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What are college football's must-see match-ups of the second half?
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
1. LSU vs. Alabama (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Bama leads 45-24-5
This one pretty much has it all: Coaching and fanbase storylines, divisional and conference title implications, Heisman Trophy candidates and a potential BCS National Championship berth. Despite dominating for most of this rivalry and winning two of the last three, LSU has had Bama’s number for the better part of a decade – winning six of the last eight meetings. These are arguably the two best defenses in the nation and will both make things tough on the running game. Therefore, whichever quarterback can convert key third and longs in the fourth quarter will likely set his team up for a national title run. These are two of the best rosters in the nation, but the edge goes to the better coach and home-field advantage. This has been targeted as the biggest game of the season nationally and through seven weeks, nothing has changed. This will be the brightest and most important spotlight of the 2011 college football season.
Athlon’s Prediction: Bama by 3
2. Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (Week 14)
Dec. 3, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 81-17-7
Dan Beebe and the Big 12 had to highlight one game on Championship Saturday after losing its title game and The Bedlam Series was an easy choice. Not only will in-state bragging rights be on the line for the 105th time, but the Big 12 title – and potential BCS National Championship – could be at stake as well. Oklahoma State appears to be the prime contender to Oklahoma in the league and will have a chance to prove it on the final weekend of the regular season. The Sooners have won eight straight in the series including last year’s 47-41 that featured 967 yards of total offense and 725 combined passing yards. Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden combined for 105 pass attempts, six touchdowns and six interceptions. Fans can expect fireworks once again from the Bedlam Series.
Athlon’s Prediction: Sooners by 3
3. Oregon vs. Stanford (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Stanford leads 44-29-1
The Pac-12 conference title will likely be on the line when Oregon flies south to Palo Alto. Stanford has owned the all-time series, but over the last decade the Ducks have dominated. Oregon dropped 52 points on the Cardinal last fall and has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Ducks have struggled against power teams (Ohio State, Auburn, LSU) over the last two years and the Cardinal will have as close to a power rushing attack as there is on the West Coast. Will the Ducks’ front seven be able to pressure Andrew Luck and slow the ground game? And can the Cardinal keep the Ducks from scoring 52 points again?
Athlon’s Prediction: Cardinal by 4
4. Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 28-21
These two have swapped victories in the last six meetings including a tight 10-point win by Michigan State a year ago that cost the Badgers the outright conference title. Kirk Cousins converted a few key goalline fourth downs to give Michigan State its first share of a conference title since 1990. Wisconsin brings the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and the top rated rushing attack, passing attack and total offense in the Big Ten to East Lansing. Jerell Worthy and the nation’s No. 2 defense will be prepared along the Spartan front. Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson will likely hold the key to success. Whichever quarterback can complete passes down the field in the vertical passing game will likely lead his team to victory.
Athlon’s Prediction: Badgers by 4
5. Alabama vs. Auburn (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Bama leads 40-34-1
The Iron Bowl is one of the single greatest football games of the season each and every year. And while the 2011 edition might lack the national appeal of last season’s unbelievable come-from-behind Tigers victory, there will be no loved lost come November 26. Auburn has rebuilt quicker than expected and while there is loads of young potential running around the Plains, Alabama has too much veteran talent to miss an opportunity at payback. Especially when a BCS national championship could be at stake.
Athlon’s Prediction: Bama by 10
6. Oregon vs. Washington (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Washington leads 58-40-5
Two of the best uniforms in the nation will take the field in what should be a visual show in the richly colored Pacific Northwest. The scoreboard shouldn’t be short on color either as the winner of this game has averaged 43 points per game over the last nine meetings. In fact, the winner of this game has scored less than 42 points only twice (31 in 2004, 34 in 2006). The Ducks have won seven straight meetings and will likely post another crooked number. However, Steve Sarkisian has plenty of talent with Keith Price playing well ahead of schedule. The Huskies are the primary challenger to Oregon and Stanford in the North.
