College Football Preview, Week 12: Nebraska Battles Michigan In Big 10 Tilt; BC, Notre Dame Clash

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Running back Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers celebrates a touchdown with offensive linesman Marcel Jones #78 and tight end Kevin Thomsen #37 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

Nebraska and Michigan meet in a big-time battle of Big 10 powers while, locally, Frank Spaziani and the Boston College Eagles prepare for rival Notre Dame.

WEEK 11 REVIEW

Remember when there were 10 undefeated teams? It wasn't that long ago that BCS pundits were panicking at the thought of as many as 5-6 teams finishing without a loss and then having to choose two of them to play in the National Championship Game.  There was the very real possibility that, under those circumstances, there might finally be a real push to do away with the antiquated voters and computers and usher in the incredibly novel concept of a playoff.

Fortunately for said pundits, almost all of those undefeated teams has gone the way of the fedora.  Last week, we saw the list of unbeatens whittled down to just a mere three, and once again it appears that the BCS will escape the breaking point that its critics so badly want to happen.

The wild week started in Boise, ID where the most controversial team in the country, the Boise St. Broncos, took on their old nemesis for the first and only time as members of the same conference, the TCU Horned Frogs.  The Frogs, after unsightly losses to Baylor and Southern Methodist earlier in the season, didn't seem equipped to slow down the mighty passing attack of the Broncos, particularly while playing on that hideous blue field.

Fun Fact: Boise St. came into the game riding a 65 game regular season home winning streak that dated back to 2001.  The reason they have to qualify it with "regular season" is because the last time they REALLY lost a home game was the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl when Boston College, led by then red-shirt sophomore Matt Ryan, slapped the Broncos around for three quarters before holding on late for a 27-21 win.  Back to the column...

However, the one thing that TCU has done well all season is score points under quarterback Casey Pachall.  The Horned Frogs offense has been even more potent this year than it was under now Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Daulton, and it demonstrated why throughout the chilly afternoon in Idaho.  In the first half of the game, all three of Pachall's touchdown passes were for 69 yards or longer, and TCU went to the half with a stunning 20-14 lead.

In the second half though, mistakes by TCU began to mount.  The first play of the third quarter saw Frogs running back Antoine Hicks' fumble returned by Tyrone Crawford for a touchdown, and then that old familiar feeling began to set in, that the Broncos were simply going to run away with the game. 

But the Frogs hung in the game despite their mistakes (Pachall threw an interception in the fourth quarter that seemed like it would end the game) and down just seven late in the game, Pachall marched the team 73 yards in the closing minutes, hitting Brandon Carter in the end zone for the touchdown to cut the lead to one.  Rather than play for overtime on the road, TCU coach Gary Patterson elected to go for two and try and win the game.  Receiver Josh Boyce made a spectacular play, ripping the pass away from a Boise defender and taking it into the end zone (shades of Michael Crabtree against Texas in 2008).

The Broncos though were not finished yet.  With quarterback Kellen Moore perhaps seeing his final opportunity to play in a National Championship Game swirling down the drain, he led his team down into field goal range with time winding down (with help from one of the most egregious pass interference calls ever witnessed in football at any level).  All that remained was a 39 yard field goal to keep the undefeated season alive for Boise.  If you remember back to a year ago, the Broncos lost their perfect season in similar fashion when kicker Kyle Brotzman missed not one, but two chip shot field goals that could have won the game against Nevada.  The fate of Dan Goodale would be much the same as his kick never had a chance, sailing agonizingly wide to the right as time expired, and once again the dream was dead for Boise.

Meanwhile, later on that night, things were not nearly as interesting in Palo Alto, CA.  If you're familiar with my weekly columns, you already knew my thoughts on Stanford as a legitimate contender.  If you're new to this space, I had expressed doubts about the validity of Stanford's much hyped defense, who's numbers were built on the backs of horrific opponents like San Jose St., Colorado, and UCLA.  I questioned whether they had the athletes to match-up with a strong opponent if their defensive line couldn't get to the quarterback. 

