Heading into this weekend of collegiate action, one contest stands above all others on the schedule. The highlight game of the week is Ohio State paying a visit to USC, as these two powerhouses meet for the first time since the 1990 season. The Buckeyes are looking for respect after two straight national championship losses while the Trojans focus on continuing their recent dominance of the Big Ten conference. Other key match-ups to set your schedule around are Kansas visiting South Florida on Friday night, Wisconsin traveling to Fresno State, Brigham Young hosting UCLA, Michigan heading south to Notre Dame, and Purdue welcoming Oregon to West Lafayette. Letís take a detailed look at the top contests that make up the third weekend of collegiate action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Ohio State at Southern Cal
This weeks top contest is a Big Ten/Pac Ten battle as the Ohio State Buckeyes head west to take on the top-ranked USC Trojans. Ohio State enters this game off a horrible performance at home against Ohio, as the Buckeyes needed a fourth quarter comeback to secure a hard-fought 26-14 win. Whether Ohio State was looking ahead to USC or the loss due to injury of running back Chris Wells had that much of an impact will be determined on Saturday. On the other hand, USC could not have played any better in their opening game, rolling up 558 yards of total offense in a 52-7 pounding of Virginia. College football fans have circled this game on their calendar for months as two of the top challengers for the national championship collide in what sets up to be a great contest. Time to take an in-depth preview at how these two collegiate heavyweights match-up.
If the Ohio game demonstrated one thing, it is how important running back Chris ďBeanieĒ Wells is to the Ohio State offensive game plan. The good news for the Buckeyes is that the latest update out of Columbus states that Wells will play, with the total number of carries yet to be determined as the week progresses. The bad news for Wells is that he will be staring at a USC defense that is loaded with All-American potential across the board, highlighted by linebackers Rey Mauluga and Brian Cushing. Expect to see a vastly improved effort from the talented OSU offensive line in this one after the group yielded three sacks and did not dominate against the outmanned Ohio front line. Buckeye quarterback Todd Boeckman has been solid in the opening two games, completing 30 out of his 45 attempts, but he will need to step up his downfield game to test the Trojan secondary. One of the more interesting story lines of this game is how much action OSU freshman back-up quarterback Terrelle Pryor will see after he saw a minimal number of plays in the win over Ohio. Overall the head-to-head advantage belongs to the USC defense, which is one of the deepest and quickest units in the nation.
The question for USC heading into the season was on the offensive side of the football. If the first game against Virginia is any indication, this unit is talented and loaded with playmakers, who appear ready to make names for themselves on the national stage. Directing the Trojan offense is quarterback Mark Sanchez who made a quick return from a knee injury and was strong in the opener, tossing three touchdowns while passing for 338 yards. Sanchez will face his biggest challenge to date as the Buckeye secondary is one of the best units in the nation, highlighted by cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. Behind Sanchez is a deep stable of running backs, with C.J. Gable leading the way, along with dual weapon Joe McKnight, who will be utilized in every aspect of the offensive game plan. Whoever is handling the ball for USC will need to keep an eye out for Butkus Award winning linebacker James Laurinaitis, who leads a punishing Buckeye rush defense. The Trojans offense looked great in their opener, but they have yet to see a defense with as many playmakers as Ohio State. This week is an entirely new challenge with the Buckeyes returning nine starters from the nationís top defense from a season ago.
