The top of the rankings received another shake-up this past weekend as the Texas Longhorns were knocked from their perch atop the polls after a thrilling last minute touchdown drive by Texas Tech secured the upset. There remain three unbeaten teams atop the rankings with Alabama now leading the way, but the Tide are followed closely by both Texas Tech and Penn State. This weekend’s highlight game yet again features Texas Tech as the Raiders need to refocus quickly with a very strong team from Oklahoma State making their way into Lubbock on Saturday evening. Other top-notch games to focus on are Texas Christian heading to unbeaten Utah on Thursday night, Georgia Tech visiting North Carolina, West Virginia hosting Cincinnati, LSU welcoming Alabama, and Penn State taking their last road trip of the season to Iowa. Time for a detailed preview of the weekend’s best games to focus on as the season heats up for the November stretch run.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
Texas Tech launched themselves into the national championship picture with their thrilling 39-33 win over Texas this past Saturday night. The Raiders now stand at 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big XII as they stand alone atop the standings in the challenging and evenly matched South division. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State rebounded from their loss to Texas and punished Iowa State 59-17 to improve their overall record to 8-1 and 4-1 in league play. Texas Tech has now won eleven straight games, which is currently the nation’s longest winning streak in addition to being the longest winning streak in school history. Overall, in this series the home team has been dominant, winning six straight and especially dominant for a Texas Tech team that owns eleven consecutive wins over Oklahoma State at home and have not dropped a game to the Cowboys in Lubbock since 1944. Let’s take an in-depth preview of how these two title contenders match-up in this weekend’s top game.
For Texas Tech, the offense remains focused on their two Heisman trophy candidates in quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Harrell is number one in the nation in total offense at 402 yards per game and is a poised leader behind center as the game winning drive against Texas clearly demonstrated. Crabtree continues to be Harrell’s top target and has proven to be unstoppable in recent weeks, catching 27 passes for five touchdowns in the last three Raider games. Oklahoma State has played well on defense against the powerful Big XII South offenses, but the Cowboys do give up 241 yards per game in the air and they now must face the nation’s top-ranked passing attack. In recent weeks, OSU has stepped up their level of play on the defensive side of the football, becoming more of an opportune unit that forces the opposition into mistakes as the group has forced 17 turnovers in the past six games. Texas Tech will gain their yardage, as their offense is virtually impossible to stop, but the key for OSU will be to continue the recent turnover trend by their defense and to reduce the number of scoring opportunities that the Raiders have on Saturday night.
The Cowboys can match the Tech offensive weapons with their star quarterback Zac Robinson, receiver Dez Bryant, and running back Kendall Hunter. The key for OSU will be the play of Robinson as Tech will give up yardage through the air, and Zac has big play talents to work with in Bryant and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Bryant ranks second in the nation in yards per game at 117 and he has reeled in 60 receptions on the season as a game breaking downfield threat on the outside. If Tech focuses too much on stopping Bryant, Pettigrew is a dangerous second option as his eight-reception game versus Texas demonstrated when the Longhorns shifted resources to contain Bryant. Although Tech has struggled in pass coverage, the Raiders are vastly improved in defending the run, giving up only 99 yards per game on the ground to rank tenth in the nation. Look for OSU to open up the game with Robinson and the aerial game and if success comes early through the air, the Cowboys can then unleash Kendall Hunter on the ground and try to establish a ball control offense that will keep the Tech offense tucked away safely on the sideline.
