after sixth-ranked LSU had finished a 45--3 pounding of overmatched Arizona
last Saturday, quarterback JaMarcus Russell was asked how soon the Tigers would
begin thinking about their trip to face No. 3 Auburn this weekend. He issued a
one-word answer: "Now."
Russell was eager
to prepare for the big game, but if he was also in a hurry to put Saturday in
his rearview mirror and look ahead seven days, he wasn't the only one. With the
notable exception of the Ohio State-- Texas game, last weekend was mostly a
yawner, littered with 14 I-A versus I-AA meetings and assorted other
mismatches. But this Saturday holds far more promise, with no fewer than six
games between highly ranked opponents that will significantly strengthen some
national championship aspirations and perhaps end others. In fact, Week 3 may
be remembered as the point at which the season began to take shape.
LSU's trip to
Auburn pits against each other two sets of Tigers that have been equally
impressive and equally untested. Auburn handled Washington State (40--14) and
Mississippi State (34--0) with ease, and LSU's win over Arizona was the Tigers'
second straight 45--3 laugher. (They beat Louisiana-Lafayette in their opener.)
Both teams recognize the high stakes--the winner has represented the West
Division in the SEC championship game in each of the last three years.
Despite its loss
on Saturday, Mississippi State limited Kenny Irons, Auburn's tailback and
dark-horse Heisman candidate, to 69 yards on 21 carries. LSU may want to borrow
the Bulldogs' defensive game plan, because Irons ripped the Tigers for 218
yards in Baton Rouge last season. Although LSU won, 20--17 in overtime, the
Bayou Bengals probably won't pull off a road victory if their defense allows
Irons to have another big game.
In the SEC East,
seventh-ranked Florida visits No. 13 Tennessee in a game that should confirm
which of the Volunteers' first two games was an aberration--their 35--18
demolition of then ninth-ranked California, or the 31--30 victory over Air
Force on Saturday in which Tennessee had to stop a late two-point conversion to
preserve the win. "Consistency is one of the things we're looking for,"
said Vols coach Phillip Fulmer. "Obviously we haven't quite found it
Something has to
give when defense-minded Miami travels to explosive Louisville. The national
title hopes of the No. 17 Hurricanes will be all but gone if they lose to the
Cardinals, and if his team does so with the kind of anemic offense it showed in
a 13--10 loss to Florida State on Sept. 4 (two yards rushing and eight first
downs), coach Larry Coker will be feeling a different kind of heat in South
meanwhile, is still recovering from a loss of another kind--the season-ending
broken leg that star running back Michael Bush suffered in the opener. Without
Bush, the offense will depend heavily on quarterback Brian Brohm and Bush's two
talented replacements, Kolby Smith and George Stripling. That's more than
enough firepower to overwhelm most defenses, but the Hurricanes, who limited
Florida State to 176 total yards, aren't most defenses. If the No. 12 Cardinals
survive Miami, their chances for an undefeated season will increase
dramatically. A Nov. 2 home game against No. 5 West Virginia would be the only
major obstacle remaining on Louisville's schedule.
Notre Dame and No. 11 Michigan have tougher schedules awaiting them, which
makes their matchup in South Bend all the more important. After starting
sluggishly with a 14--10 win over Georgia Tech, the Fighting Irish played more
like a title contender last Saturday, beating Penn State 41--17. Notre Dame
will be by far the biggest challenge to date for the Wolverines, who have
handled Vanderbilt and Central Michigan easily. Michigan will have a decent
chance for an upset if its ground game, which has averaged 249 yards in the
first two games led by running back Mike Hart, can control the ball and keep
Notre Dame's dangerous offense off the field. "I think we're a good
team," Hart said, "but come to Notre Dame and you're going to find out
how good you really are. They have a better idea of how good they are than we
do." The Wolverines will find out fast how good they are: Wisconsin awaits
in two weeks, Penn State and Iowa are on the October schedule, and they close
with a road game against Ohio State.
Nebraska is in the same position as Michigan. After romps at home over
Louisiana Tech and Division I-AA Nicholls State, the Cornhuskers hit the road
to face No. 4 USC. And in another matchup between undefeated Pac-10 and Big 12
teams, 18th-ranked Oregon plays host to No. 15 Oklahoma. Nonconference wins
against quality opponents are crucial for Oregon and USC (the Trojans and the
Irish meet on Nov. 25 in L.A.), since the woeful bottom half of the Pac-10
won't do much for either team's strength of schedule.
knows how good USC is," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said after the
Cornhuskers thumped a Nicholls State team that attempted only three passes in a
56--7 loss. "The key for our kids was not to look ahead to [ USC] until
after we had handled the first two games. Now they can look ahead all they
want." So, thankfully, can the rest of us.