Athlon’s Prediction: Ducks by 7
7. Clemson vs. Georgia Tech (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Tech leads 48-25-2
The rematch of the 2009 ACC championship game could be a preview of the 2011 ACC title bout. Tech won that game - and had won six out of seven - but Clemson handled the Jackets with relative ease last fall 27-13 in Death Valley. This one will be in Atlanta and will feature the top two offenses in the ACC. Tech (at 347 yards rushing per game) leads the conference in scoring, rushing and total offense while the Tigers rank No. 2 in all three categories. How each defense plays quarterback Tevin Washington, who leads the ACC in passer efficiency, and Tajh Boyd, who leads the conference in total offense, will likely be the determining factor.
Athlon's Prediction: Clemson by 3
8. Arkansas vs. LSU (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: LSU leads 34-20-2
Arkansas has taken three of the last four from LSU, including a thrilling 50-48 win in Baton Rouge over the eventual National Champions in 2007. It is the Hogs only win in its last eight trips to the Bayou. The battle for control of the line of scrimmage will either make Jarret Lee and Jordan Jefferson’s job much easier or much more difficult. Should Arkansas win that match-up, it will be because Tyler Wilson and the excellent talent around him made plays down the field. The Hogs still has shown holes along the offensive line, so picking up yards on the ground against LSU sans Knile Davis will be a difficult task.
Athlon’s Prediction: LSU by 9
9. Michigan State vs. Nebraska (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Nebraksa leads 5-0
The Spartans are still looking for their first ever win over Nebraska, and with one in 2011, they could find themselves playing in December in Indianapolis. After a quality win over archrival Michigan, Sparty fancies itself as the primary contender in the Big Ten Legends Division. The last meeting between the two took place in the Alamo Bowl in 2003 and Nebraska has outscored Michigan State 181-34 in the five meetings with an average margin of victory just under 30 points. Nebraska possesses two of the top five rushers in the Big Ten and Michigan State is allowing a league best 186.2 yards per game.
Athlon’s Prediction: Huskers by 4
10. Ohio State vs. Michigan (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 57-43-6
The greatest rivalry in all of college football will be renewed for the 107th time when these two Midwest powers lock horns in the final week of the regular season. Despite the prestige, tradition and nostalgia created from watching the Maize and Blue battle with the Scarlet and Gray, this rivalry has been totally one-sided of late. Ohio State has won seven straight and nine of the last ten. Brady Hoke and Denard Robinson clearly has Michigan pointed in the right direction and has the Wolverines in a position to surprise. However, the Buckeyes will only get better until the final week of the season and will still be able to control the trenches. Michigan will beat OSU in the near future, it just isn’t likely to happen in 2011.
Athlon’s Prediction: Buckeyes by 3
11. Texas vs. Texas A&M (Week 13)
Nov. 24, All-Time Series: 75-37-5
These two bitter rivals have only upped the ante with Texas A&M’s move to the SEC. The Aggies hate the Longhorns for a variety of reasons – not the least of which has been on the field domination by the Horns. Texas has won eight of the last 11 meetings, but TAMU currently holds the bragging rights with a 24-17 win last fall to go with three wins in the last five match-ups over Big Brother. Aggie fans still have Big 12 title hopes while Texas fans are reeling after two losses to the Sooner State. If Texas rebounds quickly and the Aggies can stay the course, the Lone Star Showdown could carry more weight than just eternal conference bragging rights. Otherwise, this will be a Turkey Day hangover game filled with nothing but Aggie one-liners and Burnt Orange hatred.
Athlon’s Prediction: Aggies by 7
12. Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech (Week 11)
Nov. 10, All-Time Series: Virginia Tech leads 5-3
The actual and football IQ will be off the charts in this Coastal contest. The home team has won the last three games in this budding rivarly, with all three games decided by one score or less. This Thursday night primetime get together in Atlanta will likely decide the Coastal's representative in the ACC title game. The battle within the battle will be intriguing as the Paul Johnson's ACC-leading rushing attack will go nose to nose with Bud Foster's ACC-leading rush defense. Get the ice-packs ready for this one.
