College Football: Saturday Preview
"Rivalry Week" is here, and there are some very intriguing games outside of the big ones that every outlet seems to be talking about. While not a rivalry game, Cincinnati can essentially put away the Big East with a win over Pittsburgh in the Queen City. With the Bearcats having one conference game after the showdown with the Panthers (hosting Syracuse...slim chance they lose that one), it may present West Virginia fans with a serious dilemma: do you root for bitter rival Pitt in order to keep your conference title hopes alive (WVU lost in overtime to Cincy already)? Or do you stand firm, regardless of the consequences (with the Gator and Sun bowls looking hard at Notre Dame, the postseason destination could be worse that expected)? We'll have to see what happens there.
Michigan visits Ohio State with hopes of salvaging something from an otherwise dismal season, as will Apple Cup combatants Washington and Washington State. Stanford (at Cal) and NC State (at North Carolina) go into their big games with hopes of keeping their bowl ambitions alive, but their rivals will be looking to keep them home for the holidays. And lastly, some rivalry hardware is on the line in the Big Ten. Here's the schedule for Saturday.
12:00 PM ET Michigan at No. 10 Ohio State on ABC
It's referred to simply as The Game by those involved, for a win in this one can erase a season full of heartache. And there's a history of mediocre teams with records along the lines of 6-4, 7-3 pulling off a stunning win and flushing the rival's postseason dreams down the drain. But Michigan is 3-8, and they're not going up against John Cooper (he who tried to diminish the meaning of this game, and his record against Michigan (2-10-1) led to his removal). Jim Tressel believes in the importance of this game so don't expect a letdown. Ohio State wins big.
12:00 PM ET North Carolina State at No. 22 North Carolina on ESPN GamePlan
The best policy regarding picking games in the ACC this year has been as follows: in a close game, go with the underdog. It seems like every week at least one team expected to win finds a way to lose the game and throw away a chance to claim the driver's seat in their divisional race. Here comes Carolina, who received a huge boost on Thursday night when Georgia Tech beat Miami (the Heels have beaten both teams already) and has a shot at that elusive poll position (the Yellow Jackets have finished their conference slate, and either Virginia or Virginia Tech, both of whom have beaten UNC, will lose another league game since they still have to play each other). Russell Wilson has improved under center as the season has progressed for the Wolfpack, but Cameron Sexton has done just as well (if not better) in place of TJ Yates. Heels win this one.
12:00 PM ET West Virginia at Louisville on ESPN
The Mountaineers need to win out and get some help in regards to Cincinnati in order to return to the BCS as the Big East representative. Louisville, on the other hand, needs wins to guarantee themselves a bowl bid. At 5-5, Steve Kragthorpe's team is no sure lock for a postseason game, but a win here would definitely help. They don't get it, with West Virginia winning what historically has been a wild football game.
12:00 PM ET Army at Rutgers on ESPN GamePlan
The Black Knights have played much better football the second half of the season, but they haven't executed the turnaround as well as Rutgers has. Four straight wins have the Scarlet Knights one win away from bowl eligibility and with an outside shot to earn a share of the Big East title. Army will be a tough customer thanks to their rushing attack, but QB Mike Teel and wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood have played much better the second half of the season. Rutgers wins and gets to six wins.
12:00 PM ET Clemson at Virginia on ESPN GamePlan
The Cavaliers still have hopes of winning the ACC Coastal, but they'll need a win against Clemson to stay in the race. This game may have added importance to interim head coach Dabo Swinney, with Will Muschamp deciding to stick around Austin and Virginia Tech looking into the same sort of arrangement for recent Clemson interviewee Bud Foster. Coach Swinney, at the beginning of his term thought to be a longshot to keep the job, would make quite the statement with wins here and against South Carolina next week. Marc Verica has improved by leaps and bounds since the Cavs' early-season woes, and Cedric Peerman and Mikell Simpson are capable running backs. Also on display is one of the ACC's best linebackers in Virginia's Clint Sintim. But for the second consecutive week I go against my pledge from early this month and pick Clemson to win.
