Articles By Braden Gall
Stanford (9-1, 6-1) at California (5-5, 3-4), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
The Cardinal will continue their quest for a BCS bowl berth with a visit to their rival. No. 1 Oregon remains the only team to beat Stanford. If both teams continue on their current paths, Stanford could be in line for a ticket to the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal’s balanced, potent offense will get a test from the Bears, who put together one of the best defensive performances in the nation this season during their 15–13 loss to Oregon last weekend. Cal leads the Pac-10 and is 10th nationally in total defense, but most of its success this season has come against spread offenses. The Cardinal run a power, pro-style attack that will be a whole new challenge for the Bears. That being said, Cal stopped Stanford’s offense last season when it was the hottest in the country.
USC (7-3, 4-3) at Oregon State (4-5, 3-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
Two teams going in different directions meet in the Pacific Northwest. The Trojans, despite having nothing to play for, are playing their best ball at the end of the season. USC has won two in a row, including a road victory at Arizona last week. The Trojans, who are not eligible to play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, can still reach a 10-win season if they win their final three games. The Beavers, meanwhile, are reeling. They have lost three of four, including an embarrassing 31–14 home setback to Washington State last week. This begins a brutal final stretch of the season for the Beavers. After Saturday, Oregon State travels to Stanford before closing out the regular season in the Civil War against Oregon. The Beavers need to win two of their final three games to be bowl-eligible.
Oklahoma State (9-1, 5-1) at Kansas (3-7, 1-5), Saturday, 11 a.m.
The term “trap game” gets tossed around much too much. That said, it applies here, and the Jayhawks have one such conquest (Georgia Tech) to prove it.
Still, don’t expect it, with this Oklahoma State team proving repeatedly that its leaders know how to maintain focus. And the focus is clear: rolling through Lawrence on the way to a South Division showdown with archrival Oklahoma.
It’ll be Senior Day at KU, which can be good for a minor emotional boost. But the Jayhawks simply don’t have the firepower (Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter, et al) on offense to keep pace, unless OSU stumbles.
Once upon a time, the road was rough on the Cowboys. But they’ve won 10 of their last 13 away from home, including all four games this season, claiming victory in places that had been their Waterloo for decades.
The Pokes are too close to the prize to lose their way now. By beating Kansas, they’ll face OU for their first South title in the Big 12. And that will set them up with a likely rematch with Nebraska for the school’s first conference title.
Kansas State (6-4, 3-4) at Colorado (4-6, 1-5), Saturday, 1:10 p.m.
The Buffaloes claimed their first Big 12 win in more than a calendar year last Saturday. Now, how about No. 2?
What a difference a week — and a win — makes, as Colorado climbed out of the mess of a mid-season coaching change to convincingly beat Iowa State. Now, going back-to-back doesn’t seem like such a stretch, especially if quarterback Cody Hawkins can repeat his solid performance and interim coach Brian Cabral can maintain an emotional re-focus.
The Wildcats take one of the league’s top rushing offenses into Boulder, with running quarterback Colin Klein adding another element to go with tailback Daniel Thomas. Klein has given the ’Cats a boost, rotating at quarterback with Carson Coffman.
Still, the lack of a passing attack limits K-State. And the Buffs slowed Iowa State’s ground game a week ago, although the ’Cats present a much more physical challenge in their run game.
Weber State (6-4) at Texas Tech (5-5), Saturday, 2 p.m.
The Red Raiders are still seeking another win to reach bowl-eligible status. Thankfully, this one, against FCS-level Weber State, counts.
Tech has completed conference play in a quirky scheduling twist that features back-to-back non-conference home games, Saturday and again next week against Houston. In an uneven season, this presents an opportunity to build some momentum for the Red Raiders and for inconsistent quarterback Taylor Potts.
Weber State won’t be fazed by the step up in competition, with games against FBS schools a regularity in its scheduling. The Wildcats opened this season with a 38-20 loss at Boston College.
Still, don’t expect an upset. Weber State is just 3–43 all-time against the big boys, with the last breakthrough coming in 1993.
Florida Atlantic (4-5) at Texas (4-6), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
The Longhorns’ mighty fall leaves them with this unlikely scenario: a must-win game against, get this, FAU. Must-win in terms of avoiding a losing season.
Must-win in terms of maintaining hope for — gasp! — a bowl bid. Must-win in terms of avoiding complete and total embarrassment. That’s where Texas stands, having lost four straight games and four of five at home this season.
The Horns continue to scuffle offensively, due to a lack of playmakers that would seem impossible considering the school’s annual recruiting hauls. Still, quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s struggles have fans and media calling for a look at backup Case McCoy. There would be similar calls at other positions, if only options existed.
FAU has rebounded from five straight losses to win three in a row and at least carry momentum into Austin.
Missouri (8-2, 4-2) at Iowa State (5-6, 3-4), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Week 11 was rough on the Cyclones. They lost as a favorite at Colorado and they lost injured quarterback Austen Arnaud in the process, robbing them of their gritty and respected leader, not to mention the program’s No. 2 passing leader in terms of career yards and touchdowns. That puts replacement Jerome Tiller on the spot, as Iowa State gets one final shot at gaining bowl eligibility. Tiller, of course, will need help, from running back Alexander Robinson and a cast of receivers and a defense that ranks No. 92 nationally in total defense.
Missouri, meanwhile, maintains hope for a North Division title, although its needs assistance from Texas A&M and Colorado in overtaking Nebraska. Still, it’s hope. And the Tigers seem to have rediscovered their offense, with Blaine Gabbert and Co. and a spiced-up playbook producing big numbers in a 38-28 win over K-State.
Oklahoma (8-2, 4-2) at Baylor (7-4, 4-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Sooners are tiring of the “road struggle” questions, to the point that a testy Bob Stoops limited media access to just five players this week. But the questions aren’t going away, not until Oklahoma proves capable of stepping out of its Jekyll-Hyde routine. At home, the Sooners are superb. On the road, they’re susceptible, with losses in their last two trips outside of Norman.
OU Quarterback Landry Jones is just 1–5 in true road games as a starter, where he’s struggled with inconsistency and interception woes.
Not that it’s all on Jones. The Sooners defense has allowed 69 points in those two road losses (at Missouri and Texas A&M).
Baylor, however, would figure to provide a level of comfort. OU hasn’t lost to Baylor. Anywhere. Ever. And suddenly, the arguments that this is a different Baylor are fading. The Bears are better, clearly, yet have failed mightily against the best of competition, including the past two weeks in losses to Oklahoma State and A&M.
Baylor maintains a shot, with its explosive Robert Griffin III-led offense capable of putting up points. The Bears defense, however, is banged up, stressing an already difficult challenge of slowing the Sooners, who look to stay on track for a South Division title shot.
Nebraska (9-1, 5-1) at Texas A&M (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Aggies have rebounded to win four straight games and put themselves in the South title chase. An improving defense and the move to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback have transformed a team that once stood 0–2 in Big 12 play. And a win over Nebraska would further cement A&M’s status as a program on the rise, not only this season, but also going forward.
The Huskers can clinch the North title with a win, yet seek a return to form as well. Nebraska’s four-game winning streak has revealed some rocky moments, and quarterback Taylor Martinez has slowed down following his early season breakout.
And for all the references to the “Blackshirts” on defense, the Huskers haven’t been a shutdown defense at all, except against the league’s lightweights.
For Nebraska, this trip to College Station will be a test. Along with Tannehill’s impact, the Aggies have given running back Cyrus Gray a heavier workload and benefitted. And with the Huskers headed for Kyle Field — perhaps for the last time — in an ABC prime-time television slot, a full and frenzied house is expected in what amounts to the Big 12’s Game of the Week.
NC State (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
It’s time for role reversal in the 100th edition of this rivalry game, with North Carolina trying to play the part of spoiler as effectively as NC State has in recent years. The Wolfpack have knocked off the Tar Heels three consecutive seasons, killing North Carolina’s division title chances in 2008 and sending UNC down the list in the ACC’s bowl pecking order last year.
Now the Tar Heels, already eliminated from contention in the Coastal Division, have a chance to keep the Wolfpack from winning a division title. N.C. State would clinch the Atlantic Division with victories in its last two games — this week and at Maryland in the regular-season finale — but its chances would take a big hit with a loss against North Carolina. In fact, a Wolfpack loss combined with a Florida State win over Maryland later Saturday night would send the Seminoles to the ACC championship game.
The key to this game is the turnover battle, which North Carolina can’t afford to lose if it hopes to give coach Butch Davis his first win against N.C. State. The Tar Heels have committed a total of six turnovers in their six victories this season, but they have turned over the ball 14 times in their four losses. Quarterback T.J. Yates tied a career high with four interceptions against Virginia Tech after throwing just four interceptions all season up to that point, and he will need to be sharper in the final home game of his career. Yates, who enters this game needing 288 passing yards to become UNC’s career leader in that category, could get a lift in the running game from tailback Shaun Draughn.
Draughn was limited by an ankle injury against the Hokies last week, but he should be healthy enough to play a larger role against the Wolfpack.
Regardless of Draughn’s status, the Tar Heels will have their hands full with an NC State defense that has allowed a total of 17 points in the last two weeks combined, its lowest total in back-to-back ACC games since 1982. Linebacker Nate Irving made a school-record eight tackles for loss last week in the Wolfpack’s 38-3 victory over Wake Forest, and he ranks third in the nation in that category (1.85 TFL per game) this season.
Offensively, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson needs a big performance in order to push Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor for the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Virginia (4-6, 1-5 ACC) at Boston College (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Virginia saw its bowl hopes die last week with a 42–23 loss to Maryland, but Boston College remains alive in its drive for the postseason. The Eagles, who have followed up a five-game losing streak with three consecutive wins, need one more victory to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season.
Boston College has climbed back into bowl contention on the strength of its defense, which has allowed one touchdown by opposing offenses in the last three games combined. The Eagles, who held Duke to 4 rushing yards in a 21-16 victory over the Blue Devils last week, enter this game with the nation’s No. 1 run defense (74.6 yards per game). The leader of the unit is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads the country in tackles (14.6 per game) and has made at least 10 tackles in a nation-leading 19 consecutive games.
Virginia, meanwhile, is limping to the finish line. The Cavaliers have suffered back-to-back losses since their upset of Miami on Oct. 30. Starting offensive tackle Landon Bradley is out for the season with a knee injury, and starting cornerback Ras-I Dowling also is done for the year with an ankle injury that followed knee and hamstring ailments.
Those injuries will hurt the Cavaliers, but the key storyline entering this game is the health of Virginia’s top two rushers after they went down last week against the Terrapins. Perry Jones suffered a head injury, and Keith Payne suffered a lower leg injury. Virginia coach Mike London is cautiously optimistic that both tailbacks will be able to play against the Eagles, but the combination of their iffy health and Boston College’s smothering run defense might cause the Cavaliers to rely more on quarterback Marc Verica and their passing game.
On the other side, Virginia must find a way to contain Boston College tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (112.9 ypg). Harris lost a pair of fumbles in the red zone at Duke last week, so ball security will be his primary concern as he searches for running room against a Virginia defense that ranks 107th nationally (ACC-worst 202.5 ypg) against the run.
Duke (3-7, 1-5 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Georgia Tech has dominated the series with Duke over the last two decades, winning 18 of the last 20 matchups and each of the last six meetings. If the Yellow Jackets extend that streak, they will become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.
Duke, meanwhile, was eliminated from bowl contention with its 21–16 loss to Boston College last week. The Blue Devils have no shot at a .500 record, but what they do have is plenty of experience defending Georgia Tech’s unconventional style of offense. Duke already has played Army and Navy this season, two teams that rely on the option and use many of the same principles and plays as the Yellow Jackets, who lead the nation in rushing (319.3 yards per game).
Tevin Washington continues to fill in at quarterback for Joshua Nesbitt, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken right arm. Washington completed 7 of 16 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown last week in the first start of his career, and he will take his best shot at a Duke defense that isn’t shy about crowding the line of scrimmage against run-oriented opponents.
On the other side, the Blue Devils have benefited from improved play from their quarterbacks in the last three weeks. Duke coach David Cutcliffe has maintained that Sean Renfree is his starter, but he continues to use backup Brandon Connette in short-yardage and red-zone situations. Renfree, who threw 14 interceptions during Duke’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, has not thrown an interception in the last three games.
Clemson (5-5, 3-4 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-8, 1-6 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Clemson is kicking itself for missed opportunities this season. The Tigers wouldn’t find themselves in this position — out of the Atlantic Division race and still needing one more win to become bowl-eligible — if they had done a better job kicking the football. Chandler Catanzaro made just 2-of-4 field-goal tries in Clemson’s 16-13 loss at Florida State last week, and the Tigers are 9-of-18 on field-goal attempts for the season. Clemson, which got just six points on four trips inside the FSU 20 last week, has scored a touchdown on just three of its last 16 trips inside the red zone.
If the Tigers are to improve those numbers this week, they will have to do so without their top offensive weapon. Tailback Andre Ellington remains sidelined with a strained ligament and a bone fragment in his foot, leaving Jamie Harper as Clemson’s primary ball carrier. Harper enjoyed a breakout performance last week against the Seminoles, rushing for 143 yards and catching nine passes for 54 yards, and he will go against a Wake Forest defense that ranks 114th nationally in points allowed (38.7 per game).
The Demon Deacons, who have dropped eight consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 1978, haven’t been much better on offense. They played last week without both of their starting guards, Joe Looney (ankle) and Michael Hoag (concussion), and converted wide receiver Michael Campanaro led the team in rushing.
Wake Forest will have its hands full this week with a Clemson defense that ranks ninth nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.4 per game). Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and ranks second in the country in tackles for loss (2.20 per game).
Virginia Tech (8-2, 6-0 ACC) at Miami (7-3, 5-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech can clinch its fourth Coastal Division title in six years with a victory in this matchup of former Big East powers. Miami needs a win to remain in contention for its first division title since joining the ACC.
The Hokies, who have won three of the last four meetings with the Hurricanes, enter this game with an eight-game winning streak. Virginia Tech forced six turnovers in its 26-10 victory at North Carolina last week, coaxing fifth-year senior T.J. Yates into a career-high-tying four interceptions. The Hokies will try to pick off passes from a true freshman this week, with Stephen Morris in line to start his third consecutive game as Jacory Harris recovers from a concussion he suffered at Virginia on Oct. 30.
Morris will be tested by a Virginia Tech defense that features NCAA interception leader Jayron Hosley (0.78 interceptions per game) and ranks seventh nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency (100.9 rating). Miami’s ground game has flourished with Morris at quarterback, but Morris also has shown instant chemistry with wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving yards (87.9 per game), has tied Michael Irvin’s school record for touchdown catches in a season (11) and has caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games.
Virginia Tech counters with a much more experienced passer in senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor’s task also will be a tough one. Miami ranks second nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency, third nationally in passing yards allowed (147.9 per game) and tied for ninth in the country in sacks (2.90 per game).
Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC) at Maryland (7-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
The winner stays alive in its quest for the Atlantic Division title, while the loser is eliminated from contention. Florida State enters the week with a half-game lead on Maryland and NC State in the standings, but the Terrapins and Wolfpack are in control. If Maryland or NC State wins its final two games — they play each other next week in the regular-season finale — that team wins the division. Still, next week’s game between the Wolfpack and Terrapins could turn out to be irrelevant with regard to determining the division winner. If North Carolina beats NC State on Saturday and Florida State follows up with a win over Maryland, the Seminoles will play in the ACC championship game.
