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National Report

Our weekly look at key games around the country, with emphasis on teams in the national title picture.

USC 28 Arizona State 21

Lost in all the talk of USC's eminent demise is the outstanding play of the defense, which is smothering opponents in a meaningful way. The Sun Devils tried and tried and tried to get a running game going against the Trojans, but couldn't. If you take out Rudy Carpenter's 38 yard scramble, the Sun Devils managed a mere 83 yards on 32 carries - only 2.6 per rush.

But it's the pass defense that's keeping the Trojans's heads above water right now. Opponents have barely completed 50% of the passes thrown this season against USC, only five times for touchdowns.

On offense, though, USC continues to just get by. The running game is performing nicely, but John David Booty has cooled after a fast start. Between Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame, the pressure on the defense to contain all three may be too much for this team to survive if the offense doesn't get better quickly.

Michigan 17 Penn State 10

I had some lousy picks this week, but my 17-6 prediction on this game was prescient:

Manningham's injury is a big deal, but it won't matter in this game. The Wolverines should have no trouble neutering Penn State's middling offense. I wonder whether Michigan will score much, but I have no doubt Penn State will score very little, if at all.

And that about said it. Mike Hart got the job done on offense, while the defense absolutely smothered Penn State's, well, middling offense. After Michigan disposes of a sinking Iowa team next week, they'll have smooth sailing until the season finale with Ohio State, which is looking like the conference game of the season.

Watching Michigan play, you wonder whether either Texas or Michigan would rush for 50 yards if the squads matched up.

Auburn 27 Florida 17

And then there were none. For the second straight year, no one will emerge from the SEC undefeated. Both Auburn and Florida remain in the "best one-loss team" conversation, though after watching Auburn the last two weeks, they don't really belong. Arkansas thumped the Plainsmen, while Florida did everything but hand the game away.

For the Gators, I've been impressed with their play during this stretch of tough games, and it's no crying shame to lose a road game to a solid Auburn team. But you get the sense that, like Chris Simms at Texas, Chris Leak just isn't an elite quarterback. He's good, but he'll blow it from time to time. There's no sense that any championships are coming while he's under center. The season's not over, but the outlook now looks considerably dimmer, nationally speaking, for Florida.