Commentary

Red River Rivalry has finally arrived, while UF looks to spread its wings

Originally Published: October 9, 2008
By Chris Fowler | ESPN.com

What a Saturday to savor. The date Oct. 11, 2008 has been circled on my calendar for months. I feel lucky to be able to be ringside for the Red River Rivalry this week.

"College GameDay"
GameDay

Set your alarm clock Saturday. Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and the rest of the "College GameDay" crew will be in Dallas for Texas-Oklahoma. Tune in to find out about the Red River Rivalry, all the Week 6 action and everything else in college football.
When: Sat., 10 a.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Dallas
"GameDay" will set up outside the Cotton Bowl for the first hour or so, then make a dash inside for a sidelines set as the clock ticks down to the 11 a.m. Dallas time kickoff.

So it's the best of both worlds: the colorful mix of corny, dog-eat-dog Longhorn and Sooner fans mingling in the fairgrounds … with Bevo hanging out nearby, I'm told … with a visit by Marines who have run to Dallas from Norman and Austin with official game footballs … then shift to just steps away from Bradford and McCoy as they warm up their right arms.

Finally, Corso will throw on either the Bevo head or that little Sooner Schooner hat thing in front of about 75,000 in the Cotton Bowl and make a bunch of people really mad. Some fans of the side he picks will be mad, figuring their chances of success have just dropped.

I never use this space to promote "GameDay," but this game I am pretty excited about. The QB duel is pretty compelling, of course. I just think Sam Bradford has a better offensive line and better running backs to work with, and Colt McCoy will be facing a much better pass defense. Oklahoma looks like a clear favorite.

I'll throw a couple of excellent numbers out, and there are hundreds of superb stats to choose from. It is the red zone where so many big games are decided. That should be the case again here. Texas' new defensive guru, Will Muschamp, isn't too worried about his guys' giving up passing yards, as long as they don't surrender many points.

Can Bradford cash in when OU gets chances? So far, he is an impressive 13-of-18 in red-zone passes, with seven TDs and no picks. McCoy has been even a little bit better: an amazing 18-of-21 for 11 TDs and one red-zone pick. Overall, both quarterbacks have been responsible for 20 total touchdowns and just three interceptions.

Can't wait.

That's also the sentiment Tim Tebow expressed about LSU's visit Saturday night. He told me he has been truly fired up by comments from Florida native and LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois this week about trying to knock him out of the game.

It's not false bravado by Mr. Heisman. This really does get Tim going. He also said his O-line is inspired. They had better be, because they are not a great matchup against ole Ricky's neighbors on the Bayou Bengals' front. It's a freaky, nasty, emotional, tight, deep group, and they are a ton of fun to focus in on during a game, as I did when they visited an Auburn bunch that had chop-blocked their former teammate, Glenn Dorsey, a year earlier.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy and Sam Bradford
Getyy ImagesBoth Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford have been superb this season. But something has to give on Saturday.
Jean-Francois, Tyson Jackson, Kirston Pittman, et all were stalking the field in warm-ups, getting each other ready to go. They will be a force to handle for the Gators' line, which had its hands full with Ole Miss. Florida's green or gimpy guards are not likely to shove aside the Tigers' inside guys.

Tebow says his offense is ready to take flight in this game. All the cards have not been played in the first five games, not by a long shot. The attack may be a little bolder, with a few more of the spread weapons employed creatively. Dan Mullen has been trying to get freshman tailbacks Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps going to provide more variety to the run game. But this is a huge game. Time for the brain trust to show us the best stuff it's got.

Tebow is anxious to test the LSU secondary. For all the studs up there, LSU has produced just six sacks so far. True, opponents are very focused on getting the ball out quickly, but LSU should still have more than six sacks in its opponents' 134 passing attempts. LSU has also not yet recovered a fumble and picked off only three passes!

That's not much dynamic playmaking from a group that's this talented. I'm just saying. All this adds up to LSU's being only eighth in the SEC in passing yards allowed, 44th in the nation.

Hungry Lions, wounded Badgers

Saturday night's game is one with huge significance and deep meaning for Penn State, in a building that's brought nothing but nightmares in recent visits: Camp Randall Stadium. In fact, part of the significance is that State has been beaten and beaten up so badly there.

Daryll Clark is not a guy who shrinks from challenges, so he has had an extra spark in his practice play this week. It is so firmly his offense now that he intends to infuse strong leadership into every move he makes. Clark wants to seize the moment, by far State's biggest test so far.

It's a test for a snakebit Wisconsin team, too. A supreme test of resolve and heart. The Badgers were, by all accounts, in a real funk early this week, following a second straight gut-wrenching conference loss to a big-name rival. When an opposing receiver fumbles away the game in the final minutes, only to have a teammate somehow be standing close enough deep in the secondary to fall on the football and preserve a winning drive … well, it's hard to recover. That's the case for Bret Bielema's crew this week. We'll have to see Saturday night whether the Ohio State loss was a mortal wound to Wisconsin's spirit. At 0-2, Rose Bowl hopes are all but doused.

