Rea's Say: Game Features 5 Key Matchups

Today's column features five key matchups to watch for in Saturday night's battle of the unbeatens between Ohio State and Purdue. We also have tons of OSU-Purdue tidbits, news from Around The Country and the Fearless Forecast trying to pick of the pieces from last week's upset-filled weekend. We've also resurrected a popular game involving a certain game announcer.

Ohio State faces its first test of the Big Ten season when it travels to West Lafayette on Saturday night to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers are undefeated after five games and truly believe they can contend for their first Big Ten championship since 2000.

Purdue has remained unbeaten on the strength of a potent offense, led by quarterback Curtis Painter. He leads all conference QBs in yardage, completion percentage and touchdowns, piloting an offense that ranks eighth in the country in scoring and 10th in total offense.

Yet, some experts and many OSU fans remain unconvinced. In the latest poll from The Associated Press, Purdue ranks only 23rd while the coaches poll has the Boilermakers at No. 20. Perhaps some of that is because while the team has started 5-0 as recently as 2004, it hasn't been 6-0 since 1943.

Mostly, though, it's the theory that Purdue's defense is still suspect in a lot of areas. That is at least partly true. The facts are that the Boilermakers rank seventh in the Big Ten in scoring defense, eighth against the run, 10th against the pass and 10th in total defense.

But closer scrutiny of those facts tells a little different tale. Most of the yardage and points racked up against Purdue's defense has come long after games have been decided. In their season opener, the Boilermakers jumped out to a 38-14 lead early in the fourth quarter before coasting to a 52-24 win over Toledo. The other four games have had similar scenarios – 31-3 at halftime against Eastern Illinois en route to a 52-6 win; a lead of 38-0 early in the third period in a 45-22 victory over Central Michigan; 38-17 after three quarters against Minnesota on the way to a 45-31 romp; and a 26-6 edge last week against Notre Dame before salting away a 33-19 win.

Last week against the Fighting Irish, I watched the Boilermakers play solid defense in the first half, pounding freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen into submission. But they backed off in the second half, allowing for the final score to make the game appear closer than it really was. Of course, Notre Dame is not exactly the Indianapolis Colts and Clausen is not exactly Peyton Manning. But Purdue is playing better defense than it has been given credit for.

The Boilermakers also will be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. Head coach Joe Tiller is one of those guys who believes his program never gets the credit it is due, and he likes nothing better than to knock off the conference big boys. This year is no different although his team must tackle the difficulty of hosting OSU this week and then playing Michigan at Ann Arbor next Saturday.

In my opinion, this game will boil down to Buckeye against Boilermaker in five key matchups. Let's take a closer look at those:

Purdue QB Curtis Painter
vs.
Ohio State MLB James Laurinaitis


Maybe you think it's strange to match the middle linebacker against the opposing team's quarterback, but how Laurinaitis performs always has an impact on how the OSU defense performs. This week, it will imperative for him to do what he usually does because Painter is dangerous.

As active as the Buckeyes are along their defensive front, the Boilermakers excel at protecting Painter, having given up only four sacks all season. That has allowed the senior QB to get comfortable in the pocket and go through his progressions. And as a result, Painter has completed 67.0 percent of his 203 throws for 1,542 yards and 18 TDs.

But there is more to Painter than just a strong right arm. He is a heady quarterback and excels at the hard count, especially in short-yardage situations. The OSU defensive line is going to have to be patient and wait for ball movement. Also, Painter will occasionally break out of the pocket and is capable of scrambling for needed yardage.

It is imperative that Laurinaitis keep his defensive teammates focused in the huddle, cautioning the defensive linemen not to try and anticipate the snap and making sure Marcus Freeman and Larry Grant hold their outside positions in case Painter decides to take off. Oh, yes … one more thing: The OSU linebacker will also likely call his own number on blitzes as well as fall back into pass coverage.

Painter is an excellent quarterback, but as good as he has performed, he is not one of the top five players at his position in college football. Laurinaitis is, so the edge goes to him.

Ohio State TEs Rory Nicol/Jake Ballard
vs.
Purdue SLB Anthony Heygood


Heygood is 6-2, 230-pound linebacker who loves to play run support from the Sam position. He ranks only sixth on the Boilermakers in total tackles with 25, but he is the team leader with 6.0 behind the line of scrimmage.

