Oct. 31 is a date that is significant for more than being the night that little goblins trick-or-treat and hooligans smash pumpkins.
Indeed, other than grown men wearing tights they shouldn’t, the last day of October also signals the beginning of the end of the college football season.
Yes, friend, November is home to the last four regular-season games of the year, the month wherein teams will have positioned themselves to be ahead of the pack, still in the mix or totally out of the race.
Either way, every team's season, without exception, comes down to November, when the final stanza of the campaign will decide who plays for a title, who’s in a position to win the big enchilada and who will be left at home watching from the sidelines.
The following slideshow utilizes a shaky crystal ball and makes 25 bold predictions for a November jam-packed with college football action.
Though some of these forecasts may actually come to fruition, some will turn out to be as ridiculous as they initially sounded.
The truth is, nobody really knows what will happen in November in college football, and that’s precisely why we’ll all be watching, with loins girded, to see how it all ends.
After starting 2012 ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP and No. 3 in the coaches’ poll, USC won’t finish the season ranked at all.
With shocking upset losses to both Stanford in Week 3 and Arizona in Week 9, the Trojans come into November with a precarious 6-2 record and hanging on for dear life with a No. 17 ranking in the BCS and coaches’ and a No. 18 ranking in the AP.
The issue for USC is that the road home simply isn’t easy, and it could be rightly argued that the Trojans’ final four games are the most difficult of the entire campaign.
Things start off vs. Oregon this Saturday in what was meant to be a preview of the Pac-12 title game, and then on to another home game vs. Arizona State, a team that that is hiding its No. 3 nationally ranked pass defense under the cover of a 5-3 record.
Next it’s the annual grudge match with a much-improved UCLA squad (which will be hungry like the wolf since it hasn’t knocked off USC since 2006) and then the finale vs. Notre Dame.
The best-case scenario, obviously, is that the Trojans and their underwhelming product win out, but the more realistic prediction is that they drop at least two of these four games and finish the season 8-4.
Depending on how the rest of the field finishes, a four-loss USC could still eke out a place in the final BCS standings due to strength of schedule, but either way, look for the final regular-season polls to be devoid of any Trojans.
In a brazen claim that should surprise no one, the Irish will finish the season undefeated and then can hope that their BCS ranking will be high enough to play for all the marbles.
Yes, they’ll beat Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest and then travel to L.A. to face USC for a game that will be closer than predicted, but the win and the day will ultimately go to Notre Dame.
Though the Trojans are obviously the biggest hurdle on the road to perfection, look out for this Saturday’s game vs. Pitt.
It’s definitely the dreaded “hangover” game after the big win over Oklahoma, but the Panthers also serve up a rush defense that ranks No. 43 and a passing attack that ranks No. 31.
One of just two winless teams remaining in the FBS through nine weeks of play (UMass being the other), Southern Miss is 0-8 with four games remaining.
Though the Golden Eagles are ranked a dismal No. 110 nationally in points for and an equally upsetting No. 117 in scoring defense, they’ll manage to win at least one game before the dust settles in 2012.
To support this audacious claim, let’s keep in mind that four of Southern Miss’ losses were to Nebraska, Louisville (21-17), Boise State and then a 38-31 overtime thriller at UCF, a team that is in first place in the C-USA East division standings.
Furthermore, the Golden Eagles' finish sets up well for them to avoid an “O-fer” scenario.
Things kick off Saturday with a home game vs. UAB (1-7), followed by a road trip to up-and-down SMU (4-4), a homestand vs. UTEP (2-7) and then the finale at Memphis (1-7).
Surely there’s a win hiding in there somewhere.
In a game that will be played the first day of December in Indianapolis, it will be an all-red Big Ten title game.
Nebraska’s win over Michigan in Week 9 will give the ‘Huskers the edge in the Legends Division race over the Wolverines, with both teams winning out and finishing 6-1 in league play.
From the other side of the conference, the horse-less Leaders Division race will be won by a young and shaky Wisconsin unit that makes the title game by virtue of Ohio State and Penn State being postseason-banned.
This all makes more sense when you reel off the other contenders to represent the “Leaders” in the second-ever title tilt: Indiana (currently 1-3 in league play) and then Purdue or Illinois (both 0-4 in Big Ten play).
