11.29.2009

College football saves best week for last - part one

To all the die-hards out there: you can finally exhale.

Week thirteen of the college football season brought the most heart-stopping, gut-wrenching clashes of the season. Nobody would have expected anything less on rivalry week.

In a Heisman race as clear as the muddy path that is The Grove at Ole Miss, this weekend was going to help voters make some tough decisions. The picture is getting a tad clearer now.

There was also the curtain call for one all-time great, if not two in Gainesville.

There were the three highest-ranked teams all in action against testy in-state rivals, two of them on the road.

There were coaches across the BCS conferences fighting for their jobs. Some may have won, others may have lost, and in the case of Louisville’s Steve Kragthorpe, some have already packed their bags.

The epic 72 hours that was the final weekend of the regular season is almost worthy of its own book.

Chapter one took place Thanksgiving night in College Station. The Texas Longhorns were aided by Colt McCoy’s best performance of the season in staving off the rival Texas A & M’s upset bid. McCoy both kept his team alive in the national title hunt and improved his Heisman stock in the win.

That was only the beginning. Instead of chapter one, let’s call Lone Star Showdown 2009 the prologue.

Chapter one is highlighted by the illustrious return of Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. Midway through the year, Pike was an emerging candidate for the Heisman before breaking his arm against South Florida. His replacement, Zach Collaros, kept the Bearcats unbeaten in his absence. There were plenty of people who even dared to say Collaros outperformed Pike when he had the chance.

Head coach Brian Kelly ignored the advice of many people by re-inserting Pike as the starter against Illinois. All Pike did was throw six touchdowns in a 49-36 win. That performance left everyone wondering just how different the Heisman picture would be had Pike remained healthy.

Just as the Bearcats were putting the finishing touches on their win, the Auburn Tigers were jumping all over second-ranked Alabama 14-0 in the first quarter. The Crimson Tide responded to tie the game at 14 by halftime. However, with six minutes to play, Auburn held to a 21-20 lead, when Greg McElroy completed seven consecutive passes, including the game-winner to Roy Upchurch on third-and-goal.

Auburn failed to score after getting the ball back with 1:30 left to play, and the upset bid was thwarted soundly. In the meantime, Mark Ingram lost his loose grip on the Heisman lead with only 30 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Chapter three came that evening, when Pittsburgh and West Virginia met for the annual Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. Thanks to a stellar performance from Noel Devine, and a key third-down conversion from Jarrett Brown late in the game, the Mountaineers edged the ninth-ranked Panthers with a last-second field goal, 19-16.

You could argue there was more suspense in three of those four games than on any one weekend to date this season. The best was still yet to come.

The early kickoffs at noon ET would have made George Bush proud. There was plenty of shock and awe to go around with all the upsets being handed out in the early portion of the day.

Oklahoma, which has been the most inconstant team in the last month, shut out 12th-ranked Oklahoma State, emphatically slamming the door on the Cowboys’ hopes of an at-large BCS bowl bid.

Meanwhile, North Carolina State was taking on one of the hottest teams in America, the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Wolfpack were playing with heavy hearts as their offensive Coordinator Dana Bible had been diagnose with cancer earlier in the week, and was not with the team. Trailing 24-14 at halftime, the Pack led a furious comeback to take a 28-27 lead.

Casey Barth, the Tar Heel kicker who broke out of his brother Connor’s shadow with a game-winning field goal against Virginia Tech last week, was not as clutch this Saturday. His game-winning field goal attempt was blocked in the final minutes, sealing the emotional upset for the Wolfpack.

If that wasn’t enough chaos for a three-hour period, Clemson was also falling flat on its face against South Carolina. The Gamecocks continued their mysterious home-field dominance in a 34-17 win. The South Carolina team on the field Saturday resembled the one that beat Mississippi at home in September. C.J. Spiller took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, but after that found it hard to gain any traction against a tough Gamecock defense.

While the outcome of the game had no logistical impact on Clemson’s future, it’s still a tough loss. The Tigers had been red-hot heading into Saturday, and would have loved to carry that momentum into next week’s ACC title game. Instead, Dabo Swinney must go back to the drawing board to inspire his team this week.

Funny to mention Mississippi. The Rebels, fresh off a win against LSU last week, lived up to the name of the game they played in. The “Egg Bowl” pits the Rebels against the Mississippi State Bulldogs every year, and an egg is what they laid Saturday. Jevan Snead was intercepted three times, and the Bulldogs avenged last season’s 45-0 loss to Ole Miss with a 41-27 victory at home. Dan Mullen was the right hire in Starkville. Just wait until he gets his own recruits down there.

Next came the more sentimental moment of the day with the least suspense. Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy and national championship-winning Florida quarterback played his final home game in Gainesville. After hearing nothing all week besides the fact it was the last chapter in his career at home, Tebow led his team onto the field and proceeded to stomp the rival Florida State Seminoles 37-10.

It was exactly the performance Tebow needed to keep his hopes of a second Heisman alive. He accounted for all five touchdowns in the win.

In the meantime, it may have also been the final regular season game for legendary Seminole coach Bobby Bowden. School officials have announced that Bowden, 80, and head coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher will meet with administration Monday to discuss his future with the program. It is clear Bowden has fallen behind the times, and the changes to the game in recent years have been too much for his program to keep up with. The embarrassing loss to the in-state rival Gators proves as much.

The final chapter of this great weekend was an epic nightcap. For a recap of the most exciting night of the season, check back later.

11.28.2009

Virginia Tech-UVA initial summary


Thanks to an enormous effort from Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech won its sixth straight contest with Virginia 42-13.

Williams carried the ball 23 times for 182 yards and four touchdowns.

Prospects didn’t look so bright in the first half. The Hokies’ defense permitted Jameel Sewell to run for 99 yards and a touchdown by the break. Tech led 14-13 at halftime.

That’s when Williams took over. The redshirt freshman ran for 123 yards in the first 20 minutes of the second half, and two scores.

With six minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Hokies still held on to just a one-point lead. Tyrod Taylor had just been intercepted in the end zone for a touchback, when the Tech defense came up with its biggest play of the night, recovering a fumble on the next play to set up another Williams score.

The Hokies scored two more touchdowns in the next five and a half minutes to expand the lead to 35-13, proving to be insurmountable for the Cavaliers.

The loss probably marks the end of the Al Groh era at Virginia. After nine seasons at the school, Groh is likely to be fired in the coming days following the team’s worst record in 26 years.

With the win, Virginia Tech is now one win shy of its sixth straight 10-win season. Interestingly enough, all six of those seasons coincide with Tech’s membership in the ACC.


Check back later for final thoughts on the game.

At the half - Virginia Tech 14, UVA 13

The Hokie receievers have taken advantage of some lackluster man coverage downfield. Danny Coale has two receptions of more than 20 yards, and Dyrell Roberts also added a long grab.

