College Football: Saturday Preview

November 15th, 2008

A light week on the college football slate in regards to big games, but that's rather appropriate for this site since it also coincides with the first weekend of college basketball. So, is there a VMI amongst the schools playing Saturday, maybe a San Diego State or Indiana hoping to shoot down a conference foe's hopes of a conference title? Doubtful, but there are a few games Saturday that you should pay attention to, be it for the actual play or some other issues on or off the field. Here's the schedule for Saturday.

12:00 PM ET No. 11 Ohio State at Illinois on ESPN 

Last season's game, a win for the Illini in Columbus, was a springboard to Pasadena for Ron Zook's team. This one sets up to be more about salvaging a season before it heads south for good following their loss to Western Michigan last weekend. Ohio State may arrive in Champaign looking for revenge, but it's a safe bet that Coach Tressel will have them focused on the task at hand: a win here gets them one game closer (with a Penn State loss) to another Big Ten championship. Look for Beanie Wells to have a big day for the Buckeyes, who pick up a big win on the road.

12:00 PM ET Rutgers at South Florida on ESPN GamePlan

It's been a tale of two season for both of these squads. While the Scarlet Knights have come on like gangbusters since their putrid start, the Bulls have once again gone into a second-half swoon. These two are playing for bowl placement in the Big East pecking order, a list that could drop everyone after the BCS participant a rung due to rumblings that the Gator Bowl may be willing to take a certain school if they get to 7-5 (hint: they have their own TV deal). Mike Teel has played better under center for Rutgers, and unfortunately for opposing quarterbacks Rutgers has knocked out four of the last five signal-callers that they've faced. Matt Grothe finishes the game, but their tailspin doesn't end here. Rutgers by a field goal.

12:00 PM ET Northwestern at Michigan on ESPN2

With a trip to Columbus coming next week, Michigan may need this one to finish with four wins. That's right, four. But even with a reeling Northwestern team showing up in the Big House, I don't see either Nick Sheridan or Steven Threet playing well enough to beat the banged-up Wildcats. Even with Michigan down, a win at Michigan would be a big feather in the cap for the Wildcats. Northwestern wins.

12:00 PM ET Duke at Clemson on ESPN GamePlan

For all the turmoil surrounding Clemson these days, it seems to be forgotten that the Tigers still have games to play. And at 4-5, they need to win at least two of their last three to become bowl eligible. Duke finds themselves in the same boat, and they've got a very good coach in David Cutcliffe. I like Clemson simply because they've got more talent, but if they're minds aren't right (which unfortunately has been the case this year) they'll find a way to lose this one. Last week I said that I wouldn't pick the Tigers again this season. I fibbed.

12:00 PM ET Notre Dame at Navy on CBS

This game is a story for two reasons: 1. Navy won for the first time in 43 years last season; 2. Charlie Weis is taking over playcalling duties this week. It should be more about point number one, but someone had the grand idea to make a mountain out of a mole hill (the offensive coordinator missed time this week to attend a funeral) that leaves the masses to debate the job security of Coach Weis. After taking a good amount of heat for only giving Tyrone Willingham three years, and a hefty buyout (read: double-digit millions) Weis isn't going anywhere. They may have their own TV deal and be the nation's most popular team, but in these times Notre Dame probably doesn't want to throw that kind of money around. The concern for the Irish is whether or not the offense is in sync, because they definitely didn't look like it at Boston College last weekend. Jimmy Clausen rebounds and does just enough to win the game.

12:03 PM ET Indiana at No. 8 Penn State on Big Ten Network

Slumping Indiana drew the wrong Saturday to travel to Happy Valley, where the natives are anything but following the 24-23 loss at Iowa. Penn State wins big.

12:03 PM ET Purdue at Iowa on Big Ten Network 

While a season filled with promise has gone downhill for the Boilermakers, Iowa has found its game in the last couple of weeks and could play their way into a January bowl appearance with wins in their final two games. Look for Shonn Greene to make the difference on the ground in a Hawkeye victory.

12:30 PM ET No. 3 Texas at Kansas on Fox Sports Net 

Things have gone from good to bad in about a month for the Jayhawks, who all of a sudden can't stop anyone of consequence. Their last three losses have all been by double digits, with two being against teams ranked in the Top 10 (Oklahoma and Texas Tech). And with the Longhorns coming to town, Kansas could be in even more trouble. But Texas will be breaking in a third center due to an injury to Chris Hall, which follows Buck Burnette ignoring the fact that people can see what you post on your Facebook page. Look for the Jayhawks to attack Texas up the middle in order to get to Colt McCoy, but McCoy will display why he's a good bet to be in New York the second Saturday in December. Not saying that he'll win the Heisman, but he will be in attendance as a finalist.

