College Top 25 Preview


The Florida-Florida State series is still relatively in its infancy Â… but it is what all rivalries want to be when they grow up. This one is the king of all classics in the '90s.

No surprise, Saturday's gala at The Swamp is the 1999 regular-season Game of the Year.

At times this season, it has seemed that they have merely outlasted their opponents rather than dominated them, but here they are: No. 1 FSU vs. No. 3 Florida, national title hopes at stake. This is the 12th time they've met in the '90s -- including two Sugar Bowl matchups -- and each team has been ranked in the Top 10every single time.

Not all rivalries can have this much at stake or be as good as this one, which began a modest 41 years ago. But the emotion will be just as high for the other big rivalries this week, some of which have been played for more than 100 years.

Wouldn't Michigan love to keep Ohio State out of a bowl? Imagine Auburn's joy of blocking Alabama's way to the SEC title game. And Utah can gleefully rip the Mountain West title from BYU's grasp.

For sure, it's a fat weekend of great games, always one of the best Saturdays of the year.

No. 1 FLORIDA STATEat No. 3 FLORIDA,
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Here we go again Â… they've performed step one in arriving at this game with a chance at the national championship. Win it, and for FSU it means a"do not pass go" trip to New Orleans. For the Gators, it means head to New Orleans by way of Atlanta Â… but be careful about being caught upside the head by a wave of Crimson Tide.
Matchup Breakdown
The Rivalry
Seminoles (10-0)Gators (9-1)
Peter Warrick has quietly evolved back into being the best open-field player in college football, and here's the game he needs to show it again, just as he did last year. QB Chris Weinke is at the top of his game, and has every intention of leading this team to the national title, and then taking his mature, 28-year-old body to the next level.Quarterback mess or no, this is still The Swamp, and the Gators aren't about to roll over. Fact is, their defense has played sensationally at times, and their offense has better balance than it has in years Â… just the kind of characteristics it'll take to beat the Seminoles. Wen QB is the biggest problem Steve Spurrier has, look out.

No. 2 VIRGINIA TECHat TEMPLE,
noon ET, ESPN2
Let's hope the Owls enjoyed that stunning upset at Virginia Tech last season, because they will have the Hokies' full attention this season Â… and when the Hokies devote their full attention to something, it tends to get ugly for the other team. Isn't that right, Miami? Any rebuttal, Syracuse?
Matchup Breakdown
Hokies (9-0, 5-0)Owls (2-7, 2-3)
They're not exactly Purdue, but Temple has come to grips with a new spread offense, winning two of its past four games, including a victory over Boston College that looks better all the time. QB Devin Scott will have to make good, quick decisions and try to short-pass the Hokies into confusion.Superior personnel plus superior motivation equals huge victory. So you would think. Needing a nice margin of victory to appease the BCS computers and wanting a nice margin of victory to avenge last year's loss, the Hokies should be at the top of their game. DE Corey Moore, who has 15 sacks, will insist on it.


No. 7 TENNESSSEEat KENTUCKY,
12:30 p.m. ET, JP-TV
OK, so the Vols blew it last week Â… call it the cosmic price that goes with winning a national championship. Anyway, they still probably can get into the Orange or Fiesta Bowls by beating Kentucky and Vanderbilt to finish 9-2. That's a measure of how far Phil Fulmer has taken the program; disappointed and playing for Orange or Fiesta.
Matchup Breakdown
Volunteers (7-2, 4-2)Wildcats (6-4, 4-3)
Considering that Kentucky handled Arkansas earlier in the season, and the big bowls are still out there, UT ought tbe appropriately geeked for this one. Guys like safety Deon Grant and linebacker Raynoch Thompson are aware that they gave up 28 points last week -- the most in 20 games -- and failed to protect a 10-point second-half lead.Kentucky is bowl-eligible, and is expected to go to either the Music City or Independence Bowls, which would give the Wildcats back-to-back bowls for the first time in 16 years. The offense has been lacking the big play, but for four of the past five games, the defense has allowed an average of just 14 points.


