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College Football 2013: 5 Big Questions for Week 9

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We’re getting into crunch time of the college football season with division races tightening up and the national title hunt taking shape. Here are some of the big storylines that could shake up college football this week. 

Can Missouri Lock Up the SEC West?

With the collapse of the traditional SEC West powers, No. 5 Missouri can all but lock up the division with a win this week over No. 21 South Carolina. After being picked sixth in the division in the preseason, the Tigers are now the division’s last remaining unbeaten team. They currently hold a two-game lead in the division and already hold tiebreakers over Georgia and Florida. A win over the Gamecocks this weekend could all but wrap up the division title in Missouri’s second year as an SEC member. Tigers starting quarterback James Franklin is expected to miss another 2-4 weeks with a separated shoulder, but Mizzou hasn’t missed a beat, ranking eighth nationally in scoring. With a favorable upcoming schedule, the Tigers should be able to book their spot in the SEC title game with a win this week.

Can Oklahoma Rebound?

You know times have changed when Texas Tech and Baylor are the last remaining unbeatens in the Big 12. This week, Oklahoma will look to regroup against the No. 10 Red Raiders, who come into this matchup with the nation’s second-best passing attack and an offense that is averaging over 41 points per game. Tech starting quarterback Bakery Mayfield was lost to a season-ending injury, but backup Davis Webb has made the most of his opportunity, becoming the first Red Raider freshman to throw for 400+ yards in his first two starts. He’ll face a Sooners defense that ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense, but that has been hit by injuries in recent weeks and has given up 55 points the last two weeks (compared with just 65 through its first five games). Oklahoma fell flat in the Red River Rivalry matchup against archrival Texas and then looked sluggish in last week’s 34-19 win at Kansas. The Sooners will need to regroup quickly, as they face tough offensive matchups in their next two games against Texas Tech and No. 8 Baylor.

What Does Having DeAnthony Thomas Back Mean for Oregon?

The Oregon offense hasn’t suffered without star running back DeAnthony Thomas, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury. However, the speedster is expected to return this week when the No. 3 Ducks host No. 12 UCLA. Prior to his injury, Thomas was averaging over eight yards per carry and scored six touchdowns in just three games. In his absence, however, all his replacements — Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner — have done is run for over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. And that says nothing of the performances by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has moved himself to the top of the Heisman race by already accounting for over 2,500 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. If you thought the Oregon offense was scary before (second nationally in scoring at 57.6 points per game), the return of Thomas only makes the Ducks that much more potent.

Can Miami Keep Rolling?

With the specter of NCAA punishments finally behind them, Miami knows they will be allowed to play in a bowl game this season. But, after starting 6-0, the No. 7 Hurricanes have their sights set much higher. A showdown on Nov. 2 against old rival No. 2 Florida State could propel the winner into the national title mix. But first Miami will need to get past Wake Forest this weekend. The Demon Deacons don’t have much offense (114th nationally), but bring in a solid defense that has held four of its last five opponents to 21 or fewer points. However, Miami boasts one of the nation’s most balanced attacks (13th in scoring offense, 11th in scoring defense) and, unless they start turning the ball over or get caught looking ahead, the Hurricanes should survive this weekend and set up one of the biggest ACC conference games in years.

Can Northern Illinois or Fresno State Crash the Party?

It’s never too early to start talking about BCS busters, right? Louisville’s loss last week has opened the door wide open for No. 18 Northern Illinois to make its way into the BCS for the second consecutive year while also giving hope to No. 17 Fresno State. Under BCS rules, if a team from a non-AQ conference is ranked in the top 12 or is in the top 16 and finishes ahead of one of the automatic qualifiers, they can earn a spot in a BCS bowl game. With No. 23 Central Florida in the driver’s seat for the American Athletic Conference’s automatic bid, it’s likely that, should Fresno and Northern Illinois remain undefeated, one or both of them could fit that bill. The Fiesta Bowl has the last pick in the BCS rotation this year, meaning the team that gets that slot likely would be placed there opposite the Big 12 champion.

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