This week’s college football schedule looks tame after the last couple of weeks of big games, but there are still plenty of matchups with bowl and conference race implications. Here’s the rundown, organized by the TV schedule…
Nebraska-Michigan (Noon ET, ESPN): This is the biggest game of the day. The winner here will be in the hunt to get to 10 wins and be a serious candidate for a major bowl slot in either the Fiesta or Sugar. They also stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title, although that would take some seriously unexpected help. Both teams have similar offenses, built around the versatility of quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson. Both teams have good running backs in Rex Burkhead and Fitz Touissant. Where I think the difference will come is that Nebraska’s defense against the conventional run is a soft spot and Touissant can establish himself between the tackles and create room for Robinson on the perimeter. We should note that Michigan’s defense is no gem either, and the same dynamic will exist for Burkhead and Martinez, but I think the Wolverines have an edge and they have homefield.
Wisconsin-Illinois (Noon ET, ESPN2): Illinois has faded down the last few weeks and Ron Zook is getting snappish with the press. Wisconsin has come barreling out of their back-to-back heartbreaks against Michigan State and Ohio State by scoring 104 points the last two weeks. The issue here is whether Wisconsin will get caught looking ahead to a season finale with Penn State for the division title. If they are, a flat Badger team on the road that still can’t play special teams could get caught looking. But if Bucky’s ready, this one will be over by the start of the fourth quarter.
Kansas-Texas A&M (Noon ET, FSN): A dry game, with A&M having fallen to 5-5 and four of those losses being positive heartbreaks. It shouldn’t come to this here, as the Aggies sew up bowl eligibility on Saturday rather than wait until Thanksgiving night against Texas.
Miss State-Arkansas (3:30 ET, CBS): The Hogs are still in the hunt for the national championship, with just one loss and LSU awaiting them next week. This is a spot they better not get caught looking ahead on. The Bulldogs have been a disappointment and can’t score to save their life, but they do play some defense and they hung with Alabama into the second half a week ago. If this were on Starkville, I might be on Upset Alert, but with Arkansas playing at home, it’s more a question of just wondering if they’ll get a scare. Even on a bad day, Tyler Wilson and his cadre of receivers led by Jarius Wright should be able to get enough to hold off impotent Mississippi State.
Penn State-Ohio State/ Texas Tech-Missouri / Clemson-N.C. State (3:30 ET, ABC Regional/ESPN): Penn State-Ohio State is the game everybody will see, either on ABC or ESPN, depending on where you live. Penn State is trying to get to 10 wins and win the Big Ten, although that’s obviously the least of anyone’s concerns in State College. Ohio State’s loss to Purdue prevented the Buckeyes from controlling their own destiny in the Leaders Division. I’m thinking the Penn State players will be settling back into more of a normal routine and be ready to play their game. It’ll be tough defense the whole way, with the offensive focus on running backs Silas Redd for the Lions and Dan Herron for the Buckeyes. PSU pulls out a close one. In the other two games Clemson-NC State is the worst of all worlds. It’s not only a mismatch, but its meaningless, because Clemson has clinched the Atlantic Division and State isn’t going anywhere. Tech-Mizzou isn’t far behind, but if Seth Doege can recover the passing form he had a month ago for the Red Raiders and Missouri is still celebrating its Texas win, this game could at least be good.
Boston College-Notre Dame (4 ET, NBC): As an Irish Catholic with a special interest in the city of Boston, I plan on watching this game, but that’s about the only reason too. It’s been a disappointing year for BC, and they don’t have much of a chance of slowing down the Irish offense.
Colorado State-TCU (3:30 ET, Versus): This might have been a letdown spot for TCU after that huge upset of Boise last week, but Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas is out, and the Ram offense isn’t that productive to begin with. TCU being a little flat will keep this one close, but the visitors just don’t have the punch to pull an upset that would make the Mountain West a live race again.
LSU-Ole Miss (7 ET, ESPN): Ole Miss is coming off a loss to Louisiana Tech. Do you seriously think they’ll hang with LSU? And while the lookahead factor exists, as LSU has Arkansas next week and then presumably the SEC title game the week after, the fact the Tigers were able to relax against Western Kentucky last week should have refilled their tanks sufficiently.
Virginia-Florida State (7:30 ET, ESPN2): Virginia needs to win this game to stay in the ACC Coastal Division race, but it’s going to be a lot to handle winning in Tallahassee. While I think Florida State’s recent “surge” is more the product of a weak schedule and their win over Miami last week was no more impressive than Virginia’s win over the Hurricanes, the ‘Noles do have a solid speed advantage on the Cavs and a better secondary. Tempo will be crucial here. Virginia can run the ball well with Perry Jones and if they can play their pace, this one’s tight into the fourth quarter. I think they will stay in the game, but FSU will eventually prevail and hand the Coastal title to Virginia Tech.
Colorado-UCLA (7:30 ET, Versus): Believe it or not, this is a big game. If UCLA wins here and again against USC, they win the Pac-12 South (USC’s probation makes them ineligible). While Colorado’s had their share of problems this season, they stepped up with a big game against Arizona, with Rodney Stewart churning out the yards on the ground. I think the Buffs can do it again, and if Bruin quarterback Kevin Prince has to play from behind, he can’t do that. Colorado gets the win and opens the door for Arizona State to win the division.
Oklahoma-Baylor/ USC-Oregon (8 ET, ABC Regional): These are the games with the chance to impact the national championship picture. Oklahoma has a chance to knock out Oklahoma State on December 3 (a game previously inaccurately reported by the Notebook as being on November 26). But Oregon is in better shape than the Sooners to take the #2 spot if that happens (Unless the SEC West champ loses in the conference title game, it’s going to be LSU, Arkansas or Alabama in other spot). Oklahoma’s going to have its hands full with Baylor. The OU offense has now lost receiver Ryan Broyles along with running back Dominque Whaley, so it’s not as explosive as it was in October. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III has a chance for a showcase game here at home on national television. I’m looking for a back-and-forth game that OU eventually wins, but it’s closer than the experts say.
USC’s probation prevents a rematch of their game with Oregon in two weeks for the Pac-12 title, which is unfortunate, because the Trojans are coming on and can give the Ducks all they can handle, especially given Oregon has to be ready to let down a little after that big win in Stanford. USC needs receiver Robert Woods to be healthy after injuring his ankle. Like OU-Baylor, I think the favorite wins a wide-open game, but one that goes deep into the fourth quarter before being settled. All in all, adds up to a good package of games on the ABC doubleheader and its unfortunate they can’t be on separate channels.
Kansas State-Texas (8 ET, FSN): Kansas State’s only losses are to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and somehow they’re an 8.5 point underdog in this game?! Yes, the Wildcats were blown out by the Sooners, but so was Texas, and the Longhorns only scored five points against Missouri. Texas is also playing without running back Foswhitt Whitaker. I think the Longhorn defense will come to play and being at home, they find a way to get win, but Collin Klein and K-State take this one down to the wire.
Cal-Stanford (10:15 ET, ESPN): Stanford still has plenty to play for, as an 11-1 Cardinal squad would be a prime choice for one of the big bowls, probably the Fiesta. That, along with the fact this game is such a big rivalry and I believe Andrew Luck has the kind of professionalism necessary to keep his team focused, leads to a big Stanford win.