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2011 NCAA College Football – Week 13 Preview

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson
Wesley Hitt, Getty Images

For many schools across the country, this is rivalry week: the game that determines bragging rights and, in many cases, a coach’s future employment. But after last week’s chaotic BCS shakeup, a slew of one-loss teams are suddenly back in the national title mix, anxiously hoping for some SEC upsets to give them a shot. Combine that intrigue with a slew of heated rivalries and teams jockeying for conference championships and bowl positions, and it should be another exciting week in college football. Here are all the highlights from this week in the AP Top 25.

#3 Arkansas (10-1) at #1 Louisiana State (11-0)

[Friday, Nov. 25 at 2:30 PM ET on CBS]

While this one may not have the build-up and hype of last month’s #1 vs. #2 LSU/Alabama game, the stakes are every bit as high. An LSU win keeps their undefeated season alive and would set them up against Georgia in next week’s SEC title game. But the game might be even bigger for Arkansas: a win here combined with an Auburn upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl would send the Razorbacks to the SEC title game. More interestingly, if Alabama and Arkansas both this week, a quirk in the SEC tiebreaker rules would send the Crimson Tide to the SEC game. But assuming Arkansas, currently #3 in the BCS, moves up at least one spot in the BCS poll, the Razorbacks would be headed to the national championship game without technically winning their own division. LSU is riding a 16-game home winning streak and, excluding the Tigers’ 9-6 win over Alabama, has an average margin of victory of 30.4 points in games this season. This will be a classic offense vs. defense matchup: Arkansas leads the SEC in total offense and scoring while LSU is second only to Alabama in most defensive categories.

#2 Alabama (10-1) at Auburn (7-4)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS]

As if there wasn’t enough on the line in the bitter Iron Bowl rivalry, this year the stakes are higher than ever with a possible national championship on the line. Alabama is currently ranked #2 in the BCS and, unless for some strange reason they were to drop, a win this week would secure either a spot in the SEC title game (if LSU loses to Arkansas) or the national championship game (if LSU wins). Alabama’s all-world defense ranks first in virtually every defensive category, so the Auburn defense will have to find a way to slow down Alabama’s Heisman candidate and the SEC’s leading rusher, running back Trent Richardson, to keep the game close. Auburn’s offense ranks 93rd in the nation in total offense and 78th in scoring, so Auburn’s best chance of pulling the upset lies in not turning the ball over and hoping for some mistakes by Alabama’s offense. Last year, Alabama blew a 24-0 lead and fell 28-27 to Cam Newton and the eventual national champion Tigers.

#22 Notre Dame (8-3) at #4 Stanford (10-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

After a week of BCS chaos, Stanford’s national title hopes have suddenly gone from nonexistent to not out of the realm of possibility. Sure, they’d need some help from the SEC and Oklahoma but, after what we saw last weekend, it’s difficult to completely rule out. They’ll face a challenge this week against a Notre Dame team that is playing with renewed confidence after winning four in a row and eight of its last nine. The Irish have averaged over 35 points per game the last four weeks, but suffered a major blow last week when starting tailback Jonas Gray was lost for the season with a torn MCL. Gray was Notre Dame’s top scoring threats and had found the end zone in eight straight games. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is fifth in the nation in pass efficiency and will take his Heisman campaign against a Notre Dame defense that is giving up less than 200 passing yards per game, good for 31st nationally.

#5 Oklahoma State (10-1) BYE

The Cowboys only dropped two spots in the all-important BCS poll following their double overtime loss at Iowa State Friday night. They’ll play Oklahoma in the Bedlam rivalry game next Saturday, knowing a win there and an upset in the SEC could put them in the national championship game.

#6 Virginia Tech (10-1) at #24 Virginia (8-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN2]

The winner of this game will clinch the ACC Coastal division and a date with Clemson in next week’s ACC title game. But there could be even more on the line for Virginia Tech. Sitting at #5 in the BCS, if the Hokies win out, they could be just an SEC upset and an Oklahoma win over Oklahoma State next week from an improbable national title shot. After a slow start, Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas has taken his team on his back, averaging almost 285 yards of total offense during the team’s current six-game winning streak and scoring 20 touchdowns (12 passing, eight rushing) in that span. He is complimented by running back David Wilson, who is third in the nation in rushing. They’ll be going against a Virginia defense that is giving up an average of just 17 points per game in its last four games. Knocking off the Hokies would give Virginia three wins over ranked teams this season, a first since 2002. However, they have lost seven straight (and 11 of 12) to the Hokies. After starting the season just 4-3, the surprising Cavaliers have won four in a row and are ranked for the first time since 2007.

