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September 21, 2011

Viewer's guide: Give expansion a rest

A favor to ask of conference commissioners and university presidents and chancellors on behalf of fans everywhere: Can you give it a rest on Saturday?

Before games kicked off last week, the Pittsburgh and Syracuse move to the ACC started as a rumor. By the kickoff of the day's marquee game between Florida State and Oklahoma at 8 p.m. Eastern, the move was all but confirmed.

The idea of conference realignment seemingly hangs over almost every game this season, and this week is no exception. Big 12 play begins with two games featuring at least one team looking to leave the conference. Still, that league's top matchup should remind us why college football is beloved despite the wheelings and dealings of the powers-that-be.

[Game tickets: Watch your favorite team in action]

Oklahoma State and Texas A&M look to be headed their separate ways, but the game between top-10 opponents is setting up to be another entertaining show of offense that has become the Big 12's trademarks in recent years. The other key Big 12 game Saturday is Missouri at Oklahoma. Mizzou won last season at home.

West Virginia looks to be the Big East's best team, and Geno Smith and the Mountaineers will be going against LSU's smothering defense Saturday. But rather than the game, most of the talk emanating from the Big East is whether it can survive as a football entity.

In the more "stable" leagues, there are key division battles in the SEC (Arkansas at Alabama) and ACC (Florida State at Clemson).

Here's a look at the key televised matchups in Week 4.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 4 VIEWER'S GUIDE
SATURDAY

OKLAHOMA STATE AT TEXAS A&M
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC regional or ESPN2
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Texas A&M by 3
Why you should watch: The Big 12's future is in flux, but the Big 12 still will crown a champion at the end of the season, and Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, both ranked in the top 10, appear to be contenders for the title and perhaps more. This matchup has featured high-scoring games in recent seasons, and it also been one of the most hotly contested series in the Big 12. Four of the past five meetings have been decided by five or fewer points and featured a combined 67.6 points per game. That trend doesn't look to change. Despite a new offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State leads the nation in passing, and TB Joseph Randle has rushed for at least 121 yards and two touchdowns in each game this season. The Cowboys' defense may be a liability, but in fairness, that unit has faced potent offenses from Arizona and Tulsa. This is the first time Oklahoma State has faced the Aggies since Ryan Tannehill became the starting quarterback. He has weapons galore in TBs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and WR Jeff Fuller.

ARKANSAS AT ALABAMA
When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: Alabama by 12
Why you should watch: Other than Kentucky, these two teams are the last in the SEC to play a league game. Something tells us this game will have more ramifications than the Wildcats' SEC opener against Florida. Arkansas will try to atone for last season's collapse, where Alabama erased a 13-point deficit for a 24-20 win. New Razorbacks QB Tyler Wilson has looked good - against Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy. The Hogs' win over Troy, decided by "only" 10 points, should come with an asterisk as Arkansas was without starting WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright and DE Jake Bequette. Childs is expected to return, while Wright and Bequette are working their way back from injury. Arkansas will need to be at full strength for Alabama, which has allowed a combined two touchdowns in three games. Look for Alabama to follow a similar game plan as it did a year ago, when it rushed for 227 yards against the Hogs. Last week against North Texas, Crimson Tide TBs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy each topped 150 yards, the first time two backs hit that milestone in the same game in Alabama history.

FLORIDA STATE AT CLEMSON
When: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: Florida State by 2.5
Why you should watch: A week after facing Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Kenny Stills and Ryan Broyles, Florida State's defense has another difficult challenge on its hands. Clemson's offense, led by the pass/catch tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, put on a show against Auburn (624 yards on 92 total plays), but some of that may have been the product of going Auburn's abysmal defense. Florida State's defense did a nice job against Oklahoma, but FSU's offense has some questions on the injury front. QB E.J. Manuel left the Oklahoma game with a shoulder injury, and WRs Bert Reed and Kenny Shaw could join fellow WR Willie Haulstead on the injured list. It's not a great time for FSU. Could the Seminoles go from being a top-five team to chasing Clemson in the ACC race over the span of two weeks?

MISSOURI AT OKLAHOMA
When: 8 p.m., FX
Broadcasters: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Charles Davis analyst
The line: Oklahoma by 21.5
Why you should watch: Missouri scored a rare win in the series last season with a 36-27 victory that ended a seven-game losing streak to OU, which included Big 12 championship games in 2007 and '08. Picking up consecutive wins against the Sooners for the first time since 1965-66 will be a tall task for the Tigers. Missouri's defense struggled on the road against Arizona State's passing game in an overtime loss two weeks ago, and now the Tigers must prepare for Landry Jones and a potent Sooners passing attack. Missouri has had injury troubles, but the Tigers may have found their tailback in Henry Josey, who rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the first half against FCS Western Illinois last week. Then again, that's Western Illinois. Florida State rushed for only 64 yards on Oklahoma's defense last week, not including sacks (the Sooners held the Seminoles to 27 yards including yards lost on sacks).

LSU AT WEST VIRGINIA
When: 8 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: LSU by 6
Why you should watch: The arrival of coach Dana Holgorsen has been a boon to West Virginia's passing game. Geno Smith is one of four quarterbacks to already have hit the 1,000-yard mark. Two of the others also have been coached by Holgorsen: Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Houston's Case Keenum. LSU has proved it can stop run-first teams with double-digit wins over Oregon and Mississippi State. West Virginia presents a different challenge, and will LSU CBs Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne be up to the test? LSU QB Jarrett Lee was 21-of-27 for 213 yards against Mississippi State last week.

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