Baylor (7-2, 4-1) at Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1), Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Welcome to the Big 12 Game of the Week. Seriously. Baylor and Oklahoma State, in November, for self-control of the South Division. Welcome to the Big 12’s brave new world, where Texas and Texas Tech occupy the cellar and Baylor talks titles, despite never even as much as qualifying for a bowl bid as a conference member.
The Cowboys are surprise contenders, too, after losing one of the strongest senior classes in school history and being pegged in the preseason for also-ran status in the South.
Yet here sit Baylor and Oklahoma State, poised for a breakthrough, squaring off in what figures to be an entertaining shootout in Stillwater. The Cowboys and Bears rank, respectively, No. 3 and 10 nationally in passing offense; No. 2 and 8 in total offense; and No. 3 and 23 in scoring offense.
Robert Griffin III’s dual-threat skills are a major concern for OSU, which struggled mightily containing Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. As always, Griffin will be the key to Baylor’s chances in Stillwater, where the Bears haven’t won since 1939. Of course, this is shaping up as an historic year for Baylor.
After a one-game suspension over a DUI complaint, Justin Blackmon returns for the Cowboys. The nation’s leader in yards per game, he mixes with quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Kendall Hunter to form an explosive trio.
Last one to 40 loses?
Colorado (3-5, 0-4) at Kansas (2-6, 0-4), Saturday, 1 p.m.
The Big 12 South features showdowns. This Big 12 North matchup gets to the lowdown — who’s the worst team in the conference? These are the last of the league’s winless.
The Jayhawks have been spiraling downward since midseason a year ago. And a coaching change to Turner Gill has provided no magic, yet. KU is losing league games by an average of 36.8 points and enters the weekend unsure of who will start at quarterback: Quinn Mecham, Jordan Webb or Kale Pick. All have started and struggled.
Colorado carries similar quarterback concerns into Lawrence, trying to rally — again — behind Cody Hawkins, who is filling in for the injured Tyler Hansen. Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins remains on one of the hottest coaching seats in the country.
At least the Buffs have been in games, losing tight fits to Baylor and Texas Tech. And there remains flickering hope of a bowl bid, with winnable games remaining, beginning with KU.
Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) at Iowa State (5-4, 3-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
After posting back-to-back statement wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri, the Huskers find themselves in a dangerous spot on the road at suddenly surging Iowa State.
Trap game? Not likely. Not after the Cyclones pulled a major upset in Lincoln a year ago, claiming one of the greatest conquests in school history. Surely that game and this game will be in clear focus for the Huskers, who got good news mid-week when quarterback Taylor Martinez returned to practice and was deemed good to go Saturday.
Martinez missed the second half of the Missouri win with a sprained ankle, leaving running back Roy Helu Jr. to handle the starring role, which he did, going for a school-record 307 rushing yards.
The Huskers face an Iowa State team trying to sneak into the North Division race. The Cyclones shook off lopsided losses to Utah and Oklahoma to beat Texas and Kansas. And with games against the Huskers and Mizzou to play, ISU controls its own destiny in the division. The Cyclones plan to commit two defenders to Martinez, who presents a run-pass challenge they haven’t faced. Offensively, the Cyclones will try to exploit a Nebraska defense that ranks just 75th nationally against the run.
Ryan Tannehill has breathed new life into the Aggies — and this matchup. With the former wideout taking over for inconsistent Jerrod Johnson at quarterback, A&M has won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-September.
Tannehill’s passing and running sparked 45-point outbursts in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. And in just a game and a half, he’s completed 48-of-66 passes for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.
While the Aggies still lag in the Big 12 South, there’s a definite buzz about the program with the Sooners heading for Kyle Field.
And the road hasn’t been easily navigated for the Sooners, who are just 19–14 away from home since 2006. This season, they’ve struggled at Cincinnati and in the Cotton Bowl against Texas and lost at Missouri, ending their unbeaten season and, in all likelihood, their BCS title hopes.
