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Weekend Watch List: Red River 'Pillow Fight' applies pressure


Can we have a moment of silence for The Red River Shootout?

Texas-OU isn't dead, far from it, but something is missing -- notably some continuity from the two participants. Texas can't run or, suddenly, stop the run. Oklahoma has a pinball offense and a softball defense. A Sooners win puts the Big 12 within a Nebraska loss of pretty much dropping out of the national championship race.

But that's looking way too far ahead. This week the pressure is squarely on the Sooners. They're the ones who have to produce. Orangebloods are already writing off another national championship chase. And that's OK. They're spoiled anyway -- 9-3 isn't bad. Maybe it's just WWL, but expect the 'Horns to play fast and loose. They've won four of the past five over OU. Mack Brown owns Bob Stoops lately.

That's why the pressure is squarely on the Sooners.

We know by now that Texas is in a rebuilding year. After Oklahoma it plays at Nebraska. By the time the 'Horns return home on Oct. 23 they could be 3-3. Like we said, 9-3 isn't that bad.

That's why the pressure is squarely on the Sooners.

Landry Jones threw for 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns last season when Sam Bradford was out and, frankly, the pressure was off. Now it's his team and Jones has to come through. He better. The OU defense is a mess, 97th in the country. Only four BCS conference schools (and Notre Dame) are worse.

The pressure is on Oklahoma because if it doesn't win this year's renamed Red River Pillow Fight then it's five out of six for Brown and the 'Horns, OU is looking up in the Big 12 South and its national championship dreams are all but shot. Most of all, the clock is ticking to next year, when it could become six out of seven.

If Texas is "down", history tells us it won't be there for long. The pressure is on OU this year because the 'Horns are vulnerable. The pressure is on because Texas could be back -- soon.

The West shall rise again: Boise State has added a lot of cred to west-of-the-Rockies ball. But there was also some national buzz this week about the Pac-10 being better than the SEC at this point. WWL will listen to that argument as long as Tony Barnhart is buying.

Stanford is one of four unbeaten Pac-10 teams ranked in the top 18 in the nation. (Getty Images)  
Stanford is one of four unbeaten Pac-10 teams ranked in the top 18 in the nation. (Getty Images)  
The buzz starts with Stanford-Oregon, arguably the biggest game on Saturday's calendar. Stanford has proved it can win on the road with the September coach of the month, if not the coach of the year. Oregon didn't show weakness until last week, when the Ducks needed every one of Arizona State's turnovers to win in Tempe.

The Cardinal and Ducks both can score. The hidden story is how they can hammer. Stanford is No. 11 in total defense. Oregon is third in rushing offense. Andrew Luck is good but don't sleep on what makes Stanford so complete. It is actually rushing for more yards this season than it did last year with Heisman-runner up Toby Gerhart. (223.25 yards per game vs. 218.23). Harbaugh puts it this way: "I really believe this is a strong-man conference and the strongest man will eventually be the champion."

The Left Coast has four undefeated teams in the top 18, two in the top 10 who will meet in Eugene. Barnhart will tell you that the SEC has four in the top 12 and six overall in the AP poll. That's no surprise. The surprise is that the Pac-10 is pushing back. UCLA just punked Texas. Arizona beat Iowa. No one is talking about undefeated Southern California.

"Love the smash mouth and attitude of Stanford. Love the speed and athleticism of Oregon," T.B. countered. "Pac-10 is a good league this season but let's not get carried away with the SEC comparisons. There ain't nothing like life on the road in the SEC. Let one of those teams go to Starkville. Then get back to me."

WWL said it would listen to the argument. It didn't say it would agree with it. For now, call it two strong-man conferences and don't miss last call. Barnhart is still buying.

T-Town hoedown: Key figures in Alabama-Florida ...

Jeff Demps: The walking boot is off. Demps is probable. It would help to have someone able to turn the corner against that Alabama defense.

Trey Burton: The pressure is on. It will he harder wildcatting against 'Bama than it was against Kentucky.

John Brantley: Critics are looming. Brantley has to become more of a game changer than a game manager. Florida is 90th nationally in passing offense. After three years and four games in the system, is J.B. ready to beat No. 1?

