NFP Saturday Tailgate

Like last week’s schedule, this week’s slate of games may not look overwhelming on paper. But don’t be fooled by the lack of matchups involving Top 25 teams. There are plenty of games that should help provide answers as to which teams truly are 2010 disappointments and which ones are determined to turn their seasons around.

Thirteen teams in America remain unbeaten. And it will be fun to see this list whittled down over the second half of the season on the road to the BCS.

So let’s not waste any more time. Get that grill fired up and let’s start this weekend’s tailgate — one that promises to be free of any talk involving money-paying agents.

Nighttime madness in Madison

Because the Ohio State-Wisconsin game is set for a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff in Madison, there’s a good chance that the Badgers faithful will be “jumping around” well before the start of the fourth quarter.

Terrelle PryorICONOhio State QB Terrelle Pryor takes his act on the road Saturday night.

This is the first of two Big Ten games I have been waiting for this season, and both contests involve the Buckeyes. I’ve discussed many times how I’ve wanted to see how quarterback Terrelle Pryor fares in a tough road environment — specifically as to how effective he is in the passing game. Fans in Columbus have expressed the opinion that I have overlooked Pryor too often this year. Frankly, I was just waiting for the dual-threat signal caller to play better competition.

But starting with this game against the Badgers, and continuing when OSU plays at Iowa, we will see Pryor in his toughest environments of the year. And he will have to show against better competition that he is indeed an improved passer.

History may be on the Buckeyes’ side in this one, though. Jim Tressel is incredibly successful on the road, as his team is 19-1 in its last 20 trips away from Columbus in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have also won their last eight conference road games against Top 25 teams. And when they have been ranked No. 1 (although they aren’t the top team in the latest NFP Top 25), the Buckeyes have won 13 straight road games, with their last loss coming at Michigan State in 1974.

For Bret Bielema, this is yet another opportunity to win a showcase game in his Wisconsin tenure. The loss to Michigan State didn’t exactly help his reputation of not being able to win big games. While the Badgers have remained a solid program on his watch, he is just 5-8 against ranked Big Ten teams — including 0-3 against the Buckeyes. The home crowd will help, as they are 40-4 since 2004 season — including 25-3 at night.

Even if the Buckeyes’ front seven is able to minimize the Wisconsin rushing attack, James White and John Clay will still get their yards. The question becomes whether Scott Tolzien can make enough plays through the air.

They’ve waited all summer for this one

Nebraska fans are still talking about the extra second on the clock that helped deliver Texas a Big 12 championship last season. Cornhusker Nation has had this game marked on the calendar all offseason — especially Tom Osborne. When push came to shove during the conference expansion explosion this offseason, Nebraska decided that it was not going to play second fiddle to the Longhorns in the Big 12 any longer, so the Huskers are off to the Big Ten after this year. Expect emotions to run high in this one.

Texas had an extra week to prepare for this one, and head coach Mack Brown is 12-0 in the game following the Red River Rivalry. But can this offense create any explosive plays, specifically out of the backfield with D.J. Monroe? The speed of the Blackshirts has really impressed me this season, and they have played outstanding since Bo Pelini challenged the unit a few weeks ago.

Garrett GilbertICONWill Texas open up the offense for QB Garrett Gilbert?

Longhorns quarterback Garrett Gilbert had a strong second half against Oklahoma — 208 passing yards and three scores — so it’ll be interesting to see if coordinator Greg Davis opens things up against the Huskers. Nebraska’s secondary is a ball-hawking unit, however, intercepting 8.1 percent of opponents’ passes — the most in the nation.

On offense for Big Red, how will “T-Magic” Taylor Martinez fare against a Will Muschamp defense that is designed to stop the spread option? Nebraska really hasn’t had to throw the ball yet to win a game. Is this a contest where Muschamp’s defense shuts down Martinez and the run game and forces him to air it out against a very good Longhorns secondary?

Both quarterbacks are prolific, but what about the ‘D’?

Ryan Mallett has a chance to get back into the Heisman conversation when he leads Arkansas into Auburn to take on Cam Newton and the Tigers. Both signal callers should put up their usual numbers, but this game should come down to which defensive unit is able to make enough key stops.