After reviewing early season results, the pendulum has now swung to the Trojans favor as more questions surround this Ohio State team. The close game with Ohio may be just what this Buckeye team needed as they received a major wake-up call in what should have been an easy victory. For Ohio State to win this game the answer is simple, Chris Wells will have to play and establish an effective running game and be complemented by the mistake free play of quarterback Todd Boeckman. Terrelle Pryor will see more action and provide a change of pace that is needed to keep the Trojan defenders off balance and on their heels. For USC, Mark Sanchez holds the key as the stable of running backs is unlikely to find a great deal of running room against the Buckeye front line. The SC offensive line is still developing and may have problems in slowing a quick Buckeye pass rush, forcing Sanchez into making critical mistakes. When all is said and done, the more experienced Ohio State team pulls this one out in a low scoring battle and returns to Columbus right back in the thick of yet another national title chase.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Kansas at South Florida
South Floridaís season almost took a wrong turn this past weekend as the Bulls needed overtime to earn a 31-24 win over pesky Central Florida, while Kansas had little trouble in dispatching Louisiana Tech 29-0. The story on offense for South Florida is quarterback Matt Grothe, who led the team in both rushing and passing in the win over UCF, as he assumed an expanded role with the loss of running back Mike Ford due to injury. South Florida would like to reduce the amount of carries and hits that Grothe takes during the game so expect to see more out of running back Moise Plancher if Mike Ford is still not healthy enough to compete. On the other side of the ball the star of the Kansas offense is quarterback Todd Reesing, who ranks tenth in the nation in total offense and he enters this game off of a stellar 32 completions out of 38 attempts for 412 yards and three touchdown effort versus Louisiana Tech. One of the best match-ups of the evening will be watching All-American USF rush-end George Selvie attack the Kansas front line in an effort to slow down the potent Jayhawk passing game. Questions surround these two teams in the early going, a win in this one will provide some answers on how good either of these two programs will be in 2008.
Wisconsin at Fresno State
The Bulldogs enter this contest off an almost two-week lay-off after taking care of Rutgers in their opener while in Wisconsinís last game versus Marshall, the Badgers fell behind 14-0 before exploding for 51 unanswered points. A concern for Wisconsin has been a leaky pass defense that is giving up 233 yards per game and now must face their biggest challenge in Fresno quarterback Tom Brandstater. Expect Fresno to lean on Brandstater early then attack the Badgers with running back Ryan Matthews who tore through the Rutgers defense for 163 yards in the opener. For Wisconsin the game plan remains the same, pound the ball on the ground and then rely on efficient quarterback play to balance the offense. To meet their objective, the Badgers will count on one of the best backs in the nation in P.J. Hill, who currently ranks 13th in the nation with 134 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs are looking for another huge win to keep their BCS hopes alive, while Wisconsin is aiming at keeping the momentum rolling before entering the opening gauntlet of their Big Ten schedule in two weeks.
UCLA at Brigham Young
In one of this past weekends most talked about games, BYU emerged victorious in a 28-27 thriller over Washington to run the nationís longest winning streak to twelve games. Meanwhile, UCLA will be taking to the field for the first time since their opening weekend 27-24 overtime win over Tennessee. For BYU, the story remains the same as the Cougars yet again feature one of the nations best passing games, highlighted by quarterback Max Hall, who ranks third in the nation in total offense. The game plan will revolve around Hall and his top target in tight end Dennis Pitta, but the UCLA defense better not forget to keep an eye on running back Harvey Unga, a powerful option in the Cougar backfield. For the Bruins, the question is which version of quarterback Kevin Craft will show up in this contest, the first half and mistake prone version or the second half take charge and lead the team to a come-from-behind victory version. Quarterback play will be crucial in this contest as the Bruin rushing game was non-existent in the opener, and with the health of Kahlil Bell still in question, the offense will rest in the hands of Craft. BYU maintained their BCS hopes with their win over Washington and they have yet another tough hurdle before entering conference play while UCLA looks to build on their opening day win to showcase how quickly Coach Neuheiselís rebuilding program is taking shape.
Michigan at Notre Dame
These two programs are looking for a spark after a lackluster beginning to the season. Michigan has already suffered a loss to Utah and followed that opening weekend defeat with a sluggish 16-6 win over Miami of Ohio while Notre Dame needed a fourth quarter comeback to defeat San Diego State, 21-13. Michigan continues to struggle in adapting to their new offensive game plan as quarterback play has been dismal in the opening two games. Expect the Wolverines to feature more of running back Sam McGuffie with the passing game remaining a work in progress and not yet effective at this point in the season. Notre Dame will need a much improved effort this weekend, especially on offense, as the Irish struggled for almost the entire game to put points on the scoreboard against SDSU. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen must lead his Irish team through the air as the Michigan run defense is stout and will likely force the game into the hands of the ND passing attack. Michigan has won two straight in this series, with the winner of this game gaining a huge lift in confidence while the loser may be staring at a long season ahead.