No. 8 ALABAMAat AUBURN,
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's all relative, but these teams approach the Iron Bowl with a huge opportunity: The Tide can win the SEC West title and advance to face Florida in the league championship game, while the Tigers can become bowl eligible in Tommy Tuberville's first season at Auburn. Bama's a heavy favorite, but two of the last three games have been decide by one point.
Matchup Breakdown
The Iron Bowl Rivalry
Crimson Tide (8-2, 6-1)Tigers (5-5, 2-5)
Reborn again coach Mike DuBose has gotten Alabama this far, and now the Tide has one more substantial step to take before even thinking about playing Florida again. Shaun Alexander has been improving from a sprained ankle, but he wasn't full-go in the big Mississippi State victory last week.Where'd that offensive explosion come from? Auburn, with QB Ben Leard going off for 416 yards and four TDs in an astounding 38-21 rout at Georgia last week, seemed to exorcise a season's worth of offensive demons with that performance Â… and suddenly, beating Alabama doesn't seem so unlikely.


MISSOURIat No. 9 KANSAS STATE,
3:10 p.m. ET, ABC
The last time Kansas State suffered a disheartening loss like last week's 41-15 defeat to Nebraska -- we're talking about lst year's Big 12 championship game -- the Wildcats tanked their next game, the Alamo Bowl. They are eager to remember the Alamo Â… and not repeat the same mistake this week against Missouri.
Matchup Breakdown
Tigers (4-6, 1-6)Kansas State (9-1, 6-1)
It hasn't been the kind of season that coach Larry Smith had hoped for, but there should be better days ahead. In this game, look for true freshman QB Justin Gage to play more (possibly start) and for another true freshman, LB Sean Doyle, to make an impact -- he had 15 tackles last week in his first start.K-State can still reach the Big 12 title game, needing a victory here and a Colorado win over Nebraska next week. That's not asking for too much Â… just as asking for better quarterback play is not an unreasonable request. Jonathan Beasley and Adam Helm in the past two weeks: 13 of 49 for 247 yards.

OHIO STATEat No. 10 MICHIGAN,
noon ET, ABC
Excuse us for this Â… we realize it's a rivalry and all, but we cannot for the life of us figure out how Ohio State could win this game. The Buckeyes are just good enough to keep Michigan's attention, and the Wolverines this season are better than OSU at everything.
Matchup Breakdown
The Rivalry
Buckeyes (6-5, 3-4)Wolverines (8-2, 5-2)
It's win or stay home for Ohio State, which seeks to extend a bowl appearance steak to 11 with an upset victory at Michigan. The Buckeyes must get a previously unseen offensive jolt to pull a surprise. But if they get another meek effort, it's a 6-6 finish and home for the holidays.Michigan appears to have its focus back now that coach Lloyd Carr has settled on senior Tom Brady as his quarterback. He rallied the Wolverines to two touchdown drives in the final four minutes against Penn State, completing 6 of 9 on those possessions, while running for both a first down and a touchdown.

No. 12 MISSISSIPPI ST.at No. 22 ARKANSAS,
9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Bulldogs are coming off a downer and Hogs off an upper Â… perhaps they'll meet somewhere in the middle and slug it out. And this is one of those magical night games at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, so the Hogs might be able to maintain some of the high gained in the big win over Tennessee.
Matchup Breakdown
Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1)Razorbacks (6-3, 3-3)
Hey, Auburn beating Alabama isn't out of the question, and if State just takes care of its own business (Arkansas and Ole Miss), it can still capture the SEC West title. The Bulldogs better, however, get back to running the ball adequately Â… over the past four games, they've averaged just 56 yards.Arkansas retains a strong chance of getting to the Cotton Bowl at 8-3. That's entirely possible with Clint Stoerner playing like the best QB in the SEC, which he was last week against the Vols. Remember, the Hogs' last-second 22-21 loss to State last year was almost as heart-breaking as the loss to Tennessee.


No. 13 PENN ST.at No. 15 MICHIGAN ST.,
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
At the midway point of the season, it seemed inconceivable that these teams would be squaring off in the season finale doing their best to attract the attention of the Citrus Bowl committee. But that's what it's come down to, with each team flopping into a two-game losing streak along the way. At least MSU has pulled out of its slide.
Matchup Breakdown
Nittany Lions (9-2, 5-2)Spartans (8-2, 5-2)
How the mighty have fallen. From Sugar to Rose to going on the road to try to get to the Citrus instead of the Outback, where it played last season. The problem? The offense has gone dead in the waer, leaving the defense on the field for 39 minutes against Michigan and 33 against Minnesota. No wonder they've worn down.Count Oct. 30 as a hugely productive day for MSU. The Spartans used a bye that day to get their game back, turning a two-game losing streak into two of its best games of the season (allowing just 7 points since then). The nation's No. 2 rushing defense noticed Penn State gained a Paterno-low 7 yards rushing last week.


