Shootout showdown: Peterson vs. Benson
ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit tells us what to look for in the weekend's best games, including Oklahoma and Texas' Red River Shootout.
First and foremost, No. 5 Texas must get over the mental block it seems to have against No. 2 Oklahoma when the teams meet Saturday in the Red River Shootout (noon ET, ABC). It seems every year that the Longhorns are guilty of coaching and playing not to lose, rather than playing and coaching to win. The Sooners, on the other hand, always seem to come into the game very loose and carefree, playing aggressive football. It will be up to Texas to match that intensity and give itself a better chance.
Texas running back Cedric Benson comes into the game leading the nation in rushing at 186.5 yards per game, but he will face a completely different challenge against OU middle linebacker Lance Mitchell, safety Brodney Poole and the rest of the Sooners defense.
The only way Benson will be able to establish himself is if quarterback Vince Young can make some plays with his legs from the shotgun formation. Young's ability to scramble and create will be very big in this game and he will move the ball more effectively running than throwing.
On the other side, Oklahoma's offense will be all about establishing the run with freshman tailback Adrian Peterson. The Longhorns seem to have found a new kind of confidence on defense thanks to the zone blitz schemes of new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, but those zones could open some opportunities for Peterson to find space. That, in turn, could loosen the defense up for quarterback Jason White, who has been under the radar a bit but has still been very effective this season. If Peterson can find room, things will be much easier for White and receivers Mark Clayton and Brandon Jones.
Texas is in a better position to compete this year, and the fact that not a lot of people are giving the 'Horns much credit will have them fired up and ready to rally the troops. This will be a competitive, four-quarter game, but in the end the combination of Peterson and White along with the Sooners defense corralling Benson and forcing Young into obvious passing situations will be the difference.
Oklahoma wins, 31-23.
No. 1 USC vs. No. 7 California (3:30 p.m., ABC)
This one is going to be a shootout. California quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his USC counterpart Matt Leinart are looking at an opportunity to put up some huge numbers.
Rodgers may be the most gifted, NFL-ready quarterback in college right now, with Chase Lyman stepping up as another threat at wide receiver alongside Geoff McArthur and Jonathan Makonnen. But the big key has been the balance Jeff Tedford's offense has with J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch finding room on the ground. California can attack in a lot of different ways.
For USC, the young wide receiving corps has continued to gain experience. Steve Smith is getting better every week and Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy have come along nicely to help out Leinart. But the true X-factor for the Trojans is always versatile tailback Reggie Bush. Look for him to line up in the backfield, staying there or motioning to the slot, and look for offensive coordinator Norm Chow to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands.
This game will come down to which defense is able to step up and make a play in the fourth quarter, and USC will have an advantage there playing in front of a sellout crowd in the Coliseum.
Tune in to College GameDay on Saturday morning for my pick.
No. 17 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Georgia (3:30 CBS)
Tennessee's inexperience in the secondary -- freshmen Roshaun Fellows and Jonathan Hafney starting at cornerback -- got the Volunteers in trouble last week against Auburn and things could get worse this week against David Greene and Georgia.
Greene and Bulldogs receiver Fred Gibson got hot last week against LSU and freshman tailback Danny Ware seemed to bring some toughness to the huddle, running with authority upon his return to the lineup. Tennessee got pushed around up front last week against Auburn and they don't seem ready to match up with Georgia, either.
The same thing happened on defense, where Auburn put pressure on Tennessee's young quarterbacks and moved its secondary around to confuse Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. The game just moved faster than they were used to and we should expect Georgia to do the same things this week. This could turn into a long afternoon for the Vols.
Georgia gets a 34-13 victory.
No. 24 LSU vs. No. 12 Florida (7:45, ESPN)
Florida is improving on offense with running back Ciatrick Fason keying the attack by offering balance for quarterback Chris Leak. The contributions of young wide receivers Chad Jackson and Andre Caldwell have also been big, and with LSU struggling to get pressure on the quarterback, the Tigers' man coverage concepts have been ineffective. That should continue against Leak and his teammates.
Look for Leak to get away from the pressure, hit Caldwell, Baker and O.J. Small and open up screens and draws for Fason. The Gators' defense, led by Channing Crowder, will crowd the line of scrimmage against running back Justin Vincent and his backfield mates in order to put the game in the hands of the LSU quarterbacks Jason Randall and JaMarcus Russell. That leads to a Florida victory at the Swamp.
No. 13 Minnesota vs. No. 14 Michigan (noon, ESPN)
Minnesota caught Michigan off-guard last year on a Friday night in the Metrodome, building a 28-7 fourth-quarter lead before the Wolverines woke up and came back for a 38-35 victory. That victory turned Michigan's season around and lifted Lloyd Carr's team to the Rose Bowl, and you can be sure the Golden Gophers have their full attention this season.
Michigan has one of the most physically talented defenses in the nation and will put it to the test against one of the most physical running games in the country. Minnesota will win some of those battles but the Wolverines will continue to load up against the terrific tailback duo of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, meaning Gophers QB Bryan Cupito will have to make some throws. How well he handles the pressure in Michigan Stadium will be something big to keep an eye on.
For the Michigan offense, the true freshman backfield tandem of quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Michael Hart have shown they will continue to get better despite taking their lumps in the early going. And wide receiver Braylon Edwards has become a one-man show in the passing game, so look for Minnesota to roll its coverages toward him, forcing Jason Avant and Steve Breaston to beat them.
The key to this entire game will be whether Michigan's defense shows up and plays with intensity. The Wolverines have not played a game this year with the urgency they displayed last season against big-time opponents like Purdue and Ohio State, so they are due to come up with a big effort.
Still, I'm going back-and-forth on this one and I'll have to wait for GameDay to make my pick.
No. 16 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 Ohio State (3:30, ABC)
If neither team can figure out how to throw the ball we may not see an offensive touchdown in this game. But Ohio State's Jim Tressel is too good a coach to think he can rely on an inconsistent running game and have any luck at all against Wisconsin. Don't be surprised to see the Buckeyes go to the air in order to get the ball in the hands of Santonio Holmes and the rest of the receivers. If they don't they will be swimming upstream all game long.
The Wisconsin defensive line is by far the best in the Big Ten with end Erasmus James and tackle Anttaj Hawthorne leading the way, and Ohio State's only chance is to mix up its play calling by throwing on running downs and vice versa. If they don't do that the Badgers will eat them up in the trenches.
Wisconsin also got a breath of fresh air when tailback Anthony Davis returned last week after a freak eye injury. But Ohio State has not been hurt by teams like the Badgers who line up under center the way they have by teams that spread the field with three or four receivers, which is not good news for Wisconsin. The whole goal for the Buckeyes will be to eliminate Davis.
Ohio State will be in a bad mood after last week's loss to Northwestern, and I like them to bounce back and show up ready to go. The Buckeyes throw the ball early and get a 19-13 win.
Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN "College GameDay" and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.