Athlon's Prediction: Virginia Tech by 4
13. Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 18-11
Crimson and Cream faithful certainly have this one circled on the calendar this fall. Not only is Texas A&M is still one of the top contenders to the Sooners’ title hopes, but they also are programa non grata in the Big 12 and upset OU in last year’s bout. The Aggies entered the fourth quarter with a narrow 19-17 lead before two big play touchdowns from Cyrus Gray and Ryan Swope broke open the game. Landry Jones was sacked four times as the Sooners were held in check on the ground. TAMU held Oklahoma to 72 yards rushing on 44 carries. Without Von Miller, the game moves to Norman with revenge on the mind of Bob Stoops.
Athlon’s Prediction: Sooners by 10
14. West Virginia vs. Rutgers (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: WVU leads 32-4-2
To say that the West Virginia Mountaineers have owned this series is an understatement to say the least. The Mounties have won 16 straight games against Rutgers dating back to a 1994 17-12 win by the Knights in New Brunswick. Greg Schiano's bunch hasn't played a great schedule, but with a dominating performance against Pitt (34-10) and an double-overtime win over Syracuse, the Knights are atop the Big East standings. With a win at Lousiville this weekend, Rutgers could make this the first of many title elimination games.
Athlon's Prediction: West Virginia by 10
15. Florida vs. Georgia (Week 9, Jacksonville)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: UGA leads 46-40-2
In one of the more exciting football games of the season, the Gators topped the Dawgs 34-31 in overtime last fall. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party should be just as intense in 2011. Murray set a career high with his first 300-yard passing game (313) and tied his career best with three touchdown tosses. He also set a career mark with three interceptions (he had eight total in 2010). Georgia has eyes set on Atlanta in December and winning every game might be its only way back to the title game. And this is biggest conference test left for the Dawgs.
Athlon’s Prediction: Dawgs by 10
16. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 53-18-5
Ohio State won 21 straight meetings with the Badgers from 1960 to 1980. Since then, Wisconsin has held its own in the blossoming rivalry 11-14-1 in the 26 games since. In fact, these two teams have split the last six, eight and 10 games played. But Ohio State has won the last two in Columbus in convincing fashion (at least on the scoreboard) 69-30. Russell Wilson will be playing in the most hostile environment of his career when he walks into the Shoe and will need his running game if he expects to leave Columbus with a win. However, the Bucks have totally stymied the Badgers’ potent rushing game in the last two meetings on the Banks of the Olentagy’s. Sconie has mustered only 130 yards on 81 carries in the two losses. Ohio State is still stiff on defense, but keeping up with a team that averages over 50 points per game will be a tall order for true freshman Braxton Miller.
Athlon’s Prediction: Badgers by 7
17. USC vs. Notre Dame (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 43-33-5
One the nation’s most prestigious rivalries will be renewed for the 82nd time when USC heads to South Bend this weekend. The Irish got off the schneid last season when they outlasted the Trojans 20-16 in Los Angeles as it was the first victory for Notre Dame over USC since 2001 (0-8). In a series that has featured second halves like Anthony Davis' and fourth quarter “heroics” like the Bush Push, this reunion is a must-see each and every season. Both teams appear to be improved from a year ago and customary year-long bragging rights will be on the line.
Athlon’s Prediction: Irish by 3
18. USC vs. Oregon (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: USC leads 37-18-2
This game should have been one of two potential Pac-12 championship game previews. USC is the best team in the South but will not be allowed to play in the inaugural conference title bout. That doesn’t really affect the players on the field, however, as these are arguably the most talent-laden rosters in the conference. Despite being dominated for the better part of the century, Oregon has reestablished its home field advantage in this budding rivalry, winning five of the last seven meetings in Eugene. The Ducks have also won three of the last four overall reunions, including a 53–32 shellacking in 2010.
