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November 1, 2010

Week 10 Watch: Revenge a dish best served cold

The weather typically turns cold in November, and that should be just fine for TCU, LSU, Virginia Tech and several other teams this week.

That's because revenge is best served cold.

TCU is seeking its first win in Salt Lake City when it takes on Utah with the lead the Mountain West Conference, and much more, at stake. Both teams are unbeaten and still have national championship aspirations.

The last time the Horned Frogs visited Rice-Eccles Stadium, in '08, they dominated most of the game, but were felled by missed field goals and a last-minute touchdown in a 13-10 loss to the Utes.

Down on the bayou, LSU is pursuing the delicious grand slam of keeping its faint hopes of winning the SEC alive, avenging back-to-back losses to Alabama, knocking the Tide out of the national championship picture and dealing former coach Nick Saban his first defeat as a visitor in Baton Rouge.

And on Thursday night in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech can take command in the ACC Coastal Division race if it avenges last season's 28-23 loss to Georgia Tech, the '09 conference champ.

Player under the gun

Florida State QB Christian Ponder

Billed as a Heisman candidate, Ponder has struggled through a frustrating season marked by injuries and turnovers. He followed up a four-turnover performance against Boston College by fumbling at N.C. State's 4 in the final minute of Thursday's 28-24 loss to the Wolfpack. Florida State has a quality rushing attack and a vastly improved defense, but the Seminoles won't win the ACC title unless Ponder steps up his performance. Ponder will try to turn things around Saturday against a solid North Carolina defense.

In addition, N.C. State can greatly enhance its standing in the ACC Atlantic Division race if the Wolfpack gain revenge on Clemson for last season's 43-23 loss.

Baylor, usually the Big 12 South Division doormat, now leads the race and basically can knock Oklahoma State out of contention with a rare victory over the Cowboys in Stillwater. Baylor hasn't beaten Oklahoma State in four years.

Finally, Hawaii travels to face unbeaten Boise State looking for some payback for last season's 54-9 spanking and hoping to knock the Broncos out of the national championship race.

Best game: TCU at Utah, 3:30 p.m., CBS College Sports. These are two of the five remaining unbeaten teams, and their national championship hopes will be on the line in Salt Lake City. Utah QB Jordan Wynn directs the nation's No. 3 scoring offense. But TCU has the nation's No. 1 defense, and the Horned Frogs have allowed just 16 points in the past five games.

Don't overlook this one: Illinois at Michigan, noon, ESPN. How long can Michigan's Big Ten futility last? The Wolverines are 4-16 in conference play under Rich Rodriguez, and they're running out of opportunities to pick up their crucial sixth win this season. Illinois has had the biggest turnaround in the league; the Illini are 5-3 after finishing 3-9 last season. Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase is coming off his best performance of the season against Purdue. And if you think Illinois going on the road is a problem, consider that Illinois routed Penn State 33-13 in Happy Valley while Michigan lost there 41-31.

On the midweek marquee: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN. The Hokies, who lost to James Madison on Sept. 11, could end up winning the ACC by a wide margin. Virginia Tech has won six in a row, but the only ACC opponent of note during the streak was N.C. State, which the Hokies beat 41-30 in Raleigh. Now Virginia Tech, 4-0 in the ACC, begins its stretch run against Coastal Division opponents Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia. All have at least two conference losses.

Best coordinator chess match: Hawaii offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich vs. Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. Hawaii leads the nation in pass offense, but to pull the upset, the Warriors are going to have to effectively mix in the run to keep Boise honest. Boise is No. 3 in total defense, No. 8 in pass defense and No. 19 in pass efficiency defense. The Broncos are going to move the ball and score at least in the 30s against Hawaii; that means the Warriors' offense must keep pace, and Rolovich's play-calling is going to be more important than usual. In its 18-point loss to a mediocre Colorado team, Hawaii finished with just 7 rushing yards. That number needs to increase by 100 if the Warriors are to beat Boise.

BCS-buster watch: Navy at East Carolina, 3:30 p.m., Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Each team is coming off a tough loss, with the Middies falling to Duke and the Pirates losing to UCF. But expect a good game from teams that run wildly different offenses. Each school is 5-3 and still searching for bowl eligibility. Each school also features a productive quarterback, with Ricky Dobbs' running skills pacing Navy and Dominique Davis' prolific passing leading East Carolina.

Coach under the gun

Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Red Raiders' offense isn't quite as exciting in the post-Mike Leach era, but we thought Tuberville's arrival would improve Texas Tech's defense. Instead, Texas Tech ranks 113th in the nation in total defense and has dropped four of its past six games. The Red Raiders have given up at least 34 points in four of their past five games. Tuberville's job won't get any easier the next couple of weeks, as Texas Tech (4-4) plays host to Missouri and visits Oklahoma in its next two games.

Best individual matchup of the week: Alabama WR Julio Jones vs. LSU CB Patrick Peterson. Two likely first-round picks will go head to head at least a few times, and you'd think LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis would do all he can to have Peterson shadow Jones. Both players can make themselves some more NFL money if they turn in a big performance. Jones is coming off the best performance of his career, a 12-catch, 221-yard performance against Tennessee. Peterson has two picks but no pass breakups this season, mainly because teams shy away from throwing to his side.

Best unit matchup of the week: TCU defensive front six vs. Utah offensive line. TCU is as close to a shutdown defense as there is this season. The Horned Frogs lead the nation in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense, and they are ninth in rush defense. Seven of their nine opponents have scored 10 or fewer points and -- again -- they have allowed 16 points total in their past five games. Utah is No. 3 in scoring offense and has had four games with at least 56 points. The offensive line returned four starters from last season, and the center-left guard duo of Zane Taylor and Caleb Schlauderaff is a good one. TCU runs a 4-2-5 defensive set, and keeping LBs Tanner Brock (65 tackles) and Tank Carder (45) at bay is going to be the key for the Utes.

Injury report: It was a tough week for quarterbacks, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (leg) and Miami's Jacory Harris (concussion) were injured, but each is expected back. That isn't the case for Notre Dame's Dayne Crist, who suffered a left knee injury in a loss to Tulsa that will end his season and likely the Irish's bowl hopes. And California's Kevin Riley also may be done for the season after hurting his left knee in a loss to Oregon State.

Record watch: With Nebraska's Alex Henery missing a field goal against Missouri, Notre Dame's David Ruffer has sole possession of the longest streak of made field goals. He had made all 18 in his career. Henery's streak ended at 18 when he had a 51-yarder blocked in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey has made 16 in a row.

Coaching connection: LSU's bad feelings toward Nick Saban remain, and with Alabama visiting Baton Rouge on Saturday, Saban can expect a nasty reception. But he is the lone guy on either staff who was a coach at LSU when it won the national title in 2003. In fact, Tennessee has more coaches from LSU's 2003 team (Derek Dooley and Lance Thompson) than Alabama or LSU (just Saban). Of the Alabama assistants who coached under Saban at LSU, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and tight ends coach Bobby Williams arrived at LSU in 2004 and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri was there only in 2000. Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis was at LSU when it won the '03 title, but he was an assistant strength and conditioning coach then.

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