Oregon at Purdue
Oregon is off to an impressive start to their season, earning two blowout wins and ranking first in the nation in total offense. Purdue has only one game under their belt, a 42-10 win over FCS opponent Northern Colorado, so the Boilermakers remain an unknown quantity at this stage of the season. Expect to see the Ducks pound away with their star running duo of Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, a combination that is leading Oregon to a 322 yard per game average on the ground. The front line on defense is a concern for Purdue, so the Boilermakers had better game plan for the power running game that is about to arrive in West Lafayette. For Purdue the offensive game plan begins with quarterback Curtis Painter, who is on his way to becoming the Big Tenís all-time leading passer. In a great match-up of strength versus strength, the Boilermaker passing game will go toe-to-toe with a deep and talented Oregon secondary, which is one of the top units in the nation. The Ducks have not received much national attention as of yet, an impressive win on the road against a tough Big Ten foe will have the college football nation taking notice, while Purdue can earn a great deal of attention of their own by knocking off one of the Pac Ten heavyweights.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Georgia Tech enters this game off a huge win on the road at Boston College to open their league slate at 1-0 while Virginia Tech was sluggish again in a 24-7 win over Furman. A win at Va Tech would immediately launch the Jackets into the Coastal Division title discussion, while the Hokies continue to look to find their groove as conference season gets underway.
North Carolina at Rutgers - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
North Carolina began their season with a lackluster performance in a 35-27 win over McNeese State as the Heels needed one of the greatest all-around games in their history from receiver Brandon Tate to secure the win. Rutgers is looking to rebound from a disappointing opening weekend loss to Fresno State and will rely on a strong passing attack to handle the Heels.
Georgia at South Carolina - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The struggles for South Carolina continued on offense as the Thursday night 24-17 loss to Vanderbilt clearly demonstrated. There have been no struggles for Georgia in the early going, and expect the Bulldogs to remember last yearís 16-12 loss to the Gamecocks as they were held without a touchdown for the first time in six seasons.
Oklahoma at Washington - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT
Washington enters this contest at 0-2 and looking to salvage their season after a disheartening 28-27 loss to BYU, which ended on a blocked extra point. The Oklahoma offense has been tremendous in the early going but this is the Sooners first road challenge of the season and should provide a nice gauge of how good this OU team can be this year.
East Carolina at Tulane - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT
ECU is the national story of the early going as the Pirates have made their way into the national rankings after opening the season with impressive wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Tulane played a strong game against Alabama and should provide an interesting test at home in the dome as these two open their conference season.
Iowa State at Iowa - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Both of these teams have dominated outmanned opponents in their opening two contests, with Iowa taking care of Maine and Florida International while Iowa State handled South Dakota State and Kent State. Iowa State has lost eleven straight games on the road and will need a huge effort to defeat a much improved Hawkeye team.
California at Maryland - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
California has looked great in opening this season, including last weekends 66-3 pounding of Pac Ten foe Washington State, while on the other hand, Maryland has encountered major struggles on offense and enter this game off of a disastrous 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee State. Maryland needs a big performance to gain confidence before ACC play begins while the Golden Bears will look to keep the machine humming.
Rice at Vanderbilt - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Not many college football fans would have circled this contest before the season began, but these two teams are off to a combined 4-0 start and are beginning to think about post-season possibilities. Vanderbilt enters this game off an impressive 24-17 win over SEC rival South Carolina while Rice staged a comeback 42-35 win over CUSA foe Memphis.
Bowling Green at Boise State - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
After opening the season on the road with a huge win at Pittsburgh, Bowling Green hit a stumbling block against Minnesota last weekend, falling 42-17. The Broncos have not lost a regular season home game on the blue turf since Washington State came to Boise and won in 2001, a streak of 43 straight.