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Gauntlet starts with Oregon

Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll spent the week fending off questions about the daunting portion of his schedule that starts tonight, when Oregon visits the Coliseum. After the Ducks, No. 8 Cal visits followed by No. 9 Notre Dame. At the end of that intimidating stretch of games, the Trojans (7-1, 5-1 Pac-10) will know so much more about their fate. They'll learn if their thin national title hopes have snapped. They'll know if they will be playing a bowl game before New Year's Day for the first time since 2001. Oregon (7-2, 4-2) has the top offense in the conference. Its spread attack leads the Pac-10 in total offense and scoring offense. "They are loaded. They are," Carroll said. "This is a great challenge for us."

Countdown to Ohio State-Michigan

Some of the off-the-field events leading up to next week's game.

The band

A Columbus, Ohio, punk band dresses up like former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and goes by the name Dead Schembechlers. The band's songs include Bomb Ann Arbor Now and We Don't Give A Damn For The Whole State of Michigan. Former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler recently saw the band's Web site and told the Columbus Dispatch, "Holy smokes! I couldn't believe it. They're all dressed like Woody. I think it's crazy."

By the numbers

1-17 Northwestern's record against opponents ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press.

3 Times this season Vandy has outgained SEC opponents but lost, the latest 391-330 last week against Florida. Today, Vandy faces Kentucky, which it outgained 516-365 in a 48-43 loss last season.

4 Career punt returns for touchdowns by Cal's DeSean Jackson, above, tying the Pac-10 record.

9 Coaches Michigan State will have since 1973 when it replaces John L. Smith after the season, most in the Big Ten.

25 National ranking for BYU, its first since the final poll of 2001. Thursday, the Cougars clinched a share of the Mountain West title by beating Wyoming 55-7.

27 Touchdown passes by Colt McCoy, surpassing Vince Young (2005) and the Bucs' Chris Simms (2002) for the Texas season record.

53 Record number of bowl appearances by Alabama (6-4), which is not assured of a postseason bid this year. The SEC has nine teams with winning records but only eight guaranteed spots.

Five things

1. When talking about disappointments, the first stop should be the state of Iowa. Iowa State, coming off a 7-5 season and with 13 starters back, was considered a contender in the Big 12 North. Instead, the Cyclones are 3-7 overall and 0-6 in the Big 12, and coach Dan McCarney resigned Wednesday. Iowa was considered a contender in the Big Ten. Instead, the Hawkeyes are 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the conference, including last week's home loss to a bad Northwestern team.

2. SMU, infamous for cheating so egregious the NCAA shut it down for the 1987 season, is one win from being bowl eligible. It would be the first since the 1984 Aloha. "There is life after death," athletic director Steve Orsini said. The Mustangs (5-4, 3-2 C-USA) host Houston today then host Tulsa and visit Rice.

3. In its past two games, Hawaii has outscored opponents 131-20 with Colt Brennan, above, throwing 11 touchdowns. Today, he faces Louisiana Tech, 84th in the nation in pass defense.

4. Texas Tech's Mike Leach, surprised by criticism from Baylor coach Guy Morriss after his challenge of a fumble late in a 55-21 win: "It's almost like people sit together, then all of a sudden, like somebody gives a little kid an ice cream cone or something. Then somebody will get offended. And everybody will look and say, 'Well, there's nothing offensive about that.' And then a guy, in some creative way, will go through some chain of reasoning, where he finds something offensive about it. And the others will look at him. Their eyes will brighten up in delight because they only wish they were creative enough to find something offensive about it."

5. New Mexico kicker Kenny Byrd, a former walk-on who never played in high school, is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and has made 22 consecutive field goals from inside the 40. For his career, he is 29-of-37.

The beer

Ohio State officials asked three convenience stores near campus to stop selling domestic beer in glass bottles through the end of the school year.

School officials said they are concerned about intoxicated fans throwing empty bottles at one another during the game.

"Beer bottles are lethal weapons when thrown empty," Willie Young, the school's director of off-campus student services, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Cans don't hurt you empty."

The three stores have agreed to phase out the glass bottles of domestic beer already in stock and will not reorder.

Why the crackdown on only domestic beer bottles?

"Our students drink cheap beer," Young said. "So the foreign beers are not a problem. You never see those bottles in the neighborhood."

The good cheer

You'd think that as the Ohio State game nears, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr would be scowling even more than usual. Just the opposite.

Last week, as a team meeting was about to begin, Carr sneaked down the aisle from behind, wearing a Halloween mask, and scared the wits out of offensive lineman Rueben Riley and safety B.J. Opong-Owusu.

Monday, Carr was asked about the grind of the nonstop 12-game season and the toll it has taken on his team.

"I feel like a 20-year-old," he said, waiting for the media's laughter, his face creasing and his eyes lighting up.

Quotable

"Was that last year that we won the SEC championship? It seems so long ago."

Mark Richt, Georgia coach who is 6-4 before facing Auburn today

Compiled by Times staff writer John Strickhouser, using information from the Associated Press, Philadelphia Daily News and Orange County Register.

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