His presence will make it imperative for Nicol and/or Ballard to keep tabs on his whereabouts at all times. Each OSU tight end has improved his blocking skills, and for Chris Wells and the rest of the running attack to break the line of scrimmage, Heygood will have to be neutralized.

Heygood is a senior and one of the best linebackers you've never heard of. He will be a handful and may provide Purdue with one of its few advantages in this game.

Purdue CB Terrell Vinson
vs.
Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie


Pretty simple here as the Boilermakers figure to put their best cornerback on the Buckeyes' No. 1 receiver. Vinson is tied for his team's lead in tackles so far with 34, and the fact that 29 of those are solo stops would indicate that he seldom loses contact with whoever he is covering. That doesn't even speak to his two interceptions and team-high six pass breakups.

Tiller is fond of saying that Vinson hones his skills each week in practice against Purdue receivers such as Dorien Bryant. And the fifth-year senior has enough experience that he has likely seen just about every move a wideout can make.

But Robiskie has the edge here for one simple reason. Vinson will be giving up six inches and 16 pounds to his opponent. Robiskie is a rangy 6-3, 196 with long arms, soft hands and springy legs. Vinson also can leap, but gives up a lot with his 5-9, 180-pound frame. Look for Todd Boeckman to go to Robiskie deep at least a couple of times in the early going to test this matchup.

Ohio State RT Kirk Barton
vs.
Purdue DE Cliff Avril


The marquee battle on either line pits a pair of veterans, each of whom serves as a team captain. Either player could have skipped his senior season for NFL riches, but decided to return to his respective college team for the chance at a championship.

Barton anchors the OSU offensive line from his right tackle position, and the 6-6, 300-pounder will likely see a lot of Avril. The Purdue defensive end is an extremely active 6-3 and 251 pounds with a variety of pass-rushing moves designed to negate the power of bigger, stronger offensive tackles.

Avril is a smaller version of OSU's Vern Gholston and just as valuable to the Boilermakers. He only has 11 tackles this season, but five of those were for losses and he leads the team with three sacks. He's also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and grabbed an interception. This will be, in Barton's own words, "a battle royal."

Purdue KR Desmond Tardy
vs.
Ohio State K Ryan Pretorius


Most of the pregame talk has centered around Bryant and the fact that he has become one of the nation's top kickoff return men. The proof is in the stats: He leads the Big Ten and is No. 7 in the country with an average of 32.4 yards per return, including one he took back 91 yards for a touchdown.

So why isn't this matchup between Bryant and Pretorius? Because you have to figure the Buckeyes will want to try and kick away from Bryant. But they had better shore up their kickoff coverage because Tardy can also be dangerous. In fact, he also has taken one back for a touchdown this season, returning the opening kick 95 yards for a score against Minnesota.

Don't be totally surprised if the Buckeyes elect to use the pooch kick approach against the Boilermakers. If not, Pretorius will not only need to angle his kicks, his teammates must stay more disciplined in their coverage routes. Big hits are exciting for fans, but OSU has had opponents break at least one length return in each of its last three games. That can't happen this week because Purdue can turn a little mistake into a quick six.

Summing up, I give the Buckeyes a clear edge in two of the five matchups and a slight advantage in the Barton-v-Avril battle. The other two are potential tossups. For a look at how I see the game playing out, check the bottom of the Fearless Forecast.

OSU-PURDUE TIDBITS

• Ohio State and Purdue are meeting for the 50th time on Saturday. The Buckeyes hold a 35-12-2 advantage in the series, including an 11-6 edge in West Lafayette. The teams haven't met since 2004, and that resulted in a 24-17 win for the Boilermakers at home.

• Jim Tressel is 3-1 against Purdue. Prior to the loss in 2004, he had victories in each of his first three seasons as OSU head coach. The Buckeyes notched a 35-9 win in Ohio Stadium in 2001, then took a thrilling 10-6 victory at Purdue during the national championship run of 2002. The following year produced another close win for the Buckeyes, 16-13 in overtime in Columbus.

• Purdue head coach Joe Tiller is in his 11th season with the Boilermakers and has produced an 80-49 record. He is 50-16 at home, but only 12-33 against ranked opponents and 2-4 overall against the Buckeyes.

• Ohio State is playing on the road at night for the second consecutive week, marking the first time that has happened in program history. All-time, the Buckeyes are 29-11 in road night games (including postseason contests).

