Roberson better be ready

Kirk Herbstreit breaks down the weekend's biggest games, including Kansas State-Texas and Michigan-Iowa.

Originally Published: September 25, 2003
By Kirk Herbstreit | Special to ESPN.com

It has become obvious over the last two games that Kansas State is a completely different team without quarterback Ell Roberson in the lineup. The option attack is not as effective and the threat of the deep ball is not as much of a concern.

Ell Roberson
Ell Roberson needs a big day for Kansas State to win in Austin.

Roberson is back from a wrist injury, though, and just in time for the Big 12 opener at Texas. His ability to return to form will be a huge key for the Wildcats, and Roberson and tailback Darren Sproles will need to find enough space for a big day against the blitzing, man-to-man defense of Texas if Kansas State hopes to win in Austin.

The Longhorns will load up against the option tandem of Sproles and Roberson, so keep an eye on KSU wideout James Terry, who has the ability to beat man coverage. But with as much man coverage as Texas plays look for Roberson and Sproles to try and get to the edge with the option. It could happen -- look at Arkansas: with a similar attack that lacked a true passing threat they were still able to get Cedric Cobbs rolling against eight- and nine-man fronts.

No matter what happens, Roberson will have to play the game of his life if Kansas State hopes to win, because his line won't be able to contain the Longhorns blitz. That will force him to rely on his ability to improvise and create plays with his scrambling.

On the other side of the ball, Kansas State is not playing the kind of defense we are used to seeing in Manhattan. The Wildcats don't seem have that chip on their shoulders or the tenacious attitude they had last year when Terry Pierce and Tank Reese anchored the middle.

In this game they are going to be forced to pick their poison. Kansas State will likely have to walk safety Rashad Washington up to the line of scrimmage in order to defend Cedric Benson and the Texas running game. If the Wildcats sit back in zone coverage to take away the pass, there is the fear the Texas line could overpower the defense, but if they commit eight men to stopping the run receivers like Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson will have a chance to make plays against man coverage.

Look for the Longhorns coaches to give quarterback Chance Mock the flexibility to check into various plays based on what the defense is showing. Kansas State will see plenty of Benson against the zone and a lot of balls thrown down the field against blitzes.

And while the coaches have made it clear there is no quarterback controversy in Austin, dynamic freshman Vincent Young will get some snaps by the time the second quarter rolls around. Mock is the No. 1 man, but Young's mobility and the package it brings to the offense throws a nice curveball at opposing defenses.

Tune in to College GameDay Saturday morning to get my prediction.

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 19 Iowa
Michigan got back on track after the debacle at Oregon with a big win over lowly Indiana, but the offense accounted for only two touchdowns in the 31-17 victory and the Wolverines turned the ball over four times. Sloppy play like that will cause struggles against Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are physical on defense and although they gave up some big plays in the loss to Michigan State, this is still a talented unit that is faster than last year's version. Keep an eye on Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, two of the best linebackers in the conference.

The question for Michigan is whether the Wolverines will be willing to take advantage of some of the best talent they have had at the skill positions in years. Veteran quarterback John Navarre and receivers Braylon Edwards, Steve Breaston and Tyrece Butler are all solid players, especially when backed up by the running threat of Chris Perry and David Underwood. Michigan can move the ball if it stays balanced and takes advantage of its experience, but simply lining up and trying to overpower Iowa could led to problems.

For Iowa, injuries to wide receivers Maurice Brown and Ed Hinkel have hindered the attack, as has breaking in new quarterback Nathan Chandler and four new starters on the offensive line.

Chandler, a drop-back passer without the mobility of Brad Banks, and their lack of depth at wideout made the Hawkeyes one-dimensional against Michigan State, allowing the Spartans to load up against RB Fred Russell. Without a legitimate passing attack Iowa became ineffective.

There has been some talk in Iowa City this week of splitting Russell out wide to bolster the passing game, but more important than who is in the game is developing an identity on offense. With all the youth in the lineup it is imperative that Iowa smooth out the bumps and find some rhythm.

Expect the offense to struggle against Michigan, which will key on Russell wherever he is and force someone else to make a play. Russell accounted for nearly half of his team's 265 yards last week and he needs some help.

