By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Arkansas – In the SEC’s other top-10 showdown, the Razorbacks knocked off South Carolina 44-28. Arkansas is a quiet 8-1 and still has a chance to win the SEC West, especially with a shot at LSU in the regular season finale. The Razorbacks’ only loss of 2011 came to Alabama on Sept. 24.
Connecticut – The Huskies seem to be improving with each game. Connecticut won its second Big East contest of 2011 on Saturday, knocking off Syracuse 28-21. It’s unlikely the Huskies will repeat as Big East champions, but making a bowl is still within reach. Connecticut needs to win two out of its last three to get to the postseason – Louisville, Rutgers and at Cincinnati.
Florida State – The Seminoles have been on a tear the last four weeks, defeating Duke, Maryland, NC State and Boston College in easy fashion. And there’s a good chance Florida State can finish 9-3 with winnable games against Miami, Virginia and Florida remaining. Although Florida State won’t reach preseason expectations, this team is starting to come together – and that’s bad news for the rest of the ACC in 2012.
Iowa – One week after a head-scratching loss to Minnesota, the Hawkeyes rebounded with a 24-16 victory over Michigan. The win over the Wolverines put the Hawkeyes back in the Legends Division race, especially with games against Nebraska and Michigan State remaining. Coach Kirk Ferentz took a lot of heat for the loss to the Golden Gophers, but deserves a ton of credit for rallying his team for a key win over Michigan.
LSU – It wasn’t pretty, but all that matters is the Tigers scored a 9-6 victory against Alabama and is squarely in the driver’s seat for a spot in the national title. LSU’s defense held Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson to only 89 rushing yards and came up with two timely turnovers. The Tigers scored easily the biggest win of the weekend and barring a surprising upset, appear to be set for a date in the national title on Jan 9.
Louisville – The Cardinals had one of the youngest teams in the Big East this season, so it’s no surprise they got off to a slow start. However, it’s somewhat of a surprise Louisville has come together this fast. The Cardinals have won three in a row, including a 38-35 upset over West Virginia on Saturday. With Pittsburgh, Connecticut and South Florida remaining, Louisville could finish 8-4.
NC State – It was an entertaining rivalry week between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels, as the two coaches Tom O’Brien (NC State) and Everett Withers (North Carolina) traded jabs, which added a little more spice to Saturday’s game. O’Brien’s ownership of the Tar Heels continued with a 13-0 victory. The Wolfpack still need two wins to get bowl eligible, but five straight victories over their rival is certainly something they can hang their hat on.
Northwestern – The Wildcats seem to pull off an unexpected victory every year and 2011 is no different. Northwestern won 28-25 against Nebraska, improving its record to 4-5 this season. Even with quarterback Dan Persa sidelined with a shoulder injury, the offense continued to click behind Kain Colter. Also, a Wildcats’ defense has struggled all year made some key stops in the victory. With Rice and Minnesota in the next two weeks, Northwestern should be able to get to six wins and return to the postseason.
Oklahoma State – Another week, another victory for the Cowboys. With three games remaining, Oklahoma State is in full control for a spot in the national title game. The Cowboys needed a last-second defensive stand to beat Kansas State, but getting a victory is all that matters. Oklahoma State is on the road the next two weeks, taking on Texas Tech and Iowa State.
Oregon – Since losing to LSU in the season opener, the Ducks have been a little off the national radar. However, Oregon has handled its business, which included a huge 34-17 win over Washington on Saturday. The Ducks are now 8-1 and have a chance to stake their claim for the Pac-12 North title with a win over Stanford next Saturday.
Southern Miss – Houston and Boise State have been getting most of the attention of the non-BCS teams, but it’s time to give some credit to the Golden Eagles. Southern Mississippi’s only loss was in Week 2 to Marshall, and it has solid victories over Virginia, and SMU during this seven-game winning streak. With UCF, UAB and Memphis to close out the regular season, there’s a good chance the Golden Eagles finish 11-1.
Texas – After last season’s debacle, it’s worth noting Texas is bowl eligible after Saturday’s 52-20 win against Texas Tech. Although the Longhorns expect to compete for national titles, coach Mack Brown has a young team back on the rise. Could the Longhorns run the table the rest of the way? It won’t be easy – at Missouri, Kansas State, at Texas A&M and at Baylor – but this team will be dangerous in the final weeks of 2011.
Tulsa – The Golden Hurricane had one of the most brutal schedules in college football to open 2011. They faced Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State and got off to a 1-3 start. However, Tulsa has won five in a row, including Thursday night’s victory over UCF. Assuming the Golden Hurricane can beat Marshall and UTEP, they will setup a huge showdown with Houston on Nov. 25 for the Conference USA West Division title.
UCLA – Not many would have expected the Bruins to make this list after a 48-12 defeat in Arizona on Oct. 20. However, UCLA scored a huge win over Arizona State on Saturday, and believe it or not, controls its destiny in the South. The Bruins still need to win their final three games – at Utah, Colorado and at USC – which is no guarantee. However, UCLA should be able to win at least one of those contests and get bowl eligible. Is that enough to save coach Rick Neuheisel’s job?
USC – Due to NCAA sanctions, the Trojans are ineligible to play in the postseason. And that’s really a shame considering USC is 7-2 and just behind Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State in the conference pecking order. The Trojans demolished Colorado 42-17 on Friday night and will close the year with Washington, Oregon and UCLA. Considering the upcoming matchups, USC is going to play a key role in the Pac-12 race over the final weeks of 2011.
Virginia – Coach Mike London has done a solid job in a short time in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers earned their sixth win in 2011 by beating Maryland 31-13. With the victory over the Terrapins, Virginia is now bowl eligible and should make an appearance in the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers have earned a mention in this column over the past few weeks, but with a five-game winning streak, we have to give them another tip of the cap. Western Kentucky defeated FIU 10-9 on Saturday, which moved it over .500 for the first time since 2007.
