After week #3’s tremendous matchups and great finishes, week #4 is bound to be a step down in the number of quality games on the schedule. That being said, there are still numerous matchups, including several huge Big Ten showdowns and a couple of big games out in the Pac-10, that are worth watching as most teams head into conference play with the month of October already just a couple weeks away. How will teams respond after big wins or disappointing losses last week? Let’s review the best that this week has to offer in college football.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Penn State at #1-Ohio State
The 4th weekend of action’s top game is a Big 10 conference battle between border rivals as Penn State pays a visit to Ohio State. Last season, these two teams faced off in a defensive slugfest at State College that saw PSU emerge victorious by a score of 17-10. Ohio State is focused and ready to get their revenge this year, as PSU has never won a conference game at Columbus, including never scoring more than 10 points in the losses. The Buckeyes enter this contest fresh off a 37-7 win over Cincinnati that saw Ohio State struggle for the first half before rolling over the Bearcats in the 2nd half. Penn State has not yet hit their stride, and for the Lions to pull off the upset, this would be the week to put everything together. Let’s take an in-depth look at how these two programs matchup on Saturday afternoon.
The Ohio State offense is led by Heisman candidate QB Troy Smith, who has thrown for 769 yards and 7 touchdowns so far this season. The Buckeye offensive line has been providing Smith with all kinds of time to throw, and he can pick defenses apart with time in the pocket. This is a major area of concern for Penn State, as the Lions have not yet been able to generate a consistent pass rush with their defensive front, a problem that became quite clear in the loss to Notre Dame in week #2. If Penn State is unable to force Smith to hurry his throws, he will find Ginn and Gonzalez all day against a still developing Lion secondary. Ohio State will look to open the field with the passing game and then pound away and wear out the PSU defense with RB’s Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells.
The Penn State offense has been fine at picking up yards between the 20 yard lines, but once in the red zone, the Lions have struggled in getting the ball into the end zone. In order to have a legitimate shot at the upset, PSU will have to convert scoring opportunities into touchdowns rather than field goal attempts because Ohio State will put points on the scoreboard. The Lions will focus on unleashing Tony Hunt against an Ohio State rush defense that has yielded yards on the ground this year. The PSU passing game remains a work in progress, and with Anthony Morrelli hitting less than 50% of his passes versus 1-AA Youngstown State this past week, that is definitely a cause for concern. Looking at the past history of these two teams, Ohio State is the clear favorite at the “Shoe”, but the Lions have enough talent to make things interesting if the Buckeyes are not at the top of their game.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Wisconsin at #6-Michigan
Michigan returns home after blasting Notre Dame in the Wolverines' first road game of the season and launching themselves into the national title picture. The Wolverines beat Notre Dame in all facets of the game, putting on the most impressive performance of the weekend, and now they must prepare for the conference opener. Stopping the Michigan offense will be a huge challenge for Wisconsin as QB Chad Henne and WR Mario Manningham look to have found their rhythm. The Wisconsin defense has been stout so far this season, but this weekend will be the school’s first real test. On the flip side, the Badger offense has basically been anemic so far this year, as QB John Stocco and his receiving corps are not yet in-sync. Michigan enters this game as the co-conference favorite with Ohio State, but the Wolverines must guard against the inevitable letdown after such a huge win.
Alabama at Arkansas
This is a contest between two teams still looking to get on track this season. Arkansas came into the season highly touted, but the Hogs are clearly struggling to get their offense to mount a consistent attack. Freshman QB Mitch Mustain continues to develop, and as he becomes more comfortable behind center, the Razorback offense becomes that much more potent. Looking at the Tide, the running game has struggled to get going, and Alabama has relied on the short, controlled passing game behind QB John Parker Wilson. Against an Arkansas defense that was gouged on the ground by Vanderbilt, Alabama will look to establish RB Ken Darby and take the pressure off of Wilson. These two teams are clearly a step behind both Auburn and LSU in the SEC West right now, and this game is crucial as Alabama is staring at a trip to Florida next week while the Razorbacks' next game is versus Auburn in two weeks.
