Both teams have stepped out played decent non-conference competition. TCU has wins over Oregon State, SMU and Baylor. Utah knocked off Pitt & Iowa State. Each has survived a conference game with feisty Air Force. Each still has Mountain West darkhorse San Diego State on the docket in November.
TCU's strength is its defense, and they are particularly stringent against the pass. Utah's sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn is going to face some serious pressure and the Utes desperately need the running game with Eddie Wide to take some of the burden. Wide has a nice 5-yards per carry average, but it's not often he piles up large yardage totals for a game. Quantity might mean as much as quality this afternoon. TCU has a sound running game with Ed Wesley, but quarterback Andy Dalton has to be considered a question mark--namely, his inability to avoid mistakes in big games. It's that reason I haven't been on the TCU bandwagon and have liked the Utes all season long to ultimately win this conference. They intercept three passes, and with a lead can manage the game effectively enough to avoid mistakes and win 20-13.
The other big midmajor out west faces one of its two remaining challenges today. Boise State hosts Hawaii. The Rainbows are also unbeaten in conference play, though they've lost twice overall. They throw the ball very well with Bryant Moniz and have an impressive win over Nevada to their credit. However we must get real--they don't have anywhere near enough to match up with the Broncos on the blue field. They're defensively challenged and Kellen Moore should build up his Heisman resume. The bigger issue is whether the polls will be realistic in their expectations for Boise State. If the Broncos win this game decisively, it should be acknowledged they beat a pretty good team. And there shouldn't be an expectation of Boise winning by 50 every time they take the field. They take this one 56-21.
Finally the night comes to an end with Arizona-Stanford, a huge battle in the Pac-10. The Wildcats still have Oregon ahead of them and can win out and take the conference championship. Stanford can hope the Ducks win out, make it to the national championship game and the Rose Bowl eyes up the Pac-10 runner-up as a replacement team for Pasadena. An 11-1 Cardinal squad would be the logical choice. Arizona gets quarterback Nick Foles back in the lineup, but they real issue will be how their outstanding defensive line, led by Ricky Elmore on the end and Brandon Bair inside performs. They need pressure on Andrew Luck and they can't let running back Stephan Taylor get going. The latter is an underrated component of Jim Harbaugh's offense, and with everyone keyed on Luck and the passing game, I'm looking for Taylor to have a big night and Stanford to win, 45-27.
It's not a college football Saturday in November with a huge SEC game on the docket and it's Alabama-LSU from Baton Rouge this week. LSU played the Tide very tough in Tuscaloosa last year and playing defense like they do, it won't be any different this year. It's whether they'll be able to move the ball that's in question, and I have my doubts. Stevan Ridley did not have a good game against Auburn on the ground, and the Tide defends the run much better. The passing game, with either Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee isn't as inept as it was in September, but it's not going to remind anyone of Boise State's anytime soon. Alabama is too physical, too disciplined and too mentally tough down the stretch. There are huge differences between this game and their road loss at South Carolina. Most important, the Tigers aren't as good as the Gamecocks. Almost as important, is that earlier loss was the last leg of a tough three-game road stretch for 'Bama. This week will have their total focus and Greg McElroy will make enough big throws to Julio Jones to pull out a win, 17-7.
Arkansas goes to South Carolina in another good SEC game. The Hogs are fighting to keep their hopes alive to finish second in the West, a spot that could earn them a major bowl bid and they absolutely must win this game to get there. South Carolina has a little cushion to play with--unless Florida somehow loses to Vanderbilt today, the Gamecocks will play the Gators next week for the Eastern Division title, win or lose today. But if South Carolina doesn't win the SEC what they do today could be the difference between going to the Capital One Bowl or the Music City Bowl. Everything lines up for them to win today. Marcus Lattimore is healthy, Stephen Garcia is playing well and really clicking with Alshon Jeffrey. Arkansas is hurting, with top wide receiver Greg Childs out for the year. That's more of a burden on Ryan Mallett, who hasn't always met the moment in the biggest games and the Gamecocks defend the run well. Let's call this one for Steve Spurrier's troops, 31-20.
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football and game analysis in the NFL. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.