Ryan Williams is extending his conference record for rushing touchdowns as a freshman. Williams has two scores in the first half, giving him 17 on the season.

The Cavalier coaching staff has finally unleashed Jameel Sewell. He has carried the ball ten times for 98 yards already, including a 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Tech kicker Matt Waldron is 0-for-1 on the day, missing a 40-yarder wide right late in the second quarter. It was Waldron’s first miss in his last 11 tries.

Virginia’s best opportunity to win is if they continue to hammer the ball with the running game, using Sewell, Vic Hall, and Mikell Simpson to attack the Hokies on the ground.

For Virginia Tech, the key is to stretch the Cavalier defense with the pass. Tech has proven they can beat UVA deep, and they need to continue that in the second half. If they are able to do so, it will open up more running lanes for Williams to run wild.

It’s setting up to be a great second half.

Week 13 Game Day Predictions

CLEMSON 28, South Carolina 17

·      C.J. Spiller will be too much for the Gamecock defense to handle; Clemson’s defensive line will force Stephen Garcia into too many mistakes

NORTH CAROLINA 31, NC State 6

·      The Wolfpack offense has had enough struggles already before learning this week that offensive coordinator Dana Bible has been diagnosed with cancer.

WAKE FOREST 31, Duke 28

·      Both teams’ postseason hopes are dashed, and it’s the swan song for two great quarterbacks in Riley Skinner and Thaddeus Lewis.

OLE MISS 30, Mississippi State 24

·      Don’t be shocked if the Bulldogs pull off the upset, they’ve been close several times this year, but the Rebels are playing their best football of the season right now.

OKLAHOMA STATE 38, Oklahoma 21

·      Even with Zac Robinson’s status up in the air, the Cowboys are thrilled with the chance to stomp an already beaten down Sooner bunch.

FLORIDA 35, Florida State 14

·      This game could have been much more dangerous for the Gators if ‘Noles quarterback Christian Ponder was healthy.

 VIRGINIA TECH 34, Virginia 20

·      The Cavaliers pulled some tricks out of their bag last week, and head coach Al Groh says they have more where that came from. Sounds like the Cavs are going to pull out all the stops in what in all likelihood will be Groh’s final game in Charlottesville.

SOUTH FLORIDA 24, Miami 22

·      All signs are pointing towards a Bulls’ upset. For more reasons, see the previous blog entry.

ARIZONA 35, Arizona State 28

·      The Wildcats lost their shot at a first-ever Rose Bowl when they collapsed late last week against Oregon. Still, a win over the hated Sun Devils would take most of the sour taste from their mouths.

BOSTON COLLEGE 33, Maryland 28

·      The Terps have been the ACC’s worst team this season, no question. However, they have still given some teams fits, and the Eagles aren’t exactly the conference juggernaut.

BYU 38, Utah 30

·      This is the battle of the also-rans in the Mountain West; both were manhandled by TCU in hyped-up showdowns. Max Hall’s arm is the difference in an underrated rivalry today.

WASHINGTON 42, Washington State 21

·      This could be a tricky game for the Huskies, but the Cougars simply have no firepower to go up with anyone in the FBS.

ARKANSAS 30, LSU 27

·      This game could send two coaches in opposite directions. Bobby Petrino needs this win to be a springboard for his program’s revival. Les Miles needs this win to keep himself in good standing with Tiger Nation.

GEORGIA TECH 38, Georgia 24

·      If this were in Athens, the Bulldogs might have a shot, but Tech is simply the much better team in this game.

STANFORD 42, Notre Dame 39

·      Not too many people are giving the Irish a chance in this game, but don’t forget Jimmy Clausen is still under center, and he still gets to throw to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Toby Gerhart will run wild on the atrocious Notre Dame defense. All five Irish losses this season have come by a touchdown or less.

Last week: 9-4

Overall: 81-38 (68%)

 

Five teams with the most to lose

Here it is: the final Saturday of the 2009 regular season is upon us. With this final weekend come nail-biting rivalry matchups that pose the potential to alter the college football landscape.

On Saturday there is only one game featuring ranked teams, Utah at BYU.

Nevermind that factoid, ladies and gents; instead, be wary of the underdog adversaries chomping at the bit to ruin someone’s season.

Five teams will step on the field Saturday with little to gain on the national stage, but so much more to lose.

1.    LSU (vs. Arkansas, 7:00)

In a single two-minute span, the Tigers’ program toppled the first domino in a stack that has yet to cease falling yet. Les Miles has gone from the “Ice Man” of coaching to the “worst coach to ever win a national championship” in some circles.

If LSU beats Arkansas Saturday night, it’s business as usual for Tiger fans, but you can bet they’ll still be fuming over the circus that was the LSU sideline in the final seconds of the Tigers’ loss to Ole Miss last week.

If the Hogs knock off LSU, it will put the stamp on an official late-season choke job by Miles and his team. The man who two years ago was begged by the fan base to stay in Baton Rouge would be boiling in water hotter than a Cajun grill outside Tiger Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.

Although its highly unlikely that Miles’ job is on the line this weekend, you never know what a tough loss to the rival Hogs could stir up in the Bayou.

2.    Miami (vs. South Florida, 3:30)

Every time the Hurricanes seem to get back on track after a tough loss, they falter once more. After a tough loss at North Carolina, Miami rebounded with a strong finish to a 34-16 win over Duke.

Now Miami faces a tricky test in its final regular season contest. If all signs aren’t pointing straight towards a Hurricane flop, they’re leaning that way.

The game has little to no implications on Miami’s postseason fate.

This is South Florida’s first shot at Miami since 2005, and only the second meeting of the two ever. This is the first time the teams have gotten together since the Bulls’ emergence as a legitimate threat on the national stage.

The Bulls already knocked around Florida State in a 17-7 win in October, and are salivating at the chance to go 2-0 against the big boys in the state. Can you spell r-e-c-r-u-i-t-i-n-g t-o-o-l?

Basically, the Bulls have the world to gain from a win, while Miami has nothing. If Randy Shannon is worth the $2 million on his annual paychecks, he’ll find a way to motivate his team to reach its first nine-win season since 2005.

3.    Georgia Tech (vs. Georgia, 8:00)

Like Miami, the Yellow Jackets’ holiday destination won’t be decided by their game this weekend. For Tech, it’s about taking a tighter grip on the state of Georgia with another victory of the Bulldogs. Last year, it was Tech shocking the Bulldogs 45-42.

It may not be as much about what Tech would lose in this game, but more about what they would fail to gain.

Along with greater recruiting power in the area, the Jackets could force some turmoil in their rival’s program. Mark Richt is already on thin ice with Georgia boosters, and an embarrassing loss to the in-state rival Jackets is not exactly the remedy.

A big win by the Yellow Jackets on Saturday evening would make it even harder to remember how just two short years ago, the Bulldogs ruled everything in the Peach State, while Tech was a mere afterthought. All because a little old coach from the Naval Academy brought his antique offense to play with the big boys.

