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November 14, 2011

Week 12 Watch: Avoid the trap

The biggest weekends of the season often have a theme. There has been "Rivalry Week," "Championship Week," "Showdown Saturday," "Redemption Saturday" and "Road-Trip Saturday," among others.

No catchy title has been applied to Week 12, but the theme might be "Don't Look Ahead Week" or "Don't Step in it Week" or "Avoid a Trap Week."

Only three teams remain undefeated and nine have one loss. Almost all of them have lackluster opponents this weekend, but face an archrival or a crucial matchup in the next game.

Player under the gun

Michigan QB Denard Robinson

Although Michigan is a better team than it was last season, Robinson isn't playing nearly as well. He hasn't rushed for more than 63 yards in any of his past four games, and he has thrown four interceptions with three touchdown passes during that stretch. Robinson also isn't completely healthy. His throwing elbow hit a helmet two weeks ago against Iowa, and he bruised a wrist Saturday in Michigan's 31-14 victory over Illinois. Neither injury should keep him from playing against Nebraska this week, but how close will he be to full strength? Michigan needs him to outplay Nebraska's Taylor Martinez in a matchup between quarterbacks known more for their running skills than their throwing ability. Nebraska has allowed 14 or fewer points in three of its past four games, but the Huskers also are giving up more than 4.0 yards per carry.

For example, top-ranked and unbeaten LSU is on the road against Ole Miss (2-8) before a vital clash with one-loss Arkansas. By the same token, the Razorbacks face Mississippi State (5-5) this week.

Unbeaten Oklahoma State travels to play Iowa State (5-4). The Cowboys' next game is against archrival Oklahoma on Dec. 3.

Undefeated Houston takes on SMU (6-4), but next week travels to play Tulsa in a game that will decide Conference USA's West Division winner.

[Huguenin: BCS rankings and analysis]

Additionally, one-loss Alabama warms up against FCS member Georgia Southern with the Iron Bowl looming next week. One-loss Clemson is at N.C. State (5-5), but the Tigers may be tempted to look ahead to archrival South Carolina. Virginia Tech plays North Carolina (6-4) but has state rival Virginia next week.

Everyone always looks forward to rivalries and key games. But these teams must be careful not to look ahead on "Avoid a Trap Week."

Naw that title just doesn't sing.

Best game: USC at Oregon, 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan. Oregon is the only one-loss team that appears to face a major challenge this week. Coming off a huge 53-30 victory over Stanford, the Ducks next take on USC (8-2). The improving Trojans have won five of their past six; four of those victories have come in blowout fashion, and the only loss was in triple overtime to Stanford. The Trojans' defense has allowed 17 or fewer points in four of the past five games and may pose a threat to the high-scoring Ducks. With a win, Oregon clinches a berth in the conference championship game. USC is ineligible for the conference championship, but the Trojans sure can gum up the works both in the Pac-12 and on the national scene.

Don't overlook this one: Virginia at Florida State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2. The Cavaliers have won five of their past six games to secure bowl eligibility. Virginia also can get to the ACC title game if it can defeat Florida State and Virginia Tech, a tall order for sure. Florida State has been eliminated from ACC title contention, but the Seminoles are riding a five-game winning streak after their 23-19 win over Miami.

Under-the-radar storyline: Texas Tech's bowl hopes. The Red Raiders' 41-38 upset of Oklahoma on Oct. 22 becomes more and more puzzling each week. The win in Norman is Texas Tech's only win since Oct. 1, and opponents have outscored Tech 159-33 in its three losses since the shocker over the Sooners. Now Texas Tech's chances of going to its 12th consecutive bowl game are in jeopardy. The Red Raiders finish their season on the road against Missouri this week and Baylor on Nov. 26.

[Rivals.com experts: What we learned in Week 11]

On the midweek marquee: Oklahoma State at Iowa State, Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN. Oklahoma State remains No. 2 in the BCS standings and the spotlight is a little brighter on the Cowboys with losses by Stanford and Boise State this past weekend. Oklahoma State travels to Ames this week and has next week off before playing host to Oklahoma on Dec. 3. Iowa State has won two in a row with dual-threat freshman QB Jared Barnett. The Cyclones are 5-4 and need one more win for bowl eligibility, but they close with the Cowboys, Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Coach under the gun

Texas' Mack Brown

Just when it seemed as though Texas was moving in the right direction again after last season's 5-7 disaster, the Longhorns slumbered through a 17-5 loss at Missouri. Texas (6-3) faces the legitimate possibility of finishing the regular season 6-6 if it isn't careful. The Longhorns face Kansas State this week in their home finale before traveling to Texas A&M and Baylor in their last two regular-season games. While Texas continues to play solid defense, the offense took a major step backward Saturday. The Longhorns gained just 2.6 yards per carry and went 16-of-36 through the air. Texas must do a better job of moving the ball Saturday to keep Kansas State QB Collin Klein on the sideline as much as possible.

Best individual matchup of the week: Ohio State C Michael Brewster vs. Penn State DT Devon Still. Brewster is one of the nation's elite centers, and Still is one of the nation's elite defensive tackles. Brewster won't be going head-to-head with Still all that often, but for Ohio State to run effectively between the tackles, Brewster has to play at an extremely high level and control Still when he gets the opportunity. Neither team can pass, so controlling the ball on the ground is going to be vital - and that in turns mean line play is going to be critical.

Best unit matchup of the week: Oregon offensive line vs. USC defensive front seven. USC has been stout against the run this season, ranking eighth nationally in rush defense by allowing just 100.4 yards per game. But USC has allowed 14 rushing TDs, which is the second-most among teams in the top 20 in rush defense. In addition, while USC has allowed just two teams to rush for more than 134 yards, those occurrences came in the Trojans' two losses (Arizona State and Stanford). USC isn't going to stuff Oregon's rushing attack, which rolls up 291.8 yards per game. But keeping the Ducks at around 200 yards would give USC's potent offense a chance to score enough points to win a shootout. USC needs to make sure there is limited running room between the tackles; that means Ducks Gs Mark Asper and Carson York and C Hroniss Grasu need to do some good work in the interior.

Best coordinator chess match: Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges vs. Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini. Michigan hasn't always looked smooth on offense this season, mainly because QB Denard Robinson - the Wolverines' best player - is ill-suited for the type of offense that Borges wants to run. Give both guys credit for adapting to what the other does best. Robinson has not played all that well of late and is dealing with some injuries. While Michigan TB Fitzgerald Toussaint is coming off a huge game, Pelini would much rather have Fitzgerald carrying the ball than Robinson. Watch the play of Nebraska LB Lavonte David, like Robinson a former high school star from the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. David is extremely active, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Pelini has him shadow Robinson everywhere.

Spotlight conference: Big Ten. The temptation is to put the WAC center stage because the Louisiana Tech-Nevada clash almost certainly decides the conference championship. But does a game matching those teams really deserve the spotlight? The Big Ten again has the most intriguing games. In the Leaders Division, Penn State travels to face Ohio State, while Wisconsin tries to remain in contention against Illinois. Michigan and Nebraska also square off, with the winner still alive in the Legends Division should Michigan State stumble.

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