OU has questions to answer
Oklahoma heads into College Station this weekend to take on Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) needing to clear up some issues in its defensive secondary. The Sooners allowed Oklahoma State's Donovan Woods to complete only eight passes last week but four went for more than 30 yards, and they are facing a much more capable offense this week.
It will be very interesting to see how Oklahoma defense responds to the criticism it has faced the last week, but here's guessing they realize this is their last real obstacle on the way to the Big 12 championship game and the Orange Bowl. They will show up foaming at the mouth, because there is no doubt coach Bob Stoops and co-defensive coordinators Brent Venables and Bo Pelini challenged them all week.
The matchup to watch in that area is Terence Murphy and the rest of the A&M wide receivers against the Oklahoma cornerbacks. Top cover man Antonio Perkins is on the bench with an injury and the Sooners have proven vulnerable without him, so it will be up to Eric Bassey and Chijioke Onyenegecha to shut Murphy and his mates down.
On the other side of the ball Oklahoma is still challenging teams deep, but this year the Sooners are doing it with Adrian Peterson and the running game. That forces defenses to pick their poison. Either they bring the safeties down to the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson, leaving OU's talented wide receivers in one-on-one coverage, of they keep those safeties back and get gutted but Peterson and a veteran offensive line.
The Aggies play a lot of man coverage anyway, so look for them to be aggressive at home and try to take Peterson out of the game. They will force quarterback Jason White and his wideouts to make plays.
Although OU got a scare last week and A&M looks like an even bigger challenge, the Sooners realize what is at stake and they will come out blazing with nice offensive balance and lots of pressure on McNeal. The crowd at Kyle Field will make it a hard-fought game, but in the end Oklahoma will come out with a 31-27 win.
Minnesota vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (3:30, ESPN)
The Badgers are coming off a bye week and getting healthy for a very difficult stretch run, beginning with this rivalry game that always seems to come down to the wire. The Golden Gophers are reeling coming off three straight losses, but playing in an intense rivalry means they are still dangerous.
Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco has improved every week and is now running an offense that has the explosiveness of tailback Anthony Davis coupled with some threat in the passing game. The key this week will be whether that duo can come up with some big plays against a revved-up Minnesota defense.
The Wisconsin defense will have to be careful because the Gophers are mad, but the return of defensive ends Erasmus James and Jonathan Welsh will be a big boost. Defensive coordinator Brent Bielema will put eight and nine men in the box to slow the awesome Minnesota tailback duo of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney to see if quarterback Brian Cupito can come up with enough plays, which should translate into a 27-19 win for the Badgers.
Oregon vs. No. 6 California (3:30, ABC)
California seems to be on its way to a 10-1 season, but this week's matchup with Oregon could be the scariest game the Golden Bears have the rest of the way.
California head coach Jeff Tedford was once the offensive coordinator at Oregon and his former team is off the radar right now despite playing some very good football. Coaches around the country have a lot of respect for the offense the Ducks have put on the field the last few years, and with quarterback Kellen Clemens plying well this will be a much better challenge than Cal has seen while putting up two straight shutouts the last two weeks.
And Oregon is also playing good defense for the first time in a long time, ranking 17th in the nation in total defense at 292.1 yards per game.
As for the Bears, injuries at wide receiver have left them relying on true freshman Robert Jordan to help quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Look for them to run tailback J.J. Arrington enough to take the pressure off those guys and get some balance in the offense to slow down that improved Ducks defense.
Oregon will give California a challenge, but I rank the Bears No. 2 in the nation behind USC and I like them to respond to the challenge. The combination of offensive balance and a defense that is playing lights-out right now will lead the Bears to a challenging, 31-20 victory.
No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7 Texas (7:00, TBS)
Oklahoma State quarterback Donovan Woods hooked up with his brother D'Juan for some big plays last week, but they will be facing a Texas defense this week that is gaining confidence every week and completely shut down Colorado last week, not allowing the Buffaloes across midfield until halfway through the fourth quarter.
Donovan Woods will not attempts a lot of passes and the Longhorns are good good on defense to allow a one-dimensional attack to beat them, so don't expect OSU tailback Vernand Morency to find a lot of room to run. You also have to wonder how much was left on the field and how much is left in the tank for the Cowboys after last week's near-upset of Oklahoma.
That spent emotion, the blitzing of the Texas defense and the combination of running back Cedric Benson and quarterback Vince Young means a 31-17 win for the 'Horns.
Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Tennessee (3:30, CBS)
Tennessee has improved as much as any team in the nation over the last four weeks, and its defense will continue to put the pressure on this week against Notre Dame. The goal of defensive coordinator John Chavis will be to get in the face of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn and disrupt the timing with his wide receivers, and the Volunteers' speed and athleticism will be enough to chase down the Notre Dame running game.
True freshman Erik Ainge now has the quarterback job all to himself thanks to an injury to fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer, so the pressure is off and Ainge should be even more comfortable. The Vols will pound Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs in the running game then look for big plays over the top to wideouts Chris Hannon and Robert Meachem. Tennessee wins, 24-13.
Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN "College GameDay" and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- FSU's Fisher: Doesn't matter how team wins
- Winston says contact with ref unintentional
- Sooners' Perine (427 yards) bests Gordon
- No. 4 Miss. State bounces back, slams Vandy