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Showdown Saturday

   by Al McMordie - 11/13/2006

There’s nothing like a late season rivalry showdown or a battle of unbeatens. This weekend offers a couple of gridiron dandies, as Keith Jackson might say. Here’s a look at the best of showdown Saturday.

Michigan at Ohio State: Folks have been waiting for this one for weeks, as the longtime rivals not only come in undefeated, but also No. 1 and No. 2 in the country. If the Buckeyes beat Michigan, they'll become the first team to play in three 1 vs. 2 matchups in a single season when they play for the national championship on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Arizona. Meanwhile Michigan has won 15 of its last 16 regular-season games. The only loss? 25-21 to Ohio State last year.

As always with great football teams, the defenses have been outstanding. The Ohio State defense is allowing 7.8 points, which is why they are 9-2 under the total. Michigan’s run defense is reminding many of the 1997 team and is allowing 29.9 yards rushing and 12 points per game. That is why Michigan is 8-3 under the total.

Michigan held Wisconsin to 12 yards rushing on 27 carries, 0.4 yards per attempt! The Michigan offense just got wide receiver Mario Manningham back the last two games after minor knee surgery, and they can use him this game. One concern about the Wolverines is the secondary, which has had some problems at times. They have given up over 240 yards passing in three games, including against Ball State! And this will be the best and fastest passing game they will face all season.

That’s important to note, because in last year’s meeting Ohio State QB Troy Smith tore up the Wolverine secondary: 27-of-37 passing for 300 yards, one TD and no picks. Ohio State moved it through the air with ease. That’s a strong possibility this year with both teams being so good against the run. In fact, in that game, Ohio State had the edge in yards 418-255, including 118 rushing yards. QB Troy Smith added 32 yards rushing and his mobility caused fits for Michigan.

Buckeye coach Jim Tressel has had Lloyd Carr’s number, as Ohio State has gone 4-1 SU/ATS the last five years against Michigan. And the Wolverines were favored twice by more than 6 points. The last team to play in two No. 1 vs. 2 games was Florida State in the 1993 season. The Seminoles were No. 1 when they lost to Notre Dame 31-24 on Nov. 13, and were No. 1 again when they beat Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl to win the national championship. The Buckeyes are also 34-2 SU, 24-10-1 ATS their last 36 games at the Horseshoe! For the first time since 1973, both OSU and Michigan enter the game undefeated. I'll be in attendance at this game, and couldn't be more excited myself.

California at USC: Cal’s surprising loss to Arizona Saturday took them out of any national title hopes, but it doesn’t diminish the aura for this game. USC has a great chance of playing for the national title with a win here. Both Cal and USC have only one conference loss in this Pac 10 showdown. While Michigan/Ohio State features outstanding defenses, this game is more about all the speed and talent on offense.

The Golden Bears average 35 points, 165 yards rushing, 266 passing per game behind sophomore QB Nate Longshore, junior RB Marshawn Lynch and fast young WRs Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson. Southern Cal has QB John David Booty and future pro WRs Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith on an offense that averages 32 points and 247 yards passing and 148 rushing.

A key to this game will likely be the running games and run defenses. After struggling with injuries on the defensive line against the run, USC the last three games has been healthier and awesome against the run, allowing 2.5, 1.0 and 2.6 yards per carry. Saturday’s 35-10 win was impressive as the Trojans did a good job of controlling the freewheeling spread offense of Oregon. USC is 25-0 SU, 18-7 ATS its last 25 home games, but Cal has outplayed USC in 2 of the last 3 years, and those USC teams were more talented than this one. Enjoy what should be a memorable college football weekend! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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