12:00 PM ET Indiana at Purdue on ESPN2
The Old Oaken Bucket is up for grabs, with the Hoosiers being the current holders heading into a game that both need to take something out of otherwise disappointing seasons. Joe Tiller will be coaching his last game for Purdue, and the fact that it's taking place in West Lafayette instead of a warm locale in late-December shows just how bad things have been for the Boilers. A bright spot has been senior RB Kory Sheets, but even he hasn't been able to make up for the uneven quarterback play. The Hoosiers have been every bit as disappointing, so Bill Lynch's team will also look for a springboard into 2009. Look for Purdue to send out Coach Tiller with a win.
12:30 PM ET Tennessee at Vanderbilt on ESPN GamePlan
Vandy has their six wins, but a seventh would guarantee them a bowl game. And what better way to do so than beat longtime tormenter Tennessee in Nashville. The gap between the two has closed in recent seasons, and the Volunteers have been dreadful this season on offense and in regards to on-field discipline (penalties). So even with one of the nation's best secondaries, Phil Fulmer finds himself on the way out despite a record nearly 100 games over .500. Tennessee will be in this one throughout, but the Commodores get the job done.
1:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan at Temple
These two teams are essentially playing for pride at this point, and the Owls are a better football team. Temple wins.
1:30 PM ET Citadel at No. 4 Florida on ESPN GamePlan
This one will get out of hand...early. Gators roll with an eye towards Florida State next week.
2:00 PM ET UCF at Memphis
The Tigers are a game out of first place in the East Division of Conference USA and will need some serious help if they're to overtake East Carolina and win the division. They need this game to become bowl eligible as well, while the Golden Knights already know that they'll be staying home just a season after winning the conference. Amazing what not having Kevin Smith, now toting the football for the Detroit Lions, can do to a team. Tigers win and give their fans something to smile about before that Puerto Rico Tip-Off final on Sunday.
2:00 PM ET Colorado State at Wyoming on The Mtn.
Believe it or not, Steve Fairchild's Rams have a shot at becoming bowl eligible just one year after going 2-10. Wyoming is done after this one and won't have much else to show for the season than a win at Tennessee. Rams win, but whether or not they go to a bowl game is up in the air.
2:30 PM ET Arkansas at Mississippi State
Arkansas needs to beat the Bulldogs and LSU next week to get to bowl eligibility, but I don't see that happening. They win this one, but there's something about how their head coach left his last employer that leads me to believe that the sports gods will make sure the Hogs don't go bowling.
2:43 PM ET Syracuse at Notre Dame on NBC
Syracuse will play hard, but against a Notre Dame team that has lacked in the overall talent area the past few seasons their lack of skill will show. Once again. Notre Dame wins and gets that seventh win before they head to USC.
3:00 PM ET Washington at Washington State on FSN
I will watch a good portion of this game, and not to laugh at these two schools like many others will do. Yes they've both had dreadful seasons, with Ty Willingham on the way out and Washington State quarterbacks dropping like flies and a defense making a regular habit of giving up half-a-hundred points. But with those struggles comes this guarantee: this may not be the prettiest game, but these two schools will play their hearts out in order to salvage something, anything, from this depressing season. The fact that neither team has stopped putting forth the effort says a lot about their character when you compare it to some of the other schools that have decided to lie down before the season's end (see: Tennessee vs. Wyoming, San Diego State, etc.). Huskies win to avoid going into their last game without that first win of the year, and the fact that these two have invested so much with little return has me a bit emotional given how hard they've tried. Seriously.
3:00 PM ET Florida Atlantic at Arkansas State on ESPN GamePlan
Both teams still have an outside shot at winning the Sun Belt, with this game essentially being an elimination game for the loser. FAU, thought to be the runaway favorite in the conference when the season began, wins this one to keep their slim hopes alive.
3:05 PM ET Tulane at Tulsa
Given what happened to Tulsa last week (Houston 70, Tulsa 30), Todd Graham probably made sure that practice was spirited this week. Bad news for Tulane. Golden Hurricane roll in this one.
3:30 PM ET No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State on ABC
See "Three Games, Two Views" for more information.
