The last weekend of action had minimal impact at the top of the national polls, but that is surely to change after this weekend with numerous key contests highlighting the schedule. The top game on the upcoming schedule is the annual battle in Dallas as two of the nationís top five teams go head-to-head in Oklahoma and Texas with both teams currently standing at 5-0. The winner of this game takes a huge step forward in the race for the Big XII South championship, a division that still features four undefeated teams as the season heads into the second weekend in October. Other top-notch games to schedule around this weekend are LSU visiting the swamp to challenge Florida, Penn State playing under the lights on the road at Wisconsin, Oklahoma State heading to Missouri, Notre Dame paying a visit to North Carolina, and surprising Northwestern welcoming their biggest challenge as Michigan State visits. Time for a detailed review of the top games that highlight this weekendís schedule of action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Texas vs Oklahoma at Dallas
The top contest in a great weekend of games is the Red River Rivalry as Oklahoma and Texas prepare to do battle in Dallas. Both of these teams enter this weekend with similar resumes as both are off to 5-0 starts overall including a 1-0 record in league play and both feature powerful offenses that have proven to be unstoppable so far this season. In last yearís meeting, Oklahoma won a tough 28-21 battle to end a two game losing streak in the series as the Sooners earned a huge win on their way to claiming a second consecutive Big 12 championship. The stakes are high for these programs as the winner becomes the favorite in the Big XII and remains a key player in the race for the national championship. Letís take an in-depth preview at how these two teams match-up head-to-head in this great series.
The Oklahoma offensive game plan is centered around their star quarterback Sam Bradford, who ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency having tossed 18 touchdowns in the Sooners initial five games. Bradford has an excellent combination of receivers to throw to in Manuel Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias, who together have combined for 49 receptions and 10 touchdowns. Expect to see plenty of Bradford aerials in this game as the Texas pass defense continues to be an issue with the Longhorns allowing 244 yards per game in the air and ranking 96th in the nation. Once the passing game is established, the Sooners can turn to their running back combination of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, a set of backs who are perfect complements in the Oklahoma backfield. Although yardage will be much tougher to come by for the OU backs against a Texas run defense that ranks third in the nation and is led by a front line and line backing corps which are flying to the football. To have a chance in this contest, Texas must develop a game plan to help their inexperienced and struggling secondary, otherwise it could be a long night with Bradford working downfield on a regular basis.
For Texas the story has been the play of their quarterback Colt McCoy, who has rebounded from a tough 2007 season to rank tenth in the nation in total offense. McCoyís top target is senior Quan Cosby, who has stepped up his game and enters this weekend off a season high nine-reception effort versus Colorado. One concern for the Longhorns in the early going has been the running game as McCoy is the teamís leading rusher and no other candidate has emerged from the backfield stable to assume the lead role. The Oklahoma defense is punishing, especially their defensive line, so expect the Texas coaches to try to limit the amount of times that McCoy rushes the ball to keep their star quarterback in one piece. Texas has not yet seen a defense with the speed and talent that this Oklahoma unit will bring, making the lack of a strong running game a big concern heading into Saturday. Clearly, the key for Texas resides in the arms and legs of their quarterback, who will need a huge all-around night for the Longhorns to record the upset.
