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Monday, September 18, 2006
Updated: October 17, 10:55 AM ET
Notre Dame at Michigan State: Another shootout?

By Jim Donnan

Although it's only three games, Brady Quinn and Notre Dame's offense isn't nearly as effective as it was in 2005.
Going into the season, the big question for Notre Dame was -- and still is -- will its defense be better than it was last year? In Notre Dame's first game, the Irish outmatched a one-dimensional Georgia Tech by taking away WR Calvin Johnson. In Week 2, Notre Dame played a young Penn State offense and it showed. But when you play against teams of equal or better ability (like Michigan) that's when a team finds out how much it's improved. The matchups on the perimeter really hurt as Michigan's receivers consistently were running by Notre Dame's secondary.

However, another reason Notre Dame's defense doesn't look as good as some expected is due to its offense. With the exception of the Penn State game, ND's offense hasn't been anywhere near what it was last year. Go back to the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State and you can see that Notre Dame isn't getting numbers in the rushing game; consequently, that puts the defense on the field more. This is not a Charlie Weis-type offense we're seeing right now and that adds to the defensive woes. Last year, Notre Dame's offense kept its defense off the field, but that didn't happen against Michigan.

Notre Dame's defense is better than it was last year; then again, Mario Manningham is going to run by a lot of people this season.

This week Notre Dame travels to Michigan State, where the Spartans will present even more of a challenge. They have a mobile QB in Drew Stanton (who rushed for 105 yards against Pittsburgh) on top of an offense that can make things happen. Look for this game to be a real offensive shootout similar to last year's 44-41 overtime win by the Spartans.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Oklahoma linebacker Rufus Alexander (left) and safety Nic Harris couldn't stop Oregon's offense late in the fourth quarter.
Aside from the obvious fact that the replay official in the Oklahoma-Oregon game made a mistake on the onside-kick call, I'm all for instant replay. It's done for the good of the game and, while there are some faux pas, I believe the good far outweighs the bad. As bad as it is to admit a mistake was made, you still aren't going to see a game overturned.

You do need to eliminate any thought that officials are homers; however, if you can have neutral officials work bowl games, then it can be done for the regular season as well. (Pac-10 officials worked the OU-Oregon game.) You have a pool of officials available from around the country who can work non-conference games, so why not use them? Officials who are neutral (not affiliated with either school's conference) should be working these games.

There is going to be a lingering effect from that call, but coach Bob Stoops and Oklahoma need to focus now on the problems the Sooners are having on defense. The big key for me entering the season wasn't OU's defense, but whether QB Paul Thompson was going to be able to take the pressure off RB Adrian Peterson. Thompson has done his job, but the defense can't continue to give up 34 points and 500 yards of offense.

Players are pretty resilient and will get over something like this quicker than most people think. Oklahoma can still have a big season, but the Sooners need to focus on beating Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

Arizona State California No. 22 Arizona State at No. 21 California
(FSN, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Cal has picked itself up off mat nicely after getting blown out at Tennessee. Nathan Longshore has developed at quarterback after getting shell shocked in Knoxville. For Arizona State, Rudy Carpenter has to start playing like he did last year for the Sun Devils to have a shot. This is the start of a tough three-week stretch for Dirk Koetter's team in which the Sun Devils play at Cal, then is host to No. 13 Oregon before traveling to No. 3 USC.

ASU or Cal needs to be able step up to the challenge and prove they can compete with USC in the Pac-10. Both teams have holes, but they have shown the ability to play with the Trojans the last couple of years.

Penn State Ohio State Penn State at No. 1 Ohio State
(ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
The big concern for Penn State is finding a way to get some consistency on offense, and with a new quarterback (Anthony Morelli) that's a lot easier said than done. When an offense is struggling, it has to show it can make big plays, and that's going to have to be the case in Columbus. The Nittany Lions aren't going to chew up the clock and march the ball down field against the Buckeyes. They have to get one-on-one situations and hope their receivers can get separation from Ohio State's defensive backs.

When Ohio State has the ball, wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez are going to create mismatches, plus Penn State is always going to have to account for QB Troy Smith's whereabouts. This will be a good test for the Buckeyes, but in the end they are going to have too much firepower for Joe Paterno's team.

Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.

Michigan Wisconsin at No. 6 Michigan
Look at the success Michigan has when RB Mike Hart plays well: 12-1 when the junior running back rushes for at least 100 yards. Hart's presence allows QB Chad Henne to use play-action passes with much more effectiveness, and that's usually when you see an offense connect on a big play. You can see the effect Hart and offensive tackle Jake Long -- both of whom missed last year's game against Notre Dame -- had in last week's win in South Bend.

What's been even more impressive about Michigan is its ability to to convert goal line and short-yardage situations. Plus, the Wolverines defense has been in the attack mode and creating turnovers, which allows the offense to roll the dice and be more aggressive. Even if the offense turns the ball over, Michigan has a defense that, right now, can make up for those mistakes.

Week 4 Picks
WATCH LIST: Biggest Surprises
Wake Forest
After winnng four games in 2005, the Demon Deacons are 3-0 heading into Ole Miss. A win in Oxford and Wake should be 5-0 when it hosts Clemson on Oct. 7.
Boston College
You have to like a team that can win in OT in back-to-back weeks. At 3-0, the Eagles should be undefeated when they play host to Virginia Tech on Oct. 12.
After Texas, the Horned Frogs might be the second-best team in the Big 12 (4-0 vs. Big 12 since 2005).
The Bulldogs have pitched two straight shutouts with winless Colorado coming to Athens.
We'll find out if the Ducks are for real with road games against Arizona State and Cal following this week's bye.
WATCH LIST: Biggest Disappointments
Troy Smith's poise, decision making, development, able to find the guy at the last second, hasn't had to run around as much.
Erik Ainge  came in with so much potential, saw him play early in his career, tough year last year, see him come back and play with confidence  rewarding for him and Cutliffe
The one thing about being a college football p,layer  self confidence, secure in what he's doing, I've always felt like if the players believe in your QB, it really doesn't matter  they think you'll find a way to get it accomplished. I see that in this Tennessee team year.
Utah State
The Aggies are winless (0-3) and have been outscored 68-0 in last two games.
Montana State
Since winning at Colorado? Home losses to Division II Chadron State and a 45-0 drubbing by U.C. Davis.
Big XII Last weekend was not a good one if you are a fan of the Big 12. The conference was 0-5 in nonconference games against other BCS schools. In other games, Texas A&M needed a goal-line stand at the Alamodome to beat Army, and I was surprised to see Texas Tech so ineffective against TCU. It was a great win for the Horned Frogs (who are 2-0 vs. the Big 12 this year) and it just goes to show that a really good defense is usually going to shut down a really good offense.

The ACC has a lot riding on Boston College and Virginia Tech. Wake Forest (3-0) has been a feel-good story, but there are several schools right now that are struggling. I was impressed with Clemson going into Florida State and winning, but FSU and Miami are not near the powerhouses they used to be.

ACC The ACC needs to send a thank-you note to Big East for sending them BC and Virginia Tech. Where would that conference be right now without those two schools?

The Big 12 and ACC, at least to this point, are usually in the discussion about the country's best conferences; however, after three weeks of the season, you can't talk about either. In fact, the Big East is playing better as a conference than the ACC.

One aspect of the game I have noticed a lot in the first three weeks of the season: missed or blocked extra points and field goals in pressure situations. As a fan, one thing you need to watch is when the kicker starts his move toward the ball. He should be making his approach as soon as he sees the long-snapper's hands; moving once the ball is placed on the ground is much too late. It should be 1.2 seconds from snap to kick.

Another thing, look at the angle from which kicks are being blocked. In any kicking situation, by rule, college football centers are protected from being attacked while their heads are down, so more often than not kicks are being blocked by players coming off the edge. When it's blocked up the middle, that means the kick is probably too low.

The best action in Saturday's Colorado-Georgia game might take place before kickoff. It will be worth the price of admission to get there early and watch two of the nation's best kickers, CU's Mason Crosby and Georgia's Brandon Coutu, launch field-goal attempts from long range during warm-ups.