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October 12, 2011

Viewer's guide: League games on tap

We're only days away from the first BCS standings of the season, which are to be released Sunday.

There may be a surprise or two in store, with the coaches' poll and Harris poll listing different top threes: The coaches have Oklahoma No. 1, followed by LSU and Alabama. The Harris voters have LSU at No. 1, followed by Alabama and Oklahoma.

Chances are the polls won't change much this week, at least at the top. LSU visits Tennessee, and Vols -- who have rushed for minus-29 yards in their two SEC games -- will be playing with a backup quarterback. Alabama visits hapless Ole Miss. Oklahoma visits even more hapless Kansas. Wisconsin, ranked fourth in both polls, won't get a significant gain if its beats Indiana, which it beat 83-20 last season.

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But BCS standings aside, there are some important league games this week, starting with Michigan at Michigan State in the Big Ten. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State will look to show it can do anything Bedlam rival Oklahoma can do when it plays Texas. Baylor threatened to sue Texas A&M for its defection from the Big 12 to the SEC, and the teams will get a chance to settle their dispute on the field.

The best game may be on the West Coast, when Oregon plays host to Arizona State in a potential preview of the first Pac-12 title game. Arizona State played Oregon as well as any team during the regular season last year, but seven turnovers doomed the Sun Devils.

Here's a look at the top televised matchups in Week 7.

All times Eastern.


When: 9 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Rece Davis play-by-play, Craig James and Jesse Palmer analysts
The line: USC by 3.5
Why you should watch: Cal is making its second consecutive appearance in the nationally televised Thursday night spot. The Bears hope this one goes a little better than last week's 43-15 loss to Oregon. USC doesn't run the ball nearly as well as Oregon, but the Trojans do feature the best pass-catch duo in the Pac-12 in Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. This is just the second road game for USC; in the first one, Barkley turned the ball over three times (two interceptions, one fumble) in a 43-22 loss at Arizona State. Cal has not defeated USC since 2003, when Aaron Rodgers led the Bears to a 34-31 triple-overtime win in Berkeley. This game, though, won't be in Berkeley; this season, Cal is playing its home games at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park because its home stadium is being renovated.


When: Noon, ESPN
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Chris Spielman and Urban Meyer analysts
The line: Michigan State by 3
Why you should watch: Bo Schembechler still was coach at Miami (Ohio) the last time Michigan State had this kind of edge in the series against Michigan. The Spartans are seeking their first four-game winning streak in the series since 1959-62. The Wolverines are unbeaten, but they also were unbeaten last season before falling to Michigan State. Once again, Wolverines QB Denard Robinson, fourth in the nation in rushing, enters the game with Heisman credentials. The difference so far for Michigan has been its defense. The Wolverines are allowing 100 yards fewer per game than they did last season. Defense is carrying Michigan State right now -- the Spartans lead the nation in total defense -- but it still needs to prove itself against a Big Ten contender. The Spartans allowed a combined 20 points to Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan and Ohio State -- but 31 points against Notre Dame. The Spartans' rushing attack needs to get on track.

When: Noon, FX
Broadcasters: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Charles Davis analyst
The line: Texas A&M by 9
Why you should watch: In the past few weeks, both parties in the "Lawsuit Bowl" got their way -- Texas A&M is heading to the SEC and Baylor didn't need to search for a new conference. After back-to-back second-half flops against Oklahoma State and Arkansas, Texas A&M proved it could hold a lead by defeating Texas Tech 45-40 last week. The Aggies still allowed 500 yards for the second consecutive game. The Aggies will have no time to rest with Baylor visiting. Robert Griffin to Kendall Wright has been as prolific as almost any duo in the nation. Wright has caught 22 career touchdown passes from Griffin in four seasons.

When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Oklahoma State by 7.5
Why you should watch: After Texas' performance against Oklahoma last week, the Longhorns have to hope history is on their side against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys never have defeated the Longhorns twice in a row; Oklahoma State won 33-16 in Austin last season. Oklahoma QB Landry Jones had plenty of time to pick apart Texas' young secondary, which isn't a great trend for a team facing Oklahoma State a week later. Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden passed for 409 yards against Texas last season. Texas appears to be sticking with the two quarterback rotation of Case McCoy and David Ash.

When: 7 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: Auburn by 1
Why you should watch: Both teams could swap stories about a rough draw to start October. Florida lost to Alabama and LSU by a combined 79-21, while Auburn split its road trips to South Carolina and Arkansas. This is a key recovery game for both teams; Florida is trying to avoid a third SEC loss, while Auburn needs to get its offense untracked (30 total points in the past two weeks). A key will be consistent quarterback play. Florida still is without John Brantley, leaving the Gators to decide between true freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskell. As for Auburn, coach Gene Chizik said Barrett Trotter will remain the starter despite a 6-for-19 performance with an interception against Arkansas. True freshman Kiehl Frazier almost certainly will play, though. This will be the first meeting since 2007 and marks Chizik's first game as head coach against his alma mater.

When: 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Oregon by 15.5
Why you should watch: Injuries may end up playing a role in the Pac-12 race, starting with Arizona State and Oregon. The Sun Devils have been one of the unluckiest teams regarding injuries. Three key starters -- DE Junior Onyeali, LB Brandon Magee and CB Omar Bolden -- have played a combined three games this season (all from Onyeali, who is out for the rest of the season). Oregon will be without TB LaMichael James, who suffered an elbow injury after topping 200 yards for the third consecutive game last week. In James' place will be speedy Kenjon Barner. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas emerged with six catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns last week against Cal. Arizona State's defense played Oregon well last season, holding the Ducks to 385 yards in a 42-31 loss.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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