4.    Clemson (vs. South Carolina, 12:00)

This is a momentum game for the Tigers. South Carolina is a decided underdog at home, but a worthy opponent nonetheless. The Gamecocks are the type of team that will require a strong effort from Dabo Swinney’s squad to come out on top.

If Clemson manages to impress in a big rivalry win, they could very well go into Tampa next week and knock off Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers have been a team to ride momentum as far as possible for many years now, and 2009 is no different. They have caught fire at the right time; now it is simply of matter of how long they can keep burning.

A loss to the hated Gamecocks would be hard to recover from in a week’s time. Clemson needs one final confidence-booster before the conference title showdown next week. The only problem is a loss would be a confidence-demoralizer. It’s a must-win of the most unique kind this Saturday.

5.    Washington (vs. Washington State, 6:30)

Was it really two months ago when Washington was one play away from being 3-2 after playing Notre Dame? Instead, the Irish escaped with the overtime win over the Huskies. Washington rebounded the next week to beat Arizona 36-33, and have not tasted victory since.

Steve Sarkisian, once the taste of the town in Seattle, is now back to square one with his program. The Huskies sit at 3-7, 2-5 in the Pac-10 with two games to play. Three of their losses have come by a touchdown or less.

Right now, the Huskies are a clear example of a team that just does not know quite how to win yet, which is understandable, after last year’s 0-12 debacle.

As Sarkisian gets players more tuned to his style, and flat-out more talented, those close losses will turn into wins, and 3-7 will turn into 6-4, which will then turn into 8-2.

All of that being said, much of the optimism surrounding the Washington program remaining after this four-game skid would vanish with a loss to the pathetic Cougars.

Washington State has one of the worst defenses in America, and its hard to imagine them beating any team from a BCS conference. This is still an intrastate rivalry game, though, which means anything can happen.

If State stunned the Northwest with a win, it would bring Sarkisian and the Huskies crashing down to rock bottom. The nice thing is they are quite familiar there, but nobody can honestly say they saw it coming after the red-hot September they enjoyed.

Words of wisdom for Washington: save yourself the misery and take care of business Saturday afternoon.

11.27.2009

Heisman race finally gets interesting

Hello all, and happy Thanksgiving!


I had planned on a great day of eating, watching, and blogging on Thursday. That was until I found out my aunt and uncle had no high-speed internet. So much for that...but here is a quick recap of my thoughts on the weekend.

Jerrod Johnson and Colt McCoy put on one of the most entertaining shows of the season, combining for nine touchdowns in the Longhorns' 49-39 win. The Aggies went down swinging, but they just made too many mistakes in key moments to be able to hang with the third-ranked team in the land.

Johnson's untimely interception in the end zone, along with Christine Michael's fumbled handoff and Marquise Goodwin's kickoff returned for a touchdown cost Texas A & M its fourth victory in four years against Texas. 

As well as the Aggies played, McCoy played even better. His career-high 175 rushing yards included a highlight-worthy 65-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Every time it seemed the Aggies were making a comeback push, McCoy marched the offense down the field in convincing fashion. 

It was a Heisman-worthy performance, and hopefully set the stage for a huge weekend in deciding who will take home the award this year. 

In the past, the list of potential Heisman winners has been narrowed to three, maybe two, and even sometimes one by the last weekend of the regular season. Instead, this year there are as many as five or six guys still vying for the trophy. 

McCoy showed last night that this weekend is the perfect opportunity for all of the guys in the forefront to make a statement on the national stage. 

Mark Ingram has a chance today to carry the Alabama Crimson Tide to a second straight unbeaten regular season against Auburn. If Ingram steps up in the spotlight as he has all season, he will be a finalist in New York.

Tim Tebow has a great chance as well to keep his name in the mix. All the eyes of college football will at the very least have a peak in on the Florida-Florida State game. It will be Tebow's final home game of his illustrious career, and also a chance for the Gators to finish 12-0 for the second straight year as well. 

Toby Gerhart's dominant season has gone largely unnoticed until his Stanford team's recent upsets of Oregon and USC in consecutive weeks. Now, Gerhart has a chance to face one of the nation's worst rushing defenses in Notre Dame at home in prime-time. 

More than anyone else left with a shot at the Heisman, Gerhart needs a big game to give himself a chance. The beauty of it for Gerhart is, a great game could not only put him in contention, but could be enough for him to sneak away with the award, depending on how the rest of the nation pans out. 

Check back for more later, but if last night is any indication, we're on in for one helluva weekend in college football. 

11.23.2009

Reveling in Rivalry’s Reverie

I don’t get it.

As school ceases operations for Thanksgiving, my teachers seem to have forgotten the word “break” follows “Thanksgiving” in the term. Now I have papers, projects, and tests to be ready for as soon as “break” is over.

This is severely ruining my rivalry week plans. Don’t those teachers know this is the week where local legends are made? When “the band is on the field!?” When backup quarterback becomes Stephen McGee, the guy who beat those dadgumm Longhorns? When five foot-nothing quarterback becomes Doug Flutie, Heisman Trophy winner?

Awesome. Now I have to do all this work in three days, so I can enjoy my turkey and football in peace. Thanks a lot, teach.

Here’s a look at the best rivalries reuniting this weekend. These might not be the best games of the week, just the most tradition-rich games on the slate. Professors be damned, I’ll be watching every minute of them.

Auburn-Alabama, Friday 2:30 (CBS)

The Iron Bowl is a game every kid in the state of Alabama grows up playing in his backyard. I guarantee you an eight-year-old Julio Jones stood in the street snagging passes from Andrew Zow. He also doubled as touchdown machine Shaun Alexander, bruising through the Tiger defense.

Jones is one of the lucky few that gets to live out his dream on Friday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Every single resident of the state feels this game’s impact; ask anyone and they’ll tell you this rivalry lasts 365 days a year. No matter the stakes, bragging rights is always tops on the perks of winning this game.

Beyond that, this year’s game has the intrigue of Bama’s undefeated season being on the line. Auburn has revitalized its offense this season under coordinator Gus Malzahn, and will surely have a few tricks up its sleeve for this game. The Tigers would love nothing more than to end the Tide’s national title dreams before they even get to Atlanta for the conference championship game.

Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, Saturday 12:30

The Cowboys have not felt victory in this game since 2002, when they knocked off the eighth-ranked Sooners for perhaps the biggest victory in the Les Miles era. This game dates back nearly a century, and lately has featured some of the best offensive players to play college football.

This year is a chance for payback for the Cowboys. The Sooners are crumbling down the stretch with losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech in the last three weeks. Oklahoma State has surrendered over 35 points to the Sooners five times in the last seven years. This year, Oklahoma’s has practically been playing with its backups due to injuries across the board. That means it is State’s chance to turn the tide on its hated rivals and dish out the punishment.

