By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 14
1. When commissioner Larry Scott envisioned the first Pac-12 title game, a 6-6 UCLA team is probably not what he had in mind. However, that’s the predicament the conference is in, thanks to USC’s probation and Utah’s loss to Colorado last Friday. The 6-6 finish cost coach Rick Neuheisel his job, and the Pac-12 title game will be his last on the UCLA sideline. The Bruins are heavy underdogs and with nothing to lose, will throw everything they have at the Ducks. Could we see Neuheisel and his staff empty the bag of trick plays? But will it even make a difference? UCLA has lost four out of the last five matchups to Oregon, including a 60-13 meeting in Eugene last season. The Bruins rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in rush defense and will have their hands full trying to stop the Ducks’ big-play rushing attack. Unless UCLA is able to force a couple of turnovers and find a way to keep Oregon’s offense off the field, all signs point to a big mismatch on Friday night in Eugene.
2. Friday night’s viewing menu consists of only two games: UCLA-Oregon and the MAC title game between Northern Illinois and Ohio. This is the first meeting between the Huskies and Bobcats in the MAC Championship. Ohio has won five out of the last six matchups during the regular season between these two teams, including a 38-31 shootout in 2009. The Huskies finished the regular season ninth in scoring offense and have one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks calling the shots in senior Chandler Harnish. He ranks seventh nationally in total offense per game and has reached the endzone 34 times this season. The Bobcats also have their own interesting story at quarterback, as Tyler Tettleton is the son of former Major League Baseball player Mickey Tettleton. The Huskies averaged 39.6 points a game this season, but face a tough Ohio defense that is allowing just 22 points a game. Although the MAC title game is often lost in the shuffle with other championship matchups, this one should be more entertaining than the Oregon-UCLA matchup on Friday night.
3. With West Virginia’s win over South Florida on Thursday night, there is finally clarity to the Big East title race. If Cincinnati beats Connecticut on Saturday, the Mountaineers will win the conference title. If the Bearcats lose, Louisville will get the conference’s automatic BCS bid, thanks to a victory over the Mountaineers earlier this season. The Big East has been a punching bag for critics all year, but the race has been one of the more interesting battles to watch in November. And with West Virginia headed to the Big 12, this should be Louisville’s conference to win in 2012. The Cardinals are loaded with young talent, and coach Charlie Strong is the top coach in the conference.
4. After knocking off Tulsa 48-16 and clinching the Conference USA West Division title last Friday, the stakes are even higher for Houston this Saturday. With a win over Southern Miss, Houston will strengthen its hold for an at-large spot into a BCS game. The Golden Eagles won’t be an easy out, as they enter this game 10-2 and defeated Virginia 30-24 on the road earlier this year. These two teams have met once before in the Conference USA title game, with Houston winning 34-20 over Southern Miss in 2006. The Golden Eagles knocked off the Cougars 59-41 last season, but Houston quarterback Case Keenum was out due to a knee injury. These two teams lead Conference USA in scoring offense, so there should be no shortage of points. And there’s been plenty of speculation surrounding the future of both coaches – Larry Fedora (USM) and Kevin Sumlin (Houston) – as they have been mentioned in searches at Ole Miss, Kansas, Arizona State, Texas A&M, North Carolina and UCLA. With a large payout ahead if it can make a BCS bowl, this is one of the most important games in Houston football history.
5. With Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Alabama’s Trent Richardson finished for the regular season, Baylor’s Robert Griffin has one more chance to make a Heisman statement. Griffin missed the second half of last week’s victory against Texas Tech with a concussion, but is expected to start on Saturday. In addition to a Heisman statement, Griffin has a chance to elevate the Baylor program another notch. With a victory over the Longhorns, the Bears will have their first nine-win season since 1986. Texas is coming off a huge 27-25 victory over rival Texas A&M, but could be in trouble if its offense continues to sputter. The Longhorns should be able to take advantage of their rushing attack against a porous Baylor rush defense. Texas’ best shot at winning rests with controlling the clock and keeping Griffin and his receivers on the sideline. With Texas visiting Waco, a chance to earn six Big 12 victories for the first time in school history and an opportunity for Griffin to boost his Heisman hopes, this has to be one of the most important games for Baylor under coach Art Briles.
