Taking aim on the quarterbacks
Most intriguing matchup of the weekend? Try Washington at Ohio State. You get two programs that have endured rocky summers centered around their two most charismatic figures (Rick Neuheisel at UW and Maurice Clarett at OSU). You also get arguably the country's top wideout (U-Dub's Reggie Williams) going against arguably the top cornerback (Ohio State's Chris Gamble). A matchup you will probably hear about all night. But there is another compelling head-to-head to keep an eye on: Khalif Barnes, one of the Pac-10's best pass blockers, working against the Buckeyes all-American DE Will Smith.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Barnes is as agile as any O-linemen in the West, running in the 4.8-range. He was very sound for most of the 2002 season -- except against Arizona State where superstar Terrell Suggs torched him. Barnes admits he was blown away by Suggs quickness of the ball and reaction to the snap. He simply couldn't handle it. He says he has seen plenty of film on Smith and compares him to the Michigan edge rushers he faced last season, Shante Orr and Larry Stevens. "Very physical guys," Barnes says.
But Barnes better not underestimate Smith's quickness. We're told it's just a shade below Suggs. One Big Ten coach we spoke with says Smith is much more athletic than the Michigan guys and called him the most underrated player in the conference. Barnes understands he can make his reputation with a big game Saturday night. He also understands that if he doesn't do a better job than he did against ASU, the Huskies have no shot of winning in Columbus.
Speaking of Smith, we decided instead of the usual pre-hash about the upcoming Heisman race it made more sense to focus on the chase for Suggs' vacant sack crown. Here are our top seven choices for NCAA sack king: