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2011 NCAA College Football – Week 12 Preview

Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden will put his 10-0 career road record--and his Heisman campaign--on the line Friday night at Iowa State.
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

With the season winding down, things are really starting to get tight for a lot of teams. LSU and Oklahoma State control their own destinies in the national title hunt, but there is still a lot of movement that could occur if one of those two loses. Several teams are still trying to lock up spots in their respective conference championship games while others are just trying to improve their bowl resumes.

We’ve had plenty of upsets in college football this year, and this week has all the signs of some more coming soon. Nine ranked teams, including five of the top 10, are going on the road against teams with .500 or better records and three ranked teams are in action Thursday or Friday night to whet your appetite for another big weekend of college football. Here are all the highlights to look for this week in the AP Top 25.

#1 Louisiana State (10-0) at Mississippi (2-8)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN]

LSU went out of conference to drub Western Kentucky 42-9 last week. But things likely won’t be much tougher against an Ole Miss team in free fall. The Rebels have lost five straight (and been outscored 179-74 in those games) and head coach Houston Nutt has already announced his resignation, effective at the end of the season. They rank 109th in scoring offense and will be without their starting quarterback and leading rusher, who were suspended this week for violations of team rules. The Rebels offense will be both undermanned and facing a fierce Tigers defense that is second only to Alabama in both total and scoring defense. In last week’s win, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson got his first start since his preseason suspension, going 8-14 for 168 yards and a touchdown.

#2 Oklahoma State (10-0) at Iowa State (5-4)

[Friday, Nov. 18 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Oklahoma State owns the best start in and highest ranking in school history, and controls its own destiny for the national championship game. This week, it will look to avoid a classic trap game in a rare Friday night road matchup against an Iowa State squad that has won two in a row and is coming in off a bye week. OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden has moved himself solidly into the Heisman mix, throwing 15 touchdown passes in his last four games. However, he may not even be the biggest concern for a Cyclones defense that ranks 104th nationally in rush defense. Cowboys running back Joseph Randle has proven to be an equally potent weapon, with 14 touchdowns in that same span. The Cowboys, who rank third in the nation in total offense and second in scoring offense, have won 10 straight road games, one short of a school record set between 1943 and 45.

Georgia Southern (9-1) at #3 Alabama (9-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 2:00 PM ET on ESPN Gameplan]

With Stanford and Boise State going down last week, the door to the national championship has cracked open just a bit for the Crimson Tide, who are now rooting for whoever is playing LSU and Oklahoma State. This week, Alabama takes a late-season trip out of conference for a game against FCS power Georgia Southern. The Eagles are averaging over 320 rushing yards per game this season (2nd in the FCS), but will be going against an Alabama defense that ranks among the best ever and currently leads the nation in rushing, passing, total and scoring defense. Look for a big game from Alabama running back Trent Richardson. He is seventh in the nation in rushing and will be going against a Georgia Southern defense that has given up almost 168 rushing yards per game (to obviously lesser opponents) the last six weeks. Georgia Southern actually got one vote in this week’s AP poll, but is 0-18 all-time against FBS opponents.

#18 Southern Cal (8-2) at #4 Oregon (9-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

After handily beating Stanford last week, the Ducks can secure a spot in the first-ever Pac-12 title game with a win this week. After falling to #1 LSU in the first game of the season, Oregon has averaged almost 49 points per game during its current nine-game winning streak. The Ducks have won 21 straight at home and 19 straight conference games. This week, however, they’ll be facing a USC offense that has put up 40-plus points each of the last three weeks, so this game could turn into a real shootout. The Trojans shot at an upset could hinge on their defense’s ability to slow down Oregon running back LaMichael James, who leads the nation in rushing yards per game (150.9). The Trojans rank second in the Pac-12 in rush defense have held five different opponents this year to less than 100 yards.

#5 Oklahoma (8-1) at #25 Baylor (6-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

With convincing wins the last two weeks (and some help from Stanford and Boise State), Oklahoma has clawed back into the national championship hunt. The Sooners are 20-0 all time against Baylor, but this is definitely not the same old Baylor. The Bears are second in the nation in total offense and are averaging 49 points per game at home this year. Oklahoma certainly has its share of offensive weapons (quarterback Landry Jones is fifth in the nation in passing yards and fourth in passing touchdowns), but the Sooners will play the rest of the season without record-setting receiver Ryan Broyles (torn ACL) and leading rusher Dominique Whaley (broken leg). Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is second in the nation in total offense (396.8 yards per game). The question is which Oklahoma defense will show up: in the last four weeks, the Sooners held Kansas and Kansas State to 252 and 240 total yards respectively, but gave up 572 and 527 to Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

Mississippi State (5-5) at #6 Arkansas (9-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS]

Mississippi State ranks 76th in the nation in both total offense and scoring offense. So the Bulldogs’ shot at pulling off the road upset may hinge on their defense’s ability to slow down Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. Wilson, who has thrown for 839 yards and six touchdowns the last three weeks, is 12th in the nation in passing. He’ll face a Mississippi State defense that ranks 14th in the country against the pass and 17th in scoring. A win this week would give the Razorbacks their first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1988-89.