• Purdue has previously hosted four night games and has won only one of them, a 51-17 victory over Toledo in 1994. The others included losses to Notre Dame in 2005, West Virginia in 1996 and Ohio State in 1986.

• OSU faces its first ranked opponent of the 2007 season in Purdue, which is 20th in the coaches poll and 23rd in the AP rankings. The Buckeyes are 119-100-12 all-time when facing a ranked opponent, and a somewhat surprising 33-39-7 on the road against teams that are ranked. That includes a 27-33-5 road record against ranked Big Ten opponents. Under Tressel, the team is 25-9 overall and 5-4 on the road against nationally ranked teams.

• Purdue has a 2-0 all-time record when playing as the AP's No. 23 team, but is 2-14 playing against fourth-ranked teams. In case you have forgotten, the Buckeyes are No. 4 in this week's AP poll.

• The game will be played in venerable Ross-Ade Stadium, which has been in existence since 1924. The Boilermakers' win over Notre Dame last weekend represented the team's 250th win in the facility.

• If you're into hunches, you might want to know that Purdue and Ohio State have met only once previously on Oct. 6. That was in 1984, and the Boilermakers pulled off a 28-23 upset of the second-ranked Buckeyes in West Lafayette.

• An OSU victory would match the school record for most consecutive conference wins at 17. The mark was established in 1954-56 and equaled in 1967-69 and 1974-76. Michigan holds the league record with 19 straight wins against conference competition, setting the mark from 1990 to '92.

• Speaking of winning streaks, if Purdue beats OSU, it will be only the third 6-0 start in school history and the first since 1943. The others were produced in 1892 and 1929.

• The Buckeyes rank first in the Big Ten and third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 36 points to their first five opponents. That's the best start since 1975 when that team beat Michigan State (21-0), Penn State (17-9), North Carolina (32-7), UCLA (41-20) and Iowa (59-0) to begin the season. As good as the start has been, however, 36 other Ohio State defenses have held their first five opponents to fewer points. In first place is the 1900 team, which chalked up five straight shutouts to start the season.

• Chris Wells enters Saturday night's game with a streak of four straight 100-yard games. The last OSU running back to do that was Maurice Clarett in 2002. If Wells cracks the century mark against the Boilermakers, he'll be the first to string together five straight games of 100 yards or more since Jonathan Wells in 2001.

• Purdue wide receiver Dorien Bryant has 245 career receptions, putting him fifth all-time in conference history. He needs seven more to catch former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, who occupies fourth place. Former Purdue receiver Taylor Stubblefield holds the league record with 325 receptions. Bryant's career yardage figure of 3,062 is ninth all-time in Big Ten history.

• Purdue's defense is much-maligned and perhaps that is well-deserved since it ranks 10th in the conference in total defense. But the Boilers are stingy early. They've allowed only 20 first-half points (only seven in the second quarter) so far this season. They seem to lose focus at halftime, though, surrendering 82 points in the second half.

• Ohio State radio play-by-play announcer Paul Keels will be among the 2007 inductees into the Ohio Radio and Television Broadcasters Hall of Fame when that group is honored this weekend. Formal induction ceremonies are Sunday night in Akron.

• This week's game will be telecast to most of the nation by ABC's primetime crew of Brent Musberger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (color commentary) and Lisa Salters (sideline reporting). The game is also part of the ESPN GamePlan package and will be available to satellite radio listeners on Sirius channel 122.

• Next week's home game against Kent State has been scheduled for a 12 noon kickoff. The Big Ten Network will handle the coverage.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

• One week ago today, there were 23 undefeated teams in Division I-A. Thanks to last weekend's upsets, only 15 remain – Arizona State, Boston College, California, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Ohio State, Purdue, South Florida, USC and Wisconsin.

• Everyone's front-runner for the Heisman Trophy right now seems to be Kentucky quarterback André Woodson. Not a bad pick right now, especially since Woodson has thrown for 1,309 yards and 16 TDs already and led the Wildcats to their first top 10 ranking in the coaches poll since 1965. Before he gets my vote, however, I'd like to see how he does over the next three weeks when UK plays No. 11 South Carolina, No. 1 LSU and No. 9 Florida.

• By the way, Woodson had his NCAA record streak of 325 attempts without an interception stopped against Florida Atlantic last week. Still, he threw a career-best five TD passes in Kentucky's 45-17 win.

