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THANKSGIVING WEEK BRINGS RIVALRIES, GREAT FOOTBALL
November 24, 2010

SCS.com Although the show is not always a true indication of the biggest game in college football, 90% of the time or more the pregame show College Gameday packs up for the biggest showdown available on that week's slate of games. If you had any doubt about the weakness of national showdowns the past two weekends, all you have to do is see that Gameday went to Columbus to watch an unranked Penn State play Ohio State and then to Chicago to watch two mediocre Big Ten teams play at Wrigley Field. Although upsets generally seem to come when you least expect them, the past two weekends have largely held to form, with only Nebraska in the top 10 losing a defensive slugfest on the road. Every other team has escaped a close game except for Boise State (Ohio State twice to make up for Boise's dominance), but no upsets have seemingly reinforced that the past two weeks were as dull as they appeared on paper. Now don't misunderstand me...I saw a fantastic game live in Iowa City this past weekend and there have been many other great games played all around the country. However, the national spotlight has been searching the skies and coming up with nothing. All that is about to change as the country packs in for four days off work and football (pros on Thursday and Sunday, college all day Friday and Saturday). The best news of all? Rivalries are here!

Although the Big East and the Pac-10 have another week of regular season games during Championship weekend, every other major conference and TCU will wrap up their regular seasons and decide who will be on showcase next weekend with all the BCS marbles on the line. Three of the four undefeated teams face huge tests, perhaps the biggest of the season for Auburn and Boise State. The SEC Championship game participants were decided over a week ago (South Carolina and Auburn), but every other spot in major conference championship games are up for grabs outside of Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal division. In the ACC, the Hokies will play against NC State if the Wolfpack beat Maryland, Florida State otherwise. In the Big XII, Nebraska has a win and get in against Coloardo, but should the Buffaloes triumph, Missouri can get in with a win over Kansas. Provided the BCS Standings tiebreaker, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are playing the bedlam game for the other slot in the Big XII championship (Texas A&M will not jump Oklahoma with a win over lowly Texas, who is fighting for bowl eligibility this week). Pittsburgh plays West Virginia for effectively the Big East title, although WVU would need Connecticut to lose once more to get the BCS berth even with a win over Pittsburgh. Hated rivals play for so much more than pride in all of these games, and that is one big reason why rivalry week is so cherished in college football.

Last week I made the case for why TCU is the best undefeated team in the country, but they may have lost too much ground to Boise State's backloaded schedule to even hold off the Broncos should one of Oregon or Auburn lose. While this is a shame, a more compelling debate has swept the nation the past week and that is who is the best one loss team. With Nebraska's loss, seven teams remain with only one bad day on the ledger. Those teams are LSU, Wisconsin, Stanford, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, and Nevada. Nevada is eliminated for being in the WAC, while Michigan State is eliminated for their struggles against every good team they face and a shocking 30 point loss to a 7-4 Iowa team. Oklahoma State has a decent loss against Nebraska but it was in Stillwater, which is not acceptable. That leaves Wisconsin, LSU, Stanford, and Ohio State. Each of these teams has flashed brilliance at many times this year, but each has also shown some serious weaknesses as well. Ohio State has not been as consistent as Wisconsin and the Badgers won head-to-head, so the Buckeyes are out. LSU knows how to win a close game but that dreadful offense does not belong on a top 10 team. So oddly enough, the debate comes down to two programs usually looked over in their own conferences let alone in the national picture: Stanford and Wisconsin.

Comparing losses, Stanford blew a 21-3 lead at Oregon to lose by 21, while Wisconsin got off to a slow start at Michigan State and lost by 10. Advantage to Stanford. Wisconsin scores 40.9 points per game and gives up 20.3 for a +20.6 margin, while Stanford is similar with 40.5 points for and 19.5 against per game for a +21.0 margin. Advantage: Nobody. Both teams pound the ball first and foremost and Stanford racks up 215 yards per game on the ground while Wisconsin gets 240. Advantage Wisconsin based on depth of running backs. Their only common opponent gave both teams fits as Arizona State lost to Wisconsin 20-19 and to Stanford 17-13. Advantage: Nobody. Both teams have stellar young coaches not afraid to burn some bridges as Jim Harbaugh and Bret Bielema have been known for going for two in awkward situations and running up the score when necessary. While some will find an intangible reason to pick one over the other, the sheer fact of the matter is both these teams equally deserve the mantle of best one loss team in the country. One can only hope a non-AQ makes the national championship game so that the Rose Bowl is freed up to take Stanford and Wisconsin in what would be a great showdown.