Athlon’s Prediction: Ducks by 7
19. Oklahoma vs. Kansas State (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 70-17-4
Six of the 17 all-time series wins by the Wildcats have come with Bill Snyder at the helm (6-9 overall), including the 35-7 Big 12 title game rout in 2003 - and you can bet Bob Stoops still has nightmares about No. 43. The Sooners have done everything asked of them thus far as they march towards a potential Big 12 and National Championship. However, Kansas State has beaten the likes of Miami, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech over the last month and boasts the league's No. 2 scoring defense. Ty Zimmerman, Arthur Brown and Meshak Williams will have to be at thier best if they expect to pull the upset.
Athlon's Prediction: Sooners by 10
20. Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Oklahoma State leads 35-22
From 1990 to 2002, Oklahoma State got completely shutout by Bill Snyder (9-0). But since then, the Pokes have won three out of four and the last two in Stillwater. However, those two losses were by a combined six points and KSU averaged 36.5 points per game. Okie State boasts a tremendous offense, maybe the best in the nation, but the defense has had its issues - it's ranked 100th nationally in total defense. The Wildcats will be coming off of a battle with Oklahoma the week before, and if they somehow upset the Sooners, this game takes on added importance. If Kansas State cannot beat Oklahoma, it could be a long two weeks for Wildcats fans.
Athlon's Prediction: Oklahoma State by 14
21. Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 61-39-3
The Backyard Brawl is the Big East’s top rivalry and there could be plenty on the line when these two teams meet in late November. The new coaches in this rivalry aren’t particularly fond of one another, so there will be some added spice to this matchup. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wasn’t happy with Pittsburgh’s Todd Graham during their time in Conference USA accusing Tulsa of faking injuries to slow down Houston’s high-powered offense. The Mountaineers have won the last two matchups in this series and three out of the last four in Morgantown.
Athlon’s Prediction: West Virginia by 10
22. Nebraska vs. Michigan (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-2-1
Nebraska had a rough enough schedule through September and October, but won’t get any breaks in the final three weeks of the regular season either. In back-to-back weekends, the Huskers have to play in front hostile 110,000-seat crowds in Happy Valley and Ann Arbor. It was 1962 the last time Big Red visited the Big House. The Wolverines lost the first Legends Division elimination game this weekend in East Lansing, but still could push for division supremacy. However, the Wolverines have yet to prove it can match wills along the line of scrimmage with the Big Ten’s elite. And stopping the Rex Burkhead-Taylor Martinez combo takes strength up front.
Athlon’s Prediction: Nebraska by 4
23. Iowa vs. Nebraska (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 26-12-3
These two heartland powers really haven’t met since World War II. The border rivals met regularly during the World War I era as well as in the 30s and 40s, but have played only six times since 1946. The renewal of what is now an intra-divisional rivalry could still carry with it divisional implications - whole ear of corn, so to speak, could be on the line in the season finale in Lincoln. The Hawkeye offense, with the exception of its trip to Happy Valley, has been solid under James Vandenberg’s leadership, scoring at least 31 points in every other game the Hawks have played this season. If both can reach Thanksgiving without sustaining another loss, this game could hold major Big Ten title ramifications.
Athlon’s Prediction: Huskers by 7
24. South Carolina vs. Arkansas (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 12-7
This will be the third in a brutal late season road swing for the Gamecocks. After visiting Mississippi State and Tennessee the previous two games, Steve Spurrier will have to have his team prepped for another nasty environment in Fayetteville. Especially after getting torched by Ryan Mallett and company in Columbia a season ago. Stephon Gilmore and the USC secondary will have to play better against Tyler Wilson than it did against Mallett (or anyone else in 2011 for that matter) – who completed 21 of 30 passes for 303 yards and a score in the 40-21 drubbing. With their star tailback to grind out first downs on the ground, it is hard to see a Connor Shaw-led Gamecock team scoring enough points to beat Tyler Wilson and the Hogs.
