Heading into the final weekend of action in September, an SEC battle is the top game on the schedule as Alabama travels to Athens to tackle the Georgia Bulldogs. The SEC continues to dominate the weekends best games and collegiate fans will be more than happy if this weeks highlight game matches the excitement of last Saturdayís Auburn/LSU battle. Both Georgia and Alabama are ranked in the nationís top ten and both enter this contest at 1-0 in SEC action and looking for a key win in the conference title chase. Other top-notch games to focus on this weekend are Penn State hosting Illinois, Virginia Tech traveling to Nebraska, Oklahoma welcoming Texas Christian, Tennessee heading south to battle Auburn, and Colorado making their way across the country to take on Florida State. Letís take a detailed look at the best games which make up the fourth weekend of collegiate action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Alabama at Georgia
The featured contest of week #5 is a cross-divisional SEC battle as the surprising Crimson Tide head on the road to take on Georgia. Both these teams are off to 4-0 starts with each winning their SEC opener, Georgia over South Carolina and Alabama over Arkansas this past Saturday. The Bulldogs have won three in a row in this series, including last seasonís 26-23 victory in overtime, in a game that saw the Tide battle back from a 20-10 fourth quarter deficit only to fall short in the extra period. The resurgent Alabama program has its site set on achieving the same level of excellence as Georgia, as the Bulldogs have recorded the best record in the SEC over the last twelve seasons at 111-32. Time for an in-depth preview of these two powerhouses match-up as Georgia focuses on extending the nationís second longest winning streak to twelve games.
On the offensive side of the ball for Georgia, the Bulldogs may have found their latest star in freshman wide receiver A.J. Green, who recorded eight receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown in the win over Arizona State. Green will play a key role in this game as quarterback Matthew Stafford is looking for a deep threat to emerge to spread out the defense and open the field for one of the best running backs in the nation in Knowshon Moreno. Knowshon will meet a Tide defense which has been a brick wall against the rush so far this year, ranking eighth in the nation in yards allowed at 55 per game. The match-up to watch is how the young Bulldog offensive line does against the powerful Alabama front, as Georgia will need the groupís best effort to provide Stafford ample time to work downfield. Expect to see Georgia throwing the ball early against a Tide secondary that gives up yardage through the air, but tightens in the red zone, as Alabama only yields 9.3 points per game. The Dawgs need to maintain the momentum after looking much better on offense this past Saturday against Arizona State after a sub par performance the week prior in a 14-7 victory over South Carolina.
For Alabama, the story on offense has been their running back duo of Mark Ingram and Glen Coffee, who are combining for 166 yards per game on the ground and leading the SECís best rushing attack. With these two pounding away behind a strong offensive line, quarterback John Parker Wilson has not yet had to play a significant role in the offensive game plan, tossing only five touchdowns in the Tideís first four games. To further emphasize the domination of the ground game in the Alabama offensive game plan, the leading receiver is tight end Nick Walker, who has 12 receptions for 102 yards on the season. Welcoming the Tide to Athens will be a brutal Georgia run defense that will match strength versus strength as the Dawgs are only allowing 46 yards on the ground per game and rank third in the nation. The Tide ground game will receive its toughest challenge of the season by far, forcing the ĎBama passing game to step up and play to a higher level for the first time this season. The Bulldogs are going to stack the line and dare Alabama to throw against their deep and talented secondary, if the Tide can find a way to penetrate the back four, they have a great shot at the upset.
