Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend.
LSU. When are we going to let the defending national champions start defending their national championship? Isn't there some kind of unwritten rule that the defending champion gets to at least be considered a candidate in the next season's race – especially if that team is 38-6 over the past four years and has won at least 11 games in each of the past three? Maybe that LSU had to replace the top two quarterbacks from last season had something to do with it, but starting the season ranked No. 7 was a little unkind. A road win over Auburn behind the heroics of redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee should have answered some questions. LSU has a chance to force its way back into the national-championship spotlight if it can go down to The Swamp this weekend and knock off Florida, which was a preseason favorite in some corners to win the national title.
VANDERBILT. Last season Vanderbilt was on the brink of bowl eligibility, then lost four in a row. In '05 the Commodores started 4-0, but lost to Middle Tennessee State to start a six-game losing streak. Vandy posted a significant victory over Auburn last week and can become eligible to make its first bowl appearance since 1982 with a victory over Mississippi State on Saturday. Will the Commodores keep rolling, or will they prove to be a tease again and fall into a trap in Starkville?
IS NORTHWESTERN FOR REAL? This weekend's home game against Michigan State should tell us. The Wildcats have shocked many by jetting to a 5-0 start, but they have yet to face a foe as good as the Spartans, who have won five in a row after dropping their opener at Cal. Northwestern has beaten Syracuse, Duke, Southern Illinois, Ohio and Iowa. While Michigan State lacks a killer defense, Northwestern's offense has struggled to adapt to new coordinator Mick McCall's no-huddle attack. The Wildcats' surprisingly good defense may be able to win this one, but the work-in-progress offense could doom Northwestern if it doesn't soon take flight.
WHO CAN RECOVER, WHO CAN'T. It's gut-check time for several teams around the country. I want to see who's still inspired and who is heading for a tailspin. Much was expected of East Carolina, Nebraska, Arizona State and Wisconsin either in the preseason or in early September. All are coming off back-to-back losses - at least. Which of these teams are still in it for the long haul? Of those four, I can see only East Carolina winning this weekend (at Virginia). Nebraska goes to Texas Tech, Arizona State to USC and Wisconsin faces Penn State. All need to be sharp to avoid being embarrassed.
THE BIG 12. I watched the league closely last weekend and will do so again. Hey, it's not every week in mid-October that a league features two games matching unbeaten teams. The Oklahoma - Texas showdown will show just how much of an impact new coordinator Will Muschamp has made on Texas' defense. For Longhorns fans, I fear the answer will be "not enough." I'm also looking forward to seeing whether Missouri's defense can handle Oklahoma State's physical rushing attack. Mizzou's offense shouldn't have any problems with the Cowboys' defense, so it's Mizzou's defense that will be under the microscope. And I'm also intrigued – in a "Oh, my, it's a car wreck. Slow down" kind of way – to see what Texas Tech's offense does to Nebraska's defense.
HOW GOOD IS NOTRE DAME?: Notre Dame has come a long way since dropping nine of its first 10 games last season. That much is certain. But how good are the Irish? We should have a better idea this week. Notre Dame had four of its first five games at home and has taken full advantage of the situation, but the Irish lost 23-7 to Michigan State in their only road trip of the year. Notre Dame gets another chance to prove itself away from home Saturday when it faces North Carolina, which is coming off a convincing win over previously unbeaten Connecticut. The Irish secondary will face a major challenge from Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, who form one of the top receiving tandems in the nation. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen has thrown three touchdown passes and no interceptions in each of his past two games. How will he fare against a North Carolina defense that leads the nation with 12 interceptions? That Notre Dame remains unranked despite starting 4-1 shows that plenty of doubt remains about this team. The Irish can wipe away much of that skepticism by winning at North Carolina.