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October 10, 2006

Key road tests for conference leaders

Midseason report
College football wire
Scenes from Saturday
Saturday's video highlights

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

Florida, Arkansas and Missouri are on their way up this week. Auburn, Florida State and Michigan's Mario Manningham may see their stock decline.

After six weeks of the college football season, the national championship and conference races are starting to become clearer.

An unconventional quarterback plan at Florida has caught the SEC a bit off guard.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., the Wolverines hope Manningham will be able play this week against Penn State.

Meanwhile, Auburn is taking a long look at itself after a loss to Arkansas. Thanks to the win over the Tigers, the Razorbacks are in the driver's seat in the SEC West.

Surprises Missouri and Rutgers find themselves with unblemished records. And in the ACC, the divisional races are up for grabs after several surprising outcomes in the season's first half.

Check out our top questions and top games for Week 7.

Five Questions for Week 7
1. How will Florida's quarterback platoon play out the rest of the way?
Chris Leak is a four-year starter who completes nearly 65 percent of his passes. He is on pace to set several school records. True freshman Tim Tebow is the talk of The Swamp after accounting for all of Florida's touchdowns against LSU. Tebow's production came in 18 fewer snaps than Leak. The combination has led Florida to an undefeated start and No. 2 ranking in the AP poll. So far, Florida has changed quarterbacks like teams normally sub an extra receiver or a nickelback, pulling Leak to use Tebow as a situational runner. Florida capitalized on that tendency by faking the run on both of his pass attempts against LSU went for touchdowns. It will be interesting to see how Florida continues to use its quarterback duo whether adding more passing plays for Tebow or more running plays for Leak (he ran one carry for 45 yards against Alabama). Perhaps the Gators will put them on the field at the same time. Expect Florida to continue the quarterback shuffle until someone stops the Gators.
2. How will Mario Manningham's status affect Michigan at Penn State?
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was tight-lipped Monday about the status of star wide receiver Mario Manningham. Carr offered little insight when asked about a possible injury Manningham sustained in Saturday's game against Michigan State. Without Manningham, Michigan would be without its most explosive threat in the passing game. Manningham's nine touchdown catches have averaged 34.3 yards and none has been shorter than 20 yards. Michigan remains a run-first team, but the injury would play right into the Nittany Lions' strengths Penn State is 75th in the country in pass defense and 14th in rush defense. Michigan will need more out of Steve Breaston and Adrian Arrington - the only other Wolverines with more than two catches - to keep Penn State from ganging up on running back Mike Hart.
3. How can Auburn recover?
With the return of redshirt freshman linebacker Tray Blackmon from suspension, Auburn will get a boost on defense. The unit struggled against South Carolina quarterback and fell apart against Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Blackmon returns to weakside linebacker, where he will compete for playing time with Merrill Johnson. Karibi Dede moves from the weakside to the middle. The Tigers offense is another story. A second consecutive year of quarterback Brandon Cox and running back Kenny Irons gave Auburn cause for optimism, but the Tigers are averaging one fewer touchdown per game than they did last year. At the same time, Auburn has allowed 18 sacks in six games after allowing 21 last season. Auburn faces a tough schedule, one that includes home games against Florida and Georgia and a road test at Alabama. For the Tigers to get back in the hunt for the division title, they may need to run the table. At the same times, Arkansas would need to lose two of its last five SEC games. It's not unthinkable that Auburn could play in Atlanta, but the road just got much more difficult.
4. How will the ACC sort itself out in the second half?
If the ACC Championship Game were today, N.C. State would play Georgia Tech. Through six weeks, only Duke and North Carolina can be dismissed from the ACC race. Of the Atlantic Division teams, Florida State (1-2 ACC) has the easiest remaining league schedule. The Seminoles have no remaining games against ranked teams and their only road trips are to Duke and Maryland. FSU, who won the title game with three conference losses last year, could pull of another late push. Clemson has established itself as the best team in the Atlantic. The Tigers' toughest tests are a road trip to Virginia Tech and a home game against Georgia Tech. N.C. State's 2-0 start could be spoiled by four road games - including one at Clemson - and a home date with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets control their destiny in the Coastal, but they have a road trip to Clemson and a home game against Virginia Tech remaining.
5. Which surprise teams will have the most staying power?
Sunday's AP poll contained surprises in Arkansas, Rutgers and Missouri. They all have reasons for optimism - and reasons to think they could fall out of the polls. Arkansas will be your best bet to stay in the top 25. The Razorbacks are in position for a spot in the SEC title game, but they must play host to Tennessee and LSU and visit South Carolina. Rutgers, 5-0 for the first time since 1976, has had Ray Rice and its defense to mask the troubles of quarterback Mike Teel. The Scarlet Knights have yet to face West Virginia, Louisville or Pittsburgh in the Big East. Missouri, 6-0 for the first time since 1973, has a troubling trend of falling flat after good starts. The Tigers dropped five consecutive games in 2005 after starting 4-1. Missouri also went 4-5 after a 4-0 start in 2003.
Top Five Games of Week 7
1. No. 2 Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC) at No. 11 Auburn (5-1, 3-1 SEC), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Even with Auburn's loss to Arkansas, this is still the country's top game. Can Auburn avoid dropping two in a row at home?
2. No. 4 Michigan (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at Penn State (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten), 8 p.m., ABC
The Nittany Lions will face the only team to beat them last season while Michigan could be without Manningham - the receiver that caught the last-second, game-winning touchdown in 2005.
3. No. 22 Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-1 ACC) at Boston College (4-1, 1-1 ACC), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
With the ACC as wide open as it is, one game could mean the difference between going to the conference title game and playing in a lower-tier bowl.
4. No. 10 Cal (5-1, 3-0 Pac-10) at Washington State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10), 5 p.m.
USC had trouble with the Cougars. Will Cal?
5. No. 19 Missouri (6-0, 2-0 Big 12) at Texas A&M (5-1, 1-1 Big 12), 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Tigers will try to keep the hot streak going against another Texas team on the road.



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