After a weekend in which each of the top ranked teams in the nation won, the shuffling at the top returned this past weekend with both Boston College and Arizona State being knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten. The loss by BC has the folks in Baton Rouge excited as LSU looks to move back into position for a shot at the national championship after their thrilling 41-34 win on the road at Alabama. Oregon also made their case with a dominating win over the Sun Devils as the Ducks moved into 1st place in the Pac-10 title chase. The list of unbeaten teams now stands at 3 with the top-ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State leading the way, but Kansas is making believers out of a lot of college fans after hanging 76 on Nebraska and improving to 9-0 on the year, while Hawaii took the week off before their upcoming challenge from Fresno State.
Although week #11 does not feature more than a couple of contests featuring two ranked teams there are still numerous key conference battles that will impact the races as the season heads down the home stretch. The highlight game of the week is an inter-divisional SEC battle between the East division leader Georgia and Auburn. Another game to focus on is the Kansas visit to dangerous Oklahoma State as the Jayhawks look to remain on a collision course with Missouri for a spot in the Big 12 championship game. Also of note are two key Big-10 matchups as Michigan visits Wisconsin while Illinois heads on the road to Ohio State and an interesting WAC battle as unbeaten Hawaii faces a tough challenge on their road to a BCS game with Fresno State arriving on the island to challenge the Warriors. Letís review the key games that dot the college landscape in week eleven.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Auburn at Georgia
The top matchup in week #11 is down south in SEC country as East division leader Georgia plays host to the Auburn Tigers. The ĎDawgs begin a tough home stretch of games, needing a win in this one and next week over Kentucky combined with a Tennessee loss to clinch a 2nd trip to the SEC championship game in 3 seasons. Auburn remains in the hunt in the SEC West trailing LSU by a single game in the standings, but in reality it is a 2 game deficit as LSU owns the tiebreaker by virtue of their 30-24 win. Georgia head coach Mark Richt will be looking for a repeat performance of last seasonís game, where his Bulldogs took it to #5-Auburn in a 37-15 win, launching Georgia towards a strong end of season run. The visitor has had a great deal of success in this series, winning 11 of the past 15 games, and Auburn has already earned victories in road trips to Florida and Arkansas, and came within a last minute touchdown of an upset over LSU. Time to breakdown how these two SEC powers will line-up on Saturday afternoon.
For Georgia what makes their offense go is running back Knowshon Moreno, who has rushed for 182 yards per game in his last 3 contests, all Georgia wins. With Moreno ripping off huge chunks of yardage on the ground, quarterback Matt Stafford is now able to simply manage the game instead of having to toss the ball all over the field. This is good news for Georgia as one area that they have been lacking is finding playmakers at the receiver position as Sean Bailey leads the team in yardage at only 43 per game. For Knowshon, expect him to get plenty of carries in this one because if there is a chink in the Auburn defensive armor it is their rush defense. The Tigers give up 114 yards per game on the ground, ranking 24th in the nation, while they are extremely tough to pass on as the combination of Antonio Coleman and Quentin Groves harass opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis. If the Tigers find a way to slow down Moreno it could be a long afternoon for the Georgia offense that needs a powerful running game to set the tempo for their offensive game plan.
As has been the story for recent years with Auburn, the Tiger offense continues to have its struggles in generating consistency on a week-in and week-out basis. The passing offense ranks 99th in the nation in yardage and quarterback Brandon Cox has only thrown for 8 touchdowns versus 7 interceptions in 10 games. Georgia does give up over 200 yards per game through the air so Brandon should be able to find his top target downfield in Rodgeriqus Smith, who leads the team with 43 receptions. When Auburn needs yardage on the ground, Ben Tate will get the call, although he has been slowed in recent weeks, only rushing for 136 yards in the past 3 games. The Tiger game plan is simple, play ball control with the short passing game combined with the running of Tate and Mario Fannin and then rely on the nationís 5th rated scoring defense to hold Georgia in check. The formula has worked for Auburn after a tough beginning to the season as the Tigers have won 6 out of 7 since their 1-2 start.
