It's a great Mich.-match
BY HERB GOULD Staff Reporter
Even in economically distressed Michigan, they're reaching into their tattered wallets and paying an average of $200 for online tickets that have a face value of $65.
Michigan State's trip to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan has generated the most frantic ticket rush in the Great Lakes State this year. It's even bigger than the Eminem/Jay-Z concerts at Comerica Park, a Stubhub.com official told the Detroit Free Press.
''This is the No. 1 college football game of the week based on gross sales on our site,'' Joellen Ferrer said. ''It's also among the top five college football games throughout the entire season.''
What's all the fuss- No. 18 Michigan and No. 17 Michigan State both are 5-0, including victories in their Big Ten openers last week.
These also are dramatic times for their coaches. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is determined to coach from the press box despite suffering a mild heart attack and a blood clot in the last two weeks.
''I'm not going to miss Michigan week,'' he said. ''It's a very special rivalry, one that makes this entire state very excited.''
Meanwhile, Rich Rodriguez has cooled his Michigan hot seat considerably, although last year's 5-7 finish after a 4-0 start still lurks in some minds.
''There's more at stake this year because both teams are undefeated,'' RichRod said. ''Be 6-0. Beat our in-state rivalry team. Get some confidence going into the rest of the Big Ten season. I'm not going to downplay the importance of it. It's a big game.''
The Spartans have the more glamorous wins. While Michigan's victory over Notre Dame was ''tainted'' by the injury to Irish quarterback Dayne Crist, the Spartans beat ND on a dazzling fake field goal for an overtime touchdown. Even more impressively, MSU is coming off a heavyweight victory over previously unbeaten Wisconsin.
The Wolverines have the most glamorous player. Sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson has come out of nowhere to lead the nation in rushing (181 yards per game), rank second in total offense (382.6) and fourth in passing efficiency, with seven TDs, one interception and 201.6 passing yards per game.
If the Heisman vote were taken today, he could strike the pose. DRob is running away with an ESPN.com Experts poll, with 13 of 15 first-place votes. He was named Big Ten offensive player of the week for the third time in this five-week-old season Monday after rolling up 494 yards and five touchdowns at Indiana.
''Just don't watch it, don't read it, just stay away from it,'' said Robinson, insisting he's only intent on the next practice, next play, next game.
The Spartans are watching it nonstop, though, in their film room.
''This gives us a great opportunity to show our Spartan defense and what we're all about and that we can compete with anybody,'' senior linebacker Eric Gordon said of a defense that's allowing 101.2 rushing yards a game -- 20th in the NCAA and third in the Big Ten.
''Usually, guys go around the edge and keep going,'' fellow linebacker Greg Jones said. ''He cuts back. And he's a tough guy for doing that. He gets back up and does it again.''
The big question, though, may center around the Wolverines' shaky defense. Michigan is allowing 25.4 points a game -- 10th in the Big Ten -- and is giving up 433.6 yards a game -- last in the league. If UMass (37 points) and Bowling Green (21) are running around on the Wolverines, what's a rugged offense like the Spartans' going to do-
While cautioning that his defense lacks depth and experience, Rodriguez said he's seeing improvement in a unit that gave up 35 points Saturday at Indiana.
''There are some moments where we've gotten a little bit better,'' he said. ''But there's also some things we've not gotten better at. It's going to take a little more time. Some of the problems didn't happen overnight and won't be solved overnight.''
Which means RichRod is likely to keep asking DRob to keep scoring in bunches. The question is, can Robinson, who's already taken his share of hits, keep rolling, especially with a bruised left knee-
''No matter who your quarterback is, you worry about him staying healthy,'' Rodriguez said. ''Whether he's a runner or thrower or someone in between, which is what Denard is, you worry about him.''
And if it's rivalry week in Michigan, people either are worrying about Robinson getting hurt -- or running wild.
The Locals: Where the area teams play
ILLINOIS AT PENN STATE
Time: 11 a.m., ESPN2, 560-AM.
The records: Illinois 2-2, 0-1 Big Ten; Penn State 3-2, 0-1.
The story line: Bolstered by a good showing in their 24-13 loss to Ohio State, the Illini head to Penn State eager for a win. The question is, will the Nittany Lions be wobbly or ornery after being drubbed 24-3 at Iowa- Illinois, 0-6 all-time at Penn State, hopes the seventh time is a charm.
The line: Penn State by 8.
Herb Gould's pick: Illinois, 28-24.
TEMPLE AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Time: 11 a.m., Ch.50, 670-AM.