Athlon’s Prediction: Hogs by 7
25. Florida State vs. Florida (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Florida leads 33-20-2
This will be the first matchup of new blood between Florida’s Will Muschamp and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. The two coaches became close friends during their time as assistants under Nick Saban and will certainly have to put aside personal feelings to square-off in this rivarly. The Gators were embarrassed in Tallahassee last year and will be looking to return the favor, while ruining Florida State’s bragging rights in the Sunshine State. Normally this game carries heavy national title implications, however, bowl eligibility could be on the line for one (or both) if the respective ships aren't righted immediately.
Athlon’s Prediction: Gators by 1
26. Stanford vs. USC (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: USC leads 58-27-3
If Oregon is the most talented roster in the Pac-12, then these two teams are the clear challengers when it comes to raw ability. Unfortunately the budding disdain between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh has come to an end. But Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are still around and are still two of the most talented passers in the country. The Cardinal power rushing attack will test the uncharacteristically porous Trojan front seven from 2010, while Barkley and super-soph Robert Woods will offer a formidable test for the veteran Stanford secondary. Stanford has won three of the last four meetings, including the last two trips to the Coliseum.
Athlon’s Prediction: Cardinal by 1
27. Washington vs. Stanford (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Times Series: Washington leads 40-37-4
This series was dominated by the Huskies from 1977 through 2003, but Stanford has reversed the trend of late. The Cardinal have won five of the last six meetings in cluding a 41-0 thumping last season in Seattle. With Keith Price now leading the U of W ship with electric efficiency, the 2011 battle figures to be much closer. However, Stanford still has the nation’s best player and will be on The Farm for this one.
Athlon’s Prediction: Stanford by 13
28. Wake Forest vs. Clemson (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Clemson leads 58-17-1
Wake Forest has lost four of the last five against Clemson and has not won in Death Valley since 1998. However, the Demon Deacons, behind excellent quarterback play, have established themselves as the top challenger to Clemson in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a fourth win in six years over Florida State). One could easily make the case that Tanner Price and Boyd have been the two most important signal callers in the ACC this fall. On paper, the supporting cast for Clemson seems to be a major advantage, but this has been true of nearly every game Jim Grobe has coached at Wake Forest. The Deacs will not be intimidated by the hostile environment and NFL talent of the Clemson Tigers.
Athlon's Prediction: Clemson by 7
29. Notre Dame vs. Stanford (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 17-8
This game has a chance to dramatically impact the overall national title landscape in the penultimate week of the regular season. If things fall right for both, an at-large BCS bowl bid could be on the line. The Irish struggled out of the gate with turnovers but have righted the ship behind improved play by Tommy Rees. On the flip side, Andrew Luck has been as good as advertised and has the Cardinal destroying opponents by 34 points per game.
Athlon’s Prediction: Cardinal by 6
30. Miami vs. Florida State (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Miami leads 31-24
This series was dominated by Miami in the early 2000s, but Florida State has won four of the last six games. The Seminoles have lost the last two games in Tallahassee, including a 38-34 shootout in 2009. Florida State thoroughly handled the Hurricanes last year, winning 45-17, easily the most lopsided final in this series since a 47-0 win by the Seminoles in 1997. The Hurricanes have shown improvement under Al Golden and Jacory Harris is starting to look like an actual BCS quarterback. The Noles dealt with a brutal three-game winning streak but have gotten their swagger back with a dominating win over Duke. This game lacks the luster that the preseason rankings might have indicated, but the passion and intensity will be running high in Tallahassee when these two historic rivals get together.
Athlon’s Prediction: Seminoles by 7
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