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Mike Kern: Texas, USC can't afford to slip up on the road

Critical weekend for two teams with national title visions. Actually they're all critical, when you're dealing with what amounts to 12 or even 13 one-game seasons.

Critical weekend for two teams with national title visions. Actually they're all critical, when you're dealing with what amounts to 12 or even 13 one-game seasons.

Texas goes to Oklahoma State, and Southern Cal is at Oregon.

"The toughest thing I ever did," said Texas coach Mack Brown, "was sitting home [last January] and watching a championship game we should have been in."

Utah was perhaps thinking the same thing. But we digress.

Since Florida or Alabama can't both finish unbeaten, Texas controls its fate, something the Boise States, Iowas, Cincinnatis, TCUs and even USCs can't claim.

If it were only that simple. Since 1983 the Longhorns have had one perfect regular season. That was 4 years ago, when they beat favored USC for the trophy.

Unless you're Oklahoma (or was that Ohio State?), the hardest part is getting there.

This could be the most difficult rodeo Texas has left. The Horns do close at Texas A & M, where they lost in 2007. But the Aggies have been inconsistent at best. And the Big 12 final hasn't produced an upset since 2003.

Oklahoma State hasn't beaten Texas since 1997. But the last two border scrums were decided by three and four points.

USC, on the other hand, lost the last time it played at Oregon. That was 2 years ago, by seven points, the only time since 2001 that the Trojans haven't been favored. Last season at home, they won by 34. They also won by 25 in '06 and 32 in '05.

But thanks to Oregon State, they haven't won in that state since '05.

Anyway, the Trojans need outside intervention, because once again they lost one (to Washington, up there, without their quarterback) they shouldn't have. This is their most hazardous remaining obstacle, although they have Stanford and Arizona.

The Ducks have kept looking better since that ugly opener at Boise.

At the very least, a Rose Bowl bid could be on the line, although USC wants another one of those like a 3-day pass to Space Mountain.

By the way, aren't these playoffs something?

Trivial pursuit

Tennessee is the first team since 2000 to play two No. 1s in a season. That year, there were two that did it. Name them. Hint: They're both from west of the Mississippi. See Answer man.


Penn will play its 1,300th game, at Brown. No other NCAA program at any level has reached that total. Yale, which has been playing four seasons longer, is next at 1,247.

The Quakers have won 795. with 42 ties. They lost their debut, on Nov. 1, 1876, to Princeton.

Al Bagnoli, in his record 18th season (two more than George Munger, for whom Penn's head coaching position is now named), is 118-56.

Answer man

In 2000, Baylor and Texas Tech both lost to No. 1 Nebraska (in October) and then to top-ranked Oklahoma (in November). Before that you had to go back to 1992, when Arizona beat Washington (16-3) in November after losing to Miami (8-7) in September.

Numbers game

Iowa's opponents are winning at a 63.3 percent clip (38-22), the highest of any top 10 club. Texas and Florida have both beaten teams that are a combined 26-24, while Alabama's opponents have gone 28-29.

The Hawkeyes have trailed in all of their four Big Ten games, and only one win has been by more than 11 points - 35-3 against Iowa State on Sept. 12.

Have you noticed?

Illinois is the only team from a BCS conference that doesn't have a win against an FBS opponent.

Small colleges

Division III Rowan has averaged 63 points in its last four games, while giving up 41 total. "We threw the ball two times in the second half [last week against Buffalo State]," coach Jay Accorsi said. "And we had all our starters out."

This week, the Profs (6-1, 5-1 New Jersey Athletic Conference are at Kean (6-1, 6-0). Next week they host Montclair (6-1, 6-0).

Spotlight on . . . Dion Lewis

Temple isn't the only team getting big-time contributions from a true freshman running back.

Pitt's Dion Lewis, who took over for Eagles rookie LeSean McCoy, has carried 185 times for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns. And the Panthers are 7-1 for the first time since 1982.

"We thought we might need to have three different guys replace the production of LeSean," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Dion, though, has been a workhorse. I think LeSean's play the past 2 years revived the great Pitt running back tradition created by guys like Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin, and enabled us to bring in a player the caliber of Dion."

Lewis, who is from Albany, N.Y., spent 2 years at North Jersey's Blair Academy. The only other programs that supposedly offered him a scholarship were Tulane and Miami (Ohio). Anyone want a mulligan?

The Pitt freshman rushing record is 1,686, by Dorsett in 1973. The only other first-year Panthers to reach four figures were Curvin Richards (1,228 in 1988) and McCoy (1,328 in 2007).

"It's nice, but I'm not really about that stuff," Lewis said. "I've talked to LeSean a little bit. He told me that I should work hard every day, trust my coaches and be my own player, not get caught up in comparisons.

"I'm just working to help this team any way I can."

The Panthers still have to deal with Notre Dame, West Virginia (on the road) and Cincinnati. Their only BCS bowl appearance was 4 years ago (35-7 loss to Utah in the Fiesta).

MAC me up

-- Temple is at Navy. Temple is trying to win six in a row for the first time since 1973. Navy's trying to win six straight for the first time since 1979.

The Owls are 1-7-3 on Halloween. The win came in 1936 (3-0 over Holy Cross). The Midshipmen are 1-12-1. Their win was in 1914; eight losses were to Notre Dame. This is the first time Navy has played on Oct. 31 since 1992, and the first at home since 1931.

Couch Potato Guide


7:30: North Carolina at Virginia Tech, ESPN


8: West Virginia at South Florida, EPSN2


Noon: Rutgers at Connecticut, Channel 6

Noon: James Madison at Delaware, CN

Noon: Indiana at Iowa, ESPN

Noon: Purdue at Wisconsin, ESPN2

Noon: Cincinnati at Syracuse, ESPNU

Noon: New Mexico State at Ohio State, Big Ten

12:30: Nebraska at Baylor, Versus

3:30: Florida vs. Georgia, Channel 3

3:30: Michigan at Illinois, Channel 6

3:30: Miami at Wake Forest, ESPN2

3:30: Central Michigan at Boston College, ESPNU

4: Massachusetts at Maine, joined in progress, CSN

4: UNLV at TCU, Versus

4:30: Penn State at Northwestern, ESPN

7: Eastern Michigan at Arkansas, ESPNU

7:30: Notre Dame vs. Washington State, Channel 10

7:45: South Carolina at Tennessee, ESPN

8: USC at Oregon, Channel 6

8: Texas at Oklahoma State, ESPN2

8: Michigan State at Minnesota, Big Ten

8: Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt (joined in progress), CN