Yesterday we took a look at the first four games on our Saturday Slate of Eight as we took a more in depth look into FSU-Clemson, Kansas-Kansas State, South Carolina-Arkansas and Oregon State-Cal. Today we take a gander at the second have of the Saturday Slate and analyze the four biggest games of the weekend.
Southern Cal @ Arizona State
Oklahoma @ Nebraska
Ohio State @ Penn State
LSU @ Alabama
Each of these games features at least one ranked opponent and six of the eight teams are firmly embroiled in a conference title race. Southern Cal and Arizona are, for all intents and purposes, on the outside looking in as Oregon sprints to the Pac 10 title but the Trojans need to rebound to have an opportunity at an at-large BCS bowl. In the Big XII Nebraska needs to claw out of the bottom half of the North while OU needs to stay afloat in case Texas slips up down the stretch.
The last two games are the weekends marquee match ups. In the Big 10 both Penn State and Ohio State have one loss and need to win in order to keep pace with the undefeated Hawkeyes. In the SEC the biggest game of the season takes place in Tuscaloosa and recruits, rankings and the SEC West title is on the line tomorrow afternoon.
Southern Cal @ Arizona State
ABC, 8pm- Mike Patrick, Craig James, Heather Cox
Southern Cal -10
The Trojans are coming off their worst loss since the mid-90's and are out of the national title hunt for good. Their streak of seven straight Pac 10 titles is over barring a miracle and they are trotting out a defense that has looked absolutely pedestrian the last three games; giving up 27, 36 and 47 points. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley hasn't been the problem as his passer rating averages out to a hearty 146.14 during that same three game stretch.
Arizona State has played most of their schedule tight with the exception of a 33-14 loss to the Stanford Cardinal. While quarterback Danny Sullivan has struggled their defense has been strong enough to keep their contests within reach. A win Saturday could be the marquee win Dennis Erickson has been searching for during his three year stint in the desert and with the Pac 10 Title out of reach a victory over USC is the next best way to get some recruiting juice.
The truth hurts and after nearly a decade of having their way with the Pac 10 the 2009 Trojans are vulnerable. This is the perfect storm for the Sun Devils: An inconsistent offensive attack, a porous defense, a young quarterback, no true playmaker and the men of Troy are limping in after seeing their national title shot snatched away by Oregon. Without a proven veteran quarterback like the Booty, Leinart, Palmer or Sanchez's or a playmaker in the Bush, Jarrett, White or Williams mold USC doesn't have that fire starter who ignited past squads.
The tempest is brewing but here is where freshman Barkley; not the disappointing Trojan defense, steps up. The frosh shows the poise, character and unflappability the Carroll saw from him in high school and after his early enrollment.
Southern Cal 37 Arizona State 24
Oklahoma @ Nebraska
ABC, 8pm- Ron Franklin, Ed Cunningham
The Sooners have had a heck of a ride during the 2009 season. Opened the year ranked #3 and saw their star quarterback knocked out in the first half of the their season opener. They spiraled down hill losing the BYU game, then being knocked off by a young and talented Miami before getting out muscled by Texas in an ugly Red River Shoot Out. They've appeared to finally get their feet underneath them and are slowly trying to climb back up the polls now locked in at #24.
For Nebraska folks were expecting Bo Pelini to build on last years 9-4 records and while the record isn't much better the Huskers are within striking distance of their first Big XII North Title since 2006. If they win out they'll be headed to the Big XII Title Game and that would be a small victory for Corn Nation.
The Sooners problems don't lie on the defensive side of the ball as in their three losses they've given up a combined 51 points or 17 points per. Their issue is one purely of offensive consistency. The inability to move the football through the air or on the ground has been the reason for OU averaging just over 15 points per game in their losses. The offensive line is inconsistent, the receivers aren't reliable and the Sooners rely too heavily on the pass. Especially for a team with Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray in the backfield.
Nebraska's biggest star, Ndamukong Suh, should have his way with the Sooners offensive line as they haven't shown the ability to block a dominant interior force. Unfortunately for the Huskers the OU defense, under Brent Venables, has been playing quite solid this season and should handle the Nebraska offense. Landry Jones will find his groove with the short passing game to Ryan Broyles, Murray and expect heavy doses of Brown and Murray on the ground as the Sooners blow open this game late.
