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The Off Week: What to Watch

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Ordinarily, we would do a preview of the upcoming Alabama game here at RBR. But since the Crimson Tide is off this week, obviously Idle U doesn't merit a preview.

Nevertheless, I imagine that you, like me, will be watching a lot of college football this weekend, so instead of the preview, the following is an article of five games you should follow this Saturday, and the reasons why you should pay particularly close attention to those contests.

Ohio State at Penn State

Perhaps the only team that gets as much hatred in the Southeast as USC is the Ohio State Buckeyes. And yeah I know, they suck, they haven't played anybody, blah, blah, blah.

Now putting all of that crap aside, the Buckeyes are currently 8-0 and are in very good shape. The offense is pretty average, but the Buckeye defense is something truly special. Coming into the year, all we heard about was how great the LSU defense was going to be, but in reality the defense that we should have been talking about was the one in Columbus. At the moment, Ohio State is number one in the country in both total defense and scoring defense, and lead in both categories by substantial margins.

And it hasn't come just against terrible offenses, either. Purdue came in as one of the top offenses in the nation, and Ohio State held them scoreless until Purdue finally got on the board with a touchdown pass with ten seconds left in the game against the OSU scrubs. And last week Michigan State came into Columbus as one of the best offenses in the country, averaging over 36 points per game. But when they ran up against the Ohio State defense, they scored a mere three points and had only nine first downs all day. All told, through eight games, only once has the Ohio State defense allowed more than seven points (allowed 14 against Washington). From the looks of things, this defense could be one of the best we've seen in ages.

Penn State, on the other hand, is no slouch. Joe Pa's Nittany Lions are currently 6-2, and the two losses have been very close losses on the road against good opponents (14-9 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor, and 27-20 loss to Illinois in Champaign). The Penn State offense hasn't been particularly good, and that's a major concern considering the prowess of the Ohio State defense, but their defense has been stout in their own right, and they've made some big plays on special teams too.

All in all, this is a tough test for Ohio State. The last time the Buckeyes lost in the regular season was a night game in 2005 against Penn State in Happy Valley, and now they are headed back into Happy Valley for another night game against Penn State. This is likely to be a tough, physical, defensive struggle, and it has the makings of a very good game.

For Ohio State, the game is simply massive. You can bash them all you want, but a win here and they move to 9-0, and you have to figure that if they can beat Penn State in Happy Valley they will be able to beat Wisconsin and Illinois the following two weeks in Columbus. That could put the Buckeyes at 11-0 and just needing a win over Michigan -- something that has never been a problem under Tressel -- to make their second BCS title game in a row.

Bottom line: This game has major national championship implications, pay close attention. The game kicks off from Happy Valley at 7:00 on ABC.

USC at Oregon

Though neither of these two teams are leading the Pac-10 at the moment, the winner of this game is most likely the favorite to actually end up as Pac-10 champions and they will get the guaranteed BCS bid that goes along with the conference championship trophy. Moreover, the game has both national championship and Heisman implications.

In terms of the national championship race, USC's title hopes aren't dead yet, but they are very much on life support. And most likely the same goes for the Oregon Ducks, as well. At the moment, it seems slightly probable that one team goes undefeated and one team with one loss plays for the national championship in the Superdome. LSU, however, is the easy favorite to be the one loss team, and as long as a single one loss team gets into the title game, it will be LSU, and not USC or Oregon. But in this wild and wacky college football season, anything can happen, and LSU could very well lose another game and we may indeed have two one loss teams in the national title game. If either of those two things happen, then the winner of the USC v. Oregon game is then very likely to get in the national championship game. So obviously the game has national championship implications.

The game also has major Heisman Trophy implications, as mentioned earlier. Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon has been nothing short amazing thus far this year, as he is fourth in the country in QB rating, while completing approximately 70% of his passes for 16 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. Moreover, he's a definite dual threat, with over 400 yards rushing and averaging around six yards per carry on the ground. The problem, however, is that he probably hasn't gotten the national exposure he needs, but that will change tomorrow with a nationally televised showdown with USC. If Dixon has a big day against the Trojans, he likely becomes the Heisman front-runner.

All in all, it's just a huge game. It has everything you could ever want in a football game. Conference championship implications, national championship implications, Heisman implications... you name it and it's all here.

Tune in to ABC at 2:00 to watch the Trojans take on the Ducks from Autzen Stadium.

California at Arizona State

There is arguably no bigger surprise this year than 7-0 Arizona State. The Sun Devils are one year removed from a 7-6 record and a fired head coach, and now Dennis Erickson has his new team in the top five. But the problem is that they really haven't played anyone to date. Through seven games, they've only beaten one team with a winning record, and that was when they knocked off 4-3 Oregon State, at home, when they rallied from a 19-0 first half deficit with 17 points in the fourth quarter to win it.

