Washington State (1-9, 0-7) at Oregon State (4-4, 3-2), Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
The Beavers are expected to win, and had better win, if they entertain thoughts of going to a bowl game. After Saturday, Oregon State closes the season against USC, at Stanford and against Oregon. Those arguably are the three best teams in the Pac-10. The Beavers are 4–4, meaning they need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. They should have no problem at home against the Cougars, although Washington State had its most competitive Pac-10 game of the season in a 20–13 loss to Cal last weekend. The Cougars led at halftime for the first time since early in the 2008 season. Even without star wide receiver James Rodgers, Oregon State’s offense should be much too much for the Cougars’ lowly defense. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers needs 194 yards to break into the top-10 on the all-time Pac-10 career rushing list.
Oregon (9-0, 6-0) at California (5-4, 3-3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
The Ducks’ quest for a national championship has hit the home stretch. Oregon has three games left. Win them all and it surely will be playing in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. Two of the three are on the road, where the Ducks haven’t been quite as dominant this season. But Oregon has still won all of its road games handily and is a heavy favorite to do so again against the Bears, who had trouble putting away Washington State last week. That being said, Cal has been dominant at home this season, going 4–0 and outscoring opponents 189–34. The Bears’ defense ranks 12th nationally (299.56 yards allowed per game) and has given up just two touchdowns at home this season. But Cal also hasn’t played an offense that plays anywhere near the level of the Ducks, who lead the nation in points per game (54.67) and yards per game (567.22)
Stanford (8-1, 5-1) at Arizona State (4-5, 2-4), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has been picking up steam in the Heisman Trophy conversation and has an opportunity to produce against a pretty good defense. Luck ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency (163.37). He also plays behind a physical and effective offensive line, which should have success slowing down the Sun Devils’ impressive defensive front. The Cardinal are ranked sixth in the latest BCS standings. They can go to the Rose Bowl if Oregon plays in the national title game against a team from a non-BCS conference. If a team like TCU is shut out of the BCS championship game, it will go to the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils had yet another competitive loss last week, losing on a late field goal to USC, 34–33. Three of ASU’s five losses this season have come by three points or less.
USC (6-3, 3-3) at Arizona (7-2, 4-2), Saturday, 5:00 p.m.
The Wildcats’ loss to Stanford last week effectively knocked them out of the Pac-10 race. Now, Arizona simply wants to get to the best bowl game possible. That will be a challenge with its final three games against USC, Oregon and Arizona State. Arizona was dominated by the Cardinal last week and will be eager to bounce back against the Trojans. Arizona managed just 17 points in the return of quarterback Nick Foles from a dislocated kneecap. Foles threw for 248 yards and a touchdown on 28-of-48 passing. The Wildcats hope to improve those offensive numbers against a USC team that continues to play stunningly ineffective defense. USC edged Arizona State last week simply because it had the ball last with a reasonable amount of time left. The Trojans are seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (28.4 points per game), eighth in total defense (423.8 yards allowed per game) and dead last in pass defense (276.4 yards allowed per game).
Miami (6-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
This Coastal Division clash was supposed to feature a matchup of two of the ACC’s best quarterbacks: Jacory Harris vs. Joshua Nesbitt. But with Harris and Nesbitt injured, the game will feature a pair of near-unknowns: Stephen Morris vs. Tevin Washington.
Morris, a true freshman who planned to redshirt until Harris suffered a concussion at Virginia on Oct. 30, started the first game of his career last week in a 26–20 victory over Maryland. He threw a game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds remaining, passing for 286 yards in the game.
Nesbitt is out for the regular season after breaking his right arm in Georgia Tech’s 28–21 loss at Virginia Tech last Thursday. Washington, a redshirt sophomore who almost was moved to running back early in his career, takes over control of the nation’s leading rushing attack (320.6 yards per game) as Georgia Tech tries to become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.
The Yellow Jackets, who have beaten the Hurricanes four of the past five years, could have an advantage in this game because Miami’s biggest defensive strength won’t be much of a factor against their spread-option offense. The Hurricanes lead the nation in opponents’ passing efficiency, rank fifth nationally in passing yards allowed (ACC-best 153.1 per game) and rank sixth nationally in sacks (3.0 per game). But Georgia Tech rarely throws the ball, so Miami’s No. 61 ranking against the run (150.7 ypg) could be the stat that matters most.
