College Football Week 11 Breakdown, Predictions

| by Sports Nickel

We are entering week 11 of the college football season, with many key matchups that will shape conferences and the BCS standings alike. Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl join me to break down all the action. But first, overshadowing all of the actual football talk is the mess going on in State College. The Penn State board of trustees voted unanimously to fire Joe Paterno on Wednesday night. What do you guys think of the board’s decision, and do you think it was appropriate to fire Paterno now instead of letting him finish the season?

(Ed. Note: Responses were written before it was known that Mike McQueary would not coach on Saturday.)

Zach Bigalke: This is a kerosene-soaked situation, and the match was lit long before Paterno lost his battle to leave on his own terms. Penn State made the hardest decision possible, but they also made the only appropriate one possible. For the sake of the school, the only way it can begin the healing process after all that has torn it asunder is to find leadership willing to stand up to any and all injustices — especially those that involve defenseless children. This will surely sting many factions in Happy Valley, but when moral outrage centers more on the termination of somebody who failed to practice what he preached than a man who by all accounts was systematically destroying young boys’ lives it was beyond time for this move to shed some perspective.

Matt Strobl: It had to be done and was absolutely the proper call. However, allowing McQueary to remain is unconscionable. At the time of this writing, he’s slated to remain active as the WR coach and recruiting coordinator. Anyone who had any direct involvement with this case should be fired, and while there’s still time for the university to make it right, I’m not particularly hopeful. For those bemoaning the alleged “lack of respect” afforded to Paterno, I would say that getting a phone call terminating your employment at age 84 is nothing compared to what Paterno contributed to with regard to this case. All the good he’s done can’t be erased, but it has most certainly been outweighed. Respect is earned, and after what we now know, I am of the opinion that Paterno has forfeited whatever was owed him.

Mitchell: It was definitely the right move to give Paterno the axe right away, and in his own words, he should have done more. I think it should have been handled better by the university in how they decided to deliver the news to Paterno. What happened is beyond anything I’ve ever seen in college sports, but they should have shown him the decency, after 60+ years with the program, to tell him in person. In any case, it was the right move because Penn State needs to get rid of everyone that is connected to allowing Jerry Sandusky to continue molesting children. It’s a sad way to end such a long and storied career, but it simply had to be done, and had to be done right now.

It’s hard to shift our focus to football again with all that is going on in Happy Valley, but we must. Who are you putting on upset alert in week 11?

Strobl: I was tempted to tab Georgia as a potential upset victim last week, and though the Gators fell just shy of achieving that, they’ll have another shot this week. The pressure is squarely on South Carolina, a team ravaged by injuries that has become a shadow of its former self. Don’t be surprised if Florida ends its SEC losing streak and helps propel the ‘Dawgs to the top of the SEC East heap.

Mitchell: I think Cincinnati needs to be on alert when West Virginia comes to the Queen City on Saturday. The Bearcats are undefeated in the Big East, and are 3.5 point favorites over the Mountaineers. West Virginia runs Dana Holgerson’s air-raid style of offense led by Geno Smith, and Cincinnati has struggled to defend the pass this season. I just have trouble thinking West Virginia is going to drop a third game in the Big East already.

Bigalke: See, Matt, I was tempted to tab Iowa last week and did not. It would have been a shrewd move. As it is, Kirk Ferentz seems to have the Hawkeyes peaking at the right time. With Michigan State coming to Iowa City this week, it bears mentioning that the Spartans have traveled poorly all season long, going 1-2 as they gave up an average of 21 points a game to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska while averaging just 9 a game on their side of the scoreboard. This week’s upset brings the latest logjam in the Big Ten’s first season of divisional play.

What team is in most need of a statement win this week?

Mitchell: Alabama not only needs to beat Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday night, they need to do so in impressive fashion. Alabama only dropped one spot in the BCS Standings from 2nd to 3rd after losing to LSU in overtime last week, but they will be in need of some serious style points the next three weeks. They have no time for a hangover, and can’t lick their wounds from last week’s physical matchup with the Bengal Tigers. If Alabama wins ugly on Saturday, then their slim hopes of reaching New Orleans for the BCS Title game will get slimmer.