In perhaps the biggest free fall in the BCS era, the team that won the whole ball of wax in 2010 will finish the 2012 season at 3-9.
The Tigers will manage wins over New Mexico State and FCS Alabama A&M in Weeks 10 and 12 but will fall, again, to Georgia and Alabama in Weeks 11 and 13.
Auburn’s record is now its worst since going 3-8 under Terry Bowden and interim coach Bill Oliver in 1998, and before that you have to go all the way back to 1952 (Shug Jordan’s second season) to find a Tiger team that finished with three or fewer wins.
Did you know that the current record for rushing TDs in a season by a freshman is 21, a mark shared by Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) in 1991 and Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech) in 2009?
And did you know that Louisiana Tech’s super-frosh RB Kenneth Dixon has 17 rushing touchdowns through Week 9 with four games left to play?
Luckily for both Dixon and the guy who gets paid to update the NCAA FBS record book, the Bulldogs' final four games bode well for the kid from Strong, Ark., to set the bar even higher.
Dixon’s run for history begins this Saturday vs. UTSA, then heads to Texas State and finishes with games vs. Utah State and at San Jose State.
The meat of the question regarding who will play in the Dec. 1-slated ACC championship game may well be decided as early as Nov. 1, when Virginia Tech travels to Miami.
Yes, though we can be fairly certain that Florida State’s narrow Week 4 win over Clemson will secure it the Atlantic Division’s spot in the title game, the situation in the Coastal needs more sorting out.
If Miami can knock off a very young Virginia Tech team (which still has Florida State remaining), it has the clearest shot to Charlotte, N.C.
The Hurricanes have never won the Coastal division, nor have they ever played for an ACC title, and though Florida State played for all the marbles in 2010, it hasn’t been crowned champs since 2005.
This means that the all-Sunshine State title game will be historic and that one of the two teams will punch its ticket for a short trip to the Orange Bowl.
After four back-to-back seasons ranked in the final polls, Boise State will drop completely out of rank-dom in 2012.
Though you have to give the Broncos, perhaps the least experienced team coming into the season, credit for how they’ve rallied behind a great defense to a 7-1 record through nine weeks, the season is far from over.
Boise State, again a young team as opposed to a bad team, may be most vulnerable in the closer at Nevada.
And this has nothing to do with recent history and dramatic finishes that ruin a season.
No, this is about a really good Nevada rushing team (No. 8 nationally) squaring off with a Bronco D that has done everything to perfection with the exception of stopping the run.
The flip side of the coin is that the struggling Boise State offense ought to be able to score points on the porous Wolf Pack D, but at the end of the day it will be a victory of strength over weakness.
The last time the Broncos fell from the final rankings was in 2007, when they went 10-3 under second-year head coach Chris Petersen and lost games to Washington and Hawaii and then fell to East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl.
The truth is Frank Spaziani has been precariously perched upon the proverbial “hot seat” since last season.
After finishing 2011 4-8 and holding a 2-6 mark through nine weeks of play in 2012, the heat is only intensifying.
Boston College’s only two wins thus far this season have come against FCS Maine in Week 2 and then via a 20-17 win last Saturday over Maryland, a team that was down to its last QB on the roster, a guy who threw three picks before being injured.
What really hurts Spaziani’s bid to stay alive for a fifth season at Boston College is a finishing schedule that doesn’t bode well for a struggling team.
Things start with a road trip in Week 10 to Wake Forest (4-4) followed by visits from undefeated Notre Dame and a Virginia Tech team that may desperately need a win.
The season ends at NC State, a team that is 5-3 in a top-heavy ACC Atlantic Division; this game is slated for Nov. 24, and at 3-9 Spaziani should get the axe on Monday, Nov. 26.
Inasmuch as BC’s Frank Spaziani has the type of November schedule that could cost a man his job, Derek Dooley has a Turkey Month slate that could save him.
After losing four consecutive losses to ranked teams (Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina), the Vols will face four unranked foes in November.
The “save my job” festivities kick off this Saturday with a visit from Troy (the one in Alabama) and then finish with a three-game SEC run vs. Missouri, at Vanderbilt and vs. Kentucky.