The Hogs were woeful defensively last year, but they rank fourth nationally in sacks per game this year. On the flip side, Auburn’s front four will be coming at Mallett all night. The Razorbacks signal caller doesn’t have the escapability that Newton possesses, which should be the difference in the game.

Injury concerns

• Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones did everything he could this week to be able to play in Saturday’s game against Ole Miss — including catching every ball with one hand while wearing a non-contact jersey in Tuesday’s practice, according to tight end Michael Williams. Jones had a plate and screw inserted into his broken hand, an injury that occurred during last week’s loss to South Carolina. He went through a full practice using both hands on Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see how he handles blocking and fighting off cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage. If he plays, Jones is in no danger of doing further damage to his hand, according to doctors.

• Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert wore a flak jacket at practice this week because of his hip pointer but went through all the drills. Gabbert said the injury will not keep him out of the undefeated Tigers’ game against Texas A&M. The injury will limit his mobility, but he’s more of a traditional pocket passer anyway. However, Gabbert will need to have enough mobility to avoid the rush of Von Miller and Co. in first-year coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s 3-4 scheme. It’s one of the most improved units in the Big 12 (ranking third in total defense), and keep in mind that Gabbert struggled last year when he dealt with a high ankle sprain. It will be interesting to see if Gabbert is able to generate enough torque through his hips when going through his throwing motion.

Jeff DempsICONFlorida RB Jeff Demps is still battling a sprained foot.

• Florida running back Jeff Demps is 50-50 for the matchup against Mississippi State as he still recovers from a sprained foot. Head coach Urban Meyer said Demps’ status for the game is dependent on whether or not he can run without pain. Sophomore backup Mike Gillislee is also dealing with an injury (hamstring). If both backs can’t go, the Gators would be left with just senior Emmanuel Moody and true freshman Mack Brown in the backfield. Not good for an offense still trying to find its identity.

• Notre Dame senior running back Armando Allen missed practice on Wednesday with an injured hip flexor and likely will be a game-time decision against Western Michigan. It may be smart for head coach Brian Kelly to hold him out and go with sophomore Cierre Wood and senior Robert Hughes against the Broncos from the MAC.

• Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of South Carolina maintaining its focus against Kentucky in Lexington after its big win over Alabama. If Wildcats senior running back Derrick Locke can’t go because of a stinger issue on his left side, the Gamecocks’ challenge will be a bit easier. First-year head coach Joker Phillips said the SEC’s third-leading rusher probably won’t play after missing practice again on Thursday. Of course, the ‘Cats can always increase the load of jack-of-all trades Randall Cobb. But if Locke can’t get on the field, the offense will find it even more difficult to move the ball against a defense that held reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram in check last week.

• Texas true freshman wide receiver Mike Davis is expected to play against Nebraska as the Longhorns try to avoid a three-game losing streak. Davis missed last week’s loss to Oklahoma with a knee injury.

Skinny posts

Derek DooleyICONWill Derek Dooley make personnel changes in the Vols' starting lineup?

…Are major personnel changes on the horizon for Tennessee? First-year head coach Derek Dooley said that the coaching staff will use the bye week to perform thorough evaluations on both sides of the ball — not just players but schemes, as well. Will we see a new-look Tennessee squad against Alabama on Oct. 23? While many Vols fans feel that Dooley should play all the youngsters to let them gain playing experience while taking their lumps, Dooley maintains he will always field the best overall players in an effort to win games.

…Oklahoma junior linebacker Austin Box, who was projected to start this season before a back injury in August, may make his 2010 debut against Iowa State this week. The return to health of Box could give coordinator Brent Venables’ unit a nice boost, especially because redshirt freshman Tom Wort has struggled at middle linebacker for the Sooners.

Quote of the week

“It's about execution on Saturday. It doesn't matter about the hype, it doesn't matter about the buildup or anything else. It matters how you execute, how you play your football. I think our guys understand that. I'm sure Texas understands that. It will be earned on the field.” — Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini on playing Texas

Have any suggestions for this column or have a college football question? Feel free to send me an email at dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com.

Enjoy the games!

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