Monday, September 29, 2008

Across the Nation

(You can read this in Wednesday's Michigan Daily.)

Considering the havoc wreaked upon the Associated Press poll’s Top 10 last week, any and every college football program in the country should watch its back. A handful of top teams suffered particularly excruciating conference opening losses and will likely abandon all thoughts of a conference title if they drop another contest this weekend.

Perhaps the most surprising upset of the weekend came on Thursday night on the campus of Oregon State University, where the Beavers shocked then-No. 1 Southern Cal. It was the third crippling upset in as many seasons for USC, who fell to Oregon State two years ago on the road and to 40-point underdog Stanford in Pasadena last season.

Meanwhile, in Gainesville, Florida entered Saturday’s game against lowly Mississippi fresh off a 30-6 beating of conference foe Tennessee. But reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow could not penetrate the Rebels’ defensive line and the Gators were stunned, 31-30.

And No. 9 Wisconsin lost to some other Big Ten team about 400 miles to the east. You might have heard about it.

Those three disheartened teams had better dry their eyes quickly if they want to see a January bowl game, because this weekend only heightens the in-conference drama.

No. 23 Oregon at No. 9 Southern Cal

Despite preseason worries that the losses of running back Jonathan Stewart and quarterback Dennis Dixon would derail the Ducks’ offense, Oregon has scorched defenses early in 2008. Give most of the credit to an unstoppable running attack that is averaging 309 yards per game, good for fourth in the nation.

If linebacker Rey Maualuga and the USC defense can’t stop Oregon on the ground, the Trojans’ season may be over.

Rating: 4 out of 5 footballs

No. 12 Florida at Arkansas

Florida entered last Saturday’s home game overlooking Mississippi as it anticipated a showdown with Louisiana State on October 11th. Unfortunately for the Gators, Mississippi was clearly focused on Tebow and came away from the Swamp with the huge upset. Now, Florida must regroup against an equally wounded Arkansas team that was dominated by Texas, 52-10, in Austin.

Florida will be heavily favored to win this SEC game — just as it was against Mississippi.

Rating: 3 out of 5 footballs

No. 14 Ohio State at No. 18 Wisconsin

Ohio State may have cruised last Saturday against Minnesota, but their 35-3 loss to Southern Cal earlier this season now looks even worse after the Trojans fell to Oregon State. The Badgers are still in shock after their second-half collapse in the 500th game in Michigan Stadium.

Wisconsin has won three of its last five games against the Buckeyes. If Ohio State wins, it can consider itself back in the race for the National Championship and Wisconsin’s hopes for a Big Ten title will be all but dead. If the Badgers can pull off the small upset, they will still have a shot at representing the conference in the Rose Bowl and the Buckeyes’ hopes for another BCS Championship game will be extinguished.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 footballs

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