On the other side, the Hurricanes likely will be without their leading rusher for the second week in a row. Tailback Damien Berry has been hobbled by an unspecified leg injury and also battled the flu this week, so he’s doubtful to play against the Yellow Jackets. Berry’s absence should create more opportunities for redshirt freshman Lamar Miller, who rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries in his first start last week.
Boston College (4-5, 2-4 ACC) at Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Neither Boston College nor Duke is going to play in the ACC championship game, but each team still has incentive to win their first meeting since 2006: the potential for a bowl game. The Eagles and Blue Devils have put together two consecutive wins apiece after suffering through losing streaks of five games and six games, respectively, and have new life coming down the stretch.
Boston College, which must win two of its final three games to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season, is making its second trip to the state of North Carolina in as many weeks. The Eagles handled Wake Forest 23-13 last week as tailback Montel Harris rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.
Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.3 yards per game), will be a big factor again this week against a Duke defense that is among the worst in the country. The Blue Devils rank in the nation’s bottom six in points allowed (ACC-worst 38.9 per game) and total yards allowed (ACC-worst 457.3 per game).
Duke, which needs to win its remaining three games to become bowl-eligible, has overcome is defensive deficiencies the last two weeks thanks to a couple of stellar performances by its offense. The Blue Devils knocked off Navy 34–31 on Oct. 30 and came back last week with a 55–48 victory over Virginia in the second-highest scoring game in ACC history. The difference for Duke has been the play of quarterback Sean Renfree, who has not thrown an interception in the last two games after tossing 14 interceptions during his team’s six-game losing streak.
The status of Renfree’s top target is in question entering this contest. Wide receiver Conner Vernon, who leads the ACC in receptions (5.4 per game), suffered a head injury on a kickoff return in the third quarter against the Cavaliers. He did not return to the game and was limited in practice this week.
Wake Forest (2-7, 1-5 ACC) at NC State (6-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Thanks to rival North Carolina’s victory at Florida State last week, NC State remained in control of the Atlantic Division after losing 14–13 at Clemson. The Wolfpack will try to get back on track on homecoming — in the final home game for the team’s seniors — against a Wake Forest squad that has lost seven consecutive games.
After amassing just 275 total yards against Clemson, NC State’s explosive offense should have more opportunities to succeed this week. The Wolfpack, who lead the ACC in passing yards (286.4 per game) and total yards (420.4), get to attack a Wake Forest defense that ranks among the nation’s worst 11 units in points allowed (38.8 per game), rushing yards allowed (ACC-worst 211.4 per game) and opponents’ passing efficiency (ACC-worst 150.0 rating).
On the positive side for the Demon Deacons, they did play better defensively last week in their 23–13 loss to Boston College. Wake Forest held the Eagles to 298 total yards after allowing a total 1,051 yards in its previous two games against Maryland and Virginia Tech. But quarterback Russell Wilson, who ranks sixth in the nation in total offense (ACC-best 312.4 yards per game), gives NC State a dual threat that Boston College’s offense lacked. The Wolfpack also might welcome back starting tailback Dean Haynes, who sat out against Clemson after suffering a concussion the previous week.
On the other side, Wake Forest must do a better job taking care of the ball with true freshman quarterback Tanner Price running the offense. The Demon Deacons, who have won four of their past five meetings with the Wolfpack, had five turnovers last week against Boston College. Starting tailback Josh Harris left that game with a concussion, so his status for this week is in doubt.
Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Virginia (4-5, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Maryland came up short in a 26–20 loss at Miami last week, but the good news for the Terrapins is that Florida State and NC State also lost. That means Ralph Friedgen’s team, which limped to a 2–10 record last season, still needs no outside help to win the Atlantic Division. If the Terrapins win their remaining three games, they will play for the ACC championship on Dec. 4.
That stretch begins this week against a Virginia team that also needs to close the season with three consecutive victories to achieve bowl eligibility in Mike London’s first season as head coach.