OU quarterback Landry Jones carries his own rocky road resume. A touchdown-throwing machine at home, Jones often scuffles on enemy ground. In the loss to Mizzou, he was 0-for-7 passing in the fourth quarter.
Texas (4-4, 2-3) at Kansas State (5-3, 2-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.
Texas heads out onto the road, which may just bring a big “phew” from the Longhorns. The Horns have stumbled, from playing for the BCS championship in January, to losing three straight home games in a season that has gone sideways. And the heat is on back home.
Consider this unthinkable scenario for a program that has been winning 10 games a season with regularity: A bowl bid is not at all certain. Beating K-State may be mandatory.
And the Wildcats are scrapping for bowl eligibility themselves.
Both squads enter on two-game losing streaks and struggling on offense. The Longhorns alarmingly lack playmakers for a team that annually rules the recruiting rankings. So there’s a lack of direction, too.
K-State, at least, knows to hitch up to standout running back Daniel Thomas, who ranks second in the Big 12 and eighth nationally in rushing, averaging 124.5 yards a game.
Mizzou’s loss at Nebraska delivered major disappointment for a program on the verge of a national breakthrough. How will the Tigers respond? Mizzou must maintain focus, with the North far from settled and promising bowl possibilities still in play. Sure, the Tigers need help to overtake the Huskers in the North. But it’s already been a crazy year in the Big 12, so there’s no need to ditch goals and dreams now.
And for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a defense that still ranks among the nation’s elite, this game may be key.
Lubbock traditionally has been a difficult place to play, but the Red Raiders have already lost twice at home. They’ve been awful on defense and far from Mike Leach-like offensively.
Taylor tries to keep the Hokies unbeaten in the ACC.
Georgia Tech (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at Virginia Tech (6-2, 4-0 ACC), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech is firmly in control of the Coastal Division race, two games up in the loss column on Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets can cut into that lead with a victory in this game, an important matchup because the winner has played for the ACC championship in each of the last five years.
Both teams are coming off an open date, but the extra time to prepare might benefit No. 20 Virginia Tech more than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in rushing (317.4 yards per game) with their unconventional spread-option offense, and the Hokies were grateful to get a few extra days to practice against it with their scout team.
The key to the offense for Georgia Tech is quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, who has completed just 38.2 percent of his passes this season but has rushed for eight touchdowns and needs only 42 rushing yards to break Woodrow Dantzler’s ACC record for career rushing yards by a quarterback.
The Hokies will try to contain Georgia Tech’s vaunted ground game with their leading tackler at less than 100 percent health. Linebacker Bruce Taylor sprained his left ankle in Virginia Tech’s last game, a 44-7 win over Duke, and will not be full strength for this contest.
The good news for the Hokies is that Taylor’s backup, former walk-on Jack Tyler, is solid against the run. The Yellow Jackets, who rarely pass, likely won’t be able to exploit Tyler’s deficiencies in pass coverage. Virginia Tech also figures to benefit from the return of starting safety Eddie Whitley, who missed the Duke game because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
On the other side, Georgia Tech’s struggling 3-4 defense will face what has become an offensive juggernaut. Led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who ranks fourth in the country in passing efficiency and third nationally in yards per pass attempt, Virginia Tech has been carving up opponents on the ground and through the air. The Hokies average an ACC-best 37.0 points per game and rank second in the conference in rushing (214.8 ypg) with their talented tailback trio of Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson.
Maryland (6-2, 3-1 ACC) at Miami (5-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Maryland is making a push for the Atlantic Division title. Miami is hanging on for dear life in the Coastal Division race. Not many people would have expected either scenario entering this game.
The Hurricanes enter this game in major trouble — and not just because they lost at Virginia 24-19 last week after being favored by more than two touchdowns. Miami starting quarterback Jacory Harris suffered a concussion in the first half of that game and did not return. He also missed practice early this week, making it likely that true freshman Stephen Morris will start against the Terrapins.
