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November 21, 2007

Kansas, Missouri headline rivalry week

Never has rivalry week looked so wrong.

Nick Saban's poor use of analogies after Alabama's embarrassing loss last week to Louisiana-Monroe has made more news this week than the Tide's game against rival Auburn.

Florida State's trip to Florida has no impact on the national-championship picture. Clemson-South Carolina is more about disappointment after the Tigers' ACC hopes again have faded and the Gamecocks have lost four in a row. And Texas-Texas A&M isn't close to being the most important game in the Big 12.

That title belongs to the Kansas-Missouri showdown. It's a bitter rivalry in its own right, but never has it taken on this level of importance. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Cup will decide whether Virginia or Virginia Tech goes to the ACC Championship Game.

There's even room this week for some growing rivalries. Hawaii and Boise State, the top two teams in the WAC, make their cases for a BCS bid.

West Virginia has one more week before facing its traditional rival (Pittsburgh), but the Mountaineers' most important game of the final two weeks will be against surprising Connecticut, which also has Big East title aspirations on the line.

We'll sort out this week's best games, rivalries or not, in Five to Watch.

All times Eastern.

Boise State (10-1 overall, 7-0 in the WAC) at Hawaii (10-0, 7-0)

Time: 9 p.m.
Network: ESPN2
Storylines: Hawaii, ranked 15th in the BCS, and Boise State - ranked 19th - sit on the edge of eligibility for a BCS bid. A loss eliminates them from BCS consideration. The loser will spend the holidays at home, in either the Hawaii or Humanitarian bowls.
Players to watch: Colt Brennan may be the biggest name in this game, but Boise State quarterback Taylor Tharp enters the matchup on a hot streak. In the past three games, he has completed 80 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and one interception.
Best matchup: Hawaii's passing game vs. Boise State's secondary. Brennan is expected to return after a concussion sidelined him for all put two plays against Nevada last week. Brennan guides an offense that averages 446.6 passing yards per game. Led by S Marty Tadman, Boise State leads the WAC in pass defense.

Virginia Tech (9-2 overall, 6-1 in the ACC) at Virginia (9-2, 6-1)

Time: Noon
Network: ESPN
Storylines: A trip to the ACC Championship Game is on the line in the Commonwealth Cup. Virginia started its season with a 23-3 loss at Wyoming and now is two wins away from a BCS berth.
Player to watch: If there's ever a year the Heisman could go to a purely defensive player, this would be it. Virginia DE Chris Long would be as good a candidate as anyone. Howie Long's son has 12 sacks and could add to his total against Virginia Tech's struggling offensive line.
Best matchup: Virginia vs. the clock. The Cavaliers have won an NCAA-record five games by one or two points this season, meaning the Cavs have had their share of tense moments in the fourth quarter. How long before the clock hits zero with Virginia on the wrong end of the scoreboard? How long before the clock hits zero on Virginia's surprise season?

Tennessee (8-3 overall, 5-2 in the SEC) at Kentucky (7-4, 3-4)

Time: 1:30 p.m.
Network: CBS
Storylines: It's simple. If Tennessee wins, it's in the SEC title game. If the Volunteers lose, Georgia will represent the Eastern Division and take on LSU in Atlanta. The Vols appear to have more to play for in this game, but Kentucky is a three-point favorite at home.
Player to watch: Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson. Earlier this season, Woodson was being mentioned in Heisman Trophy discussions. His production has tapered off a bit, but he'll be going against a young and inexperienced secondary in his final home game.
Best matchup: Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty vs. Kentucky run defense. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge gets all the headlines, but if the Vols are going to win they will need to control the clock and keep the ball away from Woodson. UT has an effective short passing game. However, if UK's defense can stop the run that should translate to a Wildcats victory.

Connecticut (9-2 overall, 5-1 in the Big East) at West Virginia (9-1, 4-1)

Time: 3:30 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: This was hardly the popular preseason pick for Big East game of the year, but Connecticut has taken advantage of struggles by Louisville, Rutgers and USF to remain in contention for a BCS bowl. The winner is the Big East champ. West Virginia is third in the BCS standings and is still in the national title hunt.
Players to watch: Connecticut's defense, ranked third in the nation in points per game, is led by senior LB Danny Lansanah and freshman LBs Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson. The trio has combined for eight interceptions.
Best matchup: West Virginia QB Pat White vs. Connecticut's defense. Take away a few late fumbles against Louisville and Cincinnati, and White may have been mentioned more prominently in Heisman Trophy discussions. White has run for 458 yards in the past three weeks, but Connecticut has the ability to capitalize on opponents' mistakes.

Missouri (10-1 overall, 6-1 in the Big 12) vs. Kansas (11-0, 7-0) in Kansas City

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: The game of the year in the Big 12 couldn't involve more unlikely candidates. Kansas and Missouri shared the Big 8 title in 1968, but haven't won a conference title since. Now, national title hopes are on the line with Kansas ranked second in the BCS standings and Missouri fourth.
Player(s) to watch: Tune in for stellar play from nontraditional quarterbacks. Neither Missouri's Chase Daniel nor Kansas' Todd Reesing is 6 feet tall, but they've managed to guide their teams to a combined 21-1 record. They also have combined to throw 60 touchdown passes.
Best matchup: Missouri freshman WR Jeremy Maclin vs. Kansas' secondary, run defense, punt-coverage unit and kickoff-return unit. It will take a true team effort to limit the damage from Maclin, who is second in the country in all-purpose yardage at 209.9 yards per game. The best matchup will be when Maclin is on offense and faces star CB Aqib Talib.

Other games to watch Friday

Arkansas (7-4 overall, 3-4 in the SEC) at LSU (10-1, 6-1), 2:30 p.m., CBS
Will distractions from the Michigan coaching vacancy - combined with Glenn Dorsey's knee injury - lead to an upset?

Texas (9-2 overall, 5-2 in the Big 12) at Texas A&M (6-5, 3-4), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Dennis Franchione likely will be coaching his final game in front of the 12th man.

Other games to watch Saturday
Utah (8-3 overall, 5-2 in the Mountain West) at BYU (8-2, 6-0), 2 p.m., Versus/CSTV
"The Holy War" rivalry is a nasty one. BYU, which wraps up the MWC title with a victory, has won seven in a row. So has Utah.

Florida State (7-4 overall, 4-4 in the ACC) at Florida (8-3, 5-3 SEC), 5 p.m., CBS
Geno Hayes says Tim Tebow is "going down." We'll find out.

Clemson (8-3 overall, 5-3 in the ACC) at South Carolina (6-5, 3-5 SEC), 7 p.m., ESPN2
"The Disappointment Bowl" at least offers one consolation prize state supremacy.

Alabama (6-5 overall, 4-3 in the SEC) at Auburn (7-4, 4-3), 8 p.m., ESPN
Will Nick Saban learn something about tact before his postgame news conference?

David Fox is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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