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October 31, 2007

Ducks, Sun Devils headline weekend slate

An Arizona State-Oregon game that could end up deciding the Pac-10 title and possibly a national-championship game participant didn't just catch football fans off-guard.

TV networks were just as stunned.

ESPN scrambled Monday for the rights to televise the top-five matchup nationally after it was scheduled only for broadcast in Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of southern California.

ABC/ESPN is required to pick prime-time Pac-10 games and league homecoming games before the season begins. The network chose UCLA at Arizona (the Wildcats' homecoming) and Oregon State at USC (a prime-time game) for this weekend. Fox Sports Net, which also holds rights to Pac-10 games, selected its prime-time game for the weekend (Washington State at California) before the season started, too.

Obviously, no one expected that Arizona State-Oregon would be such an important game.

So, six days before kickoff, ESPN reached an agreement with the Pac-10 and Fox Sports Net to televise the game nationally on ESPN. The move makes a key game in the Pac-10 race and national picture (not to mention Heisman campaigns for Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart) available for national consumption.

We sort out all the big games this weekend in the Five to Watch.

All times Eastern.

Wisconsin (7-2 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten) at Ohio State (9-0, 5-0)

Time: Noon
Network: Big Ten Network
Storylines: Ohio State solidified its top spot in the BCS standings with a 37-17 win at Penn State last week. The win was so convincing it knocked Penn State out of the polls, meaning the Buckeyes haven't defeated a team that is currently ranked. If Badgers TB P.J. Hill (foot) isn't able to play, the Buckeyes could knock another team from the ranks of the ranked. The question is how many people will see it. Because of contractual obligations, this game will air on the Big Ten Network.
Player to watch: Ohio State QB Todd Boeckman proved he's more than just a game-manager. He showed he can be an elite quarterback with 253 yards passing, three touchdowns and an interception against Penn State.
Best matchup: Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan vs. Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes have smothered every team they have faced, and that could continue against Wisconsin. With Hill banged-up, it puts more pressure on Donovan and TE Travis Beckum to beat Ohio State through the air.

LSU (7-1 overall, 4-1 in the SEC) at Alabama (6-2, 4-1)

Time: 5 p.m.
Network: CBS
Storylines: Alabama hired a coach named Nick Saban. It was kind of a big deal, and didn't really sit well with many LSU fans. Saban won't feel the complete wrath of the LSU faithful until next season, when the game is in Baton Rouge. However, we'll trade that storyline for this one: The new power (LSU) in the league is tied with the old power (Alabama) for first place in the SEC West.
Player to watch: Lost in all the hubbub of the Ryan Perrilloux situation was that DT Glenn Dorsey returned to practice for the first time since he was blocked at the knees in the win over Auburn. LSU wants him to wreak havoc on the middle of Alabama's offensive line.
Best matchup: Saban vs. LSU coach Les Miles. Miles is carving his own identity by taking gambles with his play selection. A win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa and an SEC title will separate Miles from Saban even more.

Missouri (7-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big 12) at Colorado (5-4, 3-2)

Time: 6:30 p.m.
Network: Fox Sports Net
Storylines: Here's a testament to the "rebirth" of the Big 12 North: Colorado is 3-0 against the South (Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech) and 0-2 against the North (Kansas and Kansas State). Missouri hopes to avoid the upset and keep its Big 12 title chances alive.
Player to watch: Colorado LB Jordon Dizon leads the Big 12 in tackles with 110 but will be kept busy by Missouri's numerous offensive options.
Best matchup: Colorado CB Terrence Wheatley vs. Missouri QB Chase Daniel. Owner of 14 career interceptions, Wheatley had three picks against Texas Tech last week but faces a more balanced offense this week. Daniel, who is creeping into the Heisman Trophy picture, will have to be mindful of Wheatley to keep Colorado from taking down another ranked conference team. The Buffs beat Oklahoma, which beat Mizzou.

Arizona State (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Pac-10) at Oregon (7-1, 4-1)

Time: 6:45 p.m.
Network: ESPN/some Fox Sports Net regional networks
Storylines: How is this for turnarounds: Arizona State ended last season by losing to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Oregon ended its season in similar fashion with a loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. Saturday, the two will meet in what could be the game of the season in the Pac-10. It's the first meeting between top-five teams this season and only the third meeting between top-10 teams.
Player to watch: Like Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter has helped his team by cutting down on turnovers. He averages nearly 10 more pass attempts per interception than he did a year ago. How his sprained right thumb affects his play could be the difference at Autzen Stadium.
Best matchup: Oregon's backfield vs. Arizona State's defense. Oregon defeated USC last week, but the Trojans may have provided something of a blueprint for limiting the Ducks' offense by holding Oregon to season-lows in rushing and total yards. Arizona State, pitiful on defense last year, fields the conference leader in scoring defense and the Pac-10's individual leader in interceptions (Troy Nolan, five, with two touchdowns).

Florida State (5-3 overall, 2-3 in the ACC) at Boston College (8-0, 4-0)

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ABC regional
Storylines: Two minutes separated Boston College from its first loss of the season last week. But QB Matt Ryan got hot late, and the Eagles remained No. 2 in the BCS. This week, Boston College returns home to play an opponent with an ineffective offense.
Players to watch: Boston College defensive backs Jamie Silva and DeJuan Tribble have nine interceptions between them. This week, they face Drew Weatherford, whose hold on the Florida State quarterback job is somewhat by default. Xavier Lee has been suspended for two games for academic reasons.
Best matchup: Florida State TB Antone Smith vs. Boston College's run defense. Here's something you probably don't know about Boston College: The Eagles are second in the nation in run defense. Florida State's running game is nothing special, but Smith does have back-to-back 100-yard games.

Other games to watch

Wake Forest (6-2 overall, 4-1 in the ACC) at Virginia (7-2, 4-1), noon, Lincoln Financial Sports/GamePlan package
Wake Forest shows it's no one-year wonder. The Demon Deacons have won six in a row.

Navy (4-4) at Notre Dame (1-7) 2:30 p.m., NBC
This could be Navy's best chance to break a 43-year losing streak.

Michigan (7-2 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-4, 1-4), 3:30 p.m., ABC regional
Michigan's last three games are even tougher than the first two: at Michigan State, at Wisconsin, Ohio State.

Texas (7-2 overall, 3-2 in the Big 12) at Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC regional
The Cowboys still have a shot at the Big 12 South title but need to beat Texas for the first time in 10 years to realistically stay in the hunt.

Rutgers (5-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big East) at Connecticut (7-1, 3-0), 7:15 p.m., ESPNU
What is this? An important game between two Northeastern teams?

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

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