Morris was a redshirt candidate until last week, when Harris was injured and back quarterback Alonzo Highsmith’s hand injury prevented him from playing. Once third-stringer Spencer Whipple struggled, Morris found himself in the game. Morris rallied Miami from a 24-0 deficit early in the fourth quarter and ended up completing 9 of 22 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Hurricanes would love to help Morris by establishing their running game early against Maryland, but that could be easier said than done. The Terrapins allowed Navy to rush for 412 yards in the season opener, but they have allowed an average of just 84.3 rushing yards per game since then.
The Terrapins have rebounded from their 2-10 season in 2009, achieving bowl eligibility with four games left to play. The question they still have to answer, even after picking up four wins in their last five games, is whether they are legitimate ACC championship contenders. Redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien holds the key to Maryland’s fate. O’Brien, who has taken over as the starter in place of junior Jamarr Robinson, has thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last two games. He will get a test against a Miami defense that ranks among the nation’s best against the pass.
The Hurricanes, who were held without a sack last week, still rank sixth nationally in that category (3.13 sacks per game). They also rank second in the country in opponents’ passing efficiency (ACC-best 93.20 rating) and seventh in the country passing yards allowed (ACC-best 152.5 per game).
NC State (6-2, 3-1 ACC) at Clemson (4-4, 2-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
NC State is starting to look like one of those teams of destiny. This week, the No. 23 Wolfpack get to take on a reeling Clemson team that suddenly is without its best offensive player.
The Tigers, who had clawed their way back into the Atlantic Division race entering last weekend, suffered a surprising 16-10 loss at Boston College. Making matters worse, tailback Andre Ellington suffered a strained ligament in his foot that will prevent him from playing for a couple of weeks. Ellington, who leads the ACC in all-purpose yardage (129.1 yards per game) and is tied for the league lead in touchdowns (12), also is fifth in the conference in rushing (85.8 ypg). Jamie Harper will replace Ellington as Clemson’s primary runner, with redshirt freshman Roderick McDowell moving into the backup role.
Ellington’s absence will be felt by a Clemson offense that has struggled to generate much production through the air this season. Quarterback Kyle Parker enters this game eighth in the ACC in passing yards (164.4 per game) and ninth in the league in passing efficiency (110.5 rating), having completed just 53.0 percent of his passes. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney reportedly has told backup quarterback Tajh Boyd that he will play some against the Wolfpack, although when Boyd might enter the game and how often he’ll play remain to be seen.
Parker, who was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Colorado Rockies, might see a future teammate when he looks across the field this week. NC State’s Russell Wilson, a fourth-round pick of the Rockies in the same draft, leads the ACC and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (321.4 ypg), and he is coming off a game in which he rushed for three touchdowns against Florida State.
Clemson, which has won six consecutive meetings with NC State, must find a way to pressure Wilson without giving him room to scramble for big chunks of yardage. Some of that burden will fall on defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who ranks second nationally in sacks (1.25 per game) and tackles for loss (2.19 per game).
Virginia (4-4, 1-3 ACC) at Duke (2-6, 0-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
This game features a matchup of the bottom two teams in the Coastal Division, but each squad has some positive momentum. The Cavaliers have won two games in a row to get back to .500 overall, and the Blue Devils snapped their six-game losing streak last week.
Virginia, which has won 17 of the last 21 meetings with Duke but has lost two in a row in the series, knocked off Miami 24-19, ending a nine-game losing streak against ACC competition. The Cavs tied a school record by intercepting five passes, including two by NCAA interceptions leader Chase Minnifield, en route to their first victory over a ranked team since 2008.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, got back in the win column by staying away from interceptions. Quarterback Sean Renfree, who had thrown 14 interceptions in his last six games leading up to Duke’s 34-31 win at Navy, was nearly flawless against the Midshipmen. He completed 28-of-30 passes for 314 yards, passing for one touchdown and running for two others to give the Blue Devils their first victory against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season.