But all of that is about to change with the next four weeks bringing Cal, Oregon, UCLA, and USC. The harsh truth is that these guys most likely aren't that good, but they are undefeated and in the top five. If these guys somehow play great football over the last five weeks, they could very well make the BCS title game. Yes they are currently below one-loss LSU in the BCS standings, but if they can remain undefeated by knocking off some of the high-quality teams that they will face over the next months, they will easily pass the Bayou Bengals in the BCS standings.

All of that, though, is a big if. Cal is coming off of a two-game losing streak, and they desperately need a win. They can still win the Pac-10 and get themselves in a BCS bowl game, but they have to win out and have Oregon drop a game somewhere along the line for that to happen. The two major obstacles -- Arizona State and USC -- are looming. Obviously, they must start it here if they want to regain the lost luster.

Tune in to see if Arizona State is that good, and to see if Cal can put themselves back in the race for the Pac-10.

Kick-off will be at 9:15 from Arizona, and you should be able to get the game on your local Fox Sports affiliate.

South Carolina at Tennessee

As you've probably noticed if you watched these two squads over the first eight weeks of the season, neither are particularly good football teams. The Vols are now a mere shell of their glory days of the Fat One in the late 90's, and the Gamecocks are no better than just decent even in Spurrier's third year in Columbia.

That said, it should be an interesting match-up, and does have a couple of good story lines that are worth following.

To begin with, the Ol' Ball Coach's offenses aren't what they used to be. At Florida in the mid-1990's, his teams had a three-year stretch where they averaged 500+ points per season, but those days have long since faded. That powerhouse slowed in Spurrier's later years at Florida, and what he has won in Columbia has come on the heels of mediocre-at-best offense and good defense. All of this was highlighted last week when the Gamecocks put up a mere six points at home against Vanderbilt. And now it seems that Spurrier may be turning to the third-team quarterback, and things are getting crazy. On the other hand, defensively the Vols aren't very good. And on the opposite side of the ball, we have just the reverse. Tennessee is very good on offense, and the Gamecocks sport a good defense.

Beyond that, this is a must-win game for both squads if either want to have any chance of winning the East, or making a decent bowl game.

For the Tennessee Volunteers, though, this is likely an even bigger game. A loss here does much more than eliminate themselves from the East, it also puts their season on the brink of a sheer and utter collapse. They come into this game with three losses, and a loss to South Carolina will give them four losses with games remaining against Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. A loss here, and it could be 2005 all over again.

This isn't the best game of the day by any stretch, but it does have some divisional race and bowl game implications, and it could be the beginning of the collapse for the Vols. Plus, hell, let's be honest, it's worth watching just to see if the latter comes to fruition. And SOS has always found so cruel yet enjoyable ways to rain on Tennessee's parade -- like two years in Knoxville when he ripped their hearts out of the Vols on Peyton Manning Appreciation Night when they retired his collegiate number; ah, fond memories, anyway, moving on... -- and that's just more added entertainment value.

Tune in to ESPN at 6:45 for the kick-off from Knoxville.

Florida at Georgia

The World's Largest Cocktail Party, or at least the game that used to be called that before the PC crowd got a simple football game in their cross-hairs, is your typical big game as has been usual in the Florida / Georgia rivalry. Both teams come in ranked, and it has a lot of implications.

Georgia comes into this game as a bit of a disappointment. A lot of people thought they would take off this year, but after losses to South Carolina and Tennessee, combined with a narrow victory over Vanderbilt, things just haven't gone as hoped. They are still alive in the SEC East, but Saturday is a must-win game for them if they want to remain in contention, and even if they can somehow knock off the Gators their hopes are still cloudy at best. On the other hand, a loss here and a best-case scenario is likely another berth in the Peach Bowl.

Florida, on the other hand, has really surprised people. They annihilated Tennessee, and though they dropped a couple of games mid-season, they look to be in good shape. They are currently tied atop the SEC East with tiebreakers over Tennessee and Kentucky, and with that in mind, they are relatively heavy favorites over both Georgia and South Carolina. These guys had LSU beat on the road in Tiger Stadium after leading for 59 minutes, but ultimately two fourth quarter turnovers doomed them. Rest assured that these guys have revenge on their mind, and they will be playing hard to get back to Atlanta for a chance to exact just that.

And yes, Florida has dominated this rivalry since Dooley stepped down in Athens, winning 15 of the last 17 and 8 of the last 9. But don't let that fool you into thinking that this is usually a boring game. Yes that was true during the days of Ray Goof and much of Jim Donnan's tenure, but since Mark Richt has arrived in Athens, things have generally been close. He hasn't had much luck knocking off the Gators, but he's kept it very close. The last five Georgia v. Florida games have been decided by one touchdown or less, and you should most likely expect another close tomorrow afternoon.

So all in all, it's a pretty meaningful game. And beyond that, it's one of the Deep South's best rivalries, it has a lot on the line, there are a lot of talented players, and two very good coaching staffs. If nothing more, it should be a good, tough, physical football game that comes right down to the end.

Tune in to CBS at 2:30 to watch what used to be called The World's Largest Cocktail Party.