#7 Clemson (9-1) at North Carolina State (5-5)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN]

The Tigers have already clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game, but are looking to keep their momentum going as they prepare for next week’s in-state rivalry game against #14 South Carolina. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has thrown 12 touchdowns in the last four games and ranks ninth in the nation in passing yards. North Carolina State has lost two of its last three and seen its offense go missing, putting up an average of just 241 yards and 7.7 points per game in that stretch. NC State must win its final two games to be bowl eligible.

California (6-4) at #8 Stanford (9-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 10:15 PM ET on ESPN]

Although last week’s loss to Oregon likely knocked Stanford out of national title and Pac-12 championship contention, the Cardinal still has a lot to play for. Quarterback Andrew Luck is still very much in the Heisman race and, if Stanford wins out, the team would certainly be an attractive option for a BCS at-large bid. Throw in the rivalry factor of “The Big Game,” and there is a lot on the line in this game. This should be a good offense vs. defense matchup. Stanford has a potent offense (fifth nationally scoring) that runs a balanced attack (19th in rushing, 26th in passing). But they’ll face a Cal defense that ranks 16th in total defense and has been equally good against the run and the pass (29th nationally in both).

North Carolina (6-4) at #9 Virginia Tech (9-1)

[Thursday, Nov. 17 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN]

The ninth-ranked Hokies will be playing their second straight Thursday night game after taking control of the ACC Coastal Division with last week’s 37-26 victory over Georgia Tech. Running back David Wilson leads the nation in rushing and has run for at least 127 yards in all but one game this season. He will certainly present a challenge for the North Carolina defense, which ranks 18th nationally against the run. The Hokies offense has put up at least 400 yards in five straight games. Virginia Tech had won six in a row against North Carolina before being upset by the Tar Heels at home in their last meeting in 2009. North Carolina had a bye last week, but had lost three of their four previous games. The Hokies could clinch the Coastal Division this week with a win and a Virginia loss at #23 Florida State.

#10 Boise State (8-1) at San Diego State (6-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 PM ET on CBSSN]

After watching their BCS hopes die on a missed field goal for the second year in a row, the Broncos will look to rebound against has won two in a row after dropping three of its previous four. San Diego State could be hampered by injury in their upset bid as running back Ronnie Hillman, the nation’s second-leading rusher, is questionable with an ankle sprain. If Hillman can’t go, the Aztecs running game will be in the hands of redshirt freshman Adam Muema (15 carries for 82 yards this season). As such, the Aztecs may have to hope that their passing game can exploit a Boise State secondary that lost two starting cornerbacks to injury and was torched for 473 passing yards last week. Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore has thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this year. Boise is 5-0 on the road this season, outscoring its opponents in those games 208-56.

Southern Methodist (6-4) at #11 Houston (10-0)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

Houston ranks first in the nation in passing, total offense and scoring and they are off to the best start in school history. More importantly, if the Cougars win out they will earn a spot in a BCS bowl game. SMU is the first obstacle in the way. The Mustangs will try to pull the upset with the legs of running back Zach Line, the nation’s sixth-leading rusher, going against a Houston defense that ranks 87th in the nation in rush defense. But the biggest key for SMU will be limiting mistakes and keeping Case Keenum on the sidelines — the Mustangs have turned the ball over 10 times in the last four weeks. In five home games this year, Houston has outscored its opponents 286-89.

Indiana (1-9) at #12 Michigan State (8-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:00 PM ET on Big Ten Network]

The Spartans control their own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division, and this week will likely be just a speed bump on that path. Indiana has not beaten an FBS team this year and ranks 94th in the nation in scoring offense and 108th in scoring defense. They’ll be facing a Michigan State team that ranks eighth in the country in scoring defense. While Michigan State’s offense has been average this year, they did blow up for a season-high 443 yards against Iowa last week. The Spartans can clinch the division this week with a win and a Nebraska loss at Michigan.

Kentucky (4-6) at #13 Georgia (8-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:20 PM ET on SEC Network]

After starting the season 0-2, the Bulldogs have rallied for eight straight wins and can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship game with a win this weekend. Georgia ranks fourth in the nation in total defense and should meet little opposition from a Kentucky offense that ranks 111th in passing, 117th in scoring and 118th in total offense. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has already thrown a school-record 27 touchdown passes, including 14 in the last four weeks.  The Wildcats have been outscored 127-18 in three SEC road games this year.

The Citadel (4-6) at #14 South Carolina (8-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN Gameplan]

Barring a Georgia upset by Kentucky, the Gamecocks can’t make it back to the SEC title game this year. But there is still a lot on the line season, as winning out (vs. The Citadel and in-state rival Clemson) would give USC just its second 10-win season in school history. The Citadel runs the same triple-option attack that gave the Gamecocks defense fits in their 24-21 win over Navy earlier this season. But this should prove to be a different story — FCS Citadel has been held to 15 points or fewer five times this year and are now facing a South Carolina defense that ranks 19th in the FBS in scoring.

