Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 12:
Back-to-back 300-yard efforts have Big Orange nation fired up about the future of the Vols passing attack. A loaded but young receiving corps also has fans excited. Against the Dores, and their 106th-rated total defense, Bray should be able to deliver the goods.
Bryan Ellis, UAB (Memphis)
Ellis has been solid if nothing else from week to week this season. But he exploded last week for 35.72 TFP — 418 yards and 5 TDs against ECU. Memphis is very simply terrible on defense: 119th in pass efficiency, 120th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense.
Jordan La Secla, San Jose State (@ Hawaii)
The Spartans quarterback has been producing of late. He has seven of his nine passing touchdowns in the last three games and back-to-back 300-yard efforts. Hawaii 'boasts' the 83rd-rated pass defense, so this should be a high scoring affair out on the islands.
Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (Duke)
Even in a bad loss to Miami last week, the option QB topped 100 yards both passing and rushing with a TD mixed in. Against two other option attacks this season, Duke allowed 34.38 TFP to RIcky Dobbs of Navy and 23.6 TFP to Trent Steelman of Army.
Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (@ Buffalo)
Fantasy editor Steven Lassan called for the upset on the Section 120 podcast, so if that happens, Gillett will have to be big. He is the team's leading rusher and has 784 yards of total offense in his last three with six total TDs. If Lasso is right, and he usually is, then Gillett will be a sound option this week.
Matt McGloin, Penn State (Indiana — Landover)
Yes, Robert Bolden could see some time this weekend, but the offense has been clearly improved under McGloin. The new starter has 634 yards passing and eight total TDs in his three starts (one in the Horseshoe, keep in mind). And Indiana just allowed 83 points to the Badgers.
Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (@ Michigan)
Speaking of the Badgers, the expected barn-burner in Ann Arbor should be beneficial for the Wisconsin quarterback. Tolzien is eighth nationally in passer efficiency and had his best career game against the Maize and Blue last season when he threw for 240 yards and four TDs in the 45-24 win. Expect much of the same this week.
QB — Better Think Twice
Terrelle Pryor vs. Ricky Stanzi (Ohio State vs. Iowa)
Two great defenses should keep the upside limited this week for both passers — even if the new game plan has TP2 giddy over playing this weekend. Pryor had one of his worst career games last year (fantasy wise) when he totaled 29 yards rushing and 93 yards passing without a single score.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (Nebraska)
The Aggie quarterback underacheived last week against Baylor — largly because he was not needed. He threw for 280 yards and a TD — not exactly a huge fantasy number. The Huskers' secondary is awesome. They lead the nation in pass efficiency defense and are second in pass defense.
Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (@ Miami, Fla.)
The No. 2 pass efficiency defense in the nation resides in Coral Gables. And Taylor has been under 18 TFP in two games in a row, even in comfortable wins. Last year, Taylor posted a mediocre 98 yards passing, 75 yards rushing and one total TD. Either he isn't needed in a blowout win over a freshman quarterback or it's a low-scoring, tighly played affair. That is no good either way.
Christian Ponder, Florida State (@ Maryland)
The Maryland defense is greatly improved from a year ago, and Ponder is returning from an injury. This is an important game for both teams, so expect both defenses to be ready to play. This has the makings of a grind-it-out type of game that fantasy owners should want no part of in any fashion — expect maybe the defenses.
Ryan Lindley, San Diego State (Utah)
The Aztec passer has had only two games since the Utah match last season in which he passed for less than 207 yards (his total against the Utes last fall). He threw two INTs and SDSU was blown out 38-7. Expect the score to be much closer than that this year, but his upside seems limited against the eighth-best defense in the nation.
Ryan Colburn, Fresno State (@ Boise State)
Boise boasts the No. 3 total defense in the nation. The No. 2 scoring defense in the nation. And the Broncos have not lost a conference game since the Ming Dynasty. Colburn has been solid of late, but I would stay far away from him this weekend.
RB — Deserves A Second Look
Montee Ball and James White, Wisconsin (@ Michigan)
John Clay will suit up this weekend but is highly unlikely to see too many carries. Ball and White combined for 41 carries, 315 yards and five touchdowns last week against Indiana (all in the first 36 minutes of the game, mind you, Bret Bielema critics). Michigan is the worst total defense in the Big Ten, allowing more than 433 yards per game and over 32 points per game (9th in Big Ten).
Derrvin Speight, Utah State (Idaho)
After averaging 10 TFP through his first eight games, Speight has posted 52.1 TFP in his last two. He got 48 carries in those games, and against Idaho's 104-rated rush defense (197 ypg), he should be more than capable of a 20-pt fantasy week.
