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.
Clemson – The Tigers had their national title hopes end with a 31-17 loss to Georgia Tech in Week 9, but rebounded with a 31-28 victory over Wake Forest. With the win over the Demon Deacons, Clemson has clinched an appearance in the ACC title game. This will be the Tigers' second appearance in the ACC Championship under coach Dabo Swinney. Not bad for a guy that was on the hot seat entering 2011.
Georgia – One more win. That’s all the Bulldogs need to clinch the SEC East. Georgia took a big step towards claiming the division by thumping Auburn 45-7 on Saturday. Quarterback Aaron Murray torched the Tigers’ secondary, throwing for 224 yards and four touchdowns. Considering Kentucky is 4-6 and has only one win in SEC play (Ole Miss), the Bulldogs will be heavily favored for Saturday’s game.
Houston – The Cougars recorded an easy 73-17 victory against Tulane on Thursday night to move to 10-0 this season. However, beating an awful Tulane team is not why Houston makes the winner’s section. Thanks to TCU’s win over Boise State, the Cougars are in the driver’s seat for a spot in one of the BCS bowls. Houston has two regular season games remaining, and if it wins both, will likely face Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game. While the path is favorable, the Cougars still have work to do in order to make their first BCS bowl appearance.
Kansas State – Even with losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Wildcats are one of the most surprising teams in college football this season. Kansas State survived four overtimes to knock off Texas A&M, which improved its overall record to 8-2. Quarterback Collin Klein is not getting enough credit nationally for his season, posting 34 overall touchdowns and 2,513 yards. With Texas and Iowa State remaining, the Wildcats could finish 10-2 and play in the Cotton Bowl. Not a bad outcome for a team picked near the bottom of the Big 12.
Michigan State – The Spartans are in full control of the Big Ten Legends Division. With a 37-21 victory over Iowa on Saturday, Michigan State crossed a major hurdle to clinching a spot in the first Big Ten title game. The Spartans close out the year with favorable matchups against Indiana and Northwestern. Considering the upcoming schedule, it would be a shock if Michigan State loses another game in the regular season.
Missouri – Losing running back Henry Josey for the rest of the year was a big blow to the Tigers’ offense, but it doesn’t take anything away from a solid 17-5 victory over Texas. Missouri’s defense held the Longhorns to only 247 yards and moved within one win of getting bowl eligible. The Tigers face Texas Tech this Saturday, before closing out the regular season with a matchup against Kansas.
Oregon – The Ducks have been off the national radar since a loss to LSU in the season opener, but Saturday’s 53-30 win over Stanford has this team back in the mix for a national title. Running back LaMichael James torched the Cardinal for 146 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense forced five turnovers and held Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to 99 yards. Oregon has a tough matchup against USC this Saturday, but is one win away from clinching the Pac-12 North title. The Ducks need some help, but don’t count them out in the national title picture.
Purdue – I’m still skeptical of coach Danny Hope’s long-term future with the Boilermakers, but getting a 26-23 victory over Ohio State should ease the pressure on his hot seat. The offense got a spark from quarterback Robert Marve, who scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime, while passing for 94 yards on 10 completions. The defense also chipped in with a solid effort, limiting the Buckeyes to only 163 yards. And the win over the Buckeyes moved Purdue within one game of getting bowl eligible. The Boilermakers host Iowa this Saturday, before finishing the regular season with a date against rival Indiana.
TCU – The Horned Frogs gave the Mountain West a final parting shot on Saturday, knocking off Boise State 36-35 and moving into the driver’s seat for the conference title. Quarterback Casey Pachall torched an injury-riddled secondary, throwing for 473 yards and five touchdowns. The Horned Frogs’ defense also made a couple of key plays, including a forcing a fumble with less than three minutes remaining. With Colorado State and UNLV left on the schedule, TCU should finish 10-2 and close out its tenure in the Mountain West with a conference title.
