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 Nebraska has something to prove. So does Kentucky. And Maryland. Throw Alabama in there. Tennessee, too.
Call them measuring-stick games or temperature-takers. They're games that can give a glimpse at the direction and health of a program and there are several on tap this weekend.
The Cornhuskers have the most notable. Top-ranked Southern California comes to the Heartland on Saturday.
Big Red has been taking baby steps toward returning to elite status in three seasons under coach Bill Callahan. There's been progress, Nebraska won the Big 12 North last season, but the Huskers have yet to prove they're capable of slugging it out with the best in the nation.
Last year in Los Angeles, Nebraska hung around but never actually threatened USC in a 28-10 loss. Hanging around at home isn't what HuskerNation is looking for this year.
Kentucky and Maryland face traditional rivals who have dominated them in recent years. The Wildcats host Louisville and the Terrapins get West Virginia on Thursday night, with the underdog home teams looking to swing those series back in their favor.
Arkansas visits Alabama for Nick Saban's first Southeastern Conference home game and the first chance to see how the Crimson Tide is coming along under their $4 million-a-year coach.
Tennessee has been in a rut for the past couple of seasons. Beating the defending champions would be a great way to get out of it.
The picks:
Thursday
No. 4 West Virginia (minus 16 1/2) at Maryland
Mountaineers have won three straight meetings ... WEST VIRGINIA 34-20.
Saturday
No. 1 Southern California (minus 10) at No. 14 Nebraska
Trojans have won seven straight nonconference road games ... USC 33-13.
Middle Tennessee (plus 40 1/2) at No. 2 LSU
Blue Raiders are 3-25 against SEC - all three wins against Vanderbilt ... LSU 55-13.
Utah State (plus 45 1/2) at No. 3 Oklahoma
Sooners lead series 3-0 and average 58 ppg against Aggies ... OKLAHOMA 58-3
No. 22 Tennessee (plus 8) at No. 5 Florida
Home team has won only two of last seven meetings ... FLORIDA 27-24.
No. 6 Texas (minus 19) at UCF
Knights are 6-1 in home openers ... TEXAS 40-14.
The Citadel (no line) at No. 7 Wisconsin
First Big Ten opponent for The Citadel ... WISCONSIN 55-3.
Louisiana Tech (plus 33 1/2) at No. 8 California
Bears lost to Bulldogs in only meeting, 41-34 in '97 ... CAL 58-14.
No. 9 Louisville (minus 6 1/2) at Kentucky
Cardinals are 7-1 with four straight wins in series ... LOUISVILLE 49-44.
No. 10 Ohio State (minus 4) at Washington
Buckeyes are 7-3 against Huskies ... OHIO STATE 24-17.
No. 11 UCLA (minus 13 1/2) at Utah
Bruins are 8-0 vs. Utah, including last year's 31-10 victory ... UCLA 32-14.
Buffalo (plus 34) at No. 12 Penn State
Bulls beat Nittany Lions in only meeting - in 1900 ... PENN STATE 48-10.
Norfolk State (no line) at No. 13 Rutgers
Scarlet Knights have lost to two former I-AA teams since '02 ... RUTGERS 50-3.
No. 21 Boston College (plus 7) at No. 15 Georgia Tech
First meeting as ACC rivals; Tech is 4-1 vs. BC ... GEORGIA TECH 24-21.
No. 16 Arkansas (plus 3) at Alabama
Tide has lost two double-OT games to Razorbacks in last four years ... ALABAMA 25-20.
South Carolina State (no line) at No. 17 South Carolina
Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough is former Gamecocks assistant ... SOUTH CAROLINA 51-7.
Ohio (plus 20 1/2) at No. 18 Virginia Tech
Hokies rank second-to-last in offense in ACC ... VIRGINIA TECH 34-10.
Fresno State (plus 16 1/2) at No. 19 Oregon
Ducks won 31-24 at Fresno State last year ... OREGON 39-27.
Furman (no line) at No. 20 Clemson
Tigers are 20-0-1 in last 21 against Furman ... CLEMSON 43-14.
Western Carolina at No. 23 Georgia
Catamounts second game of season vs. SEC team ... GEORGIA 49-7.
M
M 44-14.
---
Last week's record: 21-0 (straight); 10-7 (vs. points).
Season: 44-1 (straight); 19-18 (vs. points).

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