You can tell November’s here because there’s good games on TV all day long on Saturday. The Notebook does its weekly routine of organizing college football’s TV action.
Nebraska-Penn State (ESPN): Pretty clearly football is going to be the last thing on anyone’s mind in this game and I debated even previewing this game in light of everything that’s happened in State College this week. But they’re still playing the game, so here’s a few points to think over—presuming Penn State’s players heads are into the game (a huge leap to be sure), they can shut down Nebraska’s offense, since the Cornhuskers are a little too one-dimensional with only Taylor Martinez. The Lions offensive line should be able to gash Nebraska’s defensive front and allow Silas Redd to get 100 yards. If all things were equal, I’d give Penn State a slight edge in a low-scoring game. But whether PSU is demoralized or whether they have a rally-together mindset is anyone’s guess.
Michigan State-Iowa (ESPN2): Michigan State can all put away the Legends Division title if they can win here. Both teams bring similar offenses, with a quality quarterback, a solid running game and a very talented receiver. The Spartans have the edge at quarterback with Kirk Cousins over James Vander Berg, Iowa has a solid edge at running back with the dynamic Marcus Coker over Edwin Baker. Receiver is a wash with B.J. Cunningham at Michigan State and Melvin McNutt. Whichever inconsistent defense finds its form first wins.
Florida-South Carolina (CBS): This is one of two huge games in the SEC East, as South Carolina tries to keep the pressure on Georgia in the race for the division title. The problem is that South Carolina just doesn’t have any weapons left to keep the pressure on anybody. Even Florida, who’s been offensively challenged all year is at least getting a running game from Jeffrey Demps and John Brantley provides a steady hand at the wheel of the offense. In a 17-10 type game, the Gators win it.
Texas-Missouri (FX): Yet another great game going to a national audience in the early time slot. Neither team has a shot at the Big 12 title, but both can move up the ladder and perhaps get as high as a Cotton Bowl slot. Which Texas team shows up is the biggest question here. The one that hammered Texas Tech or the one that was buried by Oklahoma? If good Texas shows up, they can play good defense, as Missouri is dealing with injuries to quarterback James Franklin and top running back Henry Josey, though both are expected to play. The Longhorns can run the ball well themselves and I am looking for them to get the win.
Oklahoma State-Texas Tech & West Virginia-Cincinnati (ABC Regional): I really think Oklahoma State is vulnerable because of its defense and Tech’s Seth Doege is the ideal quarterback to have a huge game against them, especially playing in Lubbock. But Tech seems to have mailed in its season since beating Oklahoma three weeks ago and I have no confidence in them to show up mentally. Cincinnati is a substantially better team than West Virginia, but this is another case where I think the Bearcats are going to lose a conference game and the explosive Geno Smith is the kind of quarterback who could lay a big game on them.
Auburn-Georgia (3:30 ET, CBS): The other big game in the SEC East, the Bulldogs will know by the time they take the field if they have to win to hold off South Carolina or if they can clinch with a win. Auburn seems to have settled on Clint Moseley as its quarterback and I like the matchup of an SEC West team against the weaker East. I’m looking for Auburn to exploit Georgia’s defense and get a solid running game going with Michael Dyer and pull a solid upset between the hedges in Athens. Working against my theory is that Georgia gets freshman running back Isaiah Crowell back this week to give some extra explosiveness to their running game.
TCU-Boise State (3:30 ET, Versus): I want to see if the Boise State defense can step up with a real championship-caliber performance against a TCU offense that’s been halfway decent there behind a nice running game. We know Boise can score and in the end the Horned Frogs can’t keep up on the blue turf. But I want to see that Bronco front four assert themselves, shut down the run, pressure the quarterback and look like the real national championship defense I believe they are.
