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October 19, 2011

Viewer's guide: Big tests on tap

We're seven weeks into the season, but that hasn't necessarily been enough to get a great read on every team in the country, even those near the top.

That changes this week

Among the 10 remaining undefeated teams, Wisconsin and Stanford have passed the eye test for the human component of the BCS. The Badgers are fourth in both polls; the Cardinal are fifth in the coaches and eighth in the Harris poll.

[Power rankings: Several new No. 1s this week]

Thanks to relatively light early-season schedules for both, Wisconsin and Stanford are taking their lumps in the computer rankings. This week gives Wisconsin and Stanford a chance to prove themselves at a high level. True, Wisconsin already crushed Nebraska, but the Badgers have yet to play a true road game. The Badgers this week visit East Lansing, the site of their only Big Ten loss last season.

Meanwhile, Stanford hasn't played a team with a record better than 3-3. This week, the Cardinal play host to 5-1 Washington.

Elsewhere, Notre Dame can start thinking about its BCS possibilities when USC visits. USC is ineligible for the postseason, but the Trojans can play the role of BCS spoiler for the Irish.

Here's a look at those and other top televised matchups in Week 8.

All times Eastern.


When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst
The line: West Virginia by 14
Why you should watch: Friday night will feature two of the Big East front-runners. On ESPN2 at the same time, Rutgers, the only 2-0 team in the league, visits Louisville. The Mountaineers, though, are the only Big East team in the BCS standings, at No. 15. At first glance, this game looks like a mismatch. WVU QB Geno Smith has the fifth-most passing yards (2,159 yards) in the country, including a season-high 463 against LSU on Sept. 24. Meanwhile, Syracuse's pass defense has been a weak spot; the Orange allowed Tulane to pass for 355 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago. Syracuse, though, should be in better shape this week. Syracuse expects its best defensive player, E Chandler Jones, to play for the first time since the opener. Last season, Jones sacked Smith twice in a 19-14 upset in Morgantown. Smith threw a career-high three interceptions in that game.


When: Noon, ESPN
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Chris Spielman and Urban Meyer analysts
The line: Clemson by 10.5
Why you should watch: Clemson became the first ACC team to beat three consecutive ranked teams when it dispatched Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Last week, the Tigers showed they have resolve by rallying from an 18-point deficit on the road against Maryland. Clemson was seventh in the first BCS standings. Last week, Maryland QB C.J. Brown sliced through Clemson's defense on the zone read, but North Carolina doesn't have the same type of personnel. UNC QB Bryn Renner and TB Giovani Bernard have been effective out of a pro-style offense. The presence of Clemson freshman WR Sammy Watkins makes the game worth watching. Watkins is averaging 15.3 yards every time he touches the ball. West Virginia's Tavon Austin (15.5 yards per play) is the only other player in the country with 70 touches and a higher per-play average.

When: Noon, FX
Broadcasters: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Charles Davis analyst
The line: Oklahoma State by 7
Why you should watch: It's tough to imagine a team winning on the road at Texas by double digits and getting less attention for it than Oklahoma State last week. That's what happens when Texas is coming off a 55-17 loss to Oklahoma a week earlier. Should Oklahoma State's 38-26 win at Texas be viewed as a sign of weakness? Probably not, but the nit-pickers could find other areas to gripe about Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are allowing 426.7 yards per game, a figure that ranks 100th nationally, and 176.7 yards on the ground, which ranks 80th. But Oklahoma State's offense, of course, can be dominant. Missouri has been a hard-luck team this season. The Tigers are 3-3, but each of those losses have come on the road, with two against undefeated teams (Oklahoma and Kansas State) and the other in overtime (Arizona State). Now Missouri faces another undefeated team, but at least the Tigers get Oklahoma State at home. Mizzou TE Michael Egnew has eight caches for 178 yards and a touchdown in the past two weeks.

When: 7:30 p.m., NBC
Broadcasters: Tom Hammond play-by-play, Mike Mayock analyst
The line: Notre Dame by 8
Why you should watch: Notre Dame has proved over the past month that it's a good team when it's not turning the ball over. Notre Dame turned the ball over 10 times in its first two games (losses to USF and Michigan). In the past four games, all wins, the Irish have committed just five turnovers. USC coach Lane Kiffin derided his offense early in this season for having only "two good players," QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods. That number has increased to at least three because of freshman WR Marqise Lee, who has caught 12 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games. USC has seven takeaways in the past two games. If Notre Dame wants to play in a BCS game, the Irish almost certainly need to win out; each of Charlie Weis' first two Notre Dame teams played in a BCS game with two regular-season losses.

When: 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Stanford by 20
Why you should watch: Alabama and LSU make the SEC West the best division in college football, but the Pac-12 North looks to be No. 2 with Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The Huskies are 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12, but their conference opponents are a combined 0-9 in league play. In Washington's toughest game so far, the Huskies lost to Nebraska. Washington, though, can put numbers on the scoreboard. With 21 touchdown passes, sophomore QB Keith Price is on his way to a better statistical season than any year under Jake Locker. The question is if more wins follow. Stanford QB Andrew Luck already has fans of downtrodden NFL teams dreaming of their team getting the No. 1 overall pick. Stanford is perhaps the least tested of the undefeated national title contenders. That changes starting this week. Stanford's first six opponents are a combined 14-24. The Cardinal's final six opponents are a combined 23-13 (22-8 if you throw out Oregon State).

When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Wisconsin by 9
Why you should watch: Wisconsin answered its first major Big Ten test by pounding Nebraska 48-17. But that game was in Madison, and the Badgers this week become the last team to play a true road game. They faced Northern Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field, the only other game away from Camp Randall Stadium. On top of playing its first road game, Wisconsin is returning to East Lansing, where it suffered its only regular-season loss last season. Michigan State beat Wisconsin 34-24 last season without coach Mark Dantonio, who missed the game after suffering a mild heart attack two weeks before. This week, Michigan State should present Wisconsin its toughest defensive test of the season. The Spartans rank in the top four nationally in the four major defensive categories, and are first in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. Michigan State bottled up Michigan QB Denard Robinson with a variety of blitzes last week. But Wisconsin presents a more balanced offensive attack with QB Russell Wilson and a top 10-rush offense.

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

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