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Top 25 College Football weekend previews

Posted: September 26, 2013 - 11:09pm
FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde running against Florida A&M during an NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio. While rolling over four hapless non-conference opponents, No. 4 Ohio State has hardly been challenged. A Buckeyes team that has been in control for the first month of the season may have to shift gears on Saturday night when it faces No. 23 Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)  Jay LaPrete
Jay LaPrete
FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 file photo, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde running against Florida A&M during an NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio. While rolling over four hapless non-conference opponents, No. 4 Ohio State has hardly been challenged. A Buckeyes team that has been in control for the first month of the season may have to shift gears on Saturday night when it faces No. 23 Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

No. 21 Mississippi (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) at No. 1 Alabama (3-0, 1-0), 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Alabama by 16. Alabama looks to put together its first complete game and is coming off a lackluster performance against Colorado State that prompted several team leaders to speak up in the locker room. The Rebels are seeking their first 4-0 start since 1970, and can make a big statement with an upset. Alabama secondary versus Ole Miss receivers. Alabama is hoping to get defensive backs Deion Belue and Jarrick Williams back from injuries. The secondary gave up bunches of yards against the last face-paced offense, Texas A&M, it faced and must contend with freshman Laquon Treadwell, Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan. Alabama has won the last nine meetings, though three of the victories were vacated from 2005-07. The Rebels are seeking their first 4-0 start since 1970. They’re 0-9 against No. 1 teams and haven’t faced a ranked opponent this season. Alabama is expected to get injured WRs Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood back for the game. The Tide has been held below 100 yards on the ground twice in three games and ranks last in the SEC in rushing. This is the first time Ole Miss has played in Tuscaloosa two consecutive years since 1931-32. Ole Miss LB Denzel Nkemdiche (knee) might return after being sideline since the season opener.

California (1-2) at No. 2 Oregon (3-0), 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Line: Oregon by 36 ½. Oregon has won four straight overall against the Golden Bears, who haven’t won in Eugene since 2007. Oregon has won each of its first three games this season by more than 40 points, and average 61.3 points per game. Cal has had a rough start, facing three ranked teams in its first four games. The Bears lost their opener to No. 22 Northwestern, and fell to No. 4 Ohio State on Sept. 14. Oregon’s quick offense against Cal’s porous defense. Twenty-one of the Ducks’ 25 touchdown drives have taken less than two minutes, and Oregon’s time of possession is a meager 22:18, last among FBS schools. Cal, meanwhile, has allowed opponents an average of 42 points per game, last in the Pac-12. Cal has not defeated a ranked opponent on the road since beating No. 14 Stanford in 2009. The Golden Bears’ offense has run 90 or more plays from the line of scrimmage in all three games this season. Cal has scored 17 points off of six turnovers. Oregon freshman TE Johnny Mundt made his first start in Oregon’s 59-14 victory over Tennessee on Sept 14, with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. RB De’Anthony Thomas has run for six touchdowns. He needs three more to tie Derek Loville (1986-89) for third all-time at Oregon with 45. The Ducks rank in the top five nationally in scoring offense (61.3) and scoring defense (9.0).

Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1 ACC) at No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0), 3:32 p.m. (ESPNU)

Line: Clemson by 28 ½. No. 3 Clemson has national championship aspirations. The 2011 ACC champs would like to get its offense cranking right from the start after a sluggish league opener, when the Tigers beat N.C. State 26-14 . Wake Forest has lost to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe and hopes to score a major upsetWake Forest WR Michael Campanaro vs. Clemson’s secondary. Campanaro leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with eight catches a game and is second with 118 yards receiving per game. The Tigers are 12th out of 14 teams in league passing defense, allowing more than 230 yards a game through the air. Clemson has won four straight and six of the past seven games with Wake Forest The Demon Deacons lone win in that stretch came in 2008 and touched off an upheaval at Clemson as then coach Tommy Bowden was let go and current coach Dabo Swinney got the job on an interim basis. Swinney later was hired fulltime. Wake Forest NG Nikita Whitlock had a career-best 15 tackles in his team’s 25-11 victory over Army last week. Clemson K Chandler Catanzaro accounted for eight points last week to become the school’s career scoring leader with 330 career points, moving past Aaron Hunt.

