College Top 25 Capsules: Alabama-Florida stakes lack finality

October 15, 2010

In 2007, the Illini upset the top-ranked Buckeyes with Rashard Mendenhall and Juice Williams combining for 158 yards. A year later, Beanie Wells returned the favor, grinding out 143 yards in a cold November win. And last season, Brandon Saine and Dan Herron sloshed their way to 156 combined yards in a 30-0 win.

The No. 2 Buckeyes (4-0) figure Illinois will stick to the script on Saturday. The Illini run on 69 percent of their plays, with most handled by athletic redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and tailback Mikel Leshoure, who is second in the Big Ten with 398 yards, 6.9 per carry.

“He’s a very, very hard runner,” Buckeye linebacker Ross Homan said of Leshoure. “You have to wrap him up, gang-tackle him. He’s very, very quick and elusive as well. He’s definitely one of the best backs we’re going to face.”

Something will have to give. The Illini (2-1) will face a defense that gives up just 71 yards a game on the ground.

“They’re going to pack the box just like everyone we play,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “The running game, when I was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, sometimes it was the third or fourth quarter before it got on track, but you can’t get away from it too soon and you have to have confidence that you’re going to be able to make some things happen down the road.”

Among the worries for Illinois is not just moving the ball, but hanging onto it. Ohio State has forced 13 turnovers in its first four games, including four interceptions in its only win over a ranked opponent, 36-24 over then-No. 12 Miami.

“Their offense has gotten a lot more possessions than normal because their defense has caused a whole bunch of turnovers and gave them some great field position,” Scheelhaase said. “If you really watched that Miami game, that’s what really hurt Miami. … Ohio State’s offense was really able to capitalize off of that and really get some points where they didn’t have to make real long drives — two play, three-play drives.”

Giving Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor more shots than necessary could doom the Illini.

He ran for 113 yards against Miami and passed for 233. And last week in a 73-20 romp over Eastern Michigan, he passed for 224 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 104 yards and another TD, and added a touchdown catch, too.

Against Illinois, he’ll face a secondary hobbled by injuries. Starting safety Suppo Sanni is out for the season, and starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne has yet to play because of an Achilles tendon problem. Hawthorne has been replaced by recently converted tailback Justin Green, who will be a tempting target for Pryor to pick on.

“Terrelle has enough confidence in his ability, he’s going to sit back” and wait to see if he can throw rather than run, Zook said. “He can throw deep, he can throw short, he can throw touch, he can stick it in there, and I think they’re allowing him to do that.”

Some fans have said this might be the rebuilding Illini’s bowl game. Zook doesn’t put much stock in the power of emotion, but he will be hoping a packed house makes a difference.

“After the first five minutes or so of the quarter or the half it’s what you line up and do because that emotion kind of goes,” Zook said. “I got a comment from someone from Ohio, from my hometown … he said I hope your crowd understands that this will take the whole state of Illinois. I think there’s some truth to that.”

Then again, the Illini have a history of playing Ohio State tough. The Buckeyes, though they frequently have a significant edge in talent and national standing, are only 14-11 in the last 25 meetings.

“Yeah, I remember when I was an assistant coach here, I mean, we had some wild games,” coach Jim Tressel said. “So in our guys’ lifetime, they’ve known full well that the Ohio State-Illinois game is a big deal and there have been battles.”

On paper, it looks soft for Boise State

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Now comes the easy part for Boise State, right?

After beating Virginia Tech, Wyoming and Oregon State, the No. 3 Broncos begin their farewell tour through the Western Athletic Conference on Saturday night, visiting a team they’ve dominated in recent years — New Mexico State.

If Boise State (3-0) is due for a letdown, the Broncos came to the right place. They’ll be the highest-ranked opponent ever at Aggie Memorial Stadium, where they’re 5-0 since the series started in 1996. Boise State is 10-0 all-time against New Mexico State (0-3).

But are the Broncos eager for a break from the early-season media circus? Would it be a good time to throttle back?

Coach Chris Petersen won’t take that approach, even if his team is favored by 43 points.

“I think we’ll get tremendous energy from the New Mexico State players. I know that,” Petersen said. “I know they’ll play hard. We watched our tape from last year and saw how they played. I was not impressed with ourselves. I was impressed with how hard they played against us.”

He was looking at a game the Broncos won 42-7. Since 2005, Boise State also has beaten the Aggies 56-6, 40-25, 58-0 and 49-0.

On paper, everything points to another romp. The Broncos own a 17-game winning streak and have won 28 straight regular season contests. For inspiration, the Aggies can look to a 1999 game where they stunned No. 22 Arizona State 35-7 in Tempe, Ariz.

Then again, NMSU has been outscored 125-47 in losses this year to San Diego State, UTEP and Kansas.

“We just have to be competitive,” New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker said. “We’re going to find out what players want to play and the attitude of this football team.”

The teams meet as WAC opponents for the final time before Boise State joins the Mountain West next fall. The Broncos have won the WAC seven times and placed second twice since joining in 2001.

Boise State linebacker Winston Venable will miss the first half after being suspended by WAC Commissioner Karl Benson for a flagrant foul last weekend against Oregon State’s James Rodgers. A full-game suspension was reduced on appeal.

But that alone won’t slow a talented lineup. Broncos receiver and return specialist Titus Young, for example, leads the nation averaging 208 all-purpose yards per game. Receiver Austin Pettis has four touchdown catches, a blocked punt and last week threw a scoring pass.