This is definitely not “gimme” material, but it’s not Florida and Alabama either.
So Tennessee finishes 7-5, Dooley sticks around again and goes into 2013 on the top of the hot seat list.
After a wild couple of weeks of play in the smallest BCS conference, No. 10 Louisville (8-0) has emerged as the team to beat in the Big East.
In terms of what could happen next, the Cardinals have the easiest road home among current undefeated teams: vs. Temple, at Syracuse, vs. UConn and then the finale that could decide the league title at Rutgers.
But before everyone gets geared up for a BCS controversy involving an undefeated Louisville team, let’s consider a hidden threat in Week 13 vs. UConn.
The fact is, the young Cardinals win games by throwing the ball, and the other reality is that UConn presents the biggest threat to this strength.
Yes sir, the Huskies own the No. 13-ranked pass defense in the land, a unit that has given up a mere 173 yards per game through the air.
At 3-5 and directly before the big game at Rutgers, UConn sits in the perfect spot to nip in and topple Louisville.
The Pac-12 championship is scheduled for the last day of November, and therefore it’s the month that will pay witness to the first conference-title game of 2012 (along with the MAC title game that day).
Though at this early juncture the Ducks seem like the obvious representative for the North Division, the three front-runners, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, have yet to play each other.
This sets up for what should be a delicious November in the Pac-12 North, but at the end of the day the Ducks will soar, again, and make the title game.
In the wild, wild South Division of the westernmost conference, things could be even more tasty with USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona all still in the race when candy is being dropped in costumed youngsters’ sacks.
When the dust settles, it will be USC’s loss to Arizona in Week 9 that ends up costing it a trip to the Pac-12 title game. Though the Trojans will likely beat UCLA and Arizona State, a loss to Oregon in Week 10 will be the final straw, earning USC a 6-3 finish in league play.
What will stop UCLA and Arizona State is the fact that they play their most difficult games in November. The Bruins have Arizona, USC and Stanford remaining, while the Sun Devils will face Oregon State, USC and Arizona.
This leaves Arizona, the team with the easiest set of finishing games, in the catbird seat.
The Wildcats need to beat UCLA, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State to finish 6-3 and make the title game by virtue of the upset shocker over USC in Week 9.
The next obvious question: Who wins the title game, played on Nov. 30 in Eugene, Oregon (the team with the best league record plays host)?
Well, how about Oregon’s No. 1 nationally ranking scoring offense taking it to Arizona’s No. 92-ranked scoring defense for the Ducks’ fourth consecutive Pac-12 crown?
This bold prediction is actually a bit of a sham due to the fact that it’s already true.
Yes, the Big Ten’s only representative in the current BCS bonanza is Nebraska at No. 20.
Of course, it doesn’t help the Big Ten that Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible, but still, if the Cornhuskers survive as the only BCS-ranked team when the dust settles, what does that say about the old-guard league?
Well, if nothing else, it says that the Big Ten is as weak as it has been in the BCS era, but if you’re thinking this is just a weird 2012 anomaly, consider this:
The Big Ten hasn’t sent a member team to the BCS title game since 2007-08, and since that time the highest finish in the BCS rankings by a Big Ten team was Wisconsin when it was No. 5 in 2010-11.
Though Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o will still be hanging around at the top of the Heisman charts at the end of November, all other contenders will fall away, leaving Alabama’s quiet QB A.J. McCarron at the top of the leaderboard.
If you think a potential 12-0 finish and an impending date with the SEC title game is all McCarron will have on his Heisman resume, think again.
McCarron is currently (through nine weeks) the No. 1-ranked QB in the FBS in terms of passer rating (182.4), and his stats speak for themselves: 122-of-177 for 1,684 yards, 18 TDs and zero picks.
The truth is the Heisman race is never really decided until we figure out which teams will be playing for which titles and, frankly, which teams are undefeated.
Though Notre Dame may be the only program that could get a purely defensive guy up to the podium in New York City, the Irish simply don’t have the type of November schedule to make it happen.
Alabama does, and if the Tide win out, McCarron is every bit as good as Matt Barkley was supposed to be and Collin Klein is.
