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Four Games To Watch

September 14, 2006|Peter Yoon

No. 6 LOUISIANA STATE at No. 3 AUBURN

* Kickoff: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PDT.

* TV: Channel 2.

* Line: Auburn by 3.

* Louisiana State update: The defense hasn't given up a touchdown in three consecutive games dating to last season. This season, LSU has outscored opponents, 90-6, and is third in the nation in total defense, giving up only 164 yards a game. On offense, quarterback JaMarcus Russell has emerged as a Heisman candidate with 449 yards and five touchdowns in two games, but the Tigers do not have a running back with more than 86 yards.

* Auburn update: Running back Kenny Irons has lived up to expectations so far with 252 yards and was outstanding against LSU last year, rushing for 218 yards in a game Auburn lost, 20-17, in overtime. Kicker John Vaughn missed five of six field-goal tries in that game, but is six of seven this year. The defense has given up more than 100 rushing yards a game but is ninth in the nation against the pass and fourth with nine sacks.

* Story line: The winner stays in the national championship picture and the loser drops out. The teams have split the last six meetings, with the home team winning each time, and for the last three years, the winner has advanced to the Southeastern Conference championship game.

* The pick: Auburn. The defensive front will pressure Russell and LSU doesn't have the running attack to counter.

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NO. 11 MICHIGAN at NO. 2 NOTRE DAME

* Kickoff: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PDT.

* TV: Channel 4.

* Line: Notre Dame by 6.

* Michigan update: After an ankle injury limited his carries last season, running back Mike Hart is healthy and seventh in the nation with 262 yards through two games. He also has one of the nation's top offensive lines paving his way. The Wolverines rushing defense has been downright stingy, giving up only 29 yards a game. Lineman Rondell Biggs has five tackles for a loss, including three sacks.

* Notre Dame update: The defense has been the surprise of the early season, giving up a total of 27 points to Georgia Tech and Penn State, but it has given up 138.5 rushing yards a game and will have to tighten against Hart. Last week, quarterback Brady Quinn showed he is capable of carrying the offensive load with 287 yards and three touchdown passes. Quinn spreads it around too: Four Irish receivers had at least five catches.

* Story line: Notre Dame's schedule softens after this game, so an Irish victory could mean an undefeated record entering a Nov. 25 showdown with USC. Michigan is hoping to become a factor in the national-title race, something that hasn't happened in eight years.

* The pick: Notre Dame. The Irish will be able to stack the line to stop Hart because the Wolverines lack a deep threat in their passing game.

*

No. 15 OKLAHOMA (2-0) at No. 18 OREGON (2-0)

* Kickoff: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PDT.

* TV: ABC.

* Line: Oregon by 4 1/2 .

* Oklahoma update: Adrian Peterson looks as good as he did two years ago, when he was the Heisman runner-up as a freshman. He has carried the Oklahoma offense, rushing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He has excelled against Oregon in the past, running for 267 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings against the Ducks. Oklahoma's defense is suspect, however, giving up 344 yards a game. The Sooners are 91st in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 169.5 yards a game.

* Oregon update: Running back Jonathan Stewart expects to start after missing most of last week's 31-24 game against Fresno State because of an ankle injury. Stewart had 168 yards in the season opener against Stanford. Quarterback Dennis Dixon has been impressive so far, completing 44 of 66 passes for 476 yards and a touchdown.

* Story line: It's a rematch of last year's Holiday Bowl, won by Oklahoma, 17-14. Oklahoma defeated Oregon, 31-7, in their 2004 meeting, but Oregon is tough at home. The Ducks are 23-1 in home nonconference games under 12th-year Coach Mike Bellotti, including 4-0 against ranked teams.

* The pick: Oregon. If Stewart is indeed healthy, he'll put up big numbers and Oklahoma's one-dimensional offense won't be able to keep up.

*

No. 7 FLORIDA (2-0) at No. 13 TENNESSEE (2-0)

* Kickoff: Saturday, 5 p.m. PDT.

* TV: CBS.

* Line: Florida by 3 1/2 .

* Florida update: The offense kicked into high gear last week in a 42-0 victory over Central Florida. Quarterback Chris Leak passed for 352 yards and four touchdowns. The offense has averaged 514 yards, seventh in the nation. The defense is not to be overlooked. It has given up only seven points, which ranks second in the nation.

* Tennessee update: Cornerback Inky Johnson suffered a season-ending injury, and defensive tackle Justin Harrell will put off surgery for a ruptured biceps tendon for a week to play. Harrell was injured against Air Force and this will be the senior's last game at Tennessee. "He has to have the surgery because if it goes longer than a couple of weeks, the muscle starts to atrophy," Coach Phil Fulmer said. The Volunteers have given up 48 points against California and Air Force. Quarterback Erik Ainge has passed for 624 yards and seven touchdowns.

* Story line: After losing some of its luster in recent years, this rivalry game is back on the radar with national and Southeastern Conference title implications at stake. Urban Meyer is looking to become only the second Florida coach to start 2-0 against Tennessee.

* The pick: Florida. Leak's senior leadership will be a calming influence in a tough road venue and the Gators offense will pick apart the Volunteers.

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