Records: Temple 4-1, 1-0 MAC East; NIU 3-2, 1-0 MAC West.
The story line: Who'll stop the ... run- The defense that does it best figures to be on the winning side in this one, though NIU QB Chandler Harnish could be the difference-maker if he continues his hot hand.
The line: Northern Illinois by 3.
Rick Armstrong's pick: NIU, 24-20.
PITTSBURGH AT NOTRE DAME
Time: 2:30 p.m. Ch.5, 890-AM.
Records: Pitt 2-2; Notre Dame 2-3.
The story line: Notre Dame and QB Dayne Crist picked up some momentum last week with a 31-13 victory over Boston College, but the Irish -- who held BC to five net yards rushing -- will be challenged by Pitt RBs Ray Graham and Dion Lewis. The onus remains on the Irish offense to continue its overall improvement and carry the load.
The line: Notre Dame by 6.
Mark Potash's pick: ND, 30-20.
PURDUE AT NORTHWESTERN
Time: 6:30 p.m., BTN, 560-AM, 1230-AM.
Records: NU 5-0, 1-0 Big Ten; Purdue 2-2, 0-0.
The story line: The Boilermakers' offense has been decimated with injuries. With starting quarterback Robert Marve out for the season because of a knee injury in a Sept. 25 loss to Toledo, NU's defense could capitalize on redshirt freshman QB Rob Henry's inexperience. Look for Wildcats RBs Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy to have strong showings.
The line: Northwestern by 10.
Tina Akouris' pick: NU, 42-28.
INDIANA AT NO. 2 OHIO STATE
Time: 2:30 p.m., ESPNU.
The records: Indiana 3-1, 0-1; Ohio State 5-0, 1-0.
The story line: Terrelle Pryor, who injured his left quadriceps at Illinois last week, is expected to be fine, but the Buckeyes again figure to use their Heisman candidate carefully. Indiana QB Ben Chappell will test the Buckeyes' stingy defense.
The line: Ohio State by 22½.
Herb Gould's pick: Ohio State, 31-13.
MINNESOTA AT NO. 20 WISCONSIN
Time: 11 a.m., BTN, 620-AM.
The records: Minnesota 1-4, 0-1; Wisconsin 4-1, 0-1.
The story line: With speculation mounting that his job is on the chopping block, Tim Brewster really needs to wrest Paul Bunyan's Axe from Wisconsin for the first time since 2004. Trouble is, that looks like a tall order for the Gophers coach.
The line: Wisconsin by 22.
Gould's pick: Wisconsin, 41-14.
NO. 1 ALABAMA AT NO. 19 SOUTH CAROLINA
Time: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 2.
The records: Alabama 5-0, 2-0 SEC; South Carolina 3-1, 1-1.
The story line: Having handled Arkansas and Florida, the Crimson Tide will face its third consecutive ranked opponent. A knee injury could sideline or at least limit star WR Julio Jones against Steve Spurrier's best Gamecocks team.
The line: Alabama by 6½.
Gould's pick: Alabama, 31-21.
USC AT NO. 16 STANFORD
Time: 7 p.m., ESPN3.com.
The records: USC 4-1, 1-1 Pac-10; Stanford 4-1, 1-1.
The story line: Unranked and undone by Washington 32-31 last week, unraveling USC and new coach Lane Kiffin take on the newly muscular Cardinal, led by (but not limited to) star QB Andrew Luck and hard-nosed coach Jim Harbaugh.
The line: Stanford by 9½.
Gould's pick: Stanford, 38-24.
NO. 12 LSU AT NO. 14 FLORIDA
Time: 6:30 p.m., ESPN.
The records: LSU 5-0, 3-0 SEC; Florida 4-1, 2-1.
The story line: This could be fierce. In danger of losing two in a row, Florida defends the Swamp against LSU's Les Miles, who's in danger of losing his Bayou constituency. Gators QB John Brantley (sore ribs) is expected to be OK.
The line: Florida by 6½.
Gould's pick: Florida, 24-20.
NO. 23 FLORIDA STATE AT NO. 13 MIAMI
Time: 7 p.m., Ch. 7.
The records: FSU 4-1, 2-0 ACC; Miami 3-1, 1-0.
The story line: It's not exactly the good old national-championship days, but the stakes are higher. The Seminoles and Hurricanes are ranked and in the hunt for ACC glory. A conference championship rematch is possible.
The line: Miami by 6.
Gould's pick: Miami, 31-23.