#15 Wisconsin (8-2) at Illinois (6-4)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

After two last-second losses last month, Wisconsin has rebounded to beat its last two opponents by a combined total of 104-30. This week, they’ll look to build on that momentum against an Illinois team that is headed the other direction. After starting off with the team’s first 6-0 start in 60 years, the Illini has since lost four straight and coach Ron Zook stormed out of his press conference this week after being asked about his job security. Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games. Running back Montee Ball leads the nation in touchdowns and set a new Big Ten single season touchdown record (27) last week. A win this week by Wisconsin would set up a winner-take-all game next week between the Badgers and Penn State for a shot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.

#16 Kansas State (8-2) at Texas (6-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 PM ET on FX]

After posting 400-plus rushing yards the two previous games, Texas struggled to just 76 yards on the ground in last week’s loss to Missouri. They could have similar problems again this week as running back Fozzy Whitaker will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and two other running backs, including leading rusher Malcolm Brown, could miss this game with injuries. On the other side, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is coming off a career game against Texas A&M in which he recorded 384 total yards and six touchdowns. While back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State ended their shot at winning the Big 12 this year, the Wildcats have shown they have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with anyone, putting up at least 50 points three of the last four weeks. KSU has won three in a row against Texas.

#17 Nebraska (8-2) at #20 Michigan (8-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

In a meeting of two of the more electrifying players in the Big Ten, Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez will try to put on an offensive show in the Big House. The two rank first and third, respectively, in the Big Ten in total offense. Robinson was knocked out last week’s game against Illinois with a wrist injury, but is expected to return this week. The Wolverines defense has held six opponents to 14 points or less this year. However, after giving up just 10.2 points per game the first five weeks, that number has jumped to 20.8 in the last five. Michigan held Illinois to just 37 rushing yards last week, but will face a much tougher challenge in slowing down Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead (third in the conference in rushing). Nebraska can still win the Big Ten Legends Division by winning its last two games and Michigan State losing once. Michigan is still technically alive in the division race, but Michigan State would have to lose both of its two remaining games.

Colorado State (3-6) at #19 Texas Christian (8-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 PM ET on Versus]

Fresh off its upset of Boise State, TCU will look to keep its momentum going against a struggling Colorado State team that has lost five in a row. Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Paschall threw for a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns last week. But look for a bigger game on the ground this week from TCU going against a Colorado State defense that ranks 113th in the nation in rush defense. TCU has won 22 straight Mountain West games and is two wins away from securing the Mountain West title in the Horned Frogs’ final year in the conference. TCU has won seven straight over the Rams.

#21 Penn State (8-2) at Ohio State (6-4)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN]

After living through the worst week in Penn State history and the final home game of the year, Penn State will play its first road game since the sexual abuse scandal that made national headlines broke. Both teams are coming off tough losses and are looking to end the season on a brighter note. Penn State is still alive in the Leaders Division race, and a win this week would set up a winner-take-all matchup next week at Wisconsin. Expect an old-fashioned Big Ten smashmouth game in this one as both teams feature stout defenses and good running games, but mediocre passing.

#22 Southern Miss (9-1) at Alabama-Birmingham (2-8)

[Thursday, Nov. 17 at 8:00 PM ET on CBSSN]

Southern Miss dodged a bullet last week, tipping away a Central Florida two-point conversion pass with no time remaining to secure the 30-29 victory. Holding on for that win leaves the Golden Eagles in prime position this week, going against a UAB squad that ranks 114th nationally in scoring offense and 113th in scoring defense. Southern Miss is averaging over 41 points per game during its current eight-game winning streak. A win by Southern Miss would clinch the Conference USA East Division title as well as the Golden Eagles’ first 10-win season since 1988. UAB has not beaten a ranked opponent since 2005.

Virginia (7-3) at #23 Florida State (7-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 PM ET on ESPN2]

Virginia can keep its ACC Coastal Division title hopes alive with a win this week, setting up a winner-take-all game next week against Virginia Tech. After starting the season 2-2, the Cavaliers have gotten hot at the right time, winning five of their last six. Florida State, however, is riding a similar hot streak, winning five in a row and rising back into the top 25 for the first time since a three-game losing streak in early October. The turnaround of the Seminoles’ defense has been the real story — after giving up an average of 31 points per game in their three losses, Florida State has surrendered an average of just 11.6 in the five games since. Florida State ranks fourth in the nation in rush defense, so the pressure will be on Virginia’s passing game (69th in the nation) to show a good deal of improvement.

Boston College (3-7) at #24 Notre Dame (7-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 19 at 4:00 PM ET on NBC]

Notre Dame is looking to finish on a high note, seeking its fourth straight win in the Irish’s final home game of the season. This week, the Irish face a Boston College team that has struggled this year, but is showing signs of life. The Eagles rank 112th in total offense and 115th in scoring, but have won two of their last three games. After starting the season 0-2, the Fighting Irish have won seven of their last eight and, with a win this week, will have that momentum going into next week’s showdown with Stanford. Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees struggled early on, but has rebounded well, throwing 12 touchdowns in his last six games.

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