7 College Showdowns to Shape Season

Thursday, September 14th 2006, 10:48 am
By: News On 6

Seven games, 14 ranked teams, one beautiful day of football. Since The Associated Press media poll started ranking the top 25 teams in 1989, there has only been one day _ Oct. 16, 1993 _ when more ranked teams squared off.

The showdown-filled Saturday will shape the national championship race, validate some teams as contenders and expose others as pretenders. Stars _ maybe even a few Heisman Trophy candidates _ will emerge. The pressure will cook some coaches and grant others a reprieve _ at least for a week or so.

No. 11 Michigan at No. 2 Notre Dame

What's at stake: The Fighting Irish have won two straight against Michigan and three in a row against the Wolverines in South Bend. Michigan hasn't won a road opener in six years.

What's really at stake: Michigan's pride and place among the nation's elite.

The pressure is on: Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. He's won a national title, but he hasn't beat Ohio State and Notre Dame lately.

The key: The Michigan running game with RBs Michael Hart and Kevin Grady must keep the pressure off QB Chad Henne.

The quote: ``They're not coming up here hoping to win, they're come up here expecting to win. We wouldn't expect anything less from a Michigan team that we have a great respect for.'' _ Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis.

No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn

What's at stake: The winner has earned the SEC West title four of the last five years.

What's really at stake: Both teams have legitimate national title hopes, but Auburn's toughest remaining games are at home against Florida and Georgia. LSU must go to Florida and Tennessee.

The pressure is on: Auburn K John Vaughn. He missed five field goals in an overtime loss to LSU last season, and a penalty saved him from being the goat two years ago in a 10-9 Auburn victory.

The key: The team that best protects its quarterback against the other's swarming defense wins.

The quote: ``You look at them on film and understand why they are third-ranked.'' _ LSU coach Les Miles.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 4 Southern California

What's at stake: Nebraska has won five straight, its longest streak since 2003. USC has won 27 straight at home.

What's really at stake: A measure of the Cornhuskers' resurgence. The Huskers find out if they're ready to stand up to the biggest bully in the class.

The pressure is on: Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. Some still doubt whether the West Coast offense can lead the 'Huskers back to the top.

The key: USC already has lost safety Josh Pinkard to a knee injury. Without him, how well will the Trojans' secondary hold up against QB Zac Taylor?

The quote: ``If we put up a good performance against USC and we score some points, people will take notice of the offense and realize we know what we're doing out here.'' _ Taylor.

No. 7 Florida at No. 13 Tennessee

What's at stake: Best in the SEC East, though Georgia will have a lot to say about that, too.

What's really at stake: The fragile psyche of Tennessee football.

The pressure is on: It's too easy to say Vols coach Phillip Fulmer. So how about Florida QB Chris Leak? He's been good, but he's one bad outing away from giving coach Urban Meyer another reason to play freshman phenom Tim Tebow.

The key: The team that runs best usually wins this rivalry.

The quote: ``Florida has perhaps the best defensive front in the Southeastern Conference, and our young offensive line has played reasonably well to this point. It'll be a tremendous challenge for us.'' _ Fulmer.

No. 17 Miami at No. 12 Louisville

What's at stake: Louisville has two major obstacles to an undefeated season _ the Hurricanes and West Virginia in November.

What's really at stake: Miami could start 1-2 and slide out of the rankings for the first time since 1999.

The pressure is on: Miami coach Larry Coker and the Louisville defense. In the biggest games, the Cardinals often get run over.

The key: Can QB Kyle Wright and the Miami offense keep up with QB Brian Brohm and the Cardinals?

The quote: ``We're going to have to take some shots down the field against Louisville.'' _ Miami wide receiver Darnell Jenkins.

No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 18 Oregon

What's at stake: Oklahoma has beaten the Ducks the past two years.

What's really at stake: The Pac-10's reputation. Outside of USC, the rest of the league has been knocked around the first two weeks of the season.

The pressure is on: Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart. The sophomore came to Eugene with talk of being another Adrian Peterson. Time to show it.

The key: Oregon's spread offense with dynamic QB Dennis Dixon against Oklahoma's speedy defense led by LB Rufus Alexander.

The quote: ``It can be a defining point in our season, as far as the direction we want to go in. A lot riding on this game.'' _ Oklahoma QB Paul Thompson.

No. 24 Texas Tech at No. 20 TCU

What's at stake: The nation's longest winning streak, TCU's 12-gamer.

What's really at stake: TCU's chance to go undefeated and reach the Bowl Championship Series.

The pressure is on: The Horned Frogs' defensive backs. In 2004, the Red Raiders scored 70 on TCU.

The key: The Red Raiders must contain TB Aaron Brown and the TCU running game so their pass-happy offense doesn't get stuck on the sideline.

The quote: ``Well, it only means something if you can keep winning. For one week, until next Saturday, we'll have the longest winning streak in the nation. And then we'll see how we'll play against Texas Tech.'' _ TCU coach Gary Patterson said.