October 3, 2006

The letdown watch begins

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Wolfe, Washington and Wake top the list of surprises in 2006. But the question remains which, if any of those, is a contender or pretender.

Garrett Wolfe is seeking the Heisman, Washington the Pac-10 title and Wake Forest the ACC championship. How realistic are those dreams? We'll assess that here.

Meanwhile, Ohio State looks as strong as ever and USC is starting to show some cracks. Are either of them beatable?

We'll answer those in the five questions and top five games for Week 6:

Five Questions for Week 6
1. Does Garrett Wolfe have a shot at winning the Heisman?
After Wolfe's 353 rushing yards against Ball State on Saturday, he reached 1,181 for the season - an NCAA record through five games. Working against him is playing in the MAC. The last time the Heisman was awarded to a player outside the six major conferences was in 1990 when BYU's Ty Detmer won it. Detmer's Cougars upset the No. 1 Miami Hurricanes that year. The last finalist from outside a major conference was TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished fourth in 2000. Working in Wolfe's favor are several nationally televised games down the stretch, starting Sunday against Miami (Ohio). In addition, Northern Illinois will face Iowa on Oct. 28. Don't forget: Wolfe accounted for 285 yards from scrimmage against Ohio State in the opener. He could end up in New York, but probably not as the Heisman winner.
2. How vulnerable is USC?
The Trojans haven't hit the 30-point mark in three consecutive games, which constitutes a slump for USC. In two of those games, the Trojans allowed only one touchdown until Washington State lost by a 28-22 score Saturday. The Cougars' 22 points were the most scored on the Pac-10's top scoring defense all season, but USC has yet to face the high-powered offenses of Oregon and Cal. Lucky for USC, it faces its toughest opponents at home, where it has won 28 consecutive games. Its remaining home foes have a combined record of 16-5, compared to the 5-8 record of its road opponents. The clock might be ticking on the Trojans, but Oregon and Cal will have to win in Los Angeles to capitalize.
3. Will the Michigan-Ohio State game be a matchup of undefeated teams?
Ohio State's remaining opponents before Michigan are a combined 14-16. The road is a little tougher for Michigan, who will have to face Iowa and Penn State, not to mention rival Michigan State on Saturday. Unless one of those matchups turns into a trap game for the Wolverines, the best rivalry in the Big Ten will be for a conference title and possibly a shot at the national championship game.
4. Are Wake Forest and Washington for real?
The Demon Deacons (5-0) and Huskies (4-1) are the surprise teams of 2006 after finishing a combined 6-16 a year ago. Both are likely bowl-bound, but we'll find out just how good they are this week when Wake plays host to Clemson and Washington goes to USC. Wake Forest, which has had to replace its starting quarterback and running back because of injuries, will face its second Division I-A opponent with a winning record. The winning streak may end against Clemson, the ACC's leader in rushing, scoring and total offense. However, the Deacons have a shot to gain bowl eligibility the following two weeks with road trips to N.C. State and North Carolina. Washington has already beaten respectable teams in Fresno State and UCLA - along with Arizona on the road. But the streak might be short-lived as well. In addition to road trips to USC, the Huskies also head to Oregon and Cal.
5. Which team will get on track behind a true freshman quarterback?
Illinois is already showing some life behind rookie quarterback Isiah Williams, who had 122 passing yards and 103 rushing yards in the 23-20 upset of Michigan State. Look for the Illini to pick up Ron Zook's second Big Ten win this week against Indiana. In the Big 12, Kansas State handed the reins to Josh Freeman, who threw three interceptions against Baylor. Freeman has completed less than 30 percent of his passes so far this year. Expect some growing pains.
Top Five Games of Week 6
1. No. 9 LSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at No. 5 Florida (5-0, 3-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m., CBS
Florida passed its second test in a stretch of key SEC games. It gets a little tougher against LSU, who would like to stay in contention for the conference title game.
2. No. 7 Texas (4-1, 1-0 Big 12) vs. No. 14 Oklahoma (3-1, 0-0 Big 12) in Dallas, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Both are on the outside looking in for the national title race, but the Red River Rivalry should still determine the Big 12 South.
3. No. 11 Oregon (4-0, 2-0 Pac-10) at No. 16 Cal (4-1, 2-0 Pac-10), 8 p.m., ABC
Get ready for some offense. If the Ducks (40.3) and Bears (38.4) reach their average points-per-game outputs, viewers will see almost 80 points scored this weekend. The winner of this game will have the inside track in trying to unseat USC in the Pac-10.
4. No. 13 Tennessee (4-1, 0-1 SEC) at No. 10 Georgia (5-0, 2-0 SEC), 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Georgia's offense will need to get on track in a hurry with the Volunteers coming into town. Tennessee will equal its 2005 win total with a victory.
5. No. 15 Clemson (4-1, 2-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (5-0, 1-0 ACC), noon, ESPN
The only unbeaten team in the ACC takes on one of the preseason favorites to win the conference. We'll find out if Wake Forest's start is the real thing or a product of playing teams like Duke and Liberty.



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