Arkansas-LSU, Saturday, 7:00 (ESPN)

This is usually the Friday afternoon delight, but now has moved to Saturday night. The theme of this game in recent years has been upsets. Just last season, a struggling LSU’s still had dreams of a New Year’s Day bowl game, only to lose 31-30 to sub-.500 Arkansas.

In 2007, Darren McFadden dominated the Tigers as the Razorbacks had seemingly ended LSU’s hopes of a national championship (oh that’s right, the BcS still managed to fit the Tigers into the title game).

In 2006, 9-2 LSU went into Fayetteville and ruined 10-1 Arkansas’ outside shot at a national championship. Casey Dick went 3-for-17 passing that game, and Hog Nation still has out a search party for his capture (Arkansas would go on to lose to Florida the following week anyway. Dick’s stat line? 10-for-22 and two interceptions).

So, if history is any indication, the Razorbacks have a great shot at handing the Tigers two losses in as many weeks in Baton Rouge. Les Miles is already starting to hear the grumblings of the alumni after forgetting the concept of time, trying to spike the ball with one second left on the clock in a 25-23 loss to Ole Miss. If the Tigers do indeed fall again, it may be all she wrote for Miles.

Georgia-Georgia Tech, Saturday, 8:00 (ABC)

Clean, old-fashioned hate. What a moniker for a game, right? Well, the only thing the Yellow Jackets have hated this decade is being owned in this series by the Bulldogs. Paul Johnson put an end to the program’s misery, toppling Georgia last season 45-42.

That win in 2008 was a surprise. In one short season, the tables have turned in regards to who owns this state. Johnson has the Jackets standing at 10-1 and ranked seventh in the country. Mark Richt is just trying to make it through the season with a 6-5 record at the moment and calls from the donors for his termination.

After giving up 28 second-half points to Kentucky last week, Georgia has little hope of stopping the force that is the Jackets’ triple option attack. Johnson should just about be able to name the score in this one, theoretically. But don’t underestimate the power of Georgia’s players to rally around their coach one last time in the program’s most important annual game.   

11.22.2009

For all you couch potatoes out there

As any person who’s ever tuned in to watch some college football will tell you, the TV announcers can make or break the broadcast. There are some announcers out there who just add to the aura of the gameday atmosphere. On the other hand, there are some guys (or gals) who are the reason TV remotes have a mute button.

Here’s a breakdown of the best, worst, and anywhere in between of college football broadcasters.

Turn up the volume (Best of the business)

Play-by-play

Chris Fowler, ESPN,

Fowler is one of the classic voices of this generation. He has hosted ESPN’s College Gameday for the last 19 seasons, and now also regularly does the play-by-play for Thursday night games. He has a wealth of knowledge about the game, which helps him contribute to the conversations of his analysts. Any game that Fowler is calling is worth keeping the sound on for.

Ron Franklin, ESPN

Franklin was formerly the play-by-play for Saturday night games in the SEC, but has since moved to regional coverage of daytime games. It’s unfortunate ESPN made that switch, because Franklin and Mike Gottfried made a special pair every Saturday night. Franklin’s voice just oozes football in the south, and is one of the best play-by-play men still hanging around.

Brent Musburger, ESPN

This guy has seen it all. Over 35 years in the business and still going strong, his signature phrase “You are looking live…” is something every college football fan worth their six-pack and recliner has heard a countless number of times. After the retirement of Keith Jackson, Musburger has assumed the role of old kid on the block, and whenever he decides to hang up the microphone will mark the end of an era in college football.

Brad Nessler, ESPN

Nessler has been a staple of ESPN’s college football broadcasts for over a decade, and for good reason. He facilitates the discussion very well with his partners, often leaving much of the dialogue up to his strong analysts. He now teams up with Craig James to form a great duo that can certainly help a less-than-casual fan stay up to speed with the game.

Analyst

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN

Herbstreit got his start as the charming panelist on College Gameday, before finally getting a chance to call ESPN’s Game of the Week along with Musburger a few years ago. Herbstreit manages to overcome the mantra of good-looking TV personality to have great insight, usually giving information beyond the generalities of the game. By the time he is done, he will easily be mentioned in the same breath as Jackson and the rest of the all-time great announcers.

Gary Danielson, CBS

Danielson pairs up with Verne Lundquist to make CBS’ SEC football broadcasts an intelligent broadcast. Danielson is a brilliant football mind, and clearly always does his homework. At times, Danielson will accurately predict what play a certain team is about to run. He knows the in’s and out’s of the SEC as good as anyone on the planet.

Worth listening to (Above-average)

Play-by-play

Verne Lundquist, CBS

Verne has his moments. He knows football, and it helps to have Danielson by his side. Lundquist just needs to expand his vocabulary a bit. “Oh my!” and “Wow!” are his classic lines, but they do get a bit old after the first 15 seasons. He still adds a good sound to the game, and has been around long enough to cement himself as a big-time announcer.

Tom Hammond, NBC

God bless Hammond for having to go around and watch Notre Dame struggle week after week. Of course, NBC is solely responsible for covering the Irish’s home games, which leaves the play-by-play duties to Hammond. He is another guy who knows plenty about the sport to actually educate some viewers about the game, and his voice is tolerable.

Mark Jones, ESPN

More on Jones’ partner later, but as a play-by-play man Jones breathes excitement and has a passion for the game. His deep voice is unmistakable, and ESPN has done a good job holding on to him all these years, as he has never really earned a prominent role in the network despite his talents.

Analyst

Craig James, ESPN

James is a somewhat newcomer to the scene. Formerly an in-studio analyst for halftime and pre-game shows, he is now the lead analyst for Thursday night football and works Saturdays as well. James knows football, and was a legendary running back for SMU in the mid-1980s. With time, James should develop into one of the premier color men in the business.

Todd Blackledge, ESPN

Once the quarterback for Joe Paterno at Penn State, Blackledge has a good mind, but really has a good thing going with his “Todd’s Taste of the Town” segment every week, where he showcases a local restaurant from the hometown school. He has captured the essence of the college atmosphere by those spots, but one has to wonder: what happens soon when he’s already visited many campuses on several occasions? He is still a good analyst nonetheless.

Mute it please…no, you know what? Just turn it off (Worst of the worst)

Play-by-play

Sean McDonough, ESPN

Viewers of McDonough’s game have no choice but to turn the volume down or risk blowing out their speakers. He has a tendency to get very excited during games, which leads to him screaming through the microphone often. Until those select moments, there is nothing wrong with his calls, but the yelling is near unbearable. His claim to fame will be the six-overtime basketball game last year in the Big East Tournament with Syracuse and Connecticut. His voice will forever be paired with the highlights of that game, but unfortunately for him, there is no such luck on the gridiron.