3:30 PM ET Air Force at No. 16 TCU on Versus
So, they couldn't get BYU/Utah in this TV slot instead of this game? No disrespect to either Air Force or TCU but it's a safe assumption that this game is the appetizer (at best) on the Mountain West schedule Saturday. Horned Frogs win on the back of one of the nation's best defenses.
3:30 PM ET Mississippi at No. 18 LSU on CBS
This game, due primarily to the play of LSU in recent weeks, has essentially become a toss-up. Not to mention the fact that Ole Miss won at Florida this season. Take Ole Miss in the upset, due in large part to the inconsistent play of LSU QB Jarrett Lee this season.
3:30 PM ET Stanford at California on ABC (regional)
Last season the Cardinal completed the Golden Bear nosedive with a win in Palo Alto. Toby Gerhart will carry the ball quite a bit for Stanford, while Jahvid Best will do some damage himself for the Bears. Cal wins a close one because for all their inconsistency their quarterbacks are better than Stanford's. And if you want some entertaining rivalry game viewing, check out what goes on between the two student groups in charge of The Axe as the game progresses. The two lines get closer and closer, with nary a gaze at the action on the field. Just to make sure no one runs off with that trophy, and given the history of it (thievery has taken place) you can understand why.
3:30 PM ET Boston College at Wake Forest on ABC (regional)
The Eagles head into their final two games with control of their own destiny: beat Wake and Maryland and they head back to the ACC Championship Game. The Demon Deacons are pretty good when they hold onto the football, but figuring out which game they'll do that is part of the mystery with Jim Grobe's team. Boston College by a field goal, keeping their division title hopes alive.
3:30 PM ET Akron at Ohio
Zips win this one and get that sixth win. But there's a good chance that they'll be staying home anyway.
3:30 PM ET Marshall at Rice on CBS College Sports
Rice still has a shot at the West Division title in Conference USA, and unless they give the ball to Marshall repeatedly by way of turnovers I don't see the Thundering Herd having the firepower needed to keep up with Chase Clement and Jarrett Dillard on the scoreboard. Rice wins.
3:30 PM ET UTEP at Houston
Case Keenum has put up some big numbers, as had UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe. But look for the Cougars to keep pace in the C-USA West heading into their showdown with Rice next weekend.
3:30 PM ET Cal Poly at Wisconsin on Big Ten Network
The Badgers pick up win number seven on the year, punching their bowl ticket.
3:30 PM ET North Texas at Middle Tennessee State
Despite their poor record, the Mean Green have one of the best quarterbacks in Giovanni Vizza when it comes to statistics. But they don't have enough to knock off Joe Craddock and the Blue Raiders on the road.
3:33 PM ET Illinois at Northwestern on Big Ten Network
Recent history works in favor of the Wildcats, with the team having the better record on the season being a virtual lock to win this game. Illinois needs this win to simply reach six wins and keep alive their bowl hopes. Northwestern, playing for bowl placement, would like nothing better than to take back the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk and leave their rival at home for the holidays. And Pat Fitzgerald's team will do just that, keeping alive their chances of picking up their first ten-win season since the head coach was a dominant linebacker at the school (two-time Butkus Award winner) in the mid-90's.
3:35 PM ET Iowa State at Kansas State on Fox College Sports
Kansas State wins this one and sends Ron Prince out on a good note. If there's such a thing as a good note when you lose your jobs after just three years.
4:00 PM ET No. 9 Boise State at Nevada on ESPN2
This is a tricky game for the Broncos, who still hold out hope at being a part of the BCS. They win here thanks to a defense that goes ignored for the most part, then after showering they root like no other for BYU to knock off Utah.
4:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech at New Mexico State on ESPN GamePlan
Take the Aggies in this one by a touchdown, even though they've been banged up on offense for most of the season.
5:30 PM ET Duke at Virginia Tech on ESPNU
Hokies win on the strength of their defense, which is a good reason why people are so interested in defensive coordinator Bud Foster when it comes to head coaching opportunities.
6:00 PM ET No. 14 Brigham Young at No. 7 Utah on The Mtn.
See "Three Games, Two Views" for more information.