It’s enough to make the Aggies rethink their approach.

Walker made a personal sacrifice, relinquishing the responsibility of calling defensive plays after his team allowed 501 yards in a 42-16 loss at Kansas. He loves handling defense but said the move will help him focus on the team’s overall picture.

“I just think it’s time for me to be the head coach,” Walker explained.

Linebackers coach Dale Lindsey takes over as defensive coordinator, and he’ll be tested right away.

Boise State’s Kellen Moore was 19-of-27 for 288 yards and three TDs as the Broncos beat Oregon State 37-24. A three-year starter as a junior, Moore has 72 TD passes and only 14 interceptions in 30 games while completing two-thirds of his attempts.

“I expect a tough challenge,” NMSU defensive back Jonte Green said. “They’re the No. 3 team in the nation, so I know it’s not going to be an easy game.”

Stanford hopes to build on success against Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Leave it to a Stanford coach to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson when asked about his team’s dominance.

Coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t quite ready to get caught up in recent successes as the No. 9 Cardinal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) get ready for a visit to Autzen Stadium on Saturday to face fourth-ranked Oregon (4-0, 1-0).

“As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success,” Harbaugh said, quoting the 19th century philosopher. “But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies.”

Uh-huh, sure. But who could blame Harbaugh for basking a little?

Stanford hasn’t started a season 4-0 since 1986. The team hasn’t been ranked in the top 10 since 2001.

Now that they’ve returned to the top tier of the rankings — after more down seasons than anyone cares to remember — their first opponent is the formidable Ducks.

Harbaugh called the clash between the two teams “monumental.”

There really couldn’t be any more hype than there already is: There’s the rankings, Autzen Stadium, a national TV audience, a visit from ESPN’s GameDay. The list goes on.

“As a kid you always watched College GameDay and you’re always watching the games in prime time. To finally be in that slot is a dream come true,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov. “For the guys who had to go through the tough seasons, the five-year guys, it’s a step in the right direction to how we want to send them off. It’s a great opportunity for the program.”

The Cardinal have not played in a game where both teams were ranked inside the Top 10 since 1970, when No. 10 Stanford defeated No. 4 Arkansas 34-28. That was the last time they won a game while ranked in the Top 10 — they’ve lost six straight since then.

Saturday’s game will be the first time Oregon and Stanford have faced each other as ranked teams. And the Cardinal are looking for their first 5-0 start since 1951, when they won the Pacific Coast Conference and a Rose Bowl berth.

Oregon, the defending Pac-10 champion, has won 12 straight games at Autzen overall, and nine straight Pac-10 matchups. The team has hosted 70 straight sellout crowds.

This season, the Ducks’ unique spread option offense is giving opponents fits, but after New Mexico, Tennessee, Portland State and Arizona State, the Cardinal are going to be considerably more challenging — and partly because of their similar reliance on their ground game.

Oregon has the third-ranked offense in the nation, averaging 560 yards a game. They also have the third-best rushing offense, with an average of 321.7 yards a game.

Sophomore running back LaMichael James is averaging 158.3 yards a game, second only to Michigan’s Denard Robinson (172 yards). Darron Thomas has proven himself adept at running the offense in his first season as Oregon’s starting quarterback.

“It’s not finesse. They run a spread attack but it is a very physical approach to the spread. They’re not trying to finesse you, they’re trying to get physical with you and impose their will on you,” Harbaugh said.

Over on the other side, Stanford is ranked No. 24 for total offense with 457.5 yards per game, and they rank No. 19 in rushing offense with an average of 223.2 yards over four games.

The Cardinal built a reputation for their smashmouth rushing attack last year with Toby Gerhart chewing up yards behind the blocking of fullback Owen Marecic.

This season, Gerhart has moved on and Marecic is still clearing the path for Stanford’s running backs — and even scoring on his own. A two-way player, he ran for a 1-yard touchdown and then returned an interception 20 yards for a score on the next play from scrimmage in last week’s 37-14 win at Notre Dame.

“This year they don’t have a big bruiser in the backfield like Gerhart, but other than that it’s the same Stanford team. They like to show their physicality and we’re going to have to match that physicality and intensity,” Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris said.

Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 251 yards and two scores last year when Stanford defeated the visiting Ducks 51-42. At the time, Oregon was ranked No. 7.

The Cardinal also proved the spoiler in 2001, when Stanford won 49-42 in Eugene for the then-No. 5 Ducks’ lone loss of the season.

With everything pointing to another high-scoring affair, ultimately it may come down to defense.

“At the end of the day, we just gotta make more plays than we give up and we gotta limit the big plays,” Harris said.

No. 10 Auburn hoping for respite against ULM

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Maybe No. 10 Auburn will need less than 59 minutes to put a team away for a change.

The Tigers have ridden three straight nailbiting victories into the Top 10, but figure to have a bit of stress relief when heavy underdog Louisiana-Monroe visits on Saturday.

Quarterback Cam Newton’s playmaking has sparked a 4-0 start for Auburn along with some Heisman Trophy talk. But if this game goes as expected for the five-touchdown favorites, he won’t have to carry the ball 20 times or more, as he has been doing.

Newton insists that his team isn’t expecting a breather, though. There’s a little more incentive for the Tigers to perform well against ULM (1-2) with the climb up the rankings.