Thom Brennaman, FOX

Brennaman is the number one reason why Fox should never regain rights to broadcast the BCS bowls again after its current run is over. He has a tendency to forget the situation at times, and its clear his college football knowledge is a little rusty when he only gets to call one or two games at the end of the year. Thankfully, this year’s Rose Bowl and National Championship Game are on ABC/ESPN.

Analyst

Lou Holtz, ESPN

Simply known as “The Lisp” to much of college football fandom, Holtz is a homer for the Notre Dame program who found his way onto ESPN when NBC must have had no vacancies. Holtz is full of gimmicky segments, like “Lou’s Pep Talk”, where he dons the hat of a certain team and gives a mock pre-game locker room speech to that team. His voice is enough to drive anyone up a wall, and his wacky antics/predictions (Notre Dame in the national championship: really?) just sink his status even lower.

Bob Davie, ESPN

Charlie Weis is about to lose his job as head coach at Notre Dame, and if history is any indication, the broadcast booth should never be in his future. Davie, like Holtz, is a former head man in South Bend, and is another analyst who is simply not tolerable. His ultra-slow dictation makes me wonder how he ever finishes a thought before the next play has already begun. He obviously knows football as a former head coach, but he has a tough time translating that knowledge into good broadcasting ability. When will ESPN get rid of him?

Jesse Palmer, ESPN

I’d rather wet the bed at night than listen to Palmer every Thursday. Apparently ESPN forgot that 95% of women in America do not sit down on Thursdays to watch mid-level ACC teams duke it out. Palmer was once on ABC’s show “The Bachelor”, and unfortunately for him his football brain does not match his looks. He played quarterback at Florida in the late 90s, but he has a long way to go before he can clearly explain the game as effortlessly as Herbstreit.

Desmond Howard, ESPN

Does this guy even know basic sentence structure? Howard was a phenomenal collegiate player for Michigan, winning the Heisman Trophy with the Wolverines, and also was named Super Bowl XXXI MVP with the Green Bay Packers. That in no way qualified him to sit alongside Herbstreit and Lee Corso on Gameday.

It is a sure bet that every Saturday morning Howard will either mess up a simple sentence, or contradict his own opinions in the same breath. More often than not, after watching Howard I am left thinking “wait…what?” Fowler, Herbstreit and Corso form an unstoppable tandem for the world’s greatest pregame show, but Howard is doing his best to lose viewers for the show.

I’d be remiss not to mention the greatest sideline reporter in the history of the world, Erin Andrews. Don’t you dare roll your eyes; yes, this is the 19-year-old college kid coming out in me, and I’m proud of it, but Andrews is darn good, and hear me out.

There have been plenty of beauties to step in front of the camera on the sidelines of football games, but none have had the impact in this era that Andrews has had on the country. She is one of the first broadcast journalists to translate her success into celebrity.

Andrews is a hard-working journalist who is always very prepared for her game, and does a great job at getting worthwhile information out of coaches before and after halftime. She also is uncanny at picking up the events from each bench throughout the game, including coach-to-player conversations and more. Is she a sight for sore eyes? Sure she is, but she is also well respected in her field, and for good reason.

Best week for college football fans is upon us

Thanksgiving is here, which only means one thing. Some finger-lickin’, lip-smackin’ good football.

I’ve been around this world for 19 years, spending about 16 of them as a die-hard college football fan, and no weekend out of the year is better than that of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving evenings used to be filled with Grandma’s scrumptious dinner, followed by the Egg Bowl, Ole Miss versus Mississippi State. The next day, I could sleep until 11:30ish when I would wake up, grab some pancakes, and enjoy the Lone Star Showdown, Texas versus Texas A & M.

This year’s slate has been shaken up a bit from recent tradition, but should still provide for an unbeatable day of indigestion recovery.

This year, Thankgsiving night concludes with the Longhorns and Aggies from College Station, which has not been friendly to Colt McCoy. In 2007, McCoy brought in 13th-ranked Texas to Kyle Field only to fall 38-30 in Aggies’ coach Dennis Franchione’s finale.  

The Aggies also won 12-7 in 2006. Last year Texas shut down Stephen McGee in a 49-9 win, but much of the first half was very close. If the Aggies can rally around Jerrod Johnson and their occasionally explosive offense, they can give the Longhorns fits.

Black Friday will only bring more classic rivalry showdowns. The nightcap is the Backyard Brawl, West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers’ three losses have all come on the road, and Friday night’s game is in Morgantown. Noel Devine and Dion Lewis are two of the best running backs in the country.

Pittsburgh has a huge matchup with unbeaten Cincinnati looming the following week, but it’s hard to imagine it suffering from the classic look-ahead syndrome against its hated rivals.

Either way, the Mountaineers won’t let the Panthers invade their turf and get away easily.

One of my favorite rivalry games is Nebraska-Colorado. Every year, this game provides some prime-time entertainment. Whether it be Chris Brown scoring six touchdowns in 2001, or Ndamukong Suh returning an interception for a touchdown in 2008 to seal the win, this game is always a great one.

Dan Hawkins may very well be on his way out after a failed experiment as the Buffaloes’ head coach, and his players would love nothing more than to let Hawkins go out with a huge win over the Big 12 North division champions.

All of those games are going to make for a spectacular weekend, but the one game most likely to transform the college football landscape is Alabama at Auburn. The Crimson Tide are within one game of its second straight undefeated regular season and a matchup with top-ranked Florida in the conference championship game.

There have been several games this season where the Tide’s offense has not been at its best, and the Tigers can surely score points with anyone. Chris Todd and Ben Tate have combined to produce 27 touchdowns this season.

This is Greg McElroy’s first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Iron Bowl as a starter. In the state of Alabama, there is football season and then there is the Tide and Tigers matchup. This particular game is on a completely different level from any other, and the odds are McElroy might not handle that tremendous pressure.

Rivalry week is upon us, and the Thursday-Friday prelude to the weekend is fast approaching. The BCS bowls are right around the corner!. . .

Hokies drag Pack around in blowout win


It only took a single play in Virginia Tech’s 38-10 win over North Carolina State Saturday night to show just how much separates the two programs.

Leading 24-10 midway through the third quarter, freshman running back Ryan Williams took the ball off the left side, where the Pack’s Earl Wolff grabbed him from behind.

That did not stop Wiliams, though, who carried Wolff 12 yards and into the end zone for his career-best fourth touchdown of the game.

For the eighth time this season, Williams put the Hokies on his back (a la Wolff) and carried them to a big victory. He finished the day with 120 yards on 32 carries.

The Wolfpack sputtered out of the gate, fumbling on three of its first four offensive plays, losing two of them. Both turnovers led to Tech scores, giving the Hokies a 10-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.

Tyrod Taylor continued his superb play against the weaker defenses of the ACC, completing 9-of-17 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown.

The Hokies have been an episode of Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner all season long. Everyone knows that the Road Runner escapes Wiley’s evil plan at the end of every episode. When the Hokies have played the worst of the ACC, they have cleaned house in 20-point plus beat downs.