In a game that has no net effect on either the race for the ACC or SEC titles, the annual in-state clash pitting Seminoles against Gators could be oh so critical in the BCS equation.
The game is slated for Saturday, Nov. 24, and the fired-up Seminoles, a team that will need a “signature win” to boost waning strength-of-schedule numbers, will expose the one-dimensional Gators.
Basically, the Gators' No. 34 nationally ranked rushing offense (as opposed to a No. 118-ranked passing attack) will get chomped by a FSU defense that is No. 3 against the run.
If Florida tries to get cute and throw the ball, it will be against the No. 6-ranked pass defense, and in terms of point scoring, there is the Seminoles' No. 3-ranked scoring defense.
Simply put, Florida has a great defense, but Florida State’s is even better. On top of that, the ‘Noles offense is significantly more balanced, and they’ll be playing at home.
Florida State wins.
In a statement that seems almost surreal, Texas State will finish the 2012 season with more wins than Auburn.
Yes, at 3-4 with a realistic chance of beating UTSA on Nov. 24, Texas State should, at worst, finish the year at 4-8, while at 1-7 three additional wins might be a pipe dream for Auburn.
And when you take into account that 2012 is the very first year in the FBS for Texas State (the Bobcats played in the Southland Conference last season), the entire concept simply smarts and leaves a red mark.
After creating quite a stir among optically-observant viewers last weekend, Erin Andrews will ditch her black-rimmed spectacles for contact lenses.
Indeed, if you tune into Fox Sports' studio coverage of college football in November (which you will if you know what’s good for you), you’ll surely note that Andrews has 86ed the glasses.
Slated for Friday night, Nov. 30 in Detroit, the championship for the “little” conference from the Midwest will feature teams with better records than that of the behemoth Big Ten.
Yes, while 10-2 Nebraska squaring off with 9-3 Wisconsin for all the Big Ten marbles might be considered somewhat provocative, what about a clash between 11-1 Kent State and 11-1 Toledo?
These are two squads that have combined to take down two undefeated Big East squads: Rutgers and Cincinnati, respectively.
What’s even more telling is the fact that both these leagues might each have only one ranked team playing in their respective title games.
But this needs to be quantified by saying that finding the rankings as a Big Ten member is an entirely different task (in terms of difficulty) than is making the chart as a MAC affiliate.
When you glance at the four games that separate K-State and regular-season perfection, Oklahoma State and Texas jump out as pitfalls before TCU does.
But the reality of the situation is the team that topples K-State will have to be a squad that manages to shut down an offense that confuses foes effectively enough to be ranked No. 5 in the nation in scoring.
As far as the Wildcats’ November schedule is concerned, that team is TCU.
The Horned Frogs have the best defense among the four remaining squads on K-State’s slate and currently rank No. 37 in scoring defense, and even more critically, they are No. 12 vs. the run.
This matches up quite well with a Wildcat attack that is No. 17 nationally in rushing yards as opposed to No. 89 in passing yards.
Though K-State losing to a three-loss TCU team seems improbable, so does Florida State dropping a game to NC State or USC losing to Arizona.
What you’ve got to ask yourself is this: Are you convinced that K-State has the killer instinct necessary to finish the season undefeated?
If not, which team has the best chance of surprising it?
For me that team is TCU; it's been a giant-killer before, and it's likely to play the role again.
After finally tasting from the chalice of SEC victory last Saturday against Kentucky, Missouri will have to wait until 2013 to win another league game.
This audacious declaration seems somewhat more digestible when you take into account that the Tigers’ November SEC slate includes a game at Florida, a trip to Tennessee and then the closer at Texas A&M.
Though Georgia vs. Alabama may seem like the most likely SEC title game scenario at the end of October, things will look shockingly different by the time November ends.
From the West, Alabama will handle LSU this Saturday and then beat Texas A&M and Auburn on its way to an 8-0 SEC finish and a ticket to the title game in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Georgia will manage to lay an egg against either Ole Miss (more probable) or Auburn (less likely) and jump out of the catbird’s seat before you can holler, “Look Mom! We’re playing the title game at HOME in the Georgia Dome!”