No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 4 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0), 8 p.m. (ABC)

Line: Ohio State by 7. Wisconsin has won the last three Big Ten championships and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has told his players that the Badgers are the “kings” of the conference until someone knocks them off. This game will have a huge impact on whether they retain that title. The Buckeyes have won 16. Wisconsin RBs Melvin Gordon and James White against Ohio State’s defense. The Badgers are third in the nation in rushing, averaging 350 yards a game. They will, early and often, test Ohio State’s interior defense which includes six first-year starters among the front seven. If the Badgers are successful, it’ll put extra pressure on the Buckeyes — with either Braxton Miller or Kenny Guiton at QB — to have a big night at Ohio Stadium. The last time Wisconsin beat Ohio State, 31-18 in 2010, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1. The Badgers haven’t won at the Horseshoe since 2004. First-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen was a valued assistant under Meyer on the Utah team that went 12-0 in 2004. The Badgers are 12-0 when White rushes for at least 100 yards. Miller, who is listed as a game-time decision but was tentatively listed as No. 1 on the depth chart, needs just 13 yards to become the all-time leading rusher among QBs at Ohio State. Wisconsin has lost four of its last seven night games, while Ohio State, which is 36-20 after dark, has won its last four since.

No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) vs. Washington State (3-1, 1-0) at CenturyLink Field, Seattle, 10 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Stanford by 9 ½. Stanford looks to extend its 11-game win streak — second longest in the country — ahead of trio of showdowns looming at home against Washington (Oct. 5), UCLA (Oct. 19) and Oregon (Nov. 7). Washington State makes it annual trip across the mountains with a chance to prove its resurgence early this season is further along than most believe. The Cougars have not started a season with four wins in five games since 2003, the last time Washington State went to a bowl game. Stanford’s DL vs. Washington State’s OL. Stanford manhandled the Cougars up front a year ago. The Cardinal set a school record with 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in the 24-17 victory. The Cougars were limited to (minus)-18 yards rushing. Keeping QB Connor Halliday standing will be crucial if the Cougars are to hang around. Stanford will be without G David Yankey due to a family situation. S Ed Reynolds will be suspended for the first half after being ejected last week against Arizona State for targeting. Washington State last beat Stanford in 2007 in Pullman. Stanford 15-2 in the month of September since 2009. Only loses at Wake Forest (‘09) and at Washington (‘12). Washington State hosted the Oregon schools in Seattle the past two seasons. They are scheduled to open next season against Rutgers on Labor Day weekend in Seattle.

No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 9 Georgia (2-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Line: Georgia by 3. A big boost in the national championship race, especially for Georgia. If the Bulldogs can beat a couple of Top 10 teams in the opening month of the season (they already knocked off then-No. 6 South Carolina), they would be in good position to claim a spot in their third straight SEC championship game. LSU has a much tougher schedule the rest of the way, including games against No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 Texas A&M. Georgia’s young defense vs. LSU’s running game. If Jeremy Hill and the Tigers are able to run the ball effectively, it will open up things for Zach Mettenberger and the passing game. Hill is coming off a career-best 184 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Auburn. The Bulldogs, who have three freshmen starters, struggled against South Carolina and Clemson before limiting North Texas to 7 yards rushing last week. This will be the first meeting between the teams since LSU defeated Georgia 42-10 in the 2011 SEC championship game. Their last regular-season matchup came in 2009, when LSU knocked off the Bulldogs 20-13 at Sanford Stadium. Georgia is just the fourth team in the BCS era (since 1998) to play three Top 10 teams in its first four games. LSU has won 29 straight games in September since 2006. The Tigers have scored at least 30 points in their first four games for the first time since 1928 and only the third time in school history. ...Georgia QB Aaron Murray has 102 touchdown passes in his career, 12 shy of the SEC record held by Florida’s Danny Wuerffel.

No. 8 Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) at Boston College (2-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2)

Line: Florida State by 21 ½. Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State begins a stretch of seven consecutive conference games that will determine if the Seminoles play in the title game for the third time in four years. Florida State probably can’t afford more than one ACC loss to keep its BCS championship aspirations alive. And the Seminoles have a road trip to No. 3 Clemson looming Oct. 19. A Boston College victory would give coach Steve Addazio a signature win in his first year with the Eagles. Boston College must establish its running game and TB Andre Williams leads the ACC with 118.7 yards rushing per game. The Eagles offense revolves around a physical ground game and veteran offensive line. That will be necessary to keep Florida State’s No. 5-ranked scoring offense on the sideline. The Seminoles’ No. 45-ranked run defense has allowed 135.3 yards per game. FSU linebacker Telvin Smith and the front seven have to win the line of scrimmage. Florida State has won three straight against Boston College, but lost three of four from 2006-09. The Seminoles have never lost to the Eagles with Jimbo Fisher as coach. The Boston College starting offensive lineman have a combined 82 career starts. Boston College’s 1.67 turnovers per game ranks No. 8 in FBS. FSU receiver Rashad Greene has a touchdown reception in four consecutive games.