Florida State remained in contention thanks to its 16–13 victory over Clemson last week, a game decided by Dustin Hopkins’ 55-yard field goal as time expired. Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel started and went the distance for the Seminoles in that game after Christian Ponder missed practice all week to receive medical attention for his sore right elbow. Doctors finally have figured out what was ailing Ponder — he had separated the fascia from a muscle near his elbow, not ruptured a bursa sac, as originally thought — and Ponder will start against the Terrapins after returning to practice at full speed.
The news is less positive about a couple of Ponder’s key weapons. Starting tailback Jermaine Thomas sprained his right knee against the Tigers and is out this week, leaving Chris Thompson and Ty Jones to split the carries. Wide receiver Willie Haulstead is questionable after suffering a concussion.
Maryland, meanwhile, enters this contest with three wins in its last four games after posting a 42-23 victory at Virginia last week. The Terrapins, who have lost three consecutive games against the Seminoles and 18 of 20 meetings overall, continue to come up with game-changing plays on both sides of the ball. Maryland ranks third in the country in turnover margin (plus-1.30 per game), a key reason for its resurgence after a 2-10 season in 2009.
The Terrapins have done an admirable job of protecting redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien with an offensive line that was revamped because of injuries, but they face their toughest test of the season this week. Florida State, led by defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Markus White, leads the nation in sacks (3.90 per game).
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3), Saturday, noon EST
Since Bill Stewart has taken over at West Virginia, his teams are 18–2 at home, 2–1 in neutral-site bowls — and 5–8 on the road. This week, he’s trying to relieve some of the pressure on his job status and get the Mountaineers back in the Big East title hunt by winning at 5–5 Louisville.
“The road has not been as pleasant as we would have liked it to have been,” Stewart said. “Maybe we can make amends to that this weekend and get back on track.”
Pitt’s loss at Connecticut opened the door for all of the Big East, including WVU, now 2–2 in league play. The challenge for the Mountaineers will be to contain Cardinals back Bilal Powell, who had 140 yards last week against South Florida and is fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 134.1 yards. WVU seems equipped to do that with the nation’s seventh-best rush defense. The Mountaineers are allowing an average of just 94.9 rushing yards per game.
On the flip side, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw four touchdown passes in the first half last week against Cincinnati, will have to have success this week against cornerback Johnny Patrick and a Cardinals pass defense that’s ranked ninth nationally, allowing but 163.6 yards per game through the air.
The key in the game may be the running of WVU’s Noel Devine, who has been struggling with injuries and is averaging 85.6 yards. Louisville’s run defense is 48th nationally, allowing 142.9 yards per game.
Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2), Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh had a comfortable conference lead a week ago. Now the Panthers are in somewhat of an uncomfortable position with but a one-game Big East advantage in the loss column and this contest at South Florida’s Raymond James Stadium.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said this week his team is working on kick coverage after Connecticut’s Nick Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score. Too, USF boasts dangerous return man Lindsey Lamar, who averages 30.8 yards per return. The Panthers are also dealing with the bad news that defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, is out for the season with a torn ACL after returning from back surgery.
South Florida, meanwhile, is on a high via a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 24–21 overtime road win at Louisville. While Pitt is 3–1 in Big East play and 5–4 overall, the Bulls are 3–2 and 6–3.
The question in this one centers on South Florida’s offense, specifically quarterback B.J. Daniels, going against Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring.
On the other side, the Bulls will have to slow Pitt QB Tino Sunseri, who has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season, and the one-two running punch of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis. South Florida has the Big East’s No. 6 pass and No. 4 rush defense.
Connecticut (5-4, 2-2) at Syracuse (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m EST
The Big East is down, but these two teams are up. Connecticut is coming off back-to-back victories against the teams picked to finish first and second in the conference this season. The Huskies won at home against Pitt, last week, and West Virginia. At 5–4 overall and 2–2 in league play, their season is rejuvenated.
Syracuse, meanwhile, is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and is coming off a 13–10 road win against Rutgers. The Orange are in second place in the Big East at 4–2 and is 7–3 overall. SU coach Doug Marrone, however, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“(Connecticut is) a very good football team that was picked by some to win this conference,” he said. “We’re a football team that’s trying to get to the upper level, and get back to consistency and winning, and we have a long way to go.”
The teams seem pretty evenly matched. While Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 2 scoring offense, Syracuse has the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. The Huskies have the conference’s No. 7 scoring defense, while the Orange has the No. 7 scoring offense.
Keep your eyes on UConn back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, and Syracuse’s Delone Carter, fourth in the Big East in rushing.
Rutgers (4-5, 1-3) at Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST
There seems to be only one thing at stake in this matchup: escaping the cellar of what some call the nation’s worst BCS conference. Both are currently 1–3 and tied for last place in the Big East.
It’s someone surprising Rutgers is in the position, but close to shocking that back-to-back reigning league champ Cincinnati is there. Bearcats coach Butch Jones spent the early part of the week talking about keeping his team together. “We have to pull each other through these tough times,” he said.
A start would be winning against a 4–5 Rutgers team at home. The bad news for UC fans, however, is the Bearcats are but 2–3 at home this season and are on a three-game losing streak.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is on its own three-game skid after falling by 13–10 to Syracuse last week. RU did have success running the Wildcat formation with Jeremy Deering’s 166 rushing yards out of the formation. But the quarterback situation with struggling Chas Dodd and Tom Savage remains an issue.
If you’re looking for matchups, the Orange have the league’s second-ranked total defense, while the Bearcats field the Big East’s No. 1 total offense. On the flip side, Syracuse has the conference’s No. 6 offense, while UC has the No. 7 defense.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3) at Indiana (4-6, 0-6), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
This is a season to forget for the Hoosiers, as Bill Lynch’s club has failed to capitalize on too many opportunities. With two games to go, Indiana needs two wins to extend its season — highly unlikely. For one thing, the Hoosiers do not have a good history against Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. The last time the two teams played in Bloomington, the Hoosiers kept it close but the team’s four second-half turnovers were too much to overcome. This game could also come down to turnovers — Penn State and Indiana are among four Big Ten teams with a negative turnover ratio — but a safer bet is that it will come down to which team’s quarterback makes more plays.
Last week, Matt McGloin was marvelous for Penn State in the first half, but not so much in the second. He needs to play well for four quarters to get Penn State back on track. The Hoosiers have no choice but to keep the ball in the air on offense, meaning another 40-attempt game is likely for Ben Chappell, who is expected to return to the lineup (hip). If Chappell is perfect, Indiana has a shot at its first conference win of the year. Anything short of that will not be enough.
Purdue (4-6, 2-4) at Michigan State (5-1, 9-1), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
There is no more impressive player in Big Ten football than Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who has come as close as a defender can to being a game-changer. This week, Purdue must offer him more support. The offense has scored more than 20 points in conference action just once this season (Minnesota). That unit is still trying to find consistency in the running game and is in need of a primary receiver; Keith Smith, who played just a game and a half, still ranks fourth on the team in receptions. For Michigan State, the big news this week has been the return of Keshawn Martin, who was missed badly in games against Iowa and Minnesota. Martin is the Big Ten’s leading punt returner and the Spartans’ most explosive receiver. His return is welcome, but it won’t solve one of Michigan State’s problems: a squeaky running game. Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker exploded out of the gate but have both struggled the past month. A Purdue defense allowing 148.7 rushing yards per game could prove to be the cure. Fans may recall Michigan State needed 17 points in the final 12 minutes to beat the Boilermakers last year. The Spartans may only need 17 points total to put away Purdue this year.
Wisconsin (9-1, 5-1) at Michigan (7-3, 3-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Consider this Wisconsin’s last big test before booking its flight to Pasadena. Bret Bielema-coached teams have stumbled in their last two trips to Ann Arbor, so to complete this season’s goals the Badgers must first overcome that obstacle — and it appears they must do so without John Clay again. Perhaps it’s precautionary, but Clay continues to nurse his bum knee. No worries — the 1-2 combo of Montee Ball and James White did just fine without Clay last week (311 yards and five touchdowns combined) and should again this week against a run defense that has given up the second-most rushing scores in the Big Ten. In general, the Wolverines are giving up too many points (34 or more in five of the last six games) and must play well on both sides on Saturday to beat Wisconsin. Of course, the conversation with Michigan begins and ends with Denard Robinson. He has gained fewer than four yards per carry in each of the past two games but has the passing game clicking better than ever. Wisconsin’s secondary must respect Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemmingway this week, because if Robinson does not find open lanes to run through, he is perfectly capable of finding open receivers to throw to.
Illinois (5-5, 3-4) at Northwestern (7-3, 3-3), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
This game has drawn plenty of attention due to its location (Wrigley Field) but it shouldn’t take away from what is an important contest for both clubs. For Illinois, there is no getting around it: They must win this game because there is no guarantee they will beat Fresno State in the season finale. Illinois’ pass defense has been suspect as of late, having made Adam Weber and Minnesota’s receivers look good a week ago. Now the Illini face a Northwestern club trying to fill a hole at quarterback. Dan Persa was a darkhorse candidate for conference offensive player of the year thanks to his 3,100 yards of total offense. Freshman Evan Watkins has thrown a total of seven passes. He has good size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) but must learn where his safety blankets are in a hurry before he gets a face full of orange. Northwestern has beaten Illinois in each of the last two meetings.
Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
Once upon a time this game was categorized as one of the few contests that would help to decide the conference race. Not true anymore. Iowa’s two conference losses have dropped them from that race, and now all Kirk Ferentz’s club is hoping for is a dignified finish to what’s been a somewhat disappointing season. The silver lining is that the game will take place in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have been dominant in all but one contest this year (Wisconsin — a game many feel Iowa should have won). Iowa has scored in bunches at Kinnick Stadium, but there will be no easy victories on offense for the team this week. The Buckeyes have the Big Ten’s top-rated pass defense and allow just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. As they say, every yard must be earned. Ohio State’s task will be no less complicated. Iowa still has a respectable pass rush and a run defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. Chances are, the Buckeyes’ best bet for big plays will come via the passing game; the Hawkeyes give up 220.2 passing yards per game. It’s been six years since an Ohio State team has lost to Iowa, but that 2004 game was one Hawkeye fans have hardly forgotten — a 33-7 thumping in which Iowa outgained Ohio State by a ratio of almost three to one.
Troy (5-4) at No. 17 South Carolina (7-3), 12:21 p.m., ET
TV: SEC Network
The dangers are inherent in this game. It’s a movie we’ve seen before: Win big game, flop the next week. But South Carolina will be mindful of the horror flick that was the second half at Kentucky. And it’ll learn from said lesson.
Look for a whole mess of points. Troy throws an average of 42 passes a game, but the Trojans are 103rd in the country in total defense. They just allowed 52 points to Florida International last week. Will the Gamecocks be looking ahead to Clemson and the SEC title game? Naturally. But they’ll have enough to make this relatively easy.
Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. Following up that 212-yard show at Florida, the freshman could rush for 100 yards in his sleep this week.
Appalachian State (9-1) at Florida (6-4), 12:30 p.m., ET
Florida continues its tradition of following the SEC regular-season finale with a SoCon team. (It was The Citadel a year ago, the Big South’s Charleston Southern the year before that. Too bad the College of Charleston doesn’t have a team.)
Appalachian State, as history tells us, presents more of a challenge than those other teams. These aren’t the Mountaineers of the earlier part of the decade, but they were ranked No. 1 in FCS for a time and they’re currently No. 2 in that poll. This is no slouch program, or “clown show” as Urban Meyer put it earlier in the week.
This would be a great opportunity for the Gators to iron out their offensive deficiencies. Specifically, Meyer needs to play Jordan Reed for an extended time at QB and see if he can piece together a gameplan for Florida State next week. Otherwise, UF might be looking at the unthinkable in Meyer’s sixth season: A seven-win season. This week is no gimme, either.
Player to Watch: Chris Rainey, Florida AP. App State has speed, but not Rainey speed.
Ole Miss (4-6, 1-5) at LSU (9-1, 5-1), 2:30 p.m., CT
Houston Nutt’s impassioned plea for patience this week was just sort of sad. Just really whiny and desperate, really. We all know this isn’t Nutt’s best team at Ole Miss. That’s fine. Just play on. We don’t need a lengthy sob story about injuries and blah, blah, blah.
Nutt said part of the speech’s message was to get the team fired up for the remaining games, against LSU and Mississippi State. In reality, especially after Tennessee put up 52 on the Rebs last week, it sounded as if Nutt was just preparing for the reality of two lopsided losses.
This will be one. LSU is a team motivated by the notion that, if things shake out a certain way, the Tigers could be right in the middle of the national title picture. Maybe they won’t, but they’ve got to keep winning to have that remote shot.
Player to Watch: Jordan Jefferson, LSU QB. He needs to continue the play he showed in the Alabama game in preparing for Arkansas next week.
No. 13 Arkansas (8-2, 4-2) at No. 22 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3), 6 p.m., CT
A subtly big game in terms of shaping the postseason picture. Both are in line for New Year’s Day bowls, but which ones? Jerry Jones would love to have alma mater Arkansas in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, even though the Hogs already played one game this season at Cowboys Stadium.
Mississippi State wants to shake off whatever that was last week at Alabama and prove it’s deserving of, perhaps, the Outback or Cotton bowls. It needs a win Saturday to get to the latter. With just a win next week against Ole Miss, it essentially guarantees it will be in either Atlanta or Tampa.
Arkansas, with Knile Davis and the added feature of the run game, is just too tough right now. Too much offense for even the vaunted cowbell.
Player to Watch: Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB. Closes strong and could still nab second-team All-SEC QB.
Tennessee (4-6, 1-5) at Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6), 6:30 p.m., CT
Still a meaningful November game for Tennessee, but not in the way the Volunteers are used to. Usually they’re gunning for a New Year’s Day bowl slot. This year, they just want a postseason spot, period. And they’re going to have to scramble to get there.
But the blowout of Ole Miss — which delivered Derek Dooley his first SEC victory, at long last — inspired some bowl hope. Freshman Tyler Bray has 10 TDs in the past three weeks, with half of those coming against SEC opponents. He seems to be picking up confidence as he goes.
Talented freshman Justin Hunter had three catches last week, and two were for touchdowns.
Vanderbilt will provide nothing more than a speed bump, setting up a rather big game next week between Kentucky and Tennessee. The Wildcats haven’t beaten UT since the Civil War, or something like that. And the Vols will need that one to become bowl-eligible.
Player to Watch: Justin Hunter, Tennessee WR. Still learning the Vols’ playbook, but his natural talent is shining against these weaker late-season opponents.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 11 in the NFL:
1. Where would Mark Sanchez fall in your AFC quarterback power rankings?
Steven: Sanchez still has a ways to go before he reaches the elite class of quarterbacks in the AFC, but he has shown improvement from last season. The second-year passer has tossed six picks this season after throwing 20 last year and has slightly improved his completion percentage. The Jets can lean on their defense and rushing attack to win games right now, but in a year or two, the team hopes Sanchez can shoulder more of the offensive workload. There are eight quarterbacks I would definitely take ahead of Sanchez this season - Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Kyle Orton. However, I think you can throw Sanchez into the next group with David Garrard, Jason Campbell, Matt Cassell and Vince Young.
Nathan: The AFC quarterback hierarchy starts with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at the top, then takes a few small steps down from Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger to Joe Flacco. After the top five, I think Matt Schaub and Matt Cassel are traditional “safe” picks who can’t win big games on the road but will put up solid numbers that are hard to argue against. On the other hand, Mark Sanchez and Vince Young are “risky” young guys still figuring out the position, but they have more of “it” — moxy, swagger, whatever you want to call “it” — and seem to find a way to win games (and attract critics). Long story short, I’d take the top five (Brady or Manning, then Rivers, Big Ben and Flacco) over Sanchez, but that’s about it.
