2011 NCAA College Football – Week 14 Preview
As we enter the final week of college football’s regular season, we already have a good idea of what the national championship game will look like. Barring a colossal upset in the SEC title game and a whole lot of poll voters changing their minds and moving Oklahoma State up, LSU and Alabama will play a rematch of their earlier overtime game in the BCS National Championship. After the title game, however, there is still a lot of drama to play out with a variety of conference championships, BCS bids and bowl games on the line. Here are all the highlights from this week in the AP Top 25.
#12 Georgia (10-2) vs. #1 Louisiana State (12-0)
[SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 4:00 PM ET on CBS]
According to the computer experts, this game doesn’t matter: even if LSU loses, they will not drop out of the national championship game. But don’t think for a minute this is not a point of pride for LSU. Despite all his successes, coach Les Miles has never had an undefeated season. Even his one national championship carried an asterisk, as the 2007 Tigers were the only team to win a title with two losses. LSU is 12-0 for the first time in school history and has beaten seven ranked teams. The Tigers know they are two wins away from one of the most impressive college football seasons in recent memory. But standing in their way is a Georgia team that has won 10 games in a row, its longest winning streak since 1982. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray has been playing as well as any quarterback in America down the stretch, throwing 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his last six games. But this will be his toughest challenge of the year, going against an LSU defense that ranks second in the country in total defense and scoring defense. The LSU secondary has scored as many defensive touchdowns this season — six — as passing touchdowns it has allowed.
#13 Oklahoma (9-2) at #3 Oklahoma State (10-1)
[Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]
Two weeks ago, this looked like a play-in game for the national championship. But after upset losses to Iowa State and Baylor, both teams are likely out of the title hunt. However, there is still a lot on the line, including a Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, not to mention bragging rights in a heated in-state rivalry. Both teams have been involved in high-scoring shootouts this season, and this could be another. The two teams both feature powerful offenses (Oklahoma State ranks third in total offense and second in scoring; the Sooners rank fourth and eighth, respectively) but defenses that have been susceptible to big plays. The Cowboys have already secured their first shared conference title since 1976, but could win their first-ever outright conference championship with a win over Oklahoma. The Sooners have won nine straight games in this lopsided series.
#5 Virginia Tech (11-1) vs. #21 Clemson (9-3)
[ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]
Clemson handed the Hokies their only loss of the season, 23-3, back in October 1. However, these are two very different teams than when they met the first time. After tearing through the ACC during the first two months of the season, the Tigers have lost three of their last four, including their last two by 21-plus points. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was putting up Heisman numbers earlier in the year, but has fallen off dramatically in recent weeks and was held to just 11 of 29 for 83 yards in last week’s loss to South Carolina. On the other side, Virginia Tech has won seven in a row, most recently shutting out in-state rival Virginia, 38-0, while getting four sacks, forcing four turnovers and holding the Cavaliers to just 30 rushing yards. Hokies running back David Wilson ranks third in the nation in rushing and has rushed for at least 120 yards in all but two games this season. During the current seven-game winning streak, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has scored 25 touchdowns (14 passing, nine rushing).
#24 Southern Miss (10-2) vs. #7 Houston (12-0)
[CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 12:00 PM ET on ABC]
With the nation’s top-ranked offense and a Heisman candidate under center, the Houston Cougars are poised to make history with the school’s first undefeated season and BCS bowl bid. But they’ll first have to get past a Southern Miss team that is also enjoying one of its best seasons in school history. The Golden Eagles have won nine of their last 10 games and have given up fewer than 20 points in each of their last four. However, they’ll face their toughest challenge yet, going against Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who has rewritten the NCAA record books. He now holds the FBS records for passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense. Southern Miss has lost three in a row at Houston.
UCLA (6-6) at #8 Oregon (10-2)
[PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Friday, Dec. 2 at 8:00 PM ET on Fox]
Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel was fired after last week’s shutout loss to USC and will be on the UCLA sideline for the last time as the Bruins play a “Rose Bowl or Bust” game against the heavily favored Oregon Ducks in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship game. Because USC was ineligible due to NCAA probation, UCLA technically won the Pac-12 South at 6-6. However, that leaves them in a precarious position: unless they pull off the upset and win the Pac-12’s automatic bid to the Rose Bowl, they will require a special waiver by the NCAA to play in a bowl game. After losing 50-0 to USC last week, the Bruins might have an even tougher challenge slowing down an Oregon offensive attach that ranks sixth nationally in total offense, fifth in passing and third in scoring. Ducks running back LaMichael James, the nation’s leading rusher, left last week’s game with an elbow injury, but is expected to be ready to go Friday night at Autzen Stadium, where Oregon has won 22 of its last 23 contests.
