Here are the most compelling story lines for the upcoming week:
- Showdown in Columbus: The Big Ten doesn't have a league championship, so the game between Penn State and Ohio State is as close as you'll get. The significance here is huge. Only way it would've been much bigger is if OSU had thumped USC, not the other way around, but now Beanie Wells is back and Terrelle Pryor is improved and ... if Penn State goes into Columbus and wins (something PSU has never done as a member of the Big Ten), the Nittany Lions would take a big step toward securing an undefeated season and probably would eliminate one of the potential one-loss league champs from either the SEC or Big 12, if things break that way.
Beyond the title implications, there are plenty of meaty subplots: freshman stud QB Terrelle Pryor faces the home-state school that his family was so intrigued by (PSU); Beanie Wells versus Evan Royster in a battle of two of the country's top backs; Ohio State's embattled O-line against the Nittany Lions' spectacular speed-rushing ends; Penn State QB Darryl Clark (Heisman candidate?) against the defense led by Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. The Pryor versus Clark question, which obviously never materialized in State College, has made for an intriguing debate to some, writes Sam Ross Jr.
"But another set of numbers continues to rankle Ohio State fans and, apparently, Ohio State players. Ohio State has moved up only three spots in the AP Poll and four spots in the Coaches' Poll since its 35-3 loss to USC. The Buckeyes remain ranked behind Georgia, which got torched on its home field by Alabama, and Florida, which lost at home to 3-4 Ole Miss."
My hunch is that even if OSU wins this game, a lot of the pollsters won't jump on any Buckeyes bandwagon. Instead, they'd just dismiss Penn State as some kind of Big Ten fraud that was exposed. As a lot of people wrote a month ago, the only thing that can really solve OSU's perception problem is a big win outside the league.
- Texas Three-Step: The Longhorns have shined in the first two stages of their gauntlet schedule of October, and they seem to be getting more impressive each week. Now they get undefeated Oklahoma State and their potent ground game in Austin. Get ready to hear a lot about UT's great Roy Miller, as this one is big on big: The Cowboys are fifth in the nation in rushing offense (283 yards per game with 24 rushing TDs). The Longhorns are second in the country in rushing defense (48 ypg, 2 rushing TDs allowed). In recent history, UT has had a bad habit of falling behind in this series, as Joseph Duarte writes: Four times in the past five seasons, the Longhorns have trailed the Cowboys: They were down by nine points in the second quarter in 2003; they fell behind by 28 points in the first half in 2004; in 2005, they trailed by 19 points at halftime; last season, they were down 21 points entering the fourth quarter. Whether it was Vince Young's heroics or a last-second field goal, the Longhorns rallied each time.
- The Dawgs go to the Bayou: Georgia at LSU is a meeting between two powerful one-loss teams that a lot of folks seem to have forgotten about. The reasons for that, I believe, are because UGA has had a ton of injuries up front and was down 31-0 at half in Athens against Alabama, and because LSU's defense was picked apart and gave up a ton of points in the Swamp. Can strong-armed Matthew Stafford and budding WR star A.J. Green victimize that young Tigers secondary? Can Tyson Jackson and the LSU D-line dominate the Georgia front and derail Knowshon Moreno?
- Sideline Soap Operas: Think West Virginia's Bill Stewart has had an eventful season? Wait till he meets up with Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, who has only dominated his archrival school this decade, yet still finds himself firmly entrenched on the hot seat. What would a loss to a Big East school on prime-time national television do for Tuberville's stock? Then again, the Auburn-WVU game doesn't have half the drama of Houston Nutt going back to Arkansas to face his old team or seeing if Ty Willingham's team can get its first win against Notre Dame, the school that canned him after three seasons.
Writes Robbie Neiswanger in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas about Nutt's return: "Houston Nutt did exactly what every disgruntled Arkansas fan wanted last December. He packed his bags, gathered his family, and got the heck out of the state. But walk around Arkansas' campus, peruse a message board chat room, or tune in to talk radio and it is abundantly clear that his highly publicized departure still hasn't tempered their venom. To them, Nutt's to blame for Arkansas' current situation, which included Saturday's heartbreaking loss to Kentucky. His insistence to run the ball for 10 years is the reason the Hogs are struggling to pass it now."
