The fourth week of action features a couple of key SEC conference games, with LSU traveling to Auburn the top matchup of the weekend. Whichever team emerges victorious in the battle on the Auburn plains becomes the early favorite in the SEC West race as the winner between these two has claimed six of the past eight division titles. The other top SEC matchup is an East division contest between Florida and Tennessee as the Gators head into Knoxville, with the home standing Volunteers looking to avenge last years defeat. Other key match-ups to set your schedule around are Arizona State welcoming Georgia, Notre Dame visiting Michigan State, Virginia Tech traveling to North Carolina, and Florida State hosting Wake Forest. Letís take a detailed look at the best games which comprise the fourth weekend of collegiate action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Louisiana State at Auburn
The best match-up in this weekends action is an SEC West battle featuring LSU heading to Auburn to take on the Tigers. LSU is off to a 2-0 start on the year, earning easy wins over Appalachian State and North Texas while Auburn has jumped out to a 3-0 mark with victories over Louisiana-Monroe, Southern Miss, and last weekends thrilling 3-2 win on the road at Mississippi State. This series has always been a good one with the last four games decided by a touchdown or less and the home team is currently on an eight game winning streak, with the last win on the road achieved by Auburn in 1999. These two teams also maintain the best record in SEC play since the 2000 season with Auburn recording a 48-17 mark while LSUís record stands at 47-17. Time to breakdown the key match-ups that will define the outcome of this game.
Taking a look at the LSU offense, the Tigers clearly are focused on pounding away on the ground and allowing their quarterback combination of Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee to simply manage the game. The new star in the Bayou Bengal backfield is Charles Scott who has emerged as the go-to guy after entering the season as the third leading returning rusher. Scott currently ranks sixth in the nation in rushing yardage per game, but he is about to receive his biggest challenge against an Auburn defense that ranks ninth in the nation and is allowing 53 yards per game on the ground. The match-up to watch in this game is the dominating LSU offensive line against the Auburn front wall. If LSU is able to win the battle of the trenches, Scott will shine again and keep the offensive game plan focused on the ground, which is exactly where LSU wants it to be. If LSU is unable to establish their ground game and they are forced to rely on their passing attack there are concerns as neither Hatch or Lee have seen a secondary as strong as the one that Auburn will put on the field.
The story is similar for Auburn on the offensive side of the football as the Tigers rely heavily on the running game to set the stage for the passing attack. Ben Tate has assumed the leading role in the backfield and he is averaging 93 yards per game as the first option in the Tiger game plan. LSU counters Tate and company with a front line that is brutal against the run, ranking fifth in the nation while allowing 48 yards per game. In the early going, Auburn has had major struggles in the passing game as the new spread offense has yet to take flight. Quarterback Chris Todd has been solid but he must take a huge step forward in his downfield passing game if he hopes to lead his Auburn team to victory. The Auburn offense did move the ball versus Mississippi State, but turnovers and penalties put an end to many of the Tiger drives. Those same mistakes cannot be made against a team as talented as LSU, otherwise Auburn will suffer their first loss of the season and have a huge mountain to climb in the SEC West championship race.
