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September 24, 2008

Five to watch: Big week in the Big Ten

It was good to be the SEC road team last week.

Alabama ripped Arkansas and looks like a player in the Western Division. LSU and Florida won away from home against big rivals. Georgia, already with a road win over South Carolina, won its longest road trip in decades against Arizona State.

This week, two Big Ten hopefuls look to pad their resumes with major road wins Wisconsin hopes to win at Michigan for the first time since 1994 and Illinois hopes to win at Penn State for the first time ever.

In the SEC, Georgia returns home to face Alabama. For the second consecutive week, ESPN gets the top SEC game over CBS, which is the conference's flagship network. CBS opted for Florida-Tennessee ahead of LSU-Auburn last week. This weekend, ESPN chose Alabama-Georgia; there are three predetermined weekends where ESPN gets first dibs on the SEC game.

But enough of all the wheeling and dealing, here are the Five to Watch for the week.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 5 FIVE TO WATCH
WISCONSIN AT MICHIGAN

When: 3:30 p.m.
TV: ABC regional/ESPN
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Bob Griese and Paul Maguire analysts
Line: Wisconsin by 6
Why you should watch: Wisconsin faces a make-or-break October, but first the Badgers must get through what might be their toughest Big Ten road trip (they also travel to Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana). In the next two weeks, the Badgers get Ohio State and Penn State at home. Wisconsin hasn't won in Ann Arbor since 1994. After losing to Utah and Notre Dame, Michigan still is looking for its first "good" win under new coach Rich Rodriguez.

TCU AT OKLAHOMA

When: 7 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Broadcasters: Joel Meyers play-by-play, Dave Lapham analyst
Line: Oklahoma by 17
Why you should watch: The point spread says Oklahoma should win this comfortably, but TCU won their last meeting 17-10 in Norman three years ago. The Horned Frogs lead the nation in rush defense and total defense, but Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford has been unstoppable. Something to ponder: Could TCU have the best defense the Sooners will face this season? This will be either a muscle-flexing game for Oklahoma heading into the Big 12 schedule or another statement game for TCU and the Mountain West.

ALABAMA AT GEORGIA

When: 7:45 P.M.
TV: ESPN
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
Line: Georgia by 6
Why you should watch: Here's a scary thought for Mark Richt: The SEC and, by extension, Georgia's schedule may be tougher than we thought it would be in August. This game is the second top-10 SEC matchup in two weeks. Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage in its rout of Clemson in Week 1. Meanwhile, Georgia has lost a starting offensive tackle and defensive tackle to injury. If we're lucky, this will be a replay of last season's matchup, when Alabama rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter and Georgia won in overtime. If we're unlucky, ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick will start referencing Britney Spears at critical junctures again.

ILLINOIS AT PENN STATE

When: 8 p.m.
TV: ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
Line: Penn State by 13
Why you should watch: We knew this would be a big game in the Big Ten race at the start of the season, but it is more interesting now that Ohio State looks quite beatable. Penn State is running an offensive scheme it calls "Spread HD" with success so far. The Nittany Lions are in the top 10 in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense, but they've done it against patsies Coastal Carolina, Syracuse and Temple. Illinois is something of an unknown quantity, too, after allowing 52 points to Missouri and needing to gut out a win in the fourth quarter against Louisiana-Lafayette. The odds are Illinois quarterback Juice Williams' newfound passing abilities will come into play at some point.

VIRGINIA TECH AT NEBRASKA

When: 8 p.m.
TV: ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Chris Spielman analyst
Line: Nebraska by 7
Why you should watch: Anyone else get the feeling this intriguing non-conference game has fallen through the cracks? Nebraska has started 3-0 under new coach Bo Pelini but the Huskers have beaten Western Michigan, San Jose State and New Mexico State. Virginia Tech gained notice in a bad way by losing its opener to East Carolina, then by pulling the redshirt off sophomore quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Still, it should be quality viewing. Nebraska is looking for a win over a major-conference power before entering Big 12 play. As for the Hokies, a win at Nebraska could help restore some luster.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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