Homecomings highlight Week 5 matchups

Updated: October 18, 2006, 12:07 PM ET
By Jim Donnan | ESPN.com

COUGARS LURKING
Kolb
Bob Levey/WireImage.com
Kevin Kolb has been putting up Heisman-worthy numbers.
Miami had better be ready.

It's no secret that the Hurricanes have struggled this season, sandwiching a walloping of Florida A&M between losses to Florida State and Louisville. But if Miami thinks it has an easy week to recover, it had better think again. Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb is a dark-horse Heisman trophy candidate who has already put up gaudy numbers this season -- more than 1,000 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. He's sixth in the nation in passing efficiency and fourth in total offense. Kolb has been running this offense since he was in high school and knows all of its nuances. Kolb runs as many different plays as anyone in college football history -- and the Cougars execute them. Kolb is not alone in the offense; backs Jackie Battle and Anthony Alridge have combined for more than 400 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

But if anyone can stop the Cougars, it's Miami's talented and veteran defense. The Canes have had an off-week to prepare for Houston, but they have a lot to overcome as well. There is so much negativity in Miami right now -- it will be interesting to see how the Canes perform. Which Miami offense will show up: the anemic version that couldn't score against FSU and UL, or the explosive version that dominated FAU? In its last five losses, Miami hasn't scored in the second half. The Canes' schedule sets up nicely for them to win their division, if they're able to make the necessary adjustments. It's definitely "show" time in Miami, and if there's one team that needs to show some life and reverse the trend, it's this one. There is a big difference in talent between this Miami team and past ones.These Canes have to learn to execute as a team. They do not have the normal number of guys who are high draft picks, so they have to go out and play as a group.

Going into the season, I thought there was no way Miami would be worse than 2-1 at this point -- and clearly, the disgruntled fans agree. Miami is 1-2 heading into Saturday night's showdown (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET). But regardless of what's happening with your team, it needs the support of the fans. Miami has had some suspensions and injuries, but overall, it lost to a really good Louisville team. As a coach, you go into a game counting on your fans. The Canes' season is still salvageable, but there is no longer room for errors.

KEY MATCHUPS
Oregon Arizona State No. 14 Oregon at Arizona State
ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
I was really surprised by how easily Cal dispensed with Arizona State; the Bears rolled to a 49-21 victory that was even more lopsided than the score indicates. The Sun Devils' passing game is just not there. Rudy Carpenter's success last season convinced everyone that this season would be different, but Arizona State has struggled to get anything going offensively. Carpenter has thrown nearly as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns (11). The defense hasn't been better; it is currently ranked 104th in pass efficiency defense. This is a defining moment for Arizona State, a team at a crossroads. Carpenter has to come out of his funk and score a lot of points. He should have a chance to air it out against Oregon's inexperienced secondary.

Although Arizona State rolled past Northern Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, the Sun Devils struggled against Cal's balanced attack of Nathan Longshore and Marshawn Lynch. They'll see more of the same from Oregon this week with Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart. It will be interesting to see how Oregon reacts to an off-week that was filled with media attention from the controversy in the Oklahoma game. The call obviously worked in the Ducks' favor, but they deserve credit for making the plays necessary to win. If Stewart plays well, expect him to receive more attention. Injuries have stifled his performance in the past, but he's a very talented player most people don't know about. He and Dixon make for one of college football's most potent two-pronged attacks, alongside Lynch and Longshore and Pat White and Steve Slaton. When you have talent at both running back and quarterback, teams can't gang up on you.

Texas Tech Texas A&M Texas Tech at Texas A&M
ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
Texas Tech enters the game at 3-1, with wins over UTEP, SMU and Southeastern Louisiana. The Red Raiders' lone loss was to No. 20 TCU, 12-3. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is 4-0 and was tested only by Army (a 28-24 win at home). It remains to be seen what kind of team Dennis Franchione has, but this game could provide a good indication. The only other team in the nation that is in a similar situation is Virginia Tech, which will also get its first test of the season on Saturday, against Georgia Tech.

The teams have comparable talent. Texas A&M entered the season with issues on defense; Tech's D was humbled by the Horned Frogs. Both offenses boast power. This could easily turn into a shoot-out. I've been impressed with the Aggies' quarterback, Stephen McGee -- he's thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 68.9 percent of his passes. It will be interesting to see how he does in conference play. Right now, it's hard to say how good the Aggies' offense is. Tech's quarterback, Graham Harrell, has also been putting up impressive numbers; he has completed 117 of his 177 passes for 11 touchdowns with two interceptions. Harrell consistently puts up good numbers against weaker teams, but was kept scoreless and completed just 48.9 percent of his passes against TCU.

Texas Tech will have to deal with playing on the road and handling a big, rowdy crowd. The Aggies will have to use their new 4-2-5 defensive scheme to pressure Harrell into making mistakes. It's more than likely that the winner of this game will be whoever has the ball last.

Ohio State Iowa No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Iowa
ABC, 8 p.m. ET
If Ohio State plans to win the Big Ten and compete for a national championship, this is one of the games the Buckeyes must win. They must win on the road in a hostile environment against a team that knows how to win. This is not the Iowa we've seen in previous years, particularly on defense. At the same time, it's hard to get a feel for how good the Hawkeyes are. Last year, Iowa traveled to the Shoe and lost 31-6. In 2004, Iowa snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Buckeyes with a win at home.

Iowa presents a number of challenges for Ohio State's defense. Quarterback Drew Tate is a winner. He does what is necessary to win big games. He is a consummate leader, and has a talented and versatile, albeit inexperienced, supporting cast. The one thing that impressed me last week about the Buckeyes, however, was the defense's ability to keep them in a big game. The offense isn't always going to be dominant -- although don't expect a consecutive subpar performances from QB Troy Smith -- and Penn State isn't the nation's top offense, but the Buckeyes proved they could rely on their defense.