Bigalke: That would have to be Boise State, who for the first time this season fell behind a one-loss team in the BCS standings. They basically have the automatic qualifying bid as the top non-AQ team and will reach their third BCS bowl game in team history as long as they keep winning. But if they want to keep their name in the national championship hunt, they can’t just beat TCU this weekend — they have to really make a statement on the scoreboard in their biggest remaining game on the schedule.

Strobl: Most in need? Penn State. If ever in their history the Nittany Lions have needed a win, it is now. Victory would not only serve as a meaningful distraction from the current scandal, it would also give the team a new starting point and something to build on. It’s almost absurd to think that football can continue for this program, and in fact, I wouldn’t be opposed to the university shutting down the rest of the season in light of what has happened. But that wouldn’t be entirely fair to the players, and so somehow this team has to find a way to regroup and carry on. Nebraska is coming on strong of late, and it’s hard to see PSU overcoming all of its baggage to grind out a W.

What player do you see being the biggest game changer in week 11?

Bigalke: To have any shot at winning the WAC this season, Hawaii needs three things to happen. First, they need to beat Nevada this weekend and win out to the end. Second, they need Nevada to lose another conference game, either to Louisiana Tech or Utah State most likely. And third, they need Louisiana Tech to lose another game as well (probably to Nevada). The play of QB Bryant Moniz, who has been doing his best Colt Brennan impression all year long — except more dynamically in the running game and with fewer interceptions — will help fulfill the first need.

Strobl: Andrew Luck has Stanford’s fortunes resting on his shoulders. Or more accurately, his arm. If the Cardinal are to beat Oregon, Luck will need to play an outstanding game. He’s been doing so for most of the year, so that part of the plan is within reach. Will strong QB play be enough against the Ducks? That remains to be seen.

Mitchell: Stanford has been stout against the run this season, so Oregon QB Darron Thomas will need to throw the ball well. Thomas has been solid but not spectacular the last few weeks as he recovered from an injury. Stanford’s goal defensively will be to take away the running game, and to shut down LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas will have to throw the ball early to open up running lanes for Oregon’s trio of talented running backs.

What positional matchup is most intriguing to you?

Strobl: The Big East is obviously a BCS afterthought, but this week’s tilt between Cincinnati and West Virginia at Nippert Stadium could very well determine who wins the conference. These tow teams are the Big East’s most productive offenses, and I’m interested in seeing which defense can shut the opponent down more effectively. Both rely heavily on the pass, and while Cincinnati hasn’t had much luck stopping opposing air attacks, WVU’s pass defense is fairly good. Will that be enough of an edge? Can the Bearcats’ secondary stifle Geno Smith, or will it be the Mountaineer D that thwarts Zach Collaros?

Mitchell: The big game of the night is the Pac-12 showdown featuring Stanford and Oregon, in what is essentially the Pac-12 North Title game. In the game, I an intrigued to see Stanford’s run defense against Oregon’s rushing offense. Oregon averages just under 300 yards per game on the ground, which is ranked 5th in the nation, while Stanford ranks 3rd in the nation in run defense, giving up just over 78 yards per game. Something has to give in Palo Alto when the two teams meet. Oregon ran all over Stanford last season, and the scoreboard reflected it. If the Cardinal want to stay undefeated and keep their National Championship hopes alive, they have to at least slow down the Ducks rushing offense.

Bigalke: The Big XII showdown between Texas Tech and Oklahoma State should see balls flying throughout the Lubbock afternoon with reckless abandon. We know Brandon Weeden is likely to get more than his fair share of yardage. But the main variable that will determine whether the Cowboys stay undefeated and in the catbird seat to nab the second title-game spot behind LSU is how well an opportunistic Pokes pass defense can contain Tech QB Seth Doege. No QB gains more yardage in the FBS, Weeden included, and after experiencing a scare from K-State last weekend (and knowing state rival Oklahoma lost to them already) Mike Gundy’s crew cannot allow Doege to get into a rhythm or this could be the week of their ungluing.

Let’s move on to the week 11 picks. Here is how we stack up through 10 weeks.

  • Strobl: 4-4 last week, 52-28 overall
  • Mitchell: 5-3 last week, 48-32 overall
  • Bigalke: 6-2 last week, 47-33 overall

West Virginia’s Big East hopes took a big hit last week in Morgantown as they dropped their second conference game to Louisville. The Mountaineers still have a shot to win the conference, but they absolutely have to beat Big East leading Cincinnati on the road Saturday. Will West Virginia stay alive, or will Cincinnati pad their lead atop the Big East?

