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Originally published Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 8:04 PM

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Saturday madness: Bud Withers previews this week's college football matchups

Before we examine the latest stop on the Geno Smith Touchdown Tour, we need to visit the epicenter of the college football world, which...

Seattle Times college football reporter

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Before we examine the latest stop on the Geno Smith Touchdown Tour, we need to visit the epicenter of the college football world, which yes, is still the Southeastern Conference.

The SEC has five teams ranked in the top 10, and four are paired in headline games Saturday — Louisiana State (No. 4) at Florida (10th) and Georgia (5) at South Carolina (6). CBS has the first one at 12:30 p.m. (PDT), and ESPN — which also is originating College GameDay from Columbia, S.C. — has the second at 4 p.m.

Three of those four are SEC East teams, and there's speculation this means that the recent Alabama-Auburn-LSU stranglehold by the West is weakening.

Soon enough, Alabama will be the judge of that.

In the meantime, LSU will try to steady the restlessness created by its last couple of outings, uneasy wins against Auburn and Towson. This would be a good time for it, because the next five Tigers opponents are a combined 21-1.

Meanwhile, Florida's ranking is its highest under coach Will Muschamp.

At South Carolina, the Gamecocks are hoping to get to 6-0 for the first time since 1988. A victory would make it 10 straight, a school record. Georgia's prolific offense could be hurt by the knee injury this week to its top receiver, Michael Bennett.

The best of the rest of Saturday, chronologically:

Northwestern (24) at Penn State, 9 a.m., ESPN — While most of the Big Ten has been a laugh track this year, the Wildcats just keep winning; they can go to 6-0 for the first time since 1962, when they were ranked No. 1. Penn State has won three straight, and this is the last in the series until at least 2017. Northwestern ran up 704 yards last week against Indiana, which might say as much about the Hoosiers as it does about Northwestern.

Arizona at Stanford (18), noon, FOX — Arizona averages a nation-leading 31 first downs a game and has run 102 plays that have gone for 10 yards or more, but it hasn't met anything like the Stanford defense, either. The Cardinal has some history playing on Oct. 6: In 1990, it upset top-ranked Notre Dame at South Bend on that date, and in 2007, recorded the biggest point-spread upset (41) in college history over USC.

West Virginia (8) at Texas (11), 4 p.m., FOX — Geno Smith is suddenly all the rage, having thrown for 656 yards last week and packing his 20-0 touchdown-interception ratio into Austin. No doubt Texas' David Ash (78 percent, 184 pass-efficiency rating) will have something to say about the outcome.

This week, I asked WSU coach Mike Leach what he can surmise about Texas from nine years of facing the Longhorns. His old crony, Dana Holgorsen, is coach at West Virginia.

"You have to figure out a way to keep them off you," he said, referring to their pass rush. "The biggest thing is, don't waste plays. And plays that go for 15 (yards) against somebody else go for six against them because they can rally to it really well."

Miami-Notre Dame (9) at Soldier Field, Chicago, 4:30 p.m., Ch. 5 — While Geno Smith was taking a hatchet to Baylor's defense, 4-1 Miami's Stephen Morris went almost unnoticed with his 566-yard passing day to beat North Carolina State. Now he meets an Irish defense whose 36 points surrendered is fewest at Notre Dame over the first four games since 1975.

Nebraska (21) at Ohio State (12), 5 p.m., Ch. 4 — Last week, the Huskers (4-1) outrushed Wisconsin, 259-56; when was the last time the Badgers were shown up on the ground by 200 yards? OSU, ineligible for a bowl game, is getting mention as an eventual unbeaten in the watered-down Big Ten.

Washington (23) at Oregon (2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN — Did the emergence of the UW defense against Stanford have more to do with the Cardinal's struggling passing game, or the Huskies' improvement? We'll get a better idea in this one, as Washington faces a Ducks offense rushing for 303 yards per game.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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