Both of these teams enter this conference headliner off of strong performances on Saturday in what sets up to be another classic in this series. For Alabama, John Parker Wilson must step to the forefront and lead the offense for the first time this season as running room will be hard to come by between the hedges. The same can be said for the Bulldogs as Matthew Stafford needs to continue the same level of play that he displayed versus Arizona State and take advantage of the Tide defensive backfield. When the smoke clears at Sanford Stadium, look for the Bulldogs to ride the arm of Stafford and the hands of A.J. Green to a victory at home as Georgia extends their win streak over the Tide to four games and remain in the thick of the national championship chase.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Illinois at Penn State
Penn State is off to a hot start as the Lions have dominated their first four non-conference foes by a combined 211-40 score, while Illinois stands at 2-1 overall and head to State College fresh off a bye week. For PSU, everything has been clicking in the early going as the offense ranks sixth in the nation while the defense rates as the nationís seventh best, but Illinois is by far the best team that the Lions have faced and will provide a good gauge on this PSU team. Expect to see plenty of the running back combination of Evan Royster and Stephon Green for PSU as Illinois has struggled against the run in the early going, yielding 163 yards per game. On defense for PSU, there remain questions in the secondary as PSU has yet to face a top-notch passing game, so expect Illini QB Juice Williams to test the group and look for his favorite target in Arrelious Benn on a regular basis. Illinois will need to involve more offensive weapons if they have hopes of pulling of the upset as Williams has been almost the entire offense in the first three games, ranking eleventh in the nation in total yards. Penn State is now considered a major threat in the Big Ten championship race, but this Illinois team is deep and talented and looking for a second consecutive win over the Lions in both schools conference opener.
Virginia Tech at Nebraska
Nebraska has opened their season in dominant fashion, overwhelming their initial three non-conference opponents, while Virginia Tech looks to continue their momentum after rebounding to win three straight after an opening weekend loss to East Carolina. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz has played well to start the season, but expect to see a healthy does of running backs Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu in this one as Tech has struggled to contain the run. Although the Hokies have yielded yardage this season, the defense has tightened in the red zone as Tech is only giving up 17 points per game. On offense for Tech it has been a season of struggles, but this team has found a way to score just enough points to win in recent weeks. The Hokie offense ranks 112th in the nation and quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the teams leading rusher, although running back Darren Evans has shown glimpses of his potential in their two ACC games. The Husker defense has been punishing against the run, led by a strong line, so the Hokies must find a semblance of a passing attack to win this game. In the second ever meeting between these two teams, this has the makings of a low scoring affair with opportune defenses leading the way and the turnover margin playing a key role in deciding the outcome.
Texas Christian at Oklahoma
Both of these teams are off to strong starts with Oklahoma at 3-0 and TCU at 4-0 as the Horned Frogs head to Norman aiming for a repeat of the 2005 season when they knocked off the nationally ranked Sooners. This game sets up to be a great battle of strengths as the top-ranked Oklahoma offense will go toe-to-toe with the nationís highest rated defense. Sooner QB Sam Bradford has been almost flawless in leading the offense, ranking second in the nation in passing efficiency, and spreading the ball around to a talented receiving corps. The Frogs will look to pressure Bradford into mistakes and are led by a strong defensive line, highlighted by Cody Moore, which is yielding only 30 yards per game on the ground and getting into the backfield on a regular basis. The Frog front wall faces their biggest challenge by far against a dominating Sooner offensive line that will look to wear down TCU with their size and power. If TCU can disrupt Bradfordís timing, this game could be interesting, the Sooners are favored but the Mountain West Conference is having a great season and the Frogs are looking to make another statement for their league.
Tennessee at Auburn
This game takes on added significance for these two teams after both were defeated in conference play this past weekend as Auburn fell to LSU while Tennessee was dismantled by Florida. For Tennessee, this is not the defense they want to see as the Volunteers look to get quarterback Jonathan Crompton and a struggling offense back on track. Expect to see the Volunteers lining up behind a powerful offensive line and to go straight at Auburnís 19th ranked rush defense with their running back combination of Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty. In the loss to LSU the Auburn offense finally emerged against a tough Tiger defense as quarterback Chris Todd played his best game and looks to have established himself as the leader of the unit. Keep an eye on the combination of Todd and wide receiver Rodgeriqus Smith as they look to have found their stride versus LSU and they are keys to the game plan against Tennessee. Auburn is looking for their fourth consecutive win in this series and the winner still maintains SEC championship hopes while the loser, in all likelihood, see their title dreams ended before October.
