Nine weeks of the 2013 college football season are in the books, and the path to the BCS national title game continues to get more narrow as unbeatens continue to falter.
Let's take a quick look at what could be in store for the best contests of Week 10.
Thursday, October 31
Rice at North Texas: The Owls are coming off of a 45-7 win over UTEP and remain tied with Tulane for first place in the Conference USA West at 4-0 in league play. The Owls have won five straight and are bowl eligible for the second consecutive season. Meanwhile, the Mean Green are in their first season in C-USA and are one game out of first place at 3-1 in the league after three straight victories. Rice is averaging 30.6 points per game behind dual-threat quarterback Taylor McHargue, who has struggled through the air but been effective with his legs leading the team's rushing attack. Defensively, Rice is holding opponents to just a 33 percent conversion rate on third downs. Meanwhile, North Texas is averaging 31.8 points per game behind quarterback Derek Thompson, whose 10 interceptions are second-most in C-USA. But the defense has forced 11 interceptions on the year.
Louisiana-Monroe at Troy: The Warhawks are on a two-game winning streak, and quarterback Kolton Browning threw a season-high four touchdowns in his return last week against Georgia State. Both the Warhawks and the Trojans have one loss in Sun Belt play and sit behind first-place Louisiana-Lafayette. I have both of these teams in the postseason in my latest 2013-14 bowl projections.
Arizona State at Washington State: The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 South division, while the Cougars are looking to get one win closer to bowl eligibility after back-to-back blowout losses to Oregon State and Oregon. The Sun Devils recorded a 46-7 win over the Cougars last year, but this is an improved Wazzu team. Can Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday, who is on pace to set school single-season records in pass attempts and completions, play turnover-free in the face of what is expected to be a fierce Sun Devils pass rush?
Friday, November 1
US PRESSWIRECan Sean Mannion and the Beavers bounce back from their loss to Stanford?
USC at Oregon State: The Trojans really gutted out a 19-3 victory last week over Utah despite being crippled by injuries. Ed Orgeron's team had only 58 healthy scholarship players in the win over the Utes, and they will still be beat up when they face a Beavers team that has won the last three meetings between the schools in Corvallis. The Beavers allowed eight sacks in their loss to Stanford, so the Trojans will look to put pressure on Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who was contained by the Cardinal defense last week.
Saturday, November 2
Wisconsin at Iowa: The Badgers are playing very good football and still could nab a BCS at-large berth even if they don't advance to the Big Ten title game. But how much running room will tailback Melvin Gordon, who leads the Big Ten with 1,012 rushing yards, find against the Hawkeyes' run defense led by linebacker James Morris?
Army at Air Force: The Falcons have dropped seven in a row following their season-opening win, while the Black Knights are looking to move a step closer toward securing a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Knights are just 3-5, though, and this game counts in the team's quest for the annual Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.
Mississippi State at South Carolina: Dan Mullen has yet to break through with a standout win with the Bulldogs, but he'll have a chance to do so against a Gamecocks team that is still riding high after its incredible comeback win fueled by Connor Shaw last week at Missouri. But getting running back Mike Davis back to his dominant form is of the utmost importance for Steve Spurrier's squad after the SEC’s leading rusher fumbled twice in the first half last week against Mizzou. Mississippi State has been outscored 50-10 in the second halves of its last three games, so offensive consistency remains a priority.
Michigan at Michigan State: The Spartans' lone loss was at Notre Dame in a game they could have won, and their defense remains one of the best in the country, as the unit is allowing just 12.2 points per game. Pat Narduzzi's unit is also the only one in the FBS that has held every opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards this season. For the Wolverines, establishing a sound ground attack will be of utmost importance, especially because quarterback Devin Gardner has struggled on the road this season. The Spartans will be looking for their fifth win in their last six games against the Wolverines, and they seem to be in good hands offensively now with quarterback Connor Cook, who is coming off of a strong month of action.
Georgia vs. Florida (Jacksonville): The annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (yes, I will still refer to this game as such) features two teams that have been decimated by injuries. The Gators have lost players such as quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, while Georgia running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley have been shelved for the season. The Gators have not been effective on offense, while the Bulldogs have had a porous defense throughout the fall. Still, both teams are not dead yet in the SEC East. If they win out and have Missouri trip up a few more times, the winner of this game could still get to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Crazy season.
Minnesota at Indiana: This is a huge swing game for the Hoosiers as they try to get to the postseason for the first time under Kevin Wilson. But IU will face a Gophers squad that just knocked off Nebraska for the first time since 1960 one week after beating Northwestern in Evanston. The Hoosiers may need to win this one to avoid being home for the holidays.
Northwestern at Nebraska: Can Bo Pelini stop the bleeding after an inexcusable loss to Minnesota? The Cornhuskers will be facing a Wildcats team that has not been the same since losing a heartbreaker to Ohio State under the lights at Ryan Field. But while Kain Colter and Venric Mark being banged-up has certainly affected the team's offense, there is enough depth on that side of the ball to play better than it has the last few weeks. Not turning the football over is a start.
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech: The Red Raiders showed against Oklahoma in Norman that they can compete with the Big 12's upper-echelon teams. While there's been a lot of talk about the work that Kliff Kingsbury has done with his two freshman quarterbacks, the team's 3-4 defense is very underrated. But the tough second-half schedule continues when the Cowboys come to town. However, how good is Mike Gundy's squad? The Pokes have yet to face any ranked teams this fall.
Miami (FL) at Florida State: While there's no question that Duke Johnson must be productive on the ground for the Hurricanes to have any chance of beating the Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium, the real X-Factor for Al Golden and Co. is the play of up-and-down quarterback Stephen Morris, who combined to throw just one touchdown against four interceptions in close wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest the last two games. Morris has underwhelmed this fall but is going to have to play like the potential NFL first-round draft pick that some scouts believed he could be, especially on third-down attempts. The athletic signal-caller is completing just 40.9 percent of his throws with six interceptions on third downs this year — numbers that will lead to plenty of three-and-outs against coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's tough FSU defense this Saturday. Is his right ankle injury more serious than he is letting on? Meanwhile, FSU quarterback Jameis Winston will look to continue his push for the Heisman Trophy.
Other games to monitor on Saturday
Virginia Tech at Boston College
West Virginia at TCU
San Jose State at UNLV
Auburn at Arkansas
Tennessee at Missouri
Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech
Boise State at Colorado State
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.
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