Braden: One and two — in whatever order you choose — are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (we can argue that one another week). I think Philip Rivers is No. 3, Big Ben is No. 4 and Joe Flacco is No. 5. After that, all bets are off. Sanchez is just as talented as Matt Schaub or Carson Palmer and wins more games. The former USC Trojan first round pick is 16-9 as a starter and played in the AFC title game as a rookie. He has shown great toughness battling injuries and has performed in one of the toughest, most scrutinizing markets in the NFL. Now, even though he has led his team to the best record in the league, there seems to be no middle ground with Mark Sanchez. He is either loved or hated. Either way, he is a winner in my book.
2. Should the Vikings bench Brett Favre?
Steven: Favre may be hurt and struggling, but I don’t think the answer is to bench him. Tarvaris Jackson is only 10-9 in his tenure as a starter, and I just can’t see him being the answer to all of problems in Minnesota. It’s easy to blame Favre, but not having Sidney Rice is certainly hurting the passing attack. Unless Favre can’t play, I think he’s the best option for this team. The Vikings will be in the market for a quarterback this offseason; the only question is whether that’s through the draft or via free agency.
Nathan: Definitely not. Does Brad Childress even have that kind of power? At this point, Brett Favre and Roger Goodell are the only men who can bench Brett Favre. I think Favre plays against the Packers this week. But after that, it’s up in the air. I wouldn’t be shocked at anything right now. The Green Bay game could be Favre’s last. Why not? Beat the Packers, then ride off into the sunset with a fractured foot, bum throwing arm and bruised ego.
Braden: As I have said in this column before, it was Sept. 7, 1992 the last time Brett Favre didn't start a game in the NFL. Yes, he turned the ball over last week on the road in the division against a solid defense. But he is still one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. If you are Brad Childress, or any other member of the Minnesota organization, you have to believe that Favre is your best chance at still making the playoffs — which in the NFC is still very much within reach.
The staff of Athlon sports recently held their fantasy college basketball draft and asked me to provide a quick recap of the proceedings. The draft took place during the last week of October and first week of November and featured eight Athlon writers and two writers from College Fantasy Hoops Insider (me — Perry Missner, editor and lead writer for the site, and Asa Tysseling, who covers the Big 12 and designed the site we used for the draft — the FBL Zone). The draft was 14 rounds and each team needed to field a starting roster of three guards, three forwards, a swingman (guard or forward) and two centers with five bench slots. The scoring is a point for each point, rebound, assist, steal, and block with a point taken away for each turnover.
1 bhochman Kyle Singler, Duke, SR, F
2 asatyss Trey Thompkins, Georgia, JR, F
3 mitchlight Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech, SR, G
4 nathanrush Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, FR, F
5 nathankarp Klay Thompson, Washington State, JR, G
6 michaelmccracken Jacob Pullen, Kansas State, SR, G
7 Snowman Tracy Smith, North Carolina State, SR, C
8 Big Chief John Shurna, Northwestern, JR, F
9 charliemiller Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt, JR, G-F
10 bradengall Talor Battle, Penn State, SR, G
As I’ve written before, fantasy leagues are rarely won in the first round, but they can be lost. If your first-round pick busts, you can be in considerable trouble. None of the first round picks were really outlandish, but you could question Charlie Miller at number nine for his pick of Jeffery Taylor. He’s a fine player, but probably could have had a few rounds later. Kyle Singler has received a lot of press as a potential Player of the Year, but I think Duke has so many offensive options that Singler won’t be a top fantasy producer. His past numbers — 17 points, seven rebounds — are ok, but not outstanding. Snowman was wise to take a center because finding two starting centers in any league will be quite a chore. The league also seemed to shy away from the Big Ten, allowing me to get John Shurna and Braden Gall to select Talor Battle with two of the last three picks of the round.
11 bradengall JaJuan Johnson, Purdue, SR, F-C
12 charliemiller Augustus Gilchrist, South Florida, JR, F-C
13 Big Chief Kemba Walker, Connecticut, JR, G
14 Snowman Travis Leslie, Georgia, JR, G
15 michaelmccracken LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor, SR, G
16 nathankarp Demetri McCamey, Illinois, SR, G
17 nathanrush Brandon Knight, Kentucky, FR, G
18 mitchlight Herb Pope, Seton Hall, JR, F
19 asatyss Jordan Williams, Maryland, SO, F-C
20 bhochman Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall, SR, G
Three more centers went in the second round, and all three should be top producers. Gall doubled up on Big Ten picks by taking the conference’s top center to go along with its top guard. Perhaps Gall was showing his Midwestern roots. I was strong proponent of Walker prior to last year and he had a good season. He should continue his ascent as a junior. Snowman’s pick of Leslie may turn out to be a gem if first-round pick Trey Thompkins is out for any length of time and McCracken took a sound flyer on Dunn who will only be out for three games. Herb Pope was a bit of a risk as well, but should be a solid combo for Light with Delaney (who was my top fantasy Tier 1 option prior to the season).
21 bhochman Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, FR, F-C
22 asatyss Jimmy Butler, Marquette, SR, G-F
23 mitchlight Marshawn Powell, Arkansas, SO, F
24 nathanrush Isaiah Thomas, Washington, JR, G
25 nathankarp D.J. Kennedy, St. Johns, SR, G-F
26 michaelmccracken Derrick Williams, Arizona, SO, F
27 Snowman Alec Burks, Colorado, SO, G
28 Big Chief Perry Jones, Baylor, FR, F-C
29 charliemiller Enes Kanter, Kentucky, FR, C
30 bradengall Jon Leuer, Wisconsin, SR, F
If I were able to question Hochman’s first pick, he more than made up for it with his back-to-back picks. Hazell’s points will lift him to the top of the league, and Sullinger looks like the beastly center that the Buckeyes lacked last year (for the first time in ages). While Powell had a great freshman season, the fact that he broke his foot in the offseason would have kept me away. I really liked McCracken’s pick of Williams who should progress as a sophomore and be the main man for the Wildcats. Burks should be another excellent sophomore who controls the ball a great deal for the Buffaloes. Snowman’s forecast shouldn’t be too chilly. I needed a center, my name is Perry, and there was Perry Jones. I couldn’t resist. Hopefully, the Baylor freshman has more game than I do. While the Dunn risk will likely work out, Miller’s pick of Kanter will not. I would have been surprised had Kanter been allowed to play, but Miller apparently thought he was worth the flyer. Gall goes 3-for-3 for the Big Ten and it is hard to argue with his Leuer pick.
31 bradengall Marcus Morris, Kansas, JR, F
32 charliemiller Cory Higgins, Colorado, SR, G
33 Big Chief Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh, SR, G
34 Snowman Mike Tisdale, Illinois, SR, C
35 michaelmccracken Mike Singletary, Texas Tech, SR, F
36 nathankarp Chandler Parsons, Florida, SR, F
37 nathanrush JaMychal Green, Alabama, JR, F
38 mitchlight Kevin Jones, West Virginia, JR, F
39 asatyss Fabricio Melo, Syracuse, FR, C
40 bhochman William Buford, Ohio State, JR, G
Gall finally left the Big Ten and, again, it is hard to argue with Kansas’ best player. Marcus Morris was often the best player on the court for the Jayhawks even when Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were there last year. He figures to improve as a junior. If I praised the pick of Burks, I have to do the same with Higgins, who should continue to be a nice value from Colorado. Wanamker had a nice first week that made me feel good about him as my second guard. I really liked the seventh and eighth picks of the Round 4. Green should progress in his junior year at Alabama and gives Rush a solid basis with Barnes, Knight, and Thomas. Light took his third straight forward, and Kevin Jones may be the most consistent of the three (Pope and Powell being the others). Freshmen centers are sometimes fool’s gold, but Melo should progress as the season does.
41 bhochman Nolan Smith, Duke, SR, G
42 asatyss Kyrie Irving, Duke, FR, G
43 mitchlight Reggie Jackson, Boston College, JR, G
44 nathanrush Tristan Thompson, Texas, FR, F-C
45 nathankarp Vernon Macklin, Florida, SR, F-C
46 michaelmccracken Maurice Creek, Indiana, SO, G
47 Snowman Tobias Harris, Tennessee, FR, F
48 Big Chief Sam Muldrow, South Carolina, SR, F-C
49 charliemiller John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, SO, G
50 bradengall Kris Joseph, Syracuse, JR, F
The league finally got over its collective Blue Devil dislike in Round 5. Hochman led the round off with Smith, and Tysseling followed up with his backcourt mate, Irving. It will be interesting to see who has more value at year’s end. Jackson could easily have more value than either Dukie because he scores, rebounds, and passes. Nice pick, Mr. Light. We had three centers go in the next five picks. Thompson figures to get a lot of minutes for the Longhorns, Macklin returns to Florida, and I took the Gamecocks’ top option. Creek was a nice pick by McCracken. I boldly predicted Creek would lead the Big Ten in scoring. Miller showed his Commodore roots with a second Vanderbilt player. Any guess in which round he took Festus Ezeli? Actually, someone stole Ezeli away from Miller. Stay tuned. Gall made another nice pick with Joseph who should be the Orange’s leading scorer.
1. Should the BCS standings be used to determine conference championships?
Braden: This is obviously related to the current Big Ten quandary. If Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State finish tied, the BCS standings will determine the champion and Rose Bowl contestant. Technically, Michigan State was unbeaten against the two (they didn't play OSU) and Wisconsin beat Ohio State soundly. Yet, the Buckeyes figure to finish highest in the BCS if all three win out. This was also a huge issue for the Big 12 a few years ago when Oklahoma and Texas were in a three-way tie for the Big 12 South. Although both OSU and OU lost head-to-head games, I actually believe they are/were the better team, but the BCS should be used for the top two teams in the nation only. Let the conferences decide tie-breakers how they want.
Mitch: No. The team will the best record in the league or the team that wins the championship game (if there is one) should win the league title. I’m okay with BCS standings serving as a tie-breaker (like in the Big Ten), but it should never trump the league standings.
Steven: Conference championships should not be determined by the BCS. All conference titles should be determined by the teams settling it on the field. The Big Ten is in a difficult spot this year because of a potential three-way tie atop the standings with Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Michigan State does not play Ohio State, so there’s no way of settling this on the field. The Big Ten will get some help in this department next season with the addition of a 12th team in Nebraska, allowing for a championship game. Using the BCS as a tiebreaker after head-to-head makes sense, but I always prefer to see it play out on the field.
2. Florida State, Maryland and NC State are all 7-3. Who will represent the Atlantic Division in Charlotte on December 4th?
Braden: NC State might have the best player and might be the best coached (and has a win over FSU). Maryland might have the best schedule as both FSU and NC State both still need to make trips to College Park. But Florida State is one-half game up right now and might be playing the best football — they also have the best roster. I will go FSU, but I do not feel good about it. How can you in a league in which everyone finishes within one or two games of each other? I defer to Athlon's ACC guru Steven Lassan!
Mitch: Maryland has an advantage because it plays both NC State and Florida State at home, but I believe that Florida State is the best of the three teams and will win the league. The Noles are 5-2, with the two losses coming by a total of six points — and both in excruciating fashion.
Steven: This is the ACC, so nothing would be surprising, but I’ll go with Florida State. The Seminoles lost two heartbreakers against NC State and North Carolina and need a win at Maryland this Saturday to keep their hopes alive. If the Seminoles beat the Terrapins in College Park, all of the pressure shifts to NC State next week. The Wolfpack still have to play North Carolina and Maryland on the road, and I’d be surprised if they won both games. Maryland has shown big improvement from last year and catches a huge break in the schedule by hosting NC State and Florida State. Although the Terrapins have the best schedule and the Wolfpack have a win over Florida State, I think the ‘Noles somehow emerge as Atlantic champs.
By Braden Gall
The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each editor votes for five players (unlike the official three) and a first-place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth-place vote earning 1 point.
Follow our voters on twitter: Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden), Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster), Nathan Rush (@AthlonRush) and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman).
by Braden Gall
Here is how this week's vote turned out:
1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (34 pts, 6 first place votes)
After another 151 yards rushing and four more touchdowns — and a big win over Georgia at home — Newton's hold on Athlon's top Heisman spot continues. The off-the- field issues have clearly impacted some voters around the country, but only one of the seven here at Athlon. He is still the man to beat.
What's Next: Auburn is on bye this week.
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (24 pts, 1 first place vote)
The 180.9 QB-rating Moore posted in the 52-14 drubbing of in-state rival Idaho looks mediocre when compared to his season totals. He finished 19-of-26 for 216 yards and three TDs passing. It was a ho-hum performance by a player who has yet to lose a conference game in his career (21-0) and is on the verge of setting the single-season NCAA passer efficiency mark. Moore might also be the only player in the top four who has not been arrested.
What's Next: Boise hosts Fresno State this weekend in one of two final tests for the Broncos. In two career games against Fresno, Moore has only 394 yards with five TDs and no INTs.
3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (22 pts)
The blur of green and yellow proved to be very human this weekend. Cal is a much better home team than road team, and the Bears proved it by holding the electric James to 91 yards on 29 carries (3.1 ypc). It was the Ducks' defense that won the game last weekend, not James and the nation's No. 1 scoring offense.
What's Next: The Ducks are on bye this week.
4. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (8 pts)
Blackmon continues his assualt on opposing secondaries. The Cowboys receiver caught nine passes for 145 yards and a TD in the big road win over rival Texas this weekend. He is still leading the nation in receiving yards — although he isn't actually leading his own conference in receptions per game (OU's Ryan Broyles, with 9.4) — and has had at least 125 yards in every game he has played this season. Blackmon's arrest might have cost him a trip to New York.
What's Next: A road trip to Kansas to battle the Big 12's worst scoring defense (33 ppg). You think the lawfirm of Weeden, Blackmon, Gundy and Holgerson are salivating yet?
The scene and location sure felt familiar, the Ball Coach being doused with Gatorade and carried off Florida Field. But in black, with a chicken on his polo? We knew it would be fitting for Steve Spurrier to go back to the Swamp and deliver South Carolina’s first SEC East title. But 36–14?
The Gators don’t lose games like that, and they certainly don’t lose them at home. The Gamecocks don’t win games like that, and they certainly don’t win them in November.
The Twilight Zone of the division has arrived, it seems, with South Carolina earning a berth to Atlanta. No, in reality, Marcus Lattimore has arrived. The three teams the Gamecocks needed to climb over in the East — the only three to win the division since the split in 1992 — were Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. Well, Lattimore rushed for 182 yards against Georgia, 184 against Tennessee and 212 against Florida. That’s 578 yards against the division’s traditional powers. And three wins against them. UT’s Derek Dooley called Lattimore “Secretariat.” Urban Meyer didn’t even want to mention him afterward.
“It’s got to be frustrating for people to watch him run up and down the field,” Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia said.
South Carolina led 20–7 in the first half at Auburn on Sept. 25 before Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter to help the Tigers rally for a 35–27 victory. Let’s see if the Gamecocks have anything for the encore in three weeks.
Lattimore had just 33 yards on 14 carries in the first meeting. Keep that in mind.