6. Barring an unexpected change in the polls, all signs point to a LSU-Alabama rematch in the national title. The Crimson Tide finished their regular season with a win over Auburn last week, but the Tigers still have one more game remaining, playing in the SEC title game against Georgia. Since starting the season 0-2, the Bulldogs have been on a roll. They have won 10 in a row, rank fifth nationally in total defense and quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown 14 touchdown passes in his last four games. These two teams have met twice in the SEC Championship, with each winning once. Although LSU won in Athens last season, Georgia has won three out of the last four in this series. Any chance the Bulldogs have of pulling the upset rests with the health of running back Isaiah Crowell. The freshman injured his ankle in the win over Kentucky and did not play against Georgia Tech. If Crowell is able to play, it will give Georgia’s offense some much-needed balance. With a spot in the national title game likely assured, will LSU suffer a letdown? The Bulldogs are a dangerous opponent and will give the Tigers all they can handle.
7. Round two of Clemson-Virginia Tech matchup could look a lot different than how the first game played out in early October. The Tigers won 23-3 in Blacksburg, but a lot has changed since that meeting. The Hokies are a different team, largely due to the progress made by quarterback Logan Thomas. Since the loss to Clemson, the sophomore has thrown 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Tigers have also cooled after their 8-0 start, winning only one out of their last three games. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has struggled recently as well, throwing seven interceptions over his last four games. The problems for the Tigers aren’t limited just to offense, especially with a defense that is allowing 186.5 rushing yards a game. With Thomas getting better each week, combined with running back David Wilson’s rushing, the Hokies should win their third ACC Championship in four seasons.
8. With Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State and Oklahoma’s defeat to Baylor, the Bedlam series lost a bit of its national appeal. There is still plenty on the line on Saturday night, as the winner of this game will claim the Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys have not played since their 37-31 loss to Iowa State, while the Sooners bounced back with a victory over the Cyclones last week. Oklahoma State has not defeated Oklahoma since 2002, but due to realignment in the Big 12, will get a shot at the Sooners for the second year in a row in Stillwater. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has not thrown a touchdown pass in his last two games, largely due to the absence of receiver Ryan Broyles. The Sooners need Jones and his receiving corps to step up on Saturday night, especially with a high-powered Oklahoma State attack on the other sideline. Even though the possibility of a national championship berth is likely gone, the Cowboys have plenty of motivation to end an eight-game losing streak to Oklahoma and make their first trip to a BCS bowl.
9. Championship Saturday brings two rematches from the regular season. Clemson and Virginia Tech are set to square off in Charlotte, but the Wisconsin-Michigan State rematch is surrounded more by intrigue. The first meeting was decided on a Hail Mary pass and it will be hard to beat that on Saturday night. However, the first Big Ten title game should be one of Week 14’s most competitive matchups. Wisconsin’s offense leads the Big Ten with 477.1 yards per game, but Michigan State ranks third nationally in total defense. The Badgers could get some good news on their offensive line this week, as center Peter Konz is close to returning from an ankle injury. Getting Konz back into the lineup would be huge, especially against a Spartans’ defensive line that has recorded 37 sacks this season. Winning the battle in the trenches is going to be critical to winning this game. If the Badgers can get their rushing game on track, they should get revenge for the loss in East Lansing earlier this year. However, if the Spartans control the line of scrimmage, the rematch swings in favor of a Michigan State victory.
10. Most of the news surrounding Hawaii this season has not been positive. Allegations of point shaving, a coach on the hot seat and an injury to quarterback Bryant Moniz have made it a disappointing season in Honolulu. The Warriors need one more win to get bowl eligible, but it won’t be easy with BYU visiting Aloha Stadium on Saturday night. These two teams are old WAC rivals, but this is the first matchup since 2002. The Cougars are expected to have quarterback Riley Nelson back in the lineup after missing a game due to lung and cartilage damage suffered in the victory over Idaho. Hawaii considers BYU one of its biggest rivals, and a win on Saturday night could help save Greg McMackin’s job, while getting the Warriors bowl eligible.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 14 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Northern Illinois 34, Ohio 31
Oregon 48, UCLA 17
Cincinnati 31, Connecticut 20
Pittsburgh 27, Syracuse 20
Kansas State 34, Iowa State 20
Oklahoma State 34, Oklahoma 31
Baylor 27, Texas 24
BYU 30, Hawaii 24
Houston 45, Southern Miss 31
LSU 27, Georgia 17
Virginia Tech 31, Clemson 20
Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 24
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 14
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Where does Randy Edsall and Maryland go after an awful 2011 season?
The Miami Herald does a good job breaking down Miami's 2011 season.
Should the Sooners slow down their offensive tempo for Saturday's game against Oklahoma State?
A bye week came at a perfect time for Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.
In order for Clemson to win the ACC title, it needs quarterback Tajh Boyd to get back on track.
Two Floida players are planning to transfer at the end of the semester. Since April, 11 players have decided to transfer from Gainesville.
Junior college players have played a key role in Kansas State's success this season.