The keys to victory will be the same for Duke in this contest. The Blue Devils still rank 119th out of 120 FBS teams in terms of turnover margin (minus-1.38 per game). On the other side, Virginia will try to keep things simple for quarterback Marc Verica by running the ball as much as possible. Bruising tailback Keith Payne has an ACC-best 12 rushing touchdowns this season, and he will take aim at a Duke defense that ranks among the nation’s bottom 20 teams in points allowed (37.8 per game), rushing yards allowed (196.4 per game) and total yards allowed (434.1 per game).
Boston College (3-5, 1-4 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-6, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Neither Boston College nor Wake Forest is in contention for the Atlantic Division title, but both have an exciting player named Harris at tailback. The Eagles, who had dropped five games in a row before their 16-10 victory over Clemson last week, feature the ACC’s leading rusher in junior Montel Harris (104.5 yards per game). Harris could enjoy a big day against a Wake Forest defense that ranks among the nation’s bottom six in points allowed (40.8 per game), total yards allowed (453.4 per game) and rushing yards allowed (217.3 per game).
Wake Forest’s Josh Harris faces a stiffer test. Harris, who burst onto the scene three weeks ago with 241 yards and two touchdowns at Virginia Tech in the first start of his career, enters this contest averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He will look for running room against a Boston College defense that offers little in the way of daylight. The Eagles held Clemson’s Andre Ellington to 42 yards on 14 carries last week, and they rank third in the country against the run (83.9 ypg).
The Eagles, who have defeated Wake Forest three consecutive times, responded well without starting safety Wes Davis (career-ending neck injury) and starting cornerback DeLeon Gause (knee surgery) last week against Clemson. But it remains to be seen if their revamped secondary can hold up for the remainder of the season.
North Carolina (5-3, 2-2 ACC) at Florida State (6-2, 4-1 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Florida State enters this game with a bruised psyche. North Carolina enters this game with a bruised, well, everything.
The No. 24 Seminoles suffered their first conference loss of the season last week at NC State, falling 28-24 in excruciating fashion. Florida State has a chance to get back on track against a team it has dominated over the years. The Seminoles lead the all-time series with North Carolina 15-1-1, including an 8-0-1 record at home. They should benefit this week from getting to play a UNC team that is banged up at several positions.
The Tar Heels, who rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Football Championship Subdivision member William & Mary 21-17 last week, look nothing like the team they were supposed to be entering the season. Investigations into the program for illegal benefits and academic misconduct have led to the ineligibility of several key players, and injuries have led to the absence of several others.
UNC’s secondary, in particular, is in bad shape this weekend. The Tar Heels played against William & Mary without cornerbacks Trey Boston (ankle) and Mywan Jackson (groin), and they lost cornerback Terry Shankle for the season with a knee injury in that game. Coach Butch Davis said this week that he might have to burn a redshirt or two in the secondary if more injuries occur. The Tar Heels hope to welcome back star linebacker Quan Sturdivant, who has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, but their lack of depth in the defensive backfield could be a major problem against Florida State.
Ponder, who has been bothered by a bruised triceps and a ruptured bursa sac in his throwing arm this season, is starting to get healthy. He looked as good as he has all season against NC State, and he has enjoyed success against the Tar Heels before.
On the other side, North Carolina needs senior tailback Johnny White to continue his breakout season. White rushed for a career-high 164 yards on a career-high 29 carries last week, including a game-winning 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and he enters this game with the ACC lead in yards from scrimmage. Florida State counters with a defense that leads the nation in sacks (4.13 per game) while allowing an ACC-best 17.6 points per game.
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said this week that even though his team is 6–2 it really hasn’t accomplished anything this season. That, of course, isn’t exactly correct. The Orange is the surprise team of the Big East, sitting at 3–1 in conference play and in second place, behind only 3–0 leader Pittsburgh. The SU faithful are alive again and should provide a nice crowd for this game in the Carrier Dome.
