Tough tests for top college teams

Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2005

The final Saturday of September has the potential to reshape the race to the Rose Bowl.

Three of the nation's top four teams —all prime contenders to play for the national title in Pasadena on Jan. 4 —play ranked opponents, including No. 1 Southern California at No. 24 Oregon.

No. 3 LSU finally plays a home game —and it's a big one. The Tigers host No. 10 Tennessee, with the Volunteers looking to bounce back from a loss at Florida.

No. 4 Virginia Tech has won its last two games by a combined 90-0. The Hokies will have to work much harder this week with No. 15 Georgia Tech coming to Blacksburg.

The Trojans haven't played Oregon while winning national titles the past two seasons. The last time they visited Autzen Stadium, Carson Palmer was the quarterback, USC scored 30 straight points in the second half and gained 608 yards in the game, and the Trojans won 44-33.

Expect a similarly high-scoring affair with Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart making his first start in Eugene, and quarterback Kellen Clemens and the Ducks going against a USC defense missing two injured starters.

Oregon (3-0) is unbeaten, but the Ducks allowed 34 points to Fresno State and 24 to Houston. The Trojans, meanwhile, have scored 133 points in two games.

''I don't know that we want to match touchdowns with USC,'' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. ''At this point I think the lower the score the better that is for the Ducks and I think that we have the ability to move the football and we can score points. I am just not sure we can do it quite as fast as USC has shown they have done it the past two games.''

USC's winning streak is 24 games. One more ties the school record set in 1931-33.

Because of Hurricane Katrina, LSU has played only one game —a dramatic 35-31 victory over Arizona State that was supposed to be played in Tiger Stadium but ended up being moved to Tempe, Ariz.

The Tigers are eager for a home game and the Vols, who began the season with national title hopes, are desperate for a win to keep those aspirations alive.

Virginia Tech gutted out a win at North Carolina State to start the season then pounded Ohio and Duke. Georgia Tech could be forced to play without quarterback Reggie Ball, who is recovering from viral meningitis.

The picks:


No. 13 California (minus 30) at New Mexico State

Winless Aggies allowing 37 points per game ... CAL 48-14.

No. 22 Iowa State (minus 17) at Army

Second meeting; Army won 9-7 in 1964 ... IOWA STATE 34-13.


No. 1 Southern California (minus 21 1/2) at No. 24 Oregon

Trojans have lost just once since teams last met in 2002 ... OREGON 46-43.

No. 10 Tennessee (plus 6 1/2) at No. 3 LSU

Last meeting was 2001 SEC title game won by Tigers ... LSU 24-16.

No. 15 Georgia Tech (plus 11) at No. 4 Virginia Tech

First meeting in Blacksburg was canceled by lightning in 2000 ... VIRGINIA TECH 19-15.

No. 5 Florida (minus 23) at Kentucky

Gators have won 18 straight against Wildcats ... FLORIDA 30-14.

No. 7 Georgia (minus 15) at Mississippi State

First meeting since 1997 ... GEORGIA 35-10.

No. 21 Iowa (plus 7) at No. 8 Ohio State

Hawkeyes outgained Buckeyes 448-177 in win last year ... OHIO STATE 24-14.

No. 9 Louisville (minus 20 1/2) at South Florida

Big East newbies open conference play ... LOUISVILLE 50-20.

No. 11 Purdue (plus 3 1/2) at Minnesota

Joe Tiller 6-0 against Glen Mason's Gophers ... MINNESOTA 24-23.

Colorado (plus 14) at No. 12 Miami

Last met in 1993, 'Canes won in Boulder ... MIAMI 26-14.

No. 14 Michigan (minus 3) at Wisconsin

Badgers RB Brian Calhoun has eight TDs in three games ... MICHIGAN 27-26.

No. 16 Notre Dame (minus 13 1/2) at Washington

Irish lead series 5-0 ... NOTRE DAME 36-13.

No. 17 Michigan State (minus 10 1/2) at Illinois

Last three times Spartans beat top-10 team, they lost next game ... MICHIGAN ST. 44-24.

No. 18 Arizona State (minus 6 1/2) at Oregon State

ASU's Sam Keller leads nation with 12 TD passes ... ARIZONA STATE 41-21.

Indiana State (no line) at No. 19 Texas Tech

Another meaningless win for Red Raiders ... TEXAS TECH 90-14.

Arkansas (plus 15) at No. 20 Alabama

Razorbacks have won five of eight vs. Tide, including last two ... ALABAMA 30-13.

Duke (minus 24 1/2) at No. 23 Virginia

Four out of next five opponents for Duke are ranked ... VIRGINIA 37-7.

Last week 16-4 (straight); 13-4-2 (vs. points).

Season 43-14 (straight); 32-18-3 (vs. points).

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