Colorado at Florida State
The Buffaloes are off to their first 3-0 start since 2004 after a huge win versus West Virginia while Florida State fell to 2-1 on the year after a disastrous offensive performance in a 12-3 loss to Wake Forest. This game has the makings of a low scoring defensive slugfest as both teams are still searching for answers on the offensive side of the football. The Seminoles continue to have questions at the quarterback position after the combination of DíVontrey Richardson and Christian Ponder tossed five interceptions in their loss. FSU needs running back Antone Smith to get on track in this game as he has yet to take off in the early going, running behind a very young and inexperienced Seminole offensive line. On the other side of the ball, the Seminole defense has been stout and welcomes back five starters from suspension in time for the Buffaloes, who will have to rely on the arm of Cody Hawkins as running room will be hard to find. These two teams met last season with FSU winning 16-6 and if Colorado can reverse the result on Saturday they gain a huge confidence boost heading into Big XII action while Florida State needs to get back on track quickly as the season could unravel if the offense continues the same level of play.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Southern Cal at Oregon State - Thursday 8:00 PM CDT
The top-ranked Trojans have dismantled their first two foes, Virginia and Ohio State, by a combined 87-10 score as they head into conference play. The Beavers have struggled in the early going at 1-2 but have a chance to make a huge statement much like in 2006 when OSU upended the third ranked Trojans at home in Corvallis.
Wisconsin at Michigan - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The Badgers begin their Big 10 schedule gauntlet of conference powerhouses as they aim at a second consecutive win over Michigan for the first time since 1994. Michigan has been sluggish so far and now run into the nationís 17th best scoring defense as they look for answers in their conference opener.
Fresno State at UCLA - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Fresno State heads on the road for a third time in September after a thrilling 55-54 overtime win at Toledo their last time out. UCLA is looking to stop the bleeding after being outscored by a 90-10 margin in their last two games after they opened the season with a thrilling 27-24 win over Tennessee.
Maryland at Clemson - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Clemson has won three straight since their opening weekend disaster against Alabama, but the surging Terrapins will provide a stiff challenge. After two bad performances to open the season, Maryland has regrouped and looked tremendous in their last two games as the Terps look for a similar effort as they open ACC play at Death Valley.
South Florida at North Carolina State - Saturday 6:30 PM CDT
South Florida has assumed the role of Big East favorite as they look to complete the non-conference portion of their schedule at 5-0. The Wolfpack put an end to East Carolinaís potential dream season their last time out and they will look to keep the momentum rolling against another nationally ranked opponent.
Purdue at Notre Dame - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
These two rivals have played every season since 1946 and the Boilermakers struggle playing at South Bend, with their last win in 2004 being their only one since 1976. The Irish stumbled their last time out, getting whipped by Michigan State 23-7 while Purdue had to battle to knock off Central Michigan by a 32-25 score.
Mississippi at Florida - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Florida enters this game on a roll after dismantling Tennessee by a 30-6 score as the Gator defense continues to suffocate the opposition. Mississippi has lost 14 consecutive SEC road contests and head to Florida off a heartbreaking 23-17 loss at home to Vanderbilt in their conference opener.
Troy at Oklahoma State - Saturday 6:05 PM CDT
Oklahoma State is off to a strong start at 3-0, but the talented group from Troy will provide the ĎPokes with their stiffest challenge on the young season. The Trojans had Ohio State on the ropes in the fourth quarter of their last game and now they travel to Stillwater looking for a second straight win over OSU after winning 41-23 last year at home.
Minnesota at Ohio State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Ohio State is still looking for offensive consistency and they may have found their answer with the combination of freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the return of running back Chris Wells. Minnesota is off to a 4-0 start, versus questionable competition, as they prepare to open Big Ten play against the Buckeyes, a team they have been able to defeat only once in their last 18 attempts.
North Carolina at Miami, Florida - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The Tar Heels take to the road after a disheartening 20-17 loss at home to Virginia Tech in their ACC opener, a game in which UNC led 17-3 before falling apart. Miami rebounded from their loss to Florida with a 41-23 road win at Texas A&M as the Canes now look to extend the home team winning streak in this series to five in ACC play.