It won’t make any sense, and I won’t bore you with a litany of stats regarding why and how it will happen, but the Bulldogs' November loss will be every bit as huge as their late October win over Florida.
Georgia’s defeat will propel the Gators (their only SEC game remaining is vs. Missouri) into the title game to face Alabama.
And it will be one for the ages…
Does anyone else get the sneaking feeling that Ohio State is destined to drop a game somehow, some way, before the dust settles on the 2012 season?
Well, if that’s going to happen. the Buckeyes only have three games left to screw something up, this due to the fact that Ohio State is postseason-banned and won’t play past November.
We’re going to go way out on a limb here and predicting that the Buckeyes will drop not just one, but two of their last three contests and finish the season 10-2.
First up, Ohio State will wallop hapless Illinois this Saturday in Columbus, and after enjoying a bye in Week 11, the Buckeyes' one-dimensional offense will travel to Wisconsin.
In Madison, Ohio State’s failure to establish a passing game (the Bucks are currently ranked No. 105 in the nation in passing yards) will be exposed by a Badger defense that ranks No. 18 vs. the run.
It’s fairly simple: Braxton Miller is forced to throw the ball to win, and it’s over for the undefeated season.
Next, Ohio State returns home to square off with uber-rival Michigan, a team that is statistically similar to the Buckeyes only with a much better defense.
The Wolverines win a nail-biter in Columbus, and suddenly what seemed like a perfect, bowl-banned season ends with disappointment that leads to huge question marks in 2013.
Though the Longhorns will definitely finish the season in better shape than the Tigers, both squads’ head coaches will be on the hot seat (and perhaps ousted off it) by the time the season wraps up.
For Mack Brown, you’ll have a guy who led a team that got whipped by Oklahoma and almost lost to both Kansas and Baylor. Beyond that, who knows what will have happened in November at Texas Tech, vs. Iowa State, vs. TCU and then at K-State?
But the Longhorns will be bowl-bound regardless of how they finish, and it’s improbable that Texas would cut ties with Brown before the postseason or, according to many sources in Austin, at all.
Moving on to Gene Chizik, he’ll likely be the guy who leads Auburn to its worst finish since 1998, but he’s got two things on his side that will likely keep him in the saddle not just after the final whistle at Alabama on Nov. 24, but perhaps on into 2013.
First, Chizik’s buyout, according to the very entertaining Coaches’ Hot Seat Blog, is enormous and a real deterrent to a firing that would occur any time soon.
Next, this is still a coach who is a mere two seasons removed from leading Auburn to a national championship, and no matter how easy that is to forget after a devastating 2012 campaign, can you really fire a guy who is a proven, bona fide title winner?
I mean seriously, less than 24 months ago this guy was holding a crystal football…
Though it sounds about as credible as somebody in September saying, “What, Geno Smith? He won’t win the Heisman,” Collin Klein may well be the next guy to fall from grace.
The unfortunate truth of Klein’s Heisman candidacy, and really K-State’s bid for a BCS title, is that a single loss ends everything.
Though it seems harsh to say, if the Wildcats don’t win out, they won’t go to the BCS title, and they won’t have their first-ever Heisman winner.
That will happen regardless of which other teams also have one loss.
If Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon and K-State each lose a game (and you could argue that the Wildcats are in the most danger of doing so), then the BCS title game would be played between the Irish and the Tide (given they win the SEC title game).
And the Heisman goes to...A.J. McCarron.
After Louisville shocks the world with a unscripted loss to UConn in Week 13, the Cardinals' fall from grace is completed when they are upended by Rutgers the following Thursday night.
Rutgers fans rush the field, as we’ve seen them do before, only this time Scarlet Knight fans celebrate not only their first-ever Big East crown, but also their first championship of any kind since winning the Middle Three Conference in 1974.
Even bigger on the horizon looms the BCS Orange Bowl bid that is, in a titillating fashion, extended to the only FBS program that can claim participation in the first college football game ever played.
Indeed, even though Rutgers seemingly lost “everything” with its Week 9 defeat to Kent State, it’s the Scarlet Knights that end up being one of the greatest stories in the history of modern college football.
And they get it done just before the BCS screws them and the rest of the Big East out of AQ status.