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September 24, 2007

Kentucky, Michigan State in conference races

Each Monday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned while on the road - or things to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Here is our third edition after taking in the sights and sounds of another college football weekend.

Olin Buchanan, Rivals.com Senior National Writer
1. REPORTS OF MICHIGAN'S DEMISE WERE GREATLY EXAGGERATED: Naysayers were pulling the plug on the Wolverines after losses to Appalachian State and Oregon, but Michigan's 14-9 victory over previously unbeaten Penn State proved the Wolverines are a major factor in the Big Ten.

Mike Hart also reminded us that he's a big-time Heisman Trophy contender by posting his fourth-consecutive 100-yard game.

2. TODD BOECKMAN IS DEVELOPING INTO A SOLID QUARTERBACK: Any doubts about Ohio State this season centered on their offense in general and their quarterback in particular. But Boeckman, who had extremely limited playing time before the season, passed for 179 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-7 thrashing of Northwestern.

The Buckeyes already have one of the nation's best defenses, so if Boeckman continues to develop they will have a great shot at another Big Ten championship.

3. NEBRASKA DOESN'T HAVE THE DEFENSE TO WIN THE BIG 12: Nebraska has allowed 89 points in the past two games, including 40 against Ball State on Saturday. Ball State quarterback Nate Davis passed for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns against the Huskers.

That makes you wonder what kind of numbers Missouri's Chase Daniel, Kansas' Todd Reesing, Kansas State's Josh Freeman, Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson and Texas' Colt McCoy will put up against the Huskers.

Steve Megargee, Rivals.com National Writer
1. ARKANSAS IS IN TROUBLE: Arkansas has discovered that having the nation's best tailback tandem doesn't necessarily guarantee team success. The Razorbacks' defense clearly misses end Jamaal Anderson and cornerback Chris Houston, who left school early to enter the NFL Draft. The Razorbacks are allowing 36.3 points per game and have given up a total of 31 fourth-quarter points the past two weeks in losses to Alabama and Kentucky.

Arkansas also continues to have problems passing the ball without injured receiver Marcus Monk.

Quarterback Casey Dick has completed less than half his passes. The more Dick struggles, the more you wonder what the Razorbacks' record might be if Mitch Mustain hadn't transferred. And you also have to wonder how a potential 7-5 season could hinder Darren McFadden's Heisman campaign.

2. FLORIDA'S NOT INVINCIBLE: Florida's 30-24 escape at Ole Miss should offer a little encouragement to the rest of the Southeastern Conference. As good as Tim Tebow and Co. are on offense, the Gators' defense remains a work in progress.

The Gators have allowed at least 20 points in each of their past three games. Florida's defense ranks fifth in the nation against the run, but the Gators are vulnerable against the pass.

Ole Miss' Seth Adams threw for 302 yards Saturday. Florida's offense is good enough to warrant a BCS bid, but the Gators won't win at LSU or repeat as national champs unless their defense makes major strides.

3. NEVER GIVE UP ON WAKE FOREST: The return of quarterback Riley Skinner helped Wake Forest recapture its 2006 magic.

Skinner threw three interceptions Saturday but still led the Demon Deacons to an improbable 31-24 overtime victory over Maryland after missing two games with a separated shoulder.

Maryland led 24-3 and faced third-and-goal from Wake Forest's 3-yard line late in the third quarter before Alphonso Smith's 100-yard interception return brought the Deacons back into the game. Skinner tied the game by throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to John Tereshinski with three seconds left in regulation.

Wake Forest rallied from a 21-point deficit by relying on the same gumption that helped the Deacons go 5-0 in games decided by seven or fewer points last season.

David Fox, Rivals.com National Writer
1. WEST VIRGINIA AT USF WILL BE A CRITICAL MATCHUP IN THE BIG EAST: And in the new tradition of the Big East, this game will be played on a Friday.