12:30 PM ET No. 10 Georgia at Auburn on ESPN GamePlan

Rumor has it that the Tigers were none too happy with the dancing to Soulja Boy taking place on the Georgia sideline towards the end of last year's game. And the fact that they were soundly whipped between the hedges isn't enough motivation? Auburn needs one win in their last two games to become bowl eligibile, and given how poor their offense has been when facing credible competition that's going to be a tough task to complete. This game will be close, because most rivalry games start off that way. But after halftime, look for the Dawgs to take care of business on the road.

1:00 PM ET Middle Tennessee State at Western Kentucky on ESPN GamePlan

A toss-up that is a preview of what the Hilltoppers will see next season as a member of the Sun Belt (they're already a member in all other sports). Joe Craddock is a good quarterback for the Blue Raiders, but I sense an upset here. WKU wins by a field goal.

2:00 PM ET New Mexico at Colorado State on The Mtn.

Steve Fairchild's team has played hard all season, and with wins in their last two games they would finish 6-6. But they'll be challenged physically by Rocky Long's Lobos, who love to play sixty minutes of hard-hitting football. New Mexico could have a good day running the football, given the fact that they rank third in the Mountain West in rush offense and Air Force ran for 284 yards in their 38-17 win over the Rams last week. Lobos by a touchdown.

2:00 PM ET Louisiana-Monroe at Mississippi

The Warhawks may have won at Alabama last season, but don't look for them to do the same in Oxford. Ole Miss wins comfortably.

2:00 PM ET Toledo at Western Michigan on ESPN GamePlan

The Rockets have had a tough season, and the end is near for head coach Tom Amstutz. Unfortunately for him, he's got to find a way to slow down WMU quarterback Tim Hiller. The fact that Illinois couldn't slow him down doesn't bode well for Toledo. The Broncos win this one with ease.

2:30 PM ET Utah State at Louisiana Tech 

Bulldogs defend their turf and knock off the Aggies.

3:00 PM ET East Carolina at Southern Miss

The Pirates have hit their stride since their disappointing loss at Virginia, and a win here would put them in excellent position to clinch a berth in the Conference USA Championship Game next weekend. Southern Miss has struggled more than people expected under first-year head coach Larry Fedora, and look for those struggles to continue this week. ECU wins on the road.

3:00 PM ET UAB at Tulane 

UAB wins a close one in the Superdome.

3:30 PM ET No. 25 South Carolina at No. 4 Florida on CBS 

The "Head Ball Coach" makes his second trip back to Gainesville with the Gamecocks, and just like two seasons ago he may have the horses needed to make the alma mater sweat. Florida needed a blocked field goal late to salvage that one and stay on course for a national title that they'd eventually win. Same applies here, but the Gators have been on fire since that loss to Ole Miss. No one has finished within twenty-eight points in those five games, and Florida has been dominant in all three phases of the game. South Carolina will compete, but the lack of continuity at quarterback will be a major issue. Gators roll.

3:30 PM ET No. 16 North Carolina at Maryland on ABC

Both teams head into this one 3-2 in the ACC in need of a win to keep up with the frontrunner in their respective divisions. A Tar Heel win would put them in the driver's seat in the Coastal since they've already beaten first-place Miami. Maryland, on the other hand, still has Florida State on the schedule so they won't know how much this game means until the Noles visit next week. It's been tough to figure out the ACC this season, so picking this one is similar to picking names out of a hat. North Carolina wins a wild one on the road.

3:30 PM ET No. 17 Brigham Young at Air Force on CBS College Sports

Air Force hasn't had much success against the Cougars in the history of their series, but they have been competitive. Look for more of the same in this one, with Max Hall throwing a late touchdown pass to get BYU one step closer to that showdown with rival Utah.

3:30 PM ET No. 24 Wake Forest at North Carolina State on ESPNU 

The only way that the Demon Deacons lose this one is if they become too generous with the football. Don't expect that to happen in Raleigh, meaning that Wake wins. But they'll need some help in the form of a Maryland loss at some point if they're to get to Tampa on December 6th.