Tennessee 52, Ole Miss 14
Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 20
Auburn 49, Georgia 31
Arkansas 58, UTEP 21
LSU 51, UL Monroe 0
South Carolina 36, Florida 14
Alabama 30, Mississippi State 10
• Like in that game, Auburn was up to its old trick Saturday against Georgia of starting slow and then coming on oh-so-strong in the final quarter or two. Cam Newton was Cam Newton. The guy is unbelievable on third-and-short. Every bit the master of conversions that Tim Tebow ever was. And he is a better thrower than Tebow. The touchdowns to Philip Lutzenkirchen were darts. Newton missed just two throws in the first half. The first was a deflected interception that went through the hands of young receiver Emory Blake. The second was a deep ball that Mario Fannin alligator-armed.
Newton’s running ability is so special that it often masks how good of a passer he is most of the time. Of course, his ability to run does open that up quite a bit. Seriously, the only thing that can stop this guy is the NCAA’s rulebook.
• Randall Cobb reminded us all he is very good, running for 170 yards against Vanderbilt on just 10 carries, aided by a 73-yard touchdown run. He added 56 receiving yards as well. Kentucky fans are wondering if that’s the last they’ll see of Cobb at Commonwealth Stadium. He’s hinted recently about the idea of leaving early. And, well, he’s ready.
• Alabama finally looked like Alabama again, physically dominating Saturday against Mississippi State. Even without Trent Richardson, the Tide balanced its runs and carries through seven different players for 175 yards. Mark Ingram also had a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass, showing some speed that, frankly, has been lacking this season. (You almost forget he’s there, don’t you? Abnormal for a Heisman winner.)
The Tide defense was swarming and swallowed up what speed Mississippi State has recruited and developed. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Alabama favored in two weeks when it hosts Auburn. The Tigers have the week off before the Iron Bowl. Bama, playing Georgia State on Thursday, might as well.
• Is this when we ask why Tyler Bray didn’t start playing until a couple of weeks ago? Maybe he wasn’t ready, but he sure looks that way now for Tennessee.
• That Ughban Meyer offense showed up again, and at an incredibly inopportune time. The Gators were just fooling themselves if they thought they got well against Vanderbilt. (Besides, special teams and defensive plays led to points and short fields in that game.) You’ve got to feel for John Brantley at this point, because his coaches are sitting idly while he’s eaten alive by opposing teams — and the home fans. This isn’t Brantley’s fault. He’s not built for the scheme that Florida insists on running. The world, beyond Meyer and Steve Addazio, knows that. Brantley has to know that.
You know what teams do when they have a good quarterback — or running back or receiver — who doesn’t quite fit into a system? They adjust the system. Florida’s offense, which had 67 yards through three quarters Saturday, is so bad that it probably uses that hurry-up stuff just to get off the field faster. It’s embarrassing that Meyer can’t find something that works, considering the amount of talented players in his offensive meetings.
• Things got chippy in the final quarter between Auburn and Georgia. It’s unfortunate. And it’s Nick Fairley’s fault. The Auburn D-tackle, an outstanding player, needs to tone it down. This personal assault on quarterbacks — especially after plays are over — needs to stop.
Georgia’s players retaliated late in the game, which is certainly stooping to the opponent’s level. But after watching Fairley unfairly put his helmet in Aaron Murray’s back, who wouldn’t be chapped?
• LSU and The Hat won 51–0. That’s boring. The Tigers are back in SEC action the next two weeks, against Ole Miss and Arkansas. We’re hopeful that will provide more Miles theater. And punchlines.
Stud of the Week
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. The league’s top statistical running back carried the Gamecocks to Atlanta.
Dud of the Week
Urban Meyer, Florida coach. That was your gameplan? Really?
Dustin Hopkins just experienced a week he won’t soon forget. Seven days after the sophomore kicker came up short — or more accurately, wide right — in Florida State’s 37–35 loss to North Carolina, he redeemed himself in a big way.
Hopkins made a career-long 55-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Seminoles past Clemson 16–13 and keep his team’s Atlantic Division title hopes alive.
Hopkins had a similar opportunity the previous week against the Tar Heels, but he missed from 40 yards with two seconds remaining. He also had missed from 42 yards earlier in the fourth quarter of that game.
Coaches and teammates rallied around Hopkins in the aftermath of his disappointing performance against North Carolina, and he responded. Hopkins also connected on field-goal tries of 28 and 39 yards against the Tigers, providing a big boost to a Florida State offense that was operating without starting quarterback Christian Ponder.
Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel was solid in place of Ponder, who sat out after missing practice all week because of an injured right elbow, but Florida State’s advantage in the kicking game was the biggest factor in its victory. While Hopkins shined, Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro was just 2-for-4 on field goals as the Tigers’ season-long kicking struggles continued.
Boston College 21, Duke 16
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 10
NC State 38, Wake Forest 3
Maryland 42, Virginia 23
Virginia Tech 26, North Carolina 10
Florida State 16, Clemson 13
Atlantic Division race update
Florida State’s win means the Tigers won’t repeat as Atlantic Division champions, narrowing the race for first place to three teams. The Seminoles (7–3, 5–2), who sit a half-game game ahead of NC State (7–3, 4–2) and Maryland (7–3, 4–2) in the standings, still need the Wolfpack and Terrapins each to lose in order to earn a spot in the ACC championship game.
That said, the Seminoles could clinch the division this week, when they travel to Maryland and NC State plays at North Carolina. Wins by Florida State and North Carolina would clinch the division title for the Seminoles before the final week, when NC State will play at Maryland.
The good news for the Terrapins is that they will win the division with victories in their final two games, both at home, but the bad news for them is that they have no margin for error. If they lose to either Florida State or NC State, they won’t play in the ACC championship game.
“Here we are with two games to go in the season, and we have a shot to win our division,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We were picked to finish last by all of the experts, and that itself is an accomplishment. We’re not looking to stop there, though.”
NC State also will win the division with victories in its final two games, but that’s not the only scenario that would send the team to its first ACC title game. The Wolfpack also could win the division even if it loses this week at North Carolina — as long as Maryland beats Florida State and then NC State beats Maryland in the regular-season finale. That scenario would put all three teams at 5–3 in the conference, but the Wolfpack would own the tiebreaker because of head-to-head victories over the Seminoles and Terrapins.
Coastal Division race update
The situation is much clearer in the Coastal Division, where Virginia Tech (8–2, 6–0) has a firm grip on first place thanks to its eight-game winning streak. The Hokies forced six turnovers and put together a dominant third quarter that included two touchdown catches by Marcus Davis in their victory over North Carolina. They need to win just one of their two remaining games — at Miami and home against Virginia — to earn a spot in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in six seasons.
Miami (7–3, 5–2) is the only pursuer with a mathematical chance of catching the Hokies. The Hurricanes will win the division if they beat Virginia Tech this week and Virginia Tech loses to Virginia the following week.
Bowl eligibility update
Boston College continued its push for the postseason, defeating Duke for its third consecutive victory. The Eagles survived some rare mistakes by tailback Montel Harris, who rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown but also lost two fumbles in the red zone. Duke’s August Campbell returned the second fumble 95 yards for a touchdown — the longest fumble return in school history — to make the game close in the fourth quarter.
“Montel has certainly carried us for a lot of instances, and we dodged a bullet for him today,” Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. “He’ll be fine.”
So might the Eagles (5–5, 3–4). They have bounced back from a five-game losing streak that put their chances of playing in a bowl game for the 12th consecutive season in serious jeopardy.
“It’s big,” said defensive end Max Holloway, who secured the victory by batting down Sean Renfree’s pass on fourth down from the BC 4-yard line with 46 seconds remaining. “Before, we were trying not to lose. Now we’re focused on winning. Our whole mindset is different.”
Boston College needs to win one of its final two games — home against Virginia and at Syracuse — to become bowl-eligible.
Clemson and Georgia Tech, which squared off against each other in the ACC championship game last year, face the same situation. The Tigers (5–5, 3–4) play at Wake Forest and home against South Carolina, and the Yellow Jackets (5–5, 3–4) host Duke before traveling to Georgia to wrap up the regular season.
Georgia Tech, which has suffered three consecutive losses for the first time since its final three games of the 2006 season, must end the skid before it can play in a bowl game for the 14th consecutive season.
“You keep playing. You don’t quit,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said after watching his team surrender four touchdown drives of at least 79 yards against Miami. “What are you going to do? You don’t have any other alternatives. You either keep playing or you quit.
“We aren’t going to quit. I can promise you that I’m not going to quit. We still have the chance to salvage and have a winning season.”
The same can’t be said for Duke (3–7, 1–5) and Virginia (4–6, 1–5), each of which were eliminated from bowl contention on Saturday. The Cavaliers still have a chance to get six wins and finish at .500, but they won’t be eligible for the postseason because two of their victories came against Football Championship Subdivision opponents.
Can you top this?
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers continue to dominate opposing offenses. Unfortunately, only one of them can be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Bowers made his latest case for the award against Florida State, registering a team-high nine tackles (including 2.0 tackles for loss). He also had an interception and a sack, tying the school record with at least one sack in eight consecutive games. Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and tackles for loss (2.20 per game).
Kuechly was just as dominant against Duke, wreaking havoc all over the field. He helped the Eagles hold the Blue Devils to 4 rushing yards on 24 attempts, tallying 21 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Kuechly continues to lead the nation in tackles (14.6 per game) after making at least 10 stops for the 19th consecutive game.
Count Duke coach David Cutcliffe among those who was impressed. He called Kuechly “the best defensive college football player in the land.”
Like Mike: Miami’s Hankerson
It’s looking like Leonard Hankerson made a great decision when he chose to return to Miami for his senior year rather than declaring for the NFL draft. Hankerson had three catches for 132 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech, becoming the third player in school history to post back-to-back 800-yard receiving seasons.
The other two? Pro football Hall of Fame member Michael Irvin (1985-86) and Andre Johnson (2001-02), one of the top wide receivers in the NFL today.
Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving this season (87.9 yards per game), has scored a touchdown in five consecutive games. He tied Irvin’s school record with his 11th touchdown grab of the year, a career-long 79-yarder against the Yellow Jackets.
Hankerson went to Irvin’s high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the similarities between the two don’t end there. Like Irvin, Hankerson has good size at 6-3, 205 pounds. Like Irvin, Hankerson lacks blazing speed. But like Irvin, Hankerson is fast enough to be extremely productive.
“They said Mike Irvin was a 4.65 runner (in the 40-yard dash), but when he got the football in his hands, nobody could catch him,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “Same with Hankerson. People say he doesn’t have speed, but when he has the ball in his hands, he can get past people. Hankerson has enough speed to make some special things for him.”
• Clemson’s defeat at Florida State was rare, considering the circumstances. The Tigers, who got 143 rushing yards from Jamie Harper and 106 receiving yards from DeAndre Hopkins, saw their streak of 20 consecutive wins end in games in which they had a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver. Clemson had not lost such a game since falling 21–20 against North Carolina on Nov. 9, 1985.
• Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon came back strong against Boston College after leaving the previous week’s game against Virginia with a head injury. Vernon had a career-high 12 catches for 134 yards in his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season.
• Critics of Jacory Harris will emphasize that true freshman Stephen Morris led Miami to a season-high yardage total for the second week in a row, but much of the credit should go to the Hurricanes’ running game. Miami ran for 277 yards against Georgia Tech, getting one touchdown run each from tailbacks Damien Berry, Lamar Miller, Mike James and Graig Cooper.
• North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates broke Darian Durant’s school record for career completions against Virginia Tech, but Yates also tied a career high with four interceptions in the game. Before Saturday, Yates had thrown just four interceptions all season.
• NC State reached seven wins in the regular season for the first time since 2003, benefiting from a dominant performance by linebacker Nate Irving against Wake Forest. Irving made 13 tackles, including a school-record 8.0 tackles for loss, and the Wolfpack closed the game with 35 unanswered points.
• Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman became the first Virginia duo with at least 600 receiving yards in the same season since 1989, when Herman Moore (848 yards) and Bruce McGonnigal (634 yards) accomplished the feat. Burd (47 catches for 686 yards) and Inman (41 catches for 654 yards) also became the first set of Virginia wide receivers to post at least 40 receptions apiece in the same season.
• Wake Forest suffered its eighth consecutive loss, its longest losing streak since 1978, after another poor performance on the road. The Demon Deacons (2–8, 1–6) dropped to 0–5 away from home, having allowed an average of 50.2 points in those games while getting outscored by an average margin of 37.8 points per game. With two games left to play, Wake Forest already has allowed school-record totals of 387 points and 51 touchdowns this season.
Well, look who’s joined the Big 12 South race. Oklahoma State? Nope, the Cowboys have been there all along. Texas A&M.
That’s right, the left-for-dead Aggies, 0–2 in conference play a month ago now find themselves in the thick of things, with Saturday’s 42–30 win at Baylor their fourth straight.
It wasn’t always easy in Waco — A&M trailed 30–14 late in the second quarter — but Cyrus Gray’s running and a defense that pitched a second-half shutout against the explosive Bears sparked a turnaround that led to the first four-game winning streak of the Mike Sherman era.
“We have fighters on this team,” said Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill, “who will do anything to win.”
Suddenly, A&M is doing it. Gray ran for a career-high 137 yards and four touchdowns, including two as the Aggies were swinging momentum in the third quarter. Tannehill remained unbeaten since taking over the starting quarterback duties from Jerrod Johnson. And the defense is showing teeth, although they were late developing against the Bears. Still, they came up with plays when needed, including a key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter.
Now the Aggies are 4–2 in the conference, trailing Oklahoma State by one game in the South with two games to play.
A&M will need some help to carry out its Big 12 title plans. The closing schedule is rugged, with Nebraska visiting College Station before the Aggies make a trip to archrival Texas after that.
Then there’s Oklahoma State, which has the one-game lead and a tiebreaking win over the Aggies, not to mention Oklahoma, which is tied with A&M.
Still, there’s hope. And that’s something that seemed to be vanishing but a few weeks ago.
Texas A&M 42, Baylor 30
Nebraska 20, Kansas 3
Missouri 38, Kansas State 28
Colorado 34, Iowa State 14
Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 7
Oklahoma State 33, Texas 16
Oklahoma State’s surprising season continues along an historical path, as the Cowboys keep clearing markers from their past. OSU maintained frontrunner status in the Big 12 South with its rout of Texas — the program’s first win in Austin since 1944.
“We were due,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “Oklahoma State was due for this win. There was a lot of talk about now winning here … and they’ve had our number for a while.”
Now the Cowboys are applying expiration dates to irritating series trends. Before marking off the road win at Texas from their checklist, OSU had already won at Texas Tech for the first time since 1944 and at Kansas State for the first time since 1988.
A week of turmoil, complete with the canning of coach Dan Hawkins, followed Colorado’s collapse at Kansas. So the Buffaloes’ convincing 34–14 beating of Iowa State was nothing short of stunning.
Hawkins watched from a stadium balcony, while his son Cody Hawkins passed for 266 yards and three touchdowns to direct the win and longtime CU assistant Brian Cabral won in his debut as a head coach.
“I cannot be more proud of our players,” said an emotional Cabral. “I cannot be more proud of our coaches. They had it in them. They have a heart of gold. They never looked back.
“And they’re looking forward.”
The Cyclones, 5–6, arrived with plenty to play for, needing one win to become bowl-eligible. They left still needing one and facing a season finale at home against Missouri without senior quarterback Austen Arnaud, who suffered what was likely a season-ending knee injury in the loss to the Buffs.
For once, the news was better on the sideline of Colorado, which won its first Big 12 game of the season.
“We had all this frustration and stress and took it out today,” linebacker B.J. Beatty told reporters after the game. “I love Coach Hawk, and I always will. He gave me every opportunity I’ve had up here, but we were definitely trying to make a statement of what he’s done for us.”
