- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

FORTUNES RISING

MISSOURI

Who would have guessed life after do-everything quarterback Brad Smith would suit the Tigers just fine? Gary Pinkel occupied one of the toastiest coaching hot seats heading into the season, but Chase Daniel (63.4 percent completions, nine TDs) has helped pilot Missouri to 4-0 for only the fifth time since 1925. The Tigers, who cracked into the rankings, could pick up another win when reeling Colorado visits Columbia on Saturday.

FORTUNES FALLING

UCLA

The Bruins dropped a 29-19 decision at Washington and look more like the 7-5ish teams that occupied Westwood for much of the last decade. In fairness, expectations were raised after a rash of close victories last season and an impressive rout of Utah to start the season, but UCLA doesn’t have the same talent — and won’t have the same results — as a year ago.

NON-BCS SPOTLIGHT

BOISE STATE

Smurf Turf alert! The Broncos are back in the Top 25 after a slick 4-0 start that included a pummeling of Oregon State, and they have gotten this far behind a dynamic running game. Ian Johnson has run for 626 yards and nine touchdowns this month, while Jared Zabransky (yes, he’s still there) has thrown only one interception after struggling last year. He will need to remain solid when the Broncos visit Utah on Saturday in perhaps their toughest game of the year.

HEISMAN QUICK SIX

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma: After strong September, A.D. is resting up for his appearance next week at the Texas State Fair.

2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame: Five touchdown passes in front of a national audience will do just nicely for the Irish quarterback.

3. Chris Leak, Florida: Maybe a tad high, but he now faces the four-game crucible of Alabama, Louisiana State, Auburn and Georgia.

4. Troy Smith, Ohio State: Not overwhelming against Penn State but did throw sweet touchdown pass in second half.

5. Steve Slaton, West Virginia: Needs to come up big — 150-plus yards big — just about every week to make a push.

6. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech: Two long touchdown receptions in a Thursday night setting only can help Jackets’ fine receiver.

SET YOUR TiVO

PURDUE (4-0) at No. 12 NOTRE DAME (3-1)

2:30 p.m., Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Chs. 4, 11

Outlook: It only seems like Notre Dame has become a member of the Big Ten. The Fighting Irish wrap up a four-game swing against members of the Rust Belt 11 with a meeting with an in-state rival. The Irish squeezed out a victory at Michigan State last week, one that essentially saved their season with a weak schedule looming in the next month or so. The Boilermakers are much like Notre Dame, a team with an offense capable — and required — to score with great frequency. Purdue’s suspect defense will be unable to withstand quarterback Brady Quinn in what could turn into a high-scoring rout.

ALABAMA (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at No. 5 FLORIDA (4-0, 2-0)

3:30 p.m., Florida Field, Gainesville, Fla., Chs. 9, 13

Outlook: It could be payback time for the Gators, who absorbed a 31-3 drubbing at the hands of Alabama last season. Florida appears to be much-improved thanks to quarterback Chris Leak’s maturation, a stingy defense (34 points allowed in four games) and an effective rushing game that includes backup quarterback Tim Tebow (23 carries, 165 yards). The Crimson Tide were not especially sharp throughout September and finally paid for it in an overtime loss at Arkansas on Saturday.

No. 24 GEORGIA TECH (3-1, 1-0 ACC) at No. 11 VIRGINIA TECH (4-0, 2-0 ACC)

3:30 p.m., Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va., Chs. 7, 2

Outlook: It appears the ACC Coastal Division winner likely will be one of these two teams, so this is an especially vital game on the road to Jacksonville. The Yellow Jackets have avoided the erratic play that defined them in past years, rebounding from a close loss to Notre Dame in their opener to dispatch three overmatched foes. Both quarterback Reggie Ball and wide receiver Calvin Johnson are playing well, providing a test for the Hokies’ defense.

No. 14 OREGON (3-0, 1-0 Pac-10) at ARIZONA STATE (3-1, 0-1)

3:30 p.m., Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

Outlook: What can be expected when a team two weeks removed from an absurd rally (Oregon) visits a program that fell out of the Top 25 after a brutal beating on the road (Arizona State)? In the Pac-10, plenty of points. In what could prove to be a defense-optional game, Oregon should have the advantage behind tailback Jonathan Stewart (315 yards, four TDs). The Ducks are beginning a two-week stretch that also includes a trip to Cal, and winning both games would set them up as a BCS contender. Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter has thrown eight interceptions and needs to regroup after a shaky game at Cal if Arizona State is to beat Oregon.

No. 1 OHIO STATE (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at No. 13 IOWA (4-0, 1-0)

8 p.m., Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa, Chs. 7, 2

Outlook: The Buckeyes’ brutal opening month comes to an end with an especially tough matchup. Quarterback Troy Smith has led Ohio State past Texas and Penn State in the last three weeks, and he will face a Hawkeyes defense that has shown none of the rust that Iowa’s offense has so far this season. The Hawkeyes struggled at times last week against Illinois and needed overtime earlier in the month to dispatch Syracuse. Iowa played the Syracuse game without Drew Tate, who has thrown for seven touchdowns in three games. A win would do wonders for Iowa, which must visit Michigan next month but otherwise has a favorable schedule the rest of the way.

NUMBERS OF NOTE

1 Team left in Division I-A that has not played an overtime game after Navy suffered a 24-23 setback against Tulsa on Saturday. The Midshipmen’s sole company in the regulation-only crowd before last week was North Texas.

30 Years since Rutgers was last ranked in the Associated Press poll. The Scarlet Knights are 4-0 for the first time since 1980 after routing Howard on Saturday and seem well on their way to a second straight bowl berth behind tailback Ray Rice.

2 Interceptions returned for touchdowns on Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli against Ohio State on Saturday. Morelli has struggled since an opening victory at Akron, throwing more touchdowns to opponents (two) than his teammates (one) in the last three games.

192-20 Combined scoring margin against Florida Atlantic in opening losses to Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and South Carolina. The Owls allowed Sidney Rice to catch five touchdown passes as South Carolina coasted to a 45-6 victory Saturday.

STORIES OF THE WEEK

1. Fall of the Spartans: If it was nearly any opponent other than Notre Dame, the story of the Saturday night rally would have been Michigan State squandering a 16-point lead. For a team that has struggled the last two seasons, frittering away a win over a top-15 team — even an overrated one — has to hurt awfully bad.

2. In defense of the Trojans: Have Pete Carroll and his staff remade Southern California into a defensive juggernaut? It sure looks that way. The Trojans have allowed 27 points in their first three games and appear capable of making a run at the national title despite losing Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Co. after last season.

3. Whither JoePa: For the first time in 60 years as a player or coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno scampered off the field during a game Saturday. It turned out to be a mere flu bug, but that didn’t stop a torrent of questions about the near octogenarian’s health — or this typically crusty response: “Guys, can we talk about the game? Are you guys writing for a medical journal?”

4. Rocky mountain low: It wasn’t supposed to get this bad, this quick for Colorado, and yet the Buffaloes are 0-4. No one would have been surprised if Dan Hawkins’ crew lost at Georgia, but squandering a two-touchdown lead in the second half to a team with massive quarterback issues makes a lousy start even worse.

5. Lightning strikes: It has been a surprisingly strong year for weather delays in college football.

Texas’ victory over Iowa State was halted for more than an hour, and Wake Forest and Ole Miss got under way nearly two hours late. The wait was worth it for Wake Forest, which rolled to a 27-3 win and is 4-0 for the first time since 1987.

Patrick Stevens

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