Virginia, which has lost 11 consecutive games in November, has enjoyed plenty of success against Maryland in recent seasons. The Cavaliers have won 14 of the last 18 meetings, including the last three in a row. For that trend to continue, the Cavaliers need an improved performance on defense this week. Virginia struggled against the Blue Devils with starting cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield missing all and most of the game, respectively, with leg injuries. The status for each is unclear entering this contest.
On the other side, Maryland will try to jump-start its offense. The Terrapins have been far from spectacular, ranking 11th in the ACC and 101st nationally in total yards (316.0 per game), but they rarely have beaten themselves this season. Maryland enters this game with the fifth-best turnover margin (plus-1.22 per game) in the country.
Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-0 ACC) at North Carolina (6-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech has built quite a cushion in the Coastal Division — to the degree that the team could clinch a spot in the ACC championship game this week. If the Hokies win this game at North Carolina and Georgia Tech knocks off Miami, they will claim their fourth division title in six years.
The Tar Heels, of course, have other ideas after becoming bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season. Fresh off an emotional 37–35 victory at Florida State, North Carolina can put some pressure on Virginia Tech with a victory in this contest. That’s no easy task against the Hokies, who have ripped off seven consecutive wins since their surprising 0–2 start, but the Tar Heels have some belief after winning 20–17 at Virginia Tech last season.
The key to this game could be the play of the senior quarterbacks, who are the first- and second-rated passers in the ACC, respectively. Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor leads the conference in pass efficiency, orchestrating an offense that averages an ACC-best 36.0 points per game. Taylor became the Hokies’ all-time leader in total offense during last week’s 28-21 win over Georgia Tech.
On the other side, North Carolina’s T.J. Yates is coming off a performance in which he threw for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a school-record 439 yards at Florida State. Yates became just the second player in ACC history to pass for at least 400 yards against two ranked opponents in the same season, doing much of his damage on throws to wide receiver Dwight Jones. Jones, a junior who entered the middle of October with 125 receiving yards in his career, has totaled 612 receiving yards in the last four games after catching eight passes for 233 yards and a touchdown last week.
The Tar Heels need another big performance from Yates and Jones this week because their leading rusher, tailback Johnny White, suffered a season-ending broken clavicle against the Seminoles. White’s backup, Shaun Draughn, hurt an ankle against Florida State and might not be at 100 percent for this game.
Virginia Tech also will be down a tailback, with explosive sophomore David Wilson on the shelf with mononucleosis. That means the Hokies, who lost wide receiver Dyrell Roberts (thigh) for the season last week, will have to replace both of their kickoff returners. They also will be without defensive end Chris Drager, who is suffering from lingering effects from a hit he took against Georgia Tech.
Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC) at Florida State (6-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Clemson, one win away from bowl eligibility, has new life as it tries to return to the ACC championship game for the second year in a row.
Florida State, meanwhile, is looking to get back on track after back-to-back losses. The Seminoles, who have lost five of their last seven meetings with Clemson, enter this game with questions surrounding the health of starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder had his right (throwing) elbow drained Monday after experiencing swelling and soreness from a hit he took last week, and he didn’t practice early this week. The injury stems from a ruptured bursa sac that he suffered against Boston College on Oct. 16 in a game in which he threw three interceptions. If Ponder plays — and he likely will — it remains to be seen how much the injury and resulting missed practice time will decrease his effectiveness.
Clemson’s defense, which features NCAA sacks leader Da’Quan Bowers, ranks 12th nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.6 per game) after holding NC State’s high-powered offense to just 275 total yards last week. Ponder will want to keep an eye on Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, who is returning to his hometown of Tallahassee with 15 career interceptions (tied for second nationally among active players). McDaniel dealt Ponder a season-ending shoulder injury last season on an interception return in a game Clemson won 40-24.
The Tigers are dealing with a key offensive injury of their own. Tailback Andre Ellington will miss his second consecutive game with a strained ligament in his foot, leaving an underachieving attack without its most dangerous player. Led by quarterback Kyle Parker, who responded well after being benched briefly last week in favor of backup Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s offense ranks outside the nation’s top 60 in scoring (26.2 points per game), rushing (151.3 yards per game), passing (181.9 ypg) and total offense (333.2 ypg).
