The last weekend of action provided more shuffling atop the national rankings as Penn State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten in an upset loss to Iowa. Meanwhile, Texas Tech flexed its muscle with a huge 56-20 pummeling of a very good Oklahoma State team as the Raiders moved to 10-0 on the season while Alabama also remained unbeaten by surviving against LSU by a 27-21 score in overtime. The highlight game of this weekend is a battle between Florida and South Carolina as the Gamecocks are next in line to try and slow down this Gator freight train. Other key match-ups to keep an eye on this weekend are Virginia Tech traveling to Miami of Florida, North Carolina visiting Maryland, Oregon State hosting California, Boston College heading south to battle Florida State, and Illinois welcoming Ohio State. Time for a detailed preview of the weekendís best games as the conference title chases take shape.
GAME OF THE WEEK
South Carolina at Florida
Florida is red-hot as of late, winning five straight in SEC play by a combined score of 243-57 as the Gators have set themselves up for a national championship run. The Gators are now 8-1 overall including a 6-1 record in SEC play as they have already clinched a spot in the SEC championship game with their recent win over Vanderbilt. South Carolina has played much better in recent weeks after a sluggish start to the season as the Gamecocks have won six of their last seven games to improve to 4-3 in the league and 7-3 overall. In this series, Florida has been dominant as the Gators have won 16 out of 17, with the lone South Carolina win during this span occurring in 2005. Letís take an in-depth preview of how these two title contenders match-up in this weekendís top game.
For the Gators, the defense has taken over the lead role in leading this team back into the title chase after a disappointing performance versus Mississippi. The Florida defense is ranked fourth in the nation in scoring as the unit yields only 12 points per game and the group has been especially stingy against the pass, ranking 17th in the nation. The South Carolina offense will have its hands full in going against the Gator defense as the Gamecocks rank 86th in the nation in yardage and do not have a legitimate running game to rely upon. For South Carolina to win this game their quarterback duo of Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia must lead the team and reduce their mistakes as these two have tossed 13 interceptions versus 17 touchdowns on the season. The mistakes at the quarterback position are the main reason that the Gamecocks currently rank 91st in the nation in turnover margin, but on a positive note, Carolina has been able to reduce their turnovers since a tough start to the season. Carolina will have a tough time moving the ball in this game, and for the Gamecocks to score, the quarterbacks will have to play smart and work a ball control passing game with top receiver Kenny McKinley playing his best game of the season.
The Florida offense has taken full advantage of the opportunities provided to them by the defense as the group now ranks seventh in the nation in scoring at 43 points per game. The Gators are led by their Heisman winning quarterback Tim Tebow, who has exploded since a bit of a slow start to account for 19 touchdowns during the Gators five game winning streak. Tebow is part of the four-headed monster that leads Floridaís rushing attack, as he combines with Jeffrey Demps, Chris Rainey, and Percy Harvin to lead the nationís 22nd ranked rushing offense. The South Carolina defense has played well in recent weeks as the group ranks third in the nation in yardage allowed at 257 yards per game. The Gamecocks are especially tough against the pass so expect to see Florida challenge them with their varied rushing attack to keep Carolina off balance. The Carolina defense will be on the field a great deal of the time on Saturday with the offense likely to struggle, the question is can this group hold up against all the weapons that Florida will unleash.
Florida has been clicking on all sides of the football since their loss to Mississippi as this team has already clinched a berth in the SEC championship game versus Alabama. This is a Gator team which is focused and will look to not only win this game but also to dominate in impressive fashion. Carolina has the talent on defense to keep this game close in the early stages, but the Gators just have too much firepower on either side of the football for the Gamecocks to contain for an entire sixty minutes. In the end, the Gators continue their recent surge and unleash yet another strong performance in winning their final SEC regular season game before ending their season with two non-conference foes.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Virginia Tech at Miami, Florida
Virginia Tech ended a two-game losing streak with a big 23-13 win over Maryland last Thursday while Miami is red-hot as the Hurricanes await the Hokies on a four-game winning streak. Tech continues to rely on their defense as the unit ranks 18th in the nation in yardage allowed and ninth in turnover margin. Expect the Miami offense to have trouble moving the ball in this game as the Hurricanes rank 98th in the nation in total yardage and quarterback Robert Marve continues to struggle in his first season at the helm of the offense. For the Hokies on offense, the running game has taken center stage in recent weeks with the emergence of running back Darren Evans, who enters this game off a 256 yard effort in the win over Maryland. The strength of the Hurricane defense is in the front line as Miami gives up only 110 yards per game on the ground, so Hokie quarterback Sean Glennon will need to play well in the early going to keep the Miami defense honest. These two teams are in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division at 3-2 with North Carolina, with the Hokies controlling their own destiny in the race for a spot in the ACC championship game.
North Carolina at Maryland
North Carolina rebounded from their loss to Virginia with two consecutive impressive wins while Maryland is looking to get back on track after their loss to Virginia Tech last week. Carolina has built their impressive record behind an opportune defense that has forced 24 turnovers and has the Heels ranked fourth in the nation in turnover margin. Maryland has struggled to put points on the scoreboard as the Terps only average 22 points per game and have struggled to generate consistency in both the passing and running games. The story is the same for Carolina on offense as the Heels rank 92nd in the nation in total offense but they have been able to score 31 points per game with the help of their defense. The Terrapins run defense was gouged in their last game by Virginia Tech so expect to see UNC unleash running back Shaun Draughn who has taken over the lead role in the Heels ground game in recent weeks. North Carolina is in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division at 3-2 while Maryland currently sits behind Wake Forest and Florida State but the Terrapins maintain their own destiny in the Atlantic Division race.
