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September 19, 2008
Keep an eye on: Things to watch in Week 4
Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend.
NOTRE DAME: Are the Fighting Irish really back, or do they head south against Michigan State? They're 2-0, but against less-than-stellar opponents (sorry, Michigan, but you are rebuilding). They rank 96th in the country in total offense and 70th in total defense. Now comes a physical Michigan State squad that will be a much bigger test than either of the first two opponents. Although the successful start has pumped much-needed confidence into the Irish players, I believe the Spartans will use their powerful running attack to knock off the Irish. But if ND plays good football and continues to show improvement, the program will continue to head in the direction that Charlie Weis wants.
THE PAC-10: The Pac-10 is the latest conference to have its legitimacy questioned after last week's debacle in which its teams were 3-7 in non-conference games. Will it bounce back from that disastrous weekend? There are four non-conference games on the schedule, including one that offers a great chance for redemption. If Rudy Carpenter leads Arizona State to an upset of Georgia, it will prove the Sun Devils just weren't taking UNLV seriously last week. Of course, if Arizona State, Oregon (vs. Boise State), Washington State (vs. Portland State) and Stanford (vs. San Jose State) lose, it will reinforce the growing belief that the Pac-10 is merely USC and nine mediocre programs.
FLORIDA STATE'S OFFENSE: This is the moment Florida State watchers have been waiting for. This is when we'll discover the true fiber of the 2008 Seminoles and if the program is ready to rebound from consecutive 7-6 seasons. A 69-0 annihilation of Western Carolina and a 46-7 whipping of Chattanooga tell us nothing about FSU. This visit from Wake Forest will. Gone are the days when the Seminoles used to smash the Demon Deacons 72-13 and 58-7. This is a new-world ACC order, with Wake standing as one of the conference's best programs under coach Jim Grobe. Unlike Florida State, the Deacons are battle-tested, having won at Baylor (41-13) and against Ole Miss (30-28). Plus, Grobe will have had two weeks to prep for FSU. The Seminoles' defense should be salty, but how about the offense? The line will start two redshirt freshmen and a true freshman vs. a Wake team that's tough against the run and excels at generating turnovers. Neophyte quarterback Christian Ponder still is taking baby steps for a program that has played more true freshmen (22) than any in the nation.
VANDERBILT-OLE MISS: The race is on in the SEC this week, with Florida visiting Tennessee and LSU visiting Auburn. However, there's a key game elsewhere in the league - in Oxford, Miss. Vanderbilt is a surprising 3-0 and Ole Miss is 2-1 with a narrow loss to Wake Forest. No one is suggesting the Commodores or the Rebels will make noise in the championship picture, but this might be a must-win game for teams looking to reach a bowl game. You won't be able to truly keep an eye on this game unless you're at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium or watching it on tape-delay, so keep an eye out for the final score.
THE BIG TEN: Hey, call me a masochist, but I am interested in seeing how a few league teams perform, most notably Purdue (vs. Central Michigan), Indiana (vs. Ball State), Minnesota (vs. Florida Atlantic) and Iowa (at Pittsburgh). All four Big Ten teams could lose. I'm interested in finding out how Purdue bounces back from a disappointing OT loss to Oregon against a CMU team that can score. I'm wondering if IU's defense can withstand Ball State's passing attack. I want to know if Minnesota can avenge last season's loss to FAU. And I'm intrigued by Iowa's defense and how it will perform against a quasi-legitimate offense. I also wonder if Iowa's offense will do anything to help its defense. The potential exists for a nightmare P.R. weekend for the Big Ten, just as the Pac-10 suffered last Saturday.
THE SEC: This week will go a long way toward shaping the SEC for the rest of the season. The winner of the LSU-Auburn game will join Alabama as Western Division front-runners, assuming the Crimson Tide defeat Arkansas this week. The Florida-Tennessee game will determine Georgia's most likely challenger in the East. This week also will answer plenty of questions that surround the SEC's top contenders. Is LSU running back Charles Scott as good as his early season performances suggest? Can Auburn's offense finally find its rhythm? Can Florida's young defensive tackles shut down Tennessee's potent rushing attack? Has Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton learned from his disappointing season-opening performance against UCLA? By the end of the week, we should know the answers to those questions. We also should know the identity of the top SEC title contenders.