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October 11, 2010

Week 7 Watch: The lucky (and good) 13

Some superstitious sorts see 13 as an unlucky number.

Yet heading into the seventh week of the season, there are 13 FBS teams that remain undefeated, and some of them (Auburn and LSU, for example) have been quite lucky.

That baker's dozen of unbeaten teams is Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State of the Big 12, TCU and Utah of the Mountain West, Boise State and Nevada of the WAC, LSU and Auburn of the SEC, Oregon of the Pac-10 and Ohio State and Michigan State of the Big Ten.

Twelve of those teams put their perfect records on the line (Oregon is open) this week in a schedule that features Ohio State against Wisconsin and Auburn against Arkansas.

In addition, Nebraska takes on Texas in a much-anticipated chance to end a five-game losing streak to the Longhorns; Oklahoma State takes on Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cowboys have never won as a Big 12 team; and Michigan State plays Illinois, whose two losses have come to unbeaten Missouri and Ohio State.

None of the unbeaten teams face each other, so all 13 could get through the week with perfect records if they continue to play well -- or if they're lucky.

Player under the gun

Texas QB Garrett Gilbert

Texas' lack of a rushing attack has put plenty of pressure on this first-year starter, and he has struggled during the Longhorns' two-game skid. Gilbert ranks 82nd nationally in pass efficiency, and he has thrown two interceptions and only one touchdown pass in his past two games. He now faces a Nebraska team that leads the nation in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. Texas relies heavily on Gilbert, who has averaged 39.3 pass attempts over his past four games. If he doesn't perform well, Texas has no shot against the Huskers.

Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin, 7 p.m., ESPN. Ohio State now is No. 1 in both major polls and faces a stern test to prove itself worthy of that ranking. The Buckeyes' defense must slow RB John Clay and the Badgers' physical rushing attack. The Badgers' stout defense will pose a challenge for Ohio State Heisman hopeful Terrelle Pryor.

Don't overlook this one: Missouri at Texas A&M, noon, Fox Sports Net. Nevada is the only undefeated team ranked lower than Missouri in the coaches' poll. Do the No. 19 Tigers deserve such a ranking? They haven't played the toughest schedule, but wins over Illinois and San Diego State look more impressive than they did at the time. Missouri takes its first road trip of the season to Texas A&M, which is coming off back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas. Mizzou is allowing only 11.2 points per game.

On the midweek marquee: Cincinnati at Louisville, Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN. So, Friday's not really midweek, but did you see the Thursday schedule? It's sleep-inducing: USF at West Virginia and Kansas State at Kansas. The Big East is out of the national-title picture, but this could be an interesting game between the former champion and an upstart. The Cardinals are playing inspired football under Charlie Strong and have a formidable running game. Both played overmatched opponents last week, so this will give us a glimpse at both teams against opponents of similar stature.

Coach under the gun: Michigan's Rich Rodriguez. Denard Robinson's amazing start removed Rodriguez from the hot seat for the first month of the season, but RichRod could be under scrutiny again if the Wolverines lose a second consecutive home game Saturday against Iowa. Keep in mind Michigan also raced to a fast start in 2009 before a loss to Michigan State began a late-season tailspin. Now that the Wolverines have lost to their in-state rival again, Rodriguez must make sure his team responds better this time.

Best coordinator chess match: Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst vs. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. Chryst oversees an offense that averages more than 200 yards on the ground and through the air. It's vital that Wisconsin has that kind of balance Saturday if it wants to upset the Buckeyes. Heacock's modus operandi is to shut down the run, then get after the quarterback; it's simple but also effective. Heacock isn't blitz-happy, but he does a nice job with his calls for blitzes. Ohio State, which is No. 3 in total defense, also is effective in mixing coverages.

BCS-buster watch: N.C. State at East Carolina, noon, CBS College Sports. The Wolfpack (5-1) are the surprise team in the ACC, but this will be tough -- albeit short -- road trip to Greenville. The teams last met in 2008 in Raleigh, when N.C. State needed a last-minute touchdown to force overtime and eventually claimed a 30-24 victory. The Pirates are one of the top teams in C-USA and enter the game with momentum, coming off a scintillating 44-43 victory at Southern Miss. This is an opportunity for "little brother" ECU to strike a blow against a bigger in-state school.

Best individual matchup of the week: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett vs. Auburn QB Cameron Newton. No, they won't be on the field at the same time, but this is the type of quarterback duel you watch even if you couldn't care less about either team. This basically is a must-win game for the Hogs if they want to keep their SEC West title hopes alive; Auburn, meanwhile, is one of two unbeaten teams in the division -- and the Tigers play the other next week (LSU). Mallett and Newton must be sharp if their team is to win, and both defenses have issues. The winning quarterback becomes the SEC's leading Heisman contender.

Best unit matchup of the week: Wisconsin offensive line vs. Ohio State defensive line. The Badgers' best unit is their offensive line, but that group had trouble in the loss to Michigan State; it can't have any trouble -- or at least not much -- if the Badgers are to beat the Buckeyes. T Gabe Carimi is the best in the nation at his position, and G John Moffitt is a beefy mauler in the middle of the line. E Cameron Heyward, who suffered from leg cramps in the second half of Saturday's win over Indiana, provides the star power for the Buckeyes' line, but this is a deep, physical unit. Wisconsin must run effectively -- like 175 or so yards -- if it's going to beat Ohio State, which puts the onus on the Badgers' offensive linemen to win their battles.

Injury report: Oregon State WR James Rodgers may be lost for the season after injuring his left knee in the second quarter of the Beavers' 29-27 upset of host Arizona. The injury occurred on a touchdown catch that was nullified by a penalty. If Rodgers is gone for the season, it's a huge loss for Oregon State. Beavers coach Mike Riley considers Rodgers to be a leader who provides heart and inspiration on the field as well as great talent.

Record watch: TCU has had back-to-back shutouts (of Colorado State and Wyoming), the first time since 1955 the Horned Frogs have had consecutive shutouts. TCU will try for a third against BYU, which ranks 113th in the nation in scoring (16.7 points per game). TCU actually had three consecutive shutouts in '55, all on the road.

Coaching connection: Just who Florida wanted to see when the offense is sputtering: Dan Mullen. The Mississippi State coach was the offensive coordinator of the Gators' national title teams in 2006 and '08. Mullen and Urban Meyer go back to their days at Notre Dame in 1999. In their first meeting as coaches, Florida won 29-19 in Starkville last season. Florida has lost two in a row and hasn't lost three in a row under Meyer.

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