In last week’s action, yet another unbeaten was knocked from the ranks as West Virginia suffered their first defeat on the season as the Mountaineers were unable to slow down the high flying Louisville attack. The Cardinals now add their name right into the middle of the national title picture as only 5 teams remain unblemished after the first week of action in November. Also of note this week is that numerous teams in the top ten, including both Ohio State and Michigan, struggled in their games last Saturday but still emerged victorious as the battle for the BCS heads down the homestretch.
In an instant replay of last week, the top matchup of this week is another Big East contest featuring two undefeated teams doing battle on Thursday evening. Time to review in detail the best that week #11 has to offer.
GAME OF THE WEEK
#5-Louisville at #13-Rutgers
The top matchup in week #11 features a Louisville team that is now firmly entrenched in the national title picture while Rutgers maintains aspirations of adding its name to the BCS mix. The Cardinals enter this contest off a tremendous effort in a 44-34 rout of West Virginia, a game that saw Louisville rack up 468 yards of total offense, including 354 yards in the air. UL also added touchdowns from their defense on a fumble recovery and from special teams on a 40-yard punt return to complete their scoring. Rutgers enters this game off a bye week after defeating Connecticut 24-13 in their last action, a game in which RU converted both a fumble recovery and a blocked punt into touchdowns as the offense was sluggish all night long. The Scarlet Knights clearly have revenge on their mind after last season’s embarrassing 56-5 loss at Louisville, but this time the sell-out crowd will be on Rutgers' side in one the biggest games in the history of Rutgers football. The winner of this contest assumes sole possession of 1st place in the Big East and becomes the favorite to earn the league’s automatic BCS berth.
In what looks to be a classic matchup of strength versus strength, the Louisville offense, currently 2nd in the nation, runs directly into the Rutgers defense, also currently ranked 2nd in the nation. Cardinal QB Brian Brohm and his favorite target WR Harry Douglas direct the Louisville offense which is putting up 289 yards per game in the air on the season. Brohm will attack the nation’s 4th rated passing defense, but Rutgers has not yet seen a challenge anywhere near what Louisville will present on Thursday evening. The Scarlet Knight defense has been a major surprise this season, as the speedy and aggressive unit has been all over the field and is limiting opponents to only 227 yards of total offense per game. For Rutgers to pull off the upset at home, the pass rush must be effective in forcing Brohm to move out of the pocket, because if he has the time to survey the field, he is extremely accurate in finding and delivering the ball to his talented receiving corp. By the end of Thursday evening, the nation will see how talented the Rutgers defense is if they are able to slow down the potent Cardinal offense.
The best way to describe the Rutgers offense so far this season is workmanlike, nothing spectacular, but steady grind-it-out offense that wears down opponents. Headlining the Knights' offense is RB Ray Rice who has already rushed for over 1,200 yards on the season and is now garnering Heisman attention as the leader of this unit. Louisville will focus its effort on slowing down Rice and his backfield mate Brian Leonard, forcing QB Mike Teel and the 114th ranked Rutgers passing offense to win this game through the air. The Cardinal defense is not coming off its best game of the year, as West Virginia rolled up 540 yards of offense, including 353 yards on the ground. If Rutgers can win this contest, the program takes a huge step towards earning national respect and becomes a topic in the national title chase, as at most only 4 unbeaten teams will remain after this weekend. Louisville has set itself up to play in the national championship game and will need to remain focused to play on the road after the huge emotional win at home versus West Virginia.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
#14-Tennessee at #9-Arkansas
Arkansas continues to put together a tremendous season without receiving the national respect that their 8-1 record deserves. The Razorbacks played a great 1st half in their recent win over South Carolina, but had to hold on in the 2nd half as the offense could only generate a single field goal in the last 30 minutes in the 26-20 win. The story for Arkansas continues to be the RB combination of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones that has combined for over 1,800 yards on the ground this season. Their production has masked the mediocre play at QB. Meanwhile, Tennessee suffered its 2nd loss on the season in devastating fashion as LSU connected on a touchdown pass with 9 seconds remaining to pull off the upset at Knoxville. The loss knocked the Volunteers out of the SEC East race, and with QB Erik Ainge still questionable due to injury, Tennessee could very well have a problem generating offense in a hostile environment at Fayetteville. Tennessee must regroup quickly and gets its rushing defense back on track or face being run over by an Arkansas team focused on earning a spot in the SEC championship game.