• Watch for Boston College QB Matt Ryan's name to emerge on the lips of Heisman votes over the next couple of weeks. The Eagles are undefeated, Ryan has thrown for 1,545 yards and 11 TDs, and BC plays nonconference foes Bowling Green and Notre Dame the next two weeks. BG is ranked 78th in the nation in scoring defense while the Irish are 96th.

• Remember this name for future consideration: Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech. The NCAA record for touchdown catches by a freshman is 14, and Crabtree has already tied it.

• Oklahoma is getting the reputation for being a team that can't close a deal. Four of the Sooners' last five losses – including last Saturday's 27-24 defeat at Colorado – have been decided on the final play of the game. Those four losses were by a total of seven points and were all played away from Norman.

• Illinois is on its hottest streak in a half-dozen years. The Illini, which won only four games in 2005 and '06 combined, are off to their first 4-1 start since 2001. That season, they finished 10-1 in the regular season and captured the Big Ten championship. Anyone remember their head coach that season? I'll give you some time to think.

• While we're on the subject of hot streaks, Wisconsin extended the nation's longest winning streak to 14 games last weekend. The last time the Badgers won more than 14 games in a row was more than a century ago – 1900, '01 and '02, when they set the school record at 17 consecutive victories.

• Word up: The first BCS rankings of the 2007 season will be released on Sunday, Oct. 14.

• Ron Turner was head coach at Illinois when the team won the 2001 Big ten title. Turner, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner, is currently offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears.

• Here are your national statistical leaders after the first month of the season: Kevin Smith of Central Florida is the leading rusher with 713 yards and 10 TDs; Graham Harrell of Texas Tech is the top passer with 2,301 yards and 24 TDs; Crabtree is the leading receiver with 60 catches for 920 yards and 14 scores; Jordan Dizon of Colorado and Daniel Holtzclaw of Eastern Michigan each have 64 tackles; Tavious Polo of Florida Atlantic has seven interceptions; George Selvie of South Florida leads in sacks with 9½; and Ryan Weigand of Virginia has the top punting average at 48.1 yards per attempt.

• Seventeen years ago on Saturday, the famous "Fifth Down Game" was held between Colorado and Missouri. On Oct. 6, 1990, officials began confused about the down situation and Buffaloes QB Charles Johnson scored a game-ending touchdown on what as a fifth down. Colorado took the 33-31 victory and went on to win a share of the 1990 national championship.

• Also this week in college football history: On Oct. 2, 2004, San Jose State scored a 70-63 victory over Rice, the highest scoring regulation game in college football history; on Oct. 5, 1996, Florida A&M outlasted Hampton, 59-58, in a game that lasted six overtimes and took more than five hours to complete; and on Oct. 7, 1916, Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland (Tenn.) in the most one-sided game in college history. The final score: 222-0.

THE BRENT MUSBERGER DRINKING GAME

In honor of our old friend Brent doing the play-by-play honors, we dust off this old Internet nugget for those of you who may want to enjoy a frosty cold beverage during the telecast. This comes with a warning, however: If you are drinking alcohol and playing along, you must play at your own risk since your entire party may already be blotto midway through the first quarter.

Rule No. 1: "The Pardner"

A person is picked to be the Pardner at the beginning of the game. The first time Brent says "Pardner," the Pardner has to take one drink, and then picks someone else to be the Pardner. The next time Brent says it, the new Pardner has to take two drinks, and then pick a new Pardner, and so on and so on. The Pardner must also wear a special "Pardner" hat. A cowboy hat is preferable, but any lid will do.

Rule No. 2: Folks

Everyone drinks one when Brent says "Folks." However, if Brent says "Hold on, Folks," everyone must drink once but the first person to drink has to finish their drink for not holding on.

Rule No 3: "It's a foot race!"

Whenever Brent says "It's a foot race!' everyone has to finish their drink. The first one done becomes "That Man" and gets to punch the Pardner in the arm.

Rule No. 4: "There's that man again."

After someone becomes "That Man," they get to give away three drinks to someone of their choosing the next time Brent says "That Man." That person then becomes "That Man." However, if Brent says "That Man" before "It's a footrace," the Pardner becomes That Man. If the Pardner becomes That Man first, he gets to punch the new That Man in the arm twice after giving away the three drinks. There must also be a special hat for "That Man." Again, any hat will do.

