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September 20, 2007

SCS.comAfter last weekend's action, which saw numerous ranked teams fall and others struggle to overcome lesser foes, what does week #4 have in store for the college football landscape? This is the first full weekend in which the majority of teams begin their conference season, so the intensity level should increase substantially. As is usually the case, the SEC leads the way with top matchups, led by South Carolina’s visit to LSU, and additional key games including Georgia at Alabama and surging Kentucky at Arkansas.

Check out the staff's picks for all of this week's top games!

One of the weekend’s most interesting matchups is Penn State’s visit to Michigan, a team that PSU has struggled mightily against since joining the Big Ten. This game will decide if the Wolverines are back and ready to make a run at the conference championship or if the Nittany Lions can get the monkey off their back and take over as the league favorite. Time to preview the best games in the 1st official weekend of fall action.


South Carolina at LSU
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT CBS

LSU could not have started their season any better, outscoring their three foes by a combined 137-7, and not being seriously challenged in any way, shape, or form. South Carolina has also won their initial three games, with their most impressive performance being a 16-12 win over SEC rival Georgia. For the Gamecocks, their success versus LSU has been minimal, with their last win over the Tigers coming in 1994 and their overall record in the series standing at 2-14-1. In the early going, LSU looks to be the heavy favorite in the Western division, while South Carolina appears to be the main challenger to Florida in the Eastern division. Let’s see how these two teams matchup in the head-to-head battles.

The South Carolina offense is about to run into an absolute brick wall, disguised as the LSU defense. For the Gamecocks to have any chance at the upset, quarterback Blake Mitchell must eliminate the mistakes that have plagued him in the past. Mitchell has already thrown 3 interceptions in the two games that he has played, and he will be under constant pressure on Saturday from the LSU front seven, a quick and punishing group. LSU leads the nation in pass defense, largely due to an intense pass rush that provides opposing quarterbacks with little to no time to find receivers down the field. The “old ball coach” Spurrier has his work cut out for him in this one, needing to devise a game plan centered around punishing LSU for their aggressive defensive play, working the play action and his trick plays. So far this season, opposing offenses have had no luck in solving the LSU puzzle.

Expect LSU to start the game by pounding away with their running back combination of Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams, as South Carolina has struggled in the early going in stopping the run. The lack of a stout run defense is a concern for SC, as entering the season the Gamecock front was expected to be a team strength. In the Tigers' last game, LSU was able to rest both their quarterback Matt Flynn and receiver Early Doucet so that both are 100% healthy, and their top passing combination is ready for this weekend’s game. One area in which LSU has struggled a bit early on is protecting the passer, so expect Carolina to attack with backers Rodney Paulk and Casper Brinkley to disrupt the LSU game plan. So far, the LSU defense has received all the publicity, but the offense is performing at a high level in its own right, and they can make another statement this weekend on the Bayou.

LSU has not been remotely contested in its first three games of the season, winning by an average margin of 43.4 points per contest. Opponents will have a monumental challenge in trying to mount any type of offensive attack against the LSU defense, so I would expect to see some trickery out of Carolina in the hopes of slowing down the Tiger defenders. For Carolina to have a shot to win this one on the road, their quarterback Blake Mitchell must play mistake free football and direct a controlled passing game, especially after a poor 3 interception performance against South Carolina State. Carolina is talented enough to make this a game in the early going, but in the end, LSU will have just too many playmakers on both sides of the ball for South Carolina to contain.


Georgia at Alabama
Saturday 6:45 PM CDT ESPN

Alabama will need to stay focused after their thrilling 41-38 win over Arkansas on Saturday evening, after the Tide had blown a 31-10 lead. Georgia enters off an easy 45-16 victory over Western Carolina, but the Dawgs need this game if they are to be a factor in the SEC race after a week #2 loss to South Carolina. Expect Bama to pound away on the ground with Terry Grant, who is ranked 8th in the nation in rushing and churning out 134 yards per game, while quarterback John Parker Wilson looks to manage the game plan as he has done so well to this point in his career. Georgia will look to find more consistency in their offensive attack as quarterback Matt Stafford is still looking for a receiving threat to emerge to complement the ground game. Alabama has been susceptible on the ground so far this season, so the expectation is for Knowshon Moreno to be given the rock early to hopefully open up the aerial game for Stafford. Alabama is looking to start SEC play at 3-0 before taking the next two weeks to head back out of conference, while Georgia looks to avoid a troubling 0-2 conference start in a setting they have struggled with the past, going 1-7 all-time at Tuscaloosa.

Penn State at Michigan
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

This matchup is one of the toughest games to predict on this weekend's schedule. Michigan appeared to get back on track with a 38-0 thrashing of Notre Dame, but with the Irish performance so far this season, how much was really learned about the Wolverines remains in question. On the other side, Penn State is off to a 3-0 start, but again there is uncertainty about how good this Lion team is due to the early season schedule, and their propensity to start slow on the offensive side of the ball in all three games, a troubling trend. Expect the Wolverine game plan to yet again feature Mike Hart, as he is off to a great start, ranking 3rd in the nation in yardage on the ground, and he comes into this game after a dominating performance versus Notre Dame. The big question for Michigan is will Chad Henne be back at the helm or will true freshman Ryan Mallett remain the starter. The Penn State defense, with the exception of one quarter versus Buffalo, has been tremendous all season, led by stud linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee, who will be in the Wolverine backfield all afternoon long. Michigan has won 8 straight in this series, and a win in this one would have Big Blue fans thinking Big 10 title again. Meanwhile for PSU, a win on the road puts the Lions at the front of a wide open Big 10 title race.

Kentucky at Arkansas
Saturday 5:00 PM CDT ESPN2

Kentucky has to get refocused quickly after their thrilling 40-34 upset over rival Louisville, as Andre Woodson connected on a 58-yard touchdown pass with only 28 seconds left to play in the game. On the opposite sideline, the Razorbacks fought back from a 21 point deficit to take the lead over Alabama only to lose on a touchdown pass within the last 10 seconds of the game. Look for Kentucky to power straight forward with running back Rafael Little, who has added another dimension to the Wildcat offense with his rushing attack. One area where Arkansas has struggled is on rush defense, so the Razorbacks should expect an opening salvo of Little before Woodson and Keenan Burton go to work in the air. One constant with Arkansas is their dominant ground game, and nothing has changed this season with the combination of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones leading the Hogs to the nation’s 4th best rushing game. A win for Kentucky makes the Cats a major player in the SEC East race, while Arkansas must find a way to earn the win at home, otherwise they are staring at an 0-2 conference start and a hole that will be tough to dig out from.

Texas A&M at Miami
Thursday 6:45 PM CDT ESPN

The Hurricanes continue to struggle on the offensive side of the ball, and they will need to be firing on all cylinders if they harbor hopes of upsetting the Aggies. The problem for Miami is a passing game that has been unable to find any rhythm and is rated a lowly 113th in the country in yardage. If Kyle Wright is unable to open up the field, there will be no room to run for Javarris James, who is talented enough to be a game changing player, but he needs help around him to loosen up the defensive fronts. The Aggies are nothing special through the air either, but what A&M does have is a brutal combination of running backs that will pound away at the Hurricane line all evening long. Quarterback Stephen McGee is the Aggies' top rusher, but he has great help in backs Mike Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane, and the combination of these three will get plenty of carries on Thursday. Keep an eye on the performance of Kyle Wright early in this game. If he has trouble connecting with his wide-outs, Miami will struggle and A&M will have a decided advantage in this contest.

Iowa at Wisconsin
Saturday 7:00 PM CDT ABC

Iowa heads on the road for their Big 10 opener after being stunned by winless Iowa State as the Cyclones connected on a last second field goal in the 15-13 win. Wisconsin is also coming off a down performance as the Badgers yielded 31 points to The Citadel, and went into the 2nd half in a 21-21 tie against their outmanned opposition. The Badger game plan is simple: feed P.J. Hill the ball between 25 and 30 times, let him gather a head of steam and run straight downhill. The Iowa offense has struggled in the early going, ranking 87th in the nation in scoring as the passing game is yet to click in the early going. The Badger weakness on defense has been in defending the pass, so Iowa’s Jake Christensen will look to get on track to open the running lanes for Albert Young. In a Big 10 race that is looking more and more open every week, these two teams both maintain enough talent to challenge for the league championship, so they must put last week's performances behind them as soon as possible as the real season begins on Saturday.


Washington at UCLA - Saturday 9:15 PM CDT

This game looked to a huge one before last Saturday’s results as both Washington and UCLA were thumped in disappointing performances. That being said, these teams have the talent to remain key players in the Pac 10 championship race. A win here goes a long to way to re-establishing momentum for the long conference season ahead.

Air Force at Brigham Young - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT

Air Force has quietly put themselves in the front of the Mountain West championship race with early wins over Utah and TCU, and a victory here puts the Falcons alone in the driver’s seat. BYU is looking for answers after losing their 2nd straight game and having major defensive struggles in yielding 55 points to Tulsa.

Michigan State at Notre Dame - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

The Spartans are off to a strong 3-0 start, but this game marks their 1st contest away from East Lansing so far this season. Notre Dame ranks dead last in the nation in offense and Jimmy Clausen and his Irish mates run smack into an MSU team that has played rock solid defense and is tied for the national lead in sacks.

Oregon State at Arizona State - Saturday 9:00 PM CDT

Out on the left coast, the Sun Devils are off to a very strong start, pummeling their first 3 opponents by a combined 112-29, but the real test begins this weekend. Oregon State was dominated in their 1st road trip of the year at Cincinnati, and this one is a major hurdle if the Beavers expect to contend in the Pac-10.

Memphis at Central Florida - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

This is an interesting matchup between two teams that maintain Conference USA title aspirations. Central Florida is off to a good start, coming close to upsetting Texas this past Saturday, while Memphis is 1-1, with a tough 23-21 loss to Mississippi in their opener.

Connecticut at Pittsburgh - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT

The Huskies are off to a 3-0 start, but they came within a whisker of losing to Temple, having to hang on for the 22-17 win. Pittsburgh comes in off a hard-fought loss to Michigan State and will look to rebound in a critical Big East contest as both teams expect to battle for a bowl bid and need a win in this one.

Georgia Tech at Virginia - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

Tech lost their league opener last weekend to Boston College, getting dominated 24-10, while Virginia hung on to beat North Carolina in their ACC debut. The Jackets have not won in Charlottesville since 1990, and if they cannot break the streak this year, Tech will have a long hill to climb in the conference.

Illinois at Indiana - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

Indiana is off to a 3-0 start, and the Hoosiers have developed an excellent offense, led by dual-threat quarterback Kellen Lewis. Illinois came within an opening day 4th quarter interception of being 3-0 and ranked, and now the Illini have to get it going on the road where they have struggled within the conference, losing 15 out of their last 16 contests.

Maryland at Wake Forest - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

Wake earned their 1st win of the season this past weekend with a victory over Army, after opening with tough losses to ranked foes Boston College and Nebraska. Maryland was blown out by West Virginia in their last game, and the Terps need to find offensive consistency if they are to be a challenger in ACC play.

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