John Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the tailgater as we get you ready for an action packed Thanksgiving weekend of college football. With me and always to break down the action are Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl. The big news for the last month has been the Cam Newton allegations. But let’s take a break from that talk this week to focus on something else. USC is back in the news again for agent issues that have struck the college football world this week. What do you make of what’s happening at USC?
Bigalke: It’s funny how this almost feels like old news. But here’s nothing I ever expected to say during the Kiffin era at USC — I’m impressed with the prudence with which he took precautionary measures in handling Baxter’s potential eligibility issues and preemptively sat him until the situation was resolved. Even despite the tough loss to Oregon State last weekend the Trojans have had a commendable season in the face of player defections, a turned-over coaching staff and the sanctioned imposed for the sins of the past. And while USC will continue to be a campus ripe for the workings of up-and-coming agents looking to get a foot into the game, it appears the compliance department has finally learned its role after years of the school brazenly defying NCAA protocol.
Strobl: A kid accepts a golf cart ride and gets suspended? Is that where we are these days? When it comes to ripping Lane Kiffin I’ve always been shouting the loudest, so don’t think I have any love for USC football. But the Baxter incident is really a non-starter in my mind. After being suspended he paid $5 for the ride and has been reinstated for the Notre Dame game this week. However, that doesn’t put the story to rest. With students who are certified agents roaming the campus and a bona fide party school reputation, USC is going to be under constant scrutiny for the foreseeable future. And it doesn’t help that Kiffin has gotten heat from the NCAA in the past. Like I said — this particular “violation” is nonsense, but I won’t be at all surprised if and when more stuff hits the fan.
Mitchell: I pretty much echo what Matt said. It was ridiculous that Dillon Baxter got in trouble for accepting a golf cart ride from an agent. It’s really not that big of a deal, but the NCAA is closely watching USC and they had to do what they felt necessary to avoid further trouble with the NCAA. The Trojans made the right decision by suspending Baxter and he has been reinstated. USC is just covering all bases to make sure that they don’t get in any more trouble than they are already in with the NCAA.
Now, let’s focus on this weekend’s action. With a lot of big matchups this weekend, upsets are bound to happen. Who are you putting on upset alert this week?
Strobl: I think I know whom John will select here, so I’ll leave that team to him. But I will stay in the neighborhood by warning LSU. Arkansas hasn’t scored fewer than 38 points since October 9th. LSU has eclipsed that total only twice all season. Granted, the Tigers offer as tough a defense as the Razorbacks have seen this year, but if Ryan Mallett starts finding the endzone, I don’t think LSU can keep pace.
Bigalke: I’m going to really go out on a limb here… maybe. Despite the flash Taylor Martinez has provided for the Cornhuskers this season, I still don’t think Nebraska has their offense figured out. I’m impressed with how the Buffaloes have responded after Dan Hawkins’ firing, especially senior QB Cody Hawkins. Look for them to win the rivalry game one last time to go bowl eligible and drop the Huskers from the Big XII championship in favor of Missouri.
Mitchell: Nah, Matt. If Alabama beats Auburn, I wouldn’t consider than an upset. I think Michigan State should be wary of their upcoming trip to Happy Valley to play against Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions. Michigan State has never beaten Penn State in Happy Valley and a lot of the games haven’t even been close. Look for Penn State to continue their winning ways against Michigan State at home.
Each week there are teams that are looking for a statement win. This week is no different. What team is in most need of a statement win this week?
Bigalke: You know who could really use a statement victory in an old rivalry battle? Brian Kelly and Notre Dame, who will be traveling to California to face the aforementioned Trojans (including Baxter). Oregon State was the latest team to prove this is a down vintage of USC football, and the Irish have been playing sound football in recent weeks despite 2010′s adversity.
Mitchell: Arkansas has come up short in their two games against the big dogs in the SEC West. They lost to Alabama and Auburn this season and if they lose to LSU, it would show that they are still not up to the caliber of the big three in the division. The Hogs need to make a statement that they are legit contenders in the SEC West and they get that chance at home against LSU.
Strobl: I’m going under the radar here to the forgotten BCS conference. The Big East has been a colossal bust this year, but this week’s Backyard Brawl will still have a huge impact on the bowl season. If West Virginia can beat Pitt, then the Mountaineers will virtually guarantee themselves a return trip to the BCS. And frankly, no one outside of western PA wants to see a 4-loss Panthers team be the league’s rep.
What player will be the biggest game changer this week?
Mitchell: I’m going with Alabama QB Greg McElroy. Alabama is going up against #2 Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Friday and they need McElroy to have a big game. He needs to control the flow of the game and make the passes when he needs to against the much maligned Auburn secondary. McElroy has come up big in these situations for the Crimson Tide before an he needs to do one more time in his final game in Tuscaloosa.
Strobl: I’m taking Brandon Weeden. Oklahoma State has a chance to lock up the Big 12 South — who among us saw that coming? But if Bedlam bites the Cowboys, then the Sooners will head to the conference title game. Therefore, Weeden (and his favorite target Justin Blackmon) have to be in rhythm on Saturday. OU is playing well of late and will have a sizable chip on its shoulder. Okie State might have the higher ranking, but the Cowboys have to be feeling like an underdog right about now.
