Feast your eyes on Thanksgiving week matchups
The slate of Week 12 games hit the rearview almost as soon as they ended, a tiny morsel leading up to the big Thanksgiving feast that is Week 13.
Get ready to stuff yourself with college football on what is sure to be the best weekend of the season. No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 Auburn and No. 4 Boise State all will play ranked opponents Friday, potentially giving us an even better view of the race for the national championship.
We'll start in Tuscaloosa, Ala., of course, where the Iron Bowl will unfold in the afternoon. Many believe that this will be the day the Tigers finally lose after so many close calls this season.
No. 11 Alabama has two losses and will not play for the SEC championship for the first time in three seasons. But you have to believe the Tide would love nothing more than to derail their bitter rival's hopes for a national title.
A similar scene unfolded last season in Auburn, although not many had given the Tigers a chance to win. It was undefeated and No. 2 Alabama that came into Jordan-Hare Stadium to face unranked Auburn. The Tigers clung to a 21-20 lead until the very end, when Tide running back Roy Upchurch scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Greg McElroy with 1:24 left in the game to save the Tide's unbeaten season.
Friday's matchup will pit the SEC's top offense, led by Cameron Newton, against the SEC's top defense in Alabama. The Tide's strength is right up front, which could pose problems for Newton and his scrambling legs. Alabama receiver Julio Jones could give the Auburn secondary nightmares all day.
The last time Auburn went into this game unbeaten was 2004, when the Tigers were ranked No. 3 and Alabama was unranked. Auburn won 21-13 but was denied a spot in the national championship game. If Auburn wins this game and the SEC title, there will be no such denial.
In Eugene, No. 1 Oregon will face No. 22 Arizona in what could be another test for the Ducks. The last time we saw Oregon, it was limping out of Berkeley with a 15-13 win over California thanks to a missed field goal from the Bears. People wondered what happened to the Ducks' high-flying offense in that one, but not many really questioned their validity as a contender despite the upset scare.
Arizona has a solid defense, and you can bet the Wildcats will follow a similar blueprint to what California did in that game. It wasn't anything special -- just good old-fashioned domination on the line of scrimmage, along with man coverage in the secondary.
The nightcap will take place in Reno, Nev., where No. 4 Boise State will play No. 18 Nevada with its championship hopes on the line. The Broncos just demolished Fresno State 51-0. A similar performance is ripe for vaulting the Broncos ahead of No. 3 TCU, which will face New Mexico (1-10) on Saturday. Any slip from Oregon or Auburn, and the Broncos could find themselves as the first non-automatic qualifier team to play for a BCS national championship.
But first they have to beat Nevada, one of the offensive trendsetters this season. Their pistol offense has been seen throughout the country, but nobody runs it better than the Wolf Pack and Colin Kaepernick, who is 16 rushing yards from becoming the first player in FBS history with three seasons of at least 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
After the defensive show Boise State put on this past week, you wonder how effective Kaepernick can be in the Wolf Pack's bid to knock off the Broncos.
Plenty of other great games will be on tap. Texas will try to become bowl-eligible against red-hot nemesis Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. Despite losing to the Aggies this weekend, Nebraska can clinch the Big 12 North with a win over Colorado on Friday. Then Saturday, No. 14 Oklahoma will travel to No. 10 Oklahoma State with the Big 12 South title on the line.
No. 5 LSU will visit No. 15 Arkansas in a game with BCS at-large implications, Michigan will play at No. 9 Ohio State, Northwestern will travel to No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 12 Michigan State will go to Penn State. All three remain in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten. If it stays that way, the highest team in the BCS standings will go to the Rose Bowl.
So there is your sneak peek. Get your popcorn ready -- it's shaping up to be a great weekend for college football.
Wisconsin emerges from Michigan morass
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The state of Michigan hasn't been kind to Wisconsin. Michigan soil might as well be quicksand for the Badgers.
Wisconsin entered Saturday's game not having won in the state since 2002. The seventh-ranked Badgers had dropped five straight contests at Michigan Stadium -- their last victory coming in 1994 -- and 17 of their past 18 at the Big House.
But the failures of the past haven't gone for naught. They are part of Wisconsin's history, coach Bret Bielema says, just like all the triumphs during the program's renaissance since 1993.