Marc Tyler, USC (@ Oregon State)
After a lot of split carries and weekly flux, it appears that Tyler has earned the workload for the Trojans. He has a team-high 60 carries over the last three. His 31 attempts for 160 yards (and a TD) last week dwarfed the rest of the USC backs — who combined for six carries. I am not sure how it happened, but Oregon State allowed 221 yards on 61 carries against Washington State last week. The Beavers will play better this weekend, but Wazzu? Need I say more?
Alexander Teich, Navy (Arkansas State)
Navy's leading ball-carrier not named Dobbs has been Teich all season. His 114 carries lead the Middies running backs by a wide margin (Murray has 65 and Greene has 60). But Teich is finally reaching the end zone. He has scored three times over the last two games, and Arky State should pose no threat on defense (111th in rush defense) and is good enough on offense (34th in total offense) to keep it close.
Baron Batch and Eric Stephens, Texas Tech (Weber State)
Both backs are over 100 carries for the season — 142 and 100, respectively. Texas Tech has run the ball an unheard-of-in-Lubbock 89 times over the last two weeks. Against lowly Weber State, expect the Raiders to keep it safe and utilize the ground game once again.
Chris Rainey, Florida (Appalachian State)
The all-purpose back has 34 touches in three games since returning from suspension and scored in every game. He is also eligible at WR in most leagues so fill him in where needed. Urban Meyer seems dedicated to getting him touches in some fashion, and against Appy State, he should have plenty of room to work.
Cierre Wood, Notre Dame (Army — New York)
Since taking over for Armando Allen two weeks ago, the explosive Wood has been getting it done. He has 42 touches in those games, totalling 211 yards from scrimmage and two TDs. With the freshman taking snaps, expect Brian Kelly to lean heavily on Wood — well, at least as heavily as a Kelly-led offense ever will lean on a running back.
Pat Shed, UAB (Memphis)
Shed has averaged 24.1 TFP per game over his last three while totalling 63 carries and 18 receptions over that span. Memphis is pathetic on defense, and all Blazers should have a chance to post adequate numbers.
Robinson could find it tough sledding this weekend.
RB — Better Think Twice
Boom Herron vs. Adam Robinson (Ohio State @ Iowa)
Both of these running backs have been as consistent as any in the nation. But so have these defenses. In fact, both rank in the top-5 nationally against the run and are No. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten. Herron is the better play of the two with the banged-up Iowa linebacking corps and his nine straight games with a TD. I just feel like there could be better options out there.
Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (Nebraska)
Since stepping in for Christine Michael, Gray has been exceptional. And the Huskers have not been as imposing as expected this season. Nebraska held Kansas to 72 yards on 34 carries and no scores last week. They claim the nation's most efficient pass defense and the nation's No. 2 total pass defense. Expect clogged running lanes for Gray.
Robbie Rouse, Fresno State (@ Boise State)
See Ryan Colburn above.
Orleans Darkwa, Tulane (UCF)
Darkwa has notched four straight 100-yard efforts and scored four times over that span. Yet, the Knights of UCF claim C-USA's No. 2 rush defense (17th nationally) by allowing only 116 yards per game. A 49-0 shutout last fall in which the Green Wave managed to rush for -30 yards as a team should keep the youngster out of most lineups this weekend.
Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (Utah)
The Aztec running back has slowed of late. He has failed to reach 100 yards in five of his last seven games and has scored only twice in his last four. He was shut down by TCU and should find tough sledding against the nation's No. 8 defense.
Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Virginia Tech (@ Miami, Fla.)
These two combined for 29 carries and 184 yards last week with a dead split in carries and yards. But neither scored. They combined for 22 carries and 98 yards the week before. The point is that both are much better actual football players than they are fantasy players right now. Stay away.
Keith Payne, Virginia (@ Boston College)
Boston College boasts the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, allowing only 74.6 yards per game. In three home conference games this year (Clemson, Maryland, Virginia Tech), the Eagles allowed a total of 237 yards on 97 carries for a paltry 2.4 clip. Stay away from the big fella this weekend.
Anyone for Troy or FAU (@ South Carolina, @ Texas)
WR — Week 12 Spot Starts
Roy Roundtree, Michigan (Wisconsin)
Has 15 catches for 315 yards and 3 TDs over has two games.
Denarius Moore and Justin Hunter, Tennessee (@ Vanderbilt)
In two games with Bray the pair has a combined line of 14-347-5.
