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September 26, 2011

Week 5 Watch: Title game previews?

Week 5 of the college football season offers a mix of possible championship game previews, local rivalries and opportunities for redemption.

Unbeaten teams collide in three conferences in what could be title game previews.

West Division power Alabama and East Division heavyweight Florida have met in the SEC championship seven times and could make it eight this season. First, though, they will square off in Gainesville on Saturday in a duel of highly ranked teams.

Player under the gun

South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier never has been particularly shy about switching quarterbacks, so Garcia has to realize he can't afford a second consecutive poor performance after throwing four interceptions Saturday in a 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt. Now he faces an Auburn defense that has struggled against every team it has faced. If Garcia doesn't perform well against a vulnerable Auburn defense, Spurrier may decide it's time to give Connor Shaw another chance.

Clemson, coming off a victory over Florida State, appears the class of the ACC's Atlantic Division. The Tigers head to Lane Stadium to face Coastal Division co-leader Virginia Tech, which has appeared in four title games.

In the Big Ten, Nebraska of the Legends Division travels to face Wisconsin of the Leaders Division in what looks as if it will be the eventual matchup in the first Big Ten championship game.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Rivals.com's Steve Megargee]

Meanwhile, in the Dallas Metroplex, neighboring rivals TCU and SMU vie for the Iron Skillet, while state rivals Northwestern and Illinois collide in Champaign.

Furthermore, Boise State, which was knocked out of last season's BCS picture in an overtime loss to Nevada, seeks vengeance against the Wolf Pack on the blue turf, while USF seeks to avenge last season's loss to Pittsburgh and Texas looks for payback against Iowa State. Finally, soon-to-be SEC rivals Texas A&M and Arkansas look to bounce back from painful losses in a big non-conference clash at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Best game: Nebraska at Wisconsin, 8 p.m., ABC. Nebraska and Wisconsin look to remain undefeated and gain a measure of validation in their Big Ten opener. Neither has faced a challenging schedule, and both have posted four one-sided victories. The usually strong Huskers defense should be a tough test for Wisconsin's powerful offense, which is led by QB Russell Wilson.

Don't overlook this one: Toledo at Temple, noon, ESPN Game Plan. Toledo has been the hard-luck team of the season, with narrow losses at Ohio State and Syracuse. Still, the Rockets look to be one of the three or four best teams in the MAC. Meanwhile, Temple is coming off a 38-7 drubbing of Maryland. This could be a MAC title game preview. At the least, it's a chance to watch two stars in Toledo WR Eric Page, the nation's No. 15 receiver, and Temple RB Bernard Pierce, the nation's 10th-leading rusher.

Under-the-radar storyline: Baylor vs. Kansas State, 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan. Who would have predicted the first top-10 defense Baylor would face this season would belong to Kansas State? Baylor QB Robert Griffin has been outstanding, with more touchdown passes (13) than incomplete passes (12). He set his career best with 404 passing yards against Kansas State last season, but the Wildcats showed there's something to their lofty defensive numbers in a 28-24 win at Miami on Saturday.

[Pantherlair.com: Despite 2-2 record, Pitt is getting better]

On the midweek marquee: USF at Pittsburgh, Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN. The last time most of the nation saw USF, the Bulls were upsetting Notre Dame 23-20 in South Bend as the Irish turned the ball over five times. Since then, USF has been an offensive juggernaut, scoring 159 combined points against Ball State, Florida A&M and UTEP. The Bulls will have a chance to reintroduce themselves on a national stage against a Pitt team that has struggled to hold leads in the fourth quarter.

Coach under the gun

N.C. State's Tom O'Brien

O'Brien already opened himself up to criticism in the offseason when he named Mike Glennon his starting quarterback and allowed former All-ACC selection Russell Wilson to transfer to Wisconsin. The Wolfpack have since split their first four games, with both wins coming against FCS programs. North Carolina State has gone 0-2 and has given up an average of 39 points in its two matchups with FBS programs this season. That defense faces its toughest challenge of the season Saturday against Georgia Tech, which leads the nation in points per game (53.3) and yards per game (630.5).

Best individual matchup of the week: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins vs. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley. Watkins, a five-star true freshman from Fort Myers, Fla., has more than lived up to his billing; heck, his performances in back-to-back wins over Auburn and Florida State makes you wonder why he wasn't awarded a sixth star. But this week will be a different kind of test. First off, it's a road game in a difficult environment. Second, he'll be going against a more aggressive secondary, one headed by Hosley. Hosley, also a Floridian (from Delray Beach, about halfway between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Bach), led the nation in picks last season and already has two this season. Expect to see him shadowing Watkins for a good portion of Saturday's game.

Best unit matchup of the week: Wisconsin offensive line vs. Nebraska defensive line. The Badgers are known for their huge, physical offensive lines; the Huskers are known for their aggressive, physical defensive lines. While Wisconsin's group has played well thus far, the same can't be said for Nebraska's. The addition of QB Russell Wilson has added another element to Wisconsin's attack, and it's vital that Nebraska's front four is stout against the run and also able to apply consistent pressure on Wilson. If Nebraska has to resort to using extra men in the box to slow Wisconsin's rushing attack, Wilson is going to have a field day throwing downfield.

[Headlinin': Florida State's Reid arrested]

Best coordinator chess match: Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris vs. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Morris is a fast-rising coaching star who has the Tigers' offense soaring. In a victory over Auburn two weeks ago, Morris' go-go no-huddle attack racked up 624 yards. In a 35-30 victory over Florida State this past Saturday, Clemson notched 455 yards. Morris will match wits with perhaps the top defensive coordinator in the nation in Foster, whose unit has made great strides defending the run after having issues in 2010. Foster's units, which paces the ACC and ranks fourth nationally in total defense (231.3 ypg), are famous for being athletic and aggressive.

Spotlight conference: SEC. Alabama at Florida highlights three big cross-division matchups in the nation's top league. Auburn can get back to relevancy with a win at East leader South Carolina, while the loser of Mississippi State at Georgia could be sent into a tailspin that it can't get out of. In addition, Arkansas takes on future conference foe Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, in the biggest non-conference game of the weekend. Each is coming off a loss to a top-10 team.

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