The ranks of the unbeaten will dwindle Saturday, with matchups of unbeaten teams in State College and Los Angeles (and no, I don't mean Arizona-USC). It might be a tough weekend for the home teams, at least in those showdowns.
Before the season began, who would have thought this would be one of the best games on this day? This has been the turnaround year for Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions. After watching the way Penn State manhandled Minnesota last week, it's clear that this team is not short on offensive playmakers. PSU has shown the big-play capability and a versatile offense that had been missing over the previous five seasons.
But the Nittany Lions have not played a team the caliber of Ohio State. This Buckeye defense may be the very best in the country. OSU will make it difficult for Penn State both on the ground and in the air.
Even though the Buckeyes' strength is their defense, I still think the difference maker for OSU is Troy Smith at quarterback. The way he opens up the offense is the key.
This is the perfect game for OSU to find a way to get Teddy Ginn back in the offense. He's one of the most exciting players in the country, and I have to believe that one deep ball, reverse or punt return from Ginn could provide the touchdown that is the difference in Happy Valley.
It's about time we had a really interesting matchup in the Pac-10 that doesn't include Southern California. This week we have two. These undefeated teams are in my Sweet 16, and this game should go a long way toward determining who'll have the best chance to challenge USC.
Despite their unblemished records, both teams must improve if they are going to compete for the title. Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob has not developed as fast as the Golden Bears would like. Shortly after I said Ayoob was coming along nicely, he completed just five passes to wideouts in Cal's win over Arizona last week.
UCLA needed a fourth-quarter rally just to beat lowly Washington last week. The Bruins had 13 penalties – 10 on special teams. Still, quarterback Drew Olson is completing 70 percent of his passes and would seem to have the edge against Ayoob. But the Bears are a bit more confident in their ability to contend for the Pac-10 title.
Pick: Golden Bears
• Oregon: Ducks Sports Rap
These are the two teams that jumped to early leads over USC only to watch the Trojans rally. The one offense that can outlast the other will be the winner in Tempe.
In my mind, ASU has the second-most powerful offense in the league (behind only USC). Although Sam Keller threw five interceptions against USC, it clearly was because he was pressing too much in an effort to beat a great team – not because he typically has bad judgment. Oregon QB Kellen Clemens has thrown just one interception.
Both Keller and Clemens one day will be playing on Sundays, but for now Keller has a few more weapons to work with than Clemens.
Pick: Sun Devils
This looks to be a great defensive struggle. Both teams can shut down the run. In a game like this, I focus on the two quarterbacks. Although Georgia's D.J. Shockley wins the talent battle, I have to go with the intangibles of Tennessee's Rick Clausen.
The key for Tennessee is to play like it's behind 21-0 (as it was against LSU at the half). If the Volunteers mix the pass with the run early, they will be able to move the ball. Although Georgia has one of the best defenses in the SEC, LSU remains the most talented team Tennessee will face this year. Beating the Tigers in Baton Rouge should give the Vols the confidence to play their very best.
Look for the Vols to use a balanced offense in order to get a lead and then hold on for a tight win.
Last year was the Cornhuskers' first losing season since 1961, and the low point had to be the 70-10 loss to Texas Tech. Nebraska's defense never recovered from that massacre. But I covered the Huskers against Iowa State last week, and I'm telling you there are no similarities between last year's Nebraska team and this one. This Husker defense is playing incredible football, and no one puts more pressure on the quarterback than this front four.
It's going to be interesting to see how Texas Tech's offense, especially quarterback Cody Hodges, will do against the Blackshirt defense. The Red Raiders put up ridiculous numbers in its first three games but scored just a pair of touchdowns in its Big 12 opener against Kansas last week. I can assure you that the Jayhawk defense is nothing like Nebraska's.
Nebraska's West Coast offense led by Zac Taylor finally got on track against Iowa State. Taylor threw for 431 yards, more than he had managed in the first three games combined. He has given the Huskers the ability to control the clock, and remember, the one thing this Texas Tech offense can't overcome is sitting on the bench.