Loud and clear.
Buffs running back Rodney Stewart ran a career-high 35 times for 123 yards, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The defense piled up eight sacks and two turnovers, one a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Player of the Week: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma. Spurring OU’s rout of Texas Tech, Broyles produced eight receptions for 119 yards and three touchdowns, breaking or tying five school records in the process: career receptions (229), single season receptions (94), career TD receptions (32), 100-yard games in a season (8) and 100-yard games in a career (15). Broyles is the seventh receiver in Big 12 history to record over 3,000 yards receiving.
Game of the Week: Nebraska at Texas A&M. The resurgent Aggies need a win to stay in the South race, while the Huskers take to the road with an opportunity to clinch the North. Nebraska’s Blackshirts aren’t up to the standard of the school’s great defensive units and will be tested significantly at Kyle Field.
On the Spot: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. Griffin is a fabulous player and Exhibit A for why Baylor is in the midst of a program turnaround. But it’s time for the Bears quarterback to put together a complete game against a quality opponent, this time Oklahoma.
In the Spotlight: Jerome Tiller, QB, Iowa State. The classy Arnaud’s regular season is done, so the Cyclones now turn to Tiller to help steer them to bowl eligibility. Tiller has played in significant moments and is 1–1 as a starter, with last year’s impressive win at Nebraska on his resumé.
Mike Sherman, coach, Texas A&M. Sherman’s line graph showed a steep decline a month ago, but now features an abrupt and serious upswing. He’s got the fan base energized with a four-game winning streak that has the Aggies in the thick of the South Division race. And he did it boldly, benching the school’s all-time total offense leader (Jerrod Johnson) for a part-time wide receiver/quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.
Baylor boasting. Griffin talked about the Bears being the team to beat in the South just a few weeks ago. Since then, they’ve been just that: a beaten team. Back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have removed some of the shine from the Bears’ breakout season. Now they get Oklahoma, which has struggled on the road, yet could light up Baylor’s shaky defense.
By the Numbers
30 Consecutive games with a reception by A&M’s Jeff Fuller, a school record.
45 Seasons Nebraska has won at least nine games (including this one); 39 have come since 1970.
3,391 Passing yards by OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden, a school record.
Back where football belongs
It’s the perfect home for a baseball afternoon, but Wrigley Field’s football history is also rich with gridiron stories from a forgotten era.
For half a century, the Chicago Bears called Wrigley home, when from 1921 to 1970 the franchise was one of the NFL’s most dominant. In December of 1963, coach George Halas claimed his last NFL title against the New York Giants at Wrigley on a bitterly cold day.
When Northwestern and Illinois meet up there this Saturday it will mark the first college game played inside the ivy-laced walls since 1938.
The game itself is deserving of a little national attention, and certainly of the ESPN GameDay crew. Illinois has been one of the Big Ten’s most unpredictable teams, and at the moment is still pressing for win number six; Northwestern, on the other hand, is still jockeying for a better bowl destination.
But this game won’t be about the bowl season. Instead, the emphasis will be to bring a little spark back to the Big Ten’s dullest in-state rivalry. And what better way to do that than to hold the game in the state’s proudest landmark and have Erin Andrews there to walk the sidelines?
This weekend, fans of all Big Ten colors have reason to watch two mid-level clubs duke it out. If the football fails to hit the mark, chances are the backdrop of historic Wrigley Field will make the moment enjoyable and everlasting.
Northwestern 21, Iowa 17
Wisconsin 83, Indiana 20
Minnesota 38, Illinois 34
Michigan 27, Purdue 16
Ohio State 38, Penn State 14
A tale of two halves
At the end of the first half, Penn State held a 14–3 lead and had dominated Ohio State. Matt McGloin played an inspired second quarter, and it appeared an upset was brewing. But the Buckeyes scored on a pair of interception returns in the second half and didn’t let Penn State gain much ground in the 38–14 victory.
A perfect dozen
Wisconsin scored on all 12 of its offensive possessions in an 83–20 win over Indiana. It was the most points scored by the program since 1915, and Wisconsin’s 11 touchdowns were the most by a conference team in the past half-century. The Hoosiers had no answer for the Badger running game, evident on one two-play second quarter drive that consisted of a 36-yard carry by Montee Ball and a 30-yard scoring run by James White.
Michigan pushes past Purdue
Thanks to kicker Carson Wiggs, Purdue kept pace with Michigan for three quarters on Saturday and limited Denard Robinson to just 3.1 yards per carry. But the Wolverines’ nine-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter gave them just enough cushion to beat the Boilermakers.
Team of the Week: Northwestern
Quarterback Dan Persa guided the Wildcats on two fourth quarter touchdown drives to help his team defeat Iowa for a third straight season. It was part of a 318-yard day for the junior quarterback — a career best. Northwestern converted more than half of its third-down opportunities on Saturday, as compared to just two of 14 for Iowa. Unfortunately, Persa ruptured his Achilles on the last drive and was lost for the season.
Disappointment of the Week: Illinois
There is absolutely no good excuse for Illinois’ loss to Minnesota in Champaign on Saturday; the game was even in total yards, time of possession and turnovers. In the end, Minnesota simply made plays and Illinois could not. With a 10-point lead, the Illini allowed Troy Stoudermire to return a kick 90 yards. Two drives later, the Illini defense could not hold Minnesota during an 80-yard go-ahead drive.
Offensive Player of the Week: Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State
Herron is not supposed to be a 20-carry back, but on Saturday the coaching staff kept feeding him the ball and Herron kept delivering. He averaged just better than nine yards per carry on his 21 attempts. Late in the contest, Herron crushed what remaining hope the Nittany Lions had by gaining 70 yards in five carries in the Buckeyes’ final scoring drive.
Defensive Player of the Week: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Hmmm, let’s see: four sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles. Forget this week, it might be the performance of the season.
Freshman of the Week: James White, RB, Wisconsin
Fellow Badger freshman Jared Abbrederis also deserves consideration, but White had the better day: 144 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. It was White’s third 100-yard contest of the year, and with two games remaining he still has a shot at reaching the 1,000-yard mark.
The Week Ahead
Upset Alert: Wisconsin
Bret Bielema is 0–2 in trips to Ann Arbor, including a 27–25 meltdown two seasons ago. Wisconsin is in the driver’s seat for the Rose Bowl, but this game is no picnic and if the Badgers are unable to contain Denard Robinson things could get very interesting.
Player to Watch: Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
On Saturday the senior must tame an Ohio State pass defense ranked sixth in the country. No Big Ten team has passed for more than 170 yards on the Buckeyes yet, and the secondary leads all conference schools with 17 interceptions. Sounds like the perfect test for the conference’s most efficient passer. Last year, Stanzi was on the sideline with an injury when the Hawkeyes lost a heartbreaker in overtime.
• No one can mistake the Big Ten for being a passing league. Not a single receiver ranks among the top 20 in the country in yards per game (Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert leads all Big Ten players with 84.9 yards per game) and only two schools (Indiana and Northwestern) rank among the top 30 in team passing.
• Two Big Ten punters are among the 10 finalists for the Ray Guy Award: Illinois’ Anthony Santella and Iowa’s Ryan Donahue. Santella has maintained the conference’s best average (45.4 yards) despite also having the most attempts (52).
• This week’s Michigan-Wisconsin game pits the conference’s top two teams in first downs gained. The Wolverines and Badgers each have 124 first downs on the ground (Ohio State is the only other Big Ten team with more than 100).
Penn State 34, Indiana 13
Michigan State 28, Purdue 20
Wisconsin 24, Michigan 23
Illinois 28, Northwestern 24
Ohio State 20, Iowa 17
The people associated with the Washington State football program will tell you that they saw this coming — that the Cougars had become increasingly competitive and were bound to break through for a Pac-10 victory.
And while it was true that Washington State had become slightly more competent this season, it was hard to realistically pencil in a win for any game on its schedule. Yes, the Cougars played Cal tight in a 20–13 loss last week, but the Bears were playing their first game without injured starting quarterback Kevin Riley.
That’s what makes Washington State’s 31–14 win at Oregon State all the more stunning. The Cougars, losers of 16 Pac-10 games in a row and the victim of many blowouts over the past three seasons, dominated the Beavers on the road. Washington State ran roughshod against Oregon State’s defense, rushing for 221 yards. They came in averaging just 76.1 rushing yards per game, last in the Pac-10. Meanwhile, the Cougars’ defense that entered the game ranked last nationally in total yards allowed held Oregon State star running back Jacquizz Rodgers to just 93 yards rushing. The Beavers only amassed 261 yards of offense and trailed 21–0 in the third quarter.
“It just feels excellent,” Washington State linebacker C.J. Mizell told the Seattle Times. “It’s awesome. It’s like you’re on top of the world.”
The Cougars’ last Pac-10 win came at the end of the 2008 season, when they beat rival Washington in overtime. They had no wins over BCS conference opponents during that span, and their only previous victory this season was by one point over Montana State, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
But Washington State did indeed start making strides this season. The Cougars led at UCLA in the third quarter and had it tied in the fourth quarter before ultimately losing by a couple of touchdowns. Washington State was competitive with Arizona, one of the top teams in the conference. The Cougars lost that game, 24–7. And Washington State had a flurry of late scoring to make its game with Stanford respectable, losing 38–28.
Then came last week, when Washington State was in it the whole time but couldn’t come up with a late scoring drive and fell to the Bears.
There was never any doubt Saturday. The Cougars dominated the Beavers from start to finish. “It’s so nice to finally be successful, with your family and your teammates,” Washington State wide receiver Jared Karstetter told the Times. “It’s just a real emotional win for us.”
Meanwhile, the Beavers are reeling. It looks as though the season-ending knee injury to wide receiver James Rodgers is affecting them even more than they anticipated. Oregon State has lost three of four since then, and not to particularly good teams. This was supposed to be the soft part of the Beavers’ schedule, but they now have losses to Washington, UCLA and Washington State
It’s rare to see Oregon St. so uncompetitive. The Beavers have been a model of consistency in recent years, consistently exceeding outsiders’ expectations and contending in the Pac-10. Oregon State has been in the Rose Bowl race up until the very end in each of the past two seasons. Now, the Beavers are going to be hard-pressed to qualify for a bowl game.
Simply put, the Washington State game was one Oregon State needed badly. That’s because the Beavers have to win two more games to become bowl-eligible and their final three contests are against No. 20 USC, at No. 7 Stanford and against No. 1 Oregon in the Civil War.
“Man, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to cry after a football game,” Jacquizz Rodgers told the Oregonian. “It’s been since high school, man. … I love to win. I wish everybody felt that way at times. You’ve got to put your heart into this. If you sign up for this, you’ve got to give it your all every time you step out there.”
Washington State 31, Oregon State 14
Stanford 17, Arizona State 13
Oregon 15, California 13
USC 24, Arizona 21
FINDING A WAY
Championship football teams usually win a game or two that doesn’t follow the blueprint. That’s what happened to Oregon in its 15–13 win over Cal.
The Ducks were held 40 points under their scoring average and 250 yards under their average for total offense, yet still left Berkeley undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings.
The performance put the spotlight on Oregon’s underrated defense, which had to come through on a night when the offense was stymied by the Bears. The Ducks’ defense held Cal to 193 yards of offense, a season-low for the Bears.
Oregon, Stanford and Arizona are the only Pac-10 teams that have become bowl-eligible, and it’s possible that as few as those three will make the postseason from the conference.
Cal needs one more win to get there, but hosts Stanford this weekend. But the Bears should be favored in their finale against Washington.
After that, it gets pretty dicey. Oregon State needs two more wins against a brutal schedule. Arizona State probably has the best chance — it needs to win its final two games against UCLA and at Arizona. The Bruins need their final two wins as well, at the Sun Devils and against USC. And Washington would have to win all three of its remaining games — against UCLA, at Cal and at Washington State.
Reportedly, the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t actually practice the Hail Mary play; quarterback David Garrard fakes the heave, and the receivers act out the results. Apparently, non-practice makes perfect. The Jags executed that rarest of feats, a successful Hail Mary, to defeat the Texans 31–24, with a little assist from the woeful Texans pass defense. With the game tied at 24 and time for one final play, Garrard launched a 50-yard pass into the end zone, where Texans cornerback Glover Quin awaited. Quin attempted to knock the ball to the ground; no problem there. Unfortunately, though, Quin batted the ball forward, into the waiting arms of Jags receiver Mike Thomas, the team’s designated “scoop” guy on the Hail Mary. The winning touchdown capped another career day for Garrard, who completed 24-of-31 passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and now sits a few tenths of a point behind Michael Vick for the NFL lead in passer rating. So how rare is a successful last-play Hail Mary? This was only the fourth game in NFL history to end on a game-winning TD pass of 50 or more yards with no time remaining.
Jason Takes the Meadowlands
Color commentator Troy Aikman remarked during the Cowboys-Giants game that Jason Garrett was such a quality guy that he could run for president, then added that the Cowboys job was probably tougher. Well, Garrett had a better weekend than Barack Obama. In his first game as ringmaster of the Cowboy circus, Garrett coaxed some inspired football out of his formerly listless charges, as the ’Boys stormed the New Meadowlands and left with a 33–20 win over the Giants. Led by castoff Jon Kitna, the Cowboys’ moribund offense awoke to amass 427 yards against the top-ranked defense in the NFL, including touchdown passes of 71 yards (to Felix Jones) and 24 yards (to Miles Austin). The defense forced three turnovers, including Bryan McCann’s 101-yard pick-six, the longest interception return against the Giants in their history. “I thought the intensity was there in all three areas,” Garrett said. “Guys were fighting for each other. We were challenged in all areas and I think we stepped up.”
Pats Put on a Clinic
Bill Belichick may be a better rebounder than Wilt Chamberlain. The Pats’ testy coach doesn’t take losing well, and the P-men had looked bad in losing to the Browns last week. We should have known what was coming. The Pats put on a bounce-back performance for the ages, dominating the Steelers 39–26 in Pittsburgh behind a vintage performance from an emotionally charged Tom Brady (30-of-43 passing, 350 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions). The recipient of all three Brady TD passes, rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, became only the fifth rookie with three TD catches in a single game in the last 15 years. The Pats set the tone with a majestic 70-yard TD drive to open the game, then repeated the feat with a 78-yard drive to open the third quarter and essentially end the suspense. “We made big plays when we needed to make them,” Brady said. “It’s an exciting game for us in this locker room. We haven’t been this happy in a long time. We’re pretty good when we execute the right way.” I’ll say.
The big subplot entering the Jets-Browns matchup involved the coaching battle between the twin Ryan brothers — Jets head coach Rex and Browns defensive coordinator Rob. Well, Cleveland ain’t exactly the City of Brotherly Love, and any familial tenderness went out the window at the kickoff of an intense game of ebbs and flows, attacks and counterattacks, that wasn’t decided until 16 seconds were left in overtime and Santonio Holmes caught a 37-yard TD pass from Mark Sanchez. “At 1 o’clock, everybody becomes nameless, faceless objects — whether it is your twin brother or a friend,” Rex Ryan said. “I feel bad for Cleveland. They played their hearts out. I don’t want to do this game over.” Sanchez showed his competitive mettle, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns as the Jets held the ball for a staggering 47:08 in becoming the first team in NFL history to win consecutive overtime games on the road. Kudos to the Browns for not playing to tie; Cleveland could have essentially run out the overtime clock deep in their own territory but instead played to win and were ultimately forced to punt, giving the Jets a short field for their winning score.
Bills Win! Bills Win!
