It’s time for some Black Friday football, with wall-to-wall action, so without further adieu, the Notebook looks at the games…
Iowa-Nebraska (Noon ET, ABC): These teams may be out of the division race. The winner realistically wraps up a spot in one of the three Big Ten-SEC bowls on New Year’s Day (Capital One, Outback, Gator), while the loser is in danger of sliding further down the ladder. I wasn’t impressed with Nebraska’s defense prior to last week and was even less so after Michigan’s Fitz Touissant finished running roughshod over them. I think Marcus Coker should be able to do the same, and Iowa can also get the ball downfield, with James Vandenberg throwing to Melvin McNutt. With Nebraska now in the Big Ten, this game is set up to be a traditional Farm Belt rivalry to end the season and Iowa wins the first installment.
Louisville-South Florida (Noon ET, ESPN2): Louisville is in a five-way tie for the Big East title even though they’re only 6-5. South Florida needs to win to get bowl-eligible, but it’s looking like quarterback B.J. Daniels will miss the game. I like way Louisville has improved throughout the year under Charlie Strong and a strong defensive effort gets them a road win. Since this is the Cards’ final game of the season a win clinches a share of the conference championship, with the BCS bid still to be determined as tiebreakers shake out.
Houston-Tulsa (Noon ET, FSN): This is the most underrated game of the day and the one I’ll watch in the early time slot. Its winner-take-all for the C-USA West title and a date with Southern Miss in next Saturday’s conference title game. For unbeaten Houston even more is at stake, as they are now virtually a lock for a major bowl game if they win out. Case Keenum gets deserved media attention for the way he leads a prolific passing offense, but Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne is an excellent passer himself and has a good running game with Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts. Furthermore, Houston hasn’t blown out the respectable teams on its schedule, namely UCLA and Louisiana Tech. Finally consider this—while Tulsa has three losses, the defeats came at the hands of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. The Golden Hurricane is primed for home win today.
Another game to check at ESPNU is Eastern Michigan-Northern Illinois. NIU is playing to clinch the MAC’s Western Division with all-everything quarterback Chandler Harnish. Should Eastern Michigan—a respectable team at 6-5—pull the road upset, the door opens for Toledo.
Arkansas-LSU (3:30 ET, CBS): This is the latest SEC game everyone’s waiting for. A Razorback win creates a three-way tie, including Alabama for the SEC West title with the best BCS ranking among the trio getting the nod for Atlanta in next Saturday’s conference championship game. This game is in Baton Rouge and LSU is a 12-point favorite, a number I consider excessive. As good as the LSU defense is, the Arkansas passing game led by Tyler Wilson will test this secondary in a way Alabama couldn’t. And while the Hog defense is suspect, at least by national championship standards, it’s no less so than the LSU offense. At the end of the day I do like LSU to win, with their secondary making a couple more plays than Wilson and his receiving corps, led by Jarius Wright, are able to make. But it comes down to the wire in a 20-17 final. One twist to consider here is that with two of the three SEC contenders in good position to still play for the national championship an LSU loss might only drop them to #2 behind Alabama, so the Tigers could repeat their 2007 “feat” of losing this traditional Black Friday rivalry game and still winning the national championship.
Boston College-Miami (3:30 ET, ABC): If you want to watch endless highlights of Doug Flutie’s 1984 Hail Mary pass that stunned on Black Friday, tune in. Otherwise, there’s little reason to watch. Miami is playing at home, is vastly better and neither team has anything to play for.
Colorado-Utah (3:30 ET, FSN): Utah still has a shot to win the Pac-12 South. If they win this game here, they’d need Arizona State to lose at Cal later tonight and UCLA to lose to USC tomorrow (both very realistic, and remember USC’s probation eliminates them from consideration) and it would get the Sun Devils a shot at Oregon next Friday night in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. Utah’s played its best football in the second half of the season and taking care of the lowly Buffs shouldn’t be a problem. Regardless of what happens elsewhere, a win here makes the Utes a prime candidate for the Alamo Bowl against a Big 12 opponent.
Pitt-West Virginia (7 ET, ESPN): Both teams are part of the five-way tie in the Big East race, so a conference championship and possible Orange Bowl bid will add to the juice of The Backyard Brawl. Pitt has improved a lot over the last several weeks, but is still playing without running back Ray Graham, out for the season. West Virginia’s offense, led by Geno Smith, is more than capable of opening this game up and I believe they’ll do just that. WVA generally matches up pretty well in this rivalry, with the exception of a memorable Pitt upset in ’07 that cost the Mountaineers a shot at the national title, and Smith should lead this team to a 35-24-type victory.
Cal-Arizona State (10:15 ET, ESPN): Like Utah, Arizona State has a shot at the Pac-12 South and would win a three-way tie. So the Sun Devils will root for Utah this afternoon, then against UCLA tomorrow. More importantly, they might try playing some football themselves tonight. ASU has faded badly thanks to poor defensive play, while Cal is coming along. I like the Golden Bears to win here and put a knife in a disappointing Sun Devil season.