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October 4, 2010

Week 6 Watch: Ten look to bounce back

One loss doesn't ruin a season. Indeed, one loss may not even ruin national championship aspirations.

Lest we forget, three of the past four national champions stumbled once along the way. In 2007, LSU actually stumbled twice (never in regulation) and still won the national title, the first time that had happened since 1960.

So, obviously when a loss is incurred, it's vital to bounce back strong. In the sixth week of the season, that's the task facing 10 teams that endured their first loss in their last game.

At least two teams definitely won't bounce back. That's because games matching Arkansas and Texas A&M and Stanford and USC pair teams coming off their first defeats.

The winner gets a feeling of redemption, confidence that the ship has been righted and the knowledge that championships still are within reach.

But bouncing back is easier for some than others. For example, South Carolina, coming off a bye week after falling to Auburn, now faces unbeaten Alabama, the defending national champion and a team that has won 19 in a row.

Coach under the gun

BYU's Bronco Mendenhall

BYU (1-4) looks to be in panic mode after getting off to its worst start since 1973. Mendenhall responded to a 31-10 loss to Utah State by dismissing defensive coordinator Jaime Hill, the first time he has fired an assistant in his six-year tenure as coach. Mendenhall now will double as coach and defensive coordinator, a dual role he held from 2005-07. BYU has the nation's lowest-ranked run defense and faces two of the top-25 rushing offenses -- No. 24 San Diego State and No. 7 TCU -- in its next two games. If BYU's defense keeps struggling, Mendenhall will have no one else to blame.

Best game: Michigan State at Michigan, 3:30 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN. It features unbeaten teams, high-scoring offenses, heralded individuals and good old-fashioned hatred. Both average more than 35 points. Michigan QB Denard Robinson has been the most exciting player in the nation, but he hasn't faced a player like Spartans LB Greg Jones. Notre Dame is the only common opponent. Michigan beat the Irish on a touchdown in the final seconds; Michigan State won on a touchdown off a fake field goal in overtime.

Don't overlook this one: UCLA at California, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net. Do we really know what to make of either team? UCLA beat Texas and Houston, but the Bruins were shut out by Stanford and trailed in the second half against lowly Washington State. Meanwhile, Cal was demolished by Nevada but turned in a respectable 10-9 loss to Arizona the following week. Expect the game to be decided on the ground with Cal's Shane Vereen facing UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in an under-the-radar tailback matchup.

On the midweek marquee: Nebraska at Kansas State, Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN. The Huskers appear to be light-years ahead of anyone in the Big 12 North. Kansas State, though, could be a worthy foe for Nebraska, which will try to avoid looking ahead to Texas. The Wildcats (4-0) have played a respectable schedule by their standards, with wins over UCLA, Iowa State and UCF. Nebraska's defense will be tested by K-State TB Daniel Thomas, the Big 12's leading rusher.

Players under the gun: LSU QBs Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. LSU somehow has managed to stay unbeaten despite ranking 112th in the nation in passing offense and 116th in passing efficiency, but the Tigers need more production at the quarterback position if they want to compete for an SEC title. Jefferson and Lee alternated at QB against Tennessee and combined to throw three interceptions with no touchdowns. LSU has plenty of talented receivers, but someone needs to throw them the ball. Whoever takes most of the snaps Saturday will face a stiff challenge in the Swamp against Florida's star-studded secondary.

Best coordinator chess match: Alabama's Jim McElwain vs. South Carolina's Ellis Johnson. Alabama's yardage total (273) was extremely underwhelming against Florida, but the Tide did what they wanted in the first half en route to a 24-3 lead, then shut it down. Still, the Tide ran well, and QB Greg McElroy hurt Florida with some scrambles. McElwain has the luxury of being able to run to set up the pass or to pass to set up the run; Alabama has excellent offensive balance. South Carolina was off last week, and you can bet Johnson was looking for ways to shore up his run defense. The Gamecocks were shredded for 334 rushing yards in their last outing, against Auburn; South Carolina had allowed 179 total rushing yards in their first three games. Look for Johnson to sell out to stop the run, figuring his corners (Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver) can hold their own against Alabama's wide receivers. Forcing McElroy to beat you with his arm remains the best way to try to stem the Tide.

BCS-buster watch: Mississippi State at Houston, 8 p.m., CBS College Sports. The Cougars are down to their third-string quarterback with Case Keenum and Cotton Turner out with season-ending injuries, but Houston remains dangerous. If Houston can generate a ground game and win the turnover battle, it can beat Mississippi State for a second season in a row.

Best individual matchup of the week: Michigan QB Denard Robinson vs. Michigan State LB Greg Jones. Jones, a senior who might be the best linebacker in the nation, is coming off his best game of the season; he had eight tackles and three tackles for loss in a huge win over Wisconsin. Jones helped the Spartans limit the Badgers to 292 yards, and star TB John Clay finished with just 80 yards and was kept out of the end zone for the first time this season. This week, though, it's a different kind of threat. Robinson has been magnificent, averaging 382.6 yards of total offense, and his sheer speed makes it tough on linebacker to corral him. Michigan State needs a big game from Jones to keep Robinson somewhat in check. Michigan's only hope for a win is a big-time offensive performance, and Robinson makes the offense go.

Best unit matchup of the week: Florida State offensive line vs. Miami defensive line. FSU has been crowing about its offensive line since the start of last season, and the Seminoles average 208.6 rushing yards per game. But in their only real test this season, at Oklahoma, FSU managed just 123 rushing yards and allowed four sacks. Miami was gashed on the ground at times by Ohio State and Clemson, allowing five rushing TDs in those two games. UM is second in the nation in sacks per game, at 4.3 (FSU is first, at 5.0). If Miami can stymie the run, it will feel good about its chances of harassing FSU QB Christian Ponder.

Injury report: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor suffered a strained left quadriceps at Illinois on Saturday; he left the game for several series but ultimately returned. Ohio State doesn't need Pryor to beat visiting Indiana this weekend, but the Buckeyes will need Pryor at 100 percent for a trip to Wisconsin on Oct. 16 because the backup situation (Joe Bauserman) is shaky. Keep an eye on how Pryor looks -- or if he plays much -- against the Hoosiers.

Record watch: Northwestern is 5-0 for the second time under Pat Fitzgerald, and the Wildcats are seeking their first 6-0 start since 1962 when they face Purdue. Legendary coach Ara Parseghian led Northwestern to its past two 6-0 starts, in '62 and '59. A telling statistic to put Northwestern history in perspective: Since Parseghian left, Northwestern has started 0-6 five times, most recently in 1989.

Coaching connection: If anything can stop people from talking about Mark Richt's job status or Tennessee's blunder against LSU, it might be Derek Dooley's first visit to Georgia as the Vols' coach. Derek's father, Vince, is the legendary former Georgia coach who led the Bulldogs to 201 wins from 1964-88 and the 1980 national title. Derek never coached for his dad, but he was a grad assistant at Georgia in 1996 and earned a law degree from Georgia in 1994.



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