Right when the BCS picture seems to be coming into focus, another wrench is thrown into the standings as Illinois knocked off the top-ranked Buckeyes this past Saturday with a great offensive performance. Fans in both Baton Rouge and Eugene could not be happier as LSU and Oregon look to be the main beneficiaries of the Buckeyes loss, moving to #1 and #2 in the BCS standings. Still lurking in the national title picture are the unbeaten Kansas Jayhawks who overcame a pesky Oklahoma State squad on the road to set-up what looks to be a Big 12 divisional title showdown with Missouri next week. The only other remaining unblemished record belongs to Hawaii as Colt Brennan tied Ty Detmerís NCAA record for career touchdown passes as the Warriors moved to 9-0, the 1st time since 1925 Hawaii has started the season with 9 straight wins.
Looking ahead to this weekend, the best matchup lost a bit of its luster when both Ohio State and Michigan were tripped up on Saturday, but their contest remains the top game on the schedule as the Big 10 title and a BCS bowl berth are on the line. The other top contests features Boston College and Clemson, as these two battle for the ACC Atlantic division title, a key SEC contest between red-hot Georgia and Kentucky, and a Big East showdown between Cincinnati and West Virginia, with both teams still in the hunt for the conference championship. The season is beginning to wind down as numerous teams play their final games of the season on Saturday and the conference races are red-hot as teams gear up for post-season positioning. Time for an in-depth preview of the best games that are on this weekendís schedule.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Ohio State at Michigan
Coming into last weekends action, these two teams were both rolling along, Ohio State at 10-0 and Michigan at 8-2 and on an 8 game win streak after their 0-2 start to the season. How quickly the momentum can change as the Buckeyes 20 game Big 10 winning streak came to halt with a 28-21 loss to Illinois while Michigan was getting punished by Wisconsin by a 37-21 score. Even with the losses both teams remain tied for 1st in the conference and this game will yet again decide the conference champion and an expected bid to the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines have lost 3 straight in the series and have not lost 4 straight to the Buckeyes since 1960-63 so Big Blue is focused on regaining the upper hand versus their nemesis. Letís see how these two Big 10 powers stack up versus each other in the conferences game of the year.
For Ohio State expect a simple game plan, pound away at the Michigan front with its running back combination of Chris and Maurice Wells. Chris was on fire in recent weeks until running into a tough Illinois defense that stopped his 100 yard rushing game streak at 3, limiting him to 76 yards on 20 carries. The Wolverines have been susceptible to strong running games, giving up 144 yards per game on the ground so expect the Buckeyes to attack UMís defensive weakness from the beginning. Entering the game versus Illinois, OSU quarterback Todd Boeckman was also on a hot streak, but like Wells he could not get on track versus the Illini defense, throwing 3 interceptions versus 0 touchdowns. Boeckman will need to regain his confidence as Michigan has really stepped up their pass defense since the beginning of the season, with a key reason being a much improved pass rush led by Brandon Graham. The Buckeye offense has had Michiganís number in the past few seasons as OSU has posted 34.7 points per game in the last 3 meetings, so the Wolverines have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
Michigan enters the final week of their season with two huge question marks surrounding their game plan. The availability of quarterback Chad Henne and running back Mike Hart remains in doubt and will likely remain that way until Saturday game time. If Henne and Hart both are out, Ryan Mallet and Brandon Minor take over the lead roles in the Wolverine offense and both have seen extended action already this season due prior injuries. Expect to see receiver Mario Manningham take over the lead role, as he has been on fire as of late, recording 5 straight 100 yard receiving games after a slow start to the season. Coming off their worst performance of the season expect the Ohio State defense to come into this game with a nasty attitude as the unit is still the top-ranked scoring defense in the nation. Advantage to OSU on this side of the ball as Michigan is likely to need big performances out of new names to overcome the tough Buckeye defense.
This game has thrown us curve balls in the past, especially last season when the game was set-up to be a defensive slugfest and it turned into an offensive fireworks display with a total of 81 points scored. This season again sets up for a low scoring affair with the defensive units having the edge in the statistical game, weíll see how it plays out on the field on Saturday afternoon. The Buckeyes are looking to win back-to-back games at the Big House for the 1st time since 1979 and 1981, so history is on the side of the Wolverines. That being said, if Hart and Henne do miss this game, Ohio State will gain a strong advantage with their defense able to focus on a reduced Michigan playbook. When all is said and done, expect Ohio State to continue their mastery over Michigan and claim yet another Big 10 championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Boston College at Clemson
The Atlantic Division title and a berth in the ACC championship game are on the line Saturday night when BC visits Death Valley. The Tigers come into this game on a roll, winning 4 straight games by an average score of 48-13 to move into 1st place in the division. On the opposite end of the spectrum, BC has struggled since their comeback win at Virginia Tech, losing 2 straight to drop out of the national title picture. Clemson will attack a vulnerable BC pass defense behind quarterback Cullen Harper, who has played extremely well this season and has been a pleasant surprise in his 1st season as a starter. For BC their entire offense is basically on the arm of Matt Ryan, who ranks 6th in the nation in total offense, but has thrown 7 interceptions in the Eagles last 3 games. For the Eagles to have a shot, Ryan will have to limit his mistakes versus the 3rd ranked pass defense, a repeat performance of the past couple of games will be tough to overcome in hostile territory. Clemson has lost both games to BC since the Eagles joined the ACC and the Tigers could not ask for a better set-up as a win in this one sends the Tigers into their 1st ACC championship game.
Kentucky at Georgia
Georgia remains in the hunt in the SECís Eastern division, needing to win out and have Tennessee lose 1 of their final 2 games. The Bulldogs come into this one off of one of their most impressive wins on the season, as they hung 45 points on an excellent Auburn defensive unit. Kentucky is eliminated from the conference title chase but the Wildcats can play the role of spoiler as they finish their season with the league leaders with a game with Tennessee to follow. The Bulldogs have jumped on the back of running back Knowshon Moreno as he has rushed for 652 yards in the past 4 games, leading the Dawgs to a 37.8 point scoring average during that timeframe. Expect a good deal of points in this game as Kentucky is also led by a great offense, with quarterback Andre Woodson directing the nationís 14th best scoring unit. Kentucky is looking for a repeat performance from last season when the Wildcats snapped a 9 game losing streak to Georgia as the Bulldogs have owned this series in past years.
West Virginia at Cincinnati
The Mountaineers are back and remain a contender in the national title and Big East race, winning 4 straight games since their loss to USF and improving to 3-1 in conference action. Cincinnati has rebounded from a mid-season 2 game losing streak to win their last 2, impressive wins over South Florida and league leader UConn. This game will feature a battle of strengths as WVUís 3rd ranked rushing offense will go toe-to-toe with the Bearcats 13th ranked rushing defense. In recent weeks, quarterback Pat White has been more effective on the ground compared to Slaton so expect Cincinnati to focus their resources on White and force Slaton to rise to the occasion. The Bearcats will need a huge game from their leader, quarterback Ben Mauk, who has thrown 6 touchdown passes in the last 2 weeks, as he is the catalyst on the Cincy offense. West Virginia controls its own destiny in the Big East with conference leader UConn looming next week, while Cincinnati needs a win this weekend and a Mountaineer win over UConn to set themselves up for a BCS bowl berth.
Oklahoma at Texas Tech
Oklahoma remains in the thick of the national title picture after winning 5 straight in impressive fashion after their opening conference loss to Colorado. Meanwhile, Texas Tech is looking to get back on track after losing 3 out of their last 4 games as they look to complete their season on a high note. Oklahoma is led by their young quarterback in Sam Bradford who leads the nation in passing efficiency as the Sooners are putting up 45 points per game. The strength of the Tech stop troops is their pass defense so Oklahoma may rely more heavily on their running back combination of Allen Patrick and DeMarco Murray to attack the Raider defensive scheme. As is the usual game plan for Tech, their quarterback Graham Harrell will throw the ball from the opening whistle to the closing gun as the Raiders put up a nationís best 481 yards per game through the air. Tech would love to turn this into a track meet and Oklahoma needs to be careful here as the Raiders are a very dangerous team and are always tough to defend, especially at home in Lubbock.
Oregon at Arizona
With Ohio Stateís loss last weekend, Oregon is now in position to play for the national title if they can win their final 3 games. The Ducks come into this game off a bye week and on a 4 game win streak since their only loss of the season to California as their high octane offense has led this team into the championship picture. The Arizona defense will have its hands full with the combination of running back Jonathan Stewart and quarterback Dennis Dixon, the leaders of the nationís 5th ranked scoring offense. Arizona has really struggled this season versus the pass so expect a huge game for Dixon as he works down the field to his favorite target Jaison Williams, who leads the team with 37 receptions. To score the upset, Arizona will need to keep pace with the Oregon offense and to do that the Wildcats will rely on quarterback Willie Tuitama to attack the Duck defense which yields 270 yards per game in the air. The visitor has won 6 out of 8 games in this series and Oregon will be looking for a bit of revenge after Arizona handed Oregon their only loss at home last season, a 37-10 pasting.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Vanderbilt at Tennessee - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
Volunteers need to win out to clinch a berth in the SEC championship game opposite top-ranked LSU. Vanderbilt remains one win away from becoming bowl eligible as the Commodores look to end a 25 year bowl drought.
Louisville at South Florida - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
South Florida is out of the Big East title picture, but the Bulls did get back on track by thumping Syracuse to end a 3-game losing skid. This is a season that Cardinal fans would like to forget as the ĎVille is currently 5-5 and still searching for that elusive 6th win to gain bowl eligibility.
Hawaii at Nevada - Friday 10:00 PM CDT
Hawaii is focused on earning a BCS bowl bid and they have the heart of their schedule ahead to end the season with Boise State and Washington to follow. The home team has won 8 straight in this series so the Warriors better be ready for rumble on Friday night as Nevada is playing well, winning 3 straight.
Purdue at Indiana - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
The battle for the Old Oaken Bucket is on tap as Indiana looks to end a 5 game losing streak versus their in-state rivals. Both teams are bowl eligible, so this looks to be a contest for post-season positioning.
Penn State at Michigan State - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Penn State is still looking to earn a bid to a New Yearís Day bowl game and the Lions need a win on the road in their finale to have a chance. Michigan State was impressive in their last outing as they thumped Purdue 48-31, to end a 3-game losing skid and become bowl eligible.
Mississippi State at Arkansas - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
Mississippi State is one of the great stories this season as Sylvester Croom has his Bulldogs at 6-4 after their huge win over Alabama this past weekend. Arkansas has owned this series in recent seasons, winning 8 straight and 11 of the last 12 as the Hogs try to rebound after their 34-13 thrashing at Tennessee on Saturday.
Northwestern at Illinois - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Another of this seasons great stories got even better this past weekend when Illinois knocked off top-ranked Ohio State to take sole possession of 3rd place in the Big 10. Northwestern has won 4 straight in this series but this will be a huge challenge to extend their streak against this surging Illinois team.
BYU at Wyoming - Saturday 1:00 PM CDT
BYU is looking to put a strangle hold on the Mountain West conference race as the Cougars are now 5-0, with the only team capable of catching them being their in-state rival Utah. Wyoming has struggled as of late after a great start, losing 4 out of 5, as the ĎPokes look to earn that coveted 6th win on the season.