The Seminoles counter with a defense that leads the country in sacks (4.22 per game) and ranks fourth in tackles for loss (8.11 per game). Sophomore Brandon Jenkins ranks among the nation’s top 10 in sacks and tackles for loss, and fellow defensive end Markus White has recorded at least half a sack in five consecutive games.
Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST
Connecticut’s football team showed a little life in its last outing, a 16–13 overtime win against West Virginia. However, if the Huskies don’t defeat Pittsburgh on Saturday, it will be the death of UConn’s longshot Big East title hopes.
After three games, Pitt is the only undefeated team in the league. Connecticut, a preseason dark horse favorite, was anchored in the conference’s cellar until upsetting the Mountaineers and moving to 1–2 in league play. With a win over the Panthers, the Huskies would sit just one game back.
Positive thoughts for UConn fans: The series between the teams is tied at three; the Huskies are 4–0 at home this season; the game is at Rentschler Field.
“Games with Connecticut have been very challenging for us,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.
Negative thoughts for UConn fans: Pitt boasts the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense; Connecticut has the league’s No. 7 scoring defense.
Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri has experienced a rebirth of sorts this season after a shaky start. He’s now completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,672 yards and 12 touchdowns with four picks. On defense, Pitt may experience a rebirth if defensive end Greg Romeus — last season’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year — returns from a back injury. Wannstedt said it would be a game-time decision.
Connecticut will rely on Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 4 leading rusher, but the key will be the play of quarterback Zach Frazer.
Both teams were idle last week.
Cincinnati at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
There are many storylines to this game. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, for instance, was a wide receivers coach in Morgantown for Rich Rodriguez. Three former Mountaineer players — Jahmile Addae, Brandon Myles and Milo Austin — now help Jones. UC fans are upset that their back-to-back Big East champions are now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in Big East play. WVU fans are ready to run coach Bill Stewart out of the Mountain State because his team is tied for last place in the embattled league.
Perhaps the one area to watch, however, is Cincinnati’s quarterback position. Expected back is Zach Collaros, who missed the Syracuse game with a knee injury. Collaros is leading the Big East in passing and total offense and has thrown 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. If he’s on the field and in mid-season form, UC can give the Mountaineers, ranked No. 1 in the Big East in pass, scoring and total defense, a battle. Cincy leads the league in total offense (425.2 yards average) and ranks second in scoring offense (27.4 point average).
On the flip side, West Virginia’s offense, which has struggled, could get well against Cincinnati’s defense, ranked eighth in the Big East in scoring. The Mountaineers returned a veteran offensive line this season, as well as back Noel Devine, but are ranked No. 7 in scoring offense within the league.
Both teams are on two-game losing streaks.
South Florida at Louisville, Saturday, noon EST
This game should be played at Akron’s old Rubber Bowl, because of the way both teams have bounced back. Louisville, under first-year coach Charlie Strong, is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. The Cardinals snapped an 11-game league road losing streak by defeating Syracuse last week. South Florida, under first-year coach Skip Holtz, has won back-to-back league games after an 0–2 start and is tied for third place with, you guessed it, the Cardinals. The Bulls are also a win away from being bowl-eligible.
USF had some minor injuries in its victory over Rutgers, but all dinged players — quarterback B.J. Daniels, backs Demetris Murray and Mo Plancher, lineman Jamar Bass and safety Jerrell Young — are expected to play.
Statistically, Louisville, 5–4, enters the game with the edge. The Cardinals are ranked third in the Big East both in scoring offense and defense, while the Bulls enter fifth in both categories.
Pay close attention, however, to whether Louisville star running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, and quarterback Adam Froman start. Both missed the Syracuse game because of injury.
Also, as always, check out which Daniels shows up for 5–3 USF. He’s thrown for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns this season. But he’s also thrown 11 interceptions.
Syracuse at Rutgers, Saturday, 3:30 EST
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is the man in his college town. The Orange, a former Big East doormat, need one win in their last three games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004. They have won four road games for the first time since 1996. SU sits in second place within its conference.
Then there’s Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. His program has fallen flat. The Scarlet Knights are coming off back-to-back road losses. They are 1–2 in Big East play and in a four-way tie for last place. In other words, Schiano could sure use a win here.