“We can’t overlook anyone,” Newton said. “There are plenty of examples of people overlooking in the past, and especially this season. We don’t want to ever get too complacent or too comfortable with the position we’re in … you can’t ever take your foot off the gas.”

Auburn has been more stop-and-start the past few weeks. The Tigers have rallied from double-digit deficits to win the past two games against Clemson and South Carolina, and that came after a three-point victory over Mississippi State that also went down to the wire.

The Warhawks, meanwhile, are 3-34-1 all-time against Southeastern Conference members and have lost all 18 meetings against Top 25 teams.

At least their defensive strength aligns with Auburn’s offensive forte. The Tigers have the SEC’s top running team, while Louisiana-Monroe leads the Sun Belt Conference in rush defense.

“It can get quite challenging because of the way they do their (defensive) fronts,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s a three-down front and they’re moving everywhere and different blitzes from all directions.

“It’s going to be a tough battle.”

Auburn has already met one Sun Belt team this season, opening with a 52-26 win over Arkansas State despite allowing 323 passing yards. That’s the only time Newton’s backup, Barrett Trotter, has seen action in a college game.

The Tigers have won all 15 games against Sun Belt opponents.

ULM is coming off its first win, 21-20 over Southeastern Louisiana. The Warhawks have already faced Ryan Mallett and Arkansas in the season opener, losing 31-7. Newton presents a much different kind of challenge from the dropback passer.

“He’s going to try to beat you a little differently than Mallett did,” ULM coach Todd Berry said. “This guy can throw the football but one of the worst things that can happen is if this guy breaks out of the pocket. He can run it.”

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton is leading the SEC with 485 yards rushing. He went over 150 yards both running and passing while accounting for five touchdowns last weekend to lead Auburn past the Gamecocks.

“Cam Newton’s throwing the ball well,” Berry said. “He’s running the ball well.

“He’s a very, very aggressive runner. Instead of trying to run out of bounds, he’s going to try to run over you. That’s unique in college football right now.”

ULM has a running threat at quarterback, too. Kolton Browning has passed for 590 yards and run for 183 and ranks third in the Sun Belt in total offense.

The offensive comparisons don’t end there. Both spread the ball out and have designed quarterback runs, so defenders on both sides have at least some idea of what to expect.

“The similarities in offensive schemes are scary, almost,” Berry said. “We’re so similar in what we do. Our defensive players should have a lot of confidence.”

Dantonio, Spartans face huge test vs Badgers

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Less than two weeks after a mild heart attack, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is trying to ease back into his job.

His players don’t have that luxury.

The 24th-ranked Spartans open Big Ten play at home Saturday with one of the toughest opponents on their schedule in No. 11 Wisconsin. After missing last week’s game, Dantonio is returning for this matchup of unbeaten teams, saying he wants his group focused on the difficult tasks ahead instead of on his health.

Michigan State is trying for its best start in more than a decade.

“They’ll be as big a test as we’ve faced all year, and we get it in the first conference game,” Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “What you see up here around the building are Big Ten championship signs and Rose Bowl pictures, because that’s what we’re focusing on. Nonconference play doesn’t get us that.”

Michigan State (4-0) and Wisconsin (4-0) have traveled similar paths to start the season, each earning a signature nonconference win. For Wisconsin, it was a 20-19 victory over Arizona State two weekends ago. That same night, Michigan State beat Notre Dame 34-31, scoring the winning touchdown on a fake field goal in overtime.

Shortly after that game, Dantonio was hospitalized with heart problems. He’s back now, although he’s expected to coach from a box high above the field.

“When you look at Wisconsin and you look at us, I think we’ve played very similar schedules,” Dantonio said. “They’ve run the ball very effectively in the past. We have as well. Their passer is very good in terms of completion percentage and things that he has done in the past. Ours is as well.”

Wisconsin’s John Clay has 501 yards rushing and six touchdowns this season, and freshman James White has given the Badgers another dangerous option in the backfield. Quarterback Scott Tolzien is completing 76 percent of his passes.

After beating Arizona State, Wisconsin tuned up for Big Ten play with a 70-3 rout of Austin Peay last weekend.

“We’re not anywhere close to being where I think we can be, but again, just because of the way we played each week I made a statement to our guys during Sunday’s meeting that what we’ve done every week is we’ve won the football game,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to be where we are today. Each week, they’ve gotten better.”

Michigan State’s offense looks awfully similar to Wisconsin’s. Cousins is completing 67 percent of his passes and was nearly flawless in a 45-7 win over Northern Colorado last week. The Spartans have also run the ball for more than 200 yards each game behind Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell in the backfield.

On defense, the Spartans are led by Greg Jones, a returning All-American at linebacker who had two interceptions last week.

Michigan State hasn’t started 5-0 since 1999 under Nick Saban, but if the Spartans manage it this season, it would set up a tremendous matchup Oct. 9 with Michigan, which is also unbeaten heading into a game at Indiana this weekend. As well as Michigan State has played so far, the Spartans will learn a lot about their season in the next two weekends.

“That’s the Big Ten, and that’s college football,” Cousins said. “That’s what we sign on for when we come here, and we expect every game to be a challenge.”

No. 12 LSU seeks improved passing vs. Tennessee

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Even as undefeated LSU has racked up wins and climbed the rankings, Tigers fans have gotten restless.