New Mexico (1-10) at #9 Boise State (10-1)
[Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6:00 PM ET on Mountain West Sports Network]
New Mexico got its first win of the season two weeks ago, but getting a second will be significantly tougher against a Boise State team still holding out hope for an at-large BCS bid. Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore, the NCAA’s all-time leader in wins (48), will be playing his final home game on the blue turf and doesn’t look to go out with a loss. The Broncos rank 11th in the nation in total offense and sixth in scoring. While everyone knew about Moore’s passing ability, the Boise State offense has been bolstered this year by the emergence of senior running back Doug Martin, who has gone over 100 all-purpose yards seven times this year and had five multiple-touchdown games.
#15 Wisconsin (10-2) vs. #11 Michigan State (10-2)
[BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:17 PM ET on Fox]
The regular season matchup between these two programs was one of the most exciting games of the season, decided on a last second Hail Mary that was only ruled a Spartans touchdown after instant replay. This game could be equally close, as both teams are riding hot streaks into the inaugural Big Ten Championship game. While Michigan State’s defense has carried the team much of the year (ranked third nationally in total defense and sixth in scoring defense), the offense has found a higher gear in recent weeks, as well. Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown 10 touchdown passes and just one interception during the Spartans’ current four-game win streak. During that stretch, Michigan State is averaging over 423 yards and 38 points per game. However, they’ll be going against one of more prolific offenses in the country. Wisconsin, which is also riding a four-game winning streak, ranks fourth nationally in scoring behind running back Montee Ball’s Big Ten record 34 touchdowns. He is five scores away from tying Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season touchdown record (although, to be fair, Sanders did it in 11 games). A Wisconsin win would send the Badgers to the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row, while the Spartans are seeking their first Rose Bowl bid since 1988.
Iowa State (6-5) at #16 Kansas State (9-2)
[Saturday, Dec. 3 at 12:30 PM on Fox Sports Net]
The Wildcats need some help from Oklahoma, but they can still clinch a share of their first Big 12 title since 2003 and hold out hope for an at-large BCS bid with a win over Iowa State. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein has scored 25 rushing touchdowns this season, and needs just three more to break the Big 12 single-season mark set by Heisman winner Ricky Williams in 1998 and the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (set by Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs in 2009). He should have a shot at those records against an Iowa State defense that ranks 98th against the rush and has given up 200 rushing yards five times this season. The Cyclones were held to just 245 total yards and turned the ball over four times in last week’s loss at Oklahoma.
UNLV (2-9) at #18 Texas Christian (9-2)
[Saturday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 PM ET on Versus]
With a win this week, Texas Christian will wrap up an outright Mountain West Conference title in the Horned Frogs last year in the league. They should have little problem against one of the worst offenses in college football. UNLV ranks 114th in total offense and 110th in scoring. Unfortunately, the Rebels are not much better on the other side of the ball, ranking 117th in scoring defense. In their nine losses, their average margin of defeat has been over 23 points per game. After being upset in week one by Baylor, TCU has steadily improved this season and is currently on a six-game winning streak, which includes a road win over then-#5 Boise State. The TCU offense ranks 10th in the nation in scoring and the defense, while not as stout as last year’s top-ranked unit, has held four of its last six opponents to 20 or fewer points. The Horned Frogs have won a conference-record 16 straight home games, while UNLV is riding a 15-game road losing streak. TCU has won eight in a row against UNLV.
Texas (7-4) at #19 Baylor (8-3)
[Saturday, Dec. 3 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC]
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was knocked out last week’s win over Texas Tech with an apparent concussion, but is expected to be ready to take on the Longhorns in his final home game for the Bears. This will be Griffin’s last chance to bolster his Heisman campaign. Prior to last week’s injury-shortened stint, the Baylor signal caller had put up 400 all-purpose yards in each of his previous five games. He has scored three or more touchdowns in nine of 11 games this season. However, Texas’ defense will present his toughest challenge yet — the Longhorns rank first in the Big 12, and top 10 nationally, in all major defensive categories. After a season of musical quarterbacks, Texas is expected to go with Case McCoy again this week after he helped lead a come-from-behind win over Texas A&M.
#22 West Virginia (8-3) at South Florida (5-6)
[Thursday, Dec. 1 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]
West Virginia knows it needs some help to keep itself in the mix for the Big East’s automatic BCS bid. But first it must take care of business against a South Florida team that has lost six of its last seven but is still clinging to the hope of a sixth win and bowl eligibility. While West Virginia’s potent offense gets the headlines, it’s the Mountaineers defense and special teams that have kept them in the race, blocking a field goal at the buzzer to preserve a win over Cincinnati two weeks ago and then recording 10 sacks and three turnovers in a one-point win last week over Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers have won three of their last four, but lost a critical game with Louisville that left them a game behind the Cardinals and Cincinnati in the Big East race. West Virginia’s only hope for the BCS is for them to win and the Bearcats to beat Connecticut, which would force a three-way tie and the automatic bid going to the highest rated team in the BCS poll.