I was one of many sportswriters who criticized or poked fun at the Big Ten league schedule the final week of non-conference play as it looked like the Big Ten vs. MAC invitational. The creampuff schedule included Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Ball State, Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Akron, Northern Illinois (8 MAC teams) alongside Northern Colorado and Austin Peay. However, watching the SEC the past three weeks has showed that the fans down south have absolutely nothing to complain about other than the Big Ten scheduling their cupcake week all together right before conference play (for similar reasons as the SEC schools taking on cupcakes in the middle of conference play). The list of ridiculously outmatched opponents is even worse than MAC teams...including Idaho State, Charleston Southern, Chattanooga, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Monroe, Georgia State, Troy, and Appalachian State. OK the last one is good, but still an FCS school. That's 8 FCS or Sun Belt teams in November. Although not all on the same weekend, the SEC has no bragging rights over the Big Ten when it comes to non-conference scheduling. If anything, the SEC needs to learn how to schedule a big non-conference game like other programs have with regularity. Thankfully the cupcake season is over as the SEC takes one last shot at one another or a rival in another major conference this week. If the SEC fans want to brag, just focus on the bowl record against Ohio State as a conference. Enough said.

Most major college football awards have announced finalist lists or semifinalists lists at this point in the season, but I have a new category to propose. The Upside Down Award of 2010 should go to the biggest surprise of the Big XII Conference. The problem is deciding just who deserves the award. Your first nominee is Oklahoma, who has turned a season with national title aspirations into a train wreck every time the Sooners leave Norman (highlighted by losses to Missouri and A&M). Your second nominee is Oklahoma State, who was widely picked including by yours truly to be scuffling to reach bowl eligibility in a rebuilding year. The Cowboys have responded by being the only team with only one conference loss heading into Bedlam weekend with a chance to make their first conference championship. Your third nominee is Texas, which has fallen all the way from nearly winning a national championship to needing a win against a highly ranked A&M team to avoid a losing season and missing a bowl. These are unbelievable times for the Longhorns. Your fourth and final nominee is Nebraska and the nasty divorce with the conference and the state of Texas. Nebraska has now lost two clunkers against Texas and A&M and Bo Pelini's antics on the sideline get worse and worse as the behavior is simply not Nebraska-like on their way out. It's a tough debate, and it could be decided based on whether you are an optimist at heart (the Oklahoma State story) or a pessimist (Nebraska and/or Texas). Take your pick...no matter which is more suprising, there's no doubt the Big XII is not what we thought it was coming into September.

Speaking of Nebraska, enough has been said this week about Bo Pelini's poor sideline manner and the corresponding apology, so hopefully he can move on with slightly more discretion in the next tough game. The interesting thing about Nebraska's loss was a ridiculous 16 to 2 disparity in penalties called against the Cornhuskers. While Nebraska certainly earned some of their unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, this was a poorly officiated game and just another one of many good games spoiled by officials this season. In fact, the game I was at (Ohio State vs. Iowa) also had some really questionable or poor officiating. Penalites called on phantom pass interference, while holding and clear facemasks were not called. Officials cannot be perfect, but it is always sad to see teams like Iowa and Nebraska suffer because officials cannot call a game fairly or close to correctly. The first step will certainly be to make NCAA officials all one group instead of conference affiliated. Then the officials need to be graded as harshly as the highly competitive business that is major league baseball. If officials knew their jobs actually depended on calling games fairly and well, the results might be better. Officials could move up and move down to and from FCS football as performance dictated, thereby putting the best officials on the field at the biggest moments as done in the playoffs in professional sports leagues.

The first game of the week on rivalry week is Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. This year the stakes are winner take all for the Big XII South division as the Cowboys sit at 6-1 and Oklahoma sits at 5-2 with a higher BCS ranking than Texas A&M (the tiebreaker in case all three teams end up 6-2). The Cowboys have lost seven straight in this series, but this year could be a different story as both teams have great offenses and great passing games ready for a shootout. Moreover, Oklahoma has played very poorly on the road except for a game against Baylor, so the time may be ripe for the cowboys. When OSU has the ball, look for QB Brandon Weeden to pass all over the field to increase his 30 touchdowns on the season. Weeden's favorite targets include perhpas the best WR in the country in Justin Blackmon (1560 yards, 17 touchdowns). RB Kendall Hunter will likely also break 1500 rushing yards against the Sooners on the season. When Oklahoma has the ball, QB Landry Jones will also look to improve on his own 30 touchdowns while WR Ryan Broyles will look to outshine the only receiver in the conference and maybe the country that has been better this season (Blackmon). Oklahoma normally would be able to establish the run and keep a strong Cowboy offense off the field, but this year OSU has just enough up front defensively to keep from being steamrolled. In an offensive shootout, Oklahoma State at home has to pull this out if they ever will. Thanks to being able to remove the Sooners from Norman, Oklahoma State goes to their first Big XII championship with a 7 point win.

