College Football 2012: Predicting Week 11's Biggest Games
With just a few weeks to go in the 2012 college football season, each and every game becomes an elimination game.
A loss now can eliminate a team from national championship consideration or destroy any hopes of a BCS bowl berth this season. It could also eliminate teams from conference championship hopes or even wipe away dreams of making the postseason at all.
With such importance hanging on every snap of the ball, let's take a look at this weekend's most important college gridiron showdowns.
Rankings are based on the most recent Bleacher Report College Football Top 25 Poll.
No. 19 Louisiana Tech at Texas State
Saturday, November 10, 7 pm Eastern, The Longhorn Network
Believe it or not, this WAC game has some BCS implications, albeit minor ones.
Texas State is new to the FBS this season, and with a 3-5 record, it has found a fair amount of success in 2012—again, for a program that's new to the FBS.
But Louisiana Tech, led by Freshman All-American candidate Kenneth Dixon at running back, should make quick work of Texas State.
So why is this a game to watch this weekend?
First, Louisiana Tech is agonizingly close to an automatic BCS berth this season. Yes, we said automatic. If the Bulldogs can win the WAC title and can climb to No. 16 or higher in the BCS rankings, the Bulldogs will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl this January. To reach that mark, Louisiana Tech, currently sitting at No. 20 in the BCS, will need to win out, and likely needs a little help up front from a combination of losses and poll love.
Another reason you might want to tune in is to check out Dixon yourself.
He's one of the nation's top freshman this season, and he is electric when carrying the football. What's even more amazing is that he wasn't the starting rusher for the Bulldogs when the season started. Dixon replaced fellow freshman Tevin King who fell to injury early this season.
Yet the Bulldogs are still 8-1, and they were just a field goal away from beating Texas A&M.
Arkansas at No. 13 South Carolina
Saturday, November 10, Noon Eastern, CBS
Is South Carolina going to win the SEC East this season? No.
Is Arkansas going to win the SEC West this season? Certainly, no.
But this game is still one to keep your eye on this Saturday, as it has some pretty important ramifications for the loser.
First, for Arkansas.
A loss would drop the Razorbacks to 4-6 on the season and would almost guarantee no bowl for the Hogs this year. Even with a win, a bowl game will be a stretch, as Mississippi State and LSU are the two remaining game for John L. Smith and company.
And speaking of John L. Smith, losing would almost certainly cement the already highly likely scenario of his contract not being renewed at season's end.
Ramifications can't get much more serious than that.
Now for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks are in a much more favorable position, even having been already eliminated from SEC East title contention.
South Carolina is in the hunt for a top January bowl game this season, and a win puts the Gamecocks at 8-2 heading into a gimmie against FCS Wofford and the season finale at Clemson.
Dropping this game to a clearly weaker Arkansas would not only raise serious concerns about the Lattimore-less Gamecocks, but it would take a great deal of excitement away from a potential Top 10 vs. Top 10 Battle of the Palmetto State.
No. 11 Louisville at Syracuse
Saturday, November 10, Noon Eastern, ABC
What does 9-0 Louisville have to do to get a little respect around here?
Well, not playing in the Big East would probably be a good first step. Playing at least one Top 25 program would help, too.
Still, the Cardinals have beaten every team on their schedule this season, but they are still outside of the Top 10 and are the odds-on favorite to win the Big East's BCS berth this season.
But if there ever was a trap game for the Cards, this has to be it.
If you think heading into the Carrier Dome against a mediocre Syracuse team and getting a win is no big deal, we suggest you go talk to the folks at West Virginia. The Mountaineers almost saw their entire 2011 season come apart at the hands of the Orange in the Dome.
Northwestern at Michigan
Saturday, November 10, Noon Eastern, ESPN
Who would have thought that Northwestern would be the team sporting the better record in this game?
When the season began, Michigan was a contender for the Big Ten Legends title, and Northwestern was, well, Northwestern.
Now, Michigan, at 6-3, needs someone to beat Nebraska while continuing to win its own games while Northwestern is 7-2, the only conference team to beat multiple BCS-AQ opponents in nonconference games and has the opportunity to put Michigan's conference title hopes on ice this weekend at the Big House.
And don't think the Wildcats will be intimidated by 110,000 screaming fans, either. This is a team that was forced to run a silent count in its own stadium because of all the noise visiting fans make.
We'll also get to see how Michigan's porous rush defense can handle Northwestern's Venrick Mark, who is averaging nearly 120 rushing yards per game this season, second in the conference to Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell.
Penn State at No. 17 Nebraska
Saturday, November 10, 3:30 pm Eastern, ABC/ESPN2
Be honest. Did you really expect Penn State to be 6-3 at this point of the season?
A program is complete disarray, a team fracturing with transfer after transfer and a stigma unlike anything we've ever seen in college athletics. Yet, Bill O'Brien has somehow managed to find a way to spur his Nittany Lions to six wins this season.
And while there may not be a bowl game at the season's conclusion, Penn State clearly still has a great deal of pride in its program.
As for Nebraska, this game is perhaps more important, considering it can make or break the Cornhuskers' chances at earning a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Huskers are 4-1 in conference play, tied with Michigan (but owning the head-to-head tiebreaker). This may also be the last true challenge Nebraska has this season before hosting Minnesota and closing the season out at Iowa.