Coming into yesterday’s game against the Lions, Buffalo might have been the best 0–8 team in NFL history. The Bills were coming off consecutive overtime road losses to Baltimore and Kansas City and a three-point home loss to Chicago, so it seemed likely that they would get off the schneid against a team that had lost a record-tying 24 consecutive road games. Make that a record-setting 25 — but it wasn’t easy, nor was it pretty. Buffalo almost squandered a 14–3 third-quarter lead, and the Lions had a chance to tie with 14 seconds left, but were thwarted on a two-point conversion try and were unable to recover the ensuing on-side kick. “Relief,” said cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. “We won. We’re not going to be talking about being an 0-16 team or nothing like that.”
Pittsburgh appeared to be kicked back in a comfy recliner heading into last week. The Panthers had a two-game lead in the loss column in the race for the Big East’s BCS bowl berth.
After losing to Connecticut, however, it’s like they’ve moved to an old couch. The cushion is gone.
“It’s disappointing,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt after the 30–28 Thursday loss. “Not the effort, but that we didn’t take a step forward. After everything we went through in Utah and Notre Dame, I thought we would handle it better and we didn’t.”
Now, every member of the conference still has title hopes. The good news for Wannstedt and the Panthers is if they win their last three games, they still take the Big East championship and would advance to the BCS bowl.
Now, though, South Florida and West Virginia are also in control. Both can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning out. The other five conference teams would need help, but remain alive.
Connecticut contributed to the cause by receiving a career day from tailback Jordan Todman, who went for a career-high 222 yards on 37 carries, and some gutsy calls by coach Randy Edsall. The Huskies ran out the final 4:29 in part because of a pair of fourth-down conversions. Pitt, 5–4 overall, had three turnovers.
While the Panthers failed to become bowl-eligible, three Big East teams hit the mark. USF nudged past Louisville by 24–21 in overtime; West Virginia was a 37–10 winner over Cincinnati; and Syracuse slipped past Rutgers 13–10.
South Florida, which has now won three straight games, trailed the U of L 14–3 late in the second quarter, but received a 100-yard kickoff return from Lindsey Lamar to begin a rally. Bulls’ linebacker Mike Lanaris came up with a key stop on fourth-and-1 in overtime, allowing kicker Maikon Bonani to win the game.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart’s seat cooled a bit after his team won after back-to-back losses to move to 6–3. “We just finally went out there and played like we could’ve played all year,” said Mountaineer cornerback Keith Tandy, who had a tackle for a loss, an interception and four pass breakups. WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdown passes — two each to Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. WVU’s defense, now ranked fourth nationally in total defense, shut out Cincy on 12 third-down situations.
Syracuse, meanwhile, became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and clinched a winning season for the first time since 2001. Two late Ross Krautman field goals were key.
Rutgers, which has lost three straight, was led by a surprising performance from true freshman wideout Jeremy Deering, who rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries from the Wildcat formation.
Connecticut 30, Pittsburgh 28
West Virginia 37, Cincinnati 10
South Florida 24, Louisville 21 OT
Syracuse 13, Rutgers 10
With Syracuse’s second-leading receiver Alec Lemon on the sideline, Marcus Sales rose to the occasion Saturday against Rutgers. After catching just five passes for 39 yards through the first nine games, Sales, a junior, led the Orange with five catches for 73 yards.
Connecticut’s Jordan Todman is playing for a team with a 5–4 record, but his track record on the season is stellar. Todman, averaging 147 yards, is currently the nation’s second-leading rusher behind Oregon’s LaMichael James, who is averaging 158. In the last two games, Todman has rushed for 113 yards against West Virginia’s stingy defense and the career-high 222 against Pittsburgh. The Panthers hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
With 2:50 remaining in Connecticut’s victory over Pitt, Huskies coach Randy Edsall made a risky call that paid off. On fourth-and-1, with the ball on the UConn 19-yard line, Edsall went for it. Jordan Todman made four yards. The Huskies then ran out the clock. “I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I said I’m going to punt the ball,” Edsall said.
Where to now?
The Rutgers quarterback position has been muddied all year. And it’s not any clearer after Saturday’s RU loss to Syracuse. Chas Dodd started, but was benched at the start of the second half after going 3-of-11 passing for 30 yards with two sacks. Previous starter Tom Savage came in to hit six-of-12 passes for 76 yards. RU coach Greg Schiano didn’t name a starter for next week’s game at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus, previously one of the highest-rated NFL prospects at his position, made his first start since back surgery earlier this year. After starting the game against Connecticut, though, Romeus twisted his knee and didn’t finish the game.
A third chance
South Florida kicker Maikon Bonani received a rare third opportunity to lift his team in a game. At the end of regulation, he drilled a field goal attempt from 52 yards, but Louisville was credited with a timeout before the snap. He missed the ensuing try wide left. In overtime, however, Bonani connected on a 37-yard attempt that proved the difference. “I was really nervous,” Bonani said of the game-winner.
A little running relief
With West Virginia back Noel Devine struggling this season with injuries, Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart has been seeking help at the position. He finally received some Saturday against Cincinnati when Shawn Alston gained 75 yards on 17 carries — 60 on 13 in the second half of the 37–10 Mountaineer victory. “I’ve been waiting for my opportunity and I had to make the most of it,” Alston said.
Cincinnati certainly didn’t help itself in its loss to West Virginia. The Bearcats were penalized 10 times for 96 yards and didn’t convert one third down in 12 attempts. “We will win when we deserve to win,” said UC coach Butch Jones.
Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 11:
QB — Deserves A Second Look
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (@ Baylor)
He only completed 59% of his passes and did throw two INTs, but Tannehill led the Aggies to an upset victory over Oklahoma last week. He finished with 225 yards, 2 TDs and added 12 rushing attempts for 24 yards. He has nine TD passes in the last three games, and Baylor's 96th-rated total defense and 105th-rated pass defense should pose no threat. Just ask Brandon Weeden.
Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (Minnesota)
The young, entertaining freshman is becoming a fantasy star in the second half of his first season in the college game. He has posted 35.6 and 38.54 total fantasy points in his last two with back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts. The Gopher defense is rated 103rd in scoring defense, 115th in pass efficiency defense and 106th in rushing defense. Expect good things from Zee 'Haase.
Tim Jefferson, Air Force (New Mexico)
After a middling run for three weeks, Jefferson has posted back-to-back useful point totals culminating in his season's second-best game (30.66 TFP). He has scored seven TDs in the last three games, and the Lobos will offer little resistence. They rank 120th in rush defense, 118th in scoring defense and have allowed 30+ points in all but one game this fall (New Mexico State).
Austyn Carta-Samuels, Wyoming (@ UNLV)
He completed only six passes but still managed 19.66 TFP due to his rushing ability. UNLV is slightly better than New Mexico on defense and should be a quality matchup. The Cowboys quarterback, in only his fourth career start, threw for 234 yards and three TDs while adding 34 yards on 12 carries rushing in last year's meeting.
Ryan Colburn, Fresno State (Nevada)
After the bye week, the Bulldogs quarterback broke through last week with his second-best performance of the year (27.16 TFP). This should be a high-scoring affair as the two combined for 66 points last season while Colburn threw for a season-high 362 yards and a pair of scores.
Jeffery Godfrey, UCF (Southern Miss)
The youngster has averaged 25 TFP over his last three games as he has started to throw the ball better. His athletic ability is scary (105 yards rushing and a TD last week), so once his passing ability catches up, watch out. Southern Miss is not a superb matchup, but Godfrey's play-making skill makes him matchup-proof.
QB — Better Think Twice
Ricky Stanzi vs. Dan Persa (Iowa @ Northwestern)
Stanzi kept his TD streak alive last week but did not really deliver the goods against a poor defense in Indiana. Persa has been as consistent a fantasy scorer as there is. But both of these defenses will be up for the task this weekend. The Iowa passer mustered only 134 yards against Northwestern last season (he got banged up) in a low-scoring affair that saw both starting quarterbacks miss significant time.
Ryan Lindley, San Diego State (@ TCU)
The Horned Frogs have not allowed more than seven points in a game since SMU in Week 4. They have allowed more than 10 points only twice this season — Oregon State being the other in Week 1. They are the No. 1 total defense, scoring defense and passing defense in the nation. Enough said.
Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (@ North Carolina)
Taylor has been nothing short of amazing in ACC play this season. But he posted his lowest fantasy total (14.18 TFP) against Georgia Tech since Week 4 against BC (9.48 TFP). Taylor's career passing numbers against the Heels? He has completed 22 of 44 passes for 286 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs. At home, UNC has been much better on defense at home of late (16 ppg over last three), so maybe look elsewhere this weekend.
Kolton Browning, UL-Monroe (@ LSU)
In seven games against non-BCS teams, Browning has averaged 23.4 TFP/game including 27.64 and 33.56 TFP games over his last two weeks. But against BCS competition this fall (granted, it's been SEC teams), Browning has totalled 15.58 fantasy points. A road trip to Baton Rouge isn't going to change that trend.
RB — Deserves A Second Look
Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (@ Baylor)
Three chances to start. Three straight 100-yard games. Gray took over for the injured Christine Michael with plenty of experience under his belt and he has delivered. As a back-up, Gray posted 119 yards from scrimmage against Baylor last season. Against the 96th-rated rush defense, expect Gray to produce.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin (Indiana)
John Clay and James White are both battling leg issues and will not be 100%. They both could receive carries, but against the Hoosiers, neither should be needed much. Expect the very capable Ball — 21 carries, 127 yards, 2 TDs last week, mostly in the second half — to get the bulk of the carries this week against the 81st-ranked rush defense.
Sam McGuffie vs. Orleans Darkwa (Rice @ Tulane)
Fantasy owners were finally rewarded last week with the Owls tailback. He got his highest carry total of the season (28) and he posted his highest yards total (178) and TFP (23.8). He didn't catch a pass, but had been averaging 4 rec./game, so expect him to get back involved in that part of the game as well. The Green Wave is 98th in the nation in rush defense at 191 ypg allowed. They are also 101st in scoring defense (33.1 ppg). Darkwa has posted 21-114-2, 29-193 and 27-138-2 lines in his last three. CUSA is good for everyone!
Asher Clark and Nathan Walker, Air Force (New Mexico)
Clark, Walker and all of the rest of the Falcons are worth a look this weekend against the lowly Lobos. Clark has had double-digit carries in every game this season and is always capable of a 100-yard game and a TD. Walker is coming off his best career game — 110 yards, TD — last weekend against Army and should be in the mix as well.
Alvester Alexander, Wyoming (@ UNLV)
The Cowboys running back has returned to fantasy relevance after a month-long absence. Alexander totalled 21.5 fantasy points in four combined games. In his last two since, he has 30 carries for 239 yards and 4 TDs. UNLV ranks 116th in rushing defense and 115th in scoring defense.
Really deep back-ups who could reward in a tight spot:
Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (Kansas)
Michael Ford, LSU (UL-Monroe)
Bryan Kariya, BYU (@ Colorado State)
Davin Meggett, Maryland (@ Virginia)
1. Oklahoma State's final three games are at Texas, at Kansas and Oklahoma at home in the Bedlam Series. What will their record be in those three games?
Steven: I’ll go with 2-1. I think the Cowboys will split the Texas and Oklahoma games and Kansas should be an easy win. Although the Longhorns have struggled, I’m hesitant to write them off against the Cowboys this Saturday. You never know what’s going to happen in the Bedlam Series, and Oklahoma has experienced its share of struggles on the road, but I’ll give the Sooners an edge in that matchup. Even if the Cowboys finish 1-2 over the last three games, this season was still a success when you consider the significant personnel losses coming into this year.
Mitch: I'll go with 2-1. Chalk up the Kansas game as a win, even on the road, and I believe the Pokes will split the two games against Texas and Oklahoma. They are favored to beat Texas this week and might be favored to beat OU in Stillwater, but it will be tough to sweep UT and OU in the same season -- even with the Longhorns' struggles. Mike Gundy should be up for National Coach of the Year. With all of the turnover on both sides of the ball, it's amazing that this team has only one loss this late in the season.
Braden: The Pokes have not won in Austin since 1944 and have only beaten the Longhorns twice in 24 tries. They will win at Kansas and lose to Oklahoma (who really doesn't play well on the road). So that leaves this weekend. They certainly have the momentum and the talent while Texas appears to have given up on Mack Brown. The pick is 2-1. But they will have to win one of the two brutal match-ups.
2. If Oregon and Auburn played in a cornfield in Iowa today, who would be favored?
Steven: Tough call. I could see either team favored with a likely spread of three points. However, I’d give the Ducks a slight edge over Auburn. Even though the Tigers are solid against the run, I’m not sure they could keep Darron Thomas and LaMichael James in check for a full game. Even though Oregon’s defense isn’t going to resemble the 2009 Alabama unit, it’s not bad either. If this game does end up being the national championship, it should be an impressive display of offensive fireworks.
Mitch: You need to ask the boys in Vegas this question, but my guess would be Oregon by 2.5. That wouldn’t necessarily be my prediction (I'd have to think about that a bit longer), but I believe Oregon would be favored.
Braden: Oregon would be favored by four points. Oregon's offense is more complete than Auburn's, and their quarterback isn't much worse than Mr. Newton. Darron Thomas has been excellent this year and is a dynamic playmaker in his own right.
3. Would any rumor-innuendo-investigation-potential transgression affect the way you would vote for the Heisman?
Steven: I don’t think it’s fair for rumors to decide how someone votes for the Heisman. If there is proof of something, then it absolutely comes into play. If the player is eligible and there are no outstanding investigations hanging over his head, then he would get my vote, regardless of a rumor. It’s too easy to start rumors, and anyone can bring in anonymous sources to get a story going. When it becomes fact is the point it should start affecting Heisman ballots.
Mitch: Rumor and innuendo would not affect my vote — actual evidence of wrongdoing would. That is what makes this Cam Newton situation so interesting. There is new evidence coming out every day, but there is nothing out that proves Auburn and/or Newton did anything wrong. I have my own thoughts on what may or may not have happened, but until something comes out that proves there was some wrongdoing, I would still vote for Cam Newton. But stay tuned.
Braden: If the Reggie Bush-USC sanctions or the NFL agent investigations had not just taken place, I would say no. And in reality, if Newton is eligible, then all that should matter is what happens on the field. However, there are some voters who have already stated that this will impact their vote. Whether it is right or wrong, this story will impact Newton's Heisman chances. And in the end, where there is smoke, there is fire.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 10 in the NFL:
1. Should Chad Pennington be starting at quarterback for the Dolphins?
Steven: No. I think this benching is a bad move by the Dolphins. Chad Henne's career numbers aren't great - 20 touchdowns and 24 interceptions - but the Dolphins need to know if he is the long-term answer at quarterback. I didn't think Henne was particularly awful and it seems like an overreaction to Sunday's loss to Baltimore. Changing quarterbacks isn't the answer in Miami - it's getting back to establishing the run with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
Braden: Certainly the Dolphins would like to see better play from their starting quarterback. And Chad Pennington has knack for winning football games. Yet, Henne is the future for the Dolphins under center. It is a brutal year in the AFC East, and the conference in general, so some growing pains are expected for a guy who has only 21 career starts under his belt. He has a huge arm and has gone toe-to-toe with the league's best in primetime settings in the past. Let the young porpoise sink or swim on his own — he needs to be under center to get better, doesn't he?
