Week 6 X-Factors
Oregon was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten by Arizona at Autzen Stadium on Thursday, perhaps setting up a wild Pac-12 race the rest of the way. What else could be in store for Week 6?
Let's take a look at some players that will be vital to the success of their teams on Saturday.
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: The Cornhuskers' senior offensive star leads the country with 833 rushing yards and will need to have a standout game when the team battles Michigan State in East Lansing. The 5-9, 195-pound Birmingham, AL, native, who has found the end zone eight times on the ground and two more as a pass-catcher, has recorded three 200-yard games and has helped the Nebraska offense place third in the nation in rushing offense at 354.8 yards per game. As former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George told me recently, Abdullah is an old-school back who is the centerpiece of the Nebraska offense. The Huskers' offense runs through him, and he'll look to keep Bo Pelini's squad unbeaten with a win against a Michigan State team that has had some difficulty against this offensive attack. In their last two games against Sparty, Nebraska has rushed for a combined 495 yards, with Abdullah accounting for 233 of them. Tackling in space will be the Spartans' No. 1 priority on Saturday, but Abdullah also is very good between the tackles as well for a back of his stature.
Everett Golson will need to make plays with his arm and his legs vs. Stanford.
Notre Dame QB Everett Golson: The Fighting Irish face their first real major test of the season when Stanford rolls into South Bend. The Cardinal have given Brian Kelly's offense problems in the four meetings since Kelly arrived at ND, forcing ten turnovers and really stopping the run with the exception of the 2012 meeting, which was the year the Irish played Alabama for the BCS title. No ND running back has scored a touchdown against Stanford in that time frame, which means the Irish may need to lean even more heavily on Golson, who has looked great all season despite being sloppy with the football last week in the win against Syracuse. Taking care of the football is of the utmost importance for the dual-threat QB on Saturday, but will he get protection from his offensive line? Golson's escapability, which was on display in the '12 meeting, will be needed on Saturday. And because he's a better passer now than in '12, perhaps the Irish can hit some big plays vertically to put pressure on a Stanford defense that is holding opponents to just 6.5 points and 198 yards per game. But cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons will be tough tests for a talented and deep Irish receiving corps.
LSU QB Brandon Harris: The true freshman was tabbed by head coach Les Miles to be the team's new starting quarterback after making a strong impresssion the last few weeks. Of course, making one's first career start against Auburn at Jordan-Hare is quite the chore. But those I've talked to who have seen Harris throughout the offseason have said that he has a special skill set to succeed right away in Baton Rouge. The bottom line is that the Bayou Bengals had very little shot to beat Auburn with Anthony Jennings. At least with Harris, the offense has a chance to move the football against Ellis Johnson's defense. Miles certainly has no qualms about playing true freshmen, and he has a lot of them logging valuable time thus far this season.
Utah WR Dres Anderson: If the Utes have any chance of knocking off UCLA and muddying up the Pac-12 race, then Anderson will need to bounce back from a very disappointing effort last week in the loss to Washington State. The son of former Rams WR Flipper Anderson continues to struggle with drops but is a big-time weapon when the ball is in his hands. UCLA is allowing over 300 yards per game through the air, and cornerback Fabian Moreau has struggled. The Utes also need Kenneth Scott and Kaelin Clay to be productive, but there's no question that Anderson needs to be at his best for the Utes this weekend. They also need quarterback Travis Wilson to be on his 'A' game after a lackluster game against Wazzu. Can he perform more like the player we saw against Fresno State and Michigan? Backup Kendal Thompson will see snaps if Wilson struggles.
Miami (FL) RB Duke Johnson: Georgia Tech currently sits in the driver's seat of the ACC Coastal division, but that could change with the Hurricanes in town. The Yellow Jackets will have a major test in trying to stop Johnson, who had 184 yards against the Jackets in last year's meeting. GT ranks last in the ACC in rush defense, and the 'Canes have been able to play well against the triple option in the past. We saw a different Miami (FL) team last week in its win over Duke. Will it be a consistent product the rest of the way? For the Jackets, this is a 'show me' game. They are coming off of a bye week after the win over Virginia Tech, but containing Johnson is integral for the team to remain unbeaten.
CLICK HERE to read about the X-Factors for Mississippi State and Ole Miss this week.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.