The storylines of the recent Big XII South division match-ups all seem to be the same, high-powered passing offenses going head-to-head with the last team in control of the ball emerging as the winner. Although in this contest, expect the defenses to have more of a say as Texas Tech ranks first and Oklahoma State ranks third in the conference in yardage allowed per game. Even with the improved defensive play, the offensive firepower on both sides is so strong that this game sets up to be yet another high scoring and topsy-turvy contest. For Tech, the key will be maintaining the same level of emotion after one of the biggest wins in school history over Texas as a second consecutive top-ten team makes their way into Lubbock. In the end, expect a close contest with two great quarterbacks battling all night long with Oklahoma State finding a way to pull out the victory and to shake up the top of the national polls yet again.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Texas Christian at Utah
TCU has put together a tremendous season as the Horned Frogs are off to a 9-1 start with their only loss coming at the hands of Oklahoma, while Utah now stands at 9-0 but enter this game off a sluggish effort in a 13-10 win over New Mexico. For TCU, the story is a powerful defense that ranks second in the nation overall and first against the run, giving up only 39 yards per game on the ground. Utah prefers to pound away on the ground, so they will have to adjust their game plan to have quarterback Brian Johnson working through the air as the Horned Frogs will take away the Utes running game. On offense for TCU, the focus is on the running game by committee, which churns out 224 yards per game to rank twelfth in the nation. This sets up a classic battle of strength versus strength as the Utah rush defense is stout as well, ranking eighth in the nation and giving up 90 yards per game. The winner of this game takes control of the Mountain West race and sets themselves up for a BCS bid if they win their remaining games.
Georgia Tech at North Carolina
Georgia Tech earned a huge win over Florida State this past weekend to move to 4-2 and into first place in the Coastal Division while North Carolina had a bye week after their impressive win over Boston College which evened their ACC mark at 2-2. The Yellow Jackets continue to pound away on the ground with their option attack, which is churning out 242 yards and is led by running back Jonathan Dwyer and quarterback Josh Nesbitt. The strength of the Carolina defense is their front seven, a group that has been great at forcing turnovers and setting up their offense with a short field. After the loss of dual threat Brandon Tate due to injury, receiver Hakeem Nicks has assumed the lead role in the Carolina offense, catching 23 passes in the last three games for 370 yards. Nicks must continue to play a huge role in this game as the Tech defense is quick and nasty, led by a defensive line that controls the line of scrimmage and contains the opposition’s running game. With five of the six teams having two losses in the Coastal Division, this game is critical in the chase for a spot in the ACC championship game.
Cincinnati at West Virginia
West Virginia has reeled off five consecutive wins, including three in Big East competition to take the lead in the conference race while Cincinnati stands one game back and enter off a dominant win over South Florida. Expect no change in the West Virginia game plan as the Mountaineers will feature their dual running threat of quarterback Pat White and running back Noel Devine, who combine for 192 rushing yards per game. Cincinnati has played well against the rush this season, but the Bearcats have given up significant yardage in their last two games, a cause for concern with the powerful Mountaineer attack up next. Even though the Bearcats have lost numerous quarterbacks due to injury, Tony Pike has stepped in and played well as the leader of a Bearcat passing game that is putting up 261 yards per game. Without a running game that will threaten the Mountaineer defense, expect Pike to have plenty of passing attempts as he looks for the Cats most dangerous weapon in receiver Marshwan Gilyard. Overall, West Virginia has dominated this series, winning three straight while losing only once in 16 games versus the Bearcats and the stakes are high in this one with the winner taking over the lead role in the Big East conference race.
Alabama at Louisiana State
The Crimson Tide continue on their path to the SEC championship game as ‘Bama is 5-0 in SEC play and are two games ahead of LSU, their closest competitor. The Tide have relied on a brutal defense, which ranks fourth in nation in yardage allowed and second in the nation in rush defense. That is bad news for the Tigers as the strength of their offense is their running game led by Charles Scott, but the Alabama defensive front line is good enough to shut down the Tiger ground game and to force quarterback Jarrett Lee into a leading role in the Tiger offense. On offense for Alabama, the story is similar to LSU, as the Tide relies heavily on their running game, highlighted by Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram, both who will receive plenty of carries in this game. LSU will concentrate on containing the Tide running game and forcing quarterback John Parker Wilson to win the game through the air, a challenge that Wilson has not yet had to face this season. Alabama is focused on clinching the SEC West race and earning their position in the conference championship game while LSU would like nothing more than to extend their winning streak versus ‘Bama to six and to ruin the Tide’s perfect season.
