Heading down the season’s stretch run, the BCS became even more interesting this week as only four unbeaten teams now remain in Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, and Boise State. Falling by the wayside were the Cardinals of Louisville who had their BCS dreams smashed by a tremendous Rutgers comeback. Shaping up to be a great battle is the positioning of the plethora of one-loss teams still pushing and shoving, trying to earn their position in the championship game, each needing to make their case as the season nears its conclusion. There's no doubt as to this week's top game, as the #1 and #2 teams in the nation will do battle on Saturday afternoon in what can safely be called the game of the year. Let’s see what contests should be the focus in this weekend's slate of action.
GAME OF THE WEEK
#2-Michigan at #1-Ohio State
The highlight matchup of week #12 features the traditional Big 10 powers fighting for both the top spot in the conference and the nation. Ohio State and Michigan will meet for the 103rd time in one of college football’s greatest rivalries, with the Wolverines holding a 57-39-6 overall edge. This game will feature the 1st ever meeting of the schools as #1 and #2 in the nation, and it's also the 1st time in the regular season that two matchups of the nation's top two ranked teams will be featured, as earlier in the season #1-Ohio State battled #2-Texas. To get to this point, both teams took care of business early this past weekend, as Ohio State pummeled Northwestern 54-10 while at the same time Michigan was dominant in a 34-3 win over Indiana. The stakes cannot be larger as the winner can make reservations for Glendale, Arizona and the BCS national championship game, while the loser must wait a few more weeks to see how the regular season plays out and how the final BCS standings calculate. If the game comes down the wire, the loser will still have a legitimate shot at playing for the national title, especially after the dominant regular seasons that these two teams have put together.
This game features the best defensive matchup of the entire college football season, as Ohio State ranks 1st in the nation in scoring defense while Michigan ranks 5th. Leading the Buckeye stop troops is Butkus Award finalist James Laurinaitis who has stepped into A.J. Hawk’s shoes and not missed a beat, leading a defense that is just as tough against the run as it is against the pass. The Wolverines will rely heavily on RB Mike Hart to work the ground and set up QB Chad Henne and the Michigan passing attack. Hart ranks 6th in the nation in rushing the ball and has already pounded out over 1,400 yards on the ground this season, and he will be given every opportunity to lead this team on Saturday. Combined with Hart on the ground, Michigan will look to work the controlled passing game to Manningham and Breaston, as Henne will likely not get a ton of time to survey the field against the relentless Buckeye pass rush. To win this game, Big Blue will need its offense to step up a level, as during the majority of the season, the Wolverine defense has led this team and allowed the offense to simply win games by not making mistakes, a gameplan that has worked to perfection so far.
Speaking of the Michigan defense, this unit has been nothing short of spectacular for the entire season, leading the nation against the rush, giving up 30 yards per game on the ground and ranking 2nd in the nation in generating QB sacks. The biggest challenge for UM looks to be the mobility of Buckeye QB Troy Smith who has made countless plays this season after being chased from the pocket and throwing downfield on the run. In addition to Smith’s rushing ability, Ohio State will work to establish the strong RB combo of Pittman and Wells, but no team has had any success rushing against Michigan the entire season. To demonstrate, both Penn State and Northwestern were held to negative yards on the ground by Michigan, and Notre Dame generated a grand total of 4 yards in their contest. There is no debate on who should be ranked #1 and #2 at this point in the season, as both these teams have established themselves as the nation’s best, both with smothering defenses and mistake-free offenses. This has the makings of an instant classic, and Michigan is focused on ending the Buckeyes' two-game winning streak in the series while Ohio State is looking to make a wire-to-wire run at the top spot in the national polls.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
California at #3-Southern Cal
This game takes a step down in the national spotlight after California was upset this past weekend at Arizona 24-20 after jumping out to a 17-3 lead at halftime. Even with that loss, California still can win the Pac-10 if they can overcome USC, as the Trojans have already suffered a conference loss to Oregon State. USC enters the game off an impressive 35-10 rout of Oregon, and with the numerous top ten teams losing this past weekend, the Trojans are right back in the middle of the national championship chase. With the USC offense starting to click and a California defense that has been struggling in recent weeks, the Trojans will look to pound away and wear down the Bear defense that is not that deep. As mentioned, the winner of this matchup moves to the forefront for the Pac-10 BCS bid, and California would like nothing more than to put an end to USC’s national championship dreams.
Maryland at Boston College
Maryland has put together a surprising season and has won 5 straight ACC contests by a total of 13 points, including 2 straight one-point wins over Clemson and Miami. The Terrapins sit atop the Atlantic Division tied with Wake Forest and are 8-2 on the season, only suffering losses to West Virginia and Georgia Tech. Maryland and Wake Forest have put together similar storylines to the season, as the Terps rank 102nd in the nation in total offense and 83rd in total defense. The statistics are not pretty, but the wins continue to pile up with opportune defense and an offense that scores as needed. Right behind Maryland and Wake sits BC at 4-2 in the conference, and a win over Maryland will keep the Eagles alive in the chase for the ACC championship game. This game has all the looks of a low-scoring affair as BC ranks 13th in the nation in scoring defense, so a couple of touchdowns may be enough to win this one.
Auburn at Alabama
Both of these teams enter the game off a loss last weekend as Auburn saw their national title hopes dashed by Georgia 37-15, while Alabama could not overcome a tough LSU defense in their 28-14 defeat. Auburn struggled right out of the gate and was unable to generate any type of consistent offense, especially with QB Brandon Cox tossing 4 interceptions and throwing for a total of 35 yards. The loss also knocked Auburn completely out of the SEC West race, as Arkansas is 2 games ahead and owns an early October win over the Tigers. Alabama is on a 2-game losing skid and needs a win in this one to finish above .500 on the season after going 10-2 last year. Alabama’s head coach Mike Shula is off to an 0-3 start in the Iron Bowl, and he would like nothing more to break through in this one and disappoint the Auburn faithful even further after they came into the season with national title aspirations. This is one of those rivalry games where the intensity level is amazing on the field and in the stands, and it's always worth sitting back and enjoying a hard-hitting game between teams that really dislike each other.
Virginia Tech at #11-Wake Forest
The amazing season for Wake Forest continued this weekend as the Deacons demolished Florida State 30-0 and moved to 9-1 on the season and 5-1 in ACC play. The Wake defense was in control the entire game, limiting the Seminoles to 139 yards of total offense and grabbing 4 interceptions. Wake Forest maintains control of their own destiny, and a win in this game sets up a potential divisional championship battle with Maryland next weekend. Virginia Tech has rebounded from a mid-season 2-game losing streak to post 4 straight wins and currently sits in 2nd place in the Coastal Division. Looking at the stats, this game looks like it should be a low-scoring defensive battle, as Virginia Tech ranks 94th in total offense and Wake Forest ranks 101st, while on the other side of the ball, both teams maintain top 10 scoring defenses. This is a must see game to watch if this magical Wake Forest season can continue for at least one more week.
South Florida at #12-Louisville
Louisville needs to get back on track after their tough loss to Rutgers on Thursday evening, a game that saw them give up a 25-7 lead and not score a single point in the 2nd half. The Cardinals remain in the thick of the Big East race and could earn the league’s automatic BCS berth, but they most likely will have to win their final 3 games to have a shot. South Florida currently sits right behind the top 3 in the league and can have a major role in how the final standings end up with games at Louisville and at West Virginia to end their season. The interesting aspect of this game looks to be Louisville’s 2nd ranked total offense against the Bulls 15th ranked defense, as Rutgers demonstrated that QB Brian Brohm can be neutralized with an effective pass rush, an area where the Bulls excel. Louisville is out to make amends after last season’s game that saw the Cardinals enter the contest ranked 9th in the nation and then proceed to be manhandled as South Florida won in a 45-14 rout.
GAMES OF INTEREST
#6-Rutgers at Cincinnati - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT
The Scarlet Knights enter the weekend off the biggest win in the program’s history after knocking off Louisville and joining the BCS race. Rutgers needs to stay focused on the job at hand, as Cincinnati is tough and fighting for a bowl bid.
#4-Arkansas at Mississippi State - Saturday 1:30 PM CDT
This one could be dangerous for Arkansas, a pesky road trip stuck between two huge home contests with Tennessee and LSU. A win by the Razorbacks clinches a spot opposite Florida in the SEC championship game.
#10-West Virginia at Pittsburgh - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
The “Backyard Brawl” looked more interesting a few weeks ago as Pittsburgh has now suffered 3 straight defeats, but this still remains a dangerous trip for WVU. The Mountaineers can still win the Big East title if they win their remaining 3 contests.
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
Oklahoma State has its offense firing on all cylinders, ranking 5th in the nation in scoring, and has proven to be a dangerous opponent this season. Tech fell just short yet again this past weekend after giving Oklahoma a good run.
San Jose State at Hawaii - Saturday 10:05 PM CDT
Hawaii has put up over 60 points in 4 of their last 5 games and is piling up 542 yards per game as the nation’s most explosive offense. San Jose State had Boise State on the ropes before falling a last-second field goal short of the upset, but even with the loss, the Spartans are eligible for their first bowl trip since 1990.
Indiana at Purdue - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The battle for the old oaken bucket is huge for Indiana, as the Hoosiers need a win to gain their 1st bowl berth since the 1993 Independence Bowl. Purdue is still in the hunt for 4th place in the Big 10; a win versus IU and a PSU loss puts the Boilermakers there.
East Carolina at Rice - Saturday 2:00 PM CDT
Both of these teams are on 4-game CUSA winning streaks and are still battling to earn their way into the conference championship game. East Carolina is in control of their own destiny, while Rice needs to win out and have divisional leader Houston lose at Memphis to win the Western division title.
New Mexico at Brigham Young - Saturday 3:00 PM CDT
BYU has won their Mountain West games by an average of 29.5 points each and can wrap up the conference title with a win over New Mexico on Saturday. The Lobos are looking for the elusive 6th win to return to the post-season.
Tennessee at Vanderbilt - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Tennessee enters this contest on a two-game losing streak and is struggling without QB Erik Ainge. Vanderbilt is looking for its 2nd straight win in this series after losing 23 in a row to the Volunteers.
Central Michigan at Northern Illinois - Friday 7:05 PM CDT
Central Michigan will look to wrap up the MAC West title and a berth in the conference championship with a win over Northern Illinois. The Chippewas are quietly putting together an excellent season as they are now 6-0 in the MAC and have been dominant over the past month.
Middle Tennessee at South Carolina - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
South Carolina comes off yet another heartbreaking loss in a season full of tough losses, as the Gamecocks have dropped their last 3 to Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida by a total of 14 points. Middle Tennessee is having a strong season, sitting at 7-3 with all of their losses at the hands of nationally-ranked teams in Maryland, Oklahoma, and Louisville.