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October 23, 2008

SCS.comThis past weekend of collegiate action did not have much of an impact atop the national polls, with the lone exception being the end of the unbeaten run by Brigham Young as the Cougars were demolished by a surging TCU team. The team at the top of the polls continued to flex their muscles as Texas ran roughshod over a good Missouri team and now have firmly established themselves as the favorite in the national championship chase. The week ahead features numerous top-notch match-ups with the highlight game being a trip by unbeaten Penn State to Ohio State, in a battle of top-ten opponents. The winner of this game remains in the national title chase and also puts a strangle hold on the Big Ten championship. Other key games to focus on are Texas welcoming unbeaten Oklahoma State, Georgia traveling to LSU, Kansas playing host to unbeaten Texas Tech, Southern Cal heading south to tackle Arizona, and Virginia Tech looking to get back on track at Florida State. It is time for a detailed preview of the best games that highlight this weekendís schedule of action.

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


Penn State at Ohio State
Saturday 7:00 PM CDT ABC

Ohio State has rebounded from their blowout loss to Southern Cal in week three to win five straight games, including their most impressive performance of the season in a 45-7 win over Michigan State this past Saturday. Meanwhile, Penn State is ready to meet their most significant challenge and enter this weekend at 8-0 overall including a 4-0 mark in league play while outscoring their opponents by an average score of 45-12 on the season. The Buckeyes have been dominant in this series in recent seasons, winning five of the past six and emerging victorious in all seven of the games contested in Columbus since Penn State joined the Big Ten. With both teams unbeaten in league play half-way through the conference season, the winner assumes control of their own destiny in the league championship chase. Letís take an in-depth look at how these two Big Ten heavyweights match-up for this Saturday night battle.

For the Buckeyes on offense, the focus remains on the ground game, highlighted by running back Chris Wells and quarterback Terrelle Pryor. After missing three full games due to injury, Wells returned to the line-up for the start of the Big Ten season and he has responded with 508 yards in four games, combining with Pryor to give Ohio State a powerful 1-2 punch in the rushing attack. The Nittany Lions rank 22nd in the nation in defending the run, giving up 104 yards per game, but a concern for Penn State is that the Lions yielded the most yards on the ground this season in their recent win over Michigan as the Wolverines exploited gaping holes in the first half. The key match-up to watch will be between the Buckeye offensive line and the Lion defensive front, which will be focused on containing the Ohio State ground game and challenging Pryor to throw the ball downfield where a talented and experienced secondary awaits the young Buckeye quarterback. Look for the Buckeyes to match the game plan that worked so well for Michigan to start the game, spreading out the Lion defenders to open running lanes and to establish a ball control offense.

Penn State will challenge the Buckeye defense with a balanced attack that is churning out 235 yards per game on the ground and 248 yards in the air to rank eleventh in the nation in total offense. Running back Evan Royster is the leader of the Lion ground game as he averages 112 yards per game and an even more impressive 7.7 yard per carry average rumbling behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation. The Ohio State rush defense is tough and they enter this game after shutting down the nationís second leading rusher in Javon Ringer, limiting the Michigan State star to only 67 yards on 16 carries. With the PSU running game to receive a stiff challenge, quarterback Daryll Clark must continue his strong play, which has seen him toss eleven touchdowns versus only two interceptions so far this season. Clark has a trio of the nationís best receivers to work with in a wide-open passing game and if his offensive line can provide him with time, he will find his receivers and when he does he deliveries the ball with accuracy. The key for a Penn State victory lies with Clark, and not only his arm and legs, but his leadership of this team will be tested in a hostile environment in which PSU has had minimal offensive success since joining the Big Ten.

Ohio State has completely dominated this series at home in Ohio Stadium, winning the last seven games by an average of 21 points per game. But, this is the most talented and experienced Penn State team in years and the Lions travel to Ohio on a roll and with a great deal of confidence after their dominating eight game win streak to start the season. Penn State will need to have a big night out of their passing game and to force mismatches on the outside with their talented receivers having plenty of opportunities to showcase their talent. Ohio State will focus on their ground game and building on the success that Michigan had early in the contest, working to get Pryor free on the outside and Wells pounding away on the inside. In the end, this should be a great game which goes back and forth all night, but the Lions come through in the fourth quarter and return home still in the thick of the national championship race.