They’ve seen this act before. No. 12 LSU (4-0, 2-0 SEC) started 4-0 in 2008 and 5-0 last season, only to fade when the schedule got tougher.

So when LSU’s passing offense stagnated for a third straight game during last Saturday’s 20-14 win over West Virginia, the boos rained down from Tiger Stadium.

Then when coach Les Miles replaced embattled quarterback Jordan Jefferson with backup Jarrett Lee for one series in the fourth quarter, a mocking cheer echoed through Death Valley.

“Offensively, nobody is satisfied in our building,” Miles said this week, noting that LSU’s offense as a whole didn’t do Jefferson any favors with penalties, dropped passes and missed blocks.

“I can tell you that it wasn’t a great night to be a quarterback in our offense, no matter who the quarterback was.”

LSU is favored by more than two touchdowns against Tennessee (2-2, 0-1), meaning this could be the Tigers’ last chance to get their aerial attack in synch before what looks like the first true test on their schedule — a road game at Florida on Oct. 9.

LSU is averaging only 110 yards passing this season, and in each of the past three games, Jefferson has thrown for fewer than 100 yards and no TDs.

Miles said Jefferson will start again against Tennessee, but added that Lee is close to being ready for more meaningful snaps.

“It’s never going to be necessarily the fact that the other guy is just doing poorly,” Miles said. “It’s with the compliment of the efforts that Jarrett Lee has. He’s worked hard at it. He has continued to compete and continues to improve, so my view is looking for opportunities to get him on the field.”

Lee knows what it’s like to be booed, too. After Ryan Perrilloux was kicked off the team in 2008 and early season starter Andrew Hatch got hurt, Lee was thrown into a starting role as a freshman. At times he showed potential and at times he made game-changing rookie mistakes in the form of seven interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. He played in one game last season and has taken only a few snaps this year, so no one really knows if Lee has developed enough to build on what he has done well while eliminating the errors of the past.

First-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley wishes he had Miles’ problems. The Volunteers needed double-overtime to pull out a victory at home over underdog Alabama-Birmingham last weekend. That only got their record back to .500.

Dooley responded by giving his players two days off “to clear their minds and get physically well.”

Top Tennessee running back Tauren Poole left the UAB game with a thigh injury and Dooley hoped he’d be ready to go in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Matt Simms has taken a beating behind a young offensive line that as allowed 14 sacks.

“He has taken a lot of hits,” Dooley said. “We’ve got to do a better job protecting him because he won’t make it. But he’s tough. I give him credit. Not many quarterbacks take a lot of hits and don’t get affected, and he hasn’t been.”

Simms can expect plenty of pressure again this week from LSU’s SEC-leading defense, which has 11 sacks and six interceptions through four games.

Senior defensive tackle Drake Nevis has led the push up front and star cornerback Patrick Peterson has a pair of interceptions to go with his two punt returns for scores.

The dominating unit is directed by defensive coordinator John Chavis, now in his second season at LSU after two decades at Tennessee. This will mark the first time the Volunteers had to play against a Chavis defense, and they expect a tough test.

“Their defensive line, I mean, it looks like watching an NFL team,” Dooley said. “When I say phenomenal talent at every position, they probably have one of the best secondary guys in the country, and they have great coaching. So when you combine great coaching and phenomenal talent, and you can tell that they believe in their system, you’ve got a great defense.”

Oddsmakers apparently believe that LSU’s dominant defense, strong special teams and a solid running game led by Stevan Ridley will carry the Tigers to a comfortable victory whether or not they struggle to throw against a Tennessee team that gave up 429 yards passing to UAB.

Miles just hopes that, whatever happens, the home fans will be more supportive.

“I’ve never in my life seen the reason to root negatively. I root strong for the team that I support,” Miles said. “When you see great effort and you see risk of injury, it’s serious. It’s not pretend. There are guys out there fighting. I kind of respect that.”

No. 16 Miami brings memories into Clemson

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Miami hasn’t forgotten its upset loss to Clemson last year — or what it did to the Hurricanes’ plans for getting back on top.

No. 16 Miami (2-1) hopes not to repeat that on Saturday when it opens Atlantic Coast Conference play at Clemson.

Cornerback Ryan Hill remembers watching the 40-37 overtime loss from home because he was injured and knew the impact it could have on the Hurricanes’ goals. “It was a tough loss, probably one of the losses that kept us out of the BCS game,” Hill said. “That’s going to be in the back of our mind.”

The Hurricanes already let a chance to stamp themselves as national contenders slip away in a 36-24 loss to No. 2 Ohio State. They rebounded a game later, routing Pittsburgh 31-3. Now the team heads into one of the ACC’s most difficult venues with a championship chip on their shoulders — one knocked off by Clemson (2-1) a year ago.

“We got the short end of the stick on that one,” Miami receiver LaRon Byrd said. “It’s definitely going to be like revenge out there.”

Miami seemed to have everything going its way when these teams met in 2009. The ‘Canes were ranked eighth in the country, quarterback Jacory Harris was a breakout star and Miami carried that South Florida swagger.

Yet, they could not contain Tigers star C.J. Spiller or first-year passer Kyle Parker. Spiller finished with a school-record 310 all-purpose yards, including a 90-yard kickoff return score right before halftime that gave the Tigers confidence they could hang with Miami.

Parker had a career-high 326 yards and three touchdowns, the last a walk-off laser to wide receiver Jacoby Ford for the 26-yard game winner.

“For me it did a lot, and it did a lot for our team,” Parker said. “We can remember it a little bit but then have to forget about it when we come out Saturday because that’s probably some good motivation for them, too, wanting to knock us off after we beat them last year.”

Clemson’s missing several stars from last season’s win, including Spiller, Ford and tight end Michael Palmer, who had five catches and a touchdown a year ago. The Tigers lost their last game, giving up a 17-0 lead in a 27-24 OT defeat at Auburn.

The past two weeks have been about fixing mistakes and moving forward.

“We’ve played three games, and I like our personnel and the chemistry on this team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

The Tigers might not find it as easy to come back on Miami if they fall behind. The Hurricanes lead the conference in overall defense and are second in sacks this season. Clemson has given up the fewest sacks in the ACC so far, but Swinney says his club hasn’t gone up against a unit like Miami’s.

“Something’s got to give one way or another,” Swinney said.

Clemson says its defensive key is harassing Harris into mistakes. It’s a job the Tigers defensive did well for three quarters against Auburn and its star quarterback, Cam Newton. But Newton led three touchdown drives in the third quarter to put his Tigers in front.

“For us, we have to get after the quarterback,” Swinney said. “We can’t make it a comfortable day for him.”

Harris has had his struggles with six interceptions — four against Ohio State — this season, but improved in the Pittsburgh victory. In Miami coach Randy Shannon’s mind, only the Buckeyes’ first pick was Harris’ fault. The others he blamed on receiver mistakes or receivers not fighting hard enough to make the play.

“We’re fine with Jacory, those things he understands,” Shannon said. “He works on it. Receivers understand we have to run the routes like we need to and be on the same page.”

If they are, the Hurricanes could take that step toward the top they couldn’t against Clemson last fall.

“It’s going to be a tough game for us,” Shannon said. “A big game that we have to play at a level that we’ve never played before.”

No. 17 Iowa in unfamiliar role vs. No. 22 Penn State

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Two years ago, unranked Iowa dashed Penn State’s national title hopes with a dramatic home win and last season the underdog Hawkeyes did it again with a fourth-quarter comeback at Beaver Stadium.

It’s time to see what Iowa can do when it’s supposed to beat the Nittany Lions.

The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (3-1) will find themselves in the unfamiliar role of favorites when they host No. 22 Penn State (3-1) on Saturday night.

Iowa is considered back among the Big Ten’s elite despite a loss at No. 14 Arizona. It’s harder to give the same distinction to the Nittany Lions, who will start true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden in a stadium where they haven’t won since 1999.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz think the game could again hinge on a few key plays.

A wayward pass by Penn State’s Daryll Clark helped Iowa set up a game-winning field goal in 2008. Iowa trailed 10-5 early in the fourth quarter of last year’s game before star Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.

Penn State then turned it over on three straight drives and the Hawkeyes prevailed 21-10.

“Iowa has been a good, solid football team that’s played extremely well against us,” Paterno said. “Last year, we thought we had them licked and we made one or two mistakes and they took advantage of it.”

Big plays could come at a premium between the 3-1 teams.

Iowa is first in the nation, allowing just 227.5 yards per game. Opponents have scored only 14 points in three games at Kinnick Stadium this season, and last week Ball State had more punts than first downs in a 45-0 loss.

Penn State is right behind the Hawkeyes, allowing only 12.8 points a game. Though Temple stunned the Nittany Lions with 13 quick points last week, the Owls didn’t score again in a 22-13 loss.

Iowa’s offense has been much more explosive this season than in years past.

The Hawkeyes are averaging 36 points a game and senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi has thrown nine TD passes while completing 66.7 percent of his passes — a 10 percent jump from a year ago.

“They don’t give up points. I mean, I think our biggest margin of victory in this series is 12 points back in (2003),” Ferentz said. “I’m expecting this thing to be a real 60-minute game and hopefully we’ll be in there in the fourth quarter.”

Iowa will need to stop Penn State’s Evan Royster, who ran for a career-high 187 yards against Temple and is poised to break Curt Warner’s record for career yards.

Bolden will be the guy to watch. If he plays like a freshman, Penn State will probably be in trouble. Yet he has already faced top-ranked Alabama on the road this season, completing 13 of 29 passes and throwing two picks in a loss, and the experience couldn’t have hurt in preparing for Iowa and other big games.

“He can hurt you with his arm or his feet. He’s very athletic,” Iowa safety Tyler Sash said. “He’s taken hold of his chance and he’s run with it.”

The dynamic of this rivalry — perhaps one of the most underrated in the Big Ten — has shifted quite a bit since the last time the Nittany Lions visited Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are 7-2 over Penn State under Ferentz, but none came easy. Two of Iowa’s recent victories came in overtime, another came by the unlikely final score of 6-4 and the Hawkeyes were in serious trouble entering the fourth quarter before winning the last two.

Paterno has only beaten Ferentz twice — but both were by at least 20 points.

“I’m not sure why they’d be considered the underdog,” Ferentz said. “We’ve had tough games with them or we’ve gotten nailed pretty good.”

Sarkisian, Kiffin to reconnect when UW visits USC

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin spent a hefty part of their 20s together on Southern California’s downtown campus. If they weren’t sequestered in an office up in Heritage Hall watching game tape and eating takeout food, they were simultaneously teaching and learning on the practice fields across the street.