Jock Sanders, West Virginia (@ Louisville)
Has been more involved of late — 26 catches over last four and 2 TDs last week.
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (USC)
Has 9 carries and 17 receptions for 302 total yards and 3 TDs over last three.
Kelvin Bolden, Southern Miss (Houston)
Has 18 catches for 246 yards and 3 TDs over last three. Should be high scoring.
Paul RIchardson, Colorado (Kansas State)
Posted 16 receptions for 262 yards and 2 TDs in last two.
Top 10 DEF/ST Waiver Wire Spot Starts
1. Texas (FAU)
2. Clemson (@ Wake Forest)
3. Texas Tech (Weber State)
4. Tennessee (@ Vanderbilt)
5. Boston College (Virginia)
6. Oklahoma State (@ Kansas)
7. UConn (@ Syracuse)
8. South Carolina (Troy)
9. Northern Illinois (@ Ball State)
10. Nevada (New Mexico State)
Stanford (9-1, 6-1) at California (5-5, 3-4), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
The Cardinal will continue their quest for a BCS bowl berth with a visit to their rival. No. 1 Oregon remains the only team to beat Stanford. If both teams continue on their current paths, Stanford could be in line for a ticket to the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal’s balanced, potent offense will get a test from the Bears, who put together one of the best defensive performances in the nation this season during their 15–13 loss to Oregon last weekend. Cal leads the Pac-10 and is 10th nationally in total defense, but most of its success this season has come against spread offenses. The Cardinal run a power, pro-style attack that will be a whole new challenge for the Bears. That being said, Cal stopped Stanford’s offense last season when it was the hottest in the country.
USC (7-3, 4-3) at Oregon State (4-5, 3-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
Two teams going in different directions meet in the Pacific Northwest. The Trojans, despite having nothing to play for, are playing their best ball at the end of the season. USC has won two in a row, including a road victory at Arizona last week. The Trojans, who are not eligible to play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, can still reach a 10-win season if they win their final three games. The Beavers, meanwhile, are reeling. They have lost three of four, including an embarrassing 31–14 home setback to Washington State last week. This begins a brutal final stretch of the season for the Beavers. After Saturday, Oregon State travels to Stanford before closing out the regular season in the Civil War against Oregon. The Beavers need to win two of their final three games to be bowl-eligible.
Oklahoma State (9-1, 5-1) at Kansas (3-7, 1-5), Saturday, 11 a.m.
The term “trap game” gets tossed around much too much. That said, it applies here, and the Jayhawks have one such conquest (Georgia Tech) to prove it.
Still, don’t expect it, with this Oklahoma State team proving repeatedly that its leaders know how to maintain focus. And the focus is clear: rolling through Lawrence on the way to a South Division showdown with archrival Oklahoma.
It’ll be Senior Day at KU, which can be good for a minor emotional boost. But the Jayhawks simply don’t have the firepower (Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter, et al) on offense to keep pace, unless OSU stumbles.
Once upon a time, the road was rough on the Cowboys. But they’ve won 10 of their last 13 away from home, including all four games this season, claiming victory in places that had been their Waterloo for decades.
The Pokes are too close to the prize to lose their way now. By beating Kansas, they’ll face OU for their first South title in the Big 12. And that will set them up with a likely rematch with Nebraska for the school’s first conference title.
Kansas State (6-4, 3-4) at Colorado (4-6, 1-5), Saturday, 1:10 p.m.
The Buffaloes claimed their first Big 12 win in more than a calendar year last Saturday. Now, how about No. 2?
What a difference a week — and a win — makes, as Colorado climbed out of the mess of a mid-season coaching change to convincingly beat Iowa State. Now, going back-to-back doesn’t seem like such a stretch, especially if quarterback Cody Hawkins can repeat his solid performance and interim coach Brian Cabral can maintain an emotional re-focus.
The Wildcats take one of the league’s top rushing offenses into Boulder, with running quarterback Colin Klein adding another element to go with tailback Daniel Thomas. Klein has given the ’Cats a boost, rotating at quarterback with Carson Coffman.
Still, the lack of a passing attack limits K-State. And the Buffs slowed Iowa State’s ground game a week ago, although the ’Cats present a much more physical challenge in their run game.
Weber State (6-4) at Texas Tech (5-5), Saturday, 2 p.m.
The Red Raiders are still seeking another win to reach bowl-eligible status. Thankfully, this one, against FCS-level Weber State, counts.