It’s the same old song and dance when those cellar-dwellers face the Hokies. Williams is nearly impossible to tackle, Taylor looks like a poised quarterback, and the defense is a run-stuffing machine.

Unfortunately for Tech, the latter two only seem to occur against the bad teams.

Marshall, Boston College, Maryland, and State have made Tech look like a top-10 team. Where was the poised Taylor on a Thursday night in Blacksburg against North Carolina? Where was that run-stuffing defense when Georgia Tech gauged the Hokies for nearly 300 yards on the ground?

Tech has all the talent they need on both sides of the football to be sitting at 10-1 right now. It’s the motivation or focus they lack. When facing the mid-level to upper-echelon teams in the conference, Tech has failed to step up to the challenge, save for a rain-soaked evening against Miami.

Next week, Tech will probably walk into Scott Stadium and let Williams run wild against a beleaguered Cavalier defense for 120-plus yards and a few scores to finish the season 9-3.

This program has been missing excitement on game days.  Williams has been the saving grace this season, but he is the first player to electrify Lane Stadium in three years.

Where are guys like Eddie Royal, Xavier Adibi, Jimmy Williams, Bryan Randall, DeAngelo Hall, Jeff King, or Chris Ellis?

Those players saw Virginia Tech through the most exciting years of the program, when Lane Stadium truly was one of the most five feared stadiums in America. While its still up there in the ranks of vaunted venues, the feeling Lane carried through every game five years ago doesn’t seem to be there now.

It needs to come from the motivation of the players; to buckle up and drive right through the UNC’s of the world. They need to bring that energy back to Lane. Starting with the final minute of the Nebraska game and running through the Miami game, it seemed that Lane was once again the “Terror Dome.”

As this season’s home schedule comes to an end, here’s hoping for a rejuvenated program next year with more than just another 10-win season as the result.

 

11.21.2009

Week 12 Game Day Predictions

OHIO STATE 35, Michigan 20

·      One of the greatest rivalries in all of sports will come up short on suspense today. Will this be Rich Rodriguez’s swansong?

MIAMI 38, Duke 28

·      Duke lost its confidence after a 49-10 shellacking at the hands of Georgia Tech a week ago.

NORTH CAROLINA 24, Boston College 14

·      The Eagles have trouble against teams with great defenses.

OKLAHOMA 37, Texas Tech 21

·      After being held without a touchdown for the first time in over a decade, all the Sooners did was drop 65 points on Texas A & M the following week.

NOTRE DAME 23, Connecticut 20

·      The Huskies just seem to lose heartbreakers week after week; Charlie Weis needs to win to have any hope of keeping his job.

LSU 30, Mississippi 21

·      The Rebels might be the biggest disappointment of the season.

PENN STATE 23, Michigan State 16

·      The Spartans will lose control of this one in the second half, giving way to the Lions

VIRGINIA TECH 42, NC State 17

·      The Wolfpack’s defense might be worse than Maryland’s.

NORTHWESTERN 24, Wisconsin 20

·      Upset Special: the Wildcats are flying under the radar, and Pat Fitzgerald is the most underrated coach in the country.

TENNESSEE 33, Vanderbilt 20

·      This one will be a boring contest, and the Commodores just won’t have enough firepower to keep up.

STANFORD 38, California 30

·      Toby Gerhart needs to be a Heisman finalist, period.

TEXAS 44, Kansas 14

·      The Longhorns are on cruise control the rest of the way and are a near-lock for the national championship.

OREGON 34, Arizona 31

·      The Wildcats will lose a stunner in a valiant effort; both teams control their own destiny in the Pac-10 race.

Last week: 9-6

Overall: 72-34 (68%)

 

11.18.2009

Week 12 Power Rankings

1.     Florida

Urban Meyer needs to keep this team together for the final two games of the season before the showdown with Alabama. The Gators should have no trouble making it to Atlanta undefeated, and they have done nothing in the past two weeks to show they are not the best team in America. Not to say they are unarguably the best, but they are as worthy as anyone.

2.     Texas

The award for hottest team in America goes to the Longhorns. TCU is a close second, but over the last month Texas has looked like the national title contender everyone expected them to be before the season. Colt McCoy’s early-season struggles are behind him, and he has returned to the Heisman Trophy consideration. He needs big games against Texas A & M and in the Big 12 championship game to have a chance at the award.

3.     Alabama

Nick Saban’s bunch looked dominant against Mississippi State, as they should have. The shakiness of the Tide’s most recent outings left many experts with doubt on their chances at a national championship. Auburn will pay the Tide a visit in a couple weeks, and the Tigers could end the dream season before Florida even has the chance.

4.     TCU

The emphatic win over Utah inched the Horned Frogs closer to the top three, but every team ahead of them looked solid on Saturday as well, therefore not warranting a leap (horned) frog in the rankings. Not only did TCU wrap up the Mountain West conference, but also it cemented itself as the best non-BCS conference team in America. Boise State’s win over Oregon does not carry as much weight, now that Oregon has lost another game and the Ducks’ win over USC is losing its luster fast. Most likely the Frogs and Broncos will both play in BCS bowls if they finish undefeated, but TCU is clearly the best of the bunch right now.

5.     Boise State

See TCU.

6.     Cincinnati

For two straight weeks, the Bearcats have shown chinks in their armor. After nearly blowing a 20-point lead to Connecticut, Brian Kelly’s team nearly gave up a late lead again to West Virginia. Both the Huskies and Mountaineers are respectable opponents, but the Bearcats don’t have the luxury that Texas, Florida, and Alabama have. Those three teams can suffer a mildly dull performance every now and then, and survive with their high rankings intact. Cincinnati has neither the schedule nor the reputation to have close games against lesser teams. If the Bearcats want to even be considered for the BCS title game, they need to win in dominating fashion in their final two games, especially Dec. 5 against Pittsburgh.

7.     Georgia Tech

After surrendering 10 points to Duke in the first quarter, the Jackets’ defense came up huge the rest of the way, holding the Blue Devils scoreless after that in a 49-10 blowout. With the win, the Jackets clinched the ACC Coastal Division, setting up a championship match with either Clemson or Boston College. There is little much left to play until the title game and bowl game.

8.     LSU

Nobody realizes it, but if a team like Boise State, Cincinnati, or Georgia Tech stumbles before season’s end, the Tigers would slide right into the BCS mix. They were a blown instant replay review away from maybe knocking off Alabama two weeks ago, and held Florida to 13 points in October. They haven’t done anything fancy this season, but they have beaten everyone else on their schedule, and would be a worthy Sugar Bowl opponent for a conference champion.

9.     Pittsburgh

The Panthers cruised against the Fighting Irish for there and a half quarters, before Jimmy Clausen did what he does best: lead desperation late-game comebacks. This time, Clausen came up short, while Dion Lewis and Bill Stull were left to celebrate a huge nationally televised victory and maybe sealing Irish coach Charlie Weis’ fate. They won’t be favored against Cincinnati in a couple weeks, but the best team in the Big East might be the one with far less recognition.

