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September 12, 2008
Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans five things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend. We're doing two versions this week ? one specifically on Ohio State-USC and one on the other games. Here is the "national" version.
NOTRE DAME'S OFFENSE: Notre Dame's performance was lackluster at best in last week's 21-13 home victory over San Diego State. The Irish struggled to run against the Aztecs. Can they run effectively against Michigan, which is solid against the run? The Irish better formulate some kind of ground game or they could endure a third consecutive loss to the Wolverines.
TENNESSEE'S OFFENSE: New coordinator Dave Clawson is a smart man. He'll get this unit humming coming off a disappointing season-opening loss at UCLA. Remember this: The Bruins have a terrific defense. In fact, it may be the best defense Tennessee plays all season. The Vols generated 366 yards vs. UCLA but converted only five of 17 third downs in a stunning 27-24 overtime loss. QB Jonathan Crompton struggled, going 19 of 41 (46.3 percent) for 189 yards with an interception. But you must remember that he played sparingly in 2007, throwing only 12 passes, and will be making just his third career start Saturday vs. UAB. Crompton's timing and rhythm will be better. Look for Tennessee to come out charging behind what still will be one of the top rushing games in the SEC, led by a strong line and TBs Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty. That will open the passing game for Crompton and his wide receivers.
UCLA AT BYU: BYU has lost only twice in its past 25 games. One of those losses was to UCLA 27-17 last year. The Cougars avenged that loss in the Las Vegas Bowl. The third meeting in the past year between the teams carries perhaps the most weight. After an emotional win over Washington, BYU remains one of the non-"Big Six" front-runners for a major bowl. Despite the new coaching staff at UCLA, BYU still has some familiarity with the Bruins' play-callers. DeWayne Walker was the defensive coordinator in both previous meetings, and Norm Chow was a longtime BYU offensive coordinator. The Bruins' defense will be ready for QB Max Hall and TE Dennis Pitta. The question is whether Bruins QB Kevin Craft can carry his second-half magic from the Tennessee game into Provo.
SOUTH FLORIDA'S RUNNING GAME: The game getting overlooked this week is Friday night's Kansas at USF showdown. It's two good defenses against two good quarterbacks. The biggest advantage for either team would seem to be that Kansas has some tailbacks it can count on. Thus, it's vital for USF that someone ? anyone ? step up as a running threat to take some pressure off USF QB Matt Grothe. Grothe frequently is a magician, making big plays out of nothing. But he also often tosses ill-advised passes or takes unnecessary chances because too much of USF's offensive burden is placed on his shoulders. He needs some help from his running backs Friday night.
CAN FRESNO STATE KEEP ITS BCS HOPES ALIVE? East Carolina is the potential BCS interloper that has earned the most attention thus far, but Fresno State also made a statement by opening its season with a victory at Rutgers. A tough early season schedule made Fresno State seem like an unlikely candidate to go undefeated, but the road will get much easier if the Bulldogs win at home against Wisconsin this week and at UCLA on Sept. 27. Wisconsin headed west last year and barely escaped with a 20-13 victory over UNLV. This Fresno State team is much better than that UNLV squad.