Tech has completed conference play in a quirky scheduling twist that features back-to-back non-conference home games, Saturday and again next week against Houston. In an uneven season, this presents an opportunity to build some momentum for the Red Raiders and for inconsistent quarterback Taylor Potts.
Weber State won’t be fazed by the step up in competition, with games against FBS schools a regularity in its scheduling. The Wildcats opened this season with a 38-20 loss at Boston College.
Still, don’t expect an upset. Weber State is just 3–43 all-time against the big boys, with the last breakthrough coming in 1993.
Florida Atlantic (4-5) at Texas (4-6), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
The Longhorns’ mighty fall leaves them with this unlikely scenario: a must-win game against, get this, FAU. Must-win in terms of avoiding a losing season.
Must-win in terms of maintaining hope for — gasp! — a bowl bid. Must-win in terms of avoiding complete and total embarrassment. That’s where Texas stands, having lost four straight games and four of five at home this season.
The Horns continue to scuffle offensively, due to a lack of playmakers that would seem impossible considering the school’s annual recruiting hauls. Still, quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s struggles have fans and media calling for a look at backup Case McCoy. There would be similar calls at other positions, if only options existed.
FAU has rebounded from five straight losses to win three in a row and at least carry momentum into Austin.
Missouri (8-2, 4-2) at Iowa State (5-6, 3-4), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Week 11 was rough on the Cyclones. They lost as a favorite at Colorado and they lost injured quarterback Austen Arnaud in the process, robbing them of their gritty and respected leader, not to mention the program’s No. 2 passing leader in terms of career yards and touchdowns. That puts replacement Jerome Tiller on the spot, as Iowa State gets one final shot at gaining bowl eligibility. Tiller, of course, will need help, from running back Alexander Robinson and a cast of receivers and a defense that ranks No. 92 nationally in total defense.
Missouri, meanwhile, maintains hope for a North Division title, although its needs assistance from Texas A&M and Colorado in overtaking Nebraska. Still, it’s hope. And the Tigers seem to have rediscovered their offense, with Blaine Gabbert and Co. and a spiced-up playbook producing big numbers in a 38-28 win over K-State.
Oklahoma (8-2, 4-2) at Baylor (7-4, 4-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Sooners are tiring of the “road struggle” questions, to the point that a testy Bob Stoops limited media access to just five players this week. But the questions aren’t going away, not until Oklahoma proves capable of stepping out of its Jekyll-Hyde routine. At home, the Sooners are superb. On the road, they’re susceptible, with losses in their last two trips outside of Norman.
OU Quarterback Landry Jones is just 1–5 in true road games as a starter, where he’s struggled with inconsistency and interception woes.
Not that it’s all on Jones. The Sooners defense has allowed 69 points in those two road losses (at Missouri and Texas A&M).
Baylor, however, would figure to provide a level of comfort. OU hasn’t lost to Baylor. Anywhere. Ever. And suddenly, the arguments that this is a different Baylor are fading. The Bears are better, clearly, yet have failed mightily against the best of competition, including the past two weeks in losses to Oklahoma State and A&M.
Baylor maintains a shot, with its explosive Robert Griffin III-led offense capable of putting up points. The Bears defense, however, is banged up, stressing an already difficult challenge of slowing the Sooners, who look to stay on track for a South Division title shot.
The Aggies have rebounded to win four straight games and put themselves in the South title chase. An improving defense and the move to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback have transformed a team that once stood 0–2 in Big 12 play. And a win over Nebraska would further cement A&M’s status as a program on the rise, not only this season, but also going forward.
The Huskers can clinch the North title with a win, yet seek a return to form as well. Nebraska’s four-game winning streak has revealed some rocky moments, and quarterback Taylor Martinez has slowed down following his early season breakout.
And for all the references to the “Blackshirts” on defense, the Huskers haven’t been a shutdown defense at all, except against the league’s lightweights.
For Nebraska, this trip to College Station will be a test. Along with Tannehill’s impact, the Aggies have given running back Cyrus Gray a heavier workload and benefitted. And with the Huskers headed for Kyle Field — perhaps for the last time — in an ABC prime-time television slot, a full and frenzied house is expected in what amounts to the Big 12’s Game of the Week.
NC State (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
It’s time for role reversal in the 100th edition of this rivalry game, with North Carolina trying to play the part of spoiler as effectively as NC State has in recent years. The Wolfpack have knocked off the Tar Heels three consecutive seasons, killing North Carolina’s division title chances in 2008 and sending UNC down the list in the ACC’s bowl pecking order last year.