 Mitchell: Like I said before, I have trouble seeing West Virginia drop a third Big East game on the second weekend of November. The Mountaineers have a prolific passing offense, and the Bearcats rank 105th in the nation in pass defense. Look for Geno Smith to have a big game passing to star receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin as they hand Cincinnati their first conference loss. PICK: West Virginia

Bigalke: Nothing West Virginia has done this season gives me confidence that they can go to Cincinnati and win this game. The Mountaineers have a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality that makes me less confident to pick them in a road game against a team that is playing bend-but-don’t-break football and should add to Geno Smith’s interception total at least once. This Bearcats team might win ugly, but it wins. PICK: Cincinnati

Strobl: Cincy has been winning by the skin of its teeth, and in this battle of effective passing offenses, it has the most glaring weakness: problems stopping teams through the air. WVU should be able to post good offensive numbers, so the question is can its own defense play well enough to earn a pivotal road win? I’d love to go with UC, and will certainly be pulling for my hometown team. But the Mountaineers have the edge on paper. PICK: West Virginia

Most have seen Clemson as a forgone conclusion to win the ACC Atlantic division, but Wake Forest actually controls their own destiny with a victory over Florida State already under their belts. If the Demon Deacons can beat the Tigers on Saturday, they take control of the divisional race. Can Wake Forest get the road upset, or will Clemson clinch the Atlantic?

 Bigalke: Clemson’s weakness is their rushing defense, as the Yellow Jackets exposed all too well in the Tigers’ lone defeat of the season to date. The Demon Deacons have no rushing offense to boast, sophomore first-string tailback averaging less than 70 yards a game. They have lived and died by Tanner Price’s arm, and Clemson has allowed less than 200 passing yards a game to opponents. Expect that to break that mark, but not by much… PICK: Clemson

Strobl: Clemson has had an off week to overcome their ugly loss to Georgia Tech, and I fully expect the Tigers to come out scoring. It’s easy to forget how prolific this offense was until Week 9, and given time to prepare, Tajh Boyd and company should be ready to exploit a mediocre Wake Forest team. PICK: Clemson

Mitchell: Wake Forest has been up and down this season. After losing in overtime to Syracuse in the season opener, the Demon Deacons reeled off four consecutive victories including wins over NC State and Florida State. Since then, Wake Forest has gone 1-3, with their only win coming against Duke in a game they won by a single point. They put forth a solid performance last week against Notre Dame, and only lost by a touchdown. But, Clemson is far and away the superior team. They can clinch the Atlantic division with a victory at home on Saturday, and I fully expect them to do so. PICK: Clemson

Texas made a statement last Saturday with a blowout victory over Texas Tech, but now they must go on the road to take on Missouri. The Tigers have been competitive in every game despite their 4-5 record, and are coming off of a 3-point loss to Baylor. Will Texas get their seventh win on the road, or will Missouri earn a big win toward bowl eligibility?

 Strobl: I doubted Texas last week, but the ‘Horns proved to me that they’ve found some life on offense. With a rushing attack that looks mighty dangerous, the squad is starting resemble what we’ve come to expect out of Austin. Mizzou, on the other hand, stumbled against Baylor last week– a team that had been brutalized by opposing offenses. In this matchup, both the Longhorns and Tigers will run the ball, but I expect Texas to come out on top. PICK: Texas

Mitchell: I was seriously impressed with Texas last week against Texas Tech. Granted, it’s been well established that Texas Tech is not a good football team, their win over Oklahoma notwithstanding. Missouri has struggled against the run some this season, ranking 60th in the nation, and giving up just under 150 yards per game on the ground. The strength of Missour’s offense, like Texas’, is on the ground. The difference is that Texas is a top-10 team against the run this season. PICK: Texas

Bigalke: Texas hasn’t played great, but they haven’t played poorly, either. The Longhorns have won with their ground game and defense, a formula that spells success at most levels. Returning to their Lone Star roots, Texas seems to be rolling quite well on both sides of the ball. While they couldn’t beat either Oklahoma school this year, they are a young team on an upswing. Mizzou just doesn’t have the same momentum. PICK: Texas

Both Iowa and Michigan State have been hard teams to get a read on. The Hawkeyes lost on the road to Minnesota two weeks ago, but rebounded and upended Michigan at home last week. The Spartans knocked off Wisconsin on October 22nd, and then were soundly defeated by Nebraska, and struggled to put away Minnesota last week. Who comes out on top in this Big Ten Legends battle?