Georgia looks to be peaking as they head into the home stretch of the season, aiming to reclaim their East division crown, while Auburn needs a win to remain in LSUís rear view mirror. For the Bulldogs they will need to overcome their home field disadvantage versus the Tigers as Auburn has come into Athens and won 6 of the last 7 times. This game should be fun to watch to see how the surging Bulldog offense can deal with a brutal Auburn defense as these two teams employ totally different styles of football. I expect Auburn to slow the Georgia offense but not stop it and the Tigers offense will be unable to match the points the Bulldogs put on the scoreboard. In another good SEC battle, Georgia gets the Auburn monkey off their back at home and remains a major player in the SEC championship race.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Kansas at Oklahoma State
The Jayhawks continued on their march towards a showdown with Missouri by pounding Nebraska 76-39 and moving to 5-0 in league play, while Oklahoma State stumbled against Texas, blowing a 24-point 4th quarter lead. After 2 games of mediocre offensive play, Kansas got back on track in a big way by steamrolling the Huskers, led by their emerging quarterback Todd Reesing, who tossed 6 touchdown passes as the Jayhawks scored the most points ever versus a Nebraska team. Expect more of the same game plan this week versus Oklahoma State as the Cowboys have struggled all season long in defending the pass, ranking 116th in the nation. OSU will look to pound away at the Jayhawk defense with running back Dantrell Savage, who is on a roll as of late averaging 121 yards per game. The Cowboys need to play ball control in this game as they do not have the overall weapons to keep up with Kansas if this contest turns into a track meet. With Iowa State at home next weekend, a win in this one likely puts Kansas into their finale with Missouri at 11-0 and right in the national championship mix, but the Pokes are dangerous at home in Stillwater so KU better be ready.
Louisville at West Virginia
There remains a great deal of buzz surrounding West Virginia and their strong chance of still reaching the national championship game. In order to do that the Mountaineers need to take care of their own business and it begins this Thursday with Louisville, a team that thumped WVU last season 44-34. West Virginia appears to be getting healthy and they have been extremely impressive in their 3 wins since the loss to South Florida, beating their foes by a combined score of 124-30. The key as usual for WVU is the running tandem of Steve Slaton and Pat White as they will work against a Lousville rush defense that gives up 154 yards per game. If Louisville is going to have a shot at the upset on the road, the Cardinals will have to simply outscore West Virginia as the Mountaineers are going to score plenty with their lethal offense. Cardinal quarterback Brian Brohm will need to play lights out against a vastly improved Mountaineer defense that ranks 6th in the nation while giving up only 15 points per game. The plan is simple, West Virginia wins out and they take the Big East title and a BCS bowl bid, while Louisville is looking to simply clinch a post-season berth in a tough season for the Cardinal program.
Michigan at Wisconsin
The Wolverines overcame a 10 point deficit in the final quarter to defeat their rival Michigan State and move to 6-0 in the Big 10 with their 8th straight win overall. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was blitzed in the 4th quarter by Ohio State as the Badgers gave up 28 straight to the Bucks after taking a 17-10 lead in the 3rd quarter as they fell to 3-3 in the league. For Michigan the game plan is simple on the road in Madison, unleash Mike Hart against a susceptible Badger front line and just let him run all afternoon long. The combination of Hart running and the red-hot Mario Manningham catching Henne bombs, the Michigan offense is vastly improved since the beginning of the season, averaging 34.3 points per game in their last 4 games. On the other sideline, Wisconsin needs to have a healthy P.J. Hill to get their rushing offense back on track after it struggled against OSU, gaining 14 yards on 37 carries, otherwise it will be a long day for quarterback Tyler Donovan as the Wolverine defense takes aim. A Michigan win sets up a Big 10 championship clash with Ohio State next weekend, while Wisconsin is looking to play the spoiler role and to position themselves for the post-season.
