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November 21, 2011

Week 13 Watch: Don't forget about Arkansas

Calls for an SEC rematch in the BCS national championship game have been heard. They may be heeded.

But maybe not with the teams most have in mind.

As usual, the season enters its 13th week with a measure of confusion and debate. Yet if Arkansas upsets LSU in Death Valley on Friday, confusion turns into complete chaos.

And that's just in the SEC West.

Player under the gun

Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson

Although he has put together a solid season as a first-time starter, Wilson sometimes has needed a quarter or two to get into a rhythm. Arkansas had to come from behind to beat Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt this season. Wilson can't afford a slow start Friday as the Razorbacks attempt to keep their national title hopes alive against LSU. If the Razorbacks fall behind against LSU's defense, they won't catch up. Wilson is on a bit of a roll right now after throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 44-17 blowout of Mississippi State. So Wilson at least should have plenty of confidence as he gets ready to face the nation's top secondary.

Unbeaten LSU and once-beaten Alabama and Arkansas are first, second and third, respectively, in the BCS standings. Should the Razorbacks prevail in Baton Rouge (and assuming Alabama defeats Auburn), those rankings figure to shift.

Calls for an Alabama-LSU rematch in the national championship game could give way to calls for an Alabama-Arkansas rematch. Or will it be an Arkansas-LSU rematch?

[Related: Breaking down the BCS standings]

Then, there is the matter of the determining which team would face Georgia in the SEC championship game. Will it be Alabama, Arkansas or LSU? And what if Georgia ultimately wins the SEC championship? Or what if BCS voters decide a team that doesn't win its conference championship should play for the national title?

Intriguing questions, all. But first things first.

The crowning of conference champions is two weeks away, and Week 13 will reveal the participants of those upcoming championship jousts.

As with SEC East winner Georgia, Clemson (ACC Atlantic), Michigan State (Big Ten Legends) and Ohio (MAC East) are assured of representing their divisions in conference championship games. Their opponents will be determined this week.

Virginia Tech faces archrival Virginia to determine the ACC Coastal Division winner. Penn State and Wisconsin meet to decide the Big Ten Leaders Division. UCLA, Arizona State or Utah could still win the Pac- 12 South; Oregon will be the North winner if it beats Oregon State.

Houston, the nation's only other unbeaten team, faces Tulsa with the Conference USA West title on the line. Northern Illinois can clinch the West Division berth in the MAC championship game by defeating Eastern Michigan.

The outcomes of Week 13 can clear up much of the postseason picture.

Or they could make create even more chaos.

Best game: Arkansas at LSU, Friday, 2:30 p.m., CBS. This matches the explosive offense of Arkansas against the suffocating defense of LSU. The game could ultimately decide the SEC West winner, the SEC champion and perhaps even the BCS national champion. It's that important. The Tigers and Hogs have split the past six meetings and the widest margin of victory in that span is just eight points. They've gone into overtime twice, too. The Hogs have won three of the past four, though.

Don't overlook this one: Virginia Tech at Virginia, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. Thanks to Virginia's 14-13 win over Florida State, this will determine the ACC Coastal title. A win would cap a banner season for coach Mike London. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has a streak of eight consecutive seasons of double-digit wins on the line. The Hokies have won 11 of the past 12 meetings.

[Forde: Big present, future for Case Keenum, Houston]

Under-the-radar storyline: Houston at Tulsa, Friday, noon, Fox Sports Net. Houston has an undefeated season on the line, but no one seems to be talking about Tulsa, which also is 7-0 in Conference USA. If the Golden Hurricane beat Houston on Friday, Tulsa will play for the C-USA title while Houston stays home. First-year Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship was a high school football coach in Oklahoma until landing on Todd Graham's staff in 2007. Tulsa's three losses have come to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.

Coach under the gun

Arizona State's Dennis Erickson

This was supposed to be a breakthrough season for Arizona State. With USC on probation and ineligible for a conference title, Arizona State headed into the season as the clear-cut favorite to represent the South Division in the inaugural league championship game. The Sun Devils sure looked the part early in the season as they won five of their first six games, but they now have lost three in a row. Their highly touted defense has given up 97 points during this losing streak. Arizona State still could get to the championship game if it beats California and UCLA loses to USC. But if the Sun Devils lose to Cal, they'd drop to 6-6, and that could cost Erickson his job.

On the midweek marquee: Texas at Texas A&M, Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN. One of the casualties of conference realignment, this fierce rivalry won't be played after the Aggies move to the SEC. The teams have played every season since 1915. The stakes aren't quite high this season with both teams sitting on six wins, but expect the College Station crowd to sing the Aggie War Hymn, especially the line "Goodbye to Texas University," with glee.

Best individual matchup of the week: Wisconsin Gs Travis Frederick and Kevin Zeitler vs. Penn State DT Devon Still. This might be the best guard duo in the country, and they will have their hands full with Still, who has played as well as any defensive tackle in the nation. Ohio State, though, did a nice job neutralizing Still with two blockers last week, and the Buckeyes had success running the ball, even if they didn't win the game. Unlike Ohio State, Wisconsin has a passing attack, so if the Badgers get a good push up the middle and can run effectively, QB Russell Wilson will be able to use play-action passes all day. Wisconsin is missing stud C Peter Konz (injury), so Zeitler and Frederick will need to be extra sharp to help out new C Ryan Groy.

[Huguenin: Breaking down the league races]

Best unit matchup of the week: Arkansas wide receivers vs. LSU secondary. Arkansas leads the SEC and is 10th nationally in pass offense. QB Tyler Wilson has a top-notch group of receivers headed by Jarius Wright. LSU also has to worry about Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg and TBs Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, who are dangerous safety-valve receivers. LSU's cornerback duo of Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu is the nation's best, and the safety tandem of Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor is superb, as well. LSU gave up 463 passing yards to West Virginia on Sept. 24. But the Tigers also shut down WVU's running game and made the Mountaineers one-dimensional - and one-dimensional offenses aren't going to beat LSU. The Tigers best WVU by 26, by the way.

Best coordinator chess match: Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor vs. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Cavaliers certainly don't have a flashy offense, but they have been efficient and relatively productive. Lazor doubles as the quarterback coach, and he has brought sophomore Michael Rocco along nicely. TBs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks have combined for 1,514 yards and 13 TDs, and Jones is an excellent receiver. Virginia Tech has been especially stingy against the run, and truth be told, Foster would love to force UVa to throw to win.

Spotlight conference: SEC. What other league could it be with three teams - LSU, Alabama and Arkansas - topping the BCS standings? Strange things have happened in the Arkansas-LSU rivalry, and Alabama must visit archrival Auburn. Beyond those nationally important games, Tennessee (at Kentucky), Vanderbilt (at Wake Forest) and Mississippi State (Ole Miss) all need one more win for bowl eligibility. In addition, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all face their traditional in-state rivals from the ACC.

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