Friday, October 23, 2009

Surviving Trap Week

This week may be the calm before the storm. On Halloween, some of this year's BCS title contenders will be facing virtual elimination games. This week, their goal will be to get by overmatched opponents in the so-called "trap games" without suffering any damage.

Florida has the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party next week (I know the schools now frown upon the moniker, but since when do I give a flying fig about the eggheads and their pusillanimous sensitivities?). Mind you, Georgia is more poodle than Bulldog this year, but the game in Jacksonville is always a big deal. The Gators had better not overlook Mississippi State, though, as it's now coached by Dan Mullen, their erstwhile offensive coordinator. Take this game lightly at your own peril, see Exhibit A: Sarkisian, Steve vs. USC.

Alabama has Halloween off to go trick or treating, but it gets LSU the following week. The Tigers may be the final stumbling block for the Tide's return to the SEC Championship Game and another shot at the BCS title. This week, they welcome Lane Kiffin to Tuscaloosa as part of his ongoing Southern Hospitality Tour.

The biggest game in the Pac-10 this season looms next Saturday at Autzen Stadium, where Oregon attempts to end USC's reign as top dog. Before their tussle, though, the Trojans must take care of business against the pesky Beavers, who have beaten them two of the last three years (but both in Corvallis, not the Coliseum). Oregon goes up to Washington to renew its heated rivalry with the resurgent Huskies.

And finally, there's Texas. Next week's game at Stillwater against Oklahoma State will be a make-or-breaker for the Longhorns. A win, and a BCS title game berth will be within reach. A loss there may mean being denied yet another shot at the Big 12 championship, let along a national championship. This week, they're on the road to Columbia to face a reeling Missouri team.

Only one of those contests will make our top games of the week. But keep an eye on them, though, as this is the perfect time for an unsuspecting title contender to succumb to a season-killing upset.

★★★★★ GAME OF THE WEEK: TCU at BYU, 7:30 p.m. ET (Versus). TCU is one of eight remaining unbeaten teams and is vying with Boise State for a guaranteed bid granted to a non-BCS team as long as it finishes in the top 12. BYU had been the front-runner for that spot after upsetting Oklahoma, but a loss to Florida State knocked the Cougars out of the race. The Frogs may even have a shot at playing for the BCS title, but they need to win this game, and get some help.

★★★★ FOUR-STAR GAME: Iowa at Michigan State, 7 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network). The Hawkeyes have surprisingly emerged as the Big Ten's top BCS contender, and this trip to East Lansing is the penultimate road game for them this season. Get by Sparty and win at Ohio State, then Iowa will be playing in Pasadena, on either New Year's Day or Jan. 7.

★★★ THREE-STAR GAME: Auburn at LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2). The battle of the Tigers lost a little bit of its bite after Auburn dropped its last two games. But for the Bayou Tigers, this is a must-win game to keep their hopes alive of winning the SEC West and return to the conference title game. LSU will be seeking to restart a home winning streak in night games after having that snapped by Florida two weeks ago.

★★ TWO-STAR GAME: Penn State at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC). The Big House has been nothing but a house of horrors for the Nittany Lions, who have lost their last five visits to Ann Arbor. Last year, they finally ended Michigan's nine-game winning streak in the series with a rout in Happy Valley, but Rich Rodriguez's Wolverines this year will be much more menacing.

★ ONE-STAR GAME: Oregon at Washington, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC). The Ducks have certainly recovered from their season-opening meltdown at Boise State, winning each of their five games since. They have also done it with style, blasting their three Pac-10 opponents by a score of 118-19. The Huskies have been the ultimate cardiac kids, with their last three games decided on the final possession. But UW must quickly recover from last week's heartbreaker, when it gave up a 50-yard bomb with 5 seconds left in a 24-17 loss to Arizona State.

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