Now the Tar Heels, already eliminated from contention in the Coastal Division, have a chance to keep the Wolfpack from winning a division title. N.C. State would clinch the Atlantic Division with victories in its last two games — this week and at Maryland in the regular-season finale — but its chances would take a big hit with a loss against North Carolina. In fact, a Wolfpack loss combined with a Florida State win over Maryland later Saturday night would send the Seminoles to the ACC championship game.
The key to this game is the turnover battle, which North Carolina can’t afford to lose if it hopes to give coach Butch Davis his first win against N.C. State. The Tar Heels have committed a total of six turnovers in their six victories this season, but they have turned over the ball 14 times in their four losses. Quarterback T.J. Yates tied a career high with four interceptions against Virginia Tech after throwing just four interceptions all season up to that point, and he will need to be sharper in the final home game of his career. Yates, who enters this game needing 288 passing yards to become UNC’s career leader in that category, could get a lift in the running game from tailback Shaun Draughn.
Draughn was limited by an ankle injury against the Hokies last week, but he should be healthy enough to play a larger role against the Wolfpack.
Regardless of Draughn’s status, the Tar Heels will have their hands full with an NC State defense that has allowed a total of 17 points in the last two weeks combined, its lowest total in back-to-back ACC games since 1982. Linebacker Nate Irving made a school-record eight tackles for loss last week in the Wolfpack’s 38-3 victory over Wake Forest, and he ranks third in the nation in that category (1.85 TFL per game) this season.
Offensively, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson needs a big performance in order to push Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor for the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Virginia (4-6, 1-5 ACC) at Boston College (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Virginia saw its bowl hopes die last week with a 42–23 loss to Maryland, but Boston College remains alive in its drive for the postseason. The Eagles, who have followed up a five-game losing streak with three consecutive wins, need one more victory to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season.
Boston College has climbed back into bowl contention on the strength of its defense, which has allowed one touchdown by opposing offenses in the last three games combined. The Eagles, who held Duke to 4 rushing yards in a 21-16 victory over the Blue Devils last week, enter this game with the nation’s No. 1 run defense (74.6 yards per game). The leader of the unit is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads the country in tackles (14.6 per game) and has made at least 10 tackles in a nation-leading 19 consecutive games.
Virginia, meanwhile, is limping to the finish line. The Cavaliers have suffered back-to-back losses since their upset of Miami on Oct. 30. Starting offensive tackle Landon Bradley is out for the season with a knee injury, and starting cornerback Ras-I Dowling also is done for the year with an ankle injury that followed knee and hamstring ailments.
Those injuries will hurt the Cavaliers, but the key storyline entering this game is the health of Virginia’s top two rushers after they went down last week against the Terrapins. Perry Jones suffered a head injury, and Keith Payne suffered a lower leg injury. Virginia coach Mike London is cautiously optimistic that both tailbacks will be able to play against the Eagles, but the combination of their iffy health and Boston College’s smothering run defense might cause the Cavaliers to rely more on quarterback Marc Verica and their passing game.
On the other side, Virginia must find a way to contain Boston College tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (112.9 ypg). Harris lost a pair of fumbles in the red zone at Duke last week, so ball security will be his primary concern as he searches for running room against a Virginia defense that ranks 107th nationally (ACC-worst 202.5 ypg) against the run.
Duke (3-7, 1-5 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Georgia Tech has dominated the series with Duke over the last two decades, winning 18 of the last 20 matchups and each of the last six meetings. If the Yellow Jackets extend that streak, they will become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.
Duke, meanwhile, was eliminated from bowl contention with its 21–16 loss to Boston College last week. The Blue Devils have no shot at a .500 record, but what they do have is plenty of experience defending Georgia Tech’s unconventional style of offense. Duke already has played Army and Navy this season, two teams that rely on the option and use many of the same principles and plays as the Yellow Jackets, who lead the nation in rushing (319.3 yards per game).
Tevin Washington continues to fill in at quarterback for Joshua Nesbitt, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken right arm. Washington completed 7 of 16 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown last week in the first start of his career, and he will take his best shot at a Duke defense that isn’t shy about crowding the line of scrimmage against run-oriented opponents.
On the other side, the Blue Devils have benefited from improved play from their quarterbacks in the last three weeks. Duke coach David Cutcliffe has maintained that Sean Renfree is his starter, but he continues to use backup Brandon Connette in short-yardage and red-zone situations. Renfree, who threw 14 interceptions during Duke’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, has not thrown an interception in the last three games.