 Mitchell: This is a tough game to get a read on due to both teams’ up and down play this year. The Spartans are just 1-2 on the road, while Iowa has won every game they have played in Iowa City this season. Sparty is coming off of an ugly win at home against Minnesota. This is likely to be your typical ugly, defensive struggle between Big Ten opponents. The difference is that Michigan State has been significantly better defensively than Iowa. PICK: Michigan State

Bigalke: I already tabbed this one as my upset of the week, and there’s no turning back now. Look for Marcus Coker, sixth in the nation in rushing, to have a huge game against a Spartans defense that surprisingly goes limp when they leave the friendly environs of East Lansing. PICK: Iowa

Strobl: Michigan State is the far more talented team, and given that both sides have been inconsistent, I have to go with the team that should win. But MSU had better bring more to the table than it did against Nebraska and Minnesota after a bad loss and a near miss. Iowa has a nice opportunity here to earn another unexpected win; the Hawkeyes could still finish with a nice season if they’re able to swing an upset. But I don’t see it. PICK: Michigan State

Boise State faces their biggest test remaining on their regular season schedule as they host TCU on the smurf turf on Saturday. A lot is on the line for both teams, but especially the Broncos as a loss would end their chances of playing in a BCS game, and seriously hurt their chances to even win a Mountain West title. Will the Broncos stay undefeated, or will the Horned Frogs pull the upset?

 Bigalke: The question this week isn’t so much will Boise State win this contest. The question centers more on by how much will they win come Saturday? When the Mountain West league offices swapped venues for this game, taking the home advantage from the Horned Frogs and handing it to their new conference member, it added fuel to the fire. But TCU has not looked quite like themselves — outside the top 30 in every major defensive category — and Kellen Moore knows what to do against defenses good, bad and mediocre alike. PICK: Boise State

Strobl: We’ve become used to TCU being a dominant defensive force, but this year’s edition lacks that dimension. Boise State, with the exception of a close win over Air Force, has been a juggernaut. With home field advantage and the knowledge that a big win over a respected program will keep their BCS hopes alive, the Broncos should take care of business. PICK: Boise State

Mitchell: It’s odd seeing a Gary Patterson coached defense not ranked near the top of the country. This TCU defense has been middle of the road this season, and they are going to struggle against Boise State’s high powered offense led by Heisman candidate Kellen Moore. The Broncos know they need some style points as they sit just 5th in the BCS standings, ranked behind a one-loss Alabama. TCU may be down from where they have been in recent years, but a big victory over the Horned Frogs should impress the voters. PICK: Boise State

With South Carolina’s loss to Arkansas last week, Georgia now controls its own destiny in the SEC East race. Their toughest conference test remaining comes this weekend between the hedges against rival Auburn. Will Georgia get their eighth straight win, or will Auburn play the role of spoiler?

 Strobl: Georgia has put together a nice stretch of games lately, and while the double-digit spread is a bit much, I expect the ‘Dawgs to emerge victorious here. Auburn has significant problems at the quarterback position, and the UGA defense, while not stellar, should be able to keep the Tigers under wraps. In contrast, Aaron Murray has the ability to handle the Auburn D at home. PICK: Georgia

Mitchell: Speaking of Boise State, the Broncos will continue being the biggest Georgia fans outside of Athens. If Georgia keeps on winning, and can win the SEC East, it will greatly help their chances of moving up the BCS Standings. Georgia has won seven straight games, but they haven’t looked impressive in any of the games other than last week’s 63-16 win over powerhouse New Mexico State. I feel like this is a toss-up game, and I’ve really gone back and forth on who to pick. I think it will be a close game, but give me the Bulldogs in Athens. PICK: Georgia