Wyoming (7-3) at #7 Boise State (9-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 2:00 PM ET on Mountain West Sports Network]

Boise quarterback Kellen Moore has thrown for multiple touchdowns in every game this season, but he’ll be going against an improving Wyoming defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to less than 230 yards in four of their last five games and have allowed just two passing touchdowns in that stretch. This is the Broncos’ first home game since the loss to TCU snapped a 35-game home winning streak.

#8 Houston (11-0) at Tulsa (8-3)

[Friday, Nov. 25 at 12:00 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

Houston is enjoying its highest ranking in over 21 years, but will face arguably its toughest challenge of the season on the road against a Tulsa squad whose only three losses have been to #5 Oklahoma State, #7 Boise State and #12 Oklahoma. Since then the Golden Hurricane have won seven straight by an average of 23 points per game. They are riding a 12-game Conference USA winning streak. Case Keenum and the Cougars’ high-powered offense rank first in the nation in passing, total offense and scoring. A win this week would not only keep its BCS bowl hopes alive, but also give Houston its first ever 12-win season.

Oregon State (3-8) at #9 Oregon (9-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN2]

Although Oregon’s national title hopes are gone, there’s still a lot of motivation for the Ducks in this year’s version of the Civil War rivalry. The Ducks rank third in the nation in scoring offense, and Heisman candidate LaMichael James is a big part of the reason. James leads the nation in rushing yards per game and, despite missing two games with an elbow injury, ranks seventh in total rushing. Oregon has won the last three games in this series. Win a fourth and the Ducks will win the Pac-12 North and will host the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon State has only won three games this season, but is coming off an upset victory over Washington.

UCLA (6-5) at #10 Southern Cal (9-2)

For USC, which is on probation and ineligible to play in a bowl game, a chance to win their fifth straight game against their cross-town rivals is good as it gets for their season finale. For UCLA, the stakes are a little higher; a win this week would clinch the Pac-12 South title and a date with Oregon next week in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship game. The Bruins defense, which ranks 81st nationally in scoring, will have a tough job holding down USC’s high-powered offense. The Trojans are averaging 42 points per game in their last four games and, despite Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck getting all the hype, USC signal caller Matt Barkley leads the conference in touchdown passes.

#11 Michigan State (9-2) at Northwestern (6-5)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 12:00 PM ET on Big Ten Network]

Michigan State has already punched its ticket into the first Big Ten Championship game. But first the face another challenge, going on the road (the Spartans are just 2-2 in road games this year) against a suddenly hot Northwestern squad that has won four in a row, including their upset of then-#9 Nebraska. Despite missing all or most of four games this season, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has thrown for 15 touchdowns and over 1900 yards, but has rushed for just 76 yards after going for 519 last season. Michigan State sacked Persa eight times in last season’s matchup and the Spartans’ defense has already recorded 32 sacks this season. Michigan State will play the winner of this week’s Penn State/Wisconsin game in the Big Ten title game.

Iowa State (6-4) at #12 Oklahoma (8-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 12:00 PM ET on FX]

Although Oklahoma saw its BCS title hopes crushed in a last-minute loss at Baylor, the Sooners still control their own destiny for the Big 12 championship and its automatic spot in the Fiesta Bowl. They’ll try to move past last week’s shocking disappointment by taking on the same Iowa State team that stunned then-#2 Oklahoma State last Friday in Ames. Oklahoma’s offense ranks third in passing yards, fourth in total yards and sixth in scoring. But the defense has been the Sooners’ Achilles heel this year, giving up an average of 489 yards and 32 points per game the last four weeks. After a mid-season four-game losing streak, the Cyclones have won three straight since going to freshman Jared Barnett at quarterback. The Sooners have won 13 in a row against Iowa State.

