team that posted nine wins last season and have a good quarterback in Ryan Lindley and explosive tailback in Ronnie Hillman. A Washington State victory would signal that the Cougars no longer can be taken lightly and will have a legitimate shot at reaching a bowl.
- OLIN BUCHANAN
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel. I think Manuel, a junior, is the key to the Seminoles' shot at toppling No. 1 Oklahoma. Manuel has shown flashes. He started twice in 2010 when Christian Ponder was battling injury, and Manuel also took over in the second quarter of last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl and led the Seminoles over South Carolina. As a redshirt freshman, Manuel guided FSU to a Gator Bowl triumph over West Virginia to cap the 2009 season in what was Bobby Bowden's last game. Big-game experience is no issue. And Manuel has looked good the first two weeks, though the 'Noles have faced overmatched foes. Now comes the biggest challenge of Manuel's career. If he can make the Sooners respect the pass, it will give Florida State's offense balance. And that will make it difficult on an Oklahoma defense that still is rounding into form, particularly in the back seven.
- TOM DIENHART
Florida QB John Brantley. At this time last year, all was well for Brantley. He was 14-of-23 for 167 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee, not spectacular but enough to help the Gators beat the Volunteers 38-17. Since then, though, Brantley has become Florida's whipping boy and Tennessee has improved greatly. Florida is going to rely on its defense, especially up front, to win games. Offensively, it appears Charlie Weis has found an interesting way to mix TBs Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Mike Gillislee. All that said, I can't picture Florida contending for the SEC East without major improvement and contributions from Brantley. He'll have tougher tests this year (Alabama, at LSU), but this will be a key sign for the direction Florida's quarterback play will go.
- DAVID FOX
Arizona State's defense. The Sun Devils again were supposed to be nasty on defense and questionable on offense, but they sure weren't nasty in last week's OT win over Missouri. The offense has been just fine thus far, but the defense needs to step it up. Mobile Mizzou QB James Franklin hurt Arizona State last week; he's not necessarily considered a running threat. This week, the Sun Devils play at Illinois, and Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase is a better runner than passer. This is the second game in a big three-game stretch for Arizona State, which plays host to USC next week. But a loss this week by the Sun Devils would remove a lot of luster from next week's showdown. It's up to the defense to make sure that doesn't happen.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
The ACC's search for respect. Saturday marks the first time ever that four ACC teams have played host to ranked non-conference opponents on the same day. Florida State hosts top-ranked Oklahoma, Clemson welcomes defending national champion Auburn, Maryland meets West Virginia and Miami plays Ohio State. The ACC typically gets criticized each season for its failure to win high-profile non-conference games, but the league seems to have at least a fighting chance in each of these four games. Florida State plays an Oklahoma team that's missing star LB Travis Lewis, and Clemson, Maryland and Miami enter their games as slight favorites. There's a sense that FSU's anticipated return to prominence eventually could help the ACC regain some national respect and finally become a player in the BCS championship race. In the short term, though, the ACC can command some respect by at least earning a split of these four games.
- STEVE MEGARGEE