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November 27, 2009

Keep an eye on ... Can LSU bounce back?

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend.

Can Arkansas' Ryan Mallett lead the Razorbacks over LSU? The Arkansas-LSU game is intriguing on so many levels. How will LSU bounce back from last week's disastrous loss to Ole Miss? Losing because of inept clock management and confusion on the sideline could have a lingering effect. Also, how will LSU's pass defense fare against Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, who has thrown five touchdown passes in each of the past two games? Despite Mallett's gaudy statistics (3,198 yards, 28 touchdowns) there are still some doubts about him. Mallett has thrown just three touchdown passes in true road games, and the Razorbacks are traveling to Baton Rouge.


Will Pittsburgh and Cincinnati take care of business? No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 9 Pittsburgh are steamrolling toward a big showdown in the Steel City on Dec. 5 in what shapes up as a de facto Big East championship game. The winner will get the Big East's automatic BCS bid, and the loser will have a shot at an at-large slot if it ranks at least 14th in the final BCS standings. Regardless, it shapes up as potentially the biggest game in Big East history. But for the matchup to receive that label, each school must win Friday. The 10-0 Bearcats have the easier path, coming off a bye week to play host to a moribund Illinois team. The 9-1 Panthers, though, travel to play at West Virginia in the "Backyard Brawl." In 2007, Pitt trashed West Virginia's national title hopes by pulling a stunning upset. Could the 7-3 Mountaineers return the favor on a smaller scale this season? If Cincinnati and Pitt each win this weekend, it will make for a much-hyped game.


Nevada's running game against Boise State. The Wolf Pack's running game is the biggest story you're probably not following this season. The numbers have been staggering in WAC play, with an average of 445.6 rushing yards in the past eight games. Those would be good total offense numbers. Nevada has three 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running backs Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua. Is this a product of weak competition in the WAC? It's worth noting that Notre Dame, a team that couldn't stop any other legitimate rushing attack this season, shut out Nevada in the opener. Boise State has had trouble with Nevada in each of the past two seasons, but has been able to pull out narrow wins. If Nevada's pistol offense is for real this season, the Wolf Pack are capable of ending Boise State's BCS hopes.


Can Oklahoma State keep its BCS dream alive? Though Oklahoma State (9-2) really hasn't beaten anyone of note -- the best win is either Texas Tech or Georgia -- the Cowboys have a legitimate shot at a BCS at-large bid if they can win at Oklahoma on Saturday. The Fiesta Bowl has a tie-in with the Big 12, and one school of thought is that if Texas is in the national title game, the Fiesta will want to keep its conference partner happy and choose Oklahoma State. That's not good news for Boise State. But Oklahoma State -- which is a 9.5-point underdog -- has a tough task. Oklahoma (6-5) has struggled this season, but the Sooners have the nation's longest current home winning streak at 29.


Will Mark Mangino win his final game as Kansas' coach? Make no mistake: Saturday's showdown against Missouri will be it for Mangino. Kansas is expected to fire Mangino amid allegations of verbal abuse toward his players as well as assistants and school personnel. School administrators are investigating the matter, but no matter what they find, there's no way they could retain Mangino considering the negative stories and anecdotes about him that have appeared in the media during the past few weeks. Making the situation even more interesting is that Kansas -- which has lost six in a row --still can qualify for a bowl by beating archrival Missouri Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.


USF's bid for state bragging rights. USF won't win the Big East title this season, but the Bulls might stake a claim as the second-best team in Florida. Frankly, that might mean more to the program as it struggles to gain attention within its home state. USF already earned the biggest win in program history on Sept. 25 when it won 17-7 at Florida State. Now the Bulls welcome Miami to Raymond James Stadium. If USF proves it can go toe-to-toe with the Seminoles and Hurricanes on the field, it just might start winning more battles with those programs on the recruiting trail. A win could also help the Bulls earn more attention from a state that largely has ignored them in favor of Florida's three more established major-conference programs.


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