10. Stanford

Last Saturday, I predicted an upbeat Cardinal team would play inspired football and knock off USC. Never in a thousand years did I think they would demolish the Trojans 55-21. Toby Gerhart is a future star; he is a hard-nosed running back with a great attitude and unquestionable work ethic. If Oregon slips up in one of its final two games, the Cardinal could actually play in the Rose Bowl, ten seasons removed from its last appearance in Pasadena (17-9 loss to Wisconsin).

11. Ohio State

12. Oregon

13. Clemson

14. Oklahoma State

15. Penn State

16. North Carolina

17. Virginia Tech

18. BYU

19. Iowa

20. Wisconsin

21. Navy

22. Rutgers

23. Houston

24. Oregon State

25. USC

11.16.2009

Coaching Carousel ready to crank up








Last Monday, the annual shuffle of head coaches across the country kicked off with Memphis’ firing of Tommy West. Before the nameplates are officially scratched off the doors, here is a look of who is likely on their way out (via firing/retirement), and the most likely replacement.

ACC

Virginia- Out: Al Groh, In: Mike London (Head Coach, Richmond)

·      Groh is all but gone already; nine seasons at Virginia and he finally has bottomed out. London is a former assistant who is having loads of success at Richmond, winning the FCS national championship last season, and the Spiders are the favorites to win it all again. London is a disciplinarian, but a spectacular recruiter. He was the biggest reason the Cavaliers landed some of their best talent over the last decade. His return to Charlottesville would undoubtedly bring more success than Groh’s tenure.

Florida State- Out: Bobby Bowden, In: Jimbo Fisher (Current offensive coordinator)*

·      Bowden needs to go. His mind-blowing postgame interview following the Clemson game, where he needed to be reminded of several key points in the game, shows he is past his time. Fisher is the coach-in-waiting, and if he doesn’t get promoted soon, he may bolt the slowly declining program.

Maryland – Out: Ralph Friedgen, In: James Franklin (Curent offensive coordinator)*

·      This program is just a mess in general, but Friedgen’s failures have to be taking a toll, and with an already-named successor in Franklin, the entire Terrapin community senses the time for change have come. Simple as that.

Big XII

Colorado – Out: Dan Hawkins, In: Mike Shanahan (Former Denver Broncos head coach)

·      This is the biggest reach, but Shanahan would clearly have name-brand recognition throughout the state of Colorado and surrounding area. Recruiting would not be an issue. He has not indicated a dying desire to return to the NFL, and he would treated as royalty in Boulder. If the Buffaloes landed him, it would be a huge step for their program.

Big East

Louisville – Out: Steve Kragthorpe, In: Gus Malzahn (Offensive coordinator, Auburn)

·      Kragthorpe never made it at Louisville, and the Cardinals must now lick their wounds and move on. Malzahn is the fastest rising offensive genius in the country. It is he who is primarily responsible for bringing the wildcat offense to college football. He has been at three schools in three years as their offensive coordinator, but should he land this job, it would be a huge leap for a guy who was coaching high school ball in Arkansas four years ago.

Big Ten

Michigan – Out: Rich Rodriguez, In: Brian Kelly (Head Coach, Cincinnati)

·      Kelly is a winner, from Grand Valley State in Division II to Central Michigan to Cincinnati; Kelly has turned each program he’s been to into the dominant team of the conference. He has never left the Midwest, and is currently recruiting kids to the Bearcats better than Rodriguez is to Michigan. Given the Wolverines facilities and budget, Kelly would turn Michigan into a top-five program very quickly. The Wolverines need to put out this Rich Rodriguez fire before it burns out of control.

Conference USA

Memphis – Out: Tommy West, In: Charlie Strong (Defensive Coordinator, Florida)

·      Strong is an established defensive genius, excellent recruiter in the southeast, and has been pushed for head jobs in recent years. His charisma would fit perfectly in Memphis, and would undoubtedly change the landscape of Conference USA as its head coach.

Independent

Notre Dame – Out: Charlie Weis, In: Chris Petersen (Head Coach, Boise State)

·      Peterson is one of the more underrated coaches in America. He has taken Dan Hawkins’s juggernaut at Boise State and made them invincible. Peterson is the next Urban Meyer, in terms of his offensive creativity and his demand for excellence. He is a perfect fit at Notre Dame, and would surely love the opportunity to bank off of his success at Boise; he has nothing left to accomplish there, and this year’s undefeated season that may not even result in a BCS bowl is proof.

 

*Denotes coach-in-waiting

11.14.2009

Week Eleven Game Day Predictions

Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible moment.


Beware, college football fans. The eleventh week of the season could change everything. Not because there is a great number of match-ups of ranked teams or anything, but because of Mr. Murphy.

There are six undefeated teams remaining in the FBS. Two of them (Florida and Alabama) will eventually play each other, but there could still be five unbeaten teams at season's end.

Imagine the chaos! Five undefeated teams? There could be two BCS match-ups of unbeatens with another squad to spare. To say the BCS committee would be given hell does not even begin to describe it. The BCS needs a little help from Mr. Murphy.

GEORGIA TECH 34, Duke 28
  • Duke will score points, but they won't be able to keep the Jackets from scoring more.
TENNESSEE 24, Mississippi 14
  • The Rebels have yet to impress anyone against a top-notch defense. Monte Kiffin will have the Vols ready to win.
WAKE FOREST 28, Florida State 25
  • Virginia native E.J. Manuel gets his first start in place of the injured Christian Ponder. That's one reason to keep an eye on that one.
VIRGINIA TECH 27, Maryland 6
  • Maryland's starting quarterback Chris Turner is not expected to play; Ryan Williams is. Too bad for the Terps.
FLORIDA 31, South Carolina 10
  • Is Steve Spurrier really an offensive genius? It doesn't look that way anymore.
STANFORD 31, USC 28
  • Stanford's offense is better than USC's, seriously.
OHIO STATE 35, Iowa 7
  • After Ricky Stanzi went down last week, the Hawkeyes could hardly move the ball against Northwestern, The Buckeyes have a bit more defensive talent than the Wildcats.
MIAMI 24, North Carolina 13
  • The Hurricanes healed their offensive wounds last week with a beatdown of Virginia. They continue to roll today.
ARIZONA 38, California 21
  • No Jahvid Best means Arizona will cruise tonight.
AUBURN 30, Georgia 23
  • Mark Richt is a very, very good football coach. Some of his fan base is beginning to wonder about that.
OKLAHOMA 34, Texas A & M 31
  • The Aggies offense is good enough to scare Oklahoma, but the Sooners just can't lose two straight games.
TCU 24, Utah 17
  • The Utes have not lost to TCU since 2005, but Fort Worth has been waiting for this game since the end of last season.
PITTSBURGH 31, Notre Dame 28
  • The Irish are great at heart-stopping endings, but Pittsburgh's offense might be the best they've faced all season.
OKLAHOMA STATE 38, Texas Tech 35
  • The last team with the ball will win this game.