No. 14 GEORGIA TECHat WAKE FOREST,
3:30 p.m. ET
Is this merely a speed bump for Georgia Tech on its way to the Georgia game and another trip to the Gator Bowl? Probably Â… unless the Yellow Jackets think of the Deacons in such a way. Wake Forest really blew its chance last week in an overtime loss to Duke, and now is desperate for a victory to finish over .500 and qualify for a bowl.
Matchup Breakdown
Yellow Jackets (7-2, 5-2)Demon Deacons (5-5, 2-5)
Lost in Ron Dayne's run with the Heisman Trophy is that Tech QB Joe Hamilton is having perhaps the most efficient season on record for a major-college QB. If he has two games like he's had all season (271 yds passing, 3 TDs, 1 Int; 67 yds rushing), he'll be right on the NCAA passing-efficiency mark.The promising 3-1 start has fizzled into a must-win against a powerful foe to avoid a seventh consecutive losing season under Jim Caldwell. The Deacons are much improved, but they have merely whet the appetite with a season that seems to indicate that maybe it's not hopeless Â… so why haven't they done better?

No. 21 GEORGIAat No. 16 MISSISSIPPI,
6 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Back-to-back losses surrounding a bye week means Georgia will be a month without a victory heading into Oxford, where Ole Miss whipped Arkansas and almost beat Alabama. Do the Bulldogs have enough toughness to break the tailspin and finish strongly, or (with Ga. Tech remaining) are they headed fr 6-5?
Matchup Breakdown
Bulldogs (6-3, 4-3)Rebels (7-2, 4-2)
Georgia thought it was closer to the UF-UT elite than it really was, but last week's thorough humiliation against Auburn brought the Bulldogs down to Earth. Ole Miss is the most underrated, overlooked team in the league, and UGa will have to play its best game of the year to win.Ole Miss has benefited from a week off to come up with a plan to stop Georgia QB Quincy Carter. The way all-purpose star Deuce McAllister has come alive lately, the Rebels are suddenly a threat to go 9-2 (MSU up next on Thanksgiving night) and squeeze into the Outback or Cotton bowl.


No. 17 MINNESOTAat IOWA,
noon ET
Except for the title character from the movie"Babe,"Floyd of Rosedale is the best-known pig in Minnesota and Iowa. A big, bronze pig statue, Floyd is the prize to the winner of this game, which is a match of programs that have spent the season going in opposite directions.
Matchup Breakdown
Golden Gophers (7-3, 4-3)Hawkeyes (1-9, 0-7)
The Gophers can continue to distinguish themselves from the school's less-than-stellar past by handling the Hawkeyes, giving Minnesota its first eight-win season since 1967 Â… and potentially gaining the attention of the Outback Bowl, although the Alamo Bowl seems to be the most likely destination.Floyd isn't likely to leave Minneapolis to take up residence in Iowa City anytime soon. The Hawkeyes and their 108th-ranked offense are trying to avoid their first winless Big Ten record since the 0-11 team of 1973 Â… yeah, that would be Frank Lauterbur's last team.


No. 18 SOUTHERN MISSat LOUISVILLE,
3 p.m. ET, FOXSN
It appeared as though Southern Miss had cleared its biggest conference rival when it dumped East Carolina back in October. But Louisville, behind prolific QB Chris Redman, has won four in a row, setting up this battle for C-USA supremacy. The spoils for the victor: The Liberty Bowl.
Matchup Breakdown
Golden Eagles (7-3, 5-0)Cardinals (7-3, 4-1)
Southern Miss has dominated the series, winning 16 of the 22 games, including the last four by an average of 18.5 points. The Golden Eagles rattled Chris Redman last season, intercepting four of his passes in their 56-21 victory. They again have a big-play defense, one that has forced 27 turnovers.It's been quite a recovery for the Cardinals, who appeared destined for the dumpster after a loss at Army. Redman has been a big part of that, but there are other senior standouts on offense. Arnold Jackson is coming off a 15-reception game against Cincinnati and Frank Moreau has scored 17 rushing TDs.


