A fierce interstate rivalry which pits the undefeated Spartans against twice-beaten Michigan. This game is usually close and has offered surprising results on more then one occasion.
Michigan State has two of the best stories in college football which could effect next April's draft. Quarterback Drew Stanton has taken hold of coach John L. Smith's offensive system and runs it with great efficiency. Presently grading out with an astounding quarterback rating of 201.26, Stanton is throwing for close to 300 yards per game and completing more than 73% of his passes. Four games into the 2005 campaign, Stanton is close to surpassing all his numbers from a year ago when he shared time behind center. Only a junior, Stanton has pocket-passer size and is displaying terrific signal caller intangibles. The end result has been a major leap onto draft boards.
For some strange reason, receiver Matt Trannon was ignored by every major scouting service coming into the year. A tall, athletic pass catcher who also plays basketball, Trannon has improved every facet of his game this season. Though not a speed demon, he has averaged 18.8 yards per catch and has proven himself to be a terrific red-zone target. Another senior, Kyle Brown, is also having a standout campaign. A complete receiver, Brown is moving towards the draft's first day.
On the other side of the field, the Wolverine's running game has not been up to par this season and they hope to get things going on Saturday. Senior's Matt Lentz and Adam Stenavich are late-round possibilities next April while junior Jake Long could be the next great blocker to come out of Ann Arbor. The trio goes up against a competitive Michigan State defensive line with two solid pro prospects in senior tackle Brandon McKinney and junior end Clifton Ryan.
On paper this is a lopsided contest. The Trojans have outscored opponents 178-47 during the season's initial three games and more than doubled the rushing yardage of the opponents they faced. Arizona State comes into the game after soundly defeating conference foe Oregon State last Saturday.
The Sun Devils have one of the better quarterbacks no one pays attention to. Since taking over the starting duties from Andrew Walter, understudy Sam Keller has performed well. Averaging 360 yards passing in the team's opening four games, Keller has completed 60% of his throws with an outstanding touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16-to-2. And while he's faced a few competitive defenses this season, none compares to the one Keller will try and penetrate on Saturday. Trojan junior safety Darnell Bing already sits as one of the top pro prospects at his position while senior cornerback Justin Wyatt is a potential first-day pick. Trying to get open in the USC secondary will be receiver Derek Hagan. A sure-handed wideout and the "go-to" guy of the Sun Devil offense, Hagan is another first-day pick in next April's draft. He has a chance to make a statement on Saturday and improve his draft ranking.
The offensive firepower possessed by USC is awesome. All-purpose ball handler Reggie Bush is having a Heisman Trophy type of season as the junior is averaging 200 yards per game as a multi-purpose player. Likely to enter the draft next April, Bush is a top-32 pick. The winner of college football's top award last year, quarterback Matt Leinart is off to a good start. Potentially the first pick of next April's draft, Leinart is completing 67% of his throws and averaging 343 yards passing per game.
The Sun Devil defense could be out-manned, yet a pair of linebackers will be counted on to slow the Trojan assault. Athletic Jamar Williams is a three-down defender with potential on the weak-side in the NFL. Dale Robinson is a solid run stuffer at middle linebacker who will have his work cut out for him. Both are solid late-round picks.
A tough inter-league battle from Conference USA as preseason favorite and new member UTEP visits the Liberty Bowl. Memphis has the nation's highest rated running back from the senior class. UTEP offers one of the better linebackers in the nation. The Miner offense is powered by a pedigree at quarterback and a pair of underrated receivers. As is the case almost every year, the Memphis defensive secondary is full of talent.
The exploits of DeAngelo Williams in 2005 were highlighted on Tuesday. He now faces a stiff test against the UTEP defense. Miner linebacker Thomas Howard was highly rated coming into the season and has not disappointed scouts. A three-down defender, Thomas possesses NFL-type size/speed numbers and athleticism. In similar fashion, Williams is a complete running back who produces carrying the ball, catching it out of the backfield or blocking for the quarterback. Williams' ability to penetrate the UTEP defense and Howard's attempts to stop him will be carefully watched.
UTEP's offense has been a little shaky in the early going. Quarterback Jordan Palmer, younger brother to Cincinnati Bengals passer Carson Palmer, has not met the expectations placed upon him. Neither have Jason Boyd or Chris Francis, a pair of late-round receiver prospects. Their jobs will not get be any easier on Saturday night as they face a tough Memphis secondary. Junior Wesley Smith has outstanding pro potential and the hard-hitting safety is an enforcer in center field who will try and keep the Miner passing game under wraps.
After transferring to UTEP from UCLA, ball handler Tyler Ebell is having a fine campaign. A multi-purpose threat, Ebell is establishing himself as one of the better third-down running backs who'll be available in next April's draft.