Two clashes of unbeatens set for Saturday
Monday, October 18, 2010; 1:10 AM
The number of undefeated teams in the nation will be trimmed at least by two Saturday after showdowns in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference. No. 18 Missouri will host No. 3 Oklahoma, while No. 5 Auburn will take on visiting No. 6 Louisiana State.
Following a weekend in which eight teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25 lost - including three in the top 10 - the national title race appears wide open, even for teams that were not in the picture at the season's outset. Missouri received just 27 votes in the preseason AP poll and did not crack the top 25 until Oct. 3.
But if the Tigers and their surprisingly stingy defense - No. 2 in the nation in points allowed - can knock off the Sooners and then steal a win at No. 14 Nebraska the following week, Missouri could enter November near the top of the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Cornhuskers suddenly appear vulnerable after suffering a 20-13 loss to Texas.
Missouri has not beaten Oklahoma since 1998. In fact, the Sooners have won 19 of the past 20 meetings between the two programs. So if the Tigers hope to pull off the upset, they'll need quarterback Blaine Gabbert to continue to perform like he did Saturday, when he threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns while leading Missouri to a 30-9 win at Texas A&M.
Oklahoma, however, possesses national title aspirations of its own, and the Sooners already are in much better position to lay claim to prime BCS rankings real estate. Having already defeated two ranked teams - Texas and Florida State - Oklahoma has the resume and the cache to leapfrog one or both of the BCS's red-headed stepchildren - No. 2 Boise State and No. 4 Texas Christian - should all three squads remain undefeated.
After squaring off against Missouri, the Sooners' schedule softens somewhat until the regular season finale at No. 17 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has completed 67.4 percent of his passes and thrown 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions thus far this season.
The marquee SEC matchup Saturday will hinge largely on quarterback play, as well. Auburn signal caller Cameron Newton - who ranks No. 2 in the nation in quarterback efficiency rating (180.5) - has edged his way into the Heisman Trophy discussion. Newton is averaging 182.6 passing yards and 122.9 rushing yards per game.
LSU's quarterback production has not been nearly as prolific, much less as consistent, but the Tigers will need either Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson to step up if they hope to keep pace with Auburn. Lee and Jefferson combined to throw for 103 yards Saturday during a 32-10 win over division 1-AA McNeese State. More likely, LSU will rely heavily on a defense that has given up more than 14 points in a game just twice this season.