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October 4, 2007

SCS.comLast week's action decimated the nationís top ten as highly rated teams fell all weekend long in one of the best couple of days of collegiate action. One of those teams which was upset will take center stage again this weekend, as Florida looks to regroup against LSU in always tough Death Valley as the nationís highlight game of the week. The SEC also features another great matchup between two teams that have played very well in the early going but are still looking for the national respect they think they deserve in Kentucky and South Carolina.

Heading to the Midwest, a huge Big 10 battle is on the horizon as Ohio State marches to Purdue to issue the Boilermakers their first significant challenge of the season. Although some of the steam was taken out of this matchup after both teams suffered losses, Oklahoma versus Texas is always one of the top showdowns of the season. Letís breakdown the key battles on the schedule in the first weekend of action in October.

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


Florida at LSU
Saturday 7:00 PM CDT CBS

Both teams enter this game off of a week that saw them both struggle against what had appeared to be inferior competition entering the weekend. The good news for LSU is that a 2nd half surge was more than enough to overcome Tulane by a 34-9 score, after the Tigers needed a late field goal to take a 10-9 lead at the half. On the other hand, Floridaís 14 point, 2nd half comeback went for naught as Auburn connected on the game winning field goal as time expired to take the 20-17 win, putting an end to the Gators 11 game winning streak. In last yearís game, won by Florida 23-10 at the Swamp, LSU actually dominated the game statistically, but 5 turnovers proved too much to overcome as the Gators earned a key win on the road to their national championship season. For LSU, a win gets them over a huge hurdle in what is setting up to be a potential championship season, while for Florida a victory returns them into the mix of a suddenly wide open SEC championship race. Time to take an in-depth look at the key matchups that will decide this game.

The story for LSU remains centered around a defense that is simply the best in the nation, as they limit their opponents to only 174.6 yards per game. The Tigers are just as effective in shutting down the run as they are in limiting their opponents' passing attack as the Bayou Bengals lead the nation in both statistical categories. Enter Florida and its offense under the direction of Tim Tebow, who leads the Gators in both passing and rushing yardage, and combined with Percy Harvin, they are basically the entire offensive game plan. The lack of a rushing threat other than Tebow is of major concern heading into this game as one man alone will not be able to overcome the speed and tenacity of the LSU defensive unit. Keep an eye on the matchup between Floridaís stout offensive line and LSUís ferocious pass rush, a battle of team strengths. For the Gators to have a legitimate chance at pulling off the upset, their front wall must give Tebow time, which they have done to this point in the season; otherwise Tim will be on the run all night long, and by the 4th quarter he may not have any gas left in his tank.

On the other side of the ball, things have not been as good for LSU as the offense remains inconsistent, especially the passing game led by Matt Flynn. A concern for the Tiger coaching staff entering this game has to be an offensive line that struggled to slow the Tulane front line and ranks 95th in the nation in sacks allowed. The Gator defense has been stout against the run all season long, ranking 5th in the country, yielding only 63 yards per game, so LSU will have to gain yardage through the air to be effective. Look for the Florida game plan to be centered on throwing all available bodies at the Tiger stable of backs in the hopes of forcing the game into the hands of Flynn. In the 4 games that he has played so far, Flynn has only tossed 3 touchdowns versus 2 interceptions, but in fairness to him, Matt has been without his top target for the past three games as Early Doucet has been injured. LSU will look to establish the run early, and if Flynn shows signs of struggles, expect to see back-up Ryan Perilloux receive plenty of game time.

The Tigers of LSU have ridden on the backs of their defense so far this season, but their biggest challenge by far awaits on Saturday evening. Florida features two the best in the nation at their positions with Tebow at quarterback and Harvin at wide receiver, so expect to see these two all over the field as Coach Meyer tries to figure out how to attack the LSU defense. Florida will look to run Tebow to catch the aggressive Tigers out of position and to score on quick strikes as the likelihood of pounding the ball down the field is minimal. In the end, LSU will have learned a great deal from what Auburn exposed in their upset over Florida and combined with the scene in Death Valley where LSU is 23-1 since 2004, the Tigers should continue on their march to a potential national championship matchup.


Kentucky at South Carolina
Thursday 6:45 PM CDT ESPN

Kentucky still has a great deal of skeptics after their 5-0 start to the season, but a win on the road at South Carolina will silence the doubters. The Wildcats are led by a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Andre Woodson, who has thrown sixteen touchdown passes on the season against only one interception and has a variety of weapons in his arsenal. Kentucky has developed a balanced and aggressive offense that can take it to their opponents through the air as well as on the ground, especially with the emergence of running back Rafael Little. An interesting matchup in this game features a stout South Carolina pass defense that will provide Woodson with his greatest challenge by far this season. When Carolina has the football, expect to see a healthy dose of the running back duo of Cory Boyd and Mike Davis against the Kentucky run defense that ranks 103rd in the nation and gives up yardage in large chunks. Coach Spurrier will be more than happy to see long 10-14 play drives on the ground that keep Woodson and his teammates on the Wildcat sideline for extended periods of time. Kentucky is looking to end a seven game losing streak in this series, and this is the first game in a brutal stretch for UK with LSU and Florida to follow, so the importance of this game just became that much bigger.

Ohio State at Purdue
Saturday 7:00 PM CDT ABC

After starting the season in sluggish fashion on offense, the Buckeyes have gotten the running game on track and have averaged 40.3 points per game in their last three contests. Expect to see OSU pounding away at Purdue with their running combination of Chris and Maurice Wells, in the hopes of keeping the Purdue aerial show grounded on the sideline. Buckeye quarterback Todd Boeckman has done nothing spectacular this season, but he has limited his mistakes and let the running game dominate in the OSU ball control attack. Purdue enters this game with 8th best scoring offense in the country at 45.4 per game, but this will be their first contest against a top-notch defensive unit. Boilermaker quarter back Curtis Painter is off to a great start with eighteen touchdown passes, and with Kory Sheets pounding away on the ground, this Purdue offense is much more balanced compared to past seasons. If Ohio State wins this game, the Buckeyes take over as a strong favorite to repeat as conference champions, while a Purdue win officially announces the Boilermakers as a legitimate title threat in the conference.

Oklahoma vs Texas (at Dallas)
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

In what appeared likely to be a national championship knockout game two weeks ago, this game now is crucial for these teams Big 12 championship hopes after both schools lost their opener this past weekend. Oklahoma was rolling over Colorado by a 24-3 score before their offense stalled, allowing the Buffaloes to overcome a tiring defensive unit to pull off the upset, while Texas imploded on special teams in a 20 point loss to Kansas State. Oklahoma still ranks 3rd in the nation in scoring offense at 54 points per game, but there has to be concern after the Sooners stumbled down the stretch in Boulder. Look for OU to try and pound the ball behind a strong offensive line with Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray toting the rock on a regular basis on Saturday. For Texas, the Longhorns must find a way to reduce turnovers, after they have given the ball away on 12 occasions in the early going, gift wrapping scoring opportunities for their opposition. Texas has won two straight in the series and the winner takes a huge step towards a South division title, while the loser must regroup quickly or their season could get away from them.

Nebraska at Missouri
Saturday 8:15 PM CDT ESPN

Shifting to the wide open Big 12 North division, this one is a critical contest between the preseason favorites, and will feature two offensive units that are off to strong starts while the defenses look for answers. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel is off to a great start, and with the Tigers spreading out the field, it should be a long day for the Husker defenders. Daniel will spend all evening tossing the ball all over their home turf, especially working with his stellar tight end combination of Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. Nebraska is relying on their dual threat of Sam Keller at quarterback and Marlon Lucky on the ground to lead their 18th ranked offense. Missouri is vulnerable to a good ground game so expect to see plenty of Lucky all evening long as the Huskers focus on controlling the ball and the time of possession. The winner of this game heads to the front of a great division race, with a lot of football ahead and with Kansas, Kansas State, and Colorado in hot pursuit.

Wisconsin at Illinois
Saturday 11:00 AM CDT ESPN

Both of these teams are part of a group sitting atop the Big 10 conference with 2-0 marks. Illinois enters this game off a huge win over Penn State, and the Illini are a late interception against Missouri from being undefeated right now in a season of resurgence for Ron Zookís program. In this game Illinois will look to spread out Wisconsin and pound away with their excellent ground attack, led by the nationís 11th ranked rusher in Rashard Mendenhall. An area of concern for Illinois is a passing attack that has not yet clicked, even with superstar freshman Arrelious Benn playing great in his short career. Meanwhile on the opposite sideline, expect a carbon copy game plan from Wisconsin as P.J. Hill will get plenty of carries all afternoon long, as he ranks second in the nation in number of carries so far this season with 139. Wisconsin owns four straight wins in this series, but this is a vastly improved and dangerous Illini team so the Badgers better be ready.


Georgia at Tennessee - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

Georgia has rebounded nicely from their early loss to South Carolina, and enter this game off a strong performance in a 45-17 win over Mississippi. Tennessee must plug gaping holes in their defensive front wall if they want to win their first SEC game of the season.

Kansas at Kansas State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

After last weekend's huge win at Texas, KSU comes home to face a very dangerous Kansas team looking to win its Big 12 opener. The Jayhawks rank 4th in the nation in scoring offense, but the best defense they have faced so far is Florida International, so this is a huge step-up in competition.

Virginia Tech at Clemson - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT

Clemson was brought back down to earth with a thud on Saturday as Georgia Tech completely shut down what looked to be a powerful Tiger offense. Tech won their ACC opener but has had major struggles on offense for the entire season and will need major improvement if they are to win this one on the road.

Georgia Tech at Maryland - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

After back-to-back tough losses, Maryland bounced back in a big way with a 34-24 win over Rutgers and may have found themselves a quarterback in Chris Turner. Tech has been up and down all season, and the Jackets will look to put together a 2nd consecutive strong outing in the hopes of evening their ACC mark at 2-2.

Cincinnati at Rutgers - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT

Cincinnati is off to a strong 5-0 start, completely dominating their competition, with an average margin of victory of 35.8 points per game, but this is a huge step up in competition. The Knights enter this one angry after being run over by Maryland at home this past weekend, but a big win over a ranked foe in the Big East opener can get RU right back on track.

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT

The Cowboys appear to be back after two straight impressive performances following losses in two of their first three games. A&M earned their first conference win of the season blasting Baylor, and this game increases in significance after both Oklahoma and Texas lost to open up the South division race.

Vanderbilt at Auburn - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT

Auburn has to be careful of an emotional letdown after the huge high of their win over Florida, but a return home to the plains of Auburn will help their case. Vanderbilt has lost 12 straight in this series, but this is the best Commodore team in years and they've split their two SEC games this season.

Notre Dame at UCLA - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT

The Irish continue to struggle, dropping to 0-5 with their loss to Purdue, but ND did show signs of life in the 2nd half behind back-up quarterback Evan Sharpley. UCLA looks to have put their embarrassing loss to Utah behind them with two consecutive impressive wins in the Pac-10 over Washington and Oregon State.

Texas Christian at Wyoming - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT

The potential BCS season for TCU disappeared within the first three weeks of the season, but the Frogs still have Mountain West title hopes, and after losing to Air Force early they cannot afford a second loss. Wyoming has played very well in September, winning three out of four, with their only loss at Boise State. Now the real season begins as they debut in conference play.

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