No. 19 PURDUEat INDIANA,
noon ET, ESPN
It's quarterbacks on parade, with the Big Ten's best -- Drew Brees and Antwaan Randle El -- who appear to be well-positioned for the first Heisman Trophy race of the new millennium. But the last Old Oaken Bucket game of the old millennium is what's important this week.
Matchup Breakdown
The Rivalry
Boilermakers (6-4, 3-4)Hoosiers (4-6, 3-4)
Hoping to work its way into the Outback Bowl with a 7-4 record, Purdue easily could be playing for 9-2 and a possible Citrus or even BCS bid, if not for a last-minute field goal being blocked at Ohio State, and four incompletions from the 12-yard line against Penn State.Indiana is anxious to pay back Purdue for the 56-7 and 52-7 beatings the Boilermakers have hung on the Hoosiers the past two years. Perhaps the Hoosiers should smuggle in some ringers for a defense that has allowed everybody 30 or more points except Northwestern and Ball Sate.


UTAHat No. 19 BRIGHAM YOUNG,
3 p.m. ET
They didn't want to, but the Cougars breathed new life into the Mountain West Conference race last week with a loss at Wyoming. Here's chance No. 2 to clinch the league title outright. Winning the inaugural MWC crown by beating rival Utah would be sweet Â… but it won't be easy. The Utes are revitalized after a big victory over New Mexico and can grab a piece of the title, too.
Matchup Breakdown
Utes (7-3, 4-2)Cougars (8-2, 5-1)
Oft-injured quarterback Darnell Arceneaux is out again (concussion), but T.D. Croshaw has plenty of experience as the fill-in. He was at the helm last week as the Utes found their offensive legs in a 52-14 victory, thanks largely to the legs of Mike Anderson, who rushed for 204 yards. Mike, meet BYU linebacker Rob Morris.BYU's biggest task will be finding some help in the running game. Freshman standout Lucas Staley, who didn't make the trip to Wyoming while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, is expected to play, but at what level? And if the running game goes nowhere, can Kevin Feterik pass, pass, pass the Cougs to victory?

N.C. STATEat No. 23 EAST CAROLINA,
noon ET
It already has been a fine year for East Carolina, but nothing would be finer for the Pirates than to confirm their spot in the Top 25 while damning the bowl hopes of N.C. State. The Pirates are bowl-bound -- likely the Humanitarian -- while State at 6-5, needs to win or is done for the year.
Matchup Breakdown
Wolfpack (6-5, 3-5)Pirates (8-2, 4-2)
North Carolina and N.C. State stopped playing the Pirates for several years, having no interest in helping to legiimize another Division I-A program in the state. Whether those schools like it or not, the Pirates are legitimate Â… so QB Jamie Barnette and friends need to play better than they did a loss to North Carolina last week.East Carolina, which is playing the Wolfpack for the first time ever in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (sold out and loud), is coming off a balanced 481-yard performance against Cincinnati. QB David Garrard keys the attack with his passing and running, and RB Jamie Wilson (5.6 yards per carry) makes things happen, too.


No. 25 BOSTON COLLEGEat NOTRE DAME,
2:30 p.m. ET, NBC
A few different bowl scenarios remain (including the possibility of none at all for Notre Dame and the Gator or Music City for BC), but this game between the only two Div. I-A Catholic schools mostly shapes up as this: The winner is probably headed to the Insight.com Bowl. For the Irish to get there, they need to beat the Eagles and then topple Stanford on Nov. 27.
Matchup Breakdown
Eagles (7-2)Fighting Irish (5-5)
The defense should be able to hold its own, and the offense won't be awed by anything it has seen from the Notre Dame defense lately. BC's Cedric Washington leads the Big East in rushing at 108 yards per game and Tim Hasselbeck is a capable passer, so the Eagles have the tools to end their four-game losing streak in the series.The injury-plagued Irish are"critically thin" -- coach Bob Davie's words -- and are leaking oil on defense. The Irish have yielded 75 points in back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh, the most in consecutive defeats for a Notre Dame team since 1961. ND allows 26 points per game, on pace for its worst mark in 43 years.

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