- Boise's last hurdle: The Broncos have another big Friday night coming up as they visit a solid San Jose State team led by Dick Tomey, one of the more underrated coaches in the business. The 5-2 Spartans have won three consecutive conference games for the first time since 2000 and have won their first three conference games to begin a season for the first time since joining the conference in 1996. The bad news for SJSU: Kevin Jurovich, a smooth converted DB who shined at receiver, has been sidelined with mono, and the passing game hasn't been sharp without him. The Spartans' defense is very good, though, and it will be fun to see whether that D can rattle stellar young Boise QB Kellen Moore. SJSU is third in the country in sacks with 25. Boise, though, has given up only six all season.
•This stat blew me away when I stumbled onto it looking for Boise-San Jose State info. Texas Tech is tied for No. 1 in fewest sacks allowed. Tech has surrendered just one sack despite throwing 343 passes. Air Force, the school Tech is tied with, has attempted 71 passes. Of all the crazy numbers QB Graham Harrell puts up for Tech, that stat might be the best of all.
•Ball State is one of the top stories of the season. The program has had quite a turnaround, and Ryan Wood tells that story through the team's seniors, who began their college careers with a 56-0 defeat at the University of Iowa.
•Nic Harris, Oklahoma's strong safety-turned-middle linebacker, did have some say in the move, writes John Hensley:
"If Coach wanted me to go under water and breathe for 30 minutes," Harris said, "I would."
Always the team player, Harris had already started at four different spots: Sam (strongside) and Will (weakside) linebacker, strong and free safety. Against spread offenses like Kansas', which feature finesse, Harris adds speed to the middle of the field in coverage. When the Sooners run into teams that rely more on the run -- Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, perhaps K-State on Saturday -- Austin Box or Mike Balogun can slide inside.
•Meet the guy replacing injured Bama NT Terrence Cody, Josh Chapman.
"He plays with strength," Saban told Christopher Walsh. "He plays with power. He plays run-blocks very well. He is a true nose guard for what we want and he has played all year. It's not like you haven't seen him. He is out there and probably plays one-third of the run down plays in every game. He did a very good job in this game when he had to play the last quarter and a half."
I remember Chapman from working on Meat Market. He came to Ole Miss' summer camp and the Rebels staff loved him. He was a 277-pound guy who clocked a 4.90 in the 40 and was relentless in all of the drills. At the time, no other schools had offered him. One of the coaches had remarked that he'd never seen Ed Orgeron push a kid so hard, and you could tell how much Orgeron appreciated Chapman. He didn't think Chapman was much more than 5-foot-10, but he just had so much toughness and strength that the Ole Miss head coach was convinced he'd be a good SEC nose man.
•Some praise is in order for La. Tech RB Daniel Porter, who was the WAC Offensive Player of the Week. Anyone who has watched a Tech game is probably a fan of Porter, a 189-pound junior from Baton Rouge who runs with the power of a 250-pounder. Porter has become one of my favorite players to watch. Every carry is a battle -- rarely does this guy go down after the first hit.
•Here is a story about some of the craziness top college recruits deal with. In it, there's a bit I hadn't heard about:
A couple recruits in Arizona -- including Devon Kennard, son of former Wolf Pack player Derek Kennard -- received multi-page letters from an inmate in the California State Penitentiary system urging them to choose Notre Dame.
•A book recommendation: My colleague Pat Forde has a great new book out with Rick Pitino, called Rebound Rules.
You don't have to be a basketball fan to enjoy it. It is really a book about coping through adversity and gives you a great window into a coach's world as he deals with failure in a very personal way, as Pitino did in the wake of his Celtics failure, what he called the Darkness of Doubt. I suspect it's something a Tuberville or Phil Fulmer could identify with as they try to rally their teams through a storm.
•Speaking of basketball, I had a chance to spend a little time with new Marquette basketball coach Buzz Williams when I met with him and his former boss Tom Crean last spring. The Chicago Tribune had a good story on Williams the other day about his attention to detail.
"Buzz Williams' schedule is promptly irregular. Marquette players quizzically glanced at each other when their new coach instructed them to show up for 'boot camp' at 6:13 a.m. one day and 5:58 a.m. another. Study halls can start at 8:12 p.m. or 8:13 p.m. or 7:55 p.m. Williams' accessories do not include a watch, but his internal alarm is more accurate than the world clock."