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October 17, 2006

Questions abound after crazy weekend

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Saturday was a head-shaking day all over college football. Iowa and Georgia both lost to perennial conference doormats. Oklahoma lost star running back Adrian Peterson for the season. The bench-clearing brawl at the Orange Bowl was an ugly incident one we'll continue to hear about for quite some time.

This week is one that starts with more questions than answers. Who is to blame for the debacle in Miami? How can teams reload after critical injuries? Who are the new Heisman contenders? What do the BCS rankings mean?

Here's a look at the questions that will shape Week 8 and the top games to watch on Saturday:

Five Questions for Week 8
1. What does the first release of the BCS poll mean for the national championship?
It means Michigan's trip to Ohio State on Nov. 18 could shape up to be round one of a college football playoff, provided both teams remain undefeated. The only other sure bet seems to be an automatic bid for Boise State, currently ranked 15th. The Broncos need to reach No. 12 in the BCS for an at-large bid, which should happen with enough teams ahead of Boise playing each other during the remainder of the season. Auburn (No. 4) and Florida (No. 6) remain in the top six despite one loss apiece, but could be passed by No. 5 West Virginia or No. 7 Louisville once they enter their Big East schedule. The teams play each other Nov. 2. If everyone wins out, it looks like the national title will feature the winner of Ohio State-Michigan game and USC. If not, a slew of one-loss teams - and possibly an undefeated Big East team - will lay claim on a spot in the title game.
2. What will result from the brawl in Miami?
For Miami, it's already disastrous. On the same day that Indiana and Vanderbilt beat ranked teams, Auburn knocked Florida out of the national title hunt and the game's best player had a season-ending injury, a game between Miami and its Sun Belt conference neighbor Florida International dominated the headlines even through Monday. Any positive press Miami accumulated in the last decade under Butch Davis and Larry Coker has been washed away in the last 10 months. There was a fight with LSU players after the Peach Bowl, the gun-toting incident involving safety Brandon Meriweather in the offseason, the suspension of wide receiver Ryan Moore, the Hurricanes stomping on Louisville's logo before a 31-7 loss and Saturday's fiasco. In the meantime, Miami has won four games and only one of those was against a BCS conference opponent - North Carolina (1-5). For now, the only action taken is a one-game suspension for 31 players on both teams and an indefinite suspension to Miami safety Anthony Reddick. More sanctions could follow for both teams.
3. Who are the new Heisman contenders?
Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith remains the front-runner, but the season-ending injury to Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and a 25-yard day from Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe mean there will be a void to fill for the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York. West Virginia running back Steve Slaton will move up on some ballots, but his hopes will likely hinge on the Mountaineers game against Louisville. Michigan running back Mike Hart will get consideration, especially if the Wolverines reach the national title game by beating Smith and Ohio State. Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson should get his share of votes, but receivers who have not also returned kicks haven't fared well in the voting. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn should stay in contention at least until the USC game. Among the dark horses who have entered the race: Cal running back Marshawn Lynch, Rutgers running back Ray Rice and even quarterbacks Erik Ainge of Tennessee and Tyler Palko of Pittsburgh.
4. Is Nebraska ready for another major game?
Nebraska will play host to Texas this week for what could be a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game. Has Nebraska made enough progress since the loss to USC on Sept. 16 to challenge the No. 5 Longhorns? Since the USC game, the Cornhuskers have averaged 218.3 rushing yards per game and have become the Big 12 leader in rushing offense, total offense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. Still, this is a team that allowed 22 second-half points and 574 total yards to Kansas in its overtime win over the Jayhawks. At the same time, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is fresh off a school-record six touchdowns against Baylor. The Cornhuskers at home should perform better than on the road at USC, but it might not be enough for a Texas team that has improved itself since the second week of the season.
5. How will injury issues shape the remainder of the season for Washington and Boston College?
Peterson wasn't the only top player to suffer an injury last week. Several other teams could see their fates change because of health concerns. Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback was helped off the field in the fourth quarter against Oregon State with a foot injury. Although Stanback has yet to be re-examined, coaches have not been optimistic for his return against Cal this week - or for the remainder of the season. The Huskies could give the starting job to junior Carl Bonnell or take the redshirt off freshman Jake Locker. The Huskies have to win two games for bowl eligibility, but that could be too tall a task if Washington has to rebuild its offense without the dual-threat Stanback. Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan missed practice Sunday after injuring his left foot and aggravating an ankle injury in Thursday's win over Virginia Tech. The Eagles will wait until Tuesday to make any further announcement. Ryan, 10-1 as a starter the last two years, will be sorely missed if he is unable to play at Florida State.
Top Five Games of Week 8
1. No. 5 Texas (6-1, 3-0 Big 12) at No. 17 Nebraska (6-1, 3-0 Big 12), noon, ABC
Will this be a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game?
2. No. 13 Georgia Tech (5-1, 3-0 ACC) at No. 12 Clemson (6-1, 3-1 ACC), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Either team can take a commanding lead in their division of the ACC with a win.
3. Iowa (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) at No. 2 Michigan (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten), 3:30 p.m., ABC
An Iowa team fresh off a loss to Indiana is Michigan's toughest test until Nov. 18 against Ohio State.
4. No. 19 Rutgers (6-0, 1-0 Big East) at Pittsburgh (6-1, 2-0 Big East), 5:45 p.m., ESPN2
The two surprise Big East teams will try to keep the pressure on West Virginia and Louisville.
5. Alabama (5-2, 2-2 SEC) at No. 7 Tennessee (5-1, 1-1 SEC), 3:30 p.m., CBS
Tennessee, with new life in the SEC East following Florida's loss, can pass its 2006 win total with a victory.



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