Jim Donnan's Viewer's Guide
USC-Notre Dame isn't the only big game this week. Jim Donnan breaks down what to watch for this Saturday.
No. 16 Michigan St. at
No. 15 Ohio St.
Saturday, Noon ET The Spartans and Buckeyes are among the seven teams in the Big Ten with one league loss, and the loser of this game can forget about winning the conference.
A lot of things have been said about Ohio State's lack of offense, but this is a week when the Buckeyes are going to have to step up offensively. Ohio State's defense is as good as it gets, but Michigan State's offense is going to score some points. Michigan State's defense is suspect, so Buckeyes QB Troy Smith should be able to get into a rhythm on offense, move the ball and make some plays.
For Michigan State to win, it will have to eliminate the things that plagued the team last year: penalties and turnovers. The Spartans need to go in with the same mind-set they do every game and not give OSU's defense too much credit. Defensively, they have to make Ohio State's offense work for everything because the Buckeyes have stopped themselves all year.
-- Jim Donnan
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No. 1 USC at
No. 9 Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET This is the start of a five-game home stand for the Irish. In fact, they only have one road game left on their schedule, Nov. 26 at Stanford. Pete Carroll's Trojans are in the middle of a five-week stretch in which they play four road games.
Notre Dame's defense is going to be exposed against USC quarterback Matt Leinart, just like it was against Michigan State and Drew Stanton. Coach Charlie Weis has had a week to get ready, but I still think the Irish are going to have a hard time slowing down USC's offense.
At the same time, Notre Dame's offense is going to present more problems than any team USC has faced because the Irish can run and pass. Oregon and Arizona State both were one-dimensional offenses. Notre Dame has to get the crowd in the game early, hope USC gets off to yet another bad start, and jump out and get so far ahead the Trojans can't come back.
There has been so much talk about the offenses of both teams that in a game like this, defensive players take it upon themselves to step up. USC is going to be challenged, but in the end the Trojans have way too much talent for Notre Dame's defense and will make way too many plays.
The big question is which defense is going to step up, and I think Michigan State proved last month that Notre Dame's defense is vulnerable. USC's defense is better than Michigan State's, so I give the Trojans the edge.
No. 24 Colorado at
No. 2 Texas
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET This very well could be a preview of the Big 12 Championship. Colorado has developed some toughness that going into the season I didn't know the Buffaloes had. Even though CU lost at Miami, the Buffs' defense held up against the Hurricanes. Last week, QB Joel Klatt had a big game, and the way Gary Barnett's team destroyed Texas A&M probably got Texas' attention.
Texas has to be ready every week. The Longhorns have bull's-eyes on their chests, but this team is too mature and has too many weapons. As well as QB Vince Young is playing, I would like to see Texas exploit running back Jamaal Charles a little more.
Texas got over a huge mental hurdle last week against Oklahoma. However, I don't expect there will be any mental letdown by the Longhorns. As with USC, there is too much at stake.
The big factor in Texas' favor is that its defense is talented and well-coached. If the Longhorns have a bad game offensively, this defense is strong enough to keep them in any game against any opponent. I don't know whether USC's is good enough to do that.
No. 8 Penn State at
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET Michigan has alternated wins and losses in each of its first six games. However, under coach Lloyd Carr at home, the Wolverines are 7-0 against top-10 teams.
Michigan's offense will pose more of a challenge than that of any team Penn State has faced so far, particularly with running back Mike Hart back. Joe Paterno's squad can't go in to Ann Arbor and win a game 10-7 or 17-10 because Michigan is going to put points on the board.
The big key in this game is that it's only Penn State's second road game of the season. I want to see how the Nittany Lions handle success now that they are ranked so high. Michigan has to do some soul searching, and I look for the Wolverines to come back and play a big game. They had national title goals, and those are out the window. With two losses in the conference, even winning the Big Ten isn't an option anymore. Michigan needs to redirect its team goals, and part of that would be knocking off an unbeaten Penn State.
No. 11 Florida at
No. 10 LSU
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET Like Michigan State-Ohio State, this is another elimination game since both teams already have one loss in the SEC. The big keys for the Gators are: (1) getting any offensive play out of their running game and (2) pass protection. Their offensive line has given up way too many sacks (20), and they haven't been able to run the ball. Quarterback Chris Leak is going to be facing a really good defensive front. On defense, Florida's secondary has to be able match up with LSU's speed.
The Tigers still have to prove they can play a four-quarter game. Les Miles' team played only one good half against Tennessee,and a good second half against Arizona State and Vanderbilt. That's what happens when you have a new coach. I've seen steady development in sophomore QB JaMarcus Russell, and LSU has a big edge at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Both teams have to look at doing everything to compete for the SEC Championship. Both divisions in the SEC have teams that are unbeaten in conference play (Alabama and Auburn in the West Division, Georgia in the East). Come Saturday night, either Florida or LSU will be out of the race in the SEC.
No. 19 Louisville at
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET Louisville's offense has been unbelievable at home but needs to prove it can play at the same level on the road. If that's the case, then it is going to be tough for West Virginia because the Mountaineers have had trouble mustering points.
WVU presents a lot of problems because it runs a 3-3-5 defense, which is hard to prepare for. The Mountaineers are tough to beat at home, but their best chance is if they can keep the Cardinals' offense off the field. West Virginia has to do something to control Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil (who leads the nation with 14 sacks), avoid third-and-long situations and eat the clock.
No. 4 Florida State at
Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET You never want to look ahead, but the Seminoles have a three-game season (road games remaining at Virginia, Clemson and Florida) to get into national championship contention and it starts Saturday in Charlottesville.
I've been impressed with the way QB Drew Weatherford has been brought along. He's getting better every week, and as he gets better, the running game with Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker will get better. The Seminoles put such a lot of emphasis on throwing the ball that they haven't been patient in the running game. Look for FSU to hand the ball to Washington and Booker more.
Virginia is reeling, and teams are moving the ball on its defense. Marques Hagans is the type of QB that has given Bobby Bowden's teams problems over the years; he is very mobile and can beat you throwing or with his legs. Florida State relies on getting teams in second-and-long situations because of its pass-rush; however, Hagans has the ability to avoid getting sacked.
FSU had better be ready, but if the Seminoles do show up ready, they will be OK.
-- Jim Donnan
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