By Tim Letcher
As college football heads into its fourth weekend, a huge SEC battle appears on the schedule, one that will have implications in the SEC Western Division, the overall SEC title and, perhaps, the national title picture.
Top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama opens conference play by travelling west to face division rival Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Alabama has dominated its three opponents so far this season, beating San Jose State, Penn State and Duke by an average of 45-6. And the Crimson Tide backfield features perhaps the best running back tandem in the nation in Trent Richardson and defending Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who returned from injury last weekend to rush for 151 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries.
And if the Tide canâ€™t get things going on the ground, the air attack is not too shabby. Quarterback Greg McElroy is connecting on 73 percent of his passes with six touchdowns so far this season. Receiver Julio Jones is McElroyâ€™s primary target, catching 15 balls for 248 yards and a pair of scores this year.
Arkansas is coming off of a dramatic 31-24 win at Georgia last week. The Hogs won the game when quarterback Ryan Mallett hit Greg Childs with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left to beat the Bulldogs.
Mallett has already thrown for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season, and coach Bobby Petrino will certainly allow Mallett to continue to put the ball in the air, especially with the Hogsâ€™ ground game struggling.
This game will be a clash of styles. Nick Saban and the Tide want to control the ball and the clock with long drives, while playing stifling defense. Arkansas would rather this game be a shootout, with the ball flying all over Razorback Stadium. The team that can impose their style of play on the other likely wins this one.
This game can be seen at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Other games to watch
No. 24 Oregon State at No. 3 Boise State (8 p.m. ET, ABC) â€“ Boise State, are you ready for your close-up? College Gameday, ABC in prime time and the eyes of the nation watching. Can the Broncos win against another BCS conference foe? Quarterback Kellen Moore is has thrown for five touchdowns with only one interception so far this year. Oregon State hits the blue turf looking for an upset, and looking for big games from James and Jacquizz Rodgers.
No. 12 South Carolina at No. 17 Auburn (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) â€“ Another key showdown in the SEC this week, as a pair of unbeatens go head-to-head on the Plains. Steve Spurrier seems to have answered the quarterback question with Stephen Garcia. Plus, freshman running back Marcus Lattimore is a monster. Auburnâ€™s offense is paced by quarterback Cam Newton. Defense may be the key in this game.
No. 22 West Virginia at No. 15 LSU (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) â€“ West Virginia has not been overly impressive so far this season, but the Mountaineers are 3-0, heading to Death Valley for a showdown with the Tigers. Geno Smith is coming off of his best game at quarterback for WVU, and Noel Devine can score any time he touches the ball. LSU counters with the explosive Russell Shepard, who has scored three touchdowns in three games.
No. 5 Oregon at Arizona State (10:30 p.m. ET, FSN) â€“ Oregonâ€™s competition so far this season hasnâ€™t been up to Pac-10 standards, but outscoring ANY set of opponents by an average of 63-4 is phenomenal. The Ducks can score on the ground or through the air, so the opposition must pick its poison. The Sun Devils nearly upset No. 11 Wisconsin in Madison last weekend, despite only scoring one offensive touchdown. They get the Ducks at home, which should make this one interesting.
No. 16 Stanford at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) â€“ While Oregon and Arizona seem to be getting all of the attention in the Pac-10, Stanford has also started 3-0. On Saturday, Jim Harbaughâ€™s team makes the long trek to South Bend to face Notre Dame. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been outstanding, passing for 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. Notre Dame is now 1-2 on the season after being stunned by Michigan State last weekend. Brian Kellyâ€™s team could certainly use a win, especially over a ranked opponent.
Five for the Heisman
1. Denard Robinson, Michigan â€“ While it wasnâ€™t the other-worldly Robinson of the first two weeks, the Michigan quarterback was outstanding again on Saturday. In a 42-37 win over Massachusetts, Robinson was 10-of-14 passing for 214 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. He also rushed 17 times for 104 yards and a score. On the season, Robinson is 53-of-76 passing for 671 yards, with four TDs and one interception. He has also rushed 74 times for 584 yards and four scores. Michigan hosts Bowling Green on Saturday.
2. Kellen Moore, Boise State â€“ Moore was spectacular again on Saturday, leading Boise State to a 51-6 win at Wyoming. Moore was 20-of-30 passing for 370 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncosâ€™ win. Through two games, Moore has connected on 43-of-68 passes for 585 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception. Boise State faces No. 24 Oregon State on Saturday.
3. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State â€“ Pryor led the Buckeyes to a 43-7 win over Ohio on Saturday. In the game, the Buckeye signal caller was 22-of-29 through the air for 235 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 35 yards and a score. For the season, Pryor is 51-of-81 passing for 715 yards, with six touchdowns and two picks. He has also rushed 36 times for 165 yards and two scores. Ohio State hosts Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
4. Mark Ingram, Alabama â€“ Ingram returned with a bang on Saturday, rushing nine times for 151 yards and two touchdowns in a big win over Duke. After missing the seasonâ€™s first two games following knee surgery, Ingram showed that he can be what he was last season, and heâ€™s now firmly in the Heisman discussion. Alabama visits Arkansas on Saturday.
5. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas â€“ Mallett had a Heisman-like performance on Saturday as the Hogs beat Georgia in Athens. Mallett was 21-of-33 passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns in the game. For the season, Mallett is 70-of-100 through the air for 1,081 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Arkansas hosts Alabama on Saturday.
Division I FCS Headlines
No. 7 Delaware visits fifth-ranked Richmond in a key CAA battle.
In a battle of Top 25 teams, top-ranked Villanova hosts No. 24 Penn.
Division II Headlines
No. 1 Grand Valley State hits the road to face Findlay.
Third-ranked North Alabama visits Lambuth on Saturday.
Division III Headlines
No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor hosts eighth-ranked Hardin-Simmons.
Seventh-ranked Central visits No. 11 Coe.