Oklahoma State at Texas
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

The Longhorns continue on the toughest portion of the schedule after they improved to 3-0 in league play with a 56-31 rout of Missouri while Oklahoma State has matched the Texas 3-0 start and enter this game off a 34-6 pounding of Baylor. The story for Texas is a powerful offense, which ranks second in the nation in scoring at 48 points per game, and is led by their quarterback, Colt McCoy. Oklahoma State has struggled in pass defense, giving up 219 yards per game, and they now face a Texas passing game that has been tremendous in recent weeks, overwhelming both Oklahoma and Missouri. For Oklahoma State, they have a star quarterback of their own in Zac Robinson, who ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency as he directs an offense that is lighting up the scoreboard at a rate of 46 points per game. Robinson should have a big night working with his star receiver in Dez Bryant, who enters this game off an 11 catch for 212 yard performance against Baylor, and now goes to work against a Texas secondary that has struggled all season. Oklahoma State has lost ten straight in this series as they look for their first win over Texas since 1997, with the winner emerging as the Big XII leader and a huge player in the national championship race.

Georgia at LSU
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT CBS

Georgia has rebounded from their devastating loss to Alabama to win two straight in the SEC, while LSU had a tough battle their last time out but did earn a hard-fought 24-17 win at South Carolina to improve to 3-1 in league play. Georgia is still looking to hit their stride on offense and they will look to take advantage of an LSU pass defense that has been exploited this season. Bulldog quarterback Matt Stafford and freshman receiver A.J. Green have developed a strong chemistry in the past few weeks and expect to see plenty of this combination again on Saturday afternoon. LSU continues to focus their offense on the ground behind running back Charles Scott, who is averaging 105 yards per game but now must face Georgiaís stifling rush defense, which ranks third in the nation. With running room likely to be hard to come by, the Tigers must have a big game out of quarterback Jarrett Lee, who has shown improvement in recent weeks, and now must take a leading role in the offense to take advantage of a Georgia secondary that remains a work-in-progress. This is a critical game in both the SEC and national championship race for these two programs due to both teams already suffering a loss within the conference and a second defeat likely puts an end to title hopes of any kind.

Texas Tech at Kansas
Saturday 11:00 AM CDT ESPN

Texas Tech is quietly rolling along at 7-0 and now face their stiffest challenge in a Kansas team that enters this game off a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma. The Red Raiders maintain the nationís top passing offense, generating 418 yards per game in the air behind their star quarterback Graham Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree. Kansas has been unable to slow their opponents passing game so far this season and they now are faced with a Texas Tech offense that will likely throw the ball near 50 times in this contest. Kansas will counter with a strong passing game of their own, which ranks sixth in the nation and is directed by quarterback Todd Reesing and his top target in Dezmon Briscoe. Tech will give up yardage through the air, so Reesing must have a huge night if he hopes to have his Jayhawks keep pace with the powerful Red Raider offense. Texas Tech must remain focused as this trip to Kansas is dangerous and with Texas looming next weekend, the Raiders could be caught looking ahead by a Jayhawk team that has enough weapons to pull off the upset.

USC at Arizona
Saturday 9:15 PM CDT FSN

USC has taken out their frustrations from their loss to Oregon State on the last three conference opponents, winning by a combined 141-10 while Arizona earned a huge 42-27 win over California in their last game, improving their record to 3-1 in Pac-10 competition. The Trojans have been lights out on defense, ranking first in the nation in scoring, giving up only 8 points per game, and enter this game after two consecutive shut-outs. Arizona is putting up 40 points per game led by a top-notch passing game, but they have yet to face a defense with the speed of this swarming USC unit. Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama will have to play the game of his life as the Wildcat running game will have little to no room to work against a Trojan front line that has been a brick wall. The story on offense for the Trojans is a balanced attack led by quarterback Mark Sanchez and a stable of talented running backs that will run directly at a Wildcat defensive line that has proven to be susceptible to power rushing attacks. With four teams currently sitting atop the Pac-10 race at 3-1, this game has huge championship implications as Arizona takes aim at ending a six game losing streak to USC.