Fresno State at Hawaii
The Warriors have their sites set on earning the 2nd consecutive BCS bid for the WAC after last seasonís breakthrough performance by Boise State. Heading into this game, Hawaii is currently tied atop the conference with Boise State, both with 5-0 marks, while Fresno State is right behind at 5-1. The Warriors led by quarterback Colt Brennan lead the nation in scoring offense at 52 points per game, but the highest rated defense this team has played so far is that of Louisiana Tech, which currently stands at 59th in the nation. This game will present an interesting match-up to watch as Fresno State really struggles in rush defense, ranking 98th in the country, but Hawaii rarely even attempts to run the ball, attempting only 169 carries in their 8 games. For Fresno State, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on running back Ryan Mathews, who has taken over the starting role and really played well in the past few games. This is the beginning of the tough stretch in the Hawaii schedule, a win here sets up a championship showdown with Boise State in 2 weeks, while Fresno State looks to put an end to the Warriors 9 game winning streak.
Illinois at Ohio State
The top-ranked Buckeyes struggled for a little over a half before taking control and dominating Wisconsin in their 38-17 win, a victory that moved their record to 10-0 on the season. Illinois has already won 7 games on the season ending the Illiniís 6 year bowl drought as this program continues on their upward trend. For Ohio State, quarterback Todd Boeckman has stepped his game, ranking 6th in the nation in passing efficiency, and in his last 4 games he has tossed 9 touchdowns versus 2 interceptions. Illinois struggles in stopping the pass so expect another good game out of Boeckman as he loosens up the defense for running back Chris Wells. The Illini game plan is centered on the nationís 8th leading rusher in Rashard Mendenhall, but he will run smack into a Buckeye front wall that yields only 65 yards per game, ranking 3rd in the nation. That is likely to mean that any chance Illinois has in pulling off the upset will be on the erratic arm of quarterback Juice Williams, who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this year as he struggles to find consistency. Ohio State is looking to set up yet another conference championship battle with Michigan the following weekend, while Illinois is focused on maintaining 3rd place in the conference and earning a New Yearís Day bowl bid.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Wake Forest at Clemson - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Both of these teams stand at 4-2 in the ACC, trailing Boston College by 1 game in the chase for the Atlantic Division title. Clemson hosts BC next week, a win here puts the Tigers destiny in their hands as they head down the home stretch of the season.
Texas Tech at Texas - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Texas returns home after a tremendous comeback win over Oklahoma State as the Longhorns erased a 24 point 4th quarter deficit to keep themselves in the South Division race. Texas Tech is still hanging around in the division race, but they need to sweep Texas and Oklahoma to end the season to have a legitimate shot at the title.
Connecticut at Cincinnati - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
UConn continues to impress as they travel to Cincinnati after an impressive 38-19 pounding of Rutgers this past weekend as the Huskies moved to 4-0 in the Big East. Cincy put an end to their 2-game skid with a big win on the road at South Florida, evening the Bearcats conference mark at 2-2.
Florida at South Carolina - Saturday 6:45 PM CDT
South Carolina appears to have collapsed after a strong start as the Gamecocks have now lost 3 straight in the SEC and are in danger of finishing in the East cellar. Florida stands at 4-3 in the league and they need to win this one and then have Georgia lose their last 2 in addition to Tennessee getting tripped up once more to claim a 2nd consecutive trip to the SEC title game.
USC at California - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
USC took care of Oregon State this past weekend, pushing the Trojans into a 2nd place tie with UCLA at 4-2 as SC aims at extending their win streak over the Bears to 4. California held off a late Washington State rally to end their 3 game losing skid and even their conference record at 3-3.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
This has become a huge game for Kentucky as the ĎCats have now lost 2 straight games since their huge upset win over LSU, falling to 5th place in the SEC East. Vanderbilt remains just 1 win shy of qualifying for their 1st bowl since the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and they have to navigate a tough gauntlet to earn that win with Tennessee and Wake Forest to follow.
Arkansas at Tennessee - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
The Hogs have been on an offensive roll of late, averaging 50 points per game in their recent 3 game winning streak. Tennessee still controls their own destiny in the East division, but the Vols have been up and down all season long, making this a dangerous contest against the surging Razorbacks.
Florida State at Virginia Tech - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The Hokies come of an impressive win over Georgia Tech as they still control their fate in the Coastal division at 4-1. The Seminoles are a dangerous and inconsistent team that just ended Boston Collegeís unbeaten run this past Saturday night, evening their conference record at 3-3.