Bigalke: Matt Asiata has been involved in a lot of Holy Wars. Look for the sixth-year Utah senior to make his mark one last time to salvage one last vestige of in-state pride before bounding for the Pac-12 next season. His running burse along with backfield mate Eddie Wide will open passing lanes for Jordan Wynn as the Utes beat BYU.
What positional matchup is most intriguing to you?
Strobl: Hey, it’s the best rivalry in college football. Even if Michigan is in a bit of a slump. And I’m most interested in how Denard Robinson will fare against the Ohio State defense. Will the Buckeyes face yet another halftime deficit? Or can the stop unit clamp down on the versatile QB?
Bigalke: We saw Cal provide a blueprint for slowing Chip Kelly’s point-a-minute offense, but will an Arizona defense amongst the twenty best in the nation be able to a Ducks squad that has yet to score less than fifty at Autzen Stadium this season? They’ve used novel techniques to prepare for Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and company, but the game is another thing entirely especially on the fast turf in Eugene.
Mitchell: Matt, my positional matchup comes from what really is the best rivalry in all of college football — the Iron Bowl. The most intriguing matchup to me is Alabama’s defense going up against Auburn QB Cameron Newton. Will Nick Saban and the Tide defense be the first team to slow down the Heisman frontrunner?
Now, let’s shift our focus to some of the big games of the weekend. Let’s talk about the big three games on Friday first. Early on Friday, one of the big matchups of the weekend occurs as Alabama is set to host No. 2 and undefeated Auburn. Who wins the 75th edition of the Iron Bowl?
Bigalke: This game will be keeping people from Boise to Fort Worth pinned to their TV screens on Friday, as the Tide can make the ultimate BCS Buster dream a reality. Saban effectively had two weeks to prep for Newton, and Chizik isn’t about to outcoach ol’ Nick. Look for Alabama to protect its home turf and show the heart of a defending champion to derail the championship dreams of its biggest rival.
Mitchell: I believe that Alabama will defend its home field and knock Auburn off the ranks of the unbeaten. The Crimson Tide will control the clock and pound Auburn for sixty-minutes with their two-headed monster rushing attack and keep Cameron Newton off the field as much as they can.
Strobl: Alabama will disrupt Auburn’s perfect season and send the BCS into chaos. This is the best 2-loss team in the nation, and though that may be cold comfort to Tide fans, spoiling the Tigers’ fun will ease the pain in a major way.
Later in the day, the #1 ranked Oregon Ducks will get a test in Eugene against 21st ranked Arizona. Will Oregon stay on the path of the National Title game, or will Arizona knock Oregon off the tracks?
Mitchell: I think a lot of people have begun taking Arizona lightly after their blowout loss to Stanford, but this is a team that can stick with Oregon. I think the game will be pretty close, but Autzen is a very hard place to win as a road team and Oregon just has too many offensive weapons. The Ducks should continue their undefeated run and get one step closer to the National Championship game.
Strobl: Oregon didn’t look too good against Cal, and ESPN’s Trevor Matich provided excellent analysis on how the Bears managed the game. By simplifying their defense they were able to keep pace with the Ducks’ rapid-fire offense; it’s not the schemes, but the speed of execution that gives Oregon such an advantage. But will Arizona take that lesson to heart? We’ll see. Either way, I think Oregon has too much talent in this particular matchup.
Bigalke: Honestly, does Cal stop a couple of those drives without some dubious dive work by several players who may or may not be majoring in theater? The man defense was a good blueprint for disrupting Oregon’s offense; the prompted stage cramp is a bad blueprint. Arizona is better than to need to resort to such tactics, but then the Ducks D is deceptively strong as well. Look for that to be the difference as Oregon stays undefeated and #1.
The final game on Friday will see Boise State facing its final test of the regular season as they look to continue their hopes of playing in the National Championship Game. Will Boise State continue their undefeated run, or will Nevada pull off the huge upset?
Strobl: Boise State will not be denied. If the Broncos can hammer Nevada, they could very well be on their way to the National Championship Game. And if that ends up being against Oregon, a team that Boise has beaten twice in recent years, wouldn’t it make for a dramatic finish to 2010?
Bigalke: I’ve been waffling on this game since Nevada was still undefeated, thinking this might be Ault’s year to get the best of Petersen in the battle of Chrises in Reno. But then I’ve also picked Boise State as the best team in the nation since the preseason, and a win driven by Kellen Moore’s steady control of the offense and a defense led by Ryan Winterswyk and crew will only reinforce that truth.
Mitchell: This is going to be a much closer game than a lot of people might think. Nevada played Boise State pretty close last season on the smurf turf and now they welcome the Broncos to Reno. Colin Kaepernick will be tough for Boise State to stop, but ultimately Nevada doesn’t have enough to upend Boise State.
Now let’s move on to the Saturday slate. Florida has had a disappointing season thus far, but they could make it better with a win over rival Florida State. Will the Gators top the Seminoles in Tallahassee?