TULSA 34, East Carolina 27 (Sunday, 8:00 p.m.)
  • The Golden Hurricanes have come dangerously close to beating Boise State and Houston. East Carolina is a step below those programs, and Tulsa gets its big win.
Last week: 6-10

This week: 63-28

11.13.2009

On the Docket: USC – Stanford

Where: USC

When: 3:30 ET

Why it matters: Because it could mean the end of an era at USC. Two weeks ago, Oregon knocked the Trojans from their perch as the leaders of the Pac-10, but they are still ranked in the top ten and are well respected. A loss to Stanford would send the Trojans to an area in the rankings they have not seen in nearly eight years.

The winner of this game has an outside shot at the Rose Bowl also. USC’s chances are virtually none, because Oregon would have to lose twice more since the Ducks have the head-to-head victory over the Trojans. If Stanford wins, though, they would own the tiebreaker should the Ducks lose another game.

Player to watch: Andrew Luck made a name for himself in high school as one of the best quarterback prospects in the country. As a redshirt freshman, he has probably supplanted USC’s Matt Barkley as the best freshman quarterback in the country.

For all the hype surrounding Barkley, it is Luck with the striking numbers: 2,076 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Barkley in the meantime (with much more talent around him, let it be noted) has thrown for 1,839 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.Last week he only completed 7-of-22 passes in a 14-9 win over Arizona State.

While Barkley was struggling to move the ball against one of the Pac-10’s weakest defenses, Luck was slicing up the Oregon defense for 51 points in an upset win. It was the same Oregon defense that held USC to 20 points the week before.

Barkley might get more attention, but Luck has been the better of the two so far in 200, and Saturday is his opportunity to prove it.

Who has the edge? Stanford. The last time the Cardinal visited Los Angeles Coliseum, they shocked the college football world, upsetting the Trojans as 41-point underdogs.

This time around, the Cardinal know they can win, and are catching the Trojans at the right time. USC has looked awful, especially offensively the last two weeks, while the Cardinal are riding high after the Oregon win.

The only thing against Stanford is they have played much better at home than on the road this season. Still, if they can light up USC’s defense like they have much of the rest of the conference, it might be hard for USC to keep up.

Do not be mistaken, this will be a close game, but the Trojans have all the pressure on their backs. Stanford can come in knowing they have nothing to lose, but a win would mark the program’s return to the national scene, just as it would start pushing USC towards the door. Funny how that works…

On the Docket: Georgia Tech – Duke

Where: Duke

When: 12:00 ET

Why it matters: For the sanity of the ACC rules committee, or whoever sifts through the division tiebreaker scenarios. If Duke wins on Saturday, it would create a four-way tie in the Coastal division, assuming Virginia Tech and Miami both win.

Should Duke win, here would be each of those four teams’ record against the other three:

Miami – beat Georgia Tech, lost to Virginia Tech, faces Duke next week

Virginia Tech – beat Miami, Duke, lost to Georgia Tech

Duke – beat Georgia Tech, lost to Virginia Tech, faces Miami next week

Georgia Tech- beat Virginia Tech, lost to Duke, Miami

Obviously, with Duke and Miami squaring off next week, the tie would only last one week, but it would spin the heads of championship game forecasters wildly.

On a simpler note, the Yellow Jackets can clinch the Coastal with a win. After falling in the third game of the season to Miami, the Jackets have not looked back since, and have an opportunity to be rewarded for their efforts with the win.

Duke will not go quietly, however. Until last week’s 19-6 loss to North Carolina, the Blue Devil offense was a passing juggernaut. Just ask NC State or Virginia Tech how good Thaddeus Lewis is.

The Georgia Tech defense is not on the same level as UNC’s, so expect Lewis to return to form this week.

Player to watch: Demaryius Thomas is averaging 27 yards per catch for Georgia Tech. Every time the Jackets need a big play in the passing game, it’s no secret who the ball is going to. How’s this for a stat: Tech has completed 54 passes this season; 37 of them have gone to Thomas.

Duke is severely undersized at cornerback, making it hard to stop the 6’3’’ Thomas in jump-ball situations. If he makes big plays like usual, the Blue Devils will be hard-pressed to stay in the game.

Who has the edge?

Until the last two weeks, the Jackets’ defense seemed to have said goodbye to their early-season struggles. Then Vanderbilt and Wake Forest put up 31 and 27 points, respectively on them.

Duke’s offense is a different animal than both the Commodores and Demon Deacons. Lewis must be on top of his game for the Blue Devils to have a shot.

Duke’s defense has not allowed more than 28 points since Sept. 19. It will need to control the Jacket running attack, as well as keep them from making big, momentum-building plays to take control of the game.

There is a mystique surrounding Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham that plays to their advantage. Unlike most schools in the ACC, Duke does not pack its home stadium on a weekly basis. Even with the magnitude of this game, it is unlikely the Jackets will face a raucous crowd on Saturday.

However, with an empty feeling in the stadium can often suck the life out of visiting opponents. That environment could be a key in keeping the Jackets from winning the Coastal title on Saturday.

On the Docket: Utah-TCU


Where: TCU

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

Why it matters: For one, the slim hopes of TCU’s national championship game appearance hangs in the balance. The Horned Frogs need to finish the season undefeated, and likely would need a convincing win this Saturday to make a strong case for the pollsters.

This is also a de facto Mountain West championship game. Both teams enter the game with a 5-0 conference record.

If Utah wins, the season finale against BYU still stands in the way of a conference title, but the Utes should be favored in that game. If TCU wins, they have already played the Cougars, and would all but seal a championship.

TCU has not beaten the Utes since 2005, but this time around the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs are favored and confident.

They are participating in Nike’s new Pro Combat uniform unveiling this weekend, and will be dressed in an revolutionary uniform that will swirl the excitement in Fort Worth.

Player to Watch: Andy Dalton has gone largely unnoticed this season across the country. Why that is so is hard to know. Dalton has completed 64 percent of his passes while throwing 16 touchdowns and three interceptions.

In the Horned Frogs’ biggest games this season (Clemson and BYU), Dalton has completed 30-of-50 passes for 467 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He will need to continue his superior play on Saturday.

Who has the edge? TCU has looked incredibly sharp in every game this season, especially when they have come across the better opponents. That fact alone puts a lot of faith in the Horned Frogs’ chances.

That being said, Utah is more than a formidable opponent, and is probably the toughest team TCU has faced to date. The pressure is squarely on the Horned Frogs, because most of the national attention for non-BCS schools has come their way.

With every game the Horned Frogs draw closer to a perfect record, that pressure amplifies. Nevertheless, they still have the better team.

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