Will OSU's roll continue in Norman?
ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit tells us what to look for in the weekend's best games, including Oklahoma State-Oklahoma and Miami-Virginia Tech.
The best thing about the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State rivalry is that OSU is not intimidated by Oklahoma's athletes, mystique and swagger. The Cowboys and Sooners have a little brother-big brother relationship in which Oklahoma State has won two in a row against OU yet still hears constantly about what a national power the Sooners are, mostly because of Oklahoma's historical dominance in the series.
Oklahoma State has been able to beat the Sooners twice in a row because of a balanced offense. The three-headed monster of quarterback Josh Fields, receiver Rashaun Woods and running back Tatum Bell makes it tough for a defense to zero in on one area and opens up opportunities all over the field. That balance led the Cowboys to a 35-6 lead at one point last season and OSU feels that was no fluke. The Sooners, on the other hand, feel like this year will be different because they are a more mature team with more to play for than Oklahoma State.
Offensively, Oklahoma has gotten away from the deep ball lately but it won't be a surprise if OU goes back to it considering the amount of man coverage Oklahoma State plays. If Greg Richmond -- one of the best defensive ends in the Big 12 -- and his defensive mates can't get enough pressure on White they will pay dearly.
That's what both teams are thinking heading into the game, but to find out what I think about the outcome you'll have to tune in to College GameDay, live from Norman on Saturday morning.
No. 2 Miami vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (7:45 p.m., ESPN)
Virginia Tech painted itself into a corner with the loss to West Virginia, but expect the Hokies to play with much more passion against Miami. Tech is still on the fringe of the Sugar Bowl race and still has plenty to play for.
Offensively, the key will be whether Virginia Tech will be able to run the ball with the duo of quarterback Bryan Randall and tailback Kevin Jones. Randall was able to rush for 132 yards against the Hurricanes last season -- mostly on scrambles -- because Miami's system of man coverage leaves no one to account for the quarterback. The question is whether the 'Canes will make the changes necessary to contain Randall when he improvises.
But if there is one thing we have learned about Miami this season it's that the Hurricanes show up when they are challenged, especially on defense. Hard-hitting safety Sean Taylor is expected to be back from a shoulder injury and the entire unit should be ready to go against Tech.
The only issue for Miami will be offensive production. Virginia Tech's defense has been suspect against good running teams since late last season and the duo of Jarett Payton and Tyrone Moss needs to be productive. If they are, Tech will put enough men at the line of scrimmage to leave itself vulnerable to one-on-one matchups in the secondary and Miami will hit the Hokies for some big pass plays to Kellen Winslow, Ryan Moore and Roscoe Parrish.
Most important to the offense, though, is whether quarterback Brock Berlin has truly come of age. Berlin has looked very good at times, making good decisions and delivering accurate throws, while at other time he has forced the ball into bad spots and turned it over. In a huge road game like this, he cannot afford to turn the ball over to the Hokies and put the Miami defense in tough situations.
The emotion of playing a must-win game at home, under the lights on ESPN will make this a very competitive game, but in the end the Miami defense will make the necessary plays to secure a victory. Miami wins a tough one, 27-20.
No. 6 Washington State vs. No. 3 USC (7:00 p.m., ABC)
Quarterback Matt Leinart has thrown for exactly 351 yards and four touchdowns in each of his last two games, filling the big shoes of Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and taking advantage of talented wideouts led by Mike Williams and Keary Colbert. Add in the freshman backfield trio of Reggie Bush, Hershel Dennis and LenDale White -- as explosive as any backfield in the country -- and you have a recipe for plenty of points.
They will be facing the best defense they have seen so far against Washington State, a team that is plus-12 in turnover margin and has 31 sacks on the season. The Cougars believe in their athletic ability on that side of the ball and will come out swinging, trying to pressure Leinart with ends Isaac Brown and D.D. Acholonu and stuff the running game with middle linebacker Will Derting going head-to-head against whoever is running the ball.
Washington State corners Jason David and Karl Paymah will have to contain Williams and Colbert, because if Leinart gets time he will burn the Cougars with big gains.
USC has been vulnerable through the air at times this season -- giving up more than 300 yards passing to BYU, Hawaii and Stanford -- and Washington State quarterback Matt Kegel has the ability to expose that with big-play wideouts Devard Darling and Sammy Moore on his side.
That makes it imperative that the USC defensive line -- known as "The Wild Bunch II" -- pressure Kegel with four men and no blitzes to prevent vulnerability in the back end. But Trojans coach Pete Carroll is a defensive genius, so expect him to come up with some wrinkles to counter Kegel's shotgun attack.
In the end, USC simply has too much talent to be contained. Look for Leinart to have a big game against the Cougars' man coverage, leading the Trojans to a convincing 37-23 victory.
