Ohio State to see if the Buckeyes can maintain their No. 1 ranking
Before the season started, when questions persisted about new quarterback Todd Boeckman's ability to lead Ohio State to a championship, no one seemed to think the Buckeyes would be seriously tested until Game 9 arrived in late October.
Well, here we are at Game 9 and the Buckeyes should face their toughest test thus far on the road against Penn State in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions have the defense to slow Ohio State's running game. In its three biggest tests, Ohio State won at Washington 33-14, at Purdue 23-7 and held on at home last week to defeat Michigan State 24-17.
But despite its offensive pratfalls and injuries on defense, Penn State still appears the best team Ohio State will have faced thus far.
— Olin Buchanan
Two one-loss teams on each coast looking to stay in the title hunt
If the Heisman Trophy is going to be awarded to an SEC player, the outcome of this game may determine the winner. Andre' Woodson and Tim Tebow guide the Nos. 1 and 3 offenses in the SEC, respectively, and both teams put many of the responsibilities on the shoulders of the quarterback. Each team's weaknesses on defense – Florida against the pass and Kentucky against the run – play right to the strength of the opposition's quarterback. Woodson and Tebow could be poised for big numbers.
— David Fox
The coaches in the South Carolina-Tennessee game
This big SEC East game has a nice sub-plot: Phillip Fulmer vs. Steve Spurrier. It's fair to say these guys aren't buddies. Spurrier remains as hands-on as ever with his offense, but that offense hasn't played well of late. (That snickering you hear is Fulmer.) The Gamecocks managed just six points in a loss to Vandy last week and haven't scored an offensive TD in six consecutive quarters. But the Vols' defense has been a sieve. (Those guffaws are coming from Spurrier.) Three teams have hung up 40 points on the Vols (Cal, Florida and Alabama), and the Vols have looked mighty slow in each of those losses. The winner of the game stays in the hunt in the SEC East. The loser can start preparing for a December visit to Memphis or Nashville. And if the Vols lose, the seat under Fulmer will get even hotter.
Arizona State emerged as one of the nation's great unnoticed teams this year in part because it had one of the game's most underrated tailbacks in Ryan Torain. After rushing for 1,229 yards last year, Torain had gained at least 90 yards in every game he'd played this season before tearing a ligament in his left foot during the first half of a 44-20 victory over Washington two weeks ago. Arizona State loses its best running back just as it enters the toughest part of its schedule. The undefeated Sun Devils face California, Oregon, UCLA and USC in their next four games. The Sun Devils still have an experienced tailback in Keegan Herring, who rushed for 199 yards against Washington. Torain and Herring had formed a nice one-two punch, but now that Torain is gone, Arizona State has a serious lack of depth in the backfield at the worst possible time.
— Steve Megargee
Penn State's ability to rattle the Ohio State offense
The Nittany Lions will be playing at home, in front of a raucous crowd, knowing they are the last team to beat the Buckeyes in a regular-season game (at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 8, 2005). Everyone talks about Ohio State's top-rated defense, but Penn State has the No. 2 run defense in the Big Ten. And Buckeyes QB Todd Boeckman made last week's game against Michigan State closer than it should have been by losing a fumble and throwing an interception, giving the Spartans 14 points. Similar mistakes could prove more problematic in Happy Valley, where Joe Paterno and Co. are 5-2 all-time against the Buckeyes.
John David Booty's finger injury couldn't have been more of a blessing for Sanchez, the 2004 National High School Player of the Year. Along with having the opportunity to help guide the Trojans to the 2007 Pac-10 title, the invaluable experience Sanchez is gaining should give him a leg up on Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain when their highly anticipated quarterback battle begins this spring.