After years of lopsided domination on both sides will this once great rivalry hearken back to the days of John McKay and Ara Parseghian? It could well be as USC, aiming for a third national title, travel to South Bend and visit a rejuvenated Irish program. Expect a high scoring affair as the offensive firepower from both sides is awesome.
The battle of signal callers is one to watch. Matt Leinart has had a solid senior campaign, doing nothing to hurt his draft status. The Irish defense will be hard pressed to stop the '04 Heisman Trophy winner. All purpose ball handler Reggie Bush, probable winner of college football's top award this year, is having a record breaking season and has moved into the first half of April's should he decide to enter. Teammate LenDale White, who projects better as a feature runner in the NFL, is not far behind Bush in round one.
Notre Dame offers one of the most exciting young quarterback prospects in the nation. Brady Quinn has done a tremendous job all season mastering the offense of Charlie Weis. Only a junior, Quinn has made a major impression on NFL-scouts and presently sits as a top 32-choice if he opts for next April's draft. Like Quinn, another Notre Dame underclassmen has captured the attention of decision makers in the NFL. Jeff Samardzija is an accomplished baseball player yet a king sized receiver who has become one of the nations best red-zone threats. This weekend will be a proving ground for Samardzija, who faces a talented Trojan secondary.
A pair of Big Ten teams enter this contest with two different mindsets. Losers of the last six games of this series, Penn State hopes to break Michigan's string and remain unbeaten. The Wolverines, who lost a heartbreaker last week, desperately need a win to retain any hopes of finishing atop the conference.
Penn State's Tamba Hali has been one of the most impressive defensive lineman in the nation this year. Saturday he goes up against standout junior Jake Long. Hali, a speed rusher who forced the fumble against against Ohio State which sealed victory last week, is much smaller than the dominant Long. Injured for much of the past month, Long hopes to quickly get his game back on track.
The Nittany Lion cornerbacks, who have been impressive most of the year, will be well tested for the second week in a row. Last Saturday Alan Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips dealt with the speed of the Buckeye receivers. And while it will still be fast with the likes of Wolverine Steve Breaston, it is the size and strength of Jason Avant which pose a test Saturday. Avant leads the Big Ten in both receptions and receiving yardage. A terrific red zone threat, he's also added 5 touchdown catches and has significantly improved his draft ranking.
One match-up to watch is between Michigan's talented tight ends and Penn State's up and coming safety's. Highly rated coming into the season, Tim Massaquoi has not been much of a factor this year, catching just five passes during the four games he's been on the field. Teammate Tyler Ecker, considered a lesser athlete yet better football player, has doubled Massaquoi's total. PSU safety's Chris Harrell and Calvin Lowry have both turned in outstanding campaigns, resulting in significant improvement in their draft grades.
It looked like something special was taking place in Nashville after the Vanderbilt Commodores started the season 3-0. Yet a pair of losses brought the team back to earth. This week they face the class of the SEC East as Commodore quarterback Jay Cutler has his stiffest test of the year.
Cutler is the conferences top signal caller, averaging almost 250-yard passing per game. Cutler's accuracy has been average as has the touchdown-to-interception ratio, though he is consistently running for his life. He may not see a tougher secondary then the one he faces against Georgia.
Corners Demario Minter and Tim Jennings both possess first day potential as each offer terrific cover skills. Safety Greg Blue has the size/speed numbers which the NFL covets. A hard-hitting defender who goes for the knockout blow, expect the Bulldogs to blitz Blue several times throughout the game.
It would be remiss if D.J. Shockley was not mentioned. After sitting on the sidelines and watching David Greene set NCAA records, Shockley has done a terrific job in his first fulltime season behind center. Averaging 234 passing yards per game and completing just under 60% of his throws, Shockley has gone from draft after-thought to a solid mid-round candidate.