After Wisconsin ended its Michigan misfortune with a 48-28 victory Saturday, Bielema said of his players: "They taste it, they believe it."
Asked when that process began, Bielema didn't hesitate.
"Michigan State," the coach said.
Really? The Badgers' only loss of the season? The game in which they couldn't capitalize on Spartans turnovers or stop Michigan State in clutch situations? The road loss that had looked like so many others under Bielema?
"Maybe going into that game, I don't know if every kid in that room believed how special this team could be," Bielema said. "But I know leaving that locker room, they knew they could be."
Bielema isn't the only one who feels this way. Senior guard John Moffitt has brought up the Michigan State loss in conversations with his dad.
"You want to look at it and you want to say, 'You know something? Without that loss, maybe we wouldn't have been jump-started the way that we have been, and we wouldn't have respected the game as much as we do now,'" Moffitt said. "And even more so, we took it upon ourselves to turn it around."
Boy, have they ever.
To read the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story, click here.
Shades of Gray
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Cyrus Gray said earlier this week he was playing for two people.
He was way off. Like, 90,077 off -- and then some.
Gray was referencing himself and his teammate, friend and fellow running back Christine Michael, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken leg after leading the Aggies in rushing in their first eight games.
On Saturday night, the 12th man showed up in force, and Gray didn't disappoint the 90,079 in attendance, giving Texas A&M a 9-6 win over No. 8 Nebraska -- the Aggies' second signature win this season.
"I thought he had an extraordinary night, with his catches, his runs, picking his holes," said coach Mike Sherman, whose team also beat then-No. 8 Oklahoma earlier this season. "If he didn't play the game he did, we wouldn't be able to do what we did."
No player in Saturday's slugfest came close to Gray's 202 yards of total offense. Texas A&M's entire team amassed only 310 yards against a stingy Nebraska defense.
Gray carried the ball 26 times for 137 yards. He caught nine passes -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed only 19 -- for 65 yards. On all three of Texas A&M's scoring drives, the Aggies leaned on Gray. He carried them.
"The defense we played was tough; they weren't giving much up," Tannehill said. "We knew we needed to run the ball, and Cyrus carried that load. He got so many tough yards today. It seemed like he was going to get a 3-yard gain, and he took it 15. Those are huge plays for us on offense, especially when times are tough and yards are tough. He fought for every yard."
Gray's longest run went for just 18 yards. Rare were his opportunities to reach the deeper levels of Nebraska's defense. But he punished Nebraska's linebackers with powerful runs, all while Michael coached him up on the sideline in street clothes.
"He was my eyes for the night," Gray said. "It was great to have him on the sidelines tonight. He was just telling me to be patient."
Without Gray's efforts, his teammates never could have posed for those postgame photo ops with fans who rushed the field. The well-deserved chants of "Wrecking Crew" as the defense left the field once again would have been nonexistent.
"My face will hurt tomorrow from smiling so much," defensive tackle Lucas Patterson said.
To read the rest of David Ubben's story, click here.
Noles find themselves in good place
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher pumped his fist in the air as he jogged off the field to chants of his name after the Seminoles' 30-16 win over Maryland on Saturday.
For a program stocked with championship tradition, a win of this magnitude was still new to Fisher, a first-time head coach, and his players, none of whom had ever won six conference games. Florida State might not make it to Charlotte, N.C., the site of this year's ACC championship game, but with a 6-2 ACC record in his first season, Fisher has the program headed in the right direction.
"I say this all the time -- winning is a culture and it's a habit," Fisher said. "It's not only winning on the field, it's the way you walk, you talk, you eat, you breathe, you believe. And everybody in the organization -- not just the players and the coaches -- but everybody who affects those kids has to have that mentality. That's what we're starting to bring back. It's going to be a process. We knew it was going to be tough. We're nowhere close to where we need to be, but we're learning to get the mentality, and that's what I'm happy about."
For Florida State to play in the ACC championship game, NC State has to lose to Maryland on Saturday. If NC State wins, it will win the Atlantic Division title. Florida State, though, can finish no worse in the standings than tied with NC State. Although those within the program still hope to play for the title, they'll gladly settle for a win over the Gators and title of co-champs in the Atlantic Division.