Oklahoma 38 Nebraska 17
Ohio State @ Penn State
ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm- Sean McDonough, Matt Millen, Holly Rowe
Penn State -4
The Ohio State Buckeyes enter this contest with the 6th ranked defense in the nation, two losses and a sliver of hope for winning the Big 10 title. Their offense has been explosive in the weeks following the Purdue loss; piling up points in routes against New Mexico and Minnesota. However, Terrelle Pryor's ability to throw the football has been compounded by the Buckeyes sudden regression in the running game.
While the vaunted Buckeye defense is ranked 6th the Nittany Lions are coming in one spot ahead of them. Happy Valley should be pumped for this game as the Lions work to stay within a game of Iowa. Quarterback Daryll Clark is the anti-Pryor, a guy who isn't flashy, didn't have a ton of hype, bided his time and now is a reliable, confident college quarterback.
Both defenses are solid units so the questions surrounding this game revolve around the offensive side of the ball. Pryor vs Clark. The calm quiet senior vs the hyped big armed sophomore. Pryor's been a hot topic from everything surrounding his apparent regression as a quarterback to the student T's printed denoting Terrelle Crier. While the pressure is on Pryor the Lions have the most to lose.
Expect Daryll Clark to methodically move the Penn State offense against this Buckeye defense that has had their problems stopping people at times. Look for heavy doses of Evan Royster to soften draw Ohio State in before Clark hits several long shots against the Buckeye secondary. With Penn State getting a couple touchdowns early Pryor will have to get out of his comfort zone and there will likely be costly turnovers.
Penn State 27 Ohio State 17
LSU @ Alabama
CBS, 3:30pm- Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy Wolfson
This game is the showcase of the weekend as #3 Alabama plays hosts to #9 LSU in a packed Bryant-Denny Stadium. The ghosts of the Bear will be resurrected as there'll be enough houndstooth to make the wraith feel quite comfortable. Plenty of cajuns will make the trip five-plus hour trip up from the bayou and two of the nations best fanbases will collide in this Top Ten Battle.
Alabama is the undisputed physical champion of college football as they are like a prize fighter pummeling their opponents and daring each adversary to pick themselves up off the bloody canvas. Mark Ingram, the punchy and tough running back, is the leading Heisman candidate at the moment and he is the rock that solidifies the Tide's offense. Defensively Bama has fully adopted Nick Saban's cutthroat personality and Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas and Terrence Cody are among the nation's best at the three levels of defense.
For the Tigers there are three keys to this game for the LSU Tigers offense. Those keys are better known as Jordan Jefferson, Russell Shepard and Charles Scott. Yes, receivers Brandon LaFell and Terrance Tolliver will be crucial but without Jefferson throwing accurate passes and making good decisions they are non-factors. Gary Crowton must find a way to make the Tigers' best weapons, Scott and Shepard hurt the Bama defense.
Alabama and LSU enter the game ranked 4th and 15th in total defense and 17th and 8th in turnover margin respectively. They're about as evenly matched as any two teams in the nation. Not necessarily from a rankings stand point but rather from a physicality and approach to football. Both Miles and Saban want to physically wear on their opponents and have been incredibly successful this season in doing so.
When dealing with two physical monsters of this caliber the special teams and quarterback play; more specifically the return game and turnovers will come into play. Both teams have a knack for getting timely turnovers and turning them into points. Between Jefferson and Greg McElroy's inconsistency at the quarterback position there are interceptions to be forced with pressure and tight coverage.
While Alabama is the favorite the X-factor going into this game is the ability of LSU to find creative ways to stay in ball games. Les Miles is a wiley coach and as long as Gary Crowton doesn't handcuff the offense; a la the Florida game, the Tigers will have more than a punchers chance in Tuscaloosa. Miles has emerged victorious his first two trips to Tuscaloosa and the Tigers are the most disrespected of the SEC's elite and here is a chance for them to earn that respect.
Look for a big return from Trindon Holliday to be the difference in this game as the Alabama coverage units have shown themselves vulnerable at times. The Tide is currently ranked 79th in punt return yardage and 110th in kickoff coverage. With Holliday the Tigers will always have a chance to take one to the house and that will be the difference in this contest.
LSU 24 Alabama 17