It’s getting to be put up or shut up time in college football. Some teams are running out of space to win a championship, others running out of space to save a season.
Both are represented in this week’s Tense 10 — 10 games with something to be proven.
1. Stanford at USC: The Trojans are unranked with a 7-3 record, and that has only happened six other times in history. But then, how good can you be if your coach gets canned? Still, USC has shown considerable signs of life, especially on defense, and suddenly is a genuine threat against a Stanford team that has the Rose Bowl on its mind.
2. Michigan State at Nebraska: One minute, Bo Pelini is fighting for his job at Nebraska. The next, if the Cornhuskers win this game, he’s in the car pool lane to Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game. If the Spartans win, the Legends Division is nearly in the bag. But they’ll have to do something about that 0-7 all-time record against Nebraska.
3. Michigan at Northwestern: It can’t get much worse for either, but it will for one. The Wolverines have lost three of their last four games and — somewhere Bo Schembechler must be scowling — has minus-69 yards rushing the past two games. Northwestern has dropped five in a row. Without a speedy recovery, the Wildcats will collapse from a 4-0 start and top 25 ranking to not even playing in a bowl.
4. Florida at South Carolina: Will Muschamp needs some good news fast, before he becomes as unpopular in Florida as frost on the orange crop. The Gators have not lost five games in a row in 34 years. But they might Saturday. Injuries have not helped the cause. Only five Florida players have started all nine games.
5. Texas Tech vs. Baylor in Arlington: The air space should be busier than rush hour at O’Hare, with Texas Tech averaging a nation-leading 408 passing yards a game and Baylor nearly 391. The Bears yearn to stay unbeaten and remain the mystery guests in the BCS hunt, hoping a couple of the big guys ahead swerve off the road. And they have the all-time NCAA scoring record in their crosshairs. Army of 1944 averaged 56 points a game. Baylor is at 61.
6. Georgia at Auburn: Here’s the plan for 9-1 Auburn. Grind down the Bulldogs with the running attack that chews up 320 yards a game, and then start the two-week preparation for Armageddon. That’s when Alabama comes to town. Now if only Georgia will cooperate. But the Bulldogs have scored 76 unanswered points against the Tigers going back to the first quarter in 2011.
7. Miami at Duke: Funny, how different the same 7-2 record can feel. Suddenly, Miami is needing to salvage a year that began to go sour at Florida State. Suddenly, Duke is celebrating its first winning season in 19 years and talking about playing for the ACC championship. The Blue Devils’ defense has scored as many fourth-quarter touchdowns this season (2), as it has allowed.
8. Alabama at Mississippi State: Alabama keeps churning its way toward history, winning eight of its nine games by at least 21 points, Nick Saban warns of letdowns and everyone else looks for cracks. Probably none to be found this week. The Tide have outscored Mississippi State 155-34 their last five meetings.
9. Ohio State at Illinois: Evan Spencer will not be doting the “i” in Script Ohio this week, after his brash words about wiping the floor with Alabama and Florida State annoyed Urban Meyer. But all the Buckeyes are starting to grumble about their No. 3 BCS spot and can afford to show no mercy. They’ve won 21 in a row. Illinois has dropped 19 consecutive Big Ten games. You do the math.
10. Oklahoma State at Texas: Texas has made the U-turn of the season with six consecutive wins so the Mack Brown hit squad has been furloughed. In its first three leaky weeks, the Longhorn defense allowed an average of 308 yards per game, with two total sacks. In the six games since, it has allowed an average of 123 yards with 25 sacks. Oklahoma State, with its own Big 12 title designs, has 71 players from Texas on its roster.