One piece of the national title puzzle was wrapped up on Saturday afternoon as Ohio State outlasted Michigan 42-39 in a surprisingly high-scoring offensive showcase. The spot opposite the Buckeyes still remains wide open as the one-loss candidates are all lining up to make their case. As we head into the final week of action in November, the list of unbeatens has been shaved down to two in OSU and Boise State, as both Michigan and Rutgers suffered their first defeats on Saturday. There still remain a few conference races to be settled, and the upcoming weekend will provide the answers and set up the upcoming conference championship matchups. Let’s take a look at the gridiron clashes to feast your eyes on as you enjoy your leftover turkey on this Thanksgiving weekend.
GAME OF THE WEEK
#7-Notre Dame at #3-Southern Cal
A national title knock-out battle spotlights the action this weekend as the Pac-10 champion USC Trojans receive a visit from their rival, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. These two teams have played every year since 1946, and the Trojans have taken command of the series in recent years, winning 4 consecutive, including last seasons thrilling 34-31 win. USC currently resides at #3 in the BCS standings, and a win over the Irish combined with a season-ending victory over UCLA could very well return the Trojans to their 4th consecutive national title game opposite Ohio State. A win by Notre Dame, currently ranked 5th in the BCS, keeps the Irish in the BCS mix, but a 47-21 early season loss to Michigan is likely to keep them out of the national title game. USC is back on track after stumbling at Oregon State earlier in the season, as they have won 3 straight, including a dominating performance over California this past weekend. Notre Dame, meanwhile, has won 8 straight since their loss to Michigan.
The USC defense has really stepped up its game since yielding 33 points in the loss to Oregon State, as the opposition has only scored 19 total points in the last 3 games. This past weekend, the Trojans yielded only 275 yards of offense against an excellent California attack, totally shutting down the Bears in the 2nd half. In a turnaround from prior USC teams, the defense has risen to the occasion and outperformed the offense this season, setting the tone for another potential run at the title. Testing the USC stop troops this weekend is the highly-regarded Irish attack directed by Heisman candidate QB Brady Quinn and the nation’s 9th best passing offense. Irish RB Darius Walker is 19th in the nation in rushing, and he will need to be effective enough to slow down the USC pass rush and give Quinn the time he needs to find his favorite targets, Samardzija and McKnight. It will be interesting to see the Notre Dame offensive performance on Saturday as the Irish have not faced a defense anywhere near what USC will bring to the table since their loss to Michigan, and Quinn is likely to have to carry the bulk of the offensive load if the Irish have plans to head back to South Bend with a win.
The Notre Dame defense has not kept up with the offense this season as the unit currently ranks 47th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 20.5 points per game. The Irish have struggled in slowing down strong passing offenses this season and will have a major test in stopping a USC aerial show that has improved greatly since the beginning of the season. Trojan QB John David Booty and his WR corps of Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett have been lethal in recent weeks, and the trio presents a major challenge for the Notre Dame secondary. USC will gain yardage against the Irish defense, and the key to this game will be an opportune Notre Dame unit that must force mistakes and turnovers to keep the Trojans from dictating the game’s tempo. Just like last weekend's Ohio State-Michigan battle, this one has the makings of an instant classic, and the stakes cannot be higher as these two college football giants assume the prime time spotlight.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
#7-Louisiana State at #5-Arkansas
Arkansas wrapped up the SEC West title on Saturday by virtue of their 28-14 win over Mississippi State, while LSU needed OT to win their 5th straight, a 23-20 squeaker over Mississippi. The Hogs are still involved in the national title race, and they must earn wins over LSU and Florida and have Notre Dame upend USC to make their case. Since getting bombed 50-14 by USC in their opener, Arkansas has reeled off 10 straight wins and is in the midst of one of the great turnaround seasons after stumbling to a 4-7 record last year. The gameplan is simple for Arkansas: continue to pound away with McFadden and Jones and the nation’s 4th best rushing offense as LSU counters with a tough run stuffing unit that only yields 75 yards per game on the ground. The Tiger defense enters this game ranked 1st overall in the country, and they need to focus on slowing the Arkansas ground attack, forcing QB Casey Dick to generate enough offense through the air. The Tigers have won 3 straight in the series, and even though they cannot win the West division, LSU will happily play the spoiler role if they can knock Arkansas from the title chase.
Texas A&M at #10-Texas
Texas still needs to win this game to secure the South division title and claim a spot versus Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. The Longhorns have won 6 straight in this series and 9 of 11 in dominating Texas A&M in recent years, to the frustration of the Aggie faithful. In those 6 consecutive wins, the closest game was decided by 11 points, and the average winning margin for Texas during the span has been 20.8 points, clearly demonstrating how this series has become one-sided in recent years. Both teams enter the contest on a low note as Texas was stunned by Kansas State 45-42 in their last game, while A&M enters after losing two consecutive one-point contests to Oklahoma and Nebraska in heartbreaking fashion. This game could very well be decided by who wins the battle of the A&M ground attack, ranked 8th in the nation, and the Longhorn rush defense, ranked 1st in the nation, giving up only 42 yards per contest. If A&M is unable to generate yardage on the ground, the Longhorns should be able to control this game with the 1-2 punch of QB Colt McCoy and RB Jamaal Charles and take home their 7th straight series win and a return trip to the Big 12 championship game.
Wake Forest at Maryland
Even though both of these teams come off blowout losses on Saturday, they both remain tied for the Atlantic division lead with Boston College. Wake Forest controls their own destiny, and if they can defeat Maryland, their November 4th win over Boston College will propel the Deacons into an ACC title matchup with Georgia Tech. Should Maryland win, they need Miami to knock off Boston College on Saturday. Otherwise the Eagles take the division crown and head into the title game. These teams have been two of the biggest surprises of the season, and reviewing the season’s statistics, their combined record of 17-5 becomes even more impressive. Both Maryland and Wake are in the bottom 25% of total offense, as the Terps rate 96th in the nation while the Deacons rank 100th overall. Both have relied on opportune scoring and defense to be on the verge of earning a division title. Look for a low scoring contest and relatively conservative offenses as both teams wait for the other to make the fatal mistake.
#4-Florida at Florida State
This rivalry is not nearly as highly-touted as in recent seasons, as the Seminoles have struggled to a 6-5 record on the season and a 5th place showing in the ACC’s Atlantic division. Still for Florida, the stakes could not be higher as the Gators remain firmly entrenched in the national title chase, and a win over Florida State and then a victory over Arkansas will have the Gator fans debating for a spot in the title game. Florida will be looking for their 3rd straight win in this series, while for Florida State, a win over the Gators would be a huge bright spot in an otherwise mediocre campaign. Florida has relied heavily on a quick and hard hitting defense this season, a unit that only yields 12 points per contest and has been brutal in stuffing the opposition’s ground games. This presents major trouble for the Seminoles, as FSU has struggled all season long in generating consistent offense as they have been unable to establish a ground game to open the field for QB’s Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee. Even though this game is a bit down from past years, this still remains one of the most bitter rivalries in the nation and is always a great game to watch.
#14-Georgia Tech at Georgia
The Yellow Jackets have very quietly put together an excellent season as Tech wrapped up the ACC Coastal division a few weeks ago and has made reservations for the ACC championship game. Georgia has had an up and down season, winning their first 5 games and then losing 4 out of 5 midseason before bouncing back in a big way in their 37-15 pounding of Auburn in their last game. The Bulldogs have won 5 straight in the series, but this season the roles are reversed as Tech is in position for a BCS bid and top ten national finish, while the Bulldogs look to play the role of the spoiler. Both of these teams have been erratic on offense this season as they have struggled to assemble a consistent pass attack, and opposing teams have been able to stack the line to force both to win with the pass. What the Yellow Jackets do have is one of the nation’s top offensive weapons in WR Calvin Johnson who has 13 touchdowns on the season and is clearly capable of making the difference in this weekend's contest. After Georgia’s last effort versus Auburn, it will be interesting to see if the Bulldogs can close out their regular season in strong fashion and put a major dent in Tech’s strong season.
GAMES OF INTEREST
#12-Oklahoma at Oklahoma State - Saturday 1:30 PM CDT
The Sooners still remain in the South division title chase, needing a Texas loss to A&M and a win over rival Okie State to get to the title game. Since October 14th, Okie State is 3-3, winning one and then losing one since that time, and the Cowboys enter this game off a loss to Texas Tech. Oklahoma be wary.
South Carolina at Clemson - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
This is always a bitter rivalry, and both teams have had disappointing seasons compared to pre-season expectations. South Carolina is focused on ending their 4 game losing streak to the Tigers, while Clemson is looking to complete a 9 win regular season.
Boise State at Nevada - Saturday 3:00 PM CDT
Boise State looks to be one win away from earning a BCS bid as the Broncos currently reside at #11 in the latest poll and have already claimed the WAC championship. Nevada is bowl eligible for the 2nd consecutive season and has outscored their last 4 WAC opponents by a combined mark of 177-28.
South Florida at #8-West Virginia - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
West Virginia is in the middle of a 3-team Big East log jam at the top with Louisville and Rutgers, while South Florida is in a battle with Cincinnati to claim 4th place. The Mountaineers likely need to win their final 2 to earn the league’s automatic bid by virtue of their lead in the BCS standings.
Kentucky at Tennessee - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Kentucky has been a pleasant surprise this season, already winning 7 games and earning their 1st bowl bid since 1999. Tennessee will look to end UK's current 4 game winning streak and claim a spot in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Arizona State at Arizona - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
Arizona is on a roll, winning 3 straight conference games, including victories over ranked opponents California and Oregon, and clinching the program's 1st bowl berth since 1998. Arizona State continued its erratic play this past weekend, getting handled by UCLA 24-12 and falling to 6-5 on the year.
Boston College at Miami - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
BC is still in the thick of the ACC Atlantic division race, and the Eagles need a win over Miami combined with a loss by Wake Forest to take the title. UM is struggling, having lost 4 straight, and the Canes need to win if they hope to earn a bowl bid.
#11-Louisville at Pittsburgh - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Louisville bounced back from their loss to Rutgers by pasting South Florida, keeping their BCS hopes alive in a wide open Big East race. Pittsburgh is fading fast and will likely miss out on the post-season unless they can pull off the upset.
Brigham Young at Utah - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Brigham Young has clinched the Mountain West and can cap off their excellent season by winning the “Holy War” and ending a 4 game losing streak to the Utes. The Cougars have already accepted a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl and will look to close out the season by winning 9 straight.
Purdue at Hawaii - Saturday 10:05 PM CDT
Hawaii has put together a tremendous season, only losing close battles to Alabama and Boise State, both on the road, while Purdue finished 5th in the Big 10 and awaits their bowl bid. Since Hawaii’s last loss to Boise State, the Warriors have averaged 56 points per game as they lead the nation in total offense.