Arizona State at California
This is a huge game in Pac-10 play as conference opponents begin to establish a pecking order to challenge USC’s dominance. This will be the first real test for Arizona State as the Sun Devils come off a 21-3 win over Colorado in which ASU was not at the top of its game. Leading the Devils offense is QB Rudy Carpenter and his top target TE Zach Miller; both will need to be at their best against an attacking Golden Bear defensive unit. California looks to be back on track after their opening week loss to Tennessee, but this week will provide the answer for sure. Marshawn Lynch is getting room to run and when he does, he is one of the best running backs in the nation. The Devils are sure to receive a full dose of Marshawn on Saturday. Both teams came into this season with high expectations, and the loser of this game will have a mountain to climb to get back into the Pac-10 championship race.
UCLA at Washington
Speaking of the Pac-10, this game would not have been on the list a few weeks ago, but it now has conference race implications. UCLA is coming off a bye week after having a tougher than expected battle with Rice, while Washington enters the contest after posting a 21-20 upset over Fresno State last weekend. UCLA QB Ben Olson is off to an impressive start, and combined with RB Chris Markey, the Bruins have a balanced attack that will work the Husky defense. Washington is led by dual threat QB Isaiah Stanback who led the Huskies in rushing and passing in their win over Fresno. Both these schools defenses are much improved so far this season after being porous in 2005. For Washington, who won two games in total last season, this can be a statement game before the home crowd in Seattle, while for UCLA, getting a road win to open Pac-10 season will have the Bruin fans thinking about a 5-0 start with home games against Stanford and Arizona next in line.
#11-Notre Dame at Michigan State
Notre Dame will be looking to regroup after getting manhandled in a 47-21 loss to Michigan, while Michigan State comes into this game after hammering a tough Pittsburgh squad 38-23. Brady Quinn threw 3 TD’s on Saturday, but the problem for Notre Dame was Quinn’s 3 interceptions and fumble, two of which the Wolverine defense converted into immediate scores. The Irish offensive line must get better and provide Quinn with time in the pocket, or it could be another long day at Michigan State. Michigan State QB Drew Stanton is coming off a strong effort as he threw for 198 yards and added another 105 yards on the ground, leading the Spartans to 38 consecutive points versus Pittsburgh. The Michigan State defense dominated Pitt after the first drive, not allowing the Panthers into the end zone until the game was well in hand in the 4th quarter. The Irish will be looking for revenge after last year’s 44-41 OT loss to Michigan State, while the Spartans are focused on keeping the momentum rolling as they gear up for the Big 10 season.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Minnesota at Purdue - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Purdue is undefeated but has been giving up points in bunches to less than stellar competition, while Minnesota has two shutouts on the year but in their one test, the California offense took the Gophers apart. This one has the looks of two teams that will move up and down the field all day long.
#5-West Virginia at East Carolina - Saturday 3:30 PM CDT
West Virginia is humming and this one has the makings of a blowout, but East Carolina gave the Moutaineers a major scare last year in Morgantown. This game is at ECU, and the Pirates can make their season with a win.
Oklahoma State at Houston - Saturday 8:00 PM CDT
A battle of unbeatens currently underneath the radar on the national scene as both schools have taken advantage of less than top-notch early season competition. The winner of this one should begin to get noticed.
#8-Louisville at Kansas State - Saturday 11:10 AM CDT
Louisville is off to a tremendous start, and the folks in Kentucky are already thinking about an undefeated season. Kansas State has just enough talent to be a thorn in the Cardinals' side, especially with Brohm missing the game due to injury.
Tulsa at Navy - Saturday 12:30 PM CDT
Navy bounced back from their scare versus UMass to dismantle Stanford 37-9. A Midshipmen win over a very good Tulsa team could set up a special season in Annapolis.
Iowa State at #7-Texas - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Texas is still a mystery after blasting two non-conference cupcakes sandwiching their 17 point loss to Ohio State. The Cyclones have enough firepower to give the Longhorns a bit of a challenge.
#2-USC at Arizona - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
USC has rolled two solid teams to open the season, while Arizona was swamped in their first major test of the year at LSU. If UA cannot get their offense on track, this has the potential to get ugly.
Hawaii at Boise State - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
Hawaii has been impressive so far, playing Alabama tough on the road and throttling UNLV at home this past weekend. Boise State struggled to overcome a game Wyoming team, but things are always different on the blue turf at Boise.
Kentucky at #4-Florida - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT
Florida is off to a great start and has to make sure they do not let down after the big road win at Tennessee. Kentucky has shown some pop and are coming off an impressive showing in routing Mississippi.
Wake Forest at Mississippi - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
Wake Forest is aiming at a 4th straight win to open the season, while UM needs to get back on track after stumbling on the road at Missouri and Kentucky.