WEEK 12 REVIEW
Entering Week 12, the thought was that it would be a relatively quiet week to set up a big weekend in the finale. Oklahoma St. was matched up with a fairly weak Iowa St. team, Oklahoma needed only to brush aside a defenseless Baylor squad, and while Oregon figured to face the stiffest challenge of the weekend, it seemed logical to think that they would ultimately be able to dismiss USC, especially at home. All three had their eyes on the BCS Championship Game, and needed only to keep winning to put themselves in the discussion.
Of course, in college football things rarely turn out the way we think they will.
When the dust settled late Saturday night, all three had lost and the chaos that we thought we were going through in the BCS multiplied infinitely. The team's that benefited the most from the weekend were the SEC teams at the top of the BCS standings (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas) who were all scheduled to play weak opponents and summarily dominated them.
Now as we enter the final week of the regular season, the only real question appears to be which two SEC teams will compete for the National Championship. This, of course, has people in an uproar because the theory is that there shouldn't ever be a rematch of an earlier game in the title game, particularly from within the same conference and (in this case) the same division of the same conference.
However, it's important to point out that any team that takes issue with the forthcoming championship game need only look in the mirror. Oklahoma St. would have been a lock to make the title game against LSU had they simply managed to subdue a 20 point underdog. Similarly, Oklahoma probably would have been guaranteed a spot had they not called that fateful timeout and forced Baylor to try for a first down on their final possession, rather than waiting for overtime. Oregon was the longest shot of the three, but the same logic applies: don't lose at home to an unranked team and you keep your name in the race.
The primary purpose of the BCS formula is to match the two best teams in the country in the championship game, not to prevent rematches from earlier games or keep conference opponents from playing each other. At this point, I think it's really difficult to make a case that Alabama and LSU aren't the two best teams in the country. Both have been utterly dominant with the exception of the week that they played against each other. Putting aside the country's growing frustration with the dominance of SEC football, no other team has shown the same consistent dominance against upper tier competition as Alabama and LSU. They are the two best teams in country and I would love to see them settle it on a (semi) neutral field once and for all.
The final week of the regular season often provides its own surprises, and there's really no shortage of potential surprises this year. Arkansas has an opportunity to force its way into the discussion for a National Championship berth by setting off a bizarre three team tie scenario with the aforementioned LSU and Alabama, Virginia can become the first team not named after a festive Thanksgiving bird to represent the ACC Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game, and of course, all those rivalry games that make the final week of the season so special can always go either way.
Regardless of how you feel about the end result, getting there has been fun this year, and this week will be no different.
All games are scheduled for Saturday, November 26 unless otherwise noted. All times are EST.
No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks (10-1) @ No. 1 LSU Tigers (11-0) -- Fri. 11/25 at 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Every week that we think we have it all figured out, everything gets thrown into upheaval. On the surface, if you put the rankings in this game aside, it should be a wipe out. The 'Hogs are in this position purely through the incompetency of the teams that were ahead of them. It's hard to to think of this team as elite after watching them get dismantled by Alabama way back in Week 4, but here they stand with a chance to make the SEC Championship game next week in Atlanta and then potentially the National Championship Game. Standing in their way will be the ever dominant Tigers. In home games this season, LSU's closest game was a 28 point win over Kentucky and most of them haven't really been that close. Jordan Jefferson has slowly re-emerged as the starting quarterback after Jarrett Lee took over in Week 1 following Jefferson's suspension and played exceedingly well. He simply makes more work for opposing defensive coordinators and makes the sometimes bland offense of the Tigers more dangerous. He'll likely get the bulk of the snaps. Defensively, the Tigers are the best team in the country against the pass bar none thanks to secondary players like Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu but they'll be tested in this one. Arkansas possesses one of the most explosive passing offenses in the country behind quarterback Tyler Wilson and senior wideout Jarius Wright. Alabama largely stifled the Razorbacks passing attack by pressuring Wilson and the Tigers will look to do the same. The ability of the 'Hogs to stay in this game will lie in their often shaky defense. They surrendered 28 points to a largely anemic South Carolina offense a few weeks back, and will need to do much better than that to have a chance. Conventional wisdom says LSU will blow the doors of the Razorbacks to clinch the division title, but stranger things have happened this year. Heck, stranger things have happened in the last week.
No. 19 Penn St. Nittany Lions (9-2) @ No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers (9-2) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
It all comes down to this. After a gritty win in Columbus against Ohio St., the Nittany Lions have put themselves in position to win the (horrendously named) Leaders Division of the Big 10. In order to do it though, they'll have to go on the road to a raucous Camp Randall Stadium to take on the Badgers of Wisconsin. Since losing two in a row earlier in the year, the Badgers have righted the ship and gotten back to playing their style of football. They've been bruising teams on the ground behind running back Montee Ball and throwing selectively with quarterback Russell Wilson. The defense has been stout, though not quite as good as we expected coming into the season. The loss off defensive end JJ Watt and a number of other key contributors took some of the teeth of out the defensive line, and as a result, teams have shown an ability to run on them a little bit this year. That plays into what Penn St. would like to do. The normally dreadful offense of the Nittany Lions was effective on the ground last week against the Buckeyes behind running backs Stephfon Green and Silas Redd and they'll need more of the same this week. Quarterback Matt McGloin has essentially been relieved of responsibility for getting the ball down the field, now asked only to not turn the ball over between the snap and the hand off. On the rare occasions that he's been asked to throw the ball, interim coach Tom Bradley has designed easy screen passes and check down throws to minimize mistakes. The Nittany Lions will need to score points in this one to keep up regardless of their defensive talent, so at some point McGloin will have to let it fly. When that happens, the game will be decided one way or the other.
No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-1) @ No. 24 Auburn Tigers (7-4) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
The Tide had one of the best weekends in the country last week despite playing (and kind of struggling with) FCS foe Georgia Southern. They saw most of the competition trying to unseat them from their advantageous perch go down in spectacular flames, replaced by a team they beat by four touchdowns earlier in the year. Needing only to beat rival Auburn this week and let the chips fall where they may in the Arkansas/LSU game, the Tide are in great position to reach their second BCS Championship Game in the last three years. However, as simple as their path looks to be, the Iron Bowl is always a dog fight, and if this team learned anything from last years wild affair in Tuscaloosa, their won't be any complacency on the part of Alabama. Behind running back Trent Richardson and a terrifying defense that features two of the best linebackers in the country in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, the Tigers don't appear to have too many match-ups they can win individually. Running back Michael Dyer has been the best player for the Tigers all year, but has seen his effectiveness hindered as the season has progressed thanks to the teams complete lack of a passing game. In order for the Tigers to hang around in this one and give themselves a shot to spring another stunner, quarterback Clint Moseley will need to find a way to complete some passes down the field. If he can do that and open up some running lanes for Dyer, the Tigers will at least give themselves a fighting chance.
No. 5 Virginia Tech Hokies (10-1) @ Virginia Cavaliers (8-3) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
In just his second year on the job, Cavaliers coach Mike London (a former assistant at Boston College, ahem Gene DeFilippo) has put his team in position to become the first team besides Virginia Tech to win the ACC's Coastal Division. Let's be honest, they've done it with a great deal of smoke and mirrors as there's not really any one aspect of this team that jumps off the page at you, but they're very sound defensively and haven't beaten themselves. This is a very veteran blue collar group that through sheer determination and preparation has dismantled some of the better offenses in the conference such as Georgia Tech and Florida St. Led by Steve Greer, the 'Hoos defense has led the way and will need to be at it's best this week if they hope to spring the upset on the in-state rival Hokies. For the Hokies, the story continues to be running back David Wilson. The nations leading rusher (1400+ yards) has carved up every team he's faced this season and been one of the best players in the country. Combined with the ever improving Logan Thomas, the Hokies have a diverse offense that keeps opponents off balance. The loss of linebacker Bruce Taylor hurts, but the defense still has enough to stifle a Cavaliers attack that only recently settled on Michael Rocco at the quarterback position. Rocco will need to keep the offense "on schedule" to give the defense a rest and give his team a shot.
UPSET SPECIAL (RECORD: 5-7)
No. 13 Georgia Bulldogs (9-2) @ No. 23 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-3) -- 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)
To hell with Georgia! The familiar battle cry of Yellow Jacket fans every year the week leading to this rivalry game. Jackets head coach Paul Johnson has lost just once against a ranked opponent at home (earlier this year to Virginia Tech) during his tenure, and after back to back losses in this series, I'm betting he gets back on track. The Bulldogs have little to play for in this game besides pride. They've already wrapped the SEC East and are simply awaiting an opponent and aren't competing for a bid to the National Championship Game. The Jackets meanwhile are playing at Bobby Dodd Stadium and would love nothing more than to catch the 'Dawgs napping the way they were in 2009 when the Jackets had already wrapped the ACC Coastal heading into this game. How much preparation has Mark Richt really done on the triple option (which requires a great deal of attention to detail) with little to play for and a much bigger game looming next weekend? I'm betting not enough.
Boston College Eagles (3-8) @ Miami Hurricanes (6-5) -- Fri. 11/25 at 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Could this be the final game in the tenure of beleaguered Eagles head coach Frank Spaziani? Many fans are hoping that will be the case, and there's certainly no better place to end his career. In the nation's retirement capital, how about Spaz find himself a condo while he's "preparing" for the game and conveniently forget to catch the flight back home? Sounds good to me. As for the game it self, the Hurricanes have done an admirable job putting aside the distractions that presented themselves at the beginning of the year in the form of booster Nevin Shaprio. Under first year coach Al Golden (another former BC staffer, ahem), the 'Canes have reinvented themselves offensively, focusing more on the running game with running back Lamar Miller (1158 yards) and using the pass as a secondary weapon. This has taken a great deal of the pressure off quarterback Jacory Harris, who is simply not capable of making the kinds of throws he was asked to make under previous coach Randy Shannon and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. As a result, Harris has been far less of an abomination this year and has had a nice senior year. Defensively linebacker Sean Spence remains the dominant force in the middle, making the Hurricanes exceedingly difficult to run against. That's bad news for a Boston College team that really can't do much else. A poor offensive line has given quarterback Chase Rettig virtually no time to throw the ball this year and has given him seemingly permanent "happy feet" in the pocket. He simply can't be counted on to take pressure off the running game. Tahj Kimble and Rolandan Finch each played well against Notre Dame last week, but were constantly facing as many as eight defenders in the box. Not a good recipe for success.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-3) @ Connecticut Huskies (4-6) -- 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)