No. 10 Wisconsin's challenging October continues Saturday with a road game against archrival Iowa. The Badgers lost their past two games, both by a touchdown, to then-No. 4 Michigan and to No. 2 Ohio State in overtime, with a bye week sandwiched between those games. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) desperately needs a win to remain in the Big Ten West race. A loss potentially would put the Badgers three games behind front-running Nebraska, which plays host to lowly Purdue this week. After facing Iowa (5-2, 3-1), Wisconsin returns home the following week for a showdown with No. 8 Nebraska. But first the Badgers must get past the Hawkeyes on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) in Kinnick Stadium." It's going to be a fun and intense rivalry game, and I can't wait," Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. Playing this game on the road isn't necessarily a bad thing for Wisconsin. Strangely, the road team has fared well the past few years. The Badgers won on each of their past three visits to Iowa City in the evenly matched series (Wisconsin leads 44-43-2) but lost in Madison a year ago. The Heartland Trophy game between Iowa and Wisconsin is always hard-hitting and usually highly competitive. Last fall, Iowa came away with a 10-6 road win that propelled the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten championship game." Going a whole year with an empty trophy case, (without) seeing it in the locker room every day, it kind of makes you angry a little bit," Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. "Especially after that game when it wasn't sitting there in the locker room." That's definitely something that we want back, and we'll be doing everything we can to get it back." Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst doesn't spent much time thinking about the history between the teams." Those of us who were a part of it last year, we understand what happened, and yet none that carries over, carries forward," he said. "We've got a ton of respect for Iowa, and I do certainly for their program, but it's about this Saturday, who's the best team." Chryst is more concerned about bouncing back from last week's home loss to Ohio State and getting his team healthy. Wisconsin led 16-6 at halftime but couldn't close the deal. The Badgers came out of that game banged up. A long list of players are questionable on this week's injury report, including linebacker Vince Biegel, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, wide receiver Robert Wheelwright, linebacker Zack Baun, offensive lineman Jon Dietzen, running back Taiwan Deal and safety Keelon Brookins. Wisconsin enters the game as a slight favorite over Iowa, which rebounded from stunning home losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern by recording consecutive road wins. The Hawkeyes' latest victories came against Minnesota and Purdue, though, and so it is difficult to gauge just how much Iowa improved the past two weeks. But it certainly will find out more this week." All of us are really feeling better than we did a couple of weeks ago," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That was really a tough defeat (against Northwestern), but I think the guys really learned from it, and the last two weeks we've played better football with more intensity. We've done some things that are paramount to winning." After Iowa won a 14-7 slugfest at Minnesota two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes looked good last Saturday. Iowa beat Purdue 49-35 in West Lafayette, Ind., resulting in the firing of Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell on Sunday. The Hawkeyes bolted to a 35-7 lead and began substituting freely in the second half, allowing Purdue to make the score respectable. Two areas of concern that Iowa appeared to address are its rushing offense and its run defense. The Hawkeyes ran for an impressive 365 yards against Purdue and held the Boilermakers to 47 yards on the ground. Those ground yards will be much tougher to come by against the Badgers, whose defense gave Ohio State some problems, particularly in the first half. The key to Saturday's game for Iowa could be its ability to effectively use its two backs -- LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley -- to move the ball against the Wisconsin defense and help loosen up the defense for quarterback C. J. Beathard, who has 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions this season but could be without one of his favorite targets, injured tight end George Kittle. Wadley rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown, and Daniels amassed 150 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue." They're both playing the best football of their careers," Ferentz said. "The two of them have really complemented each other. It's been a good combination." On defense, Iowa will be trying to slow down Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, who rushed for 164 yards against Ohio State, and Hornibrook. Clement leads the team with 483 rushing yards." No question we'll have to be at our best against No. 10-ranked team in the country coming in," Ferentz said. "It'll be a great environment. The big thing for us right now there is no tomorrow. We'll put all we can into this game. We're going to have to. We're playing a really outstanding opponent."
