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October 1, 2008

Five to watch: Several teams facing must-wins

When nine ranked teams lost last week, fans were left wondering if the pretenders simply had been weeded out or if 2008 would turn out to be as chaotic as 2007.

The first week of October may provide some answers: Eleven ranked teams go on the road this week, with three of them playing other ranked teams.

The upsets last week left us with no clear marquee game this week. Instead, several teams face must-win games as conference play begins.

After September losses, Auburn and Wisconsin risk losing ground in races for conference championships when both go on the road this week. USC returns home, but the Trojans are more worried about getting back on track in the Pac-10 race than they are about the national title. And in the Big 12, Texas and Missouri face their toughest road tests of the season to date.

There's also undefeated Vanderbilt (say that again undefeated Vanderbilt) suddenly in the SEC spotlight in a nationally televised game against Auburn.

Here are the top five games to watch this week.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 5 FIVE TO WATCH
AUBURN AT VANDERBILT

When: 6 p.m.
TV: ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
Line: Auburn by 3
Why you should watch: The Tigers and Commodores meet in one of the unlikeliest top-20 games of the season. Auburn's offense is borderline inept, averaging 287 yards in SEC games. As for Vanderbilt, the rest of the SEC finally is chasing the Commodores in something other than academics. The Commodores haven't reached a bowl since 1982, haven't been ranked for three consecutive weeks since 1956 and haven't defeated Auburn since 1955. Vanderbilt also could all but eliminate Auburn in the SEC West chase with a victory.

TEXAS AT COLORADO

When: 7 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Broadcasters: Joel Meyers play-by-play, Dave Lapham analyst
Line: Texas by 14
Why you should watch: If a team needs a reality check, Colorado has been content to dish those out over the past two seasons. Ask Oklahoma and West Virginia how their trips to Boulder went. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy has been unstoppable this season, tossing 14 touchdown passes and completing 80 percent of his throws. A scarier notion for the Big 12 is another Texas quarterback running the ball McCoy is the league's eighth-leading rusher with 278 yards. It's a safe bet the Longhorns' defense will be psyched to go against Colorado tailback Darrell Scott, a five-star recruit who spurned Texas for the Buffaloes. Scott, though, hasn't even been Colorado's best freshman tailback. The less-heralded Rodney Stewart has 49 carries and 273 yards in the past two games.

OHIO STATE AT WISCONSIN

When: 8 p.m.
TV: ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
Line: Ohio State by 2
Why you should watch: The Big Ten had a busy September losing national prestige with Ohio State's flop at USC, Penn State becoming the league's best national-title threat and Wisconsin bumbling away a potential win over Michigan despite forcing five turnovers. The Buckeyes' new-look offense, with freshman Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, appears more formidable than the unit that struggled against USC. Pryor has accounted for 372 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns in his first two starts, but will face his first road test as a starter at what promises to be a raucous Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin is in a must-win mode if it still hopes to contend for the Big Ten title and Penn State is next.

OREGON AT USC

When: 8 p.m.
TV: ABC regional/ESPN GamePlan
Broadcasters: Mark Jones play-by-play, Bob Davie analyst
Line: USC by 16
Why you should watch: Could things go sour for USC in a hurry? History says no. The Trojans haven't lost consecutive games since Pete Carroll's first season in 2001. Besides, it's not "big" games that cause trouble for USC; it's the eminently winnable ones. Mark Sanchez wants redemption not only for last week's Oregon State loss but also for throwing two interceptions in last season's loss to Oregon. Oregon State may have given Oregon a blueprint to beat USC: run right at the Trojans. Ducks tailbacks LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson have combined for 921 yards and 14 touchdowns. USC coaches have promised some changes in the starting defense this week.

MISSOURI AT NEBRASKA

When: 9 p.m.
TV: ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Chris Spielman analyst
Line: Missouri by 10
Why you should watch: This is one of only two tough road tests for Missouri; the other is a visit to Texas on Oct. 18. On top of that, the Tigers are looking for their first win in Lincoln since 1978. Much to Nebraska fans' chagrin, Bo Pelini's arrival didn't fix the defense overnight. The Huskers haven't allowed an opponent to gain 400 yards, but the cracks are apparent. Hardly an offensive powerhouse, Virginia Tech rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns last week, and Tyrod Taylor also threw the ball well. Heisman contenders Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin will provide a much tougher test for the Huskers this week.

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



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