Rutgers has again listed Chas Dodd as its starting quarterback, but Schiano hasn’t ruled out a return of Tom Savage, the previous face of the program. Dodd has started the last four games after Savage started the first four.
The key, it seems, in this one is for RU to contain Syracuse back Delone Carter, who ranks fourth in the Big East in rushing, averaging 94.8 yards per game. Rutgers, meanwhile, is seventh in the league in rush defense and has allowed five opposing backs to top 100 yards in the past four games.
The Orange boast the Big East’s No. 2 total and scoring defense. Linebacker Derrell Smith is fifth in the conference in tackles with 75.
Newton still claimed six of seven first place votes.
The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each voter may vote for five players (unlike the official three) and a first place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth place vote earning 1 point.
1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (33 pts, 6 first place votes)
Mississippi State boosters and Florida professors posed a bigger threat to Newton's Heisman bid this week than the UTC Mocs' defense. The Auburn quarterback posted his career high in passing yards with 317 this weekend. He added five total touchdowns and 24 yards rushing. Again, his recruitment, academic standing at Florida and path to the Plains are clearly the story for a player who is the top choice for the stiff-arm trophy.
What's Next: The Georgia Bulldogs come calling this weekend, and Auburn can clinch a trip to Atlanta with a win. So there is plenty on the line on the field this weekend — if he can stay focused off of it.
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (28 pts, 0 first place votes)
Just another 26-carry, 121-yard, 3-TD performance for the nation's most dynamic running back. He added three receptions and 19 more yards through the air in the 53-16 obliteration of the Washington Huskies. James still leads the nation in yards rushing per game at 166.38 ypg.
What's Next: The Ducks head to Tightwad Hill this weekend where Cal has allowed a total of 34 points in four home games. In five road games, the Bears have allowed an average of 31.6 points per game. Berkeley is going to need some serious help if they expect to slow James, even if the game is at home.
3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (21 pts, 1 first place votes)
Moore posted a 212.1 passer rating in the Broncos' dominating win over conference contender Hawaii. Moore completed 30 of 37 passes for a ridiculous 507 yards and three scores. Moore is still on pace to post the single most efficient season by a college quarterback in history with a 192.38 passer rating. For the record, I switched my vote again to Mr. Moore. The single most efficent season by a quarterback in history?
What's Next: A trip to in-state conference foe Idaho should pose little resistence for Moore. The Boise quarterback has thrown for 509 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs on 45 of 63 passing in two career games against the Vandals. BSU scored 108 points in those two wins.
Luck is making a move up the charts.
4. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (10 pts)
Luck is in a group, with Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, Colin Kaepernick of Nevada and Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, that is ready to pounce should Boise State, Oregon or Auburn fall victim to an upset. Luck was huge this weekend against a very good Arizona team. He threw for 299 yards and a pair of scores in the 42-17 win that could result in a Rose Bowl bid for Stanford.
What's Next: The Pac-10's most efficient passer (163.37) heads into the desert to take on the Sun Devils of Arizona State. After the Cardinal took on the league's top rush defense last week, Luck will be needed again as Stanford faces the league's No. 2 rush defense this weekend.
5. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (6 pts)
No one has been able to stop the Cowboys' do-everything stud — except the Carrollton police force, I suppose. After a one-game suspension, Blackmon returned in full force against Big 12 South contender Baylor. He caught 13 passes for 173 yards and a TD. He also added an electrifying 69-yard TD run as well.
What's Next: With the Big 12 title on the line every week now for the Pokes, Blackmon will have to come up big against the Longhorns of Texas this weekend. The Horns have lost five games this year but are still a very talented bunch and are very capable of ruining Okie State's championship bid.
6. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (3 pts)
Technically, Robinson still leads the nation in rushing at 1,349 yards. Can you imagine what his total would be if he had been able to play full games against Iowa, Illinois or Michigan State?
7. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech (2 pts)
The ACC's most efficient passer will be a lock for ACC Player of the Year if he can keep his team unbeaten in conference play.
8. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor (1 pt)
Despite the loss to Oklahoma State, Griffin is still one of the most important and dynamic weapons in the nation.
Other names to keep an eye on:
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma