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September 30, 2009

Losses cause some games to lose luster

If there's a Saturday this season to skip a time slot or two and cut the lawn, this is it.

The top two teams in the polls - Florida and Texas - are off this week. What were expected to be marquee matchups have lost some luster because of lopsided losses last week by California and Miami. And BCS hopefuls Boise State, Houston and TCU should roll this week against weak competition.

Don't get us wrong - Saturday features some key games. Georgia-LSU will show the SEC who is more serious about challenging Alabama and Florida for the SEC crown. Saturday night brings the potential return of Heisman winner Sam Bradford facing a Miami team that hopes to put a 31-7 loss to Virginia Tech behind it. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin's trip to Minnesota suddenly is a key game in the conference race with the Badgers having started 4-0.

Seven of the eight top-10 teams playing this week go on the road, though. What that means is that if 2009 is a repeat of the upset-filled 2007 season, there will be no time to cut the grass.

Rivals.com sorts out the week by selecting Saturday's top five games to watch; plus, there's a look at the nationally televised games on Thursday and Friday.

All times Eastern


When: Noon, ESPN
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Bob Griese and Chris Spielman analysts.
Line: Minnesota by 1
Why you should watch: Wisconsin is starting to look like a Big Ten contender. The Badgers built a three-touchdown lead last week against Michigan State before holding on to win 38-30. A big reason for the Badgers' success is junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, a first-year starter who leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency. The Badgers' bread-and-butter remains the running game, though, led by John Clay and Zach Brown. Once a power-running team, Minnesota is anything but that this season. Last week's 166 rushing yards and 42 rushing attempts against Northwestern were season-highs by a wide margin. Even with the best receiver in the league in Eric Decker and a competent quarterback in Adam Weber, Minnesota ranks last in the Big Ten in total offense.

When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst.
Line: Georgia by 2.5.
Why you should watch: Florida and Alabama have been called runaway favorites in their divisions of the SEC; this game will tell us if that perception is in error. LSU is No. 4 nationally, but are the Tigers as shaky as the previous No. 4 (Ole Miss)? Last week, LSU needed a goal-line stand to vanquish Mississippi State. That photo-finish came after Washington and Vanderbilt had kept things close with LSU. As for Georgia, someone please tell the Bulldogs the SEC is supposed to be a defense-minded conference. Georgia has allowed 912 total yards and seven touchdowns in its two SEC games.

When: 3:30 p.m., NBC
Broadcasters: Tom Hammond analyst, Pat Haden play-by-play.
Line: Notre Dame by 13.5.
Why you should watch: With Notre Dame this season, there's a good chance this game will come down to the wire. The past three games for the Irish have been decided in the final minute, including two in the last 30 seconds. A week after beating USC, Washington was gashed by Stanford running back Toby Gerhart for 200 yards in a loss last week. Was the Huskies' win over USC a fluke? Are the Huskies a bad road team? We'll find out more this week in South Bend.

When: 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Ron Franklin play-by-play, Ed Cunningham analyst.
Line: USC by 6.5.
Why you should watch: This game certainly doesn't seem as interesting after USC lost 16-13 to Washington two weeks ago and Cal was drilled 42-3 by Oregon last week. At the very least, this looks like an elimination game in the Pac-10 title race. Look for USC to follow the same game plan as Oregon - sell out to stop running back Jahvid Best and put the game in the hands of inconsistent Cal quarterback Kevin Riley. The Trojans need some offense. Running back Stafon Johnson (five touchdowns this season) had throat surgery after a weightlifting accident this week, and he is gone for the season - though USC has the depth to cope with his absence. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley returned against Washington State to pass for 247 yards and two touchdowns.

When: 8 p.m., ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst.
Line: Oklahoma by 7.
Why you should watch Without Sam Bradford and without playing any team of note, Oklahoma (2-1) moved back into the top 10 after losing its opener to BYU. Whether the Sooners stay there and remain in the national title hunt depends on this game. Will Bradford return from the shoulder sprain that has sidelined him since the first half of the loss to BYU? Oklahoma needs better offensive line play than it had against BYU. The Sooners have retooled their line, leaving only left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Brian Simmons in place from the opener. The new line has allowed one sack in the past two games, but the competition gets much tougher in this one. The Hurricanes opened with impressive victories over Florida State and Georgia Tech, but they fell hard last week at Virginia Tech. Jacory Harris was just 9-of-25 passing against Virginia Tech, which did a great job getting pressure on Harris. The Hurricanes' run defense also needs improvement after giving up 272 yards to the Hokies.

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

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