The Huskers did have to settle for a lot of field goals against ISU, and they'll need to finish their clock-consuming drives with touchdowns instead of field goals to win this game. The Red Raiders won't win this one by 60 points – it'll be more like six.
Pick: Red Raiders
This looks to be a Big Ten elimination game. Both Iowa and Purdue were picked as Big Ten title contenders, but a second conference defeat would knock either out of the hunt. The Hawkeyes clearly are not as good as they thought they would be, and their offense has been inconsistent. Quarterback Drew Tate is capable of much better numbers. The Hawkeyes also lost four defensive line starters from last season.
Purdue's defense has fallen flat the last two games, and it's obvious that Brandon Kirsch is not the passer that Kyle Orton or Drew Brees was. The spread option attack Purdue is using now is not nearly as effective as the "basketball on grass" style that coach Joe Tiller brought to Purdue.
Despite all that, Iowa is struggling just as much. Purdue will snap its two-game skid.
Laramie hosts a game that could determine the league champion and Liberty Bowl representative. TCU is coming off a huge win over New Mexico. Backup quarterback Jeff Ballard only rushed for four touchdowns and threw for two more while filling in for injured senior Tye Gunn. Although most experts believed Gunn's health was the key for TCU heading into the season, he now has been injured three years in a row. Maybe Ballard is the Horned Frogs' ticket to a conference championship.
Wyoming's only loss came at Florida to open the season. The Cowboys have won seven of eight at War Memorial Stadium, and quarterback Corey Bramlet has been a steady presence.
Both teams will go bowling, but Wyoming will slow down the new kids on the Mountain West block.
This definitely is the most important game in Mack Brown's tenure at Texas. As usual, the Red River Shootout will determine how successful – or unsuccessful – the season is for the Longhorns. Though Oklahoma has struggled this season, its recent mastery of Texas makes this game the Longhorns' biggest stumbling block in their attempt to run the table and get to the Big 12 and national title games.
Having lost five in a row to Oklahoma, Texas faces lots of pressure to win this game. But this time, that pressure won't be the key for Texas – Vince Young will. If he plays like he did against Ohio State, Texas will snap its losing streak against Oklahoma.
The most interesting matchup to me is the nation-best running attack of Texas against the Sooner rush defense, ranked third in the country. Oklahoma will shut down the Texas running game, to a degree, and keep the game close. But as I've said before, Young can beat you with a long run or a deep pass, and he'll find a way in the Cotton Bowl.
Although many are picking this as a two-touchdown Longhorn victory, I expect a tight game.
BC is looking to continue an impressive start in the ACC while Virginia is hoping to recover from an ugly loss at Maryland last week. Although we can't derive much from BC's easy win over Ball State last week, a tough loss to Florida State and a big win over Clemson have shown that the Eagles can compete in the ACC. There's not a bigger team in the league, and no team in the country controls the clock better than BC.
On the other hand, Virginia has a ways to go. Maryland racked up 570 yards against the Cavaliers. Plus, when I look at BC's excellent run defense (ranked second in the nation), Virginia's chances come down to quarterback Marques Hagans' ability to make some big plays.
For a time we looked at Virginia as the up-and-coming team in the ACC. Boston College looks like that team now.
Minnesota has a pattern of starting great and folding down the stretch. Last year the Golden Gophers were 5-0 heading into the battle for the Little Brown Jug. The loss to Michigan started the descent to 7-5. After 16 straight losses to Michigan, will this year be any different?
After losing two early games, Michigan looks to have found itself – or I should say found its tailback. While Michael Hart was injured Michigan lost twice, but when he returned the wolverines earned a big win at Michigan State. I have a feeling Michigan will go on a roll from here and will be back in the hunt for the Big Ten title when the regular-season finale rolls around.