We are starting to get down to crunch time in college football’s regular season and as the games remaining trickle down to zero the impact of a loss now carries more and more weight. Which teams will look to avoid disaster this weekend? Here are the five teams who should be on the highest upset alert this weekend, beginning with Thursday night’s scheduled Big East meeting in Storrs, Connecticut.
The Panthers have a two game lead in the loss column in the Big East and a win Thursday night at UConn could make the remaining schedule a lot more free of stress for the preseason Big East favorites. Since losing at Notre Dame the Panthers have won three straight Big East games by a minimum of 17 points.
UConn has won every game they have played at home this season and is coming off an overtime victory against West Virginia last week. The Huskies may have some questions on offense but if senior quarterback Zach Frazer can remain calm in the backfield and get some protection against the Pitt defensive pressure then expect the Huskies to stay in this game for four quarters.
A loss does not necessarily take Pittsburgh out of the front-running position in the Big East but the final three games are at South Florida, home against West Virginia and at Cincinnati. It may be the toughest three game stretch on the schedule.
No. 2 Auburn Tigers
Considering all of the attention surrounding the Auburn program over the last week it would be absurd not to place them on upset alert. Cam Newton has been having to deal with a whirlwind of stories, rumors, reports, speculation and criticism whether it is deserved or not and to this point it appears he has handled it as well as he possibly could. Last week he went through a similar scenario but Auburn was only playing Chattanooga on the field and rumors of pay-to-play recruiting tactics relating to Mississippi State. This week Newton battles those continued stories plus some past issues at Florida and speculation about his decision to play at Auburn, and an improved Georgia Bulldogs team on the field.
Auburn may be the best team in the SEC, and the country, but finishing the regular season without a loss will be tough. Before the annual Iron Bowl with Alabama in Tuscaloosa the Tigers must get by A.J. Green and Georgia. After starting the season 1-4 the Bulldogs have won four of the last five games, only being defeated by Florida in overtime a couple weeks ago. They have scored an average of 42.8 points per game after starting the season scoring an average of 24.8 points per game. In the last five games Georgia has allowed less than 20 points per game.
Auburn is clearly the better team in this match-up but if the distractions off the field have any impact on Newton and the rest of the team then watch out. Georgia may have what it takes to stun the Tigers and derail their BCS dreams.
No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes
The Big Ten race could be a fascinating one to watch these final few weeks. If Iowa is going to wind up on top they will have to beat Northwestern on the road this week. The Wildcats are coming off a tough loss in State College, blowing a 21-0 lead, and should be fired up for senior day in Evanston.
Northwestern handed Iowa their first loss of the season last year at Iowa, rebounding from a 10-0 deficit after the first quarter. Northwestern took a 14-10 lead to halftime and kicked a field goal in the fourth quarter to make the final score 17-10 in favor of the purple clad Wildcats.
Quarterback Dan Persa for Northwestern may be one of the most unheralded players in the Big Ten and shows a poise that can carry the team. If Iowa’s defense gets caught in a bad position Persa can do some damage through the air and on the ground. Persa leads Northwestern in rushing in addition to being the third highest rated passer in the conference. Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi leads the Big Ten in that category and it will be up to him to ensure the offense keeps control of the ball.
No. 14 Utah Utes
There is no sugar coating just how bad last week’s loss to TCU was for Utah. It was bad. A win would have set the stage for Utah this weekend on national television to demonstrate why they should be a BCS contender. But there is still football to be played and there is still room to push in to the BCS selection debate if things fall the right way.
That is why it will be important for Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham to make sure his team stays composed this week. With three games left to play Utah can still finish the season 11-1 and that would be considered a successful season in most outlets. Traveling to Notre Dame can tend to be overwhelming for some programs but the Utes will not be intimidated.
The Fighting Irish will really be fighting for a bowl eligible season. A loss will make it extremely tough in the final two weeks of the season to reach six wins. Notre Dame takes on Army in Yankee Stadium next week and travels to USC to end the regular season. Notre Dame needs to win two of their final three games of the season. With Dayne Crist done for the season with a knee injury the offense will be turned over to freshman Tommy Rees.
Things look bleak for the Irish but they can still be considered a threat, especially if Utah is caught in a hangover from the tough loss last week.
#20 Virginia Tech Hokies
Ok Hokies, here you go. It has been a tough mountain to climb but you are on the brink of rebounding from a bad start of the season and back into a realm of respectability. All you have to do is knock off the North Carolina Tar Heels on the road and place a firm grip on the ACC’s Coastal division. You were after all the preseason favorites in the ACC but a 0-2 start with losses to Boise State (acceptable) and James Madison (unforgivable) gave you a black eye that is just now starting to fade.
North Carolina has been an interesting team even before the season started. Suspending players before the season officially kicked off against LSU and playing with an undermanned squad against the LSU Tigers, the Tar Heels put together a valiant effort and almost pulled out a surprising victory in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. After starting the season with their own 0-2 record many people would have been forgiven for writing off North Carolina this season considering the circumstances. But the Tar Heels have only lost once since then, a 31-10 blowout to Miami. North Carolina still has a slim chance to win the Coastal Division but a win against the Hokies will be a must.
Tar Heels quarterback T.J. Yates has thrown for 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor is one of the best in the ACC, passing for 16 touchdowns (four interceptions) and leading the Hokies in rushing with 584 yards.
Despite having had some personal issues this season the UNC defense is allowing a respectable 22.3 points per game this season. The Hokies are 16th in the nation with 36.0 points per game.