Clemson (5-5, 3-4 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-8, 1-6 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Clemson is kicking itself for missed opportunities this season. The Tigers wouldn’t find themselves in this position — out of the Atlantic Division race and still needing one more win to become bowl-eligible — if they had done a better job kicking the football. Chandler Catanzaro made just 2-of-4 field-goal tries in Clemson’s 16-13 loss at Florida State last week, and the Tigers are 9-of-18 on field-goal attempts for the season. Clemson, which got just six points on four trips inside the FSU 20 last week, has scored a touchdown on just three of its last 16 trips inside the red zone.
If the Tigers are to improve those numbers this week, they will have to do so without their top offensive weapon. Tailback Andre Ellington remains sidelined with a strained ligament and a bone fragment in his foot, leaving Jamie Harper as Clemson’s primary ball carrier. Harper enjoyed a breakout performance last week against the Seminoles, rushing for 143 yards and catching nine passes for 54 yards, and he will go against a Wake Forest defense that ranks 114th nationally in points allowed (38.7 per game).
The Demon Deacons, who have dropped eight consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 1978, haven’t been much better on offense. They played last week without both of their starting guards, Joe Looney (ankle) and Michael Hoag (concussion), and converted wide receiver Michael Campanaro led the team in rushing.
Wake Forest will have its hands full this week with a Clemson defense that ranks ninth nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.4 per game). Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and ranks second in the country in tackles for loss (2.20 per game).
Virginia Tech (8-2, 6-0 ACC) at Miami (7-3, 5-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech can clinch its fourth Coastal Division title in six years with a victory in this matchup of former Big East powers. Miami needs a win to remain in contention for its first division title since joining the ACC.
The Hokies, who have won three of the last four meetings with the Hurricanes, enter this game with an eight-game winning streak. Virginia Tech forced six turnovers in its 26-10 victory at North Carolina last week, coaxing fifth-year senior T.J. Yates into a career-high-tying four interceptions. The Hokies will try to pick off passes from a true freshman this week, with Stephen Morris in line to start his third consecutive game as Jacory Harris recovers from a concussion he suffered at Virginia on Oct. 30.
Morris will be tested by a Virginia Tech defense that features NCAA interception leader Jayron Hosley (0.78 interceptions per game) and ranks seventh nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency (100.9 rating). Miami’s ground game has flourished with Morris at quarterback, but Morris also has shown instant chemistry with wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving yards (87.9 per game), has tied Michael Irvin’s school record for touchdown catches in a season (11) and has caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games.
Virginia Tech counters with a much more experienced passer in senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor’s task also will be a tough one. Miami ranks second nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency, third nationally in passing yards allowed (147.9 per game) and tied for ninth in the country in sacks (2.90 per game).
Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC) at Maryland (7-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
The winner stays alive in its quest for the Atlantic Division title, while the loser is eliminated from contention. Florida State enters the week with a half-game lead on Maryland and NC State in the standings, but the Terrapins and Wolfpack are in control. If Maryland or NC State wins its final two games — they play each other next week in the regular-season finale — that team wins the division. Still, next week’s game between the Wolfpack and Terrapins could turn out to be irrelevant with regard to determining the division winner. If North Carolina beats NC State on Saturday and Florida State follows up with a win over Maryland, the Seminoles will play in the ACC championship game.
Florida State remained in contention thanks to its 16–13 victory over Clemson last week, a game decided by Dustin Hopkins’ 55-yard field goal as time expired. Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel started and went the distance for the Seminoles in that game after Christian Ponder missed practice all week to receive medical attention for his sore right elbow. Doctors finally have figured out what was ailing Ponder — he had separated the fascia from a muscle near his elbow, not ruptured a bursa sac, as originally thought — and Ponder will start against the Terrapins after returning to practice at full speed.
The news is less positive about a couple of Ponder’s key weapons. Starting tailback Jermaine Thomas sprained his right knee against the Tigers and is out this week, leaving Chris Thompson and Ty Jones to split the carries. Wide receiver Willie Haulstead is questionable after suffering a concussion.
Maryland, meanwhile, enters this contest with three wins in its last four games after posting a 42-23 victory at Virginia last week. The Terrapins, who have lost three consecutive games against the Seminoles and 18 of 20 meetings overall, continue to come up with game-changing plays on both sides of the ball. Maryland ranks third in the country in turnover margin (plus-1.30 per game), a key reason for its resurgence after a 2-10 season in 2009.
The Terrapins have done an admirable job of protecting redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien with an offensive line that was revamped because of injuries, but they face their toughest test of the season this week. Florida State, led by defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Markus White, leads the nation in sacks (3.90 per game).
