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November 9, 2011

Viewer's guide: West takes center stage

A week after all eyes were on the Southeast, the focus shifts West.

For those who complained about the "boring" defensive slugfest in the SEC last week, this week's top game - Oregon at Stanford - should provide more action on the scoreboard. This matchup last season featured 83 points and at least two touchdowns in every quarter of a Ducks win.

And just as Alabama-LSU wasn't the only key game in the SEC last week (Arkansas stayed in the SEC West race by defeating South Carolina), Stanford isn't the only undefeated team on the West Coast with a challenge this week.

Boise State still harbors national championship aspirations - or at least BCS aspirations. The Broncos face their toughest opponent since playing Georgia in the opener when they play host to TCU. The Horned Frogs are one of two teams that have defeated Boise State since 2008.

The week also features a rarity for this season: a Thursday night game between ranked teams. Thursday night used to be a home for games between quality opponents, but Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech is the first Thursday night game between ranked teams since the third week of the season. That was LSU's 19-6 win over Mississippi State, so that means no currently ranked teams have played each other on a Thursday night this season.

Here's a look at those games and the other top televised matchups in Week 11.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 11 VIEWER'S GUIDE
THURSDAY

VIRGINIA TECH AT GEORGIA TECH
When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Rece Davis play-by-play, Jesse Palmer and Craig James analysts
The line: Georgia Tech by 1
Why you should watch: Two weeks ago, Georgia Tech gutted out a 31-17 win over then-undefeated Clemson. At the same time, Virginia Tech was struggling to put away Duke in a 14-10 win. The Yellow Jackets' win over Clemson put them back into the race for the ACC title game, but they must defeat the Coastal Division-leading Hokies to stay alive. Georgia Tech has averaged 7.7 yards per play in its seven wins and only 4.1 in its losses, which came on the road against Virginia and Miami. Against Clemson, Georgia Tech didn't need many long plays; it beat the Tigers methodically with the option. With the exception of its win over Miami, Virginia Tech has been stout against the run. The Hokies will find out if games against Wake Forest, Boston College and Duke were an indication of good defense or lackluster competition. Each of the past three meetings in this series has been decided by seven or fewer points.

SATURDAY

NEBRASKA AT PENN STATE
When: Noon, ESPN
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Chris Spielman and Urban Meyer analysts
The line: Nebraska by 3.5
Why you should watch: What kind of reception awaits Joe Paterno in his final home game? The scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has rocked Penn State and has rendered this game insignificant. While it seems inconsequential, there is a game to play, and at 5-0 in the Big Ten, Penn State is the only team in the Big Ten without a league loss. Every other team in its division has at least two, and the Nittany Lions face two of those teams in the final three weeks (Wisconsin and Ohio State). Nebraska enters this game after an embarrassing home loss to Northwestern. Taylor Martinez had one of his best passing games of the season (28-of-37, 289 yards, two touchdowns), but the Huskers' running game stalled and the defense couldn't contain Northwestern's second- and third-string quarterbacks.

MICHIGAN STATE AT IOWA
When: Noon, ESPN2
Broadcasters: Beth Mowins play-by-play, Mike Bellotti analyst
The line: Michigan State by 3
Why you should watch: Thanks to Nebraska's loss last week, this game is for the lead in the Big Ten Legends Division. After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in a one-point loss to Minnesota two weeks ago, Iowa was "toxic," as coach Kirk Ferentz put it, but last week's 24-16 win over Michigan put the Hawkeyes back in the race. If Iowa wins its remaining games (Michigan State, at Purdue, at Nebraska), the Hawkeyes will go to the Big Ten title game. That's a tall order, though. Iowa needs to continue the defensive momentum it built against the Wolverines. The defense had been lackluster for most of the year, but Michigan mustered only 323 yards against the Hawkeyes. Meanwhile, Michigan State is trying to find a more consistent running game to help out QB Kirk Cousins. He has been sacked 10 times in the past three games after being sacked just four times in the first six. If Michigan State can win this game, its remaining schedule is the easiest of the Big Ten Legends contenders (a home game against Indiana and a road trip to Northwestern).

AUBURN AT GEORGIA
When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: Georgia by 13
Why you should watch: The question throughout October was whether Georgia could get back into the SEC East race. Thanks to South Carolina's loss at Arkansas last week and the Bulldogs' seven-game winning streak, the Bulldogs now are in control of the division. Georgia's defense has sterling numbers, but the Bulldogs have played only one team ranked in the top half of the SEC in total offense and rushing offense (Mississippi State on Oct. 1) during the winning streak. Auburn's Michael Dyer will be the best running back Georgia has faced since Marcus Lattimore in Game 2. Georgia will be in better shape at tailback than it was last week, when its top three tailbacks were suspended. Leading rusher Isaiah Crowell is expected to start in his return. Auburn QB Clint Moseley is 24-of-35 for 305 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in his two starts this season. Those starts came against the SEC's best team, LSU, and the SEC's worst team, Ole Miss. Auburn also has one of the hottest defensive players in the SEC in LB Eltoro Freeman, who has 7.5 tackles for loss in the past four games.

TCU AT BOISE STATE
When: 3:30 p.m., Versus
Broadcasters: Paul Burmeister play-by-play, Shaun King analyst
The line: Boise State by 15
Why you should watch: This is a "what could have been" game at a handful of levels. When Boise State joined the Mountain West in June 2010, the league still included TCU, BYU and Utah. But this game against the Horned Frogs will be Boise State's only contest against any of those three teams as a conference opponent. The game likely determines the Mountain West championship - both teams are undefeated in the league - but the bigger story is whether Boise State can remain unbeaten. This is an opportunity for Boise State QB Kellen Moore to check off one of the last remaining boxes on his career resume. He has played two games against TCU, but has zero TD passes against the Horned Frogs; it's the only program he has played against that has prevented him from throwing a touchdown pass. Moore is 45-of-74 for 433 yards and an interception against the Horned Frogs. But this isn't the same TCU defense Moore has seen in past seasons. TCU has allowed 20 points to back-to-back opponents for the first time since 2007, and the secondary was shredded in early-season losses to Baylor and SMU.

OREGON AT STANFORD
When: 8 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Stanford by 3.5
Why you should watch: This is rematch of one of the most pivotal games of last season, when Oregon defeated Stanford 52-31 in Eugene; the Ducks outscored the Cardinal 28-0 in the fourth quarter. Stanford must win to keep its national championship hopes alive, and a Cardinal win also gives them the Pac-12 North title. Weeks after injury scares to QB Darron Thomas and TB LaMichael James, Oregon's starting backfield appears to be healthy after accounting for 331 combined yards of total offense against Washington last week. They'll attack Stanford's run defense, which is ranked third in the nation. That figure could be a mirage, though. Stanford has faced six of the bottom 20 teams in rush offense and only team ranked in the top 50 (UCLA). Stanford QB Andrew Luck is 41-of-66 for 592 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in two career games against Oregon.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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