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October 16, 2009

Keep an eye on: A lot on the line this week

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend.

Oklahoma's offensive line. Oklahoma's line play has been erratic, and its performance is of utmost importance against Texas. Protecting quarterback Sam Bradford against a Texas pass rush that has produced 14 sacks is vital, especially considering OU has an inexperienced group of receivers who may have difficulty getting open against the Longhorns' secondary. Also, the Sooners' rushing offense hasn't been as productive as usual, so the line needs to produce more running room. Texas leads the nation in rushing defense.


Can Iowa keep rolling? The Hawkeyes are one of the nation's biggest surprises, jetting out to a 6-0 start. Iowa must avoid letting its guard down this week when it plays at Wisconsin following a big home win over Michigan. The Hawkeyes barely beat Arkansas State a week after an emotional victory at Penn State earlier this season. Iowa must avoid a similar letdown, keep generating turnovers and play strong defense. If the Hawkeyes don't come to play, Wisconsin could beat Iowa. The Badgers are coming off a tough loss at Ohio State, Wisconsin's first defeat of the season, and a win here would wipe away some of Bucky's pain and allow Wisconsin to get back on track toward its improbable Big Ten title dreams.


Florida vs. the SEC West. The biggest obstacle for an undefeated regular season for Florida could be an unranked team from the SEC West. The Gators have lost to an SEC West team in the regular season every year since 1999. In the past two seasons, the Gators have lost as a top-four team at home to an unranked SEC West team with a 2-2 record. Now guess who visits Gainesville a week after the emotional win over LSU? Unranked Arkansas at 3-2. Florida should beat Arkansas, especially with the Razorbacks' porous defense. But like Ole Miss a year ago, the Hogs have a strong-armed quarterback and a dangerous offense. With Georgia and Florida State looking less and less dangerous by the week, Arkansas could be the Gators' biggest barrier to a 12-0 start.


Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech. The Hokies basically lock up the ACC Coastal Division title if they win in Atlanta. And if that happens, go ahead and pencil the Hokies in as the ACC champ -- again. Nobody from the ACC's Atlantic Division would beat the Hokies in the ACC title game. In short, if the Hokies beat the Yellow Jackets, they nail down a BCS berth.


Nebraska's defense. Standout tackle Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Huskers' defense are feeling mighty good about themselves following last week's victory over Missouri -- and they should. Still, we won't know if the "Blackshirts" truly are back until after this weekend's home game against Texas Tech. Yes, Nebraska's defense has garnered some national attention following strong performances against Virginia Tech and Missouri. But neither one of those teams is an offensive juggernaut -- especially not compared to the Texas Tech squad Nebraska will face Saturday. If Nebraska can slow down the high-scoring Red Raiders, all of the hype about its defense will be justified.


Has Notre Dame closed the gap on USC? Notre Dame has lost seven in a row to USC and has been outscored 76-3 by the Trojans the past two seasons. Notre Dame now has a Heisman Trophy candidate (Jimmy Clausen) at quarterback, while USC counters with a true freshman (Matt Barkley). So this represents the Irish's golden opportunity to deliver the first signature win of Charlie Weis' tenure, right? Not exactly. I've heard the notion that if Notre Dame can't beat USC now, it never will happen as long as Weis is coaching the Irish, but I don't necessarily buy that logic. Notre Dame might have the better offense and the home-field advantage, but USC is still light-years beyond Notre Dame on the defensive side of the ball. I think Notre Dame's best chance to end USC's mastery of this rivalry could come when the two teams meet in South Bend in 2011, assuming the Irish have stockpiled more talent on defense by then. That said, Weis can't afford to get blown out by the Trojans again this week. If Notre Dame can stay within single digits of the Trojans, it will show the Irish have come a long way since last season's 38-3 debacle.


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