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3), Saturday, noon EST
Since Bill Stewart has taken over at West Virginia, his teams are 18–2 at home, 2–1 in neutral-site bowls — and 5–8 on the road. This week, he’s trying to relieve some of the pressure on his job status and get the Mountaineers back in the Big East title hunt by winning at 5–5 Louisville.
“The road has not been as pleasant as we would have liked it to have been,” Stewart said. “Maybe we can make amends to that this weekend and get back on track.”
Pitt’s loss at Connecticut opened the door for all of the Big East, including WVU, now 2–2 in league play. The challenge for the Mountaineers will be to contain Cardinals back Bilal Powell, who had 140 yards last week against South Florida and is fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 134.1 yards. WVU seems equipped to do that with the nation’s seventh-best rush defense. The Mountaineers are allowing an average of just 94.9 rushing yards per game.
On the flip side, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw four touchdown passes in the first half last week against Cincinnati, will have to have success this week against cornerback Johnny Patrick and a Cardinals pass defense that’s ranked ninth nationally, allowing but 163.6 yards per game through the air.
The key in the game may be the running of WVU’s Noel Devine, who has been struggling with injuries and is averaging 85.6 yards. Louisville’s run defense is 48th nationally, allowing 142.9 yards per game.
Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2), Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh had a comfortable conference lead a week ago. Now the Panthers are in somewhat of an uncomfortable position with but a one-game Big East advantage in the loss column and this contest at South Florida’s Raymond James Stadium.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said this week his team is working on kick coverage after Connecticut’s Nick Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score. Too, USF boasts dangerous return man Lindsey Lamar, who averages 30.8 yards per return. The Panthers are also dealing with the bad news that defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, is out for the season with a torn ACL after returning from back surgery.
South Florida, meanwhile, is on a high via a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 24–21 overtime road win at Louisville. While Pitt is 3–1 in Big East play and 5–4 overall, the Bulls are 3–2 and 6–3.
The question in this one centers on South Florida’s offense, specifically quarterback B.J. Daniels, going against Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring.
On the other side, the Bulls will have to slow Pitt QB Tino Sunseri, who has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season, and the one-two running punch of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis. South Florida has the Big East’s No. 6 pass and No. 4 rush defense.
Connecticut (5-4, 2-2) at Syracuse (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m EST
The Big East is down, but these two teams are up. Connecticut is coming off back-to-back victories against the teams picked to finish first and second in the conference this season. The Huskies won at home against Pitt, last week, and West Virginia. At 5–4 overall and 2–2 in league play, their season is rejuvenated.
Syracuse, meanwhile, is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and is coming off a 13–10 road win against Rutgers. The Orange are in second place in the Big East at 4–2 and is 7–3 overall. SU coach Doug Marrone, however, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“(Connecticut is) a very good football team that was picked by some to win this conference,” he said. “We’re a football team that’s trying to get to the upper level, and get back to consistency and winning, and we have a long way to go.”
The teams seem pretty evenly matched. While Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 2 scoring offense, Syracuse has the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. The Huskies have the conference’s No. 7 scoring defense, while the Orange has the No. 7 scoring offense.
Keep your eyes on UConn back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, and Syracuse’s Delone Carter, fourth in the Big East in rushing.
Rutgers (4-5, 1-3) at Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST
There seems to be only one thing at stake in this matchup: escaping the cellar of what some call the nation’s worst BCS conference. Both are currently 1–3 and tied for last place in the Big East.
It’s someone surprising Rutgers is in the position, but close to shocking that back-to-back reigning league champ Cincinnati is there. Bearcats coach Butch Jones spent the early part of the week talking about keeping his team together. “We have to pull each other through these tough times,” he said.
A start would be winning against a 4–5 Rutgers team at home. The bad news for UC fans, however, is the Bearcats are but 2–3 at home this season and are on a three-game losing streak.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is on its own three-game skid after falling by 13–10 to Syracuse last week. RU did have success running the Wildcat formation with Jeremy Deering’s 166 rushing yards out of the formation. But the quarterback situation with struggling Chas Dodd and Tom Savage remains an issue.
