Pick 6: Big players in big games

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By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press

The national championship race will clear up some this weekend with five games involving ranked teams, plus No. 9 Notre Dame playing an improving Miami team.

Keep an eye on these six players. They could be the difference in who wins the week's biggest games.

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No. 23 Washington at No. 2 Oregon

Huskies S Shaq Thompson. The freshman safety has been used as a nickelback, but at 6-foot-2, 215-pounds, he's almost an undersized linebacker. He was second on the team in tackles in last week's victory against Stanford, and is the type of athlete that gives Washington the versatility to slow down the Ducks, whose playmakers come in various shapes and sizes, but only one speed — fast.

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No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida

Gators C Jon Harrison. The junior center is the anchor of a line that has become the focal point of Florida's power running game. The Gators are third in the SEC at 224 yards per game. The Tigers allow 83 yards per game, and pushing around DTs Anthony Johnson and Bennie Logan is tough task. It's not only on Harrison, but he must hold his own for Florida to be successful.

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No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina

Bulldogs ILB Alec Ogletree. The junior played his first game last week against Tennessee after being suspended the first four games. He led the team with 14 tackles, but none were behind the line of scrimmage and Tennessee ran for 197 yards. For Georgia to stop Gamecocks TB Marcus Lattimore, Ogletree needs to be involved closer to the line of scrimmage.

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No. 8 West Virginia at No. 11 Texas

Longhorns FS Kenny Vaccaro. Texas is susceptible to big plays, and Vaccaro is the last line of defense. The Mountaineers' talented receivers, especially Tavon Austin, are great runners after the catch. Vaccaro and the rest of the Longhorns simply need to tackle better.

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No. 9 Notre Dame vs. Miami at Chicago

Fighting Irish QB Everett Golson. Miami's defense has been, quite frankly, awful. Golson, the sophomore and first-year starter, is still trying to find his way around Brian Kelly's spread offense. The opportunity is there for this to be a breakout game. He needs to take advantage.

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No. 21 Nebraska at No. 12 Ohio State

Buckeyes RB Carlos Hyde. Jordan Hall, who missed the first two games with a foot injury, is likely out again. This time it's his knee. Hyde returned last week from his own knee sprain and will likely start. The 235-pound tailback provides power in the running game to balance the speed and elusiveness of QB Braxton Miller.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP

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