Offensively, the Orange will rely on back Delone Carter, the nation’s No. 29 rusher, averaging 93.25 yards per game. More than likely, though, Marrone will again lean on his stingy defense, which ranks 13th nationally in total defense and 14th in scoring. There are injury concerns, however, after last week’s 31–7 win over Cincinnati. Right tackle Michael Hay was seen wearing a boot on his left foot this week.
Louisville, meanwhile, enters this at 4–4 after a 20–3 loss to Pitt. The Cardinals will try to snap an 11-game road losing streak without Bilal Powell, who probably will miss this game with a knee injury. Quarterback Adam Froman is also trying to recover from a thigh bruise. The good news for the Cards is that back Victor Anderson is recovered from a shoulder injury and should play. The U of L is second in the Big East in total offense and fourth in total defense.
1. If you were Big East commissioner, how would you expand?
Mitch: I like the idea of adding Villanova, if the school is willing to make the commitment to football. It’s obviously a great fit geographically. TCU is interesting. It’s a great program, but is it a good fit? The school will have access to an automatic bid in the BCS, but it won’t be the same as playing in the Big 12 or Pac-10. Will TCU be able to recruit the state of Texas any better playing teams like Syracuse, UConn and Rutgers? I’m not sure. Memphis would be a good fit, because it has a great basketball program and a football program with potential. Memphis football has a long way to go, but with the right commitment from the school and the right coach in place, it can be a solid program that can complete in the Big East. And I like the natural rivalries with Louisville and Cincy. UCF will always get mentioned, too, because of the size of the school and the Orlando market.
Braden: With the official announcement of expansion this week, there are a few conference commissioners out there who are weak in the knees (namely Craig Thompson and Britton Banowsky). Marshall, UCF, East Carolina, TCU, Houston, Temple and others have been tossed around. Taking money out of the equation (which we all know is actually all that matters), TCU and Houston would be my two picks. Dipping into Texas, both for players and TV ratings, cannot be topped. Villanova has stadium issues, so they might be out despite how logical the fit would be. What will happen? Temple and UCF are my best guesses.
Steven: The Big East is in an interesting position with expansion. Are the candidates added only going to be members for football or will they add to the 16 team basketball conference? I think Villanova is an easy target. The Wildcats are a successful FCS program and seem to be interested in making the jump, but will need to upgrade their stadium at some point. UCF is a strong option due to the large enrollment, potential television market and the Big East has to like the fact they can get into Florida more, which could help recruiting. TCU will get a lot of consideration, but if Houston isn’t invited, there would be no natural rival for the Horned Frogs, and adding a team from Texas is an odd fit for this conference. Memphis would be a fallback option, but the school needs to make a commitment to upgrading the stadium and the football program before they could have any success in the Big East.
2. Who will win the Big Ten championship?
Mitch: I think both Iowa and Wisconsin will end the season with one loss, and Wisconsin, with its win over Iowa, would win the tie-breaker. I think Michigan State will lose at Penn State, and Ohio State will lose at Iowa. Should be a great race.
Braden: It may all depend on the Ohio State-Iowa battle in Iowa City. Wisconsin and Michigan State, I believe, will lose another game along the way. So if Ohio State can take care of business in those pink locker rooms at Kinnick Stadium, the Buckeyes will have a chance at not only a Rose Bowl but maybe even a national title berth. I know it's boring, but there is a reason that OSU has won at least a share of five straight Big Ten titles.
Steven: I think Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin will all win out. With three teams tied atop the Big Ten, the tiebreaker would revert to the BCS standings, and I’m guessing Ohio State would be the highest ranked. If the Buckeyes beat Iowa, then that victory could be enough to propel them over Wisconsin in the BCS. Unless there is an unexpected loss or two along the way from the top four teams in this conference, the Big Ten appears likely to get two teams into BCS games.