This game sets up to be a great one with both teams capable of piling up the points in bunches with offensive weapons spread across the field. The Sooners have the overall edge due to their more balanced attack as Oklahoma can be equally effective on the ground as in the air depending on how the Texas defense decides to attack OU. On defense, look for Oklahoma to settle back and rely on their outstanding secondary, challenging Texas to throw on them as the Longhorn ground game is not at the same level as the passing attack. Texas should be able to move the ball, but the overall advantage belongs to Oklahoma, as the Longhorns cannot match the Sooners in overall skill position talent. In another great game in this series, Oklahoma earns the win and remains at the top of the national rankings.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
LSU at Florida
LSU enters this game off a bye week as the Tigers stand at 2-0 in SEC play while Florida returns home after pasting Arkansas and improving their conference mark to 2-1. For Florida, the story in the early going has been their defense, which ranks fourth in the nation and yields only 11.4 points per game. LSU will attack the Gator defense behind their strong offensive line and running back Charles Scott, who ranks seventh in the nation at 134 yards per game and highlights the Tigers punishing ground game. The Florida offense has not met recent standards, especially the passing game which has yet to be the dominant aerial attack that was expected entering the season. If there is a weakness in the LSU defense, it is in pass defense, so Tim Tebow and his favorite receiver Percy Harvin will need to have a big night for the Gators to earn the win. LSU has dominated this series in recent years, winning three of the last four, and the Gators need a win to place themselves back into the national championship picture while the Tigers can make a statement for their title hopes with a huge road win.
Penn State at Wisconsin
The Badgers are in desperate need of a win to get back on track as they stand at 0-2 in conference play, while Penn State is off to a 2-0 start and head to Madison off a road win versus Purdue. Penn State will continue to utilize a balanced offensive attack, which has relied more heavily upon the running game and star back Evan Royster in recent weeks. Wisconsin has been susceptible to strong rushing attacks, giving up an average of 177 yards per game in Big Ten play, so the Badgers will need to tighten up against a PSU team that features an excellent offensive line and would like nothing more than to feature Royster. Wisconsin will look to play ball control with their running back combination of P.J. Hill and John Clay, who are averaging 154 yards per game. Penn State will focus on shutting down the Badger ground game and challenging quarterback Allan Evridge to beat them through the air, as Wisconsin must have improved play out of their passing game to win this game. Penn State enters this game looking to keep their Big Ten and national title hopes intact while the Badgers are focused on continuing the recent trend of home team domination in this series and to put themselves back into the conference title chase.
Oklahoma State at Missouri
Both of these teams enter this weekend red-hot as Missouri and Oklahoma State have rolled to 5-0 starts with relative ease behind dominant offenses. Missouri is led by quarterback Chase Daniel who ranks fourth in the nation in total offense as he works with his star receivers in Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman. Oklahoma State has played better versus the pass than the run so far this season, so expect to see Missouri unleash running back Derrick Washington, who had a great night versus Nebraska, rushing for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys have been lethal on the ground led by running back Kendall Hunter, who has exploded onto the national scene and currently ranks fifth in the nation at 142 yards per game. Missouriís strength on defense is up front so Hunter may not have a huge night, but expect quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant to put on a show as they attack the Tigers 114th rated pass defense. Oklahoma State needs a monumental effort from their offense to outscore Missouri, as no defense has been able to slow the Tigers as of yet this season, expect plenty of fireworks in Columbia.
Notre Dame at North Carolina
North Carolina is a fourth quarter collapse versus Virginia Tech away from being 5-0 while Notre Dame has won four of their first five and have the potential for a huge season. The Tar Heels rely on their game breaking talent in receiver Brandon Tate, who ranks third in the nation in total yards, and will attack a leaky Notre Dame pass defense, which gives up 237 yards per game. NC quarterback Cameron Sexton has stepped into the starting role after T.J. Yates was lost due to injury and he has played well, managing the offense as the Heels have relied more heavily on the running game in recent weeks. The Irish passing offense has awakened this season as quarterback Jimmy Clausen is playing well in combination with his top target, receiver Golden Tate. The Tar Heels give up over 200 yards per game in the air so expect to see plenty of Clausen aerials as the Irish continue to rely on their downfield passing game to overcome a still struggling rushing attack. Both of these teams are playing well and can earn a great deal of momentum for these young programs as they both look to become a factor on the national scene.