Nebraska fields the conference's top offense, averaging over 487 yards per game, and junior quarterback Taylor Martinez has clearly improved over his underclassmen days.
With 18 touchdown passes to eight interceptions, Martinez has cut down on those costly mistakes of the past that kept Nebraska out of the BCS picture.
But now, sporting a 147.1 passer rating and averaging 215.7 yards per game through the air, Martinez has the opportunity to lead his team to renewed glory this season.
Of course, the Nebraska defense with need to figure out how to contain Matt McGloin, the only quarterback in the conference to best Martinez's numbers with 270.7 yards per game passing.
No. 23 Mississippi State at No. 9 LSU
Saturday, November 10, 7 pm Eastern, ESPN
After starting the season with seven straight wins, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have been unmasked to an extent, becoming what we've expected all along: a second-tier SEC West team.
Mississippi State ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in both total offense and total defense, and this weekend's meeting with LSU, in Baton Rouge, at night, could mean a three-game skid for the Bulldogs.
But wait just a second. Mississippi State may rank eighth in the SEC in total offense, but LSU isn't far ahead in seventh, averaging just 3.1 more yards per game.
The tale of this game will be all about the LSU defense. Will the Tigers show up after a devastating loss at home to Alabama last week? With BCS dreams nearly shattered, can the Tigers find a way to restore their swagger?
And what about the Bulldogs? While they clearly weren't up to the daunting task of winning a West Division title, a January bowl game could be just around the corner if they can find a way to win on Saturday night.
Mississippi State junior running back LaDarius Perkins, currently third in the conference averaging 89.3 yards per game, will need to have a career night against the conference's No. 3 rush defense (and No. 12 rush defense in the nation) if the Bulldogs are to have any shot at avoiding another loss and dropping out of the Top 25.
No. 14 Oregon State at No. 16 Stanford
Saturday, November 10, 3 pm Eastern, FOX
The Pac-12 Game of the Week thankfully has a noon local kickoff, sparing the rest of the nation from staying up until the small hours of Sunday morning to see the conclusion.
And this might just be one Pac-12 game you don't want to miss.
Oregon State and Stanford will be battling to sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 North Division, and both teams have yet to face Oregon—the lone Pac-12 undefeated.
Stanford has the conference's best defense, giving up just 321.7 yards and 16.6 points per game while Oregon State fields the North Division's second-best offense—which is saying something when the division's top team is Oregon.
This game's battle to watch is definitely at the quarterback position.
Stanford's Kevin Hogan, a freshman, will get his first start on Saturday after replacing Josh Nunes under center. Nunes never seems to click as the Cardinal quarterback, and Hogan was solid—and then some—in relief against Colorado.
On the opposite sideline, Cody Vaz will once again be starting in place of Sean Mannion. Only this time, Vaz is there by choice, not necessity.
Mannion returned after rehabbing his knee, only to throw four interceptions against Washington—still Oregon State's only loss on the season.
With Oregon looming for both teams, bad play from a new (or returning) starting quarterback could spell disaster in what will end up being this week's Pac-12-North elimination game.
No. 3 Kansas State at TCU
Saturday, November 10, 7 pm Eastern, FOX
Good news for all you Kansas State fans: Colin Klein might start this Saturday against TCU.
If, if that happens, this game should be all about Kansas State.
The Wildcats have two of the conference's top three rushers in junior running back John Hubert and, of course, Collin Klein himself. And while TCU does sport the conference's top rush defense and is just one of nine teams in the nation to hold opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game, the one-two combination of Hubert and Klein will just be too much.
Now, if Klein can't go on Saturday, this game becomes a lot more interesting.
Not only would the Wildcats become very vulnerable, but we'd also get a glimpse of just what K-State can do without Klein's contribution (he currently accounts for 65 percent of KSU's offense and 25 percent of the scoring).
No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama
Saturday, November 10, 3:30 pm Eastern, CBS
And now for the game everyone wants to see.
Alabama, the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation, will get its first crack at Texas A&M as a member of the SEC.
But just as important is freshman phenom Johnny Football's first crack at the Tide.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is No. 2 in the nation in total offense, averaging 383.2 yards per game. The closest Alabama player is AJ McCarron, who is currently No. 82 with 200.6 yards per game of total offense.
Obviously, Manziel will be the one person who directly has the most impact on the outcome of this game.
So what is it about this amazing youngster that makes him so dangerous? Quite simply, it's his unconventional, unpredictable ability to extend the play time and time again.
Teams have tried all season to pressure Manziel only to see him escape the pocket and pick up huge chunks of yards on the ground or wait for a receiver to break free downfield.
When defenses try to contain him with linebacker spies, Manziel is almost unmatched in his ability to find the resulting seam for his receivers.
And remember, he's still a freshman.
While all of that is spectacular, Alabama does have the No. 2 defense in the nation. The Tide will be the toughest test for Johnny Football and crew, but the Aggies are also a team that lost to LSU—the No. 3 defense in the nation—by a mere five points. If Alabama, just for an instant, lets up against this Aggies attack, the Tide might just have to kiss that No. 1 spot in the BCS rankings good-bye.