With the season winding down, each game is a crushing blow or clutch win for teams with conference title or BCS hopes. This weekend hosts three pivotal games in three of the BCS conferences and a game between two of the top non-BCS schools.
West Virginia vs. Cincinnati
The Mountaineers and Bearcats will face off in a matchup of top-25 teams on Friday night at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Bearcats remain undefeated (5-0 Big East, 9-0 overall) and in the hunt for a national title appearance despite playing the last three contests without their standout senior quarterback Tony Pike. Pike had earned some Heisman love after throwing for 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions the first six weeks of the season. After his injury, however, it seemed unlikely that the Bearcats could keep their record unblemished.
Backup Zach Collaros put those concerns to bed, leading Cincinnati to three straight victories, including a 47-45 win over Connecticut last weekend in which he threw for 480 yards, ran for 75 more and accounted for three touchdowns (two rushing).
Pike should be ready to return this weekend and appears to be in line to return to the starting spot. However, Collaros' play warrants at least a situational appearance in the nation's third-ranked offense. West Virginia will counter with a spread offense that is led by dynamic junior running back Noel Divine.
Divine has rushed for 1,010 yards on just 167 attempts, an average of over six yards per carry. A win over the Bearcats would keep the Mountaineers (3-1 Big East, 7-2 overall) in contention for a Big East title, as they enter the weekend trailing only Cincinnati and Pittsburg (5-0 Big East, 8-1 overall).
Utah vs. TCU
The Utah Utes and TCU Horned Frogs hook up in Fort Worth, Texas, this Saturday for a matchup that has not only MWC but BCS implications.
The two teams stand tied atop the Mountain West Conference with unblemished 5-0 conference records. The Horned Frogs are unbeaten overall, at 9-0, and have put themselves in position to protest loudly should they finish undefeated and be left out of the national title game.
Utah (8-1) has not lost since a 31-24 defeat at the hands of the Oregon Ducks on Sept. 19. However, the Utes are currently in the process of breaking in a freshman quarterback. That freshman, Jordan Wynn, debuted two weeks ago and revived a stumbling Utes offense in a 22-10 win over Wyoming. He made his first start last week, throwing for 297 yards and two scores against New Mexico in a 45-10 victory.
This week will certainly be a challenge for the young freshman, as TCU boasts the sixth-ranked team defense in the country. The Horned Frogs have allowed just 11.2 points per game and have held three of their last four opponents to a touchdown or less. That includes a dominating 38-7 victory over then No. 16 BYU, a game in which TCU forced two turnovers and sacked quarterback Max Hall five times, shutting down BYU's aerial attack.
To complement their prowess on defense, the Horned Frogs know how to score. In fact, they are the only team in the country in the top 10 both defensively and offensively.
Iowa vs. Ohio State
Iowa's dreams of a national championship were dashed last weekend at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats.
A Big Ten title is still a very real possibility, but the Hawkeyes will have to come out of Columbus with a win on Saturday to make it happen. The Buckeyes join Iowa as the only two Big Ten teams with just one conference loss. After a surprising loss to Purdue on Oct. 17, Ohio State has ripped off three consecutive wins in impressive form.
Sophomore dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor has responded well to the criticism that has followed his play much of the year, directing an Ohio State attack that has outscored its last three opponents by a combined score of 107-14. That includes a 24-7 victory over Penn State last weekend, a win that, along with Iowa's loss, put the Buckeyes in control of their own destiny.
The Hawkeyes have played in several close games this year, and they finally got burned last weekend when the Wildcats walked out of Iowa City with a 17-10 victory. They suffered a huge blow when junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi left the game with an ankle injury.
He has since had surgery on the ankle and in all likelihood will not be available for the rest of the regular season. However, Iowa can still win the Big Ten title and earn a spot in the Rose Bowl with wins over Ohio State and Minnesota.
Although they have only averaged 24.2 points per game, the Hawkeyes have held opponents to 15.9 and have been tough to overcome late in games.
Stanford vs. USC
Usually by this time of the season, any football game featuring the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Coliseum amounts to a tune-up for a Rose Bowl appearance, or even a national championship.
This year, however, the story is a bit different. Two conference losses have left the Trojans in a tie for third in the Pac-10, and while the Trojans are still technically in the hunt for a conference crown, the unbeatable aura of the team has certainly taken a hit.
The late season swoon is something that head coach Pete Carroll has not dealt with much in his tenure at USC. Then again, so is navigating a full season with a true freshman quarterback. The young signal-caller, Matt Barkley, has looked great at times and, well, like a freshman at others.
Stanford does not have an elite defense, but they run the ball with the best, and Barkley will have to control the tempo for the Trojans. Attempting to control the pace on the other side will be the Cardinal's senior running back Toby Gerhart. While he does not get much attention, Gerhart has put together one of the best seasons in the country. He has rushed for 1,217 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, placing him second in the nation in both.
Stanford (5-2 Pac-10, 6-3 overall) will be looking to make it back-to-back marquee victories after knocking off Oregon last week in a 51-42 shootout. Gerhart ran 38 times for 233 yards and three scores to help out freshman quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck was pretty good himself, throwing for 251 yards and two more scores.