No. 10 Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1 SEC) at Arkansas (3-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Line: Off. Texas A&M looks to rebound from a Southeastern Conference-opening loss to No. 1 Alabama when it makes its first road trip of the season — the school’s first visit to Fayetteville since 1990 as a member of the Southwest Conference. Arkansas lost for the first time under coach Bret Bielema last week at Rutgers. The Razorbacks begin a stretch of four straight games against ranked opponents. Arkansas’ secondary against Texas A&M receivers Mike Evans and Malcome Kennedy, who have combined for 41 catches and 793 yards through four games. The Razorbacks struggled in pass coverage in the second half last week against the Scarlet Knights, who rallied from 17 points down behind quarterback Gary Nova’s 346 passing yards. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner who ran circles around Arkansas a year ago. The sophomore accounted for 557 yards of total offense (453 passing, 104 rushing) in a 58-10 win over the Razorbacks a year ago, and he guides an offense that leads the SEC this year with an average of 50.2 points per game. Arkansas RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. With starting quarterback Brandon Allen’s status once again in doubt, thanks to a shoulder injury, Collins and Williams are expected to carry the offense for the Razorbacks. The two have proven up to the challenge so far, with Collins second in the SEC in rushing (120.2 yards per game) and Williams close behind (104.5).

Texas A&M and Arkansas were charter members of the Southwest Conference from 1915 until the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992 The Aggies’ 20-16 win in Fayetteville in 1990 was their first win in Razorback Stadium since 1957 The series will return to Cowboys Stadium after this game through the 2024 season Texas A&M is last in the SEC in scoring and total defense, allowing 30.2 points and 475.2 yards per game Arkansas leads the SEC with 14 sacks, led by senior defensive end Chris Smith’s 5.5 sacks.

No. 11 Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) at West Virginia (2-2, 0-1), noon ET (ESPN)

Line: Oklahoma State by 19. A win could put Oklahoma State in position for its first Top 10 ranking since finishing third in its Fiesta Bowl-winning season in 2011. The Cowboys are playing in their Big 12 opener and don’t want to fall behind Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, which already have conference wins. West Virginia needs to shake off a blowout loss at Maryland last week yet has a monumental task with its next three games against ranked opponents. Oklahoma State QB J.W. Walsh vs. West Virginia’s defense. Walsh is averaging 214 yards passing and a team-high 61 yards rushing per game. West Virginia’s pass defense has improved from the unit that gave up a school record for points last season, including a 55-34 loss in Stillwater, Okla. In the Mountaineers’ 37-0 loss at Maryland last week, the defense was hardly to blame — all of Maryland’s four touchdowns came after West Virginia turnovers. Terps quarterback C.J. Brown threw for 217 yards but was limited to 26 yards on 14 carries. West Virginia is holding opponents to a league-best 157 yards passing per game. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State in 2010. The Cowboys’ offense has seven different players with touchdown receptions already this season. West Virginia’s Nick O’Toole punted eight times at Maryland, including four over 50 yards. Oklahoma State has outscored opponents 136-41 and is looking for its third 4-0 start in four seasons. The Cowboys had 13 plays of 20 yards or more in last year’s win over West Virginia.

No. 12 South Carolina (2-1) at UCF (3-0) Noon (ABC)

Line: South Carolina by 7. The No. 12 Gamecocks begin a stretch of four of their next five games on the road with a trip to unbeaten UCF. South Carolina is trying to extend its streak of 17 straight regular-season victories against nonconference opponents. The Knights are coming off a road win at Penn State and are looking to move to 4-0 for the first time since 1988. UCF QB Blake Bortles vs. South Carolina QB Connor Shaw. Bortles is the fifth rated passer in the nation. South Carolina’s defense hasn’t been stingy in that department, ranked 58th nationally and surrendering 216 yards per game. Shaw is playing some of his best football, though, and has thrown six touchdowns without an interception. He is also completing 64.9 percent of his passes. South Carolina’s last regular-season, nonconference loss came to Clemson in the final game of the 2008 season. These teams last met in Gamecocks’ coach Steve Spurrier’s first game at South Carolina, a 24-15 win in Columbia in 2005. A victory would be Shaw’s 20th as a starting quarterback. The school record is 24. The Knights have scored at least 30 points in each of the first three games for the first time in program history. ...Saturday marks UCF’s first sellout since 2011 against Boston College. ...The Knights enter the game 1-24 against ranked schools and 2-14 against SEC opponents.