"We wanted more," said running back Chris Thompson, whose 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave FSU a 7-3 lead. "We wanted to go to the ACC championship and everything, but maybe it will work out in our favor and maybe not. But one of our goals was to win at least six ACC games, and we're glad we met that goal. I think we're going in the right direction as a team and as players on this team."
FSU hasn't won six ACC games since 2004. Part of the process has included learning how to win the close games, and it's something the young players on this roster can continue to build on. They weren't able to do it in the 28-24 loss at NC State and lost another heartbreaker a week later, 37-35, to North Carolina. A 16-13 win over Clemson kept the Noles in the conference race, though, and they were able to pull away from Maryland in a game that was tied twice.
To read the rest of Heather Dinich's story, click here.
Irish in a New York state of mind
NEW YORK -- Notre Dame, arguably the most storied program in the history of college football, made a little more history Saturday night.
The Fighting Irish, playing in the New York metropolitan area for the second time in a month, won the inaugural college football game at the new Yankee Stadium, 27-3 over Army, in front a record crowd of 54,251.
In the process, Notre Dame clinched bowl eligibility in Brian Kelly's first year as coach, moving to 6-5 on the season with one game to play, at USC next Saturday.
"New York's a lot of things, and what it was tonight was a college football town," Kelly said. "It was an exciting atmosphere, and I know that our kids fed off the energy that was here in New York for the past 48 hours."
The Fighting Irish will undoubtedly leave the Big Apple a much happier bunch than they did the last time around. Four Saturdays ago, the Irish were thoroughly embarrassed by Navy at the nearby New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., 35-17 -- and the game wasn't even that close.
Notre Dame fans had reason to be concerned about this game. Army is much-improved under second-year coach Rich Ellerson; the Black Knights entered with a record of 6-4, bowl-eligible for the first time since 1996. Plus Army, like Navy, runs the triple-option offense, which completely stymied Notre Dame on Oct. 23.
What's more, the start of this game was eerily similar to the start of the Navy game. On the first possession, Notre Dame drove the length of the field but ultimately failed to score -- this time because of an interception in the Army end zone.
To read the rest of Kieran Darcy's story, click here.
Highlights: Ohio State-Iowa
Three weekend observations
1. Some coaches believe in preparing for their big games all season. You can bet that Alabama's Nick Saban didn't blow the dust off his Auburn playbook after the Georgia State game. But late Friday night, after Boise State shut out Fresno State 51-0, Broncos coach Chris Petersen told me he had not allotted any time in practice or video study for No. 18 Nevada's pistol offense before this week. "The good thing is we do have a lot of experience on defense," Petersen said. "They've seen it before."
2. Saturday turned out just as the ACC and the Independence, Military and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowls needed. Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech all got their sixth victories, qualifying for bowls. The Kraft, in San Francisco, has a backup deal with the ACC for its ninth team when the Pac-10 doesn't fill its quota, as is the case this season. Overall, 65 teams have qualified (six wins, no more than one FCS opponent) for 70 slots. It looks as though the NCAA won't have to grant a waiver to any teams with losing records.
3. A Badgers Fan's Guide to Scoreboard Watching the noon games Saturday: As long as No. 9 Ohio State defeats Michigan, No. 12 Michigan State's game at Penn State is irrelevant. No. 7 Wisconsin would win the Big Ten tiebreak over the Buckeyes and lead a three-way tie as the highest-rated team. The Badgers would miss the Rose Bowl only in a tie with the Spartans. So the closer the Wolverines play the Buckeyes, the more that Wisconsin must root for Penn State. And it's all moot if Wisconsin loses to Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Highlights: Nebraska-Texas A&M
'GameDay' crew final thoughts
I was really impressed by Michigan State. Historically, Saturday's game is the type of game that the Spartans lose. But they showed resiliency, heart and determination by coming back to beat Purdue and keep their hopes of winning the Big Ten title and securing a Rose Bowl berth alive. This is normally the time of year when teams falter, but Michigan State, LSU and even Mississippi State, despite doing so in a losing effort, found a way to gut it out. Now is when you have to gut one out, and Michigan State and LSU did just that. And if I were Ron Zook, I'd ask the Big Ten to let Illinois go one way all the time, because Mikel Leshoure had a game for the ages doing that against Northwestern at Wrigley Field. It was the best rushing performance in school history and the fifth-best in Big Ten history. He put on a show.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
235 passing yards, 72 rushing yards, 2 TDs in win at Cal
• CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
9 tackles, interception in win at Miami
Nine teams still could end up vying for the national championship game. That's an awful lot for this time of the year. But next weekend will be absolutely critical in determining who will go, and the picture will be a lot clearer by this time next week.