Rule No. 5: New Orleans

The first time Brent mentions the site of this year's BCS championship game, everyone must take one drink. Two drinks for the second time, three for the third, and so on.

Rule No. 6: "Whaddaya got?"

This used to be the Jack Arute rule, but since Brent and Jack rarely do games together anymore, it's the "Whaddaya got?" rule as in "Whaddaya got for us, Lisa?" Whenever Brent throws it to sideline reporter Lisa Salters., everyone takes a drink.

Rule No. 7: "In the college game."

Whenever Brent says this little gem, everyone must yell "Shut up, Brent!" before taking two drinks. Then everyone gets to punch the Pardner in the arm.

Rule No. 8: Mentioning a Big 12 school during the game

Whenever Brent does this, the first person who names the Big 12 school's mascot gets to make someone else drink for 12 seconds.

Rule No. 9: Calling a touchdown before the player actually scores

For example, during an interception return, Brent says, "It's a touchdown!" before the player actually scores. In this case, everyone must start drinking and continue to drink until the player actually does score. If by some odd event, the player does not score, everyone must finish their drink.

Rule No. 10: "Kirk, my man"

Whenever Brent says, "Kirk, my man," the Pardner gets to choose someone to be Kirk. From that point on, that person must be referred to as "Kirk, my man" until the game is over. "Kirk" gets to give away five drinks the rest of the game any time Brent says, "Kirk, my man" again. If someone talks to "Kirk" without calling him "Kirk, my man," they have to do a shot. If there is someone playing the game actually named Kirk, that person is automatically "Kirk, my man."

Rule No. 11: The Big Kat

If Brent has a pet nickname for one of the players during the game (i.e., calling Andy Katzenmoyer "The Big Kat"), everyone must drink five times whenever Brent uses this nickname. However, "Kirk, my man" does not drink, and gets to give away five drinks since he already has a nickname of his own.

Rule No. 12: John Saunders

The first time Brent quips with John Saunders, everyone must drink one. The next time, everyone must drink two, and so on and so on.

Rule No. 13: In the booth.

Whenever there's a camera shot of Brent in the booth, the Pardner must make a toast to Brent. After the toast, everyone must drink one.

Rule No. 14: "My Friend"

Every Pardner gets to choose a "Friend." The friend must always get up to get the Pardner another drink (since the Pardner will be doing quite a bit of that). However, when Brent utters "My Friend," the friend gets to punch the Pardner in the arm for making him get up so much.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Upsets are fun to watch but deathly on the forecast if you don't play a hunch. After the dust settled last weekend, our picks went a season-low 16-9, making the season total now 112-28. That's still 80.0 percent, but that's about as low as we want to go.

Against the spread, we got crushed. No other word for it – except maybe embarrassed. We experienced one of the worst outings ever at a dismal 6-17, and that dropped the overall ATS record to under water at 55-59-2 for the year.

But there's no use crying about it. There are some tasty treats on the buffet this weekend, so let's look 'em over.

TONIGHT'S GAME

No. 8 Kentucky at No. 11 South Carolina: You may think it's a bit wacky for these teams to be ranked so high, but each has played very well in the early going. QB André Woodson gets to test his arm against the Gamecocks, who just happen to boast the nation's No. 1 pass defense. The Wildcats are playing this game with two things in mind – they have never beaten a Steve Spurrier-coached team in 14 previous tries and haven't won over South Carolina since 1999. I think those streaks end tonight with Upset Special No. 1 … Kentucky 28, South Carolina 24. (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

TOP TEN

No. 9 Florida at No. 1 LSU: The marquee matchup of the week and perhaps of the entire season so far. The defending national champions are smarting after last week's loss to Auburn while the Bayou Boys are now trying to protect their first No. 1 ranking since 1959. This should be a classic pitting two combatants that match up very well to one another's strengths. LSU comes in with a feisty defense and a 16-game home winning streak while the Gators counter with an explosive offense and wins in three of their last four trips to Baton Rouge. In games like these, you have to look for potential weaknesses. For Florida, that would be the running game. For LSU, it would be Les Miles matching wits with Urban Meyer. Two weeks ago, I would have called this one for the Gators. But now I'm thinking the Tigers take a lesson from what Auburn taught them … LSU 17, Florida 14. (8 p.m. EDT, CBS)

