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October 3, 2011

Week 6 Watch: Redemption

Heard of the road to redemption? Well, redemption awaits on the road for a number of disappointing teams and players this week.

Ohio State was supposed to get back four suspended players -- Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas -- but only Adams and Thomas will return for the Buckeyes, who desperately need a jump start. That quartet was involved in the scandal that also led to the ouster of former coach Jim Tressel, the exit of Terrelle Pryor and the painful start to the Buckeyes' season. But Posey and Herron now are engulfed in another NCAA violation, which hurts as the Buckeyes attempt to salvage their season without many playmakers.

That quest begins on the road at Nebraska, which also hopes to bounce back strong from a Big Ten debut-turned-disaster. The Huskers aim to demonstrate they're still the team to beat in the league's Legends Division race.

Players under the gun

Texas QBs Case McCoy and David Ash

Texas has looked like a much better team since the Longhorns benched Garrett Gilbert in favor of a two-quarterback system with McCoy and Ash. Each has thrown two touchdown passes without an interception. Ash and McCoy have done just fine against BYU, UCLA and Iowa State, but Oklahoma provides a much bigger challenge. The Sooners rank 14th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Oklahoma picked off three passes and didn't allow a touchdown Saturday in a 62-6 blowout of Ball State. How will these two underclassmen fare as they enter the white-hot spotlight of the Red River Rivalry?

Texas A&M had national championship aspirations, but squandered big leads in back-to-back losses. The Aggies now hope to avoid a freefall and must face Texas Tech in Lubbock, where they have a history of problems and pratfalls.

Similarly, Florida State has lost two in a row and now heads to Wake Forest, which has given the Seminoles trouble in recent seasons.

Florida is hoping to avoid a second consecutive loss, but the Gators must face LSU on the road with a quarterback who was injured -- no one knows how severely -- in Saturday's loss to Alabama.

[TideSports: Alabama pass 'D' passes test]

Meanwhile, TCU has more losses this season than in the past two combined. The Horned Frogs haven't had as many as three losses in a season since 2008. The first step in keeping that streak intact is a road trip to San Diego State.

Best game: Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, noon, ABC. The Red River Rivalry frequently matches unbeaten, highly ranked teams with championship hopes. That will be the case again this season. The Longhorns' defense is playing well, but it faces its greatest challenge against the Sooners, who have scored at least 38 points in three of their four games thus far.

Don't overlook this one: Florida State at Wake Forest, 12:30 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN GamePlan. Back in August, Florida State seemingly had little reason to worry about this game, but back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Clemson mean the Seminoles must win to stay in the ACC race. FSU fans who can remember Wake's three-game winning streak in the series from 2006-08 may be extra apprehensive. Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins had big days against Florida State's secondary, and Wake Forest features WR Chris Givens (27 catches, 498 yards, four touchdowns).

Under-the-radar storyline: Pittsburgh at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has a quarterback quandary for the second year in a row. Saturday, he replaced starter Chas Dodd with true freshman Gary Nova in the second half of a 19-16 win over Syracuse and is undecided on who will start against Pitt. If it's Nova, it will be the second year in a row Schiano has replaced a returning starter at quarterback with a true freshman. Nova was a Pitt commitment but switched to Rutgers after the Panthers fired Dave Wannstedt. Former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti now has that role at Rutgers.

On the midweek marquee: California at Oregon, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN. The Ducks have been quiet in the national picture since losing to LSU in the opener. Last season, Cal held Oregon to its lowest point total, but Oregon still won the game 15-13. That remains notable because it appeared Cal was faking injuries in an effort to literally slow Oregon's offense. Cal still has a stout run defense, ranking ninth in the country, and a greatly improved passing attack. The Ducks' LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing after running for 492 yards and four touchdowns in the past two games.

Coach under the gun

Nebraska's Bo Pelini

He didn't mince words Saturday night after Nebraska lost 48-17 to Wisconsin in its Big Ten debut. "I apologize to the fans of Nebraska because that was a joke, plain and simple," Pelini told reporters after the game. Wisconsin gained 486 total yards to continue Nebraska's season-long struggles on defense. Nebraska ranks 64th nationally in total defense (377.0) and 73rd in scoring defense (27.2). Nebraska's defense has a chance to redeem itself Saturday against an Ohio State team that gave up nine sacks and rushed for just 35 yards on 39 carries last weekend in a 10-7 loss to Michigan State. If Nebraska can't shut down Ohio State's toothless offense, Pelini's reputation as a defensive guru could take another hit.

Best individual matchup of the week: Tennessee WR Da'Rick Rogers vs. Georgia CB Brandon Boykin. The matchup between Washington State WR Marquess Wilson and UCLA CB Sheldon Price will be a good one -- assuming price is healthy. But this SEC matchup is more important, considering the winner of this game stays in the hunt for the East Division title. Rogers, a Georgia native, leads the Vols in every receiving category: 27 receptions for 442 yards and six TDs. He has three 100-yard games this season -- but you can be sure that Georgia has noticed that in the one game the Vols played against a real defense, he was held to five catches for 62 yards against Florida. Boykin relies more on speed than physicality, but he will need to be physical with Rogers, who has excellent size (6 feet 3/215 pounds). Boykin has one pick (against South Carolina), three pass breakups and 19 tackles. Tennessee has a solid group of receivers but only Rogers is a game-breaker, so Boykin and fellow CB Sanders Commings must not allow him to make big plays.

[Megargee: Week 5 winners and losers]

Best unit matchup of the week: Texas offensive line vs. Oklahoma defensive front seven. Texas coach Mack Brown changed both coordinators in the offseason, and he brought in Bryan Harsin from Boise State to oversee the offense and instill some toughness. While Boise State has the reputation of being a finesse team, the Broncos under Harsin employed a physical, downhill rushing attack. Texas is averaging 206.0 rushing yards per game; the Longhorns haven't averaged more than 167 per game since 2007. They will need to run effectively against OU because there is no way coaches want to put the game in the hands of young QBs David Ash and Case McCoy. OU was gashed for 227 rushing yards by Missouri, but still is allowing just 129.0 per game, thanks to stifling Florida State, Ball State and Tulsa. OU needs for its linebackers to be active and productive.

Best coordinator chess match: Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis vs. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis. Can Weis' acumen overcome Florida's lack of ideal personnel to run his offense, as well as an injury to QB John Brantley? Save for the drubbing vs. Alabama, he has done a good job fitting round pegs into square holes. How will LSU deal with diminutive playmakers Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps? It will be easier for Chavis because Brantley is out. Chavis has myriad weapons up front on what may be the top defensive line in the nation, and Alabama's front seven dominated Florida's offensive line, especially against the run. And the cornerback duo of Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne has no peer, which will make passing difficult for Florida.

Spotlight conference: Big 12. With the Florida at LSU game losing luster with the Gators getting demolished by Alabama, the Big 12 has the top game and some other intriguing contests. Unbeatens Oklahoma and Texas renew their Red River Rivalry in Dallas, a rivalry that was the nation's hottest for most of the past dozen seasons. Is 4-0 Texas Tech legit? A visit from slumping and desperate Texas A&M will say a lot. Kansas State can add more proof that it's a contender program with a victory over visiting Missouri, which has two losses and was off last week. And don't overlook Iowa State at Baylor; each team is coming off its first loss of the season.

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