Those fears were all realized when Stanford found it self slugging it out against USC a few weeks back.  The Trojan offensive line kept the Cardinal front seven away from Trojan quaterback Matt Barkley, and the athletic USC receivers decimated the Stanford secondary.  Only by the grace of their incredible quarterback Andrew Luck did Stanford escape the Coliseum with a win. 

They were not so fortunate last week against Oregon.

After a brief show of defense in the first quarter, one in which the Ducks went three and out on their first two possessions, it was actually Andrew Luck that got the Ducks offense going when he was picked off deep in his own territory by Dewitt Stuckey.  The Ducks needed just 5 plays to reach the end zone and the offense was off and running.  They would go on to put up 45 points over the final three quarters, often running and throwing at will behind Darron Thomas and LaMichael James.  The difference in this game from the shootout with the Trojans, was that Andrew Luck was not his usual electric self.  He threw two interceptions and was wildly erratic throughout most of the evening. This was a game that the Cardinal defense needed to step up and hold their own in, but they simply don't have the talent at the skill positions.

By the time LaMichael James scored his third touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter, the Cardinal fans, who were so excited for this game, had begun to file out.  Like Boise St. earlier in the day, their dream of playing for the National Championship was over.

As we turn the page toward Week 12 of the college football season, we find that there aren't many standout games this week, but there are a couple with conference championship implications as well as some highly ranked teams playing against some dangerous opponents...

All games listed are scheduled for Saturday, November 19th unless otherwise noted.  All times are EST.

MAIN EVENT

No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-2) @ No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (8-2) -- 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

I have to imagine that Nebraska will be happy to just be worried about a football game this week rather than also having to step into a media hailstorm the way they did last week in Happy Valley.  After coming away with a gritty win over Penn St., the Cornhuskers face their second consecutive ranked opponent on the road.  Both teams are looking to keep their hopes of winning the (dreadfully named) Legends Division of the Big 10 alive.  Both are 4-2 in the conference and trail Michigan St. by a game.  The Spartans can eliminate the Wolverines (whom they've already beaten) by simply winning either of their last two games, so this game is much more important for Nebraska who holds a win over the Spartans but still needs them to lose at least one of those last two.  Michigan's offense, of course, continues to center around quarterback Denard Robinson, but his erratic play over the last few weeks has hurt the team in their two losses this year.  He also left last weeks win over Illinois with an apparent arm injury in the third quarter, so while he'll play this week, his health will be a question mark.  As with stopping Michigan, the key to slowing the Huskers offense lies in their running attack.  Taylor Martinez is electric when he's allowed into the open field, and Rex Burkhead is a tremendous power runner, but if they are corralled, the offense comes to a screeching halt.  The two teams mirror each other in almost every way on offense, but the Cornhusker defense has shown a penchant for helping out its offense when the need arises, whereas the Michigan defense hasn't stopped a quality opponent in roughly five years.  If the Wolverines can't slow down Nebraska's running attack, it could be a long afternoon at the Big House.

UNDERCARD

USC Trojans (8-2) @ No. 4 Oregon Ducks (9-1) -- 8:00 p.m. (ABC)

I've mentioned this now many times before, but this USC team is really underrated because of the sanctions that were handed down in the Reggie Bush scandal.  They've got a tremendous offense behind quarterback Matt Barkley, receiver Robert Woods, and have even begun to discover the magic of running the football behind Curtis McNeal.  Were it not for Lane Kiffin losing his marbles in the closing moments of the Stanford game a few weeks back, this team might be 9-1 and bizarrely unranked.  Oregon meanwhile, finished what the Trojans started when they beat down Stanford in Palo Alto last week and are starting to make some noise that they, not Alabama, should be first in line to play LSU a second time should Oklahoma St. falter in the closing weeks. The Ducks defense, like the Cardinal, remains a little bit suspect, and I can envision a similar type shootout that we saw between USC and Stanford.  The difference in this game is that it's being played in Eugene, which has been an awfully tough place to win a game the last few years for visiting opponents.  There's the possibility of a letdown for Oregon after their big win last week, but they need this in order to secure the Pac-12 North Division and a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners (9-1) @ No. 22 Baylor Bears (6-3) -- 8:00 p.m. (ABC)

Teams are beginning to line up behind Oklahoma St. right now to lay their claim to the second spot in the BCS Championship Game.  Oregon believes that they should be first in line if the Cowboys lose between now and the selection show, Alabama believes the same, but only one team can actually do something about it.  The Sooners will play the Cowboys in the annual "Bedlam" game in a few weeks and have a chance to make their claim to be the rightful opponent for LSU in the title game.  But, before they can do that, there is the matter of this feisty Baylor team.  This is a team that is capable of dropping 70 points on you in a flash.  Quarterback Robert Griffin III has flown under the radar as one of the most spectacular players in the country this year, throwing for over 3000 yards and accounting for 34 touchdowns against just five interceptions.  On the other side, the Baylor defense has been every bit as bad as it's offense has been good.  They surrender 36 points a game and have looked completely overwhelmed in almost every game this year.  It's unlikely that the Sooners will get caught looking ahead in this one, as they did in their (increasingly embarrassing) loss to Texas Tech a few weeks back, but if the Bears defense can get a couple of stops against Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, it's not unreasonable to think Griffin could pull something out of his...hat. This will be the first game the Sooners will play without leading receiver Ryan Broyles who was lost for the year with a torn ACL last week, so we'll see how they adjust.

UPSET SPECIAL (RECORD: 4-7)

No. 21 Penn St. Nittany Lions (8-2) @ Ohio St. Buckeyes (6-4) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

So close and yet so far.  Texas A&M took Kansas St. to four overtimes last week before ultimately coming up short in yet another game that they led at halftime.  The loss by the Aggies guaranteed a losing pick record for the season and thus probably also cost me the lead in "Three For The Money", the sequel the gambling hit Two For The Money.  Alas, I'm not a quitter, so we'll play this out to the end.  I've picked on Penn St. quite a bit this year, because they've been grossly overrated, and while they may find some relief in just getting away from Happy Valley, playing at the Horseshoe on Senior Day probably isn't going to help their chances to win this game.  I'd expect the Buckeye fans to be merciless and would also expect the team to play angry after a humiliating loss to Purdue last week.  The Nittany Lions inability to move the football with Matt McGloin will probably be their undoing as the Buckeyes win a close one behind the arm and legs of Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes defense.

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT

Boston College Eagles (3-7) @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-3) -- 4:00 p.m. (NBC)

Sigh. Remember when this was a game that you were pretty sure BC could win every year? Those days seem like ages ago now thanks to the continuing decline of the program over the last three seasons, and this one has that 1992 feel all over again (aged Eagles fans will have that 55-7 beatdown seared into their brains).  BC comes into this game as a 24.5 point underdog and head coach Frank Spaziani faces the highly likely scenario of becoming the first coach in program history to lose three straight to the Irish.  Led by Tommy Rees and receiver Michael Floyd, I would expect that the Irish will simply throw the ball over the field and look to for the jugular early.  BC's best chance lies in their ability to run the football behind Andre Williams and Rolandan Finch, while hoping Rees will shoot himself the foot repeatedly as he was prone to do early in the year. 

Louisville Cardinals (5-5) @ Connecticut Huskies (4-5) -- 12:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Maine Black Bears (8-2) @ New Hampshire Wildcats (7-3) -- 12:00 p.m.

Towson Tigers (8-2) @ Rhode Island Rams (3-7) -- 12:30 p.m.

James Madison (6-4) @ UMass Minutemen (5-5) -- 1:00 p.m.

Harvard Crimson (8-1) @ Yale Bulldogs (5-4) -- 12:00 p.m. (Versus)

Brown Bears (7-2) @ Columbia Lions (0-9) -- 12:30 p.m.

Princeton Tigers (1-8) @ Dartmouth Big Green (4-5) -- 1:30 p.m.

Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (3-7) @ Bryant Bulldogs (7-3) -- 12:00 p.m

Sacred Heart Pioneers (5-5) @ Albany Great Danes (7-3) -- 1:00 p.m.

Holy Cross Crusaders (5-5) @ Fordham Rams (1-9) -- 1:00 p.m.

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