College Football Corner: Texas Four-Step

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The eyes of Texas are probably a little bleary from its having to play four top 12 teams in four weeks.

But the No. 1 Longhorns have handled the first three challenges, dispatching then-No. 1 Oklahoma three weeks ago, then No. 12 Missouri, followed by a nail-biter last week over Oklahoma State, which came in ranked sixth.

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell
and wide receiver Michael Crabtree

This week's predicament is a trip to face the No. 7 Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-0).

Texas Coach Mack Brown is looking forward to the excitement in Lubbock, which hasn't hosted a game of this magnitude in, well, forever. Keep in mind that the Raiders have never finished a season ranked in The Associated Press Top 10.

"I remember the couple of times we've been out there, the students were out there on Thursday, and now I hear they've been out there since Tuesday already," he said at his weekly press conference. "They'll be pumped up and that's the atmosphere you want to play in as a college football player, for both teams."

Atmosphere aside, this game is vital for both teams with four Big 12 schools ranked in the BCS' top nine (remember, conferences can place on two schools into the 10 BCS bowl berths). Texas should still get a BCS bowl bid even if it loses Saturday, but it's now all about the national championship. Texas' remaining schedule favors a trip to the BCS title game with a win here.

Texas Tech still has a trip to Norman to face Oklahoma, so a loss to both the Longhorns and Sooners wouldn't be a shocker. The danger is a subsequent plunge in the polls and getting passed up by higher-profile Oklahoma State or Missouri for a Cotton Bowl bid, which still means something in Texas.

ESPN's College GameDay Built by The Home Depot ( HD) will be on hand Saturday to add to the excitement.

Here's a closer look at some top games Saturday:

( No. 1 Texas (-4) at No. 7 Texas Tech, 8 p.m. EDT, ABC): For the third week in a row, Texas and its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Colt McCoy will face a highly ranked team that also features a premier quarterback. There was Oklahoma and Sam Bradford, Missouri and Chase Daniel, and Oklahoma State and Zac Robinson. McCoy emerged as the man in the first three games (although he did fumble late last week, giving Oklahoma State one last shot). Now it's Graham Harrell and Texas Tech. Harrell, the top-rated passer in the land, had a Heisman-worthy game against Kansas last week, completing 34 of 42 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns.

"They Texas Tech have been so good on offense every year that they weren't as good on defense," Brown said. "This year, they've got the whole package. They are playing really well on defense. I think one of the most significant changes is that they have gotten 20 sacks. They've only given up three sacks and they've gained 20."

Brandon Williams and McKinner Dixon have combined for 14 of those sacks. Corner's choice: Texas 38, Texas Tech 27

(No. 6 Georgia (7-1) (+6) at No. 8 Florida (7-1) in Jacksonville, Fla., 3:30 p.m. EDT, CBS): They don't get much more heated than this one. SEC East bragging rights are on the line, and the winner will take a big BCS step forward. Both teams have been hot lately, with the Bulldogs tearing up LSU in Baton Rouge last week, and the Gators coming off routs of Kentucky and LSU in which they racked up more than 110 points combined.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (15)
and receiver Percy Harvin (1)

Big plays could figure in this one too, and Georgia made quite a few last week. Linebacker Darryl Gamble returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and running back Knowshon
Moreno rushed for 163 yards, including a breathtaking 68-yard TD burst.

Florida Coach Urban Meyer

Both coaches this week are downplaying what happened in last year's game when the entire Georgia team ran on the field after the Bulldogs scored a touchdown, resulting in two unsportsmanlike penalties. Florida standout receiver Percy Harvin said the Gators wouldn't do something similar -- because they expect to score. Although, UF coach Urban Meyer said
of the incident in his authorized biography: "We'll handle it. And it's going to be a big deal." This one promises to be scintillating. Corner's choice: Georgia 35, Florida 31

No. 15 Florida State (6-1) (+2 1/2) at Georgia Tech (6-2), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC: Penn State Coach Joe Paterno's old friend Bobby Bowden is quietly keeping pace in the all-time victories list in college football. Bowden is second in "I-A" wins with 379 (two behind Paterno), and his Florida State team has reeled off four straight victories. FSU junior defensive end Everette Brown was the ACC Player of the Week with three sacks against Virginia Tech last Saturday. Senior running back Antone Smith leads the ACC in scoring.