Bigalke: The last thing Urban Meyer wants to do is open the door for Jimbo Fisher to steal the recruiting advantage in the in-state rivalry. And the Seminoles are still not any more elite than the Gators despite the down year in Gainesville. I have a feeling Florida survives a close one thanks to Trey Burton.
Mitchell: Both of these teams are hard to judge. They are incredibly streaky, but in the very least, Florida State has played well in spurts. Florida looked decent for a while, but then were blown out by South Carolina at home. I have no faith in Florida and I believe Florida State should come out on top.
Strobl: I’m done betting on Florida. The rebound that I expected never came, and the Gators were smoked by South Carolina in a game that offered a shot at redemption. I’m going with Christian Ponder and Florida State in this one.
We have a pair of Big Ten matchups early on Saturday with major implications in the conference title race. First, Ohio State sets to host Michigan in The Game. Will the Buckeyes continue their domination of the Wolverines, or will Rich Rodriguez earn his first win in this rivalry?
Mitchell: Michigan might keep it close for a whiple led by Denard Robinson, but the Wolverines just don’t have enough talent on either side of the ball to keep up with Ohio State for a full sixty-minute game. Ohio State will slow down Robinson and Michigan’s defense will have no answer for Terrelle Pryor.
Strobl: This won’t be the lopsided game some expect, but Ohio State has too much talent to lose to this Michigan team. The Wolverines are on their way back, but Jim Tressel can’t allow his Buckeyes to give Rich Rodriguez the signature win he needs.
Bigalke: Michigan just is not what it used to be. Ohio State keeps its BCS hopes alive and a shot at the co-championship in the Big Ten with a home win. The Buckeyes have started slow on the road, but just like the team they beat in Pasadena last January those problems fade in friendly environs.
The other big matchup in the Big Ten will see Michigan State head to Happy Valley as they try to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive. Will they be able to do it, or will Penn State finish the season strong?
Strobl: Michigan State has a lousy track record at Beaver Stadium, and hasn’t looked very strong in recent weeks. The blowout loss to Iowa was followed last week by a close shave against a Purdue team that should have been easy pickings. On the other hand, Penn State still has a lot of problems to solve, despite the feel-good plot line of three weeks ago. This is the year Michigan State comes out of Happy Valley with a win.
Bigalke: I’m inclined to disagree, and not just because of how it would improve Wisconsin’s shot at reaching Pasadena for the first time in a decade. Penn State has had new life since Matt McGloin has taken over at QB, and Paterno can still coach with the rest of his Big Ten brethren. A great season for the Spartans ends with an unhappy departure from Happy Valley.
Mitchell: This is my upset selection. Michigan State has never won in Happy Valley and that will not change on Saturday. I expect Penn State to come out on top at home and end the season on a high note while ending Sparty’s chances of playing in the Rose Bowl.
One of the bigger matchups on Saturday will see two highly ranked SEC teams square off for the Golden Boot. Will LSU all but assure themselves a BCS bowl berth or will Arkansas spoil it?
Bigalke: The Tigers have overachieved a lot to get here with just one loss. At points the Razorbacks have underachieved to take their two losses, snatching defeat from victory’s clutches. So who wins? There must be lots of magic in that ol’ Mad Hat he found, because Les Miles fends off Bobby Petrino and LSU prevails in another SEC defense-free shootout.
Mitchell: LSU is not as good as advertised. They have a lot of holes, especially on offense and unless Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee have career afternoons like they did against Alabama, they just won’t have enough firepower to stick with Ryan Mallett and Arkansas.
Strobl: It’s my upset alert, so I’m sticking with Arkansas. Too much offense for an overrated LSU team. The Tigers would need a stellar defensive performance to escape Fayetteville.
The Big XII South is on the line on Saturday as Oklahoma heads to Stillwater to face off with Oklahoma State. Which team gets the win and clinches a spot in the Big XII Title game?
Mitchell: There isn’t anybody in the country that thought Oklahoma State would be playing against Oklahoma at the end of the season with the Big XII South title on the line. Oklahoma has not fared well on the road against good teams. They barely beat Cincinnati and lost to Missouri and Texas A&M on the road. I don’t like Oklahoma’s chances of going to Stillwater and winning. I think Oklahoma State will improbably clinch a spot in the Big XII title game with a win over the Sooners.
Strobl: The Sooners are peaking at the right time, but Oklahoma State has one of the best offensive attacks in the nation. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon have been all but unstoppable this year, and the Big 12 South barely resembles what we’re accustomed to seeing. The Cowboys should take Bedlam and earn a trip to the Big 12 title, likely to be a rematch with Nebraska.
Bigalke: I have a feeling we’re going to be looking at a weird, entirely unanticipated Big XII championship after this game, Oklahoma State versus Missouri, as the Cowboys embrace the Bedlam and earn their first South title and (should my upset pan out) Colorado prevails over the Huskers to send the Tigers back to the title showdown. Why hasn’t Gundy received more coach of the year consideration for his retooling instead of rebuilding in Stillwater?