Penn State players are being reminded that Wisconsin is just a couple of plays away from being 5-0 and ranked right near Penn State's No. 6. So despite U-Dub's woes and memories of last year's 38-7 woodshed beating of the Badgers in Happy Valley, the Lions are all focus and intensity this week.

This is game two in a four-of-five road stretch that will define Penn State's season: either as a BCS contender or a Big Ten also-ran.

Ricky Jean-Francois
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireTim Tebow heard you, Ricky Jean-Francois. The question is, can you and your LSU linemates get to him?
Although he coached last week from Purdue's press box, the best guess is that JoePa will have the adrenaline flowing and will be able to power through the pain in his leg to prowl the sidelines Saturday night. It was on those same sidelines that Joe was taken out during the Lions' last visit, suffering a broken leg and leaving the field on a cart, to his extreme aggravation.

But Penn State's pain didn't end with the head coach's leg bone. PSU managed just a field goal in that 2006 game, the same point total it mustered in Mad-town two years earlier. Added to the offensive futility were key miscues -- like a dropped interception that would have been a pick six to tie the game at 10 and a muffed punt deep in Penn State territory that set up the Badgers' insurance points.

In '04, the Badgers' front mauled State's quarterbacks -- hammering Zack Mills on his very first pass play. Soon after, freaky Erasmus James knocked Mills' replacement, a young Michael Robinson, loopy on a helmet-to-helmet hit. Robinson went to a local hospital, and only found out later that the Lions had lost.

Entering the crowd-fueled feeding frenzy was third-teamer Chris Ganter, then-offensive coordinator Fran Ganter's son. Poor Chris. The swarming Badgers showed him no mercy. Ganter went just 6-for-23, but at least he walked out of the stadium under his own power and with his faculties intact.

The '04 and '06 installments were ugly displays of offense that set the Big Ten back decades. After suffering through the '04 edition on the sidelines, our "GameDay" gang needed several adult beverages to try to forget the whole thing. We happened to bump into the bruising, loquacious fullback for Wisconsin, Matt Bernstein, who was several rounds ahead of us. He kept hollering his self-anointed nickname -- "The Hebrew Hammer," I think it was. Big Matt had been shifted to tailback that night and responded with runs that bruised and wore down the Nittany Lions. So he was the King of Madison that night, while the Lions limped home with a deflating and costly loss.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/Darron CummingsPSU will be look to put some ugly performances in Madison behind it. Will JoePa be on the sidelines to see it?
To sum up, the last two visits to Camp Randall have produced a total of 21 PSU first downs, six points, no touchdowns, and some embarrassing moments.

This year should be different. Jordan Norwood will return to the lineup after missing the Illinois and Purdue games. Tight ends Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless have been nursing hurt ankles but should be good to go, too. Clark is so mature that you can't believe he is still a college student.

The Lions' weak area against Purdue has gotten lots of attention in practice this week: third and short runs. The vaunted O-line didn't push around Purdue in third-and-1 and third-and-2 situations, when PSU converted on just one of five running plays. Let's just say it has been repped energetically all week. I expect a bold, well-executed game plan and a hard-fought win. Unless Penn State's defense struggles to get the Badgers off the field (Ohio State allowed one marathon drive last week), Wisconsin won't be able to hold on forever.

No love from Lubbock?

Craig James, whose son Adam James is a tight end for Texas Tech, tells me that I am not popular in the Red Raider blogosphere. That's fine. But I will have to take his word for it, since I just haven't had time to surf over there yet! But the fuss puts a smile on my face.

My AP ballot lists Tech at No. 10, which is three slots lower than the consensus. In fact, it is getting 7s across the board from voters in the AP, Harris and coaches poll. Those are three mediocre scores on "Dancing With the Stars," but just a touch too high for a team whose most convincing win so far is a 16-point W at Nevada, a bunch that lost 69-17 at Missouri the next week.

Look, Red Raider Nation, I think your team is pretty good, just not more accomplished than USC or Ohio State or Georgia at the moment. Tech should clock Nebraska at home Saturday and then demolish poor Texas A&M to take a 7-0 mark to Kansas. Then it's Texas, Oklahoma State, and the Sooners in Norman. Trust me. If you guys navigate through that 11-0, you will be right there in position for BCS glory. In the meantime, where does it matter where you sit at 5-0? Heck, if Tech is still perfect and the Horns aren't too nicked up, we'd love to bring "GameDay" to town for that one. Guns Up!

Speaking of cowboy hats, guest Kenny Chesney gave Kirk and Lee a clinic in how to pick games last Saturday morning. He went 7-3, hitting SEC upsets by Vandy and South Carolina, while missing on Stanford's close loss at Notre Dame and Michgan's loss to Illinois. (We still can't figure out how the Illini were underdogs in that one!) The one off-key moment for Kenny was singing Nebraska's praises, before Mizzou came in there and kicked 'em to sleep. Still, seven out of ten pays for the groceries. Plus, he was a good host. Nashville is some fun on a Saturday night, I mean to tell you. I hope Vandy keeps playing big home games in weeks and years to come!

Chris Fowler

College Football
Since 1989, Chris Fowler has been ESPN's primary college football and men's college basketball studio host. He's anchored College GameDay, the network's award-winning Saturday morning college football preview show, since 1990.