Under Pete Carroll’s watchful eye during the Trojans’ incredible decade of success, these former college quarterbacks grew from raw assistant coaches into co-offensive coordinators of the USC machine while still remaining close friends. Before either coach had turned 35, both had graduated to run their own programs.

Sarkisian and Kiffin face each other for the first time when Washington visits the 18th-ranked Trojans (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) on Saturday night, but standing on opposite sidelines isn’t likely to quench this bromance.

“He’s done a nice job, (and) I think we’ve done a nice job,” said Sarkisian, who’s early in his second season at Washington. “These are both jobs we thought were special ones, especially in the Pac-10. It’s a unique experience, this early in our careers, to be facing each other in such a pivotal ballgame in the Pac-10 race.”

While Kiffin’s scandal-scarred program hopes to stay unbeaten by getting revenge for the Huskies’ win over USC last season, Washington (1-2, 0-0) is in need of another tone-setting victory similar to last season’s 16-13 upset of the Trojans.

But the subplots on the Coliseum sidelines will be numerous. Sarkisian went to Seattle with encyclopedic knowledge of Carroll’s system, and he installed huge chunks of it with the help of defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who had the same job at USC. And don’t forget, Kiffin’s defensive coordinator, Ed Orgeron, also was on those USC staffs.

It’s all intriguing to the man at the root of this coaching tree.

“They were great friends, and they were kind of comrades as they grew up in the system,” Carroll said. “They became kind of real products of it. They’re much different, not the same individuals, but they got along well, about the same age, had fun together and all that.”

Carroll, who took over the Seattle Seahawks after last season, claimed he’ll be “rooting for everybody” on Saturday.

But if both coaching staffs know almost everything about each other, who has the advantage? Kiffin claims Sarkisian’s knowledge of the Trojans’ upperclassmen gave him a big edge last season and again this year, while Sarkisian was quick to claim underdog status this week, saying USC is “the most talented football team in our conference from top to bottom.”

“That’s an old Lou Holtz trick that he learned watching TV a long time ago,” Kiffin said. “To call a team that has the lowest scholarships probably in the country the deepest team in the Pac-10, that’s an old setup trick. We can barely find enough guys to practice. Our service team is made up of some kids from science class. Half of them never played football before.”

Speaking of Lou Holtz tricks, Coach…

“We watched the same show,” Kiffin said with a grin.

Their careers split after the 2006 season when the 31-year-old Kiffin left USC to run the Oakland Raiders, who also considered Sarkisian for what turned out to be a disastrous hire. While Kiffin muddled through 20 games and multiple clashes with Al Davis before resurfacing at Tennessee last season, Sarkisian bided his time at Carroll’s side and waited for an ideal job, even while receiving criticism from some USC fans for his conservative play-calling.

Through it all, Sarkisian and Kiffin never lost contact.

“Yeah, we talk. We text,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a good friendship. It’s one that keeps us healthy in the profession, the ability to talk to another head coach and bounce ideas off him, because so much of this profession is keeping things in close and in tight, and you can’t share with anybody.”

It’s not all seriousness, though. Earlier in the week, Kiffin joked about a text from Sarkisian solemnly informing him that Huskies quarterback Jake Locker would miss the game after getting hurt.

Locker is just fine, and his mobility poses the usual problems for USC’s defense, which will shadow him with a linebacker on almost every play. The senior acknowledges he’s hungry for a solid game to reclaim his mojo after Nebraska harassed him into a 4-for-20 performance two weeks ago.

The Trojans will have quarterback Matt Barkley, who missed last season’s meeting in Seattle with an injury. Although the sophomore has shown flashes of last season’s poor decision-making over the past two games, Barkley and his offensive teammates are eager to show off against the coach who recruited many of them to USC.

Michigan QB Robinson poses tough test for Indiana

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana’s players and coaches have seen the highlight shows and the game tapes. They know Denard Robinson is a handful to take down.

Just ask No. 19 Michigan’s first four opponents — or the Hoosiers, who get the next crack at knocking Robinson off stride on Saturday.

“He’s been unbelievable, and he’s gotten a lot of attention and deservedly so,” Indiana defensive ends coach George Ricumstrict said. “And he’s definitely got our attention.”

Robinson should have everyone’s attention with his gaudy numbers — 172 yards rushing per game, No. 1 in the nation, and an amazing 8.7 yards per carry. Michigan is off to a 4-0 start, back in the national rankings and the sophomore has jumped right into the middle of the Heisman Trophy conversation.

The Michigan quarterback was slowed in practice this week with a bruised left knee, and the Wolverines must open Big Ten play on the road against the one conference foe they beat last season, Indiana (3-0). A year ago, Michigan needed a late fourth-quarter rally in front of a home crowd to extend its winning streak over the Hoosiers to 16 in a game that, like this one, featured two unbeaten teams.

Last year’s close call gave the Hoosiers their rallying cry for this season — finish! — and has fans dubbing this the most important game of the season outside of archrival Purdue.

Ticket sales have soared and it could be the first game since 1992 that a Memorial Stadium crowd tops 50,000 for an opponent other than Purdue or Ohio State.

The Wolverines understand what they’re up against.

“This is a huge game for both teams. They’re undefeated and we’re undefeated,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I’m sure the crowd will be into it from the first play.”

Indiana would love a signature win, but it will be a challenge.