Florida St. defensive end Everette Brown

Georgia Tech, facing a Top 25 team for the first time this season, is coming off a 24-17 loss to Virginia in which the Yellow Jackets gave up 21 unanswered points after leading 14-3. Tech sophomore safety Morgan Burnett leads the nation with six interceptions, and senior defensive end Michael Johnson has the NFL scouts interested. Tech also is ninth in rushing in the nation, led by sophomore running back Jonathan Dwyer. The Seminoles have beaten the Yellow Jackets 12 times in a row, with the last game in 2003. If Florida State wins out, the 'Noles will play in the ACC Championship in Tampa. Corner's choice: Florida State 33, Georgia Tech 30.

( No. 24 Oregon (6-2) (+3) at California (5-2), 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC): Holiday Bowl play-in game, anyone? That's about the best the runner-up in the Pac-10 Conference can expect this year, with the strength in the Big 12, SEC and that pesky Ohio State squad likely keeping a second Pac-10 team out of the BCS mix. But that's of little consequence this weekend as the Ducks come into Memorial Stadium seeking revenge after allowing the Golden Bears to triumph last season in Eugene, Ore. -- their first win there since 1987. Sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson lead yet another high-powered Oregon offense, which has helped to offset a defense that's a little soft -- particularly against the pass.

Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford has been unusually finicky with his quarterbacks this season, starting sophomore Kevin Riley in the first four games, then senior Nate Longshore for a pair, then back to Riley in last week's win vs. UCLA. You'd almost think they weren't scoring 38 points a game. But the defense, save for a tough outing in Tucson two weeks ago, has been very steady in the team's last four games. Picking off 15 passes in seven games has certainly helped, with cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson leading the team with three. Weather forecasts suggest a rare wet one in Berkeley, negating some of that vaunted Duck team speed. Corner's Choice: Cal 24, Oregon 20.

Northwestern (6-2) (+6½) at No. 17 Minnesota (7-1), Noon EDT, ESPN2: Either of these teams would've signed in August for a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten this season, and this game could help to settle that slot. That may not sound like much, but if Ohio State sneaks into a BCS bowl it would give either of these teams a legitimate claim to a New Year's Day Bowl. And for Minnesota, it's been a 37-year drought. For the Golden Gophers, the progress from last year's 1-11 finish has been about one thing: turnover margin. Minnesota is +15 in eight games, having ripped 24 takeways already. Part of the trick, of course, is holding onto the ball yourself, and sophomore quarterback Adam Weber has been stingy with the pigskin, both as a passer and a runner.

Minnesota Coach Tim Brewster
The question is, will the Gophers' luck run out? Looking at the Wildcats' injury report, it appears not. Minnesota catches the team as Northwestern has just lost senior running back Tyrell Sutton for the season with a wrist injury. Sutton, who had run for 776 yards, will unfortunately finish fewer than 20 yards short of overtaking Darnell Autry as the school's second-leading rusher. The news isn't much better at quarterback, where senior C.J. Bacher, who has taken nearly every snap for two seasons, is listed as questionable with a leg injury. Bacher has always had a tendency to throw to the wrong team, but a senior quarterback is a senior quarterback. A week ago, the Corner had this one down for a road upset, but with the possible absence of its two most important players, the chances look slim. Corner's Choice: Minnesota 28, Northwestern 20.

Corner kicks: And let's pay tribute to an instantly classic football game last week. That hard-hitting, intense 10-6 victory by Paterno's Penn State over Ohio State would have left a couple of his former peers beaming. Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler would have loved the three-yards-and-a-rug-burn-action. The nation's sports fans seemed to like it, too: Entertainment Weekly's Web site reported that the game's 9.4 million TV viewers smoked Game 3 of the World Series by more than a couple million ... Speaking of grinding action, Navy bested SMU last Saturday, 34-7, in a game in which the Midshipmen attempted zero passes. Navy ran the ball an astounding 77 times, limiting the Mustangs to just four offensive series in the second half, making the Middies' 27-0 halftime lead stand up without much problem. ... Looking for a dark-horse Heisman candidate? Iowa students, who normally don the black and gold, are putting a twist on color-coordinating fan apparel with a call for a "Greene Out" at the team's potential spoiler game at home vs. Penn State on Nov. 8. The move is a ploy to boost the candidacy of junior running back Shonn Greene, who is third in the country in rushing with 1,156 yards. Knocking off the Nittany Lions wouldn't hurt his cause ... This is why they play 12: Has any team looked so bad, then so good, as Virginia? The sharks were circling after horrible losses to USC, UConn and Duke had the team at 1-3. They've rattled off four impressive wins in a row to take the lead in the ACC Coastal Division. Compare that with Vanderbilt, which has now last three straight after a 5-0 start had fans dreaming of their first winning season in 26 years. Looking at the rest of the schedule, it might be time to dream about 2009. ... The Corner went 2-3 on the picks last week, with the season mark now at 6-4.

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