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Irish, Wolverines may need to air it out

This year's Notre Dame-Michigan contest looks like the typical, blue-collar game between these schools, one that will come down to defense, turnovers, special teams and field position. And it will be, but this year watch the passing games.

Michigan has looked as good as any team in the country after the first two weeks -- when the Wolverines faced Central Michigan and Houston -- and the only flaw they have shown is a passing game that is not quite in sync.

That passing game will be needed this week with the strength of the Notre Dame defense lying in its front seven. Getting linebacker Courtney Watson back this week is huge for the Irish, and the U of M offensive line will provide quite a matchup at the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame will do all it can to slow down Chris Perry -- the nation's leading rusher at 208 yards per game -- and get Michigan into obvious passing situations.

Michigan's defense has been good to this point and the Notre Dame offense will need to execute much better in the first half of this game than it did early on against Washington State. The Irish cannot afford to simply rely on Ryan Grant and Julius Jones in the running game. Pass protection will be crucial for Holiday, and don't be surprised to see Notre Dame try to slow the pass rush by utilizing with play-action fakes and moving the pocked away from the inside pressure with bootlegs.

Both teams have been very predictable offensively in this series, running almost exclusively on first down and allowing the defenses to dominate. The team that wins this game will be the one that gets some turnovers on defense and is more willing to take chances on offense.

The running game has always been an integral part of this rivalry, but whichever team has the better passing game and can find success down the field will have a real advantage because of the emphasis by both teams on stopping the run.

For Michigan that means John Navarre getting on track and finding Tyrece Butler, Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston down the field. For the Irish, Holiday will have to take shots and get the ball to Omar Jenkins, Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall.

Where intangibles are concerned the advantage has to go to Michigan with the game being played at the Big House in Ann Arbor. But -- as we saw last week against Washington State -- you can never count out the luck of the Irish.

I'll be in Ann Arbor with the GameDay crew, coming to you live from the golf course adjacent to Michigan Stadium, so be sure to tune in Saturday morning for my prediction.

No. 22 N.C. State vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Both teams are coming off tough performances last week and both are eager to prove they are better than they showed against Wake Forest and San Diego State, respectively. Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers had a record-setting performance against Wake but the offense lacked balance because of the absence of running back T.A. McLendon, and you know it's been a long day for Ohio State when the Buckeyes finish up with more penalty yards than rushing yards.

Both teams will perform better after looking ahead to this game. NC State sees this as one more opportunity to prove it has arrived under Chuck Amato and is capable of beating any team in the country, and OSU is anxious to wipe away an embarrassing offensive day that saw a 1-for-13 performance on third-down conversion attempts.

The Wolfpack will once again be without McLendon and will also be missing senior left tackle Chris Colmer. The big question is how the pass protection will hold up around Rivers, because when a team can't run the ball against Ohio State's zone-blitz scheme the pass rush becomes tough to stop.

The Buckeyes will find all kinds of ways to come after Rivers, and he may complete a lot of passes, but the secondary will be focused mainly on preventing big plays by wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Tremaine Hall and Richard Washington.

Without McLendon in the game Ohio State will try to force Rivers to move in the pocket, and keep an eye on defensive end Will Smith as he seems to thrive in these kinds of games.

The Buckeye offense was bad against San Diego State, but that performance can be attributed to a well-prepared Aztecs team and should prove to be an abberation. Too much is being made of the loss of Maurice Clarett, and Ohio State will likely revert to the more diverse, more aggressive game plan it used against Washington.

The Buckeyes will look for big plays against an attacking NC State defense. Craig Krenzel will look for Michael Jenkins and Drew Carter over the top, hoping to soften up the 'Pack defense for the power running game.

This should be a spirited, emotional affair after last weekend's emotional struggles for both teams, and there should be plenty of extracurricular activities beyond the whistle. Without McLendon and Colmer, though, NC State will struggle against the OSU blitz package. The Ohio State offense should also bounce back and score some points.

Ohio State blocks out the Clarett distractions and wins convincingly, 30-17.

Arkansas vs. No. 5 Texas

Arkansas hates Texas and everything about the Longhorns. This game is a chance for the Razorbacks to take it to one of their least favorite rivals.

Arkansas is a very confident team on defense and loves to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, with Lawrence Richardson and Ahmad Carroll making up possibly the best cornerback tandem in the SEC. The Hogs will put them on an island against Texas receivers Roy Williams, Sloan Thomas and B.J. Johnson and get the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to take away the UT rushing attack.

The Razorbacks also want to put as much pressure as possible on inexperienced quarterback Chance Mock, getting sacks and forcing bad throws.

That philosophy will result in one of two things: Arkansas will create turnovers and use good field position to its advantage, or Texas will hit some big plays in the passing game. I predict the latter will be the case with the Texas wideouts creating opportunities in one-on-one situations, and that should give Mock the chance to truly make this his team and quiet the budding quarterback controversy between he and freshman Vincent Young.

The Texas defense will also be geared up to stop Cedric Cobbs, De'Arrius Howard and the Arkansas running game. The Horns will force the Razorbacks to do what they are least comfortable doing, and that is throw the ball.

Arkansas is a solid team and its mental and physical toughness will keep the Hogs in the game, but playing in Austin against a team with such offensive firepower may be too much. I like Texas, 28-17, on the strength of big plays in the passing game.

Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Florida State

Florida State has proven in the first two weeks of the season that the FSU attitude is back on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Chris Rix is making better decisions and has a better handle on both the running game and the passing game. Because of that, the Seminoles have the ability to make big strikes.

Seminoles running back Greg Jones will get to truly test his surgically repaired knee with talented freshman Lorenzo Booker nursing a sprained MCL and sophomore Leon Washington out with a dislocated elbow. How Jones holds up when carrying the load for four quarters is the biggest question for the FSU offense this weekend.

And the Georgia Tech defense will offer a good test for Jones and the Seminoles after holding Auburn to just 40 yards rushing last week. Linebackers Key Fox and Daryl Smith fly to the football and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has a sophisticated scheme which tries to confuse the offense with zone-dog blitzes.

With Booker and Washington out, the Yellow Jackets will gang up on Jones and make Rix prove he has become a better, more patient passer.

The defense might be the only chance for Tech, because true freshman quarterback Reggie Ball won't know what hit him when he gets under center in a night game in Tallahassee. His athletic ability will allow him to make a few plays but the Florida State defense is moving around like it did a few years ago, and the going will be tough against Michael Boulware, Darnell Dockett and Kendyll Pope.

Georgia Tech would be wise to play conservative on offense, playing for field position with the hope that the defense can come up with some big plays. That may be the only way the Yellow Jackets can stay in the game.

The Tech defense will battle and keep things close for a while and will be the biggest challenge FSU has seen so far, but the Ramblin' Wreck does not have enough offense to keep up. Florida State will get some big plays and wear down Georgia Tech in the second half, resulting in a 31-10 win for the Seminoles.

No. 21 Wake Forest vs. Purdue

Wake Forest has made a big splash early this season with wins over Boston College -- which went on win rather handily at Penn State -- and NC State, and the Demon Deacons are in the top 25 for the first time since the final poll of the 1992 season.

Quarterback Cory Randolph has been making smart decisions in the flexbone offense, which gives Wake multiple options in both the running and passing games, and Jim Grobe is one of the best coaches in the nation at preparing a team with fewer blue-chip players than a given opponent. So it's not shocking that his team is now ranked after going 6-5 and 7-6 the last two seasons.

That success has created confidence within the program and the Demon Deacons are now one of the trendy teams in college football as well as one of the most dangerous. Cornelius Birgs and Chris Barclay have been effective running backs, and the Demon Deacons have wideouts who can catch the ball all over the field.

This week's matchup is interesting for Wake as it takes on a Purdue team coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in Joe Tiller's tenure as the Boilermakers' head coach. But people are jumping to conclusions if they think the 27-26 defeat at the hands of Bowling Green means the Boilers are overrated.

This game is a great chance to find out just where Purdue is, and I still feel the Boilermakers have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten with nine starters back from a unit that was third in the conference in total defense last season. They can play on that side of the ball and may have let their guard down a big.

Purdue's pressure should be a big factor against Wake, and keep an eye on defensive end Shawn Phillips and linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Landon Johnson, and watch for free safety Stewart Schweigert to come up and fill the alley against the option.

The speed on that side of the ball and the embarrassment of the opening-game loss will have the Boilermakers fired up, and the defensive pressure coupled with big plays against a Wake Forest defense that gave up over 400 passing yards to Philip Rivers last week should be enough for Purdue to get the victory.

The Boilermakers make a statement with a 31-17 win.

South Carolina vs. No. 8 Georgia

I was impressed with Georgia's shutout win over Clemson in the opener for both teams considering the fact that the Bulldogs were breaking in so many new starters on both sides of the ball. They dominated, especially on defense, and that goes to show the depth of the talent in Athens.

The offense stumbled a little bit against Middle Tennessee last week, but with David Greene under center and that kind of defense backing them up the Bulldogs are going to be tough to beat, especially in Athens.

UGA has had trouble scoring against South Carolina in the past, but the Gamecocks don't have much firepower this year and will find the going pretty tough against that Georgia defense. Lou Holtz got a huge win last week against a Virginia team that was without quarterback Matt Schaub, and while the defense looked good Georgia just has too many weapons for USC to keep up with.

I like the Dawgs, 30-13.

Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN College GameDay and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.