The importance of California's game at Oregon is not lost on Ducks coach Mike Bellotti.
Cal is ranked No. 6 and Oregon is No. 11. Both are undefeated and looking to challenge top-ranked USC in the run for the Pac-10 title. Arizona State, under new coach Dennis Erickson, joins those undefeated teams.
So what happens Saturday will likely have ramifications in December, both in the league standings and in possible bowl bids.
"USC is still the class of the nation. They're undefeated, they're No. 1, they've been there. Cal is a legitimate top-10 team. They're sixth ranked in the nation, and I think they've earned that ranking," Bellotti said. "We'll find out this weekend between us as the 11th ranked team and them as the sixth who is going to continue to be in line competing for the conference championship."
Elsewhere in the Top 25, No. 5 West Virginia is at No. 18 South Florida on Friday night and the rest of the ranked teams play Saturday, including No. — Southern California at Washington.
Also, No. 2 LSU is at Tulane; No. — Oklahoma visits Colorado; No. 4 Florida hosts Auburn; and No. 7 Texas faces Kansas State. No. 8 Ohio State travels to Minnesota; No. 9 Wisconsin hosts Michigan State; No. 10 Rutgers entertains Maryland; No. 12 Boston College hosts Massachusetts; No. 13 Clemson goes to Georgia Tech; and No. 14 Kentucky plays Florida Atlantic.
No. 15 Georgia takes on Mississippi; No. 16 South Carolina hosts Mississippi State; No. 17 Virginia Tech faces North Carolina; No. 19 Hawaii visits Idaho; and No. 21 Penn State is at Illinois.
No. 22 Alabama faces Florida State at Jacksonville; No. 23 Arizona State goes to Stanford; No. 24 Cincinnati visits San Diego State and No. 25 Nebraska hosts Iowa State.
Both the Ducks and the Golden Bears have potent offenses, no doubt a key to the game at Autzen Stadium.
On Oregon's side, there's quarterback Dennis Dixon, who grabbed national attention in a televised victory over Michigan. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns and is the only quarterback in the league who hasn't been picked off.
He ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, and leads the league in total offense, with an average of nearly 306 yards a game.
He's run for 376 yards and four touchdowns so far, including a faked Statue of Liberty play against the Wolverines.
In last weekend's 55-31 victory over Stanford, Dixon had a career-high 382 yards in total offense, including four TD throws and one scoring run.
"He does have a little more confidence this season &
you can tell by the decisions he is making and the plays they have him running," Cal safety Brandon Hampton said. "He is playing at a high level right now. He can run, he can throw, and he uses the option. They got the whole nine yards.
The Ducks also have tailback Jonathan Stewart, who leads the Pac-10 with an average of 125.8 rushing yards a game. He ranks 11th nationally.
On the Cal's side, there's quarterback Nate Longshore and tailback Justin Forsett.
Longshore has passed for 852 yards and five touchdowns. He has two interceptions. Forsett is averaging 121 yards rushing a game, 14th nationally.
California has scored at least 34 points in each of its four wins, totaling 166 to rank 13th nationally. Among Pac-10 teams, only Oregon has more points, ranked seventh in the nation with 194.
"Obviously Nate Longshore is the triggerman. He distributes the ball," Bellotti said. "He played very well against us last year and had one of his best games."
Longshore passed for three touchdowns and ran for another in Cal's 45-24 victory in Berkeley. Forsett rushed for 163 yards and a score.
Dixon passed for 263 yards and a pair of TDs, but he was intercepted three times &
including his first pass of the game.
The loss was pivotal for the Ducks, who at the time were also 4-0 and ranked 11th. Oregon went on to lose five of its next eight games for a 7-6 finish. Cal, at the time ranked 16th, went on to win five of the next seven and wrap up the season 10-3.
"To me it was a combination of a lot of things that maybe started in the Cal game, but in reality to me this team has learned from that," Bellotti said. "They are aware of what occurred last year, why it occurred, and how it occurred. And I think regardless of the outcome of this game, we're a good football team. We're going to compete every single game."
No. 5 West Virginia at No. 18 South Florida
Raymond James Stadium, the 65,657-seat home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and biggest stadium used by a Big East school, will be packed for a South Florida home game for the first time when fifth-ranked West Virginia visits Friday night.
That's because coach Jim Leavitt and his players have given fans of the Bulls (3-0) reason to believe they can win &
not just put on a good show.
USF knocked off Louisville, then ranked in the Top 10, two years ago, and the Bulls shocked then-No. 7 West Virginia 24-19 at Morgantown to knock the Mountaineers out of contention for a BCS bowl game last season.
Three weeks ago, they won at Auburn to move to the brink of the first Top 25 ranking in the program's 11-year history.
"For them, I am assuming they will come down here looking for revenge," quarterback Matt Grothe said of West Virginia (4-0). "For us, we already know we can beat them and that gives us confidence."
The Mountaineers haven't forgotten how the Bulls stifled offensive stars Steve Slaton and Pat White, but simply are focused on playing better this time.
"It's not so much revenge as I guess it is respect," West Virginia linebacker Reed Williams said.
No. 8 Ohio State at Minnesota
The numbers are jarring: Minnesota is surrendering 39 points, 544 total yards and 408 passing yards per game. On top of that, no Bowl Subdivision team has turned the ball over more than the Golden Gophers (16).
Yet in the days leading up to their game at Minnesota, the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were careful to avoid any negative comments about the Gophers (1-3, 0-1).
"Early on, they just got hit with some blitz cuts that really affected them," coach Jim Tressel said. "You can see their evolution is growing from those things."
Even so, Minnesota (1-3, 0-1) is clearly struggling under first-year head coach Tim Brewster, hired to replace the fired Glen Mason after playing in a bowl game a year ago.
Through four games (an overtime win against Miami of Ohio, an overtime loss to Bowling Green and defeats to Florida Atlantic and Purdue) the Golden Gophers have surrendered nine touchdowns of 20 yards or longer, including passes of 53, 46 and 43 yards, a 95-yard kickoff return and a 43-yard interception return.
Top offenses collide in Eugene