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September 26, 2008
Keep an eye on: Things to watch in Week 5
Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend.
TCU AT OKLAHOMA. Will we still be talking about parity when this one is over? Oklahoma opened the 2005 season with a 17-10 home loss to TCU, and Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson said the win took his program to another level. Last season, Oklahoma opened 4-0 with wins of 79-10, 51-13, 54-3 and 62-21; then the Sooners lost to Colorado 27-24 in Game 5. The Sooners have opened the 2008 season 3-0, by scores of 57-2, 52-26, and 55-14. Now they face TCU in a game that pits the Horned Frogs' No. 1 defense against the Sooners' No. 1 scoring offense. This contest has "great ballgame" written all over it. Are the best teams in the Big 12 better than the best teams in the Mountain West? By a little, but not much. Will Oklahoma beat TCU? By a little, but not much.
PENN STATE COACH JOE PATERNO. Paterno doesn't have a contract after this season, but he might have another Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions have been dominant in steamrolling four consecutive opponents by an average of 42.7 points. Quarterback Daryll Clark has been efficient and running back Evan Royster has been explosive. But whether the fast start is a matter of a strong team or a weak schedule remains to be seen. Thus far, Penn State's strongest opponent is Oregon State, which lost to Stanford. More will be learned about Penn State against Illinois, which is 2-1 and was competitive in a 10-point loss to Missouri. The Lions will solidify their position as Big Ten contenders with a victory. And JoePa might even get a contract extension.
HAS TENNESSEE QUIT? There's nothing like a heaping helping of adversity to show the true colors of a program. Tennessee will get a plate full when it travels to Auburn with a 1-2 record fresh off a humiliating home loss to Florida. What's on the line? Tennessee's season and Phillip Fulmer's long-term future. Will the Vols salvage the season? Will they continue to crumble? The Tigers still have SEC West title hopes and know they can't afford another slip-up. Tennessee isn't thinking championships. It's thinking survival. The outcome will tell us all we need to know about how the rest of the season will go for the Vols, who have a date at Georgia on Oct. 11.
MARSHALL AT WEST VIRGINIA. While Tom's watching to see if Tennessee has given up, I'm watching to see the same about West Virginia. You can say the Mountaineers will be geared up to face their in-state rival, but they're still probably not as motivated as Marshall. This is Marshall's Super Bowl. Marshall has won its first two Conference USA games over teams that went bowling last year, while WVU's offense looks like it doesn't have a clue. West Virginia needs a pick-me-up in the worst way. If the Mountaineers can beat up on the Thundering Herd as they have in the past, perhaps that returns some normalcy to Morgantown before the Big East schedule.
VIRGINIA TECH AT NEBRASKA. The Huskers have started well under Bo Pelini, but they've played no one. The Hokies can play defense, and I'm not sure the Huskers can run effectively on Tech. That puts it on Huskers quarterback Joe Ganz's shoulders. The Hokies will be the first team this season that will try to run straight at the Huskers – and has the talent to do it. But Tech is going to have to throw the ball some to win. Can Tyrod Taylor – or Sean Glennon – do that?
ALABAMA'S PROGRESS. There's no question Alabama has taken a giant step forward in its second season under Nick Saban. The Tide proved that much by whipping Clemson and Arkansas away from home by an average margin of 29.5 points. The only question that remains is just how good Alabama has become. Are the Tide an 8-4 type of team that plays in the Chick-fil-A or Cotton bowl this season before making a serious run at the SEC title in 2009? Are they ready to join LSU, Florida and Georgia as the SEC's elite programs this season? We should find out Saturday in Athens. Alabama's run defense has played well all season, but the Tide will face a major chore trying to hold Knowshon Moreno in check. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson has done a good job of avoiding mistakes, but an effective rushing attack and an exceptional defense have taken much of the pressure off him. This might be the night when Wilson has to step up and emerge as a playmaker. If he does that, Alabama just might become a player in the SEC – and national – championship picture.