After yet another topsy-turvy week in college football that saw numerous nationally ranked teams trimmed from the ranks of the unbeaten, the focus shifts to conference races as the season heads into the first week of October action. The weekís top game is a classic Big Ten battle as Ohio State travels to Madison to take on the Badgers of Wisconsin. Both teams have suffered a loss on the season, with Wisconsin losing their conference opener to Michigan last weekend while Ohio State suffered their lone loss to USC. Other key games to keep an eye on this weekend are Kentucky traveling to Alabama, Vanderbilt hosting Auburn, Oregon trekking south to Southern Cal, Nebraska welcoming Missouri, and Connecticut challenging North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Time for a detailed analysis at the best games that highlight this weekendís schedule of action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Ohio State at Wisconsin
The marquee match-up of week #6 is a Big Ten tussle between two teams who entered the season with not only conference but also national title aspirations. The Buckeyes have rebounded nicely from their 35-3 pounding at the hands of USC to win two straight, including their Big Ten opener over Minnesota, while Wisconsin stumbled in their conference debut to Michigan, blowing a 19-0 half-time lead in the loss. Last season, Ohio State hammered Wisconsin by a 38-17 score, but the Badgers have held their own in this series in recent years, winning three of the last five games. The stakes could not be much higher in this game with both teams already suffering a loss on the season, especially for the Badgers whose Big Ten title hopes are on the line. Letís take an in-depth preview at how these two teams match-up head-to-head in this Saturday night battle at Camp Randall Stadium.
For Ohio State on the offensive side of the football there has been a changing of the guard behind center as true freshman Terrelle Pryor is now in charge of the offense, while veteran Todd Boeckman assumes the back-up role. Pryor has performed up to high expectations in the early going, throwing five touchdowns versus only one interception, but he is doing the majority of the damage with his legs in the ground game. Expect to see Ohio State continuing to pound away with the running game in this contest as Chris Wells returned against Minnesota and looked strong in a 106-yard effort, easing the concerns of the Buckeye faithful. Ohio State should find room to run against a Badger front that is playing well, but has yet to see a running combination with the skills of Pryor and Wells in the same backfield. The Badgers will need a huge game from their linebacking corps to contain the Buckeye running game and force OSU into having to throw the ball to win the game, an area in which Pryor has not had to rely on as of yet in his young career.
As is usually the case for Wisconsin, the Badgers offense revolves around their running game, highlighted by the three man combination of P.J. Hill, John Clay, and Zach Brown. Hill is the number one man in the rotation and ranks 14th in the nation at 112 yards per game, but Clay and Brown will see significant action as Wisconsin tries to wear down the Ohio State defense. The Buckeye run defense is stout, yielding 95 yards per game, with All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis leading the charge in keeping the Badger ground game contained. With Ohio State focused on the run, Wisconsin will need improved production out of quarterback Allan Evridge, who has been solid in the first part of the season, but did toss two game changing interceptions versus Michigan. Evridge needs the help of a healthy tight end Travis Beckum, who missed the first two games of the season and has yet to reach his potential as one of the best receivers in the nation. Much like Ohio State, the Badgers will look to keep this game on the ground as much as possible, pounding away with their backs and then utilizing their tight end combination of Beckum and Garrett Graham in a controlled passing game.