California at Oregon State
Oregon State has won five straight in Pac-10 play including their recent 34-6 win over UCLA while California played well in their last game but fell short against USC. The star on the Beaver offense has been freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who is averaging 121 yards per game and is the focal point of the OSU attack. The Bears rush defense has been stout, so Rodgers may find running room tough to come by, making the play of quarterback Sean Canfield critical for the Beavers in this game. California relies on their dual running back combination of Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, who together combine for 158 yards per game on the ground. Like Cal, Oregon State has played well against the run while giving up 112 yards per game so this should be an interesting battle of strength versus strength in this contest. Oregon State maintains their own destiny in the Pac-10 conference race as they stand at 5-1 while California is a game behind the Beavers and still clinging to conference title hopes of their own.
Boston College at Florida State
Florida State rebounded from their loss to Georgia Tech to whip Clemson and remain atop the Atlantic Division while Boston College stands at 2-3 in the league but enter this game off an impressive 17-0 shutout of Notre Dame. The Seminoles continue to rely on their punishing ground game which ranks 19th in the nation at 205 yards per game, but BC will counter with the nations 12th rated rush defense which comes off a dominant performance versus Notre Dame. If the Eagles can contain the FSU run game, the ĎNoles could be in trouble as the passing game has struggled all season long in becoming a consistent threat. Leading the BC offense is a pair of freshman running backs in Montel Harris and Josh Haden, both who will receive a stiff challenge from a tough Florida State front line. Much like FSU, the BC aerial game has struggled this season, ranking 98th in the nation in yardage, making it critical that quarterback Chris Crane has one of his best efforts if BC has hopes of pulling off an upset. Both of these teams remain in the mix of the wide open Atlantic Division race, making this game crucial in the chase for the division title.
Ohio State at Illinois
With the loss by Penn State, the Buckeyes are right back in the thick of the Big Ten championship chase at 5-1 in the league while Illinois is looking for a repeat performance from last season when they knocked off the top ranked Illini. Ohio State continues to pound away on the ground with their combination of running back Chris Wells and quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The Buckeyes need to have their running game in high gear as the passing attack has not yet clicked during the season making it imperative that OSU continues to gain large chunks of yardage on the ground. Illinois will counter with their vastly improved passing game behind quarterback Juice Williams, who leads the nationís 16th rated aerial attack. The Buckeyes are extremely tough in defending the pass so Williams and his top target Arrelious Benn will need to play their best game of the season for Illinois to come out on top in this game. Ohio State can earn a share of the Big Ten conference championship if they win their final two games while Illinois needs to win one of their final two games to earn a post-season bid.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Buffalo at Akron - Thursday 6:00 PM CDT
These teams sit tied atop the MAC East division at 3-2 as the winner takes the lead for a spot in the Mid-American conference championship game. Akron has dominated this series, wining eight of nine, but the Bulls did win last year as the Buffalo program has become a legitimate contender in the conference race.
Cincinnati at Louisville - Friday 7:00 PM CDT
Cincinnati enters this game off a huge overtime win at West Virginia as the Bearcats are now 3-1 in the Big East and sit atop the conference with Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Meanwhile, Louisville is looking to snap a two-game losing streak and extend their winning streak over Cincinnati to six.
Navy at Notre Dame - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Notre Dame is looking to get back on track after the Irish have lost two straight to Pittsburgh and Boston College and fallen to 5-4 on the year. Navy will look to extend their winning streak over the Irish to two after the Midshipmen ended a 44 game losing streak last year in three overtime periods.
Texas at Kansas - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Texas still maintains Big XII and national championship hopes as they head to Kansas, a team the Longhorns have dominated within the conference, winning all six games by an average of 31 points. Kansas heads into this weekend off a 45-35 loss to Nebraska that dropped the Jayhawks into a second place tie in the Big XII North division.
Georgia at Auburn - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Georgia has been eliminated from the SEC championship chase, but the Bulldogs can clinch second place in the East division with a win. The season for Auburn has fallen apart as the Tigers now stand at 5-5 overall and are simply focused on finding one more win to become bowl eligible.
Arizona at Oregon - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Both of these teams cling to Pac-10 championship hopes, with the loser of this game being knocked out of the conference title chase. Arizona has won two straight in the series as the Wildcats have recently played the role of spoiler late in the season against the Ducks.
Minnesota at Wisconsin - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Wisconsin is looking to salvage what has been a disappointing season as they look for their third win in Big Ten competition. Minnesota is focused on ending a two-game losing streak after a 7-1 start as these two teams play for the 118th time in the most played rivalry in the NCAA.
Brigham Young at Air Force - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
These two teams both sit at 5-1 in the Mountain West conference and in a tie for third place behind Utah and TCU. BYU has dominated this series in recent years, winning four straight by an average margin of 21 points per game.
Vanderbilt at Kentucky - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
Vanderbilt has lost four consecutive games since their 5-0 start as the Commodores look for that elusive sixth win to become bowl eligible. Kentucky comes off a heartbreaking 42-38 loss to Georgia as they look for a fifth straight win in this series.
Southern Cal at Stanford - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
The Trojans have won six straight games and given up a total of 23 points in those six wins as the USC defense is the best in the nation. Stanford won this game last year and ended the Trojans 35 game home winning streak as the Cardinal have played USC tough in recent years, winning four of nine in this series.