#13 Georgia (9-2) at #25 Georgia Tech (8-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

The Bulldogs have won nine straight games and clinched their first SEC East title since 2005. But they’ll have their hands full as they try to get their tenth win of the season. This should be a classic strength versus strength matchup as Georgia’s second-ranked rushing defense goes against the Yellow Jackets’ second nationally rushing offense. In the last three meetings, Georgia Tech has averaged over 341 yards and 34 points per game. But the Bulldogs have still won two of those three.

#18 Clemson (9-2) at #14 South Carolina (9-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 7:45 PM ET on ESPN]

After being almost unstoppable through the first eight games of the season, Clemson’s offense has become its own worst enemy, turning the ball over 11 times in the last three games and losing two of those three. That could be problematic going against a South Carolina that is tied for sixth nationally in forced turnovers. The Gamecocks will need a strong showing from the defense, as their offense has struggled to move the ball after the dismissal of starting quarterback Stephen Garcia and a season-ending injury to star running back Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina put up 473 yards last week against The Citadel, but had not put up more than 318 yards total offense in the previous four weeks. South Carolina has won the last two in this heated in-state rivalry.

#20 Penn State (9-2) at #15 Wisconsin (9-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN]

Lost in all the turmoil around the Penn State sex abuse scandal is the fact that the Nittany Lions have actually put together a solid season and still have a chance to win the Big Ten title. The winner of this matchup will win the Leaders Division title and will take on Michigan State in next week’s Big Ten Championship game. These two teams are really direct opposites of each other. Wisconsin relies on a high-powered offense (fifth nationally in scoring; averaging nearly 45 points and 480 yards per game) led by running back Montee Ball, who has scored a Big Ten-record 30 touchdowns this season. He’ll be going against a stout Penn State defense that ranks third in the nation in scoring defense and has only allowed 20 points twice this season.

#16 Kansas State (9-2) BYE

The Wildcats only put up 121 yards of total offense last week, but still managed to secure a 17-13 win at Texas. Now, Kansas State is thinking about a possible BCS at-large bid. They are off this week in preparation for next week’s season-ending game against Iowa State.

Ohio State (6-5) at #17 Michigan (9-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 12:00 PM ET on ABC]

A win this week would likely ensure Michigan an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game. But more importantly for the Wolverine faithful, a victory would snap a seven-game losing streak to the hated Buckeyes. These are two programs heading in opposite directions: Michigan has won three of its last four and is coming off a 45-17 drubbing of then-#17 Nebraska. Ohio State, meanwhile, is hoping to avoid closing out the regular season on a three-game losing streak while dealing with the distractions of the Urban Meyer coaching rumors. With an offense ranked 84th in scoring, the Ohio State defense will have to step up and slow down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson to give the Buckeyes a shot. While he has struggled at times this season, the junior showed flashes of the “Shoelace” form of the past, scoring four touchdowns last week against Nebraska.

#19 Texas Christian (9-2) BYE

The Horned Frogs have clinched a share of the Mountain West title in their last season in the league. They will return to action next week and can clinch the conference title outright with a win over 2-8 UNLV.

Texas Tech (5-6) versus #21 Baylor (7-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 26 at 7:00 PM ET on Fox Sports Net; Game played in Arlington, TX]

A week after stunning Oklahoma with a school-record 479 passing yards and four touchdowns, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III will look to keep his resurgent Heisman campaign going against a Texas Tech defense that ranks 113th in the nation in scoring defense. With Griffin at the helm, Baylor now ranks second in the nation in total offense and tenth in scoring. The Red Raiders also got a big upset of Oklahoma last month, but have lost four straight games since then. They have won 15 straight games against Baylor and need a win this week to extend their Big 12-record bowl streak to 19 years. Griffin has thrown for 400+ yards in four of his last five games.

Iowa (7-4) at #22 Nebraska (8-3)

[Friday, Nov. 25 at 12:00 PM ET on ABC]

Nebraska’s hopes for a BCS at-large bid or a spot in the Big Ten Championship died with an embarrassing 45-17 beatdown last week at Michigan. In that game, Nebraska was held to just 260 total yards and running back Rex Burkhead was held scoreless for the first time this season. Despite last week’s struggles, however, Nebraska still ranks 14th in the nation in rushing and should be able to find some success against an Iowa defense that ranks 63rd against the run. However, the once-feared Nebraska Blackshirts defense has been gashed by opposing runners (74th in the nation in rush defense) and will have their hands full against Iowa running back Marcus Coker, the Big Ten’s leading rusher.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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