3:30 PM ET California at Oregon State on ABC

One week after thoroughly beating the Golden Bears, USC may be rooting hard for Cal to take care of the Beavers in Corvallis. Oregon State controls their own destiny in the Pac-10, meaning that if they win out they go to Pasadena for the first time since the sixties and most likely cost someone an at-large bid to the BCS (you have to think that USC would get a slot should they win out as well). Expect a heavy dose of Jacquizz Rodgers on the ground, and combining that with Cal's offensive inconsistency you should get an Oregon State victory.

3:30 PM ET Minnesota at Wisconsin on ABC 

Paul Bunyan's axe is up for grabs in this one, and in a season of improvements for Tim Brewster's program this trophy may be the one thing that would signify progress for the Golden Gophers. Wisconsin hasn't had the season that either they or their faithful had hoped for in August, but the focus now should be on reaching bowl eligibility. A win here would do just that, and even though Minnesota has improved by leaps and bounds since last season, they've had two straight tough losses. Wisconsin makes it three.

3:35 PM ET Nebraska at Kansas State 

Nebraska embarassed the Wildcats in Lincoln last season, hanging seventy-plus on KSU. So there should be some motivation for Kansas State. But with Ron Prince on his way out, will they really muster the energy to do so? It won't matter; Bo Pelini has his team playing some good football of late and the defense has regained the "Blackshirts" moniker. They'll show why in a win in Manhattan, because they don't want to go through the shame of losing those shirts again.

4:00 PM ET Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida Atlantic

Lafayette hits the road in first place all by themselves in the Sun Belt, and a win over the defending champions would put them in position to claim the title outright next week with a win over Troy. Tyrell Fenroy is one of the better backs that you may not have heard of this season, and he'll be key in a Ragin' Cajuns road victory.

4:05 PM ET Texas A&M at Baylor

A battle to get out of the cellar of the Big 12 South, with A&M still having a chance to reach bowl eligibility with wins in their final two games. It should be a close game, but the Aggies will get the job done on the road.

4:05 PM ET San Jose State at Nevada 

Nevada needs a win to reach bowl eligibility, while the Spartans could use the win to improve their bowl standing when the time for selection comes. The difference in this one will be offense, with the Wolf Pack possessing the ability to score some points while it's been a struggle all year long for SJSU. Nevada wins by ten.

4:30 PM ET UCF at Marshall 

Marshall's looking to hang around in the Conference USA East race, but the Golden Knights will give them all that they can handle in this one. Marshall wins, but it will be close.

5:00 PM ET No. 9 Boise State at Idaho on ESPN GamePlan 

Boise State will beat the Vandals like they stole something. No need for analysis here.

5:00 PM ET New Mexico State at Fresno State on ESPN GamePlan

NMSU is essentially a mash unit on offense at this point, but they could go into Fresno and pull the upset. On second thought, look for Pat Hill to have his team mentally ready to take care of business. And they'll do just that.

5:30 PM ET Washington State at Arizona State

How do you pick up wins when you're struggling? Apparently in the Pac-10, you get the Washington schools on the schedule. Arizona State takes care of the Cougars in Tempe.

6:30 PM ET Arizona at Oregon on Fox Sports Net (regional)

It's highly unlikely that either of these teams wins the Pac-10, but they both have Oregon State left on the schedule so they'll have something to say about the Rose Bowl berth. Arizona will have to stop the run if they're to pull this one out on the road, and they're more than capable of doing so. But whether or not they actually complete that mission will hinge on how well they take care of the football. It's been more about fumbles than anything else with the Wildcats, but the offense led by Willie Tuitiama can go score for score with the Ducks. Oregon by a field goal, but it wouldn't be a surprise if it went the other way.

6:40 PM ET No. 12 Missouri at Iowa State on Fox Sports Net (national, except for Arizona) 

This one should be the regional game. Missouri will pummel the Cyclones even though the game is in Ames.

7:00 PM ET No. 6 USC at Stanford on Versus

To dismiss this game as an easy USC win would mean that you didn't learn anything from what happened last season. 41-point underdogs facing a quarterback less than 100%, Stanford pulled off a stunner for the ages in the Coliseum, winning 24-23. RB Toby Gerhart has been banged up for Stanford, which could be a big issue when it comes to moving the ball against the Trojans. No such letdown this season, for the Trojans will take care of business on The Farm.