Stanford at No. 2 USC: I'm not sure I agree with dropping the Trojans a spot in this week's rankings. After all, they did beat Washington at Husky Stadium. Nevertheless, the once-invincible team looked very beatable last week and they paid the price in the AP poll. For that reason, look for a little muscle-flexing by Petey's Crew this week. The Cardinal has lost five in a row in the series and will be playing without its top two offensive starters – RB Toby Gerhart (knee) and QB T.C. Ostrander, who suffered a seizure last Sunday and will sit out the game as a precautionary measure. Add those absences to the fact that Stanford has the Pac-10's worst rushing defense, and you begin to smell a rout … USC 49, Stanford 7. (7 p.m. EDT, Versus)

No. 6 South Florida at Florida Atlantic: Just three weeks ago, no one knew much about the Bulls. They were tucked away in Tampa, unranked and unheralded. Now, they are the talk of the college football season as they enjoy their first-ever top-10 ranking. And they should be able to enjoy their lofty position for at least a couple of more weeks before beginning a brutal three-week stretch that takes them to Rutgers and Connecticut before returning home to face Cincinnati. First things first, though, as USF takes on the Howard Schnellenberger-coached FAU. (Yes, that Howard Schnellenberger.) The Owls have lost the only two games they have ever played against ranked teams, including last week's 45-17 loss to Kentucky … South Florida 31, Florida Atlantic 10. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPNU)

Bowling Green at No. 7 Boston College: The Eagles will be looking to go 6-0 for the first time in 65 years when they host the Falcons. Chances are pretty good they'll get the victory even though BG comes in with a two-game winning streak. It has never beaten a top-10 team in program history. Behind QB Matt Ryan, it is Boston College's offense that gets most of the ink. But the Eagles also have an excellent defense, ranking second nationally only to LSU against the run. One good thing for BG, though – it's beautiful in Chestnut Hill this time of year … Boston College 34, Bowling Green 7. (12 noon EDT, ESPNU)

No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 19 Texas: After each team lost last week, you may think the 102nd renewal of the Red River Shootout has lost a little luster. But making this a must-win for both schools will probably just ratchet things up another notch or two as the rivals meet in the Cotton Bowl at the Texas State Fairgrounds. The Longhorns are looking for their third straight victory in the series, a rivalry in which they own a lopsided 57-35-9 advantage. But if the Sooners are ever going to start turning things around, this could be the year. Last week's inexplicable loss to Colorado notwithstanding, OU would appear to have the superior talent. Of course, that doesn't mean much in rivalry games. Still, I'll stick with what looks better on paper … Oklahoma 34, Texas 20. (3:30 p.m. ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan)

REST OF THE BEST

No. 12 Georgia at Tennessee: If Phil Fulmer is going to remain head coach of the Volunteers after this season, he may have to make his stand right here. Fulmer's underachieving team already has two losses and another one to an SEC opponent may wreck the entire season. But winning a must-win game is easier said than done, especially against the Bulldogs. UGA head coach Mark Richt knows a thing or two about winning on the road – he is 23-3 on the road in the SEC, including three in a row in General Neyland's Stadium. Fulmer's main problem is shoring up a defense that ranks ninth in the conference against the run and dead last in scoring, surrendering an average of 37.5 points per game. With Richt employing the two-pronged running attack of senior Thomas Brown and exciting freshman Knowshon Moreno, I think the Dawgs have their day on Rocky Top. Here's Upset Special No. 2 … Georgia 28, Tennessee 21. (3:30 p.m. EDT, CBS)

No. 13 West Virginia at Syracuse: It's obvious that the Mountaineers are not the same team when QB Pat White is out of the lineup. His injury and second-half unavailability led directly to last week's loss to South Florida, and White is questionable for this week's game in the Carrier Dome. But Syracuse is not quite South Florida. The Orange have made some strides, most notably going on the road to upset Louisville. But that remains their only win of the 2007 season so far, and they are still woeful on defense. Syracuse ranks 111th of 119 schools in Division I-A against the run, and that has to be sweet music to Steve Slaton and the rest of the Mountain Men … West Virginia 31, Syracuse 17. (12 noon EDT, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 15 Virginia Tech at No. 22 Clemson: Tech got an infusion of excitement a couple of weeks ago when freshman Tyrod Taylor was installed as the new starting quarterback. Taylor takes a decided step up in competition this week, however, when the Tigers throw their ACC-leading pass defense at him. Clemson is seething after last week's 13-3 loss to Georgia Tech, a game in which they gave up six sacks and rushed for only 34 yards. Even more glaring was the fact the Tigers missed four field-goal attempts and had a punt blocked, special teams errors that make a Frank Beamer-coached team salivate. If you like defense and special teams, you ought to enjoy this one. It's Upset Special No. 3 … Virginia Tech 13, Clemson 10. (6 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

Utah State at No. 16 Hawaii: Warriors QB Colt McCoy returned last week from an ankle injury and resumed his assault on the NCAA record books, throwing for 369 yards and three TDs during a 48-20 win over Idaho. However, the ankle was evidently still bothersome as Brennan threw a school-record five interceptions in 49 attempts after pitching only one in his previous 133. Not that will matter much against the winless Aggies, who rank 96th nationally in scoring defense and an even worse 116th in scoring offense. This is one of those games that can be as ugly as Hawaii head coach June Jones wants to make it … Hawaii 63, Utah State 10.

No. 25 Nebraska at No. 17 Missouri: The Tigers have been in this position before – in fact, it was just last year when they began the season 6-0. But they lost four of their final six games, including a 34-20 loss in Lincoln. This year, things could be different as Mizzou boasts an explosive offense while the Cornhuskers are struggling on defense. Although they have won their last two games, NU allowed 1,055 yards to the likes of Ball State and Iowa State. Parlay those stats with the fact that the Tigers have beaten Nebraska twice in a row in at Faurot Field, and you come up with … Missouri 34, Nebraska 31. (9:15 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

No. 18 Arizona State at Washington State: The Sun Devils head to the Palouse with a chance to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 1996, when they finished the regular season undefeated en route to a Rose Bowl loss against Ohio State. However, like some other unbeaten teams, ASU has feasted on some weak early-season opposition. You can probably lump Wazzoo into that group as well. The Cougars have lost three of five games, including both of their Pac-10 games by a combined margin of 95-34. The Sun Devils are playing well with QB Rudy Carpenter (1,286 yards, 12 TDs) and a running attack that averages 50 more yards per game than the Cougars, and have a three-game winning streak in the series that includes last year's 47-14 victory … Arizona State 41, Washington State 17. (4 p.m. EDT, FSN)

No. 20 Cincinnati at No. 22 Rutgers: One of the feel-good stories in college football this year is being written in the Queen City. Former Ohio high school player of the year Ben Mauk has come home and helped to transform the Bearcats into a burgeoning powerhouse. They are enjoying their best start in more than a half-century and Mauk has thrown for 777 yards and 9 TDs while completing 70 percent of his passes. We're getting to the middle chapters of the feel-good story, however, and the Scarlet Knights are itching to pen something other than a fairy tale ending. Rutgers was already looking for revenge for last year's 30-11 loss to UC, and are now likely even angrier after being upset last week by Maryland. But anger doesn't necessarily translate into victory … Cincinnati 27, Rutgers 21. (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)

Kansas at No. 24 Kansas State: It's been a long time since the annual Sunflower Showdown meant so much in the Big 12 picture. The Jayhawks are undefeated, enjoying their best start in a dozen years, and have averaged more than 53 points on offense while allowing only 5.8. Meanwhile, the K-Staters are coming off a huge win over Texas in Austin – a win that snapped a 46-game road losing streak against ranked opponents – and celebrating their first national ranking under second-year head coach Ron Prince. On paper, the visitor's résumé looks impressive, but Kansas' impressive start has been achieved against opponents that have a combined 4-15 record this season. I like the battle-hardened Wildcats just a little better … Kansas State 27, Kansas 24. (12 noon EDT, FSN)

BIG TEN

Eastern Michigan at Michigan: Just as Ohio State likes to spread the money around its home state, so do the Wolverines. The Eagles have taken on U-M seven previous times without success, including a 55-0 wipeout in 2005. Michigan is slowly coming around after its season-opening losses to Appalachian State and Oregon, and quarterback Chad Henne is getting healthy again. There is still some doubt about this team, especially in wake of last week's performance against Northwestern. But the Wolverines should have no problems in this one – and if they do, look for the Ann Arbor unrest to continue … Michigan 34, Eastern Michigan 10. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Mark Neely, Glen Mason, Lisa Byington)