No. 14 Oklahoma (3-0) at No. 22 Notre Dame (3-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

Line: Oklahoma 3 1/2. Another loss would put Notre Dame’s hopes of reaching a second straight title game to rest and put reaching the BCS in peril. Oklahoma can avenge last season’s 30-13 loss in Norman to the Irish. Oklahoma offensive line vs. Notre Dame defensive line. The Irish front, anchored by NG Louis Nix, played a key role in holding the Sooners to 15 yards rushing last season, the seventh lowest total in Sooners’ history. The biggest change on the Oklahoma line is that Tyrus Thompson is the starting left tackle instead of Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick by Philadelphia in the NFL draft last spring. For the Irish, DE Sheldon Day has replaced Kapron Lewis-Moore. Notre Dame is 28-4-1 all-time against current members of the Big 12. The last loss came to Texas in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970 — Notre Dame’s first bowl appearance in 45 years and second in school history. The Sooners are 16-4 coming off bye weeks under coach Bob Stoops. Oklahoma has won eight straight regular-season games since losing to Notre Dame. The Kelly Cares Foundation, Kelly’s charity, is encouraging fans to wear green to the game on Saturday. Kelly says the Irish will not be wearing green jerseys, which the Irish have done in years past in big games.

No. 15 Miami (3-0) at South Florida (0-3), Noon. (ESPNU)

Line: Miami by 18½. Miami is looking to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2004, when the Hurricanes started with six straight victories. When the schedule was put together several years ago, this figured to be a good early-season test, but South Florida’s program has been in steady decline. The Bulls opened with a blowout loss to Football Championship Subdivision foe McNeese State and are still trying to give coach Willie Taggart his first win. Miami’s defense, which has allowed three touchdowns through three games, against South Florida’s struggling offense, which has scored four TDs — one less than the Bulls have yielded to opposing defenses on turnovers. Penn State transfer Steven Bench gets the start at quarterback for USF, the third change Taggart has made at the position in four games. Dating to last season, Johnson has scored at least one touchdown in seven consecutive games.

Miami QB Stephen Morris is 10th on Miami’s career passing list, 100 yards shy of moving ahead of Steve Walsh for ninth place. The Hurricanes have won two straight in the intrastate series, including a 6-3 victory in Tampa two years ago. USF’s lone win was a 23-20 overtime decision in Miami Gardens in 2010. USF has lost 12 of its last 13 games. Marcus Shaw leads the Bulls with 398 yards rushing — second in the American Athletic Conference, and eighth nationally, at 132.7 yards per game

Arizona (3-0) at No. 16 Washington (3-0), 7 p.m. (Fox)

Line: Washington by 8. Both Washington and Arizona are seeking 4-0 starts for the first time in a while in the Pac-12 opener for both schools. The Huskies were last 4-0 in 2001, while the Wildcats haven’t won their first four since 2010 when they won seven of eight to start the year before losing their last five. Arizona’s running game vs. Washington defense. TB Ka’Deem Carey went crazy against Washington a year ago. Carey, the national rushing leader last season, ran for 172 yards and the Wildcats rolled up 277 yards rushing against the Huskies. Washington admits Arizona’s offensive pace wore them down, but believes they are better equipped to slow the Wildcats this year thanks to facing their own high-tempo offense in practice. Washington No. 3 in the country in total offense averaging 629 yards per game and are balanced with 303.7 rushing and 325.3 passing. Arizona is plus-6 in turnover margin, best in the Pac-12 and tied for third in the country. Washington’s defense has yet to allow first-quarter points this season and just six in the first half total. None of last eight games in Seattle between teams have been decided by more than 11 points. Cumulative score: Washington 258, Arizona 254.

No. 20 Florida (2-1, 1-0 SEC) at Kentucky (1-2, 0-0), 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

Line: Florida by 13. Series record: Florida leads, 46-17. Florida will try to remain unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division while extending its 26-game winning streak over Kentucky, which is coming off a bye and aims to beat the Gators for the first time since 1986 along with earning its first SEC win since November 2011 against Tennessee. Florida’s winning streak against Kentucky is the current longest in an interrupted series between two teams. Florida leads nearly every SEC defensive category including yards per game (212.3), which ranks second nationally. The Gators will use every facet in an effort to shut down Kentucky’s pass-oriented Air Raid offense that’s tied for fourth in SEC total yardage (490 yards per game) and passing (276.7). But they must do so without disruptive DT Dominique Easley, who sustained a season-ending right knee injury on Tuesday. The Wildcats hope to establish a ground game with either senior Raymond Sanders or freshman JoJo Kemp, but Florida is allowing 55.3 yards per game. Florida wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips was Kentucky’s head coach the past three seasons before being dismissed last November with a 13-24 record. The Gators’ defense has allowed 7 of 37 third-down conversions (18.9. Kentucky has used 14 newcomers including eight freshmen this season. The Wildcats are in the midst of a four-game stretch against ranked schools including three from the SEC. Twelfth-ranked South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama follow.

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