7:00 PM ET No. 21 Oregon State at Arizona on Versus
The best game on the Pac-10 slate this weekend, with the frontrunning Beavers visiting Tucson in a game that should be worth watching. Arizona will have their hands full with the Rodgers brothers: running back Jacquizz and wide receiver James, but don't forget about the dangerous Sammie Stroughter. When Arizona has the ball, the Gronkowski brothers make up one of the more formidable tight end tandems in the nation. Arizona may be the pick of some waiting for the Beavers to falter, but I'm not one of those people. Oregon State defies the odds for one more week and wins by six.
7:00 PM ET East Carolina at UAB
The Pirates can punch their ticket to the Conference USA title game with a win here, and they get the job done in Birmingham. But don't be surprised if this game is close late.
7:00 PM ET Louisiana-Monroe at Florida International
One of the better turnaround jobs in America has gone ignored for the most part, with Mario Cristobal taking FIU from one win to four with a chance to reach seven should the Panthers win out. And look for them to get win number five and stay alive in the Sun Belt race.
7:00 PM ET Louisiana-Lafayette at Troy
The winner gains a stranglehold on the top spot in the Sun Belt, and the fact that the Trojans are the home team leads me to believe that they'll win this game.
7:03 PM ET Iowa at Minnesota on Big Ten Network
The final Minnesota home game in the Metrodome, and on the line is Floyd of Rosedale. A bronze pig built in honor of the live pig won by the Golden Gophers back in the 1930s when the animal was put up to diffuse hostilities between the two schools. But Minnesota hasn't fared well in rivalry games this season, losing the Little Brown Jug to Michigan and Paul Bunyan's Axe to Wisconsin. And with Shonn Greene being one of the nation's best backs, they'll lose Floyd of Rosedale too. Iowa wins.
7:15 PM ET No. 20 Pittsburgh at No. 19 Cincinnati on ESPN2
The Bearcats are one win away from essentially sealing the Big East title, and to do that they'll have to beat a team they've never beaten. And the games haven't been close, with the margin of defeat for Cincy being at least a touchdown in all seven meetings. But this is a much different Cincinnati team, with quarterbacks getting healthy at just the right time and the best receiving corps in the conference (Rutgers has two, but Cincinnati has three options). Pitt will counter with LeSean McCoy and a deep receiving unit that hasn't produced as much as they're capable of, mostly due to the strength of their running game combined with the uneven play of Bill Stull in recent weeks. Don't expect the crowd in Nippert Stadium to allow the Bearcats to lose this game, arguably the biggest in school history.
7:45 PM ET Florida State at No. 25 Maryland on ESPN
Those five receivers suspended for Florida State's loss to Boston College are back, but the Seminoles will have to deal with another loss for at least the first half albeit for much better reasons. Safety Myron Rolle has his Rhodes Scholar interview in Birmingham early in the day, and then will fly to College Park for the game after learning of the committee's decision. We wish him the best of luck, and Seminole fans everywhere hope he makes it in time for the second half. But the Terps have hung around in the ACC Atlantic race and are poised to eliminate Florida State from contention. In this one, look at the quarterbacks: Christian Ponder (FSU) and Chris Turner (Maryland). I'd take Turner, plus the fact that he's got Da'Rel Scott to hand the ball off to.
8:00 PM ET No. 2 Texas Tech at No. 5 Oklahoma on ABC
See "Three Games, Two Views" for more information.
8:00 PM ET UNLV at San Diego State on CBS College Sports
One team has come close on many occasions while the other has had moments of lying down for the competition. Take the team, UNLV, that has had some close calls.
11:00 PM ET Idaho at Hawaii on ESPN GamePlan
Idaho hung with Boise State for little more than a half last week, and they should do the same this week. But they still won't win the game on the islands.
Sunday 8:15 PM ET Connecticut at South Florida on ESPN
When the schedule came out this game stood to be a big one in the Big East. But thanks to two losses for Connecticut and a second consecutive nosedive for USF, this game is little more than an afterthought. The Huskies still have a chance to get back into the race, but they'd need quite a bit of help (Cincinnati and West Virginia need to lose) to accomplish that. The Bulls are simply out to stop the bleeding in this one, but their struggles with turning the ball over could cost them in a normal situation. But given the ineptitude of UConn's passing game, the Bulls will win this one at home.