If this week’s previews seem a little Big Ten and (current) Big 12 heavy that’s because they are. If you count my Thursday night preview of USC-Cal, you can throw the Pac-12 into that category as well. It is what it is. In the SEC, ACC, and Big East most of the games are one-sided, or just not very exciting. I’m sure people out there can’t wait for Alabama-Mississippi, Louisville-Cincinnati, or UMiami-UNC. I just don’t know any of them. So sit back while the middle-third of the country dominates your Saturday, and as always, enjoy your football filled weekend.
#11 Michigan Wolverines (6-0) @ #23 Michigan State Spartans (4-1)
12:00 pm ET – Spartan Stadium, East Lansing MI
Michigan State has won the Paul Bunyan-Governor of Michigan trophy the last three straight meetings, and hopes to extend that to a fourth Saturday in East Lansing. If they can hand the Wolverines their first loss of the season, the streak will be the Spartans’ longest in nearly 50 years against their in-state rival. The winner this year will be move into sole possession of the top spot in the Legends Division, and controls their future as the first Big Ten Championship game.
Undefeated Michigan is having a surprise season under first year head coach Brady Hoke, mostly due to the play of their QB Denard Robinson, who is ranked twelfth in the country in total offense, and ninth in rushing. Robinson has orchestrated two second half comebacks, against Notre Dame and Northwestern. Last week, he threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns while adding 117 yards and two scores on the ground in the 42-24 win over the Wildcats. Defensively, Michigan ranks 30th in the country in total defense (336.5 ypg), 32nd in passing defense (202.5 ypg), 51st against the run (134 ypg), and are tied at eight for scoring defense (12.5 ppg). Through six games, Michigan has outscored opponents 114-21 in the second half.
Michigan State has the best defense in the country, allowing 173.4 yards per game, is second against the pass (109.4 ypg), third against the run (64.0 ypg), and is tied with Wisconsin for the third best scoring defense in the country at 10.2 points per game. The Spartans, coming off a bye week, allowed 178 total yards in the 10-7 victory over Ohio State October 1st; the seven points was the fourth time this season they have held their opponent to seven or fewer points this season. On the opposite side of the ball, Michigan ranks 61st in total offense (398 ypg), 34th in passing offense (269.2 ypg), 79th in rushing (128.8 ypg) and 62nd is scoring offense (28 ppg).
Key Matchup: Michigan front seven vs. Denard Robinson
#20 Baylor Bears (4-1) @ #21 Texas A&M Aggies (3-2)
12:00 pm ET – Kyle Field, College Station TX
As exciting as Barkley-to-Woods and Weeden-to-Blackmon have been to watch this season, there is one QB-to-WR tandem that takes the cake: Robert Griffin III-to-Kendall Wright. RG3 is picking up steam for national awards such as the Heisman and Maxwell with each passing week. Through five games, Griffin III is 115-for-143 (80.4%) for 1,520 yards, 19 TDs, one INT, with a QB rating of 212.15 and Wright has 48 catches for 690 yards and eight touchdowns. In a 49-26 win over Iowa State last week, Baylor’s defense allowed 425 total yards with 181 yards coming on the ground.
Both of the Aggies’ losses this year have been come-from-behind victories by their opponent; against Oklahoma State, A & M was up 20-3 at halftime before they were outscored 27-9 in the second half for their first loss of the season. The next week, the Aggies led Arkansas 35-17 heading into the intermission, and allowed the Razorbacks to score 25 points to their 3 in the remaining two quarters. Texas A & M bounced back last week against Texas Tech, defeating the Red Raiders 45-40 in Lubbock, but allowed QB Seth Doege to pass for 391 yards, three touchdowns and complete 44-of-66 attempts.
Players to watch: Texas A&M’s defense won’t be able to stop Robert Griffin III, passing or running.
#6 Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-0) @ #22 Texas Longhorns (4-1)
3:30 pm ET – Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin TX
In 25 matchups dating back to 1916, Oklahoma State has beaten Texas three times, claiming just two victories in 16 trips to Austin. The Cowboys, however, used their high-powered offense to register a 33-16 win there last year, their first road victory over the Longhorns since 1944. If last week is any indication, the sixth team in the nations appears to have a good shot at staying undefeated by recording consecutive wins over the No. 22 Longhorns for the first time in school history.
Oklahoma State is playing like this may be their year to win the Big Twelve and get the BCS bid for the conference. They still have to worry about their in-state and biggest rival, Oklahoma on December 3rd at home, but until then, the Cowboys control their own destiny. Led by quarterback Brandon Weeden, one of the nation’s top passers, Oklahoma State has the top scoring offense (51.4 ppg), and is second in both passing offense (431.2 ypg) and total offense (577.4 ypg). The other side of the ball, however, is in the bottom half of all national defensive categories; 103rd in total and passing defense, 75th against the run, and 71st in scoring.
Using a two-quarterback system in David Ask and Case McCoy, Texas is struggling on offense, averaging 388.4 ypg of total offense (69th) and 30.8 points per game (50th). Last week against Oklahoma, the Longhorns couldn’t get anything going on offense. The quarterbacks combined for 223 yards on 20-of-26 passing with one touchdown and two picks while RBs Malcolm Brown and Foswhitt Whittaker had 20 attempts for 90 yards. Whittaker did find the end zone in the second quarter when he returned a kickoff 100 yards. The defense couldn’t do much to stop Landry Jones and the Sooners; Jones threw for 453 yards and three touchdowns as OU had 453 total yards of offense in the 55-17 rout of the Horns.