Michigan-Illinois & Miami-Florida State (ABC/ESPN2), Texas A&M-Kansas State (ABC Regional)
The TV breakdown here is that unless you’re in A&M or K-State territory you’ll see both Michigan-Illinois and Miami-Florida State on either ABC or ESPN2, depending on your regional area. The Big Ten game is a toss up. Michigan should win, but Illinois has been a different team at home, and I’m concerned about the lack of consistency with Denard Robinson throwing the ball. Miami-Florida State is another toss-up in the ACC. I’m not sold on how good Florida State is—they’re getting media hype for a four-game win streak, but it’s a soft spot on their schedule. Miami is coming together well under Al Golden, and Jacory Harris is playing some of the most disciplined football of his career. It will be tough for him to make it through an entire game without a pick against FSU’s secondary, but when Harris doesn’t throw it up for grabs, the ‘Cane offense can move the ball, and Lamar Miller is a power runner who can pile up 100-150 yards. I like Miami to pull an upset in Tallahassee. In the Big 12 game, I’m not sure why A&M is favored in Manhattan. Has anyone seen the Aggie defense lately? Collin Klein runs and passes for the Wildcats and leads his team to a home win.
Tennessee-Arkansas (6 ET, ESPN2): Arkansas is in position to win out and win the SEC West due to its head-to-head game with LSU on Thanksgiving Saturday, and at 11-1 that would give the Hogs a legit shot at winning a national championship. Playing at home, they’re going to easily outscore Tennessee, whose running game is a huge disappointment and they can’t do anything through the air without injured quarterback Tyler Bray.
Maryland-Notre Dame (7:30 ET, NBC): This game is being played at FedEx Field in Landover, home of the Washington Redskins, though its technically a home game for Notre Dame. The struggling Terps won’t have much of a chance to stop the Irish offense, though ND will commit its usual 2-3 turnovers at minimum and keep the score respectable for a while. The bigger picture issue is why NBC insists on inflicting these mediocre games (last week it was Wake Forest) on a prime-time audience. I guess somebody must be watching.
Alabama-Mississippi State (7:45 ET, ESPN): How much life will the Crimson Tide bring to this game in Starkville? Mississippi State has been a disappointment and with a one-dimensional offense reliant on Vick Ballard’s running they’ll be no match for the Tide defense. But if Alabama’s going through the motions, which I expect they will, the game will stay competitive into the second half (I also expect LSU to be mentally out of it although against Western Kentucky it’s hardly going to matter).
Oregon-Stanford (8 ET, ABC): The game of the entire day as the battle for the Pac-12 North goes down in Palo Alto. Stanford’s defensive vulnerabilities were laid bare by USC a couple weeks ago and LaMichael James will be poised to have a big game running the ball. Ultimately though I like Stanford’s balance better. They have a good stable of three running backs led by Stefan Wilkerson. They’re less reliant on the gimmicky-like spread offense and can come straight at you much more effectively. And a guy named Luck behind center is a big edge over even the capable Darron Thomas in a close game. Stanford wins it by a score in the 45-28 range.
Idaho-BYU (9:15 ET, ESPN2): I actually think this game is intriguing, though I haven’t quite sunk to the level where I’ll watch it. The Vandals have played tough in recent weeks, nearly upsetting Hawaii and then knocking off improving San Jose State. The point spread on this one is BYU (-21) and it looks like a nice spot to grab the points.
Arizona State-Washington State (10:30 ET, Versus): Arizona State suffered a devastating loss to UCLA that cost them the inside track to the Pac-12 South title. But they’re still tied with the Bruins in the standings and since UCLA has to get by USC in two weeks, that gives the Sun Devils hope they can still get in the conference championship game if they win out. I think they’ll get the help they need, and Brock Osweiler leads the way to a road win Saturday night.
A couple other noteworthy games in the evening are Hawaii-Nevada. The Wolfpack lead the WAC and the Rainbows are two games back. Hawaii needs to get Bryant Moniz some support through the running game if they’re going to keep their championship hopes alive. And Southern Miss can all but put away Conference USA’s East Division if they beat defending league champ Central Florida in Hattiesburg. UCF isn’t what they were last year, particularly defensively and the changing of the guard in this division takes place.