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October 31, 2011

Week 10 Watch: LSU-Alabama ... and more

For 10 weeks, tension has been building for the most anticipated clash of the season. Now, after a Super Bowl-like open date to increase the hype, game week for Alabama-LSU finally has arrived.

LSU and Alabama are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS standings. Both are undefeated. Both have won every game by double digits. This season's version of the rivalry will determine which team is in control of the SEC West and now has a clear path to the national title game.

As hard as it is to believe, there are other games being played this week, too.

Player under the gun

Alabama RB Trent Richardson

Stanford QB Andrew Luck came through last week with his team's national title dreams - and his Heisman hopes - on the line. Now it's Richardson's turn to prove he can deliver amid that kind of pressure. Richardson has rushed for 989 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. If he leads Alabama to victory Saturday and has a dominant performance against an outstanding LSU defense, Richardson could emerge as the Heisman front-runner while keeping the Crimson Tide on pace for a spot in the BCS championship game. But if he struggles and Alabama loses, any shot at a national title or a Heisman could disappear. Alabama's biggest edge in Saturday's game is that LSU doesn't have a running back of Richardson's caliber. If Richardson isn't the best running back on the field, Alabama probably won't win.

South Carolina looks to maintain its slight advantage in the SEC East when it plays at Arkansas. Unbeaten Oklahoma State wants to stay atop the Big 12 standings when it plays once-beaten Kansas State, while Oklahoma tries to stay within striking distance of the Cowboys when it faces Texas A&M.

Meanwhile, Arizona State can all but sew up the Pac-12 South against UCLA, Oregon can stay in at least a tie for the Pac-12 North lead when it plays Washington, and Michigan is intent on remaining among the leaders in the Big Ten Legends Division when the Wolverines travel to Iowa.

Best game: LSU at Alabama, 8 p.m., CBS. The past four games in the series have been close, hard-fought classics, and this one won't be any different. Three of those games were decided by seven or fewer points, and a controversial call that nullified an LSU interception was a factor in Alabama's 24-15 victory in '09. Last season, the Tigers prevailed by a field goal. You know that old line about defense winning championships? Alabama leads the nation in total defense and LSU is third.

[BCS analysis: Good news for Stanford, Oklahoma]

Don't overlook this one: Louisville at West Virginia, noon, Big East syndication/Sportsnet New York/MASN/ESPN GamePlan. Louisville lost at home to Florida International and Marshall earlier this season, but the freshman-laden Cardinals gradually have become more competitive. Louisville comes in having won consecutive Big East games for the first time since 2006 and has a defense that has not allowed more than 25 points in a game this season. And as Louisville's offense is improving, West Virginia's defense may be backsliding. The Mountaineers have allowed 80 points in the past two games, but WVU's 'D' did shut out Rutgers in the second half to pull out a 41-31 victory on Saturday. The winner of this one remains in contention for the conference title.

Under-the-radar storyline: Boise State at UNLV, 10:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network. Broncos QB Kellen Moore is in position to break the FBS career wins record for a starting quarterback; he would pass former Texas star Colt McCoy. A victory against the Rebels would give Moore his 46th career victory.

On the midweek marquee: Northern Illinois at Toledo, Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2. If it's a Tuesday night in November and there's a game on TV, it must be a MAC contest. Toledo is 4-0 in the MAC, the only team unbeaten in league play, and the Rockets' next two games, against West Division foes Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, will determine if the Rockets will be playing for a MAC title. Northern Illinois' defense has been awful, but Chandler Harnish remains the MAC's best dual-threat quarterback.

Coach under the gun

Texas A&M's Mike Sherman

Texas A&M opened the season ranked ninth by the coaches and eighth by The Associated Press, but the Aggies already have blown their BCS hopes because of their tendency to fall apart down the stretch. Texas A&M has blown double-digit halftime leads in each of its losses, to Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Missouri. Now the Aggies must go on the road the next two weeks to face Oklahoma and Kansas State, two teams that have shown much more mental toughness than A&M this season. If Sherman doesn't get this team to improve its second-half performance, the Aggies could have a 5-5 record two weeks from now. Back in August, that scenario seemed incomprehensible.

Best individual matchup of the week: Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd vs. Wake Forest CB Merrill Noel. Everyone knows about Floyd, who will graduate with all the important Notre Dame receiving records. Floyd is big, physical and fast. But this is a chance for Noel to announce himself on the national scene. Noel is a redshirt freshman from the football hotbed of Pahokee, Fla., and he has one interception and a nation's-leading 15 pass breakups. He had four breakups against Florida State and three against Virginia Tech, but those teams don't have a receiver close to Floyd's talent level.

Scariest players photo gallery [Photo gallery: 10 scariest players]

Best unit matchup of the week: Line play in Alabama-LSU. Neither coaching staff will feel all that comfortable if their quarterback is forced to the air. SEC defense is all about stopping the run anyway, but that becomes even more important this week. Thus, who is going to have the advantage: LSU's offensive line or Alabama's defensive line? What about Alabama's offensive line vs. LSU's defensive line? Alabama, of course, employs a 3-4 scheme on defense, while LSU uses a base 4-3. Gouging out some running room right up the middle is going to be vital. Forget the glitzy skill-position guys in this one, and instead focus on the interior linemen.

Best coordinator chess match: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken vs. Kansas State defensive coordinator Chris Cosh. Cosh's unit was torched last week by Oklahoma, and now here comes Oklahoma State, which has a rushing attack better than Oklahoma's. Monken is in his first season as the Cowboys' coordinator and has meshed well with QB Brandon Weeden. Cosh needs his offense to control the clock and hog the ball, but he also has to find a way to get consistent pressure on Weeden. K-State didn't get to Oklahoma QB Landry Jones once last week, and Jones threw for 505 yards and five TDs.

Spotlight conference: SEC. The college football world will stop for the Alabama-LSU game, but there are other games in the SEC to keep an eye on. South Carolina travels to Arkansas, which is coming off back-to-back close calls with Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina still is trying to adjust to life without Marcus Lattimore. A South Carolina loss gives Georgia the SEC East lead. Vanderbilt travels to Florida not having beaten the Gators since 1988, but the Commodores are playing with an edge under first-year coach James Franklin and new QB Jordan Rodgers. Florida is seeking any sliver of good news after going 0-4 in October. A win over this Vanderbilt team would count as good news. And while Alabama-LSU will determine the SEC's top team, we also should find out who the league's worst team is when Ole Miss visits Kentucky.

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