With Louisville seemingly out of the picture, the matchup between the Mountaineers and Bulls will take on greater importance.

Both head into the conference opener unbeaten, including wins over their toughest nonconference road opponents. The Bulls won't be intimidated by the Mountaineers after holding Pat White and Steve Slaton to 60 rushing yards in a 24-19 win in Morgantown last season.

2. DESPITE A 44-31 WIN OVER WASHINGTON, UCLA IS IN TROUBLE: UCLA rebounded from an inexplicable 44-6 loss at Utah last week by defeating the upstart Huskies, but left with several questions.

First, who will play quarterback? Backup Patrick Cowan was solid in place of Ben Olson, who missed the game a concussion. Cowan, though, finished the game on crutches after he tackled a Washington defender on a fourth-quarter interception. Karl Dorell called the injury a knee sprain. Walk-on McLeon Bethel-Thompson finished the game.

Just as disconcerting is that UCLA managed to put up 537 yards on Washington only a week after turning the ball over five times and kicking only two field goals against Utah. Which Bruins team will show up next week at Oregon State?

3. LSU HAS SOME OFFENSE, TOO: Florida isn't the only SEC team that has a knack of hitting opponents with a bevy of playmakers.

LSU is loaded with offensive talent and a new coordinator, Gary Crowton, with the ability to capitalize. Saturday against South Carolina, the Tigers' ground game got big plays from 5-foot-6 speedster Trindon Holliday and backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux. LSU also received 88 rushing yards from Jacob Hester.

LSU outrushed South Carolina 290 yards to 17. The Tigers offense will only get better when quarterback Matt Flynn, receiver Early Doucet and guard Will Arnold are healthy.

Mike Huguenin, Rivals.com College Sports Editor
1. THE BIG TEN RACE IS GOING TO BE A FREE-FOR-ALL: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin have shots at the crown. It should make for some entertaining times in what, at times, has been a far-too-staid league.

2. OCTOBER WILL DETERMINE KENTUCKY'S FATE: These are not the same Wildcats of old, but doubt remains. Kentucky was impressive in rallying to win at Arkansas on Saturday, and UK can answer all the remaining questions when it plays South Carolina, LSU and Florida back-to-back-to-back in October. The Wildcats' offense is scary good; alas, the run defense is scary bad.

3. THE WINNER OF OREGON-CAL THIS SATURDAY WILL PLAY IN A BCS BOWL: Both teams can move the ball on anybody, but questions remain about the defenses. Regardless, the winner will leave this game knowing the only team left on the schedule it truly has to fear is USC and that an 11-1 record will mean a BCS invitation.

Gerry Ahern, Yahoo! Sports Senior Editor
1. MICHIGAN STATE IS BETTER THAN ANTICIPATED: The Spartans' 31-14 victory over Notre Dame proved two things: The Irish are horrible and the Spartans (4-0) are capable of a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for 135 yards and four touchdowns, and the Spartans piled up 219 rushing yards behind Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick.

If Hoyer can improve his completion percentage, Michigan State will reap the benefits. It faces a big test at Wisconsin on Saturday.

2. ANDRE' WOODSON IS A WINNER: Another week, another fourth-quarter comeback for Woodson and Kentucky. Woodson hit Keenan Burton with a 32-yard TD with 4:02 left to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish en route to a 42-29 win at Arkansas.

Along the way, Woodson set the NCAA mark for consecutive passes without an interception (296). Don't think NFL scouts aren't licking their chops.

3. PITIFUL CARDINALS: Louisville's defense was drilled for 38 points and 465 yards by Syracuse. The Orange came in 0-3 and averaging 10.6 points a game against three unranked teams.

The Cardinals have allowed an average of 437.8 yards and 32.5 points per game against Murray State, Middle Tennessee State, Kentucky and Syracuse.

You have to feel for quarterback Brian Brohm, who had another monster day statistically (45 for 65 passing for 555 yards, four TDs, two picks).



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