Bigalke: Mark Richt’s team survived the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Florida, winning for the first time in four years. The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry now presents another opportunity for Richt’s team to earn a berth in the SEC Championship out of the east. This year’s Auburn team tried to fool us earlier in the season into thinking they could be a factor in the conference race; now the best they can do is play spoiler. Clint Mosley is no Cam Newton, though, and the Bulldogs should manage to outscore the Tigers at home to keep fate in their own hands. PICK: Georgia

With all that is happening in Happy Valley right now, it is easy to forget that there is a big football game this weekend, as Tom Bradley makes his interim head coaching debut in place of Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lions have a sparkling 5-0 record in the conference, and could take a huge step toward the Leaders division crown with a win over Nebraska. Will Penn State overcome all the distractions, or will Nebraska prove to be too much?

 Mitchell: It’s going to be hard for the Penn State players to focus on football, and truthfully this is a good matchup for the Nittany Lions. They play very physical defense, and should make life hard on Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, and the rest of the Cornhusker rushing offense. Penn State is a top-25 rushing defense, and ranks in the top-10 pass defense. The Huskers already struggle enough tossing the ball around, and the Nittany Lion secondary will make it tougher. But, I just can’t see Penn State being able to pull out a win after such an emotional week, even in Happy Valley in what might not be the friendliest of home environments. PICK: Nebraska

Bigalke: Worse in my mind than losing Paterno is the fact that all the Nittany Lions players still have to look assistant coach Mike McQueary in the eyes, knowing what he did and did not do to help a child he saw being molested a decade ago. The scene at Beaver Stadium is going to be ugly, no response appropriate at this point. But there will be football played there, and Nebraska comes in motivated to keep pace in a tight divisional race. Both defenses are tough, but Nebraska at least knows its offensive identity and has embraced it. Look for Rex Burkhead to have a big game carrying the ball as Penn State’s undefeated Big Ten record suffers a blemish that seems meaningless compared to the past week’s revelations. PICK: Nebraska

Strobl: A win would make for a nice story given what the Lions are going through, but it’s a lot to ask for. Even at home, the surroundings are likely to be less than friendly; while some of the crowd will undoubtedly be effusive with its support, there will be a contingent that will struggle to focus on football, and rightfully so. Nebraska has had an up-and-down year, but even under calmer circumstances the ‘Huskers would have some advantages over a Penn State team that struggles offensively. PICK: Nebraska

Finally, we have a huge Pac-12 North game on Saturday that will have big implications on the National Championship race as Oregon and Stanford do battle in Palo Alto. Will Oregon take control of the divisional race, or will Stanford keep their BCS Championship hopes alive?

 Bigalke: We saw what happened to Stanford’s offensive attack last season in Eugene after WR Chris Owusu was knocked out of the game, as Oregon rolled to victory easily despite a halftime deficit. Owusu sustained his third concussion of the season last week; without him, Andrew Luck loses what might just be his best receiver and will be forced to rely more on his tight ends and other options. The Cardinal will still play grind-it-out football, but a Luck performance resembling his game in Corvallis last weekend won’t cut it against the Ducks, who are getting healthy again at the right time. Watch out for another second-half surge from Chip Kelly’s crew to gain control of their own fate in the Pac-12 North. PICK: Oregon

Strobl: Andrew Luck’s skills notwithstanding, Oregon is the better team. Going on the road against a Top 5 opponent is no joke, and in many ways this game is a coin flip. With Alabama’s loss, both teams have to be drooling over the chance to work their way to #2 in the BCS standings, but the Ducks may have just a bit more motivation. Another crack at LSU hangs in the balance. PICK: Oregon

Mitchell: This should be a fun game. Oregon beat Stanford pretty good last season, and you have to believe that is fresh on Stanford’s minds as they host the Ducks in Palo Alto on Saturday night. A lot is at stake for both teams, as they look to seize control of the North division race, and for Stanford, they look to stay alive in the BCS Championship picture. A win for Stanford, and regardless of Alabama’s outcome against Mississippi State, they almost certainly jump up to 3rd. Like I said earlier, Stanford has one of the best run defenses in the country, and they should be able to at least slow down the Oregon rushing attack, putting pressure on Darron Thomas to make plays with his arm. As an Alabama fan, I will be pulling hard for Oregon to win the game, but I think Andrew Luck and Stanford avenge last season’s loss to Oregon in Eugene. PICK: Stanford