Last weekendís slate of games had minimal impact atop the national rankings as all of the title challengers emerged victorious in convincing fashion. Alabama, Texas, and Florida continued to flex their muscles with impressive wins while Texas Tech and Oklahoma had the week off before their huge match-up this Saturday night. Looking ahead, the Red Raiders make yet another appearance in the national spotlight game, but this time they must take to the road to challenge an Oklahoma team that maintains national championship hopes of their own. The remaining key match-ups to focus on are Miami of Florida traveling to Georgia Tech, Penn State welcoming Michigan State, Brigham Young heading to Utah, Cincinnati playing host to Pittsburgh, and Florida State traveling north to battle Maryland. Time for a detailed preview of the weekendís best games as the conference title chases head down the home stretch.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Texas Tech at Oklahoma
Both of these teams had last weekend to rest and prepare for this showdown as Texas Tech looks to wrap up the Big XII South Division title with a win while Oklahoma focuses on maintaining division championship hopes of their own with a victory. The Raiders enter this game at 10-0 and 6-0 in the conference and looking to extend the nationís longest winning streak to thirteen games while Oklahoma stands at 9-1 overall and 5-1 within the Big XII. In this series, Oklahoma leads with 11 wins out of 15 games, but the Raiders have won two of the last three including a huge 34-27 win last season over the then third-ranked Sooners. The winner still maintains national championship hopes while the loser is likely to fall completely out of the title chase with a loss this late in the season. Letís take an in-depth preview of how these two title contenders match-up in this weekendís top game.
The Red Raiders continue to ride their prolific offense, which ranks second in the nation in yardage at 566 yards per game and third in scoring at 48 points per game. The leaders of the Tech offense are both Heisman trophy candidates, quarterback Graham Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree, who together have connected for 18 touchdown passes while leading the nationís best aerial game. Oklahoma has struggled this year in defending the pass as the Sooners give up 238 yards per game in the air and they should be prepared to see Harrell dropping back to pass 50 times in this contest. Although the passing game remains the focus for Tech, a key aspect behind the improvement in their offense has been the development of a strong running game to complement the lethal passing attack. The combination of Baron Batch and Shannon Woods rush for an average of 125 yards per game and present an added challenge for the Oklahoma defensive game plan. Expect the Red Raiders to move the ball against this Sooner defense that has struggled in recent weeks and to challenge the Oklahoma offense to match them score for score.
If there is a team that can keep pace on offense with Texas Tech it is this Oklahoma team, led by their star quarterback Sam Bradford. Oklahoma is actually outscoring the Raiders on the season as the Sooners are scoring at a rate of 51 points per game behind the nationís third best passing attack. Like Oklahoma, the Tech defense will give up yardage through the air so expect to see plenty of Bradford looking downfield at his favorite targets in receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson. Meanwhile, the Raiders rush defense is strong and vastly improved and the group will need to rise up and respond to the challenge that they will receive from an equally strong Oklahoma running game. The Sooner running back combination of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown have combined for almost 1,600 yards on the ground and they have the ability to punish Texas Tech if the Raiders focus to much on containing the passing game. Overall, this Oklahoma offense is more than capable of outscoring Texas Tech, the key for the Sooners is to continue their trend of limiting their mistakes as they have only turned the ball over eight times all season.
This game figures to be one of the most exciting match-ups of the season as these two teams continue to fight for position in the conference and national championship race. These high-powered offenses are unlikely to be slowed in this game so expect a high scoring and back and forth affair with the last team in possession of the ball having a great chance to walk off the field a winner. In a game this evenly matched turnovers will play a critical role in determining the outcome and Oklahoma has excelled in this area for the entire season. In the end, the unbeaten run for Texas Tech finally comes to an end as the powerful Oklahoma offense matches Texas Tech and the home crowd spurs Oklahoma onto a huge win in this weekends highlight match-up.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Miami, Florida at Georgia Tech
Miami enters this game on a roll, winning five straight and leading the Coastal Division while Georgia Tech is looking to rebound from their loss to North Carolina and to make a run at the division title. Expect a typical hard-hitting defensive struggle that has been the norm in the ACC this season as these two teams have been unable to develop consistency on the offensive side of the football. For Georgia Tech the offense remains focused on the option and the running game as the Jackets rank eighth in the nation in rushing at 251 yards per game. Miami will challenge the Tech ground game with their stout rush defense, led by a young and talented front seven that has developed as the season has progressed. On offense for the Hurricanes, the struggles have continued, as Miami remains unable to develop a legitimate downfield passing game, allowing opposing defenses to focus on shutting down the rushing attack. In an ACC race that changes on a weekly basis, the winner of this game will take over sole possession of the division lead heading into the final week of the regular season.
Michigan State at Penn State
Penn State and Michigan State sit in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings at 6-1 heading into the final week of the regular season. Penn State is looking for an improved performance after the Lions followed up their loss to Iowa with a sub par performance in their recent win over last place Indiana. Expect to see PSU pound away on the ground with running backs Evan Royster and Stephon Green against a Spartan rush defense that has struggled, ranking 73rd in the nation in yardage allowed. Michigan State will unleash the same offensive game plan with their star running back Javon Ringer being the focal point of the Spartan offense. The Nittany Lion rush defense has been a brick wall this season so Ringer will have his work cut out for him, making it critical for quarterback Brian Hoyer to have one of his best performances of the season if the Spartans harbor hopes of an upset. A Penn State win sends the Lions to the Rose Bowl as the champions of the Big Ten while Michigan State needs a win combined with an Ohio State loss to earn the conference title and a trip to Pasadena.
Brigham Young at Utah
Utah has its site set on an undefeated season and a BCS bowl bid while Brigham Young would like nothing more than to ruin their in-state rivals run at perfection. The Utes are relying on a strong defense to carry them as Utah is giving up only 17 points per game in a league known for its high-powered offenses. Brigham Young will attack the Ute defense with the nationís seventh rated passing attack, led by quarterback Max Hall who ranks ninth in the nation in total offense. Expect Utah to run the ball on the ground as much as possible to shorten the game and to keep the BYU offense off the field. That being said, Ute quarterback Brian Johnson has played very well in recent weeks as he has provided Utah with a more balanced offense that can keep the BYU defense guessing. A win by Utah likely sends the Utes into one of the BCS bowls as the unbeaten champions of the Mountain West while a BYU triumph could set up a three-way tie at the top of the league if TCU ends their season with a win over Air Force.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
The Bearcats are on a roll, winning three straight and moving into first place in the Big East while Pittsburgh has won two straight since their loss to Rutgers and sit one half game behind Cincinnati. Coming into the season Tony Pike was not a name mentioned for the starting quarterback position at Cincinnati but he has emerged and now directs a passing attack that is putting up 254 yards per game. Pittsburgh has struggled all season in defending the pass so expect to see plenty of Pike dropping back and looking for his top targets in receivers Dominick Goodman and Marshwan Gilyard. On the opposite side of the ball, Pittsburgh will continue to rely heavily on their star running back in LeSean McCoy who ranks twelfth in the nation at 116 yards per game. McCoy will receive a stiff challenge from a tough Cincinnati rush defense so Pitt quarterback Bill Stull may be required to take a leadership role in the offense and attack a Bearcat secondary that will give up yardage through the air. A win by Cincinnati keeps the Bearcats in first place and combined with a win over Syracuse next week would send Cincy to a BCS bowl as Big East champions while Pittsburgh can claim a conference title of their own by winning their remaining games.
Florida State at Maryland
Maryland moved atop the standings in the ACC Atlantic Division with their win over North Carolina while Florida State fell out of the top spot after losing at home to Boston College. Maryland has been one of the most up and down teams in the league this season, and it will be interesting to see how this team reacts as the current favorite to reach the ACC championship game. Florida State will look to make it a down week for the Terps behind a stellar defense of their own as the Seminoles rank fifth in the nation in yardage allowed at 275 yards per game. Maryland will need to have a big game out of running back DeíRel Scott, as Florida State has been especially tough against the pass, making it likely to be a tough night for Terp quarterback Chris Turner. On offense for FSU expect to see plenty of the Seminole ground game as Maryland has been susceptible to power running games and that is exactly what the ĎNoles will bring to the table on Saturday night. Maryland is looking to set themselves up for a chance to claim the Atlantic Division title next weekend while Florida State focuses on keeping their title hopes alive with a big win on the road.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Buffalo at Bowling Green - Friday 5:00 PM CDT
Buffalo is on a four game winning streak and the Bulls can wrap up a spot in the MAC championship game with a win in this game. Bowling Green can move into a first place tie and take control of their own destiny in the East Division with a victory in their home finale.
Michigan at Ohio State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Ohio State can clinch at least a share of their fourth consecutive Big Ten championship with a fifth straight win over their rivals. Michigan is looking to end their worst season in history on a high note and to provide a building block for the 2009 campaign.
Air Force at Texas Christian - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
TCU is looking to bounce back after their tough loss to Utah two weeks ago, a loss that ended the Horned Frogs BCS hopes. Air Force is looking for a second consecutive win over the Frogs as the Falcons take aim at their ninth win in what has been a surprisingly successful season for this program.
Boston College at Wake Forest - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
With their win over Florida State on Saturday, Boston College now controls their own destiny in the ACC Atlantic division with games versus Wake and Maryland remaining. Wake remains alive in the Atlantic, but the Deacons must earn a win over BC and then receive help from either Florida State or BC to defeat current leader Maryland.
Stanford at California - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Stanford is searching for their sixth win on the season as the Cardinal look for a return to the post-season for the first time since the 2001 Seattle Bowl. California is looking to rebound after two consecutive losses and to earn their sixth win over Stanford in seven seasons.
Illinois at Northwestern - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Illinois needs to upset their in-state rivals to earn their sixth win and become bowl eligible, a year after playing inn the Rose Bowl. Northwestern has already won eight games and can clinch fourth place in the league with a win in their season finale.
Boise State at Nevada - Saturday 3:05 PM CDT
Boise State remains focused on earning a BCS bid, but first the Broncos need to win the WAC, and a victory over Nevada will do just that for the Broncos. Nevada has lost eight straight in this series, but the Wolfpack came close to achieving the upset last season before falling short by a 69-67 score in four overtimes.
Oregon State at Arizona - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Oregon State remains in control of their own destiny in the Pac-10 championship chase as they need wins over Arizona and Oregon to clinch a Rose Bowl berth. Arizona is already bowl eligible as the Wildcats shift their focus to Oregon State, a team that has defeated ĎZona in eight of the past nine games.
Iowa at Minnesota - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
After a 7-1 start, Minnesota has now lost three straight games and dropped into a sixth place tie in the Big Ten. Iowa has won two straight and are 7-4 on the season as the Hawkeyes focus on earning their seventh win in eight games in the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Troy - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Troy is looking to rebound after they blew a 31-3 third quarter lead versus LSU as the Trojans can take sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt with a win. Louisiana-Lafayette has been a pleasant surprise this season and the Ragin Cajuns can win the conference championship with a road win at Troy.