What once looked to be no more than a small bump in the road for the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals on their way to double digits in wins took on a new dimension last week when the North Carolina State Wolfpack came within a missed field goal of knocking Clemson from its lofty ranking. The Cardinals and Wolfpack meet at noon ET Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville (ABC). While the unranked Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1 ACC) were putting a scare into the unbeaten Tigers, the Cardinals (5-1, 3-1 ACC) were having an unexpected tussle with Duke at home. The Blue Devils may have given an example on how to slow Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson: Keep him off the field. The Blue Devils controlled the ball and the clock, though ultimately not the scoreboard in a 24-14 Louisville win." It's a little frustrating," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said of Duke's ability to control the tempo. "There's no question about it. They got themselves into third-and-shorts and then converted." We're not used to that. We're used to getting off the field on defense and getting our offense the ball back, but we held in there and found a way to win." Duke controlled the football for over 37 minutes and managed to hold the Cardinals to just 61 plays, 19 fewer than what they were averaging coming into the game. Jackson still got his yards (144 on 21 rushes with one touchdown, 181 on 13 completions in 26 attempts with one score), but Louisville wasn't able to put the game away until a roughing-the-kicker-penalty kept alive a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter and provided the Cardinals with a 10-point margin of victory. Jackson said Duke's strategy caught the Cardinals by surprise, but that isn't likely to happen with the Wolfpack. Unlike Duke, which is a member of the ACC's Coastal Division, N. C. State is a colleague with Louisville in the Atlantic and they play each other every season." We know them well because the majority of the players are the same guys we've been playing against for the last two years," Petrino said. "They're very well coached. They're a physical team." We've always had really good battles with them and found a way to win in the fourth quarter, so I imagine this is going be a very good football game." The Wolfpack are hoping to build momentum from its play against Clemson." I think we learned about how good we are," quarterback Ryan Finley said. "We took on the No. 3 team into overtime and really beat ourselves." We have a great squad and we are going to bounce back from this. This is not the end of our season." N. C. State's defense has received strong reviews during the first month-plus of the season, and that was on display against Clemson. Much of the good work from the defense might have been dismissed a week earlier because the 10-3 victory against Notre Dame was played in windy, rainy conditions brought on by Hurricane Matthew. But there was no mistake of the defense's ability against Clemson. N. C. State forced four turnovers in the game and held the Tigers to just 117 yards rushing, though Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 378. The Wolfpack had 397 yards in total offense to Clemson's 495. Wolfpack senior running back Matt Dayes had a triple-digit rushing game against the Tigers with 106 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown. Finley, a transfer from Boise State, passed for 231 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice, including his last pass in overtime to end the game." I definitely feel like the team realizes that we can compete with just about anybody in the country and we have just got to believe that," Dayes said. "We are a great offense and defense. We have just got to finish. ... We probably surprised them, but we weren't surprised ourselves." The Wolfpack aren't likely to catch Louisville by surprise." We have to go out this week and have a great week of practice and be more intense, more into our focus, more in the preparation that we've had for the other games that we've played early in the fall," Petrino said. "We weren't at the top of our game, and we need to get back to that, get back to our players you know, working to have the best game they've had all year."
North Carolina is not yet in control of its future when it comes to a return appearance in the ACC Championship Game as Virginia Tech holds the tiebreaker over the Tar Heels if those two teams end up tied at the top of the Coastal Division standings at the end of the regular season. But the No. 22 Tar Heels are sitting in a much better position heading into Saturday's game against Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., (3 p.m. ET, RSN) than they were a week ago when they were bound for Miami coming off the big loss to the Hokies. The win over the Hurricanes put North Carolina (5-2, 3-1 ACC) alone in first place in the division when the Hokies lost at Syracuse to fall to 2-1 in league play. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, however, their 20-13 victory over the Hurricanes came with a price. They lost wide receiver Mack Hollins to a broken collarbone and the senior will miss the rest of the season after having surgery. Hollins led North Carolina in touchdown catches with four among his 16 receptions. His 19.3 yards per catch average was tops among receivers with more than one catch. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they do have depth at the position. Wide receiver Ryan Switzer has 58 catches for 606 yards, Bug Howard 29 for 429 and Austin Proehl 24 for 302. Running backs T. J. Logan and Elijah Hood have a combined 34 catches for 229 yards." We still got some guys that can stretch the field vertically," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "That doesn't overly concern me." We'll miss Mack's ability to do it. That's probably the thing he does best, but we've got some guys who can get behind people." The Tar Heels, who have won six straight over Virginia, have gone through what arguably is the toughest part of their schedule with their four remaining conference games against teams with a combined 3-8 league mark. In addition to Virginia's 1-1 conference record, Georgia Tech is 1-3 in league play, Duke 0-3 and North Carolina State 1-1. North Carolina also has a non-conference affair against The Citadel. None of the conference games figures to be pushovers, though the Tar Heels likely will be favored in all four. If they are able to run the table, they still need Virginia Tech to lose at least one more time to get to the ACC title game. North Carolina already has beaten Pittsburgh (5-2, 2-1). Virginia (2-4, 1-1) could be an interesting matchup. The Cavaliers began the season by losing their first three games (Richmond, Oregon, Connecticut) but notched a win over Central Michigan before opening conference play by beating Duke 24-10. They lost a high-scoring 45-31 affair to Pittsburgh last week." I like my team," first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I like how hard they try and how they've embraced the culture. And we're moving up the scale of the effort and intent to position mastery and execution." That's basically where our team is right now. So we're becoming better in terms of our position mastery and playing our spots. Execution is not holding yet long enough from beginning to end in all three phases to have the outcomes that we would like." But more and more plays are looking how we would like them to be." Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert, a transfer from East Carolina, has passed for 421, 336, and 278 yards the last three games but has seven interceptions against 14 touchdown passes for the season. The Cavaliers have a two-back approach to the rushing game with Taquan Mizzell rushing for a team-best 355 yards and Albert Reid 346. Defensively, the Cavaliers had some success at times stopping the run, holding Central Michigan to 93 yards rushing and Duke to 106, but gave up 209 yards to Pittsburgh their last outing and 301 to Oregon early in the season." We're still missing more plays in open field than what I would like," Mendenhall said. "But we're starting to make more than what we had before. So a work in progress." The series, which North Carolina leads 63-53-4, began in 1892 and is billed as the oldest rivalry in the South.
Western Michigan is undefeated and in control of the Mid-American Conference race, but coach P. J. Fleck is getting a lot of attention about where he could spend next season. Fleck has the Broncos at 7-0 entering Saturday's game (3:30 ET) at Waldo Stadium against Eastern Michigan. Western Michigan is up four spots and ranked 20th after debuting last week in the AP Top 25 poll." I've been part of rumors and speculation my entire life, and that will never change," he said. "It's elite exposure for Western Michigan. My focus is on today, and that's the way I've lived my life. ... I can't control rumors or speculation, and I'll never comment on rumors or speculation. Just like I didn't in Year 1, or last year or the year before. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in coaching this football team and being the best head coach I can be today. That's all I'm focused on." Last season, the 35-year-old Fleck guided Western Michigan to its second consecutive eight-win season and first-ever bowl victory. Western Michigan (3-0 MAC) started the season with two wins over Big Ten teams -- Northwestern and Illinois -- and might get a longer look in a David vs. Goliath matchup if the wins keep coming. For now, Fleck doesn't want to talk about whether he's staying or going. His team insists there is no distraction away from the focus on winning football games. Senior quarterback Zach Terrell said Tuesday that Fleck's future -- and his own -- has not been a topic of conversation." It's not distracting us at all," Terrell said. "He comes in the same every day, he's the exact same person and brings it. If he were to come in and be a different person and maybe be reserved, we might be concerned. That outside noise about coach Fleck may be leaving, all the people putting pressure on us ... we are such a tight-knit group, and we only focus on us. It starts with him." Eastern Michigan is 5-2, 2-1 and hopes of a transformation from a MAC West doormat could hit fast forward with a victory on Saturday. Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton outlined two goals in preseason for the Eagles -- beat Western Michigan and get his seniors to a bowl game." We have a really tough opponent coming in this weekend," Terrell said. "I'm completely focused on the season. I'm focused on today." NFLDraftScout.com ranks Terrell the eighth-best quarterback in the 2017 class but with Corey Davis and Jarvion Franklin behind a proven offensive line, he's not the only weapon the Broncos have." We were the doormat three years ago, and they're kind of doing what we were doing two years ago," Terrell said. "They are playing tough. They have a lot of confidence. For people to think it's just going to be a cakewalk, that couldn't be further from the truth." Firepower and depth are two big differentiators between the teams. Western Michigan has the top recruiting class in the MAC three years in a row under Fleck. Creighton's depth chart is jammed with inexperience. But the emergence of junior quarterback Brogan Roback has put a charge in the Eastern Michigan offense. He had 347 passing yards and three touchdowns last week and EMU is off to its best start since 1995." We know this is going to be a huge challenge. Western is a great football team, and they're playing great football. A lot of talent, a lot of momentum," Creighton said. "Our guys look at this like a great challenge and a great opportunity to get out there and compete again." Fleck said the Broncos do have grand goals in mind but he's stressing a collection of one-game seasons as the team's collective mindset. That won't be easy with national attention growing and the first College Football Playoff rankings coming soon. We focus on changing our best every single day." We've prepared for this all the way back in January," Fleck said. "We told them this could possibly happen, so everything we did was based on pressure, expectations, noise from the outside, and we put them through all those things in the offseason pretending like this was going to happen, informing them of different things that would happen."