And don't forget that Iowa went to Ann Arbor last year and handed Michigan one of its most embarrassing losses ever. The Wolverines rushed for just 22 yards in a 34-9 loss and that will surely be on their minds. I expect Iowa's defense to keep the Hawkeyes in a hard-fought game, but because of the concerns on offense and the revenge factor for Michigan I like the Wolverines to pull away for a 24-17 win.

Alabama vs. No. 12 Georgia

David Greene
David Greene could be in for a big day against Alabama.
This game is a meeting of two teams heading in different directions. Alabama has lost two straight heartbreakers at home -- an upset at the hands of Northern Illinois and an overtime thriller to Arkansas -- while Georgia has had two weeks to hear about how it should have beaten LSU in Baton Rouge. You have to wonder how much the Tide has left in the tank and you have to believe Georgia is anxious to prove how good it is.

Quarterback David Green was the victim of some dropped passes against LSU and is likely more impatient than anyone to get back out there and show what he can do. With speedy wide receiver Fred Gibson back from injury and the 'Bama pass defense struggling, look for Georgia to hit some big plays down the field.

Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle is playing with a banged-up shoulder, and the wear and tear on the Tide affect this game. 'Bama could be walking into a hornets' nest with Bulldogs end David Pollack having had the bye week to get healthy and linebacker Thomas Davis always looking to jar the ball loose with big hits.

I like Greene to have a big day and lead Georgia to a 31-17 victory.

No. 7 Tennessee vs. Auburn
Tennessee comes into Auburn after a surprisingly difficult overtime win at home against South Carolina. The Tigers, on the other hand, have circled the wagons after a disappointing start and have refocused on winning the SEC championship. They have faced inferior opponents but are nonetheless playing with more confidence.

This game is a matchup of teams that are almost mirror images of each other. Both want to run the ball, utilize play-action passing and rely on their defenses, meaning the quarterbacks will determine the winner. Tennessee's Casey Clausen is 11-0 on the road as a starter and needs to use his experience to lead his team. He knows what it's like to play a primetime game under the lights.

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders would be smart to come out swinging, attacking down the field with Tony Brown and Tony Brown to open things up for Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis in the running game.

The key for Auburn's defense will be the ability of tackles Spencer Johnson and DeMarco McNeil to eat up Vols linemen and allow the linebackers to make plays. If the Tigers get Clausen in predictable third-and-long situations he better watch out for Karlos Dansby, one of the best linebackers in the country.

As for Auburn's offense, quarterback Jason Campbell has started slowly and had the finger pointed at him, but he seems to have found his touch and regained his confidence against average defenses over the last two weeks. Tennessee will be the best defense he has seen since struggling against Georgia Tech, though.

The answer for defenses that wanted to stack the line against the Auburn running game was to move tight end Anthony Mix back to his former position at wide receiver, where he can use his 6-5 frame against one-on-one coverage. He and Courtney will need to make some plays to set things up for running backs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown.

Good things seem to happen when Auburn is backed into a corner, facing a must-win situation against a traditional SEC power. In a battle of two of the better defenses in the conference, I like Auburn's defense to step up and make plays and I like Campbell to outduel Clausen in a 27-23 win

Oregon State at California
Oregon State is suddenly in position to be considered a legitimate contender in the Pac-10. Quarterback Derek Anderson and receiver James Newson are hooking up for nearly 18 yards per completion and Steven Jackson leads the conference in rushing at 130 yards per game.

The question for California is whether or not the Bears can come back to earth after upsetting USC last week, but with coach Jeff Tedford's system and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback I like their chances. Rodgers looks like the next Joey Harrington or Carson Palmer out west, and a future top pick in the NFL draft. He's been dinged up but should be able to go this week.

This should be a typical Pac-10 shootout, with the last team holding the ball the likely winner. I'll take Cal in a 42-38 barnburner.

Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN College GameDay and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.

Kirk Herbstreit

College Football analyst
Kirk Herbstreit has been an ESPN college football studio analyst since August 1996. Herbstreit, who joined ESPN in September 1995 as a college football sideline analyst for ESPN2, is also a game analyst for ESPN's Thursday night college football telecasts.