Minnesota at Indiana: The Gophers may be outmanned in nearly every game, but one thing you can say about them is that they play hard. Unfortunately, playing hard and winning don't always go hand in hand. This week, Minnesota faces another potent offense in the Hoosiers, who are among the top five in the Big Ten in every offensive stat. QB Kellen Lewis and WR James Hardy are solid players who should thrive against Minnesota's porous defense. IU seems to be improving on defense as well, ranking ahead of Michigan, Wisconsin and Purdue in total defense. That doesn't bode well at all for Goldy … Indiana 37, Minnesota 21. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Michael Crispino, Chris Martin, Marshall Harris)

Northwestern at Michigan State: As September turns to October, we get to find out if the Mark Dantonio-led Spartans are any better prepared for the latter stages of the season than the John L. Smith-coached Spartans. Over the last three seasons of Smith's tenure, MSU was 9-4 in September and 5-17 the rest of the way. After last weekend's narrow defeat at the hands of Wisconsin, it will be interesting to see how Sparty bounces back now that Coach Dino has the reins. It really shouldn't be that difficult against the Wildcats, who had Michigan on the ropes last weekend before letting the Wolverines wiggle free … Michigan State 35, Northwestern 13. (12 noon EDT, Big Ten Network – Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson)

Iowa at Penn State: Welcome to the game that matches conference foes most likely to wind up in the Alamo Bowl. To say both teams have underperformed this season would be generous. The Hawkeyes struggle most often when they have the ball – in five games, they have scored only 12 touchdowns and are last in the Big Ten in scoring offense. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have become increasingly suspect on defense. They allowed 24 points to Buffalo earlier this season and let Illinois break loose for 27 last week. It appears to me that each strength negates each weakness in this game, and when that happens, you go with the home team … Penn State 20, Iowa 13. (3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan – Announcers: Bob Wischusen, David Norrie, Jimmy Dykes)

No. 5 Wisconsin at Illinois: If not for having to travel to West Lafayette during the afternoon, you'd better believe I'd be parked in front of the TV to watch this game which will separate the contender from the pretender. Are the Badgers really the fifth-best team in the nation? Are the Illini really back from the dead? It would seem that everything is ripe for the upset here. Wisconsin's defense has been sporadic and Illinois has a lot of confidence. Also, no one seems to remember last year's game when the Illini were up by 18 before U-Dub came back for a 30-24 win. There's an awful lot to like in this game and I think it will be very entertaining. I guess that's why they invented TiVo … Wisconsin 27, Illinois 24. (12 noon EDT, ESPN – Announcers: Dave Pasch, André Ware, Erin Andrews)

No. 4 Ohio State at No. 23 Purdue: For all of the publicity Purdue receives on offense, I think the Buckeyes match up very well. Stat-wise, Curtis Painter may be a bit ahead of Todd Boeckman, but Brian Robiskie is a bit ahead of Dorien Bryant. Likewise, Chris Wells and Kory Sheets have had similar production at running back. What is going to set these two teams apart is what always seems to set teams apart – defense. And in that facet of the game, there is no contest. OSU ranks among the nation's top six in rush, pass, total and scoring defense, and the Boilermakers rank no higher than 38th in any of those categories. With that in mind, plus the five key matchups I mentioned at the beginning of the piece, it's difficult to envision anything but a win for the road team … Ohio State 31, Purdue 20. (8 p.m. EDT, ABC Regional/ESPN GamePlan – Announcers: Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lisa Salters)

AGAINST THE SPREAD

I'll lay the points in these games: Stanford at USC (-38); South Florida (-15½) at Florida Atlantic; Bowling Green at Boston College (-20); Oklahoma (-10½) vs. Texas @ Dallas; Utah State at Hawaii (-39); Arizona State (-8) at Washington State; Kansas at Kansas State (-2½); Minnesota at Indiana (-12½); Northwestern at Michigan State (-14); and Ohio State (-6½) at Purdue.

I'll take the dogs to cover in these: Kentucky (+4) at South Carolina; Florida (+9) at LSU; Georgia (+2½) at Tennessee; West Virginia at Syracuse (+27); Virginia Tech (+6) at Clemson; Nebraska (+7) at Missouri; Cincinnati (+3½) at Rutgers; Eastern Michigan (+31½) at Michigan; Iowa (+9½) at Penn State; and Wisconsin (+3) at Illinois.

Enjoy the games and we'll see you again next week.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories