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September 25, 2009

Plenty to keep an eye on in Week 4

Each week, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend.

Washington's intensity level. We've all seen it before: A decided underdog pulls off a stunning upset one week, then comes out flat and gets beat the next week. The Huskies have to avoid falling into the trap. Their emotional 16-13 victory over USC last week was the talk of college football. But now they must go on the road to face improving Stanford, which needs a win to bolster its seemingly fragile bowl aspirations. The Huskies forced three turnovers, did not allow a third-down conversion and shut down the passing game vs. USC. Keep watch this week to see if they can play with the same intensity and get the same results.


Miami QB Jacory Harris. He has entered the Heisman race with two strong performances to open the season, leading the Hurricanes to wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech. Harris is the No. 1-rated passer in the ACC and No. 3 in the nation, completing 41-of-59 passes for 656 yards with five touchdowns and two picks. Now, Harris wades into Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium for another tough game. The Hokies have a quick and athletic defense that plays with an aggressive bent under coordinator Bud Foster, who surely will cook up some special looks and blitzes for Harris. If Harris escapes Blacksburg with a victory, Miami will be a legit national title contender - and Harris may become the Heisman front-runner.


How California handles success. Is it too early to start wondering how Cal is going to handle being the Pac-10 favorite? Not at all. In recent seasons, the Golden Bears have flopped when the target is on their backs. After complaining about being snubbed for a spot in the Rose Bowl after going 10-1 in the 2004 regular season, Cal lost 45-31 to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. After starting 5-0 and reaching the top 10 in 2005, Cal finished 3-4. An 8-1 start in 2006 evaporated with a 2-2 finish. And in 2007, the Bears started 5-0 and reached No. 2 in the polls before a 2-6 collapse. It's still early for the Bears, but Cal's success and USC's vulnerability makes the Bears look like Pac-10 contenders, but first they need to win at Oregon.


Penn State's rushing attack. Penn State is 3-0 and has beaten up on three relative patsies. But the Nittany Lions have not run the ball well; even Joe Paterno says so. It's one thing for QB Daryll Clark to be sharp throwing the ball against Akron, Syracuse and Temple; it's another to have to do so against some Big Ten defenses, such as Iowa's on Saturday night. Penn State should beat the Hawkeyes. But Nittany Lions coaches want to see the ground game get untracked; if it doesn't, that could be a problem later in the season.


Houston QB Case Keenum. If the Cougars defeat visiting Texas Tech on Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Keenum could - and should - emerge as a sleeper Heisman Trophy candidate. In just two games Keenum has thrown for 725 yards for undefeated Houston, which posted one of the biggest wins in school history when it defeated then-No. 5 Oklahoma State on Sept. 12. He has thrown seven touchdown passes and been intercepted once. Even more important is that if Houston can get by the Red Raiders, it may not lose another game. The Cougars' only remaining non-conference opponent is a beatable Mississippi State squad. And they'll be favored in every Conference USA game they play. If Kevin Sumlin's squad finishes the regular season with a spotless record, Keenum will be more than deserving of an invitation to the Heisman ceremony. But it all starts Saturday against Texas Tech.


TCU's game at Clemson. Well, I would be keeping an eye on this game if I could only watch it on TV. Even though the TCU-Clemson showdown is one of the five best matchups of the week, it won't be televised anywhere. And that's a shame because this represents the biggest non-conference test for TCU, a team that has serious BCS aspirations. The game also features two of the nation's top defenses. How will Clemson deal with TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, arguably the nation's top pass rusher? Could that fearsome TCU defense slow Clemson running back C.J. Spiller? How healthy is Spiller after leaving last week's Boston College game early? There are so many questions that make this game intriguing. It's too bad we won't get to see the answers unfold on live TV.


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