7:00 PM ET Connecticut at Syracuse on ESPNU

This game may qualify for the "Awkward Game of the Week", with the masses in Syracuse expecting Greg Robinson to be coaching his final home game. It certainly doesn't help the preparation of the road team when your head coach is a Syracuse alum and has already been mentioned in regards to this position. On display will be the Big East's top back in rushing yards (Donald Brown) and one of the league's hottest backs in Syracuse's Curtis Brinkley. UConn will win this one, but the game may end up being secondary to the speculation regarding the next Syracuse football coach...should Robinson not come back of course.

7:45 PM ET Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama on ESPN

Alabama may want to compete for a national title this season, but they're going to have to get past two "ghosts of seasons past" to arrive in Atlanta with a shot at Miami. First up is Mississippi State, who has found a way to win two straight over Alabama in the series. It's seemed like the game was bigger to MSU than to Alabama, to the point that you could wonder whether or not the Tide was taking those games seriously. That's won't happen this time around, with Alabama rolling at home. A lot of pent-up frustration, which will only be surpassed when they take on Auburn.

8:00 PM ET No. 13 Oklahoma State at Colorado on ABC (regional) 

Poor Colorado. They'll fight like crazy, but they're fighting uphill against a Oklahoma State team still smarting from the whipping they took in Lubbock last weekend. Pokes win.

8:00 PM ET Boston College at No. 19 Florida State on ABC (regional)

The focus early in the week was what could be done to get Myron Rolle to the game at Maryland next week following his Rhodes Scholar interview in Birmingham. And then some players lacking sound judgement decide to get in a brawl and get suspended for this game. So all that attention that could have gone to either a great story or this game now goes to how the Seminoles will cope without five wide receivers. Good thing for Christian Ponder and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher FSU has been able to run the ball with Antone Smith and others in recent weeks. And given what Boston College's secondary did against Notre Dame last week (four interceptions) not having many options outside of Preston Parker could be a good thing for Florida State. Expect this one to be low-scoring, but the Eagles win and force their way back into the Atlantic Division race.
8:00 PM ET Troy at No. 20 LSU on ESPN GamePlan

Troy isn't as good as either Florida, Georgia or Alabama, which means that the Tigers should be in good shape. But Jarrett Lee needs to play much better than he did last weekend. And could Jordan Jefferson see time at quarterback? Doubtful since it would essentially ruin any chance of redshirting him this season, but if he does then you can pretty much call it his job from this point forward.

8:00 PM ET No. 23 Tulsa at Houston on CBS College Sports

Houston hangs on by a thread in the Conference USA West race, needing wins over Tulsa and Rice in two weeks if they're to win the division. Tulsa also has Rice left on the schedule, and a win here would make it a two-horse race for the title game berth. Both offenses have the ability to be explosive, but the Cougars have found ways throughout the season to turn the football over and make things hard on themselves. Tulsa wins on the road due to their ability to take care of the football with QB David Johnson running the show.

8:00 PM ET Vanderbilt at Kentucky on ESPN2

Kentucky is already bowl eligible, and QB Randall Cobb has given their offense a dimension that wasn't present when he was on the bench. Vanderbilt needs one more win to reach that six-win plateau and have a chance at their first bowl since the early-80s. But they don't get it in Lexington, due in large part to a stout Kentucky defense.

8:06 PM ET No. 7 Utah at San Diego State The Mtn.

This one could get ugly. SDSU is flat-out bad, and the Utes should be focused on getting to the BYU game undefeated with a BCS berth on the line.

9:05 PM ET Southern Methodist at UTEP

SMU is one of the nation's most generous football teams, and that's definitely not a good thing. Look for the Miners to put up some impressive numbers in a big win.

10:15 PM ET UCLA at Washington on Fox Sports Net

Rick Neuheisel visits Seattle for the first time since he was fired a few years ago for NCAA violations. Tyrone Willingham will be coaching his last game in Seattle, and his Huskies are still winless on the season. The Bruins have been pretty bad on offense as well this season, and Coach Neuheisel was fed up enough last week to give Chris Forcier some snaps. Then he went out and turned the ball over. Ronnie Fouch is the man for the Huskies, who were pretty bad even before Jake Locker went down with a broken thumb. UCLA may be the team with some wins to its name, but for some reason I see the Huskies pulling off their first win of the season.