Alabama – The Crimson Tide weren’t exactly outplayed by LSU, but they came up short on the scoreboard. And in the end, that’s all that matters. Alabama needs a lot of help to get back to the SEC title, but could rematch with LSU in the national championship. For now, getting knocked out of the national title game, is enough to put Alabama in this category.
Arizona State – Considering how UCLA has played this year, there was really no excuse for the Sun Devils to lose on Saturday. However, Arizona State was unable to tighten its grip on the Pac-12 South, and now has to hope for the Bruins to lose one of their final three conference games. The Sun Devils are back in action this Saturday at Washington State.
FAU – The Owls remained winless thanks to a 39-21 loss to Arkansas State on Saturday. FAU is 0-8 with four games remaining.
Nebraska – One week after beating Michigan State to take control of the Legends Division, the Cornhuskers suffered a disappointing 28-25 loss to Northwestern. Running back Rex Burkhead was held in check, posting only 69 yards on 22 attempts. The defense had no answer for Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who also saw some action at receiver. With Penn State, Michigan and Iowa remaining, Nebraska won’t have any easy close to 2011.
New Mexico – Just like FAU, the Lobos make this section due to their winless record (0-9). New Mexico’s best shot at a win this year will be this Saturday, as UNLV visits Albuquerque.
Ole Miss – Tick tick tick. The clock is about to run out on the Houston Nutt era in Oxford, and Saturday’s 30-13 loss to Kentucky certainly didn’t appease an angry fanbase. The Rebels have not won a SEC game since Oct. 2, 2010. Ole Miss closes out 2011 with home dates against Louisiana Tech and LSU, followed by the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State.
South Carolina – Due to Saturday’s 44-28 loss to Arkansas, the Gamecocks are no longer in control of the SEC East. Without running back Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina has struggled to get much going on offense over the last two games. And the offense could be without quarterback Connor Shaw next Saturday, after he suffered a concussion late in the fourth quarter against the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks could still finish with eight or nine wins, but their hopes of repeating as SEC East champs are hanging by a thread.
South Florida – The Bulls have been a frequent visitor to this section throughout the last few month South Florida lost its fourth game in a row, dropping a 20-17 overtime contest to Rutgers on Saturday night. The Bulls are the only team in the Big East without a conference win. Thanks to the four-game losing streak, it’s no guarantee South Florida will make a bowl. With Syracuse, Miami, Louisville and West Virginia remaining, getting to six wins is going to be difficult.
Tim Beckman, Toledo – Tuesday night’s MAC shootout between Toledo and Northern Illinois was entertaining, but Beckman may have cost his team a chance to win by not using his timeouts in the final minute. The Rockets are still in good shape to make a bowl appearance, but needs some help to win the MAC West.
Looking Ahead to Week 11
A small sample of what’s ahead
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Thursday)
Hokies can take a big step towards claiming Coastal title with a win in Atlanta.
Auburn at Georgia
Loss by South Carolina puts Bulldogs in driver’s seat for SEC East title.
Miami at Florida State
Not a top-10 matchup, but still one of the top rivalry games in the nation.
Nebraska at Penn State
Can the Nittany Lions hang on the Leaders Division?
Wake Forest at Clemson
Tigers will clinch ACC Atlantic with a win over Demon Deacons.
Florida at South Carolina
Gamecocks need a win to keep the pressure on Georgia in the SEC East.
West Virginia at Cincinnati
Key battle for Big East supremacy.
Michigan State at Iowa
Hawkeyes can take control of Legends Division with a win over the Spartans.
Michigan at Illinois
Can the Wolverines bounce back after a last week’s loss at Iowa?
Texas at Missouri
With the Tigers moving to the SEC, who knows when these two teams will play again.
Texas A&M at Kansas State
Are the Aggies one of the most disappointing teams in the nation?
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
With a spot in the national title in range, every week is a must-win for the Pokes.
UCLA at Utah
Might be hard to believe, but this is an important game in the Pac-12 South.
Oregon at Stanford
Ducks can derail Stanford’s national title hopes with a victory on the Farm.
Washington at USC
No Pac-12 title implications, but a battle of former Pete Carroll assistants (Sarkisian and Kiffin).
TCU at Boise State
Are the Horned Frogs the final hurdle to an undefeated season in Boise?
Injuries from Week 10
Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick (shoulder) – questionable for Week 11
Boise State RB Doug Martin (leg) – probable for Week 11
Boise State DT Billy Winn (undisclosed) – probable for Week 11
Florida QB John Brantley (shoulder/hand) – questionable for Week 11
Hawaii WR Royce Pollard (leg) – questionable for Week 11
NC State OT R.J. Mattes (ankle) – questionable for Week 11
New Mexico State QB Matt Christian (undisclosed) – questionable for Week 11
North Carolina QB Bryn Renner (concussion) – probable for Week 12
Northwestern QB Dan Persa (shoulder) – questionable for Week 11
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles (torn ACL) – out for the remainder of 2011
Rutgers RB Savon Huggins (knee) – questionable for Week 11
South Carolina QB Connor Shaw (concussion) – questionable for Week 11
Stanford WR Chris Owusu (concussion) – questionable for Week 11
Stanford TE Levine Toilolo (undisclosed) – questionable for Week 11
Texas A&M RB Christine Michael (sprained knee) – questionable for Week 11
Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton (undisclosed) – likely out for Week 11
Wisconsin S Aaron Henry (ankle) – questionable for Week 11
Wyoming QB Brett Smith (undisclosed) – probable for Week 11