Nebraska at Texas A&M
Nebraska put a stranglehold on the Big 12 North division Saturday by taking care of Missouri by a score of 34-20. The Huskers bounced back in a big way after their disappointing performance in the loss to Oklahoma State to control Missouri and put them in position to earn a spot in the Big 12 championship game with one win in their last 2 games. Texas A&M put together a solid effort but fell one point short at home versus Oklahoma, suffering only their 2nd loss on the season, but it was a defeat that ended the Aggies' chances at a Big 12 South title. Expect both offenses to churn out yardage on Saturday, as A&M will attack Nebraska with their 8th ranked rushing offense after putting up 252 yards on the ground versus a stout Oklahoma defensive front. Nebraska, meanwhile, features a balanced offense that ranks 10th in the nation in total yardage. This is a huge game for the Aggies as they face Texas in the season finale. A loss on Saturday could have A&M ending the season on a 3-game losing streak after an 8-1 start.
Oregon at #10-Southern Cal
Southern Cal bounced back from their first regular season loss since 2003 by pounding Stanford 42-0 last weekend and moving to 7-1 on the season. The Trojans enter a four game gauntlet this week to complete the season as following their battle with Oregon, visits from California and Notre Dame follow before a season ending trip to UCLA. A key for USC in this game is the ability to run the ball, as so far this season, the Trojans have not been able to generate a consistent rushing attack, reducing the overall effectiveness of the passing game. Oregon enters the game after an impressive performance in a 34-14 pasting of fading Washington that saw the Ducks pounded out 316 yards on the ground in controlling the entire game. For USC, a win in this game sets up a huge game next week with the Pac-10 title on the line versus California, while Oregon looks to play the role of the spoiler since the Ducks have already suffered two losses in conference this season.
#15-Wake Forest at Florida State
After Wake’s 21-14 win over Boston College, the Demon Deacons control their own destiny in the ACC and sit atop the Atlantic Division along with surprising Maryland. What is amazing is that Wake is now 8-1 on the season and is winning games with an offense that ranks 99th in the country and 108th in passing. In the win over BC, Wake only gained 280 yards while BC put up 430 yards, but the Deacons did not make the big mistakes or costly turnovers that plagued the Eagles. Florida State enters this game off their best effort of the season in a 33-0 pounding of Virginia, as the ‘Noles limited the Cavaliers to 183 yards of total offense. The defense continues to be the key for FSU as the offense is still not firing on all cylinders, but that unit is now under the direction of QB Xavier Lee who replaced the ineffective Drew Weatherford. Florida State is out of the ACC divisional race with 3 conference losses, but this team is capable of winning this game and putting a major dent in Wake’s championship run.
Wisconsin at Iowa
Another team that is quietly putting together a great run this season is the 9-1 Wisconsin Badgers, with that lone loss coming at the hands of Michigan. The Badgers come off a dominating defensive performance as UW totally handcuffed Penn State all afternoon in the 13-3 win, a victory that basically clinched 3rd place in the conference. Wisconsin leads the nation in pass defense, yielding a miniscule 86 yards per game in the air, a statistic aided by a tremendous pass rush that does not give opposing QB’s time to attack the secondary. A win over Iowa virtually guarantees an 11-1 season for the Badgers with only a visit from Buffalo remaining on the season. Iowa is in the midst of a very disappointing season, as the Hawkeyes came into the season with Big 10 title hopes, and now the best case scenario for the Hawkeyes only allows for a 4th place finish in the conference after they dropped their 3rd consecutive conference game to Northwestern on Saturday. To upset Wisconsin, Iowa will have to have major improvement from an offense that is averaging only 12.3 points per game in their last 3 outings and a defense that gave up 443 yards of offense to Northwestern’s 90th ranked unit.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Georgia at #6-Auburn - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Auburn is still focused on the national championship, but the Tigers need to win their final 2 games and have Arkansas lose two of their remaining games to even qualify for the SEC championship game. On the other hand, Georgia’s season is slipping away as the Bulldogs come off a loss to Kentucky and are staring straight ahead at a 6-6 season with AU and Georgia Tech remaining on the schedule.