The defense has already given up a handful of big plays to mobile quarterbacks this season, and ranks 10th in the Big Ten against the run. The Hoosiers’ first three opponents — Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron — averaged 177 yards per game rushing and 5.2 yards per carry.

None of those teams featured anyone like the speedy, shifty Robinson, either.

“He (Robinson) adds another dimension on offense,” safety Mitchell Evans said. “Look, he’s going to make some plays against us, but we’ve got to rally and make our own plays.”

Indiana players have seen promising signs this week. Practices, they said, have been crisper and more intense. Players have remained loose.

So just how far would the Hoosiers go to get a little insight on how to stop Robinson?

Well, defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. spent the week trying to pry some trade secrets out of his brother, Jibreel, a freshman defensive end at Michigan.

“I’ve been trying, but it’s not working,” Larry Black Jr. said as he tried to stop laughing.

The good news for Indiana is that its high-scoring offense is every bit as potent as Michigan’s. Both teams are averaging more than 41 points per game and both defenses rank among the Big Ten’s bottom four in points allowed per game.

Instead of an overpowering ground game, though, Indiana relies primarily on the most dangerous passing offense in the Big Ten.

Quarterback Ben Chappell is completing 72 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Ted Bolser has already tied the school’s single-season record for TD receptions by a tight end, and Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten in receptions per game.

The game will likely be dictated by whichever defense does its job better.

“We’ve got to tackle well and get more than one person on the tackles because, look, he (Robinson) is going to make us miss some tackles,” Ricumstrict said. “So we’ve got to get two, three, four guys around him and rely on fundamentals to get him down.”

No. 23 N.C. State hosts Hokies in toughest test yet

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State’s showdown with Virginia Tech is shaping up just as many in the preseason figured it might.

One team is nationally ranked, undefeated and tops in the ACC. The other is clawing back after a discouraging start.

Here’s the twist — it’s the No. 23 Wolfpack who are flying high.

The roles have reversed in Raleigh, where N.C. State (4-0, 1-0) puts its best start since 2002 on the line Saturday in its toughest test so far, the preseason league favorite Hokies (2-2, 1-0).

“I hope (the strong start) gives them a little bit of confidence, because they’ve been having success and they’ve been doing things the right way, the way we want them to do it,” Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said. “So there’s some validation there, not only for us but for them, to understand we’ve done it this way and if you’re going to have a chance to succeed, you’re going to have to continue to do it this way.

“The ranking, that’s good, because it’s a recognition of what they’ve done the last month,” he added, “but it really has nothing to do with the game.”

The Wolfpack, the only remaining unbeaten in the ACC, will play their first game as a ranked team since Philip Rivers was a senior in 2003. Russell Wilson orchestrates the league’s top passing offense, averaging 289 yards, and the dual-threat redshirt junior certainly looks like the conference’s best player so far. He leads the ACC in total offense, at a shade under 300 yards per game.

Still, a win over the Hokies would be an upset only according to the Top 25 rankings. Las Vegas has Tech as a 4-point favorite.

“Right now, they’re definitely a high-powered team as a whole,” Virginia Tech tight end Andre Smith said. “They definitely have gained a lot since last year, and that’s obvious in what you see with the numbers and things like that. It seems like they’re hitting on all cylinders. Once a team is hitting on all cylinders, you’re just about as productive as you can be.”

That’s where the Hokies would like their offense to be.

Virginia Tech is coming off a 19-0 victory at Boston College in which it made four trips into the red zone and came away with one touchdown. Perhaps further complicating things, the Hokies once again will be without all-ACC tailback Ryan Williams, who will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury.

“There’s huge urgency,” Smith said. “We’re just as hungry as ever. We’re more hungry now, just knowing and seeing things we could have done more efficiently. Again, we could have changed four field goals into 28 points. For us, it’s exciting to see where we possibly can be, and for us it’s just going to be a process to get to that point.”

The Hokies, who plummeted out of the rankings following season-opening losses to Boise State and James Madison six days apart, say they feel like contenders again because they’re still undefeated in league play.

“Week in and week out, we’ve basically been trying to make a statement. We had two hurtful losses to the first two games, but we’re coming out with something to prove every week,” rover Davon Morgan said. “We know the talent that we have, and we know what we can do when we play our game. … We’re coming out with a chip on our shoulders. Everybody’s playing with an attitude, and that’s what we need.”

N.C. State wants to maintain that hunger, too. It’s been nearly impossible for the Wolfpack to avoid the distractions and other tests of mental toughness that always seem to hover around successful teams.

The campus has buzzed all week about the hot start. Wilson is being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Some players have heard screams of “4-0!” as they walked to class and heard plenty of distressed worries from classmates who couldn’t scrape up tickets to this sold-out game.

That’s why the Wolfpack say they’re heeding offensive coordinator Dana Bible’s game-week message to “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” — in other words, keep locked in on the ultimate goal and don’t buy into the outsiders’ hype.

“We’ve just got to focus like we have been the first four games — one play at a time, one thing at a time, one practice at a time,” Wilson said.

Beating UNLV top season goal for No. 25 Nevada

LAS VEGAS (AP) — When No. 25 Nevada finally evaluates what’s shaping up as a breakout season, its top measurement will be whether it beats intrastate rival UNLV on Saturday.