No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 21 Florida (3:30 p.m., CBS)
Georgia limps into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with five key players out for the season and nine others nursing various injuries, while Florida is coming off a bye week that allowed the Gators to get healthy after two of their biggest wins in the Ron Zook era.
Many seem to think the Gators are the favorites heading into this game because of Georgia's injury problems and the Gators' maturation over the last few weeks, but the closer the game gets the more skeptical I become. This just feels like one of those rivalry game where we throw logic out the window.
I agree with the boys in the desert that Mark Richt will use the injury angle to pull his team together for an inspired effort. The 'Dawgs use the "us against the world" mentality to rally the troops for a 27-23 win.
No. 7 Ohio State vs. Penn State (3:30 p.m., ABC)
It looked two weeks ago like Purdue had the best defense in the Big Ten, but the more I see of Ohio State's defense the more I can make a case for the Buckeyes as the best. In fact, with the way the young secondary has emerged and filled the shoes of Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey this year's unit compares favorable to last year's dominating unit.
It all starts with a dominating defensive line led by end Will Smith, which is the last thing a struggling Penn State running game needs to see right now. The only chance the Nittany Lions have of moving the ball is quarterback Michael Robinson scrambling on broken plays. Without much speed at wide receiver and an anemic running game the Lions could be in trouble.
The only real issue is whether the Ohio State offense -- in particular the play calling -- can use last week's 600-yard explosion as a springboard with Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan all looming on the horizon. This should be the perfect opportunity to keep the confidence rolling, and I like the Buckeyes in a dominating 27-10 victory.
No. 9 Nebraska vs. No. 16 Texas (12:00 p.m., ABC)
The Nebraska defense has played physical, confident football this season and used its speed to force turnovers, and the Texas offensive line will have to prove it can stand up to that kind of pressure. Quarterback Vince Young, running back Cedric Benson and wide receiver Roy Williams give the Longhorns plenty of talent at the skill positions, but if the line can't help the skill guys it doesn't matter.
Nebraska has the advantage in the trenches on defense with its blitzing linebackers and aggressive scheme, and the combination of quarterback Jammal Lord on the option and running back Josh Davis on the edges will give the Cornhuskers enough offense to generate the necessary points.
Nebraska's defensive players have bought into the schemes of new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and the aggressiveness of that attack should give the Huskers a short field at times, leading to a 24-21 upset win in Austin.
No. 12 Michigan vs. No. 10 Michigan State (12:00 p.m., ABC)
We'll find out this weekend just how good 7-1 Michigan State is, as a brutal stretch run begins with a visit from the Spartans biggest rival.
Michigan needs to figure out how to carry over to road games the success it has at the Big House. The Wolverines are allowing only six points per game at home and a whopping 27 per on the road, and since winning the national championship in 1997 they are just 5-10 in road games versus top-25 opponents, including 1-2 this year.
The Michigan team we saw in Ann Arbor against Notre Dame and Purdue is not the same team that lost at Oregon and Iowa. Lloyd Carr's team looked like an average Big Ten squad against the Ducks and Hawkeyes, but it seemed that no one in the country could have played with Michigan on the days they beat the Irish and Boilermakers. The challenge is to somehow take that same fight to East Lansing.
Michigan quarterback John Navarre has also had his struggles on the road -- just 1-6 on the road against top-25 teams -- and the Michigan State defense will be attacking and trying to pressure him all afternoon. But it has been feast or famine for the Spartans on defense so far this season as they lead the nation with 34 sacks but rank last in the Big Ten and 104th overall in pass defense. If that pressure can't get to Navarre, he will team with Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant to make Michigan State pay.
On the opposite sideline, Spartans quarterback Jeff Smoker is one of the best stories in the nation. After being suspended last season for substance abuse and battling his way back to the starting spot, Smoker has passed for 12 touchdowns and just five interceptions to rank second in the conference in passing efficiency. He has done a terrific job spreading the ball around, completing passes to a group of 12 different receivers led by Agim Shabaj and Kyle Brown.
And keep in mind that Michigan's last visit to Spartan Stadium ended with the controversial "clock play", on which the stadium clock seemed to pause with one second left as Smoker spiked the ball inside the Michigan five-yard line to kill the clock. Smoker used that second to hit T.J. Duckett in the end zone for the winning score. You can bet that is on the minds of the Michigan players who were around for that game.
This year's edition of the Wolverines has salvaged its season since trailing Minnesota 28-7 after the third quarter. Over the fourth quarter of that game and ensuing games against Illinois and Purdue, Michigan has outscored its opponents 118-24 to breathe a second life into its season.
That momentum along with the urgency and emotion of a rivalry game will rally Michigan to play well away from home, and the combination of Navarre and an attacking defense will lead the Wolverines to a 31-20 victory.
Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN College GameDay and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.
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