Virginia Tech at Florida State
Saturday 2:30 PM CDT ABC

The ACC race changes on a weekly basis as Florida State enters this game at 2-1 in the league and on a three game winning streak while Virginia Tech fell to 2-1 in the ACC after losing to Boston College by a 28-23 score their last time out. For Florida State, the story of their turnaround has been on offense as the Seminoles have found their leader in quarterback Christian Ponder. After struggling early on, Ponder has greatly improved his play in recent weeks and he has become a dual threat with his legs in addition to his arm as he ranks second on the team in rushing behind Antone Smith. On the other side of the football, the Hokies continue to struggle on offense, especially in the passing game where Tech ranks 114th in the nation as Tyrod Taylor has yet to find his stride. Taylor will need to have a huge game on Saturday with the Seminole rush defense ranking seventh in the nation and giving up only 80 yards per game, making it critical for the Hokies to find success in the air for them to have a chance at winning in Tallahassee. Virginia Tech ended a twelve game losing streak to the Seminoles last year and the Hokies will need another huge effort to overcome an FSU team that has looked impressive in recent weeks.


Auburn at West Virginia - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT

The Auburn season is close to unraveling after two consecutive losses in SEC play to Vanderbilt and Arkansas as the Tiger offense continues to struggle. West Virginia has won three in a row since their loss to Colorado, and much like Auburn, the Mountaineers continue to look for their offensive identity.

Minnesota at Purdue - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

Minnesota is one of the best surprises in the nation, winning six of their initial seven games with their only loss on the road at Ohio State. On the other hand, Purdue has struggled, having lost three straight in conference play, and now the Boilermakers look to turn their season around against a team they have dominated in recent years, winning nine of the last ten.

Boston College at North Carolina - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

The Eagles are on a four game winning streak and enter this game off a huge 28-23 win at home versus Virginia Tech, improving their league record to 2-1. Carolina is looking to regroup after a tough 16-13 overtime loss to Virginia, a defeat that dropped the Heels to 1-2 within the conference and fourth place in the Coastal division.

Wake Forest at Miami, Florida - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT

Wake was dominated their last time out, losing 26-0 to Maryland and suffering their first defeat within the conference in three games this season. Miami enters this game off an impressive 49-31 win over Duke and now looks to extend their winning streak versus the Deacons to five games.

Kentucky at Florida - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT

The Gators are right back in the national championship picture and now look to continue their momentum from their recent 51-21 win over LSU. Kentucky ended a two game losing streak this past weekend by edging Arkansas 21-20 and now the Wildcats shift their focus to halting a twenty-one game losing streak versus Florida.

South Florida at Louisville - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

The Bulls enter this game off a 45-13 rout of Syracuse and at 1-1 in Big East competition, making this a critical game as USF must win to remain in the thick of the conference race. Louisville fell in their conference opener to UConn and now looks to extend the home teamís winning streak in this series to five games.

Virginia at Georgia Tech - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

Tech has rebounded from their only ACC loss to Virginia Tech to win four straight as the Jackets currently stand alone atop the Coastal Division at 3-1. Virginia has rebounded from their poor start to win three straight, including an overtime win over nationally ranked North Carolina in their last game.

Michigan State at Michigan - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT

Both of these teams enter this game off lopsided losses as Michigan was pounded by Penn State 46-17 while Michigan State was overwhelmed 45-7 by Ohio State, losing their first Big Ten game of the season after a 3-0 start. Michigan has won six straight in this series and will need a monumental effort to continue their mastery of the Spartans.

Alabama at Tennessee - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT

Alabama has raced out to a 7-0 start and 4-0 in league play, but the Tide have had two consecutive close calls in a three point win over Kentucky and a four point win over Mississippi. Tennessee has struggled so far this season, losing three of their first four in league play, but the Volunteers enter this game off their best performance of the season in a 34-3 win over Mississippi State.

Oregon at Arizona State - Saturday 9:00 PM CDT

Arizona State has struggled this season, losing four straight after a 2-0 start and their season now hangs in the balance with a visit from Oregon. The Ducks stand at 3-1 in Pac-10 play and in a four way tie atop the league standings as they look for a fourth straight win in this series.

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