Not posting a winning record. Or besting No. 3 Boise State for a Western Athletic Conference title. Nevada coach Chris Ault said those goals are secondary to beating the Rebels, a 1-3 team that has lost three blowouts and beaten only winless, lowly New Mexico.

“It is a championship game,” Ault said of the UNLV matchup. “It is a chance to win a championship and be state champs. That is what you are playing for.”

And of making The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1948, Ault said: “I look at it as nothing more than a motivating factor for our football team.”

The Wolf Pack (4-0) played its way into this week’s rankings by emerging as one of the nation’s best offenses, posting four double-digit victories that include wins over California and BYU. Nevada averages 7 yards per play behind a spread-option Pistol offense that’s generated nearly 45 points and 529 yards per game.

But UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said Nevada’s success is less about a formation that’s been adopted by at least seven other schools, and more about who guides it on the field.

“It’s a good scheme, but the guys running it are great players,” Hauck said.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has rushed for 451 yards and eight touchdowns, thrown for 924 yards and seven touchdown, and has just one interception. Nationally, he ranks third with 1,375 yards in total offense.

Despite indications that Nevada is on its way to a sixth-straight Silver State title — many sports books in the state have the Wolf Pack favored by 20 1/2 points — Rebels quarterback Omar Clayton said players have to throw out rankings and expectations when it comes to the Nevada-UNLV game.

“We play college football — there’s upsets every Saturday. Virginia Tech lost to James Madison earlier this year. Nobody in the country would have bet on that game or said Virginia Tech was going to lose to that team,” Clayton said.

“Especially a rivalry game where there’s so much intensity,” he said. “I hate to call it bad blood, but that’s what it is, really.”

Nevada leads the intrastate rivalry 20-15 all-time. The winner of the Battle for the Fremont Cannon gets a 545-pound model of the howitzer that explorer John C. Fremont brought when he came west to Nevada in 1843. The trophy cost $10,000 to build 40 years ago.

Hauck closed practices to the media for the first time this year during the week leading up to the showdown. Ault, meanwhile, told boosters repeatedly in Reno that the game against Las Vegas is a “big game.”

“I know people in this community don’t understand that sometimes,” Ault said. “If you go down there, it’s bigger.”


Wildcats ready for break after 4-0 start

Arizona’s first two, as football games go, were relatively easy. Week 3 was monumental, days of buildup followed by what could be a program-defining win over a Top 10 team.

Then came last week. Hoping to avoid a letdown after the big victory, the Wildcats labored through their Pac-10 opener, pulling it out in the closing seconds.

Now, it’s time to let out a whew!

Physically and emotionally drained after four weeks of fighting for every yard, No. 14 Arizona couldn’t have picked a better time for its bye week.

“It comes at a good time even though we’re playing well right now,” Wildcats coach Mike Stoops said. “We can use the rest and try to correct some of the mistakes we’ve made in preparation for the next six games against tough opponents.”

Arizona (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) opened the season with routs over Toledo and the Citadel, followed by an impressive win over then-No. 9 Iowa and last week’s gritty victory over California.

The four-week grind, coming off a hot training camp in the desert, left the Wildcats battered.

At least a half-dozen starters are battling injuries, including receiver Juron Criner’s painful turf toe, and the coaches are spent after pouring everything they had into the opening month.

“The bye week could not come fast enough,” Criner said.

The impressive start has revealed some impressive and not-so-impressive trends.

In the good ledger, quarterback Nick Foles has made strides toward the head of the Pac-10’s lofty quarterback class.

The junior picked up where he left off last season and kept going, becoming the confident leader Stoops and the rest of the coaching staff had hoped. Foles has already thrown for over 1,000 yards, hit 74 percent of his passes and has six touchdowns, including a pair of game-winners the past two weeks against Iowa and Cal.

“Nick has a lot of confidence when he has the ball last and he needs to score points,” Stoops said.

The defense, a question mark heading into the season, has been surprisingly sturdy, holding teams to 230.7 yards per game, fourth-best in the nation. The D was at its best in the Cal game, holding the Bears down long enough for Foles and the struggling offense to finally click on a game-winning drive.

“We play hard and with our hair on fire,” cornerback Trevin Wade said. “We just like to step up to challenges.”

Despite its offensive success, Arizona has yet to establish its running game. Sure, all those short passes are a lot like a running game, especially the way Foles throws it, but the Wildcats will likely need to run the ball better over the final six-week run through the Pac-10.

The possible return of fullback Taimi Tutogi, who’s battled ankle and knee injuries, should help Arizona get back to some of its power running game.

“We really haven’t gotten to work some of our bigger sets that we like to run, and some of our play-action passes haven’t been what they are if you’re not running the ball as well as you need to be,” Stoops said.

Then there’s penalties.

Arizona has been good at not hurting itself under Stoops, but this year has been filled with too much yellow. The Wildcats have been hit with 33 penalties for 280 yards, a trend that can’t continue the rest of the way.

“We had way too many penalties,” Foles said.

Good news is, Arizona made it through some difficult times — the big blown lead against Iowa, the offensive struggles against Cal — and is in a good position with the bulk of the Pac-10 schedule still ahead.

“It’s crazy,” Wade said. “I think the fans know us, but I think it’s still a shock, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s a big deal.”

News & Notes

<a href=",2005:cluster=, 02 Oct 2010 10:04:51 GMT 00:00″>College Top 25 Capsules: Alabama-Florida stakes lack finality

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