Michigan State at Northwestern
Michigan State enters this game off a much tougher than expected win over Iowa as the Spartans moved to 2-0 in league play while Northwestern had last weekend off after opening Big Ten play with a win over Iowa on the road. The Spartan game plan is simple, hand the ball to the nationís second leading rusher in Javon Ringer and then get out of his way. The Wildcat rush defense has played well in the early going, but they have yet to be challenged by a talent like Ringer, who will likely carry the ball at least 30 times. The story for the Wildcats has been the play of the defense, but especially the front line, which ranks third in the nation in sacks per game and has played a key role in forcing the opposition into critical mistakes. On offense, Northwestern counters Javon Ringer with a star running back of their own in Tyrell Sutton, who expects to play a major role in the Wildcat offense as Northwestern looks to keep the ball out of the Spartans hands. The last time these two met at Northwestern, Michigan State rallied from a 38-3 deficit to record the largest comeback in NCAA history, so expect the Wildcats to be fired up for this huge game in the Big Ten championship chase.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Clemson at Wake Forest - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
Both teams enter this game fresh off a bye week and looking for redemption after they suffered disastrous losses their last time out. Clemson blew a 17-3 lead to Maryland in a 20-17 loss that evened the Tigers ACC record at 1-1 while Wake Forest turned the ball over six times in a 24-17 loss to Navy at home, the Deacons first loss after opening with three wins.
Minnesota at Illinois - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Illinois enters this game of an impressive showing as the Illini routed Michigan 45-20 to even their Big Ten mark at 1-1. After winning only once last year, Minnesota has already recorded five wins, but the Gophers stumbled in their only major challenge against Ohio State and they must now face a powerful Illinois team.
Colorado at Kansas - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Kansas fell behind Iowa State 21-0 at half-time before staging a huge second half comeback to earn a 35-33 win in their conference opener this past weekend. After a great start to the season, Colorado has now lost two straight in blowout fashion as the Buffaloes focus on ending a two game losing streak versus the Jayhawks.
South Carolina at Kentucky - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Carolina is on a three game winning streak and enter this game off an impressive 31-24 win over Mississippi, a victory that improved the Gamecocks record to 2-1 in SEC play. Kentucky lost their first game this past weekend, a tough 17-14 decision versus Alabama, and now the Wildcats are focused on rebounding and ending an eight game losing streak versus the Gamecocks.
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State - Saturday 1:30 PM CDT
Vanderbilt has been the story of the season, as the Commodores head to Mississippi State at 5-0 and 3-0 in SEC play after their huge 14-13 win over Auburn. The Bulldogs have lost three straight, but can turn their season around with an upset win over the Commodores at home, a place where MSU has won five straight over Vandy.
Nebraska at Texas Tech - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT
Texas Tech passed their first real test of the season in a 58-28 rout of Kansas State in the Raiders Big XII opener. Nebraska is looking to end a two game losing streak and to regain their confidence after an embarrassing 52-17 loss to Missouri on Saturday night.
Arizona State at USC - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Southern Cal rebounded from their upset loss to Oregon State, taking out their frustrations on Oregon in a 44-10 rout, a win that evened the Trojans mark within the conference at 1-1. Arizona State is on a three game losing streak and now has to travel to USC, a team that has defeated the Sun Devils in eight straight games.
Tennessee at Georgia - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Georgia is looking for redemption after their loss to Alabama, a game in which the Bulldogs trailed 31-0 at half time. Tennessee is already 0-2 in SEC and looking for a spark for a struggling offense, a spark that better happen soon if the Volunteers hope to run their winning streak versus Georgia to three games.
Arizona at Stanford - Saturday 4:00 PM CDT
Arizona is off to a 2-0 start in Pac-10 play with two dominant wins over UCLA and Washington. Stanford stands at 2-1 in the league, suffering a loss to Arizona State in week two, and now the Cardinal return home after a tough defeat at Notre Dame.
New Mexico at Brigham Young - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
Brigham Young maintains the nationís longest winning streak at 15 games and the Cougars need to continue to win impressively if they maintain BCS hopes. New Mexico has been erratic this season, but they are on a two game winning streak and now look to end a three game losing skid versus BYU.