3. What would shock you more, Syracuse winning the Big East or Baylor winning the Big 12 South?
Mitch: Baylor winning the Big 12 South would be a much bigger shock. Syracuse has been awful in recent years, but it is far easier to climb up the food chain in the Big East than the Big 12 South. There are two superpowers (Texas and OU) and three other very solid programs (Texas Tech, A&M and Oklahoma State). Both teams have done a great job this season, but I’m more surprised that Baylor is contending this late in the season.
Braden: Syracuse has a much easier path to a conference title but Baylor has better players. Robert Griffin is the great equalizer and can single-handedly/footedly beat anyone. I think the Orange might be the biggest surprise of the season, but they actually have a chance to push for a Big East title. Baylor still has Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M left. Two out of three would be shocking to me.
Steven: Considering the Big East was believed to be a wide open race in the preseason, Syracuse winning the conference title wouldn’t shock me. The Orange were picked seventh in our preseason picks, but I think a lot of people believed this program could pull off an upset or two along the way and push for a better finish. I thought Baylor would be an improved team this year, just by getting Robert Griffin back under center. However, I am shocked at how much this team has improved this year and to be atop the Big 12 South standings after nine weeks.
Is this Paterno's final stand?
4. Will Joe Paterno be back to coach Penn State for a 46th season in 2011?
Mitch: My guess is no. We obviously won’t know until after the season, but I just have a feeling this is going to be it for Paterno.
Braden: Replacing all the talent on defense was an issue. Having an 18-year-old freshman playing quarterback hurt. The Big Ten is stacked with veteran teams this fall. All have contributed to PSU's struggles this season, but the game has passed JoePa by. Just look at the recruiting trail. The Lions have a total of four commitments with one ranking four stars or higher. He is. Penn State. But it might be time to move on.
Steven: After the rough offseason Paterno endured, I think the clock is certainly winding down on his tenure in Happy Valley. How much longer? I’m not sure. There’s a good chance he returns next year, but I’d be surprised if he’s still coaching Penn State in 2012 or 2013. The Nittany Lions have some youth in spots, but I think the talent on this team has slipped. With the expanded Big Ten next year, Paterno may want one shot at winning the conference championship game before retiring, but it will be interesting to see if they go with a head coach-in-waiting formula or hire someone from outside of the program.
5. Why was Greg Childs on the field for Arkansas in the fourth quarter of a blowout?
Mitch: Only Bobby Petrino and/or receivers coach Kris Cinkovich know the answer to that question. Very puzzling that such a good player who had been bothered with injuries was on the field in a blowout.
Braden: I think it is very clear that Bobby-P has always cared about one person only — himself. Petrino, at one point, had signed 20 years worth of contracts in about an 18-month period of time for a combined $63.85 million with three organizations. Injuries happen, but this one reminds of the Tyrone Prothro incident, and he ended up as a bank teller (no offense to bank tellers out there but it's not the NFL). There is no good reason the staff can give me as to why Childs was on the field, and now, he can't play in a huge game against South Carolina.
Steven: This is certainly one of the most puzzling decisions made by Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and a huge mistake. Arkansas was up 35-14 going into the fourth, and Vanderbilt was struggling to generate any offense since the first quarter. I understand wanting to get the offense some work going into a key game against South Carolina, but Childs was already injured from the previous week, and wouldn’t you want one of your key playmakers healthy for the next matchup? The Razorbacks are deep at receiver, but leaving Childs in the game in the fourth quarter really made no sense.
Year Three of the Campus Challenge returns as Mitch returns to defend his championship. The rules: Each person picks a quarterback, running back and wide receiver to make up his "team" for the week in an effort to amass as many passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards and total touchdowns as possible. Whoever has the best stats as the end of the year wins. All players selected must be from a BCS conference team playing an FBS opponent, and each editor can only use a player once during the season.
Players who have been selected by all three editors: Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and Kendall Hunter, Northwestern's Dan Persa, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.