The similarities between these two teams in the early going is amazing, with both focused on running the ball and then relying on an overpowering defense to finish the job. For Auburn, the sledding looks to be tougher on the ground, which means quarterback Chris Todd will have to challenge LSU vertically down the field and his top receiver Rodgeriqus Smith will need to have one of his best efforts of his career. Look for the LSU offensive line to be the difference in this game as they will be able to open holes for the ground game while allowing ample time for the quarterback combination to do just enough to keep the chains moving. In a low scoring affair, LSU ends the eight game home winning streak in the series and head back to Baton Rouge in control of the SEC West division race.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Florida at Tennessee
The chase for the SEC East division championship begins on Saturday for these two conference powerhouses with Florida arriving off a bye week while Tennessee rebounded to even their mark at 1-1 with a 35-3 pounding of UAB. Florida is looking for a much-improved offensive performance, especially in the run game, after the Gators struggled to establish consistency in their win over Miami, Florida. Quarterback Tim Tebow is again leading the team in rushing, with receiver Percy Harvin being the second option in the backfield as Florida continues to work to find the best combination in the ground game. Tennessee relies heavily on their ground game with the combination of Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty providing a solid 1-2 punch to test the stout Gator front line. In response, expect to see Florida stack the line and dare Volunteer QB Jonathan Crompton to beat them through the air, as the first year starter has struggled so far in establishing the Tennessee aerial game. Florida handed Tennessee the worst loss in the Phil Fulmer era last year, a 59-20 demolition, but expect a much better contest this year and if past results are an indication, which ever team establishes a better running game will earn a key win in conference play.
Georgia at Arizona State
This game appeared to be the highlight game of the week before this past Saturday when the season came crashing down for Arizona State in a 23-20 overtime loss at home versus UNLV, while Georgia did their part, winning a 14-7 defensive slugfest with South Carolina. Georgia needs to get their offense back on track after the Gamecock defense overwhelmed a still questionable Bulldog offensive line, limiting the Dawgs to 250 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on young and emerging freshman receiver A.J. Green, as he is expected to play a more prominent role in the Georgia game plan to provide quarterback Matt Stafford with a downfield threat. For Arizona State, quarterback Rudy Carpenter holds the key to the success of the Sun Devil offense as he currently ranks ninth in the nation in total offense. Georgia is likely to punish a questionable ASU offensive line and keep the Devil running game contained so Carpenter will have to play the game of his life if ASU maintains hopes of pulling off the upset. For Georgia, taking their national title hopes on the road for a non-conference game is new territory, as this will be the first road out of conference game, with the exception of Georgia Tech, for the Bulldogs since 1995, and an angry ASU team awaits their arrival.
Wake Forest at Florida State
In what has quickly become a wide-open conference race, this game has huge ACC championship implications, as these two challengers debut in conference action. Florida State enters this game as an unknown after demolishing two FCS foes by a combined 113-7 score while still missing numerous defensive starters due to suspension. Wake Forest needed a last second field goal in their last game to earn a hard-fought 30-28 win over Mississippi, improving their season record to 2-0. The Demon Deacons have not been as tough as was expected in pass defense in the early going, so expect FSU quarterback Christian Ponder to play a big role in the ĎNoles game plan especially with the return of star receiver Preston Parker. For Wake Forest, the offense revolves around quarterback Riley Skinner, and as he goes so go the Deacons, as Wake has yet to find their groove in the running game. The Seminoles have a strong front line on defense and they will look to keep the struggling Wake running game under control, forcing the game into the hands of Skinner. Wake will be looking for a third consecutive win in the series after winning back-to-back games for the first time in school history a season ago.
Notre Dame at Michigan State
Both teams enter this game off of wins in soggy and miserable conditions as Michigan State shutout Florida Atlantic while Notre Dame capitalized on six Michigan turnovers to record an impressive 35-17 win. In this contest, expect the Michigan State game plan to remain the same as running back Javon Ringer will be the main ingredient of the Spartan offense. Ringer ranks third in the nation at 166 yards per game and he should find room to run against the Notre Dame defensive front as the Spartans focus on maintaining ball control. After two weeks, the Irish offense is not yet firing on all cylinders, but the group has come through when needed, capitalizing on opponent mistakes to win games. The key area of improvement this season has been an offensive line that has yet to yield a sack, providing Jimmy Clausen with time to find his weapons, highlighted by receiver Golden Tate. The home team has lost seven consecutive games in this series and this should be another good one, with Notre Dame looking for a fifth straight win overall while Michigan State looks for a second consecutive win and their ninth win in the last twelve of this series.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina
Both teams secured huge wins this past weekend as Virginia Tech earned their first win in ACC play over Georgia Tech while North Carolina was impressive in a 44-12 rout of Rutgers. For Carolina, the story of the early season has been the play of Brandon Tate, who ranks first in the nation in total yards per game as he churns out 308 per contest. Tech will need to keep an eye on Tate on every single play, as he plays a key role in both the Heels passing and rushing game. The Hokies are looking for consistency on offense, especially at quarterback, where the struggles behind center have Tech ranked 116th in the nation in passing offense with only one passing touchdown in three games. Expect Carolina to load the box with defenders to shutdown the Hokie rushing game and challenge Tech to win this game in the air with either quarterback, Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor. North Carolina has not defeated the Hokies since joining the ACC, losing all four contests, and they have an opportunity to end the streak and put themselves in the driverís seat of the Coastal Division.