USC – If quarterback Matt Barkley and tackle Matt Kalil return for 2012, this is going to be an interesting team to watch in the preseason polls. The Trojans knocked off Washington 40-17 on Saturday, which moved their record to 8-2 this season. It’s pretty clear USC is the best team in the Pac-12 South, and it’s a shame it can’t play for the conference title this year.
Utah – The Utes kept their Pac-12 South title hopes alive with a 31-6 victory over UCLA on Saturday. A season-ending injury to quarterback Jordan Wynn has limited the offense over the last few weeks, but running back John White and defense has carried the team. White gashed the Bruins for 167 yards and two touchdowns, which gave him 1,191 yards for the season. The Utes play at Washington State this Saturday.
Washington State – Coach Paul Wulff’s future is still up in the air, but he’s making a strong case to return to Pullman for 2012. The Cougars earned their second Pac-12 victory this season, defeating Arizona State 37-27. Redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday turned in one of the top passing performances of Pac-12 play this year, throwing for 494 yards and four touchdowns. With two games left, don’t count out the Cougars from getting to a bowl. Beating Utah and Washington won’t be easy, but if Halliday picks up where he left off against the Sun Devils, anything is possible.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers were in danger of slipping out of the Big East title race, but Saturday’s 24-21 victory over Cincinnati keeps their hopes alive for another week. West Virginia still needs help to claim the top spot, but beating the Bearcats was a step in the right direction. The play of the offensive line and defense will be a concern the rest of the year, but with Cincinnati losing quarterback Zach Collaros for the remainder of the season, the Big East could be up for grabs.
Arizona State – Two weeks ago, the Sun Devils appeared to be in full control of the Pac-12 South Division. After back-to-back losses, Arizona State’s grip on the South is no more. The Sun Devils were upset 37-27 at Washington State on Saturday night, which dropped their record to 6-4. Arizona State still has the inside track on playing for the conference title, as UCLA still has to win at USC to claim the South.
Boise State – One loss doesn’t spoil a run like the Broncos have put together in recent seasons. But it’s certainly disappointing that a missed field goal will change Boise State’s 2011 campaign. The Broncos dropped their first regular season home game since 2001, losing 36-35 to TCU. Although Boise State should finish with an 11-1 record, it is likely to miss out on a BCS berth for the second season in a row.
Cincinnati – The Bearcats still have a one-game lead in the Big East, but losing to West Virginia 24-21 on Saturday was a costly defeat. Quarterback Zach Collaros is out for the rest of the regular season with a fractured ankle, which leaves Munchie Legaux as the starter. Cincinnati has three regular season contests remaining – at Rutgers, at Syracuse and home against Connecticut – and can’t afford another defeat. Without Collaros, finishing the season without a loss in the final three games won’t be easy.
FAU – With New Mexico’s victory over UNLV, the Owls are the only winless team in college football.
Illinois – The Fighting Illini have been on a slide since beginning the year 6-0. Illinois’ suffered its fourth straight defeat, losing 31-14 to Michigan on Saturday. The offense has been an issue over the last four games, as the Fighting Illini has not scored more than 14 points since Oct. 8 against Indiana. With Wisconsin coming to Champaign this week, Illinois could be 6-5 before the season finale against Minnesota.
NC State – One week after thumping rival North Carolina, the Wolfpack slumped to a 14-10 loss to Boston College. The defeat was particularly damaging to NC State’s bowl hopes, as it still needs two wins to get eligible and face Clemson and Maryland to close out the season. Will coach Tom O’Brien return next season? Although the Wolfpack has been hit hard by injuries, finishing with a 6-6 record and no bowl game is not going to sit well in Raleigh.
Ohio State – The Buckeyes appeared to be headed in the right direction coming into Week 11, as they had three straight wins and was in the mix to win the Leaders Division. Not anymore. Ohio State suffered a disappointing 26-23 overtime loss to Purdue, which dropped its record to 6-4 this year. The Buckeyes have to face Penn State and Michigan to close out the year, so there are no guaranteed victories remaining on the schedule. Although Luke Fickell deserved a lot of credit for leading this team to a victory over the Badgers, a sluggish performance against the Boilermakers certainly raises more questions about his future.
