Top four teams face major tests on blockbuster weeekend

Updated: October 30, 2003, 12:37 PM ET

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey - As the calendar turns toward November, college football fans can look forward to the biggest weekend of the season.

The top four teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll all face major challenges Saturday, when there are no less than six matchups involving a pair of ranked teams.

Top-ranked Oklahoma tries to figure out a way to beat No. 15 Oklahoma State after losing two straight to the Cowboys; No. 2 Miami visits No. 11 Virginia Tech; No. 3 Southern California hosts No. 6 Washington State in a Pac-10 Conference showdown and No. 4 Georgia takes on No. 21 Florida in their annual grudge match.

Those are not the only intriguing matchups as No. 16 Texas hosts No. 9 Nebraska in a key Big 12 Conference battle while surprising No. 10 Michigan State looks to stay in control of the Big Ten Conference race against 12th-ranked Michigan.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who passed Penn State's Joe Paterno last week to become the all-time wins leader among Division I-A coaches, will be seeking win No. 340 when the fifth-ranked Seminoles (7-1) visit Notre Dame.

Oklahoma (8-0) joins Miami (8-0) as the only remaining unbeaten teams in the six BCS conferences, but two of the Sooners' four losses in the last two seasons have come against Oklahoma State.

Cowboys coach Les Miles seems to have Oklahoma's number, going 4-1 against the Sooners and 3-1 against Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

There has been some hostility between the coaches, who have traded subtle barbs in recent days.

"One (team) is maybe the best team in college football and the other is a darn good football team," Miles said. "We are going to play and figure out which one is which."

Oklahoma State (7-1), which has won seven in a row, enters the showdown one game behind the Sooners in the Big 12 South. Should the Cowboys pull another upset, they would have a legitimate shot to go to the Big 12 title game with another showdown looming against Texas next week.

To end their Oklahoma State hex, the Sooners will have to do a better job than they did in last year's 38-28 loss, when they surrendered 506 yards. Josh Fields threw four touchdown passes for the Cowboys, including three to Rashaun Woods.

Meanwhile, Miami keeps on rolling and will be seeking its 40th straight regular-season win and 28th straight Big East Conference victory.

The game appeared to have major national championship implications, but some of the luster was lost when Virginia Tech (6-1) suffered a 28-7 loss at West Virginia last week. The Hokies dropped eight spots in the poll.

However, Virginia Tech still is in the Big East race and can make amends by upseting the Hurricanes. Miami snapped a three-game losing streak in Blacksburg by holding on for a 26-24 victory two years ago when the Hokies failed to make a two-point conversion in the final minutes.

"I feel for our fans," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said when asked about the West Virginia game. "There's a lot of hurt, a lot of disappointment. We've got to come back from that and play the best football team in the country."

Bowden visits Notre Dame for the first time since the teams' so-called "Game of the Century" a decade ago. In 1993, the second-ranked Fighting Irish snapped the top-ranked Seminoles' 16-game winning streak, 31-24.

"The last time we went up there, we were ranked No. 1 and they were ranked No. 2, and they beat us up pretty doggone good," Bowden said. "I know what it's like up there. They'll (his players) have to realize we'll be in a fight for our lives."

USC (7-1) and Washington State (7-1) are in a three-way tie with UCLA atop the Pac-10 Conference. The Cougars are an overtime loss at Notre Dame away from being undefeated.

Washington State, which handed USC its only loss last season en route to the Rose Bowl, appeared to be in somewhat of a rebuilding mode after losing quarterback Jason Gesser to graduation. But the Cougars have not missed a beat with Matt Kegel at the controls.

"This (Washington State) is a very good football team," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "There's no surprise to what they've done."

Georgia (7-1) can move closer to its second straight Southeastern Conference title when it faces Florida in the latest installment of the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." But the Bulldogs have lost five straight to the Gators and enter the game banged up and coming off a pair of unimpressive victories over Vanderbilt and Alabama-Birmingham.

Florida (5-3) is well rested and playing perhaps its best football in an up-and-down season. The Gators, who were off last week, are coming off back-to-back road wins at Louisiana State and Arkansas.

"My biggest concern is they've (Florida) gained a lot of momentum and have had a lot of time to rest," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We've been barely hanging on for dear life in our ballgames."

While Nebraska (7-1) looks to continue its resergence and stay atop the Big 12 North against the Longhorns (6-2), Michigan State, under first-year coach John L. Smith, continues to be perhaps the nation's biggest surprise.

After going 4-8 last season, the Spartans (7-1) have won seven in a row and are the only team without a loss in Big Ten play. Michigan State has not captured a Big Ten title since its famous 1966 team, led by Bubba Smith, shared a national championship with Notre Dame.

Beating Michigan would be a huge hurdle for the Spartans, who still have difficult road tests coming up against Ohio State and Wisconsin. A Wolverines victory, however, would lift Michigan into first place in the conference by one-half game in front of the Spartans and possibly the Buckeyes and Purdue.

No. 7 Ohio State (7-1), which rolled up 603 yards last week against Indiana, visits Penn State, while No. 17 Purdue (6-2), which is looking to rebound from a 31-3 loss to Michigan, entertains Northwestern.

Also in the Big Ten, No. 14 Iowa (6-2) hosts Illinois and No. 19 Minnesota (7-2) welcomes Indiana to the Metrodome.

A pair of SEC teams take a break from league play as No. 8 Louisiana State (7-1) takes on Louisiana Tech, which handed Michigan State its only loss, and No. 18 Tennessee (5-2) faces Duke.

In the other ranked games, No. 22 Northern Illinois (7-1), looking to rebound from its first loss of the season, squares off against Ball State and No. 23 Pittsburgh (5-2) heads to New England to take on Boston College.

No. 13 Texas Christian (8-0), No. 20 Bowling Green (7-1), No. 24 Missouri (6-2) and No. 25 Louisville (7-1) are idle this week.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index