The second game of the week is Boise State's final big game at Nevada. The Wolfpack have rebounded to 10-1 after losing to Hawaii and are beginning to look once again like a quality opponent for Boise State. The Broncos rolled over a seemingly decent Fresno State team 51-0 and have positioned themselves in a great spot to overtake TCU in the BCS standings this week with another win. The importance of that jump will be evidenced by the Oregon and Auburn games earlier on Friday, but Boise State will want to be ahead of TCU to ensure a Rose Bowl berth if not a trip to Glendale. QB Kellen Moore is having an unbelievable season with 28 touchdowns and 5 interceptions to go with a 72 percent completion rate. Moore typically targets his deep threats Titus Young and Austin Pettis, although against Nevada some underneath passes may be more readily open. The Wolfpack run a pistol offense that is generally hard to prepare for, but Boise State is very experienced on defense and has just simply outscored Nevada the past few seasons. Colin Kaepernick is a master of the pistol offense, passing for 2412 yards and running for 984. Kapernick often options to RB Vai Taua, who has 16 touchdowns on the year to match Kaepernick's 16 on the ground. Nevada is also on a roll offensively, scoring 50 poitns per game since the loss to Hawaii. However, this Boise State defense is more than good enough to handle the pistol. The game stays close until the fourth quarter, but BSU pulls away for another WAC title with a 14 point win.

The third and final game of the week is the Iron Bowl, the rivalry filled with the most hatred in college football. The script has flipped from a year ago when Alabama was the undefeated team with a national championship on the line and a road game at Auburn to deal with. Now the Tigers are the team headed to the SEC championship and hoping to hold onto an undefeated record with a roadtrip to Tuscaloosa left on the regular season docket. Gene Chizik made quite an impression in his first coaching start against Alabama last year, leading Auburn to a doominating performance only ruined by the late game heroics of Mark Ingram. While Alabama has suffered some disappointing performances including losses to South Carolina and LSU, Auburn has rolled over those teams by outscoring them every single week. No matter the strength of the defense, Auburn's 6th ranked offense natonally shreds through them led by dual-threat Cam Newton. Newton has solid passing stats with 2038 yards to go with 21 touchdowns, but Newton kills defenses with his legs more often (17 touchdowns, 6.3 yards per rush). Alabama is led by QB Greg McElroy, but the key to Alabama winning is keeping the running game going. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson have not put up monster numbers as they split carries this season, but both are definite game-changers when they come to play. Expect the running lanes to be open for the crimson Tide running backs to run rampant and score a lot of points in this one. Auburn does not have a very good defense and that could be their undoing in a game which will likely be held down in the 20's or 30's (Auburn is most comfortable racing a team to 50 points). On the road this is just too much for Cam Newton to overcome, and Alabama salvages their season with an upset win at home. Crimson Tide by 4.

Other Games of the Week - Week 13

(17) Texas A&M defeats Texas
(1) Oregon defeats (21) Arizona
(15) Nebraska defeats Colorado
(3) TCU defeats New Mexico
(12) Arkansas defeats (5) LSU
(6) Stanford defeats Oregon State
(7) Wisconsin defeats Northwestern
(8) Ohio State defeats Michigan
Penn State defeats (10) Michigan State
(14) Missouri defeats Kansas
(16) Virginia Tech defeats Virginia
(18) South Carolina defeats Clemson
(20) Utah defeats BYU
(22) Florida State defeats Florida
Maryland defeats (23) NC State
(24) Iowa defeats Minnesota
(25) Mississippi State defeats Mississippi

2010 GOTW Record: 25-12
Last Week: 2-1
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 183-52
Last Week: 12-5

Fitz Top 10 - Week 13

1. TCU (11-0)
2. Oregon (10-0)
3. Boise State (10-0)
4. Auburn (11-0)
5. Wisconsin (10-1)
6. Stanford (10-1)
7. Ohio State (10-1)
8. LSU (10-1)
9. Oklahoma State (10-1)
10. Michigan State (10-1)

Just Missed: Alabama, Virginia Tech, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri

2011 BCS Bowl Projections - 2 Weeks To Go

Rose - Wisconsin (Big Ten) vs. Stanford (at large)
Fiesta - Nebraska (Big XII) vs. Pittsburgh (Big East)
Orange - Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. TCU (at large)
Sugar - Auburn (SEC) vs. Ohio State (at large)
BCS Championship - Oregon (Pac-10) vs. Boise State (at large)

Changes are Boise State in the BCS Championship instead of TCU based on the small margin TCU has at this time and the remaining schedules of both teams. TCU bumps LSU out of the at large pool in this scenario.

The weekend does kick off on Thursday for college football as well, as Texas A&M takes on Texas. While this game may not carry the big storylines it usually does, this could be an interesting last stand for the Longhorns with the nation watching. But even if that game is lackluster, all three big games for the national title contenders are on full display Friday in a great day of football. Start with the Iron Bowl at 2:30, then tune into Oregon-Arizona at 7:30 followed by Boise State and Nevada at 10:30. TCU is hoping for a lot of craziness, while Boise State needs a little and Oregon and Auburn look to hold onto their spots at the top of the rankings for another week. Some rivalry games such as Ohio State-Michigan and WVU-Pittsburgh are flying totally under the radar but each has huge BCS implications. There are many other great rivalries and games with a ton on the line this weekend. It almost feels like a first round of the playoffs which we are sorely denied in this sport. However, enjoy the great long weekend and we'll see you back here next week when the conference championship and perhaps BCS championship picture is clear.

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