If you’re looking for matchups, the Orange have the league’s second-ranked total defense, while the Bearcats field the Big East’s No. 1 total offense. On the flip side, Syracuse has the conference’s No. 6 offense, while UC has the No. 7 defense.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3) at Indiana (4-6, 0-6), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
This is a season to forget for the Hoosiers, as Bill Lynch’s club has failed to capitalize on too many opportunities. With two games to go, Indiana needs two wins to extend its season — highly unlikely. For one thing, the Hoosiers do not have a good history against Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. The last time the two teams played in Bloomington, the Hoosiers kept it close but the team’s four second-half turnovers were too much to overcome. This game could also come down to turnovers — Penn State and Indiana are among four Big Ten teams with a negative turnover ratio — but a safer bet is that it will come down to which team’s quarterback makes more plays.
Last week, Matt McGloin was marvelous for Penn State in the first half, but not so much in the second. He needs to play well for four quarters to get Penn State back on track. The Hoosiers have no choice but to keep the ball in the air on offense, meaning another 40-attempt game is likely for Ben Chappell, who is expected to return to the lineup (hip). If Chappell is perfect, Indiana has a shot at its first conference win of the year. Anything short of that will not be enough.
Purdue (4-6, 2-4) at Michigan State (5-1, 9-1), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
There is no more impressive player in Big Ten football than Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who has come as close as a defender can to being a game-changer. This week, Purdue must offer him more support. The offense has scored more than 20 points in conference action just once this season (Minnesota). That unit is still trying to find consistency in the running game and is in need of a primary receiver; Keith Smith, who played just a game and a half, still ranks fourth on the team in receptions. For Michigan State, the big news this week has been the return of Keshawn Martin, who was missed badly in games against Iowa and Minnesota. Martin is the Big Ten’s leading punt returner and the Spartans’ most explosive receiver. His return is welcome, but it won’t solve one of Michigan State’s problems: a squeaky running game. Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker exploded out of the gate but have both struggled the past month. A Purdue defense allowing 148.7 rushing yards per game could prove to be the cure. Fans may recall Michigan State needed 17 points in the final 12 minutes to beat the Boilermakers last year. The Spartans may only need 17 points total to put away Purdue this year.
Consider this Wisconsin’s last big test before booking its flight to Pasadena. Bret Bielema-coached teams have stumbled in their last two trips to Ann Arbor, so to complete this season’s goals the Badgers must first overcome that obstacle — and it appears they must do so without John Clay again. Perhaps it’s precautionary, but Clay continues to nurse his bum knee. No worries — the 1-2 combo of Montee Ball and James White did just fine without Clay last week (311 yards and five touchdowns combined) and should again this week against a run defense that has given up the second-most rushing scores in the Big Ten. In general, the Wolverines are giving up too many points (34 or more in five of the last six games) and must play well on both sides on Saturday to beat Wisconsin. Of course, the conversation with Michigan begins and ends with Denard Robinson. He has gained fewer than four yards per carry in each of the past two games but has the passing game clicking better than ever. Wisconsin’s secondary must respect Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemmingway this week, because if Robinson does not find open lanes to run through, he is perfectly capable of finding open receivers to throw to.
This game has drawn plenty of attention due to its location (Wrigley Field) but it shouldn’t take away from what is an important contest for both clubs. For Illinois, there is no getting around it: They must win this game because there is no guarantee they will beat Fresno State in the season finale. Illinois’ pass defense has been suspect as of late, having made Adam Weber and Minnesota’s receivers look good a week ago. Now the Illini face a Northwestern club trying to fill a hole at quarterback. Dan Persa was a darkhorse candidate for conference offensive player of the year thanks to his 3,100 yards of total offense. Freshman Evan Watkins has thrown a total of seven passes. He has good size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) but must learn where his safety blankets are in a hurry before he gets a face full of orange. Northwestern has beaten Illinois in each of the last two meetings.
Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
Once upon a time this game was categorized as one of the few contests that would help to decide the conference race. Not true anymore. Iowa’s two conference losses have dropped them from that race, and now all Kirk Ferentz’s club is hoping for is a dignified finish to what’s been a somewhat disappointing season. The silver lining is that the game will take place in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have been dominant in all but one contest this year (Wisconsin — a game many feel Iowa should have won). Iowa has scored in bunches at Kinnick Stadium, but there will be no easy victories on offense for the team this week. The Buckeyes have the Big Ten’s top-rated pass defense and allow just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. As they say, every yard must be earned. Ohio State’s task will be no less complicated. Iowa still has a respectable pass rush and a run defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. Chances are, the Buckeyes’ best bet for big plays will come via the passing game; the Hawkeyes give up 220.2 passing yards per game. It’s been six years since an Ohio State team has lost to Iowa, but that 2004 game was one Hawkeye fans have hardly forgotten — a 33-7 thumping in which Iowa outgained Ohio State by a ratio of almost three to one.