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October 20, 2010

Viewer's guide: Big 12 unbeatens eye respect

The first BCS standings were released this week, but the championship race is far from settled.

There are 10 undefeated teams, but not all are created equal. Auburn and LSU, both in the top six in the BCS standings, face each other in a game that has BCS, SEC and Heisman implications.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is ranked 14th, the lowest of any team without a loss, but the Cowboys can garner more respect against Nebraska this week. Although the Huskers lost in embarrassing fashion to Texas last week, Nebraska still will be the best team -- and the best defense -- Oklahoma State has faced.

Also in the Big 12, Missouri faces Oklahoma in another battle of unbeatens. The Sooners are No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time since the final week of the 2008 regular season. They haven't spent consecutive weeks as a BCS No. 1 since 2003.

Elsewhere, the Big Ten race heats up when Wisconsin visits Iowa. The Hawkeyes play host to all three of the Big Ten's ranked teams: No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 10 Ohio State.

Here's a look at the top five games to watch Saturday, plus Thursday's nationally televised prime-time game.

All times Eastern.


When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: Auburn by 6.5
Why you should watch: The season has been a wild one in the SEC if you count what has happened to just LSU and Auburn. Both teams have watched leads evaporate in the second half, only to seal (steal?) wins in the final seconds. Where LSU prefers to save its head-slapping drama for the final seconds, Auburn caused defensive coordinators everywhere to cringe -- and offensive coordinators everywhere to turn green with envy -- with last week's 65-43 win over Arkansas. This game matches the final two undefeated teams in the SEC. Auburn QB Cameron Newton, the SEC's leading rusher, would be atop most Heisman lists if the season ended today. He'll face what might be the SEC's best defense. LSU DT Drake Nevis is playing as well as any lineman in the nation; he has 11.5 tackles for loss. While Auburn's defense is shaky, can LSU's quarterbacks take advantage?

When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Iowa by 5
Why you should watch: The Big Ten race will be a wild one, with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State having legitimate shots at the Rose Bowl. The conference titlist likely will be determined in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes play host to Wisconsin this week, to Michigan State on Oct. 30 and to Ohio State on Nov. 20. The Hawkeyes' defense had a bad day, yardage-wise, last week against Michigan, allowing 522 yards. It was the first 500-yard day against the Hawkeyes since a 31-6 loss to Ohio State on Sept. 24, 2005. That performance by the Iowa defense was offset by a balanced effort by the offense. Ricky Stanzi threw three touchdown passes and Adam Robinson rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Wisconsin can run the ball a bit, too, with John Clay and freshman James White rushing for 179 combined yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State. The winner remains in the hunt for at least an at-large BCS berth; the loser can start making plans to spend New Year's Day in Orlando, Fla., or Tampa, Fla.

When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Ron Franklin play-by-play, Ed Cunningham analyst
The line: Nebraska by 5.5
Why you should watch: Texas exposed a handful of flaws Nebraska needs to correct before going on the road to take on undefeated Oklahoma State. Taylor Martinez will be back at quarterback after Bo Pelini pulled him in the third quarter last week. Martinez wasn't completely at fault -- receivers dropped passes left and right, including a couple of certain touchdowns -- but he also rushed for only 21 yards. He had averaged 147.0 yards going into the game. The Cowboys are the lowest-ranked undefeated team in the BCS standings, at 14th. They came into the season with little fanfare and have beaten just two teams with winning records (Troy and Tulsa). The offense, though, has not missed a beat under first-year starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, a 27-year-old former second-round draft pick of the New York Yankees. Senior Kendall Hunter is fifth in the nation in rushing, but the team MVP might be Justin Blackmon, a three-star prospect in 2008 who leads the nation in receiving yards per game. He'll match up against All-America CB Prince Amukamara and the Huskers' top-ranked pass efficiency defense.

When: 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
Broadcasters: Mark Jones play-by-play, Bob Davie analyst
The line: Miami by 6.5
Why you should watch: The first seven weeks of the season couldn't have gone much worse for teams in the ACC Coastal, but the division is up for grabs. Virginia Tech is the only undefeated team in league play in the division, and the Hokies still must play Miami and North Carolina. Despite numerous absences because of NCAA suspensions (and now TE Zack Pianalto to injury), North Carolina remains in contention thanks to contributions from WR Dwight Jones and RB Johnny White. The Tar Heels also lead the ACC in turnover margin at plus-seven and have committed just one turnover in the past three games. Meanwhile, Miami forced seven turnovers in last week's 28-13 victory over Duke. UNC coach Butch Davis is 3-0 against the Hurricanes.

When: 8 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Oklahoma by 3
Why you should watch: Three weeks ago, Oklahoma was almost an afterthought in the national title race and even in the Big 12. But here's Oklahoma, ranked No. 1 in the first BCS standings. If Missouri is going to be a player in the national championship race, the Tigers need to beat Oklahoma. Coach Gary Pinkel knows this. In 2007, Oklahoma was the only team to beat Missouri; the Sooners did it twice, including in the Big 12 championship game, a loss that knocked the Tigers out of the national championship game. Missouri has beaten the Sooners once since 1983. Missouri also is riding a six-game losing streak to ranked Big 12 opponents. Now the good news for Missouri: The Tigers expect to get DE Aldon Smith (three sacks in three games this season, 11.5 sacks as a freshman) back from a leg injury.

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

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