Helmet stickers go to:
• S Trent Hunter, Texas A&M
4 tackles, 2 interceptions in win vs. Nebraska
• RB Rodney Stewart, Colorado
195 rushing yards, 2 TDs, passing TD in win vs. Kansas State
The most impressive team was Wisconsin going into the Big House and winning there for the first time since 1994. Not only did the Badgers win, but they dominated Michigan. Usually, when a team scores a ton of points like Wisconsin did last week (83 versus Indiana), it struggles the next week. But Wisconsin didn't struggle at all, and right now it looks as though it could be the best team in the country.
I was also impressed by Stanford going into Cal and ripping the Bears apart. What impressed me most wasn't just that the Cardinal won by so much, but the way they won. They rebounded from last week's performance, when they were held to 17 points by Arizona State, by scoring 48 on Cal, which held high-flying Oregon to 15 points last week. Andrew Luck also had a great game and erased the memories of last year's late interception, which sealed Stanford's loss.
I know I'm a Big East guy as a Pitt alumnus and all, but I don't think a five-loss Big East team should be allowed to play in a BCS game if an undefeated or one-loss team is left out. I don't know what Frank Beamer did at Virginia Tech after losing the first two games of the season, but whatever it was, it has worked and is one of the best coaching jobs ever. And Tom O'Brien did it again, as NC State beat North Carolina.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
School-record 330 rushing yards, 2 TDs in win vs. Northwestern
• RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
128 rushing yards, TD in win vs. USC
Week 12 impact performers
Blog Network: What we learned
Virginia Tech continued its remarkable turnaround, while the ACC Atlantic is NC State's to lose.
Nebraska has good reason to feel bitter about its loss to Texas A&M; expect the Cornhuskers to play angry the rest of the way.
Plenty of wacky scenarios remain possible in the Big East title race, but in all likelihood it's a three-team derby.
It remains a three-team race, but Wisconsin established itself as the league's best and one of the nation's hottest teams.
LSU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Michigan State take note: Stanford is the nation's best one-loss team.
All eyes may be turning to Tuscaloosa this week, but LSU and Arkansas both showed impressive resolve in difficult wins.
Boise State's dominating win over Fresno State may give the Broncos the bounce they were looking for to leapfrog TCU.
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• Pac-10: Andrew Luck; Oregon State; Mason Foster
More Pac-10 stickers
Odds & ends
• Wisconsin continues to put up impressive offensive numbers. During the past two games, the Badgers have scored 131 points and racked up 1,156 yards and 54 first downs. In the win over Michigan, RB Monte Ball rushed for four touchdowns, tying the most in a single game against the Wolverines. Texas QB Vince Young was the last to score four rushing touchdowns in a game against Michigan, back in the 2005 Rose Bowl. For the first time in school history, Wisconsin has defeated Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan in the same season. The Badgers are still in the driver's seat in the Big Ten and would win a three-way tie for the conference crown and BCS title berth if they remain the highest-ranked Big Ten team in the BCS rankings.
• Oklahoma State is attempting to break a Texas-Oklahoma stranglehold on the Big 12 South title. In each of the past 11 seasons and in 12 of the previous 14 seasons in which the Big 12 has had a title game, the South has been represented by Texas or Oklahoma. Texas A&M went in 1997 and 1998. To add their name to the list, the Cowboys will have to beat Oklahoma. It won't be easy, as the Sooners have won the past seven "Bedlam Series" games.
• Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure ran west and ran west often. Playing at Wrigley Field with all offensive plays toward the west end zone, the junior set a school record with 330 yards rushing. Not only was it the most rushing yards by a player in an FBS game this season, but it was also the fifth-highest total in Big Ten history. The last Big Ten player to rush for 330 yards was Ron Dayne (339) in 1996 as a freshman against Hawaii. Leshoure's 330 yards were 14 more than Northwestern's total yardage for the game. As a team, Illinois ran for 519 yards at Wrigley, the third-highest total in the FBS this season.