Nathan: Call the Supreme Court, there are hanging Chads in Florida. This could get even uglier. The move from Chad Henne to Chad Pennington is a mistake, both for the short and long term. The Dolphins are essentially saying that Henne is not their franchise quarterback. And obviously Pennington is not the solution, either. I respect the two-time Comeback Player of the Year Award winner and maybe he can win the trophy a third time this season. But this is a panic move of desperation that does not bode well for the future in Miami.
2. Will Matthew Stafford ever be healthy enough to play a full season?
Steven: It's concerning for Stafford and the Lions to see shoulder problems end his first two years in the NFL, but I doubt every season will be ended year by injuries. At some point, Stafford will stay healthy for the full 16-game season. A big part of Stafford's future is tied to the Detroit offensive line and the targets around him. The Lions need to upgrade at receiver and build a better offensive line to take some of the pressure off of Stafford. As Stafford gets more experience, expect him to get rid of the ball quicker and eliminate some of the hits he is taking now.
Braden: It is very concerning that Stafford continues to have the same injury. Could they be related and not fully healed and therefore impacting his ability to stay healthy? Sure. Could this be an isolated incident in which a player experiences an unlucky set of events to start a career? Let's hope. Stafford has the makings of a great quarterback and could save a franchise, but he has to be on the field to do so. It is interesting that the likely Rookie of the Year (Sam Bradford) was supposed to be the player who had glaring injury concerns.
Nathan: I thought the Rams’ Sam Bradford was the quarterback made of glass, after this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner injured his throwing shoulder twice at Oklahoma last season. Instead, it looks like the Lions’ Matthew Stafford is the one who needs a Medic Alert bracelet. After healthy, productive careers at Highland Park HS in Dallas and at Georgia, there were no warning signs prior to the thus-far injury-riddled NFL career for the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. Throwing shoulder issues are the worst kind for a professional passer. But he’s only 22 years old and has shown flashes of greatness, so I’d be willing to invest my money in Stafford.
Ole Miss (4-5, 1-4) at Tennessee (3-6, 0-5), Noon ET
How’d CBS get stuck with this one? This is supposedly the fourth-best game of the week? Yowzers.
Tennessee fans have their arms impatiently crossed, tapping their feet. All the Derek Dooley one-liners in the world can’t fill the void of a winless SEC season. Starting 0–5 in the SEC is no bueno, even if Conan is delivering the jokes.
Ole Miss, in Knoxville, presents the best opportunity of the season so far for an SEC win. (At least until Vanderbilt.) It had to feel good for the Vols to beat up on someone, anyone, last week in Memphis. But a 50–14 win against one of the worst teams in the country will not cure the SEC ills.
The Rebels have a little speed on offense that will give UT fits. But watch Vols quarterback Tyler Bray, all 185 pounds of him, as he continues to grow into his role (and body).
Player to Watch: Denarius Moore, Tennessee WR. Scorched South Carolina’s secondary two weeks ago. Ole Miss’ might be worse.
Vanderbilt (2-7, 1-5) at Kentucky (5-5, 1-5), 12:21 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Good thing for the non-conference schedule, eh Kentucky? Wins against Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron and Charleston Southern — plus one late rally against South Carolina — have the Wildcats in position for bowl eligibility, with a victory against either Vanderbilt or Tennessee.
Bet on the former. The Commodores have been coming apart for weeks, unraveled even more by the loss last week of Zac Stacy. He’s the team’s backup running back, playing in the place of Warren Norman, lost for the year after dislocating his wrist.
Getting to six wins should be a breeze for UK. Now, can it get to seven, causing all the demons surrounding the UT series to scurry?
Player to Watch: Randall Cobb, Kentucky WR. Been a while since he had a monster game, hasn’t it? That’s what Vandy’s good for, correct?
Georgia (5-5, 3-4) at No. 2 Auburn (10-0, 6-0), 2:30 p.m., CT
This Cameron Newton fellow seems to be in the news quite often lately. He already was, but it was pertaining to his play. Now the headlines relate to whether he’s eligible to play. What a captivating character in college football.
The NCAA is about all that can stop Newton this season. He has roughly 400 more yards than Tim Tebow had in his Heisman season, even if the TDs aren’t quite level (42-34) through 10 games. Newton has one definite advantage that Tebow didn’t: Auburn is 10–0 through 10; the Gators were 7–3.
Don’t be at all surprised if this off-field firestorm only works to further inspire an incredibly talented kid. He might have to give it all back one day — might — but that doesn’t stop what’s happening right this second.
It’s a fun thought that Georgia would hang around, but Newton wills the Tigers to be undefeated headed into the Iron Bowl.
Player to Watch: Cam Newton, Auburn QB. Duh.
UTEP (6-4) at No. 14 Arkansas (7-2), 6 p.m. CT
OK, what we know about UTEP: This is where Mike Price wound up. The Miners are bowl-eligible. Donald Buckram was one of college football’s leading rushers a year ago, having run for nearly 1,600 yards. Injuries have derailed Buckram’s senior season. He has just 70 carries and 316 yards, with a single-game high of 81 yards.
Arkansas looked like the best team in the league last week, with one of the top performances this season. The defense, holding South Carolina to 10 points in minutes that mattered, showed it has made steps this season. It was physical and sure in its tackling. Best-kept secret in the South: The Hogs have a lot more than Ryan Mallett. (But he’s good, also.)
Don’t let UTEP’s six wins (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, Memphis, New Mexico, Rice, SMU) fool you. This team is fully prepared to get dominated.
Player to Watch: Knile Davis, Arkansas RB. Davis has run well lately. Let him go, run the clock. Get to Mississippi State and LSU.
Louisiana-Monroe (4-5) at No. 5 Louisiana State (8-1), 6 p.m. CT
After Saturday, Louisiana-Monroe will have played as many SEC West games as the SEC East teams. Isn’t that a bit excessive? Even the East teams don’t want to play the West. ULM would probably be in a bowl game if not for that intense scheduling.
This is the first of three games that could lead to a very interesting scenario for LSU. At 11–1, with only a loss to Auburn, would LSU get national championship game consideration? That’s still a long way off. For now, it’s about continuing offensive success. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, and especially Jefferson, played well last week against Alabama. LSU fans would love to see more of that before Ole Miss and Arkansas close out the season.
Player to Watch: Les Miles, LSU coach. Not a player, but gosh he’s fascinating.
No. 17 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2) at No. 11 Alabama (7-2, 4-2), 6:15 p.m. CT
An ESPN analyst continues to say this is Mississippi State’s “Super Bowl.” No, that was Florida. (And it won.) This is its “Pro Bowl,” we’ll say. (Are we the only ones daydreaming about that game at Auburn next season, by the way? Wow. Lot of power packed into that one, huh?)
Curious to see how Alabama responds to losing its second game. Greg McElroy called it the “end of the world.” So, what happens after that? Guess none of us know, really. The Tide is equipped, in terms of talent. But will the team’s minds stick with it?
Mississippi State is a hungry bunch. Beyond all the Newton news, don’t forget this is the Bulldogs’ first time back on the field since teammate Nick Bell died last week after a brief fight with cancer. Expect that to be MSU’s motivations in what would be yet another signature win for Dan Mullen’s early tenure.
Player to Watch: Vick Ballard, Mississippi State RB. His 12 TDs are actually the most of a running back in the league. Ball control is clearly a key to the Bulldogs’ success.
No. 22 South Carolina (6-3, 4-3) at No. 24 Florida (6-3, 4-3), 7:15 p.m. ET
What a strange road to get here for these two teams. Florida’s used to already having the East wrapped up by now, having won a record 10 division titles since the split. South Carolina, meanwhile, isn’t used to having this shot. It happened only one other time, a decade ago, and the Gators had to erase an early deficit to escape the Gamecocks in 2000.
That game was in Gainesville. So is this one. That’s a huge deal, although it bears mentioning that some of the mystique seems to have temporarily vacated the Swamp. Florida has already lost two at home this season, to LSU and Mississippi State. And then there’s Urban Meyer this week, begging fans to be “out of control” and to wear all blue. Since when is Florida a school that has to resort to ridiculous fashion gimmicks? Just play ball.
South Carolina actually might be the more talented team, which feels bizarre to say, but will it behave like the more talented team? A knee injury, in part, caused Marcus Lattimore to have a forgettable night last week against Arkansas (season-low 30 yards), but he’s far from alone. Only receiver Alshon Jeffery (99 yards) could be singled out as having a decent night against the Razorbacks. The 41–20 loss was exceptionally bad.
You’ll know by the end of the first quarter who wins the game. If South Carolina shows up — even if it doesn’t have the lead, meaning, if it’s tied or close — it’ll win. In a season of the unexpected, why not have the Gamecocks become the fourth team to win the East?
Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. The Gamecocks have to be able to run the ball. Maybe Lattimore makes his impact catching passes out of the backfield, too.
Iowa (7-2, 4-1) at Northwestern (6-3, 2-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
The Big Ten’s biggest contest of the week pits two clubs trying to hang on to the momentum that carried them through the first half of the year. Northwestern’s season took a turn for the worse in the second half of last week’s loss to Penn State. The defense must do a better job of holding Iowa’s running game in check this week, and it must do a better job of protecting its quarterback (conference-worst 31 sacks) against an aggressive Hawkeye front four. As for Iowa’s offense, Adam Robinson is expected to return to the backfield, which is welcome news for Ricky Stanzi. The Hawkeyes gained just 65 yards on the ground in last year’s 17–10 loss to the Wildcats. Having a healthy Robinson in tow should tip the scales back in Iowa’s favor. Stanzi was knocked out of that contest, so he has added motivation for this week’s contest.
Minnesota (1-9, 0-6) at Illinois (5-4, 3-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Illinois had everyone convinced that it owned one of the conference’s best defenses until Michigan bent that unit every which way possible. Now the Illini can work out their aggression on a Minnesota offense that has scored just 18 points in its last two contests combined. Senior quarterback Adam Weber has been subpar, but then again he hasn’t had much help around him. The Gophers average just 3.5 yards on the ground and have registered the fourth-most penalties (57) in the conference. All Illinois must do to take control of this game is avoid turnovers and keep plugging away with their two-headed backfield of Nathan Scheelhasse and Mikel Leshoure. The duo should tear up a Gopher defense allowing 200.5 rushing yards per game.
Michigan (6-3, 2-3) at Purdue (4-5, 2-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Purdue’s bowl hopes are riding on this contest; Danny Hope’s team must win two of its last three to become bowl-eligible. With a trip to East Lansing and a home date against Indiana still on tap, most would agree Purdue’s best chance is to win its two home games. Denard Robinson is expected to start for Michigan after passing a wave of concussion tests. The real question is: Will he finish? The Wolverines were led by Tate Forcier in the clutch again last week, and one can only wonder how the coaching staff will satisfy both players — both now and next season. One encouraging thing Michigan saw in its win last week was improved play from its receiving corps. Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway both gained more than 100 yards, and both may see plenty of action again this week against a Boilermaker pass defense allowing 218.2 yards per game. Purdue is expected to feature Sean Robinson under center again this week. The freshman performed much better last week than his statline suggests, and he has the ability to give Michigan’s subpar defense fits, both with his feet and arm.
Indiana (4-5, 0-6) at Wisconsin (8-1, 4-1), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Another week, another winnable game for Wisconsin. That’s the scary part. The Badgers have a long history of playing to the level of their opponent, something Bret Bielema must shake so his squad can get through these final three games unscathed. If they do, Wisconsin will walk into a prime BCS berth. Wisconsin may be without John Clay, who has never really been healthy since the start of the year. The team does expect to see freshman James White back in the lineup and can also rely on Montee Ball, who gained more than 100 yards last week with White and Clay on the sideline. Regardless of who runs the ball, Wisconsin should have a field day against a Hoosiers defense allowing 5.2 yards per carry. On the opposite sideline, Indiana hopes to play with fewer mental mistakes this week. They let the Iowa contest slip away and have three weeks to win two games for bowl eligibility. The Hoosiers have gotten a lot of mileage out of their opponents’ mistakes this year (they lead the Big Ten in the category) but may not see the same benefits this week against a well-disciplined Badger group that gives up just 31.4 yards of penalty per contest.
Penn State (6-3, 3-2) at Ohio State (8-1, 4-1), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
In terms of career wins, this game tops every other bill in the country — 637 between Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel. The road team has won this game in each of the last three years, including a 24–7 Ohio State win last year in which the Buckeyes outgained the Nittany Lions on the ground, 228 to 76. Ohio State runs a more balanced offense these days, but it can also be said that Penn State’s offense has made considerable progress in these past few weeks. Led by Matt McGloin, the Nittany Lions stomped on Michigan and Northwestern. Now McGloin faces his stiffest test to date. He has held up fine under pressure, but fans can expect the Buckeyes to test his poise early by stacking a few extra bodies near the line of scrimmage. And as a bonus, the Buckeyes return Ross Homan — one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers. Ohio State’s quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, is 24-of-42 with 351 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in two starts against Penn State. Last year Pryor did the most damage with his feet (five carries for 50 yards, including a first quarter score).
Kansas State (6-3, 3-3) at Missouri (7-2, 3-2), Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
The Tigers are trying to avoid a familiar funk — the extended losing streak. Mizzou, after jumping into BCS title game talk, has lost two straight and now get a Wildcats team riding into Columbia on the strength of a rousing win over Texas.
It was just a year ago that the Tigers started 4–0, only to drop three straight on their way to a disappointing finish. The flashbacks are obvious, particularly after they were shut out in the second half at Texas Tech. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the driving force during Mizzou’s 7–0 start, is now scuffling and needs to rebound to right the Tigers path to bigger, better bowl games.
K-State carries momentum and a quarterback quandary into the game. Collin Klein provided the spark against Texas in his first career start, using his speed and mobility to inject another element into the Wildcat run game, rushing for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, Carson Coffman, who sat against the Longhorns with an ankle sprain, remains in play in a decision that could go all the way to game time.
Iowa State (5-5, 3-3) at Colorado (3-6, 0-5), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
The focus in Boulder has shifted away from the playing field and to speculation on who will be the team’s next coach, after Dan Hawkins was fired earlier this week. With the program heading to the brave new world of the Pac-10 Conference next fall, identifying and hiring the right successor is critical.
And yet, there is a game to be played as interim coach Brian Cabral tries to pull the Buffaloes — including starting quarterback Cody Hawkins, son of the fired coach — together.
On the heels of the program’s worst meltdown, a demoralizing loss that saw Kansas score 35 unanswered points to post an unlikely rally to victory, it won’t be easy. Still, Cody Hawkins says he remains committed as the Buffs try to end a five-game losing streak.
For Iowa State, it’s another chance to reach bowl eligibility, narrowly missing last week when a two-point try in overtime failed in a 31–30 loss to Nebraska. After a rough stretch of the schedule, the Cyclones have rebounded nicely, yet need this win to avoid a must-win situation in their season finale against Missouri.
Texas Tech (5-4, 3-4) at Oklahoma (7-2, 3-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
OU’s recent road woes — a 6–6 record in its last 12 away from home — resurfaced a week ago in a loss at Texas A&M. The Sooners will surely enjoy returning to the comforts of home, where they own the nation’s longest current winning streak at 35 games.
The Sooners are a drastically different team at home, going beyond the winning. They’re more explosive on offense and dominant on defense. And they’ve won seven of eight meetings against Tech in Norman. Quarterback Landry Jones, too, is much better on Owen Field, and needs to be in what shapes up as a big game for both schools.
The Red Raiders, after posting perhaps their biggest win of the season — an upset of Missouri — possess rejuvenated bowl hopes. Tech’s defense shut down the Tigers over the final half and will need an even bigger effort to be competitive in Norman. Same for quarterback Taylor Potts, who came off the bench to lead three touchdown drives against Mizzou.