Players to Watch: the passer-to-receiver tandem of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon
Ohio State Buckeyes (3-3) @ #16 Illinois Fighting Illini (6-0)
3:30 pm ET – Memorial Stadium, Champaign IL
Six games into the 2011 season, one of these teams is undefeated and ranked in the top 25 in both the AP and Coaches polls; the other is at .500. Surprisingly, Ohio State is the former. However, they do have some history on their side; they’ve won the last nine contests in Champaign, and the last three straight overall in the series since a 28-21 win over the then-No. 1 Buckeyes in 2007 at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes lost their leader and coach, Jim Tressel and their third year starting QB Terrell Pryor as a to Tattoogate. Long time assistant Luke Fickell stepped in as interim head coach and has had to play QB Carousel with senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller. Against Illinois, Miller is expected to play after suffering a sprained ankle in the third quarter at Nebraska. Miller was 5 of 8 for 95 yards with a TD and rushed for 91 yards on 10 carries prior to the injury. Ohio State’s defense is 22nd in total defense (308.2) and 17th in scoring defense (17.8 ppg).
The Fighting Illinois are 13th in the country in rushing offense (226.17), with four ball carriers that have dominated teams in the previous six games. Last week at Indiana, QB Nathan Scheelhaase, and RBs Troy Pollard, Jason Ford, and Donovan Young combined for 308 rushing yards on 55 attempts. Scheelhasse was 12-of-22 for 210 yards, three touchdowns, while rushing for 88 yards and a score on 18 attempts.Their defense is led by one of the most dominating DEs in not only the Big Ten, but the country in Whitney Mercilus. Last week, Mercilus recorded five solo tackles, two forced fumbles, and three sacks.
Key Matchup: Whitney Mercilus vs. Braxton Miller
Florida Gators (4-2) @ #24 Auburn Tigers (4-2)
7:00 pm ET – Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn AL
Brantley is still sidelined with an ankle injury that forced Florida to play their two true freshmen, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, in back-to-back games against two of the top three teams in the country, with arguably two of the best defenses. Before sustaining the injury, Brantley was 11-of-16 for 190 yards with one touchdown and interception against Alabama. Driskel stepped into the fire, and looked the way a true freshman playing the second best team in the nation would look. He was 2-for-6 for 14 yards and a fumble and to make matters worse, Driskel also suffered an ankle injury against the Crimson Tide which made Brissett the starter in Death Valley. Getting your first start, let alone as a true freshman, against the top team in college is a nightmare for any young QB. The nightmare became reality for Brissett who was 8-for-14 for 94 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Brantley has been ruled out of the Auburn game, and as of right now, Brissett is listed as the starter, with Driskel as the backup.
The good news for Auburn is that they have been cleared in the NCAA investigation into allegations that former quarterback and last year’s Heisman trophy winner, Cam Newton, was involved in a pay-for-play scheme or substantiate televised admissions by four other former football players that they received thousands of dollars in illicit payments. The not-so-good news is that it also appears that the Tigers may be in the midst of a quarterback situation of their own. Last week against Arkansas, QB Barrett Trotter was 6-of-19 passing for 81 yards with an interception in the 38-14 loss. Trotter has been splitting more and more time with the mobile freshman Kiehl Frazier the past few games, leading to an outcry by many fans for a permanent change. On Tuesday head coach Gene Chizik said he has no plans on changing starters at this point and that Trotter would indeed start against the Gators Saturday night.
Prior to the Alabama game, Chris Rainey was running over defenses. Florida took a hit the last two weeks, but are tied at 30th in rushing offense with 194 yards per game. Auburn’s run defense is at 103, allowing 201.83. If Florida’s run game can get going early and often, the Gators can stop the losing streak at two games.
Key Matchup: Florida OLine vs. Auburn DLine
#18 Arizona State Sun Devils (5-1) @ #9 Oregon Ducks (4-1)
10:15 pm ET – Autzen Stadium, Eugene OR
Two things you will hear a lot during this game: ASU QB Brock Osweiler is tall and LaMichael James is a tremendous running back. There’s no disputing the validity of either statement, but the repetition from the announcer may drive you batty. You’ve been warned.
Osweiler is facing Oregon for the first time since the Sun Devils’ last trip to Eugene two years ago, when he went 5-of-10 for 14 yards before being knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. This time around, the 6’8” junior should be feeling pretty confident going into the Saturday night contest. Oregon is ranked 83rd in total offense and offensively may be without the nation’s top rusher in yards per game with an average of 170.40, LaMichael James. James, who is second in the country in total rushing yards (852) and total all purpose yards per game (229.6) is not expected to play after suffering a dislocated elbow last week against Arizona.
Arizona State has the 24th passing offense in the country (291.7 ypg) and the 29th scoring offense (35.3 ppg) and will be facing an Oregon defense ranked 76th against the pass (230.8 ypg) and allows an average of 22.6 points per game (45th). The Ducks have forced only four turnovers through five games.
As of the time of this post, James is still listed as “not expected to play”. This game is said to be a preview for the Pac-12 Championship game in December.
Player to watch: LaMichael James (if he plays) or Brock Osweiler (because he’s tall)