Ohio State's offense gives it the edge in this matchup. The Buckeyes have it all -- a creative, veteran quarterback; a powerful, tailback-oriented offense; and flexible, talented receivers. This game and their Oct. 14 matchup against Michigan State are the Buckeyes' biggest hurdles before the season finale against No. 6 Michigan on Nov. 18.

Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.

WELCOME HOME
Tulane Tulane hosts a true home game for the first time since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. The Green Wave host a 2-2 SMU squad that lost to Texas Tech and North Texas earlier this season.

Tulane coach Chris Scelfo, in his eighth year with the program, coached with me at Georgia, Marshall and Oklahoma. I've been in tune with what he and his team have had to go through in the past 13 months. It was good to see Tulane win at Mississippi State (the Green Wave enter Saturday's game 1-2, with losses to LSU and Houston). Even though Saturday's game won't be as emotional or receive the national attention that the Saints' return to the Superdome did, it will be rewarding for the team -- and its fans -- to have a chance to play at home.

What this team has gone through in the past year is something no one would want to do. The things teams take for granted -- lifting weights and working out together -- were things Tulane couldn't do until June. That's a decided disadvantage. Everyone associated with Tulane -- coaches, players, fans and students -- deserves a lot of credit for demonstrating so much courage and perseverance during a trying time.

GAME TAPE
Upset Special
WATCH LIST
Georgia Tech
Georgia TechCan the Yellow Jackets find a way to protect the ball against Virginia Tech's defense?
Virginia Tech
Georgia TechCan the Hokies find a way to get a passing game going against Georgia Tech's blitzkrieg defense?
Florida
Georgia TechHow much will the suspension of tackle Marcus Thomas affect the Gators' defense? Can the secondary hold up against one of the nation's toughest schedules without this dominating guy on D?
USC
Georgia TechHow much will USC and QB John David Booty miss Dwayne Jarrett (shoulder) if he's not 100 percent on Saturday? The Trojans tout the nation's top receiving corps, but they'll need Patrick Turner and Steve Smith to step up.
Purdue
Georgia TechThe Boilermakers are undefeated, but how will they play against in-state rival Notre Dame? Purdue's offense has developed, but its D has not. Could be a shoot-out.
FRESHMAN STANDOUT
Cox
Cox

Georgia quarterback Joe Cox gave one of the weekend's most impressive performances on Saturday. The third-string redshirt freshman came in for freshman starter Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter, with the Dawgs facing a 13-0 deficit to unheralded Colorado. Cox immediately went to work, orchestrating two scores -- including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Martrez Milner with 46 seconds remaining for the win.

His performance, however, was secondary to his attitude. Throughout fall and spring practices, he never talked about transferring because of a lack of playing time. In an age of "what's in it for me," Cox is the ultimate team player. He hung in there, kept his head up, and when he had a chance to lead the team, he got the win. I give him a lot of credit for that. Sometimes when it looks the darkest, it's hard to stay positive. Players owe it to themselves and to their teammates to keep a positive outlook. To have a winning team, you need to have guys who are role players, but when given the opportunity, they step up. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, and Cox sent a good message to all athletes with his play on Saturday.

KICKING CONCERNS
Tiffin
Tiffin

After Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin missed three field goals and a crucial extra point attempt in overtime of Saturday's game against Arkansas, many people had questions about how to handle an underperforming kicker. So much of the game is mental; however, you have to deal with every player and every position differently. Some players improve when you get after them; others can't handle that pressure. I am sure coach Mike Shula knows the kid, and there's no one who feels worse than Tiffin.

Tiffin has reason for hope, though: The 2005 recipient of the Lou Groza Award (given to college football's best kicker), Alexis Serna, started off his career in much the same way. In 2004, Serna's Oregon State team opened the season against reigning national champion LSU at Death Valley. Like Tiffin, Serna was also a walk-on freshman. And like Tiffin, Serna missed three extra point attempts -- including one in overtime -- in a game Oregon would eventually lose, 22-21. He went on to complete 29 consecutive extra points and make 17 of 20 field goals in the remainder of the season.

Of course, Serna's case is unusual, and of all the places for a kicker to resurrect himself, the Swamp (Alabama travels to Florida this week) is not where anyone would want to do it. There is a possibility that last year's starter, Jamie Christensen, could return from a groin injury to play. Kickers should take solace in the fact that everyone shares in a loss, and that games are won and lost in 60 minutes, not in one play.

MOST IMPROVED
Colorado Colorado at No. 25 Missouri
Two teams that have shown vast improvement over the course of a few weeks match up on Saturday. Colorado gave No. 10 Georgia a scare before losing 14-13. Missouri broke into the Top 25 this week after starting the season 4-0.

The Buffaloes seem to have found a bit of offensive infusion with the switch to Bernard Jackson at quarterback. He's a guy who can jump around and make plays. It was a drastic improvement over the team's loss to Division I-AA Montana State. Colorado's defense hasn't been playing badly this season, and now that the team is playing well together, expect the 0-8 streak to end relatively soon.

Missouri But that probably won't happen this week. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel looked like a potential threat on offense in limited time last season, but no one expected him to be this good. Daniel is completing 63.4 percent of his passes and has thrown for nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. There was a big question mark at the position when the team lost Brad Smith, but Missouri is proving its talent runs deep.

DONNAN TO GO
Podcast
Jim Donnan and Michael Kim break down all of the week's top matchups every Friday on the ESPNU College Football Insider. Podcast

Jim Donnan

College Football
Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.