OU maintains South Division title hopes, but can’t afford any slipups before a likely showdown at Oklahoma State to close the regular season.
Texas A&M (6-3, 3-2) at Baylor (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
The Battle of the Brazos comes with a caveat: The loser is eliminated from the Big 12 South race.
Of course, neither figured to be a contender. Baylor has no such history of even flirting with first place. Three weeks ago, A&M stood 0–2 in conference play and seemed headed for major disappointment. Yet here they are, bidding to stay relevant deep into November.
All focus begins with the quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III is the face of Baylor’s rise, both in the conference and nationally. A&M’s three-game winning streak corresponds to the shift of Ryan Tannehill from wide receiver to behind center.
The Bears find themselves regrouping, after stumbling on the big stage a week ago, losing 55–28 at Oklahoma State. A&M enters after what may be the biggest win of coach Mike Sherman’s era, a 33–19 upset of Oklahoma.
A&M’s improving defense against Baylor’s Griffin-led offense produces the key matchup. Aggies linebacker Michal Hodges had 19 tackles against the Sooners and will have his radar directed at Griffin, as will sackmaster Von Miller.
Kansas (3-6, 1-4) at Nebraska (8-1, 4-1), Saturday, 6 p.m.
That was some celebration in Lawrence last week, at least for those who stuck around to witness the Jayhawks’ wild rally from a 45–17 hole to beat Colorado.
Back to reality, with the downtrodden Jayhawks going to Nebraska, where they’ve dropped 21 straight games. Back to Lincoln, too, for KU coach and former Nebraska star Turner Gill.
The Huskers’ latest standout quarterback, Taylor Martinez, is expected back after missing last week’s narrow win over Iowa State with an ankle injury. Nebraska occupies the driver’s seat in the Big 12 North and can move within a game of clinching by beating Kansas.
If KU has a chance, however fleeting, it comes with a suddenly sparkling running game. The Huskers have struggled to stop the run, ranking No. 73 nationally in rushing defense. And freshman running back James Sims may have enjoyed a breakout against Colorado, rushing for a career-best 123 yards and four touchdowns.
Oklahoma State (8-1, 4-1) at Texas (4-5, 2-4), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Cowboys haven’t won in Austin in a long, long time — 1944 to be exact. But the Longhorns haven’t been this bad in a long, long time, either. And even if they weren’t, this might represent OSU’s best chance for a breakthrough in years. As it is, the Cowboys are actually favored on the road. And they’re decisive favorites.
The Cowboys’ unexpected rise to first place in the Big 12 South is built around their talented trio: quarterback Brandon Weeden, wideout Justin Blackmon and running back Kendall Hunter, any of whom could emerge as the player of the year in the league. OSU’s offense will be the most versatile and dangerous the Longhorns have seen and should be geeked after K-State gashed the Texas defense a week ago.
The pressure will be on a Texas offense that has struggled to find an identity all year long and now deals with talk of a possible change at quarterback, with sentiment for Case McCoy to get a shot in place of Garrett Gilbert, who has thrown a Big 12-high 14 interceptions.
Washington State (1-9, 0-7) at Oregon State (4-4, 3-2), Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
The Beavers are expected to win, and had better win, if they entertain thoughts of going to a bowl game. After Saturday, Oregon State closes the season against USC, at Stanford and against Oregon. Those arguably are the three best teams in the Pac-10. The Beavers are 4–4, meaning they need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. They should have no problem at home against the Cougars, although Washington State had its most competitive Pac-10 game of the season in a 20–13 loss to Cal last weekend. The Cougars led at halftime for the first time since early in the 2008 season. Even without star wide receiver James Rodgers, Oregon State’s offense should be much too much for the Cougars’ lowly defense. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers needs 194 yards to break into the top-10 on the all-time Pac-10 career rushing list.
Oregon (9-0, 6-0) at California (5-4, 3-3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
The Ducks’ quest for a national championship has hit the home stretch. Oregon has three games left. Win them all and it surely will be playing in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. Two of the three are on the road, where the Ducks haven’t been quite as dominant this season. But Oregon has still won all of its road games handily and is a heavy favorite to do so again against the Bears, who had trouble putting away Washington State last week. That being said, Cal has been dominant at home this season, going 4–0 and outscoring opponents 189–34. The Bears’ defense ranks 12th nationally (299.56 yards allowed per game) and has given up just two touchdowns at home this season. But Cal also hasn’t played an offense that plays anywhere near the level of the Ducks, who lead the nation in points per game (54.67) and yards per game (567.22)
Stanford (8-1, 5-1) at Arizona State (4-5, 2-4), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has been picking up steam in the Heisman Trophy conversation and has an opportunity to produce against a pretty good defense. Luck ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency (163.37). He also plays behind a physical and effective offensive line, which should have success slowing down the Sun Devils’ impressive defensive front. The Cardinal are ranked sixth in the latest BCS standings. They can go to the Rose Bowl if Oregon plays in the national title game against a team from a non-BCS conference. If a team like TCU is shut out of the BCS championship game, it will go to the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils had yet another competitive loss last week, losing on a late field goal to USC, 34–33. Three of ASU’s five losses this season have come by three points or less.
USC (6-3, 3-3) at Arizona (7-2, 4-2), Saturday, 5:00 p.m.
The Wildcats’ loss to Stanford last week effectively knocked them out of the Pac-10 race. Now, Arizona simply wants to get to the best bowl game possible. That will be a challenge with its final three games against USC, Oregon and Arizona State. Arizona was dominated by the Cardinal last week and will be eager to bounce back against the Trojans. Arizona managed just 17 points in the return of quarterback Nick Foles from a dislocated kneecap. Foles threw for 248 yards and a touchdown on 28-of-48 passing. The Wildcats hope to improve those offensive numbers against a USC team that continues to play stunningly ineffective defense. USC edged Arizona State last week simply because it had the ball last with a reasonable amount of time left. The Trojans are seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (28.4 points per game), eighth in total defense (423.8 yards allowed per game) and dead last in pass defense (276.4 yards allowed per game).
Miami (6-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
This Coastal Division clash was supposed to feature a matchup of two of the ACC’s best quarterbacks: Jacory Harris vs. Joshua Nesbitt. But with Harris and Nesbitt injured, the game will feature a pair of near-unknowns: Stephen Morris vs. Tevin Washington.
Morris, a true freshman who planned to redshirt until Harris suffered a concussion at Virginia on Oct. 30, started the first game of his career last week in a 26–20 victory over Maryland. He threw a game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds remaining, passing for 286 yards in the game.
Nesbitt is out for the regular season after breaking his right arm in Georgia Tech’s 28–21 loss at Virginia Tech last Thursday. Washington, a redshirt sophomore who almost was moved to running back early in his career, takes over control of the nation’s leading rushing attack (320.6 yards per game) as Georgia Tech tries to become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.
The Yellow Jackets, who have beaten the Hurricanes four of the past five years, could have an advantage in this game because Miami’s biggest defensive strength won’t be much of a factor against their spread-option offense. The Hurricanes lead the nation in opponents’ passing efficiency, rank fifth nationally in passing yards allowed (ACC-best 153.1 per game) and rank sixth nationally in sacks (3.0 per game). But Georgia Tech rarely throws the ball, so Miami’s No. 61 ranking against the run (150.7 ypg) could be the stat that matters most.
On the other side, the Hurricanes likely will be without their leading rusher for the second week in a row. Tailback Damien Berry has been hobbled by an unspecified leg injury and also battled the flu this week, so he’s doubtful to play against the Yellow Jackets. Berry’s absence should create more opportunities for redshirt freshman Lamar Miller, who rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries in his first start last week.
Boston College (4-5, 2-4 ACC) at Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Neither Boston College nor Duke is going to play in the ACC championship game, but each team still has incentive to win their first meeting since 2006: the potential for a bowl game. The Eagles and Blue Devils have put together two consecutive wins apiece after suffering through losing streaks of five games and six games, respectively, and have new life coming down the stretch.
Boston College, which must win two of its final three games to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season, is making its second trip to the state of North Carolina in as many weeks. The Eagles handled Wake Forest 23-13 last week as tailback Montel Harris rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.
Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.3 yards per game), will be a big factor again this week against a Duke defense that is among the worst in the country. The Blue Devils rank in the nation’s bottom six in points allowed (ACC-worst 38.9 per game) and total yards allowed (ACC-worst 457.3 per game).
Duke, which needs to win its remaining three games to become bowl-eligible, has overcome is defensive deficiencies the last two weeks thanks to a couple of stellar performances by its offense. The Blue Devils knocked off Navy 34–31 on Oct. 30 and came back last week with a 55–48 victory over Virginia in the second-highest scoring game in ACC history. The difference for Duke has been the play of quarterback Sean Renfree, who has not thrown an interception in the last two games after tossing 14 interceptions during his team’s six-game losing streak.
The status of Renfree’s top target is in question entering this contest. Wide receiver Conner Vernon, who leads the ACC in receptions (5.4 per game), suffered a head injury on a kickoff return in the third quarter against the Cavaliers. He did not return to the game and was limited in practice this week.
Wake Forest (2-7, 1-5 ACC) at NC State (6-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Thanks to rival North Carolina’s victory at Florida State last week, NC State remained in control of the Atlantic Division after losing 14–13 at Clemson. The Wolfpack will try to get back on track on homecoming — in the final home game for the team’s seniors — against a Wake Forest squad that has lost seven consecutive games.
After amassing just 275 total yards against Clemson, NC State’s explosive offense should have more opportunities to succeed this week. The Wolfpack, who lead the ACC in passing yards (286.4 per game) and total yards (420.4), get to attack a Wake Forest defense that ranks among the nation’s worst 11 units in points allowed (38.8 per game), rushing yards allowed (ACC-worst 211.4 per game) and opponents’ passing efficiency (ACC-worst 150.0 rating).
On the positive side for the Demon Deacons, they did play better defensively last week in their 23–13 loss to Boston College. Wake Forest held the Eagles to 298 total yards after allowing a total 1,051 yards in its previous two games against Maryland and Virginia Tech. But quarterback Russell Wilson, who ranks sixth in the nation in total offense (ACC-best 312.4 yards per game), gives NC State a dual threat that Boston College’s offense lacked. The Wolfpack also might welcome back starting tailback Dean Haynes, who sat out against Clemson after suffering a concussion the previous week.
On the other side, Wake Forest must do a better job taking care of the ball with true freshman quarterback Tanner Price running the offense. The Demon Deacons, who have won four of their past five meetings with the Wolfpack, had five turnovers last week against Boston College. Starting tailback Josh Harris left that game with a concussion, so his status for this week is in doubt.
Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Virginia (4-5, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Maryland came up short in a 26–20 loss at Miami last week, but the good news for the Terrapins is that Florida State and NC State also lost. That means Ralph Friedgen’s team, which limped to a 2–10 record last season, still needs no outside help to win the Atlantic Division. If the Terrapins win their remaining three games, they will play for the ACC championship on Dec. 4.
That stretch begins this week against a Virginia team that also needs to close the season with three consecutive victories to achieve bowl eligibility in Mike London’s first season as head coach.
Virginia, which has lost 11 consecutive games in November, has enjoyed plenty of success against Maryland in recent seasons. The Cavaliers have won 14 of the last 18 meetings, including the last three in a row. For that trend to continue, the Cavaliers need an improved performance on defense this week. Virginia struggled against the Blue Devils with starting cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield missing all and most of the game, respectively, with leg injuries. The status for each is unclear entering this contest.
On the other side, Maryland will try to jump-start its offense. The Terrapins have been far from spectacular, ranking 11th in the ACC and 101st nationally in total yards (316.0 per game), but they rarely have beaten themselves this season. Maryland enters this game with the fifth-best turnover margin (plus-1.22 per game) in the country.
Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-0 ACC) at North Carolina (6-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech has built quite a cushion in the Coastal Division — to the degree that the team could clinch a spot in the ACC championship game this week. If the Hokies win this game at North Carolina and Georgia Tech knocks off Miami, they will claim their fourth division title in six years.
The Tar Heels, of course, have other ideas after becoming bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season. Fresh off an emotional 37–35 victory at Florida State, North Carolina can put some pressure on Virginia Tech with a victory in this contest. That’s no easy task against the Hokies, who have ripped off seven consecutive wins since their surprising 0–2 start, but the Tar Heels have some belief after winning 20–17 at Virginia Tech last season.
The key to this game could be the play of the senior quarterbacks, who are the first- and second-rated passers in the ACC, respectively. Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor leads the conference in pass efficiency, orchestrating an offense that averages an ACC-best 36.0 points per game. Taylor became the Hokies’ all-time leader in total offense during last week’s 28-21 win over Georgia Tech.
On the other side, North Carolina’s T.J. Yates is coming off a performance in which he threw for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a school-record 439 yards at Florida State. Yates became just the second player in ACC history to pass for at least 400 yards against two ranked opponents in the same season, doing much of his damage on throws to wide receiver Dwight Jones. Jones, a junior who entered the middle of October with 125 receiving yards in his career, has totaled 612 receiving yards in the last four games after catching eight passes for 233 yards and a touchdown last week.
The Tar Heels need another big performance from Yates and Jones this week because their leading rusher, tailback Johnny White, suffered a season-ending broken clavicle against the Seminoles. White’s backup, Shaun Draughn, hurt an ankle against Florida State and might not be at 100 percent for this game.
Virginia Tech also will be down a tailback, with explosive sophomore David Wilson on the shelf with mononucleosis. That means the Hokies, who lost wide receiver Dyrell Roberts (thigh) for the season last week, will have to replace both of their kickoff returners. They also will be without defensive end Chris Drager, who is suffering from lingering effects from a hit he took against Georgia Tech.
Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC) at Florida State (6-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Clemson, one win away from bowl eligibility, has new life as it tries to return to the ACC championship game for the second year in a row.
Florida State, meanwhile, is looking to get back on track after back-to-back losses. The Seminoles, who have lost five of their last seven meetings with Clemson, enter this game with questions surrounding the health of starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder had his right (throwing) elbow drained Monday after experiencing swelling and soreness from a hit he took last week, and he didn’t practice early this week. The injury stems from a ruptured bursa sac that he suffered against Boston College on Oct. 16 in a game in which he threw three interceptions. If Ponder plays — and he likely will — it remains to be seen how much the injury and resulting missed practice time will decrease his effectiveness.
Clemson’s defense, which features NCAA sacks leader Da’Quan Bowers, ranks 12th nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.6 per game) after holding NC State’s high-powered offense to just 275 total yards last week. Ponder will want to keep an eye on Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, who is returning to his hometown of Tallahassee with 15 career interceptions (tied for second nationally among active players). McDaniel dealt Ponder a season-ending shoulder injury last season on an interception return in a game Clemson won 40-24.
The Tigers are dealing with a key offensive injury of their own. Tailback Andre Ellington will miss his second consecutive game with a strained ligament in his foot, leaving an underachieving attack without its most dangerous player. Led by quarterback Kyle Parker, who responded well after being benched briefly last week in favor of backup Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s offense ranks outside the nation’s top 60 in scoring (26.2 points per game), rushing (151.3 yards per game), passing (181.9 ypg) and total offense (333.2 ypg).
The Seminoles counter with a defense that leads the country in sacks (4.22 per game) and ranks fourth in tackles for loss (8.11 per game). Sophomore Brandon Jenkins ranks among the nation’s top 10 in sacks and tackles for loss, and fellow defensive end Markus White has recorded at least half a sack in five consecutive games.