Both teams enter this game ranked lower in the national polls than either would have expected at this point in the season, but in a wild start to the season there remains plenty of time for these two to rebound. This game will be fought on the ground, as two of the nations best backs go head-to-head in Hill and Wells. The Buckeyes earn the advantage with the playmaking skills and overall athleticism of Pryor, who is a special talent, especially when he breaks containment and releases outside of the pocket. The Badgers are extremely tough at night within the friendly confines at Camp Randall Stadium, where they have won sixteen consecutive games, but this Ohio State team matches Wisconsin in all aspects of the game. In a typical Big Ten slugfest, look for the Buckeyes to continue their move back up the national polls as they earn a huge road win in one of the toughest venues in the country.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Auburn at Vanderbilt
Auburn rebounded from their heartbreaking loss to LSU to earn a 14-12 win over Tennessee, improving their SEC record to 2-1, while Vanderbilt had a week off to prepare after their red-hot 4-0 start. The challenge for Vanderbilt will be finding answers to the overwhelming Auburn defense, which ranks 11th in the nation in yardage allowed, while giving up only 10.6 points per game. Vanderbilt has relied on forcing turnovers and their rushing offense to win games as the Commodores rank first in the nation in turnover margin, and they will need more of the same if they have hopes of knocking off Auburn. For the Tigers, the offense has struggled all season, so expect a heavy reliance on the running game with Ben Tate, as Auburn focuses on just pounding away at the Vanderbilt defense. Tiger quarterback Chris Todd has shown flashes, but has yet to be a consistent threat, as he has only thrown three touchdowns versus four interceptions in the seasonís initial five games. Expect a low scoring affair, with both defenses playing well, as Vanderbilt focuses on ending a thirteen game losing streak to Auburn, dating back to 1955.
Oregon at Southern Cal
The Trojans were stunned last Thursday night in their Pac-10 opener by Oregon State, while Oregon rebounded from their loss to Boise State to dominate Washington State in their conference debut. For USC, the game plan will focus on taking advantage of the Duck pass defense, which has struggled in the early going, giving up 230 yards per game. Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez played well versus Oregon State, tossing three touchdowns, but he was unable to complete the key pass attempts in the fourth quarter as the SC comeback fell short. Oregon is down to their third quarterback since the start of the season as junior college transfer Jeremiah Masoli made his first start against Washington State and he now must face one of the quickest and fiercest defensive units in the nation. Expect the Ducks to run, run, and run some more with their combination of LaGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson, who together are averaging 184 yards per game on the ground. This should be an intense battle with both teams already suffering a defeat in the early going as USC looks to avenge last seasons loss at Oregon, a win that ended a three game losing streak in the series for the Ducks.
Missouri at Nebraska
The Tigers are off to a red hot start, winning their first four games in dominant fashion, while Nebraska enters this contest off a tough loss at home to Virginia Tech. The story for Missouri continues to be a powerful offense, as the Tigers rank second in the nation in scoring at 54 points per game led by their duo of quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin. Daniel should be excited for this game as Nebraska has struggled in pass defense, giving up 245 yards per game and the Huskers now must deal with the nationís second best passing attack. On the other side of the football, Nebraska will rely on the passing game as well as their quarterback Joe Ganz is off to a strong start and with the Tiger secondary showing flaws, Ganz could have a big night. That being said, Nebraska will need a much improved offensive performance compared to their effort versus Virginia Tech if they hope to stay with Missouri on Saturday evening, as the Tigers will score in bunches and put constant pressure on the Husker offense to keep pace. Last year, Missouri hung 606 yards of offense and 41 points on Nebraska at home, but the Tigers have not won at Lincoln since 1978 which is a streak of 15 consecutive games, and they now run into a hungry bunch of Cornhuskers focused on returning to the winning track.
Kentucky at Alabama
Alabama is the hottest team in the nation after the Tide beat Georgia 41-30 after racing out to a 31-0 lead, while Kentucky is quietly off to an impressive 4-0 start to their campaign. Alabama is relying on tremendous line play on both sides of the football as the front walls have helped the Tide to nationís 17th best rushing offense and third best rushing defense. Expect to see plenty of the Tide running combination of Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram in this one as these two set the tone early for the Alabama offensive game plan. For Kentucky, the Wildcats have not faced stellar competition early, but they do lead the nation in scoring defense, yielding a miniscule 5.5 points per game. The UK defense will need to play lights out in this game as the Wildcat offense has faced nothing like the challenge they will see on Saturday afternoon from the aggressive and attacking Tide defensive unit. Alabama has never lost to Kentucky at home with the last Wildcat win in this series occurring in 1997, and although the Tide are solid favorites the SEC is a meat grinder week-in and week-out, so Nick Sabanís team better not suffer a letdown after their win at Georgia.
