Ohio State, Michigan look to move closer to unbeaten showdown

Oct 28, 2006 - 1:23 PM BRISTOL, Connecticut (Ticker) - Ohio State and Michigan are three weeks away from potentially the biggest matchup in their storied rivalry. But they must get there first.

The top two teams in the country, the Buckeyes and Wolverines look to move closer to an unbeaten showdown when they play seemingly overmatched Big Ten Conference opponents Saturday.

Top-ranked Ohio State (8-0) hosts Minnesota and Michigan (8-0) entertains Northwestern on a college football Saturday featuring just one matchup between ranked teams.

In Columbus, Heisman Trophy favorite Troy Smith looks to lead the Buckeyes to a 16th consecutive victory when they play the struggling Golden Gophers.

Last weekend, Smith threw four first-half touchdowns - each to a different receiver - as the Buckeyes crushed Indiana, 44-3. The senior signal-caller has thrown 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season to lead the Big Ten and rank fourth nationally in passing efficiency (176.4).

Ohio State is tied with Louisiana State for the national lead in scoring defense, allowing 8.25 points per game.

The Golden Gophers have lost five of their first eight games and barely beat a Division I-AA team last Saturday, edging North Dakota State, 10-9, by blocking a field goal in the final seconds.

Ohio State has dominated the series, going 31-2 since 1969, including a 45-31 road win last year behind a career-high 186 yards from Antonio Pittman.

Gophers coach Glen Mason graduated from Ohio State in 1972 and was a member of the Buckeyes' staff from 1978-85, including a six-season stint as offensive coordinator.

Michigan may be without its top two receivers when it plays Northwestern. Mario Manningham has missed the past two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Adrian Arrington may be disciplined after being arraigned on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

Still, the Wolverines should have their way against the 2-6 Wildcats, who are coming off an embarrassing 41-38 home setback to Michigan State. Northwestern held a 38-3 lead midway through the third quarter before surrendering 38 unanswered points in the biggest collapse in Division I-A history.

Northwestern likely will struggle to move the ball against Michigan, which leads the country in rushing defense (33.6 yards per game) and yielded just 41 yards on the ground in last week's 20-6 home win over Iowa.

In other games involving highly ranked teams, third-ranked Southern California (6-0) visits Oregon State; No. 5 Texas (7-1) is at Texas Tech; seventh-ranked Auburn (7-1) travels to Mississippi; and No. 8 Tennessee (6-1) goes on the road to face South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier.

In the only matchup between ranked teams, No. 19 Oklahoma (5-2) visits No. 23 Missouri (7-1) in a Big 12 Conference showdown.

On Sunday, No. 16 Rutgers (7-0), one of seven unbeaten teams in the country, hosts Connecticut.

Five squads are idle this week, including No. 4 West Virginia (7-0) and sixth-ranked Louisville (7-0). The teams meet in a huge Big East Conference showdown in Louisville on November 2.

On Thursday, Branden Ore rushed for 203 yards - his second straight 200-yard contest - and a pair of touchdowns as Virginia Tech coasted to a 24-7 Atlantic Coast Conference upset of No. 10 Clemson.

The Tigers (7-2) came in averaging 42.25 points but got nothing going offensively after James Davis opened the scoring with a six-yard run in the first quarter.

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