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September 9, 2011
Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend. Here are some key things to watch this weekend.
Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees. How could you not be compelled to keep a close eye on Notre Dame's quarterback situation? Dayne Crist won the job by presumably outplaying Rees through the spring and fall camp, then lost it after a poor showing in the first half of last week's loss to USF. Rees played well in the second half, so I can understand promoting him to the starter. If Rees plays well, that should settle the issue. But what if he falters against Michigan? Will Crist come back in? Or will coach Brian Kelly show more patience and commitment to Rees? This could turn into a long controversy if one of the quarterbacks doesn't take command of the position. - OLIN BUCHANAN
Auburn's defense. The unit was awful against Utah State last week. The Tigers were breaking in eight new starters, and it showed in a harrowing 42-38 win that required two touchdowns in the final 2:12. Auburn yielded 448 yards to the Aggies, including 227 on the ground. More grim details: Utah State had four touchdown drives of at least 14 plays. Where was the pressure? Now, here comes Mississippi State, which has a physical ground game led by RB Vick Ballard and a blossoming passing game behind QB Chris Relf. Auburn will have no chance to stop the Bulldogs unless its defense makes huge strides against the run. A loss would push the Tigers behind Mississippi State in the SEC West pecking order.
- TOM DIENHART
Alabama's rushing attack. Alabama went into its opener against Kent State planning to experiment with its offensive line. Barrett Jones played tackle, guard and center, moving to the interior of the line to guide freshman T Cyrus Kouandjio and to gain experience at center in the event of injury. That kind of tinkering will end against a solid Penn State defense, but it will be interesting to see how it settles. As for the running game, Trent Richardson was not productive with 37 yards on 13 carries. Last season's Penn State game, on the other hand, yielded a career-high 144 rushing yards for Richardson. Alabama's line and run game will be fine and probably one of the best units in the nation, but it will be a storyline to watch this week.
- DAVID FOX
Georgia's line play. The Bulldogs got whipped up front by Boise State last week, especially the Bulldogs' offensive line by the Broncos' defensive line. Next up is South Carolina, which has one of the two or three best defensive lines in the SEC. The Gamecocks might not be as physical as the Broncos, but they have more speed. Georgia's rushing attack managed 137 yards last week against Boise - but 80 of those came on a gadget play of sorts, when CB Brandon Boykin went for a score on the second play of Georgia's third drive. Plus, Georgia QB Aaron Murray was sacked six times. Can the Bulldogs get any kind of push against the Gamecocks' front four? If not, Murray is going to get pounded for the second week in a row. And can the Bulldogs' defensive front seven stymie South Carolina TB Marcus Lattimore, who ran for 182 yards and two TDs against Georgia last season? Georgia did a good job against Boise's running game, holding the Broncos to 129 yards. But the Bulldogs had no sacks.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
TCU's defense. TCU's defense can't be as bad as it looked against Baylor, can it? After leading the nation in total defense in each of the past three seasons, TCU got picked apart by QB Robert Griffin and WR Kendall Wright in a 50-48 loss to Baylor. Now the Horned Frogs head to Air Force trying to avoid their first 0-2 start since 1999. The youth in TCU's secondary proved costly against Baylor, but it might not be as much of a factor against Air Force's option attack. As well as Air Force runs the ball, its plan of attack plays into the strength of TCU's defense - its linebacker duo of Tank Carder and Tanner Brock. That should allow TCU's defense to reassert itself this week. If not, it could be a much rougher season than expected for the Horned Frogs.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
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