The No. 12 West Virginia Mountaineers will look to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2006 and also stay on top of the Big 12 Conference standings when they host the TCU Horned Frogs in Morgantown, W. Va., on Saturday afternoon. The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) have developed a reputation for producing high-powered offenses in recent years, but come in off a sparkling defensive effort, winning 48-17 at Texas Tech last week. The Red Raiders entered the contest leading the nation in passing offense (544 yards per game) and were second in scoring offense (55.2)." It's a good plane ride home but after that you settle in and get back to work," West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "... It goes away really quick." Tony Gibson's defensive unit held the Red Raiders 280 yards and 38 points below their season averages. The 17 points were a season-low for Tech and snapped a streak of nine consecutive home games where the Red Raiders had scored at least 50 points. West Virginia, which lost nine starters from last year's defensive unit and arguably its best player in free safety Dravon Askew-Henry in fall camp to a torn ACL, has utilized the odd 3-3-5 stack and disguised its blitzing to create problems for opposing offenses." What we do defensively is hard for me to attack," Holgorsen said. The Horned Frogs (4-2, 2-1) provide more of a running threat than Texas Tech. But if the season's first five games are any guide, Gibson will come up with a scheme to combat TCU's version of the spread." Because they move around so much, it looks like there are 12, 13 people out there sometimes," Holgorsen said. "Just being able to disguise stuff is very important. Only having three down linemen gives you more second-level players that you can move around and blitz people from different spaces." It didn't hurt that the offense kept West Virginia ahead all day, establishing a season high for points despite occasional bouts of sloppiness that left Holgorsen frustrated on the sideline. But quarterback Skyler Howard threw for 318 yards, rushed for 89 and accounted for three scores in probably his best all-around game of the year. The Mountaineers rolled up 332 yards on the ground at Texas Tech and nearly had three 100-yard rushers. Rushel Shell finished with 104, backup Kennedy McCoy gained 99 on just four carries and Howard added 89 on 12 attempts. Opponents are gaining 150.7 yards per game on the ground against TCU, so it's not an impossible defense on which to run. West Virginia's defense will have to try and find a way to slow down TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, who passed for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns but is also experiencing interception issues. The junior threw three interceptions in the unexpectedly tight 24-23 win at lowly Kansas on Oct. 8 and has the most interceptions (eight) in the Big 12. Hill also can make things happen with his legs as he is tied for the team lead with seven rushing touchdowns. The game against Kansas marked the second time Hill has thrown multiple interceptions in a game. And it increased chatter that his decision-making can be suspect." This offense, it's the nature of it," TCU coach Gary Patterson said of the interceptions. "You're not going to win very many ballgames if you do (throw interceptions), but that has a little bit more to do with us, how we call it and what we do." Hill passed for a season-worst 206 yards against Kansas -- well off the pace expected from a quarterback who topped 400 yards in three of his first five starts for the Horned Frogs. TCU (4-2, 2-1), which has had two weeks to prepare for this one, could certainly use the mistake-free version of Hill on Saturday. The Horned Frogs are averaging 40.2 points, but Patterson is aware it will be tough to approach that number after watching West Virginia limit Texas Tech's powerful offense to 17 points last Saturday." You have to make plays and tackle in space, and they were able to do that," Patterson said. "They got after Patrick (Mahomes II), who is a really good quarterback. They have great skill players." You have to be able to run the ball against them. Two years ago, we had to run the football to win. If you can't, you're going to get yourself in a lot of trouble."