GAMES OF INTEREST
West Virginia at Colorado - Thursday 7:30 PM CDT
West Virginia is looking to rebound after the loss to East Carolina in week two while Colorado must perform better after the Buffaloes held on to beat Eastern Washington their last time out. The West Virginia offense has struggled in the early going and they will need a much improved effort on Thursday to gain a huge win on the road against a Colorado program looking for a signature win.
Vanderbilt at Mississippi - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Vanderbilt is off to a 3-0 start, including 1-0 in conference play, while Mississippi opens SEC competition and are off to a strong start of their own, losing once on a last second field goal to Wake Forest. The home team has controlled this series, winning six out of the last seven, and this game has huge post-season implications for two programs which have not had much recent success.
Alabama at Arkansas - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Alabama is off to a strong 3-0 start, but this is their conference opener and first true road test of the season. Arkansas has been sluggish in their two wins and will need a much-improved effort to upset the Tide and extend the home teamís winning streak in this series to five games.
Mississippi State at Georgia Tech - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The new Georgia Tech offense remains a work in progress in the early going and the Jackets now face a brutal MSU defense that shutdown Auburn in their last game. The bad news for Mississippi State is their offense has been a disaster, ranking 103rd in the nation, so expect points to be hard to come by in this contest.
Troy at Ohio State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
This game may not look all that interesting on paper, but after Ohio Stateís recent struggles, especially on offense, if the Buckeyes are not refocused and ready, Troy is capable of giving them all they can handle. The Trojans have provided numerous scares to ranked opponents in the past, but usually fall just short, they can make a statement for both themselves and the Sun Belt conference on Saturday.
Iowa at Pittsburgh - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Iowa is off to a 3-0 start and enter this game off a 17-5 win over in-state rival Iowa State, but will take to the road for the first time. Pittsburgh had high hopes coming into the season and with their record standing at 1-1, this game is huge if the Panthers have any hopes of meeting their lofty expectations.
Miami, Florida at Texas A&M - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
This game features two programs that are looking to re-establish themselves among the elite of college football with Miami looking for a repeat performance of last yearís 34-17 demolition of A&M. Miami played well in their loss to Florida, demonstrating vast potential, while A&M rebounded in their last game to beat New Mexico after falling short versus Arkansas State in their opener.
East Carolina at North Carolina State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The Pirates needed the full sixty minutes to knock off Conference USA rival Tulane in their last game to run their record to 3-0 and maintain their lofty national ranking. NC State is looking to find their offense and would get a huge boost for the struggling program if they knock off the Pirates for a second consecutive season.
Boise State at Oregon - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Another chance to make a statement for the Boise program, as they have yet to breakthrough on the road against BCS conference foes. Oregon survived an overtime thriller at Purdue and enters this game with freshman Chris Harper behind center, so expect to see plenty of running backs LaGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson in this one.
Utah at Air Force - Saturday 3:00 PM CDT
These Mountain West foes are both off to 3-0 starts, with the winner moving to 2-0 in Mountain West action. Last year, Air Force stopped Utah at the one yard to hold on for the win, their first victory over the Utes since the 2002 season.