Penn State at Iowa
The Nittany Lions head to Iowa off a bye week that followed their huge win against Ohio State while Iowa will look to rebound after a tough 27-24 loss to Illinois dropped Iowa to 2-3 within the league. The Lions offense has shown tremendous balance this season, but expect to see quarterback Daryll Clark throwing a good deal against an Iowa defense that has struggled against the pass. Clark can work the entire field with his veteran receiving corps, highlighted by possession receiver Jordan Norwood and a deep threat in Deon Butler. Iowa will continue to feature running back Shonn Greene, who ranks third in the nation in rushing at 140 yards per game on the ground, but who comes off his lowest yardage total of the season in the loss to Illinois. Greene will receive an even bigger challenge this weekend as he runs directly into Penn State’s eleventh rated rush defense, a group that shutdown Ohio State’s powerful rushing game their last time out. Penn State remains in the thick of the national championship chase and the Lions are looking for an impressive showing while Iowa is focused on spoiling PSU’s perfect season and earning their coveted sixth win of the season to become bowl eligible.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Maryland at Virginia Tech - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
Maryland currently sits atop the standings in the Atlantic Division at 3-1 and control their own destiny to the ACC championship game. Virginia Tech is in a tie for fourth place in the Coastal Division at 2-2 as they look for a fourth straight win over the Terrapins.
Ohio State at Northwestern - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The Buckeyes had last weekend off after their 13-6 loss to Penn State dropped OSU to 4-1 in the Big Ten. Northwestern is sky high after their biggest win of the season, a 24-17 thriller over Minnesota, a victory that moved the Wildcats into fourth place in the Big Ten.
Louisville at Pittsburgh - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
The Big East race remains wide open with both of these teams needing a win to remain relevant in the conference chase. Pitt is 2-1 in the conference but were bombed in their last Big East game versus Rutgers while Louisville now stands at 1-2 after their weekend loss to Syracuse.
Georgia at Kentucky - Saturday 11:30 AM CDT
Georgia was essentially eliminated from the SEC championship chase after a crushing loss to Florida dropped the Bulldogs to 4-2 in the conference. Kentucky rebounded from their blowout loss to Florida to knock off Mississippi State for their sixth win as the Wildcats are now bowl eligible for a third consecutive season.
Clemson at Florida State - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Florida State enters this game off a tough loss to Georgia Tech, a defeat that dropped the Seminoles to second place in the Atlantic Division. Clemson ended a three game losing streak with an impressive 27-21 win over Boston College this past weekend as the Tigers now shift their focus to winning a fourth straight over Florida State.
Virginia at Wake Forest - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Virginia had their four game winning streak snapped by Miami, Florida on Saturday, a loss that dropped the Cavaliers into a second place tie in the Coastal Division. Wake Forest enters this game off an overtime win over Duke, a victory that pushed the Demons into a second place tie in the Atlantic Division.
Oregon State at UCLA - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
After a hard-fought 27-25 win over Arizona State, Oregon State still controls their own destiny in the Pac-10 as the Beavers stand at 4-1 in league play. UCLA has dominated this series in recent years, winning five straight as the Bruins focus on ending the season strong in a rebuilding campaign.
Notre Dame at Boston College - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
The Irish are looking to rebound from a tough four overtime loss to Pittsburgh as they focus on ending a five game losing streak versus the Eagles. Boston College has lost two straight in ACC play as they now step out of conference and look to get back on track with a tough season ending schedule ahead.
Florida at Vanderbilt - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
The Gators are rolling, winning their last four games by a combined 201-43 score, and placing themselves in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. Vanderbilt has lost three straight since starting the season at 5-0 as the Commodores look to end a 17 game losing streak versus the Gators.
California at USC - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
USC has been dominant since their loss to Oregon State, winning five straight Pac-10 games by a combined score of 214-20. California, like Oregon State, controls their own destiny in the conference race, but they will need to end a four game losing streak versus USC to take over the top spot in the Pac-10.