Connecticut at North Carolina
Connecticut has quietly started the season at 5-0, including Fridayís thrilling 26-21 win at Louisville, while North Carolina is 3-1 overall and enter this game off a come from behind 28-24 win at Miami. The story for Connecticut has been running back Donald Brown, who ranks first in nation at 181 yards per game on the ground. Expect Brown to have to shoulder even more of the offensive load now that quarterback Tyler Lorenzen has been lost for at least a month due to injury. Carolina has also lost their starting quarterback as TJ Yates was injured in the Heels loss to Virginia Tech, but Cameron Sexton took over versus Miami and played well in directing the offense to two fourth quarter scores. The Carolina running game has yet to establish itself on a consistent basis with Greg Little still searching for his breakout game, but with Sexton and receiver Brandon Tate leading the passing game, the Tar Heels are still dangerous. North Carolina is a huge 4th quarter comeback by Virginia Tech away from being undefeated while UConn has found all kinds of ways to win games, as these two programs look for a big win and national respect.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Oregon State at Utah - Thursday 8:00 PM CDT
Oregon State was the national story last weekend as the Beavers derailed the top-ranked USC Trojans national title hopes with a stunning 27-21 upset in Corvallis on Thursday night. Utah has quietly won their initial five games and look to reverse last years result when the Beavers upended the Utes by a 24-7 score.
Pittsburgh at South Florida - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
USF is off to a fast 5-0 start heading into Big East competition as the league favorite and looking to extend their winning streak over Pittsburgh to three games. Pitt has rebounded to win three straight after their opening weekend loss to Bowling Green, including Saturdayís 34-24 conference win over Syracuse.
Penn State at Purdue - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Penn State heads into their first Big Ten road game off an impressive conference opening 38-24 win over Illinois. The Boilermakers will look to rebound from a 17-point loss to Notre Dame and end a three game losing streak versus PSU in their Big Ten debut.
Iowa at Michigan State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Michigan State has looked impressive while winning four straight after opening the season with a loss at California. The home team has won eight straight in this series, which is not good news for an Iowa team looking for answers after losing two straight to Pittsburgh and Northwestern.
Duke at Georgia Tech - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Do not look now, but Duke is off to a 3-1 start and they are full of confidence after opening ACC play with a 31-3 pounding of Virginia. Georgia Tech has dominated this series, winning twelve out of the last thirteen, and in a wide-open Coastal Division, this is a critical game for both programs.
South Carolina at Mississippi - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
UM needs to stay focused after their monumental 31-30 upset over Florida this past Saturday, as the Rebels evened their SEC mark at 1-1. South Carolina has lost five straight in this series and is looking for answers on offense after struggling since their opening weekend win versus North Carolina State.
Illinois at Michigan - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Michigan heads into this game with a huge boost of confidence after the Wolverines overcame a 19-0 deficit to defeat Wisconsin in their Big Ten opener. Illinois comes off a tough loss to Penn State and now must travel to Ann Arbor as the Illini focus on ending a six game losing streak versus the Wolverines.
Arizona State at California - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
ASU has lost their last two contests, but the Devils are 1-0 in conference play with their week #2 win over Stanford. California got themselves back on track with a blowout win over Colorado State on Saturday as the Bears now look for a fourth straight win at home versus Arizona State.
Florida State at Miami, Florida - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The ACC race is the most wide open of any conference and these teams remain capable of playing a huge part in the title chase, but both programs are in desperate need of a win as they each stand at 0-1 in league play. This has been a great series over the years, with the last seven games decided by eight points or less, expect much the same on Saturday.
Texas at Colorado - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
The Texas offense has been humming as the Longhorns have scored 52 points in three of their first four as UT has yet to be challenged heading into conference play. Colorado is looking to rebound after their blowout loss to Florida State and to gain revenge for the last time these two teams met in 2005, a 70-3 Texas win in the Big Twelve championship game.