Ole Miss – A bad week for the Rebels got worse on Saturday night. Coach Houston Nutt was fired on Monday, and Ole Miss followed that up with a lethargic performance in a 27-7 loss to Louisiana Tech. The Rebels have not recorded a victory since beating Fresno State 38-28 on Oct. 1. With LSU and Mississippi State remaining, Ole Miss appears headed for a 2-10 record.
Stanford – The Cardinal watched their national title hopes end with a 53-30 defeat to Oregon on Saturday night. The lack of game changers at receiver showed against the Ducks, with quarterback Andrew Luck struggling to hit plays downfield all night. Oregon’s defensive front was also a handful for Stanford’s offensive line. Although the Cardinal is out of the national title picture, there is still plenty to play for. If Stanford wins against California and Notre Dame, it should reach a BCS game.
Texas A&M – We will have to wait until the end of the season to sort out the biggest disappointment of 2011, but it’s fairly certain the Aggies will be near the top of the list. Texas A&M began the season as a preseason top-10 team, but Saturday’s defeat to Kansas State dropped it to 5-5. The Aggies should get bowl eligible with a win over Kansas this Saturday. However, finishing 6-6 or 7-5 is not what most had in mind coming into 2011. Considering the disappointing season, could the Aggies replace coach Mike Sherman?
UNLV – When you lose to New Mexico, it’s an automatic mention into this space.
Looking Ahead to Week 12
A small sample of what’s ahead
North Carolina at Virginia Tech (Thursday)
Hokies can clinch Coastal Division with a win over Tar Heels and loss by Virginia against Florida State.
Oklahoma State at Iowa State (Friday)
Cowboys should win, but have to be careful not to look ahead to Bedlam.
Penn State at Ohio State
A big game for positioning in the Leaders Division.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Can the Commodores get bowl eligible in Knoxville?
Miami at South Florida
Bragging rights in the Sunshine State on the line, and the winner gets bowl eligible.
Virginia at Florida State
Seminoles on a roll, but Cavaliers are a dangerous team.
Nebraska at Michigan
Both teams looking up at Michigan State in the Legends Division race.
Kentucky at Georgia
Mission for Bulldogs is simple: Win and clinch the SEC East title.
Cincinnati at Rutgers
Without Zach Collaros, can the Bearcats hang onto their lead in the Big East?
Oklahoma at Baylor
Bears have no trouble lighting up the scoreboard, but can they slow down Oklahoma?
Wisconsin at Illinois
Badgers still lurking in the Big Ten race, but have to win out to have a chance.
USC at Oregon
Light schedule makes this matchup the game of the week.
Injuries from Week 11
Air Force QB Tim Jefferson (concussion) – questionable for Week 12
BYU QB Riley Nelson (broken rib) – out Week 12
Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros (ankle) – out for the remainder of the regular season
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins (shoulder) – probable for Week 12
Clemson OT Phillip Price (knee) – likely out 2 weeks
Colorado State QB Pete Thomas (knee) – questionable for Week 12
Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes (back) – questionable for Week 12
Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz (broken ankle) – out for remainder of season
Marshall QB A.J. Graham (shoulder) – questionable for Week 12
Maryland QB Danny O’Brien (arm) – out for the remainder of 2011
Michigan QB Denard Robinson (wrist) – probable for Week 12
Missouri RB Henry Josey (knee) – out for the remainder of 2011
North Texas RB Lance Dunbar (knee) – questionable for Week 12
Ohio State LB Andrew Sweat (concussion) – questionable for Week 12
Texas RB Fozzy Whittaker (knee) – out for the remainder of 2011
Texas LB Keenan Robinson (thumb) – questionable for Week 12
USC S T.J. McDonald (concussion) – questionable for Week 12
Washington QB Keith Price (knee) – probable for Week 12
Wisconsin C Peter Konz (ankle) – out 2 to 4 weeks