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Mark Ingram: The Heisman winner is back playing like a Heisman winner. Ingram is the default setting when 'Bama gets in trouble. See Arkansas.

Alabama secondary: The confidence is back. So much for losing three starters. See Ryan Mallett.

Kirby Smart: See his defense. Alabama's d-coordinator has something for Burton, Demps and Brantley.

Nick Saban: See Smart.

Enjoy the hell out of it and hope for the rematch. My prediction is already out there.

Scoping the nation

Mark Dantonio back and in booth vs. Wisconsin: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has a knee scoped and misses two weeks. A 54-year-old head coach suffers a heart attack and misses a week. Different men, different ages, different ailments but, damn, do I want Coach D's doctors.

I also want Michigan State as the nation's No. 1 Cinderella if it is about to beat the Badgers. Expect some, um, hitting. The teams have combined for an average of almost 500 rushing yards per game. The Spartans are looking for their first 5-0 start since 1999, when Saban was only the coach, not a Gamechanger.

The Obama Trophy at stake: Navy has won 14 consecutive service academy games but something is about to change. The Midshipmen are walking (running?) into a trap at Air Force. The Falcons' only loss was a bitter one, by three at Oklahoma. The last service academy to beat Navy could be the next service academy to beat Navy. If it's close, go with Air Force. The Falcons have not allowed a fourth-quarter point this season (47-0).

Tracking TCU: It's called Fort Collins. It's in Colorado, at altitude. They're the Rams. They wear green. TCU needs to be reminded of these things when it travels Colorado State because who knows where they will be next year? If the Traveling Frogs do join the Big East as soon as 2011, it would be their fourth conference since 2000.

Boston College's defensive strategy against Notre Dame: It's pretty simple. Teams have had some success rushing three and dropping eight this season against Brian Kelly's spread. Look for BC to play along. The best way to bust a zone read is to stop the run with as few players as possible. ND is 99th in rushing. Only four other teams have fewer rushing touchdowns than the Irish's two.

Boise begins its quest: It has been mentioned enough but we might as well start comparing schedule strength. For entertainment purposes only, of course.

Boise's schedule strength isn't that far behind Alabama in one significant BCS computer -- the Sagarin Ratings. As of this moment, Boise's average opponent the remainder of the season is rated 73.4 by Sagarin. Alabama's opponents average 55.7. A more accurate measuring stick might be the NCAA's weekly toughest schedule ranking. It is based on records of opponents played to date and records of future opponents. Alabama is tied for 14th toughest. Boise is tied for 85th.

While Alabama is playing the biggest game of the day (maybe the year), Boise will be at New Mexico State, which is 0-3 and in the bottom 20 nationally in rushing, scoring, total offense, rushing defense, passing defense, total defense and scoring defense.

Big One and the Little Ten: Ohio State begins its chase for at least a share of a sixth consecutive conference title against Illinois.

"The fun starts with the Big Ten," said Terrelle Pryor, who is coming off a six-touchdown game against Eastern Michigan.

Don't sleep on the Illini, at least historically. Ron Zook is 5-4 in his career against top five teams. Illinois is 9-11 against the Bucks since 1988. Only Michigan (11-10-1) has more victories over Ohio State during that span.

Penn State-Iowa: The Nittany Lions are one loss in Iowa City away from the obvious becoming clear -- this is a rebuilding year for 83-year-old JoePa. No doubt he's up to it -- the future, that is -- but this team has too many flaws. True freshman quarterback Robert Bolden, already having lost at Alabama, will be facing another ranked opponent at night. His predecessor, Daryll Clark, never beat Iowa.

Question: Since 1995, Alabama and Auburn have met as ranked teams only once. In that same time span, how times have Florida and Alabama met as ranked teams?

Quote of the week from the Ol' Turkey Inseminator

"God takes care of children and fools ... and I'm no child."

--Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell, whose team plays at UConn

Answer: Six. The difference being that Alabama and Auburn play every season. Florida and Alabama have met only eight times since 1995.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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