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October 9, 2009

Keep an eye on: SEC tests on tap in Week 6

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

Is Ole Miss really a contender in the SEC West? Ole Miss was supposed to be a strong contender to win the SEC West. That was before the Rebels lost two weeks ago to South Carolina, which sacked quarterback Jevan Snead four times and held him to 107 yards passing. Alabama's defense is better. It will be interesting to see whether that South Carolina disaster was simply a bad performance or an indication that Ole Miss isn't ready to challenge for championships. If Snead has time to throw, the Rebels could pull the upset and reaffirm they are a team with which to be reckoned. If not, well, the Chick-fil-A Bowl is nice.


Is Wisconsin for real? So far, so good for the Badgers, who are off to a 5-0 start and are one of the nation's biggest surprises. Now comes a trip to 4-1 Ohio State, which will be the Badgers' most difficult test after facing the likes of Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, Michigan State and Minnesota. This is the game that will tell us if the Badgers are for real - or a phony whose record has been inflated by a soft schedule. Wisconsin is No. 2 in total offense in the Big Ten, and the unit is built around the power running of John Clay and the emergence of quarterback Scott Tolzien. But a defense that ranks No. 7 in the conference has something to prove. Wisconsin will play in a hostile environment against an Ohio State team that knows it can't afford another loss if it wants to stay in contention for the national title.


Boston College's offense against Virginia Tech. Boston College appears to have found an answer at quarterback in 25-year-old freshman David Shinskie, but what happens when Shinskie and the Eagles visit Virginia Tech? The last time a hot team went to Blacksburg, Miami was dismantled by the Hokies' defense. As improved as BC's offense is, it's still not in the same league as Miami's. Can BC's offense find some magic at Virginia Tech, and can the Eagles' defense - ranked second in the ACC against the run - limit the damage by Ryan Williams? The ACC Atlantic is a mess right now, but if Boston College can beat Virginia Tech, the Eagles become the favorite.


The Pac-10. USC might have a bye week, but this still is a hugely important week in the Pac-10, with Oregon-UCLA, Stanford-Oregon State and Arizona-Washington offering some intrigue. Oregon is banged-up, and while UCLA's offense isn't great, the Bruins can play defense. Can that defense put a crimp in the Ducks' title hopes? The Beavers-Cardinal matchup features two of the nation's top running backs in Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Stanford's Toby Gerhart. Oregon State's run defense has been solid; will that defense be enough to hand Stanford its first conference loss of the season? Washington was riding high after its upset of USC, but the Huskies have lost two in a row. Can they get back on the plus side of the ledger against Arizona? And how good is Arizona? A win by the Wildcats puts them in a position to finish in the top half of the league.


Tim Tebow and Florida. Saturday's game at LSU looks to be the No. 1 potential stumbling block in the Gators' path to the SEC championship game. How will Florida hold up if Tebow doesn't play? Tebow returned to practice Tuesday following a Sept. 26 concussion. Even though he has yet to be cleared for Saturday's game against the Tigers, the guess here is that Tebow will play. But how effective will he be? Good enough to beat the fourth-ranked and undefeated Tigers in Baton Rouge? We'll see.


Can anyone challenge Alabama in the SEC West? Before the season, the SEC Western Division race looked like a toss-up among Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. Since then, Alabama has played as well as any team in the nation, while LSU has struggled to remain unbeaten and Ole Miss has lost to South Carolina. Alabama certainly looks like the clear front-runner in the West, but this week could change that perception. Ole Miss could justify all the preseason hype by knocking off Alabama, and LSU's home game with Florida should let us know whether the Tigers are for real. And let's not forget about Auburn, the SEC's biggest surprise. Auburn is unbeaten and plays host to Alabama in its regular-season finale. If Auburn wins at Arkansas as thoroughly as Alabama dismantled the Razorbacks recently, we have to start considering the Tigers as contenders to win the division.


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