Alabama at #11-Louisiana State - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT
LSU proved it is still a major factor in the SEC race by knocking off Tennessee after the Tigers lost their other 2 key conference games to Auburn and Florida. Alabama is on a 2-game conference losing streak, and with LSU this weekend and Auburn to follow, the Tide will have to pull a major upset to avoid a 6-6 season.
Miami at Maryland - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Maryland is currently tied with Wake atop the Atlantic Division, and the Terps begin a tough 3 game stretch to complete the year with a trip to Boston College to follow and then a home date with Wake to end the season. Miami has lost two straight in the ACC and now must win one of its final 3 games to qualify for a bowl.
South Carolina at #4-Florida - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Carolina has played their opponents tough all season but has yet to come up with a signature win as of yet. Florida comes off a tougher than expected win over Vanderbilt, a game that clinched the Eastern title and a spot in the SEC championship game for the Gators.
Cincinnati at #12-West Virginia - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
West Virginia had its national title hopes dashed against Louisville on Thursday night and now returns home to face a vastly improved and dangerous Cincinnati team. The Bearcat defense has improved greatly since the start of the season, and the unit has stifled two straight conference opponents and has Cincinnati only one win shy of earning a bowl bid in a nice rebound season.
Texas Tech at Oklahoma - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Oklahoma hung on for the win versus Texas A&M, keeping their slim Big 12 South division title hopes alive, at least for one more week. Tech is playing well right now after almost upsetting Texas two weeks ago and blasting a solid Baylor team 55-21 this past weekend.
Oregon State at UCLA - Saturday 5:15 PM CDT
Oregon State is playing as well as anyone after winning their 4th straight game in impressive fashion, 44-10 over Arizona State. The Beavers can still finish 2nd in the conference, and they now face a UCLA team that has lost 4 straight contests, all to ranked opponents.
#8-Notre Dame at Air Force - Saturday 3:00 PM CDT
Notre Dame went through the motions in blasting an outmanned North Carolina squad last weekend, improving to 8-1 on the season. Air Force always presents a unique challenge with the triple option, and the Falcons return home after an impressive 43-7 rout of rival Army.
Wyoming at Brigham Young - Thursday 6:00 PM CDT
A win over Wyoming will basically clinch the Mountain West title for BYU with only 2 games remaining on the season and the Cougars maintaining a 2 game lead. The Cowboys have put together a solid season, needing just 1 more win to qualify for a trip to the post-season in what looked to be a rebuilding year.
Texas Christian at New Mexico - Saturday 5:30 PM CDT
TCU has won 3 straight after a mid-season 2 game losing skid in the Mountain West, while New Mexico is also on a 3 game winning streak of their own after losing their first 2 conference games. The Lobos are looking for one more win to clinch bowl eligibility after missing out on the post-season last year.
Boise State at San Jose State - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
San Jose State is putting together an excellent season and is off to a 3-1 start in the WAC and is 6-2 overall. Boise State is focused on earning a BCS berth and will need to continue to win in impressive fashion in the final weeks of the season if they hope to earn that coveted bid.
Western Michigan at Central Michigan - Friday 6:00 PM CDT
Time to give the MAC some publicity as the two top teams in the Western Division collide on Friday evening. CMU is undefeated at 5-0 in conference play, while WMU now stands at 5-1 and must win this game to have a chance at a spot in the MAC Championship game.