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Tag:Montee Ball
Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Big Ten announces 2011 individual award winners

Posted by Adam Jacobi

On Monday evening, the Big Ten announced its full slate of conference award winners -- the first such slate since the Big Ten added the trophies in addition to expanding to 12 teams and two divisions.

Here's a breakdown of all the trophies handed out by the Big Ten:

Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Wilson's resume this year is undeniably brilliant, and he's going to be in line for some national postseason recognition after finishing first nationally in passer efficiency. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, shouldered one of the conference's worst rushing attacks and still finished third in the Big Ten in efficiency and emerged as a solid ambassador for the program, conference, and sport. From a strictly on-field standpoint, Wilson deserves this award to himself, but the Big Ten named its divisions "Legends" and "Leaders"; surely it won't turn around and say its trophies should be restricted to strict on-field accomplishments, will it? All of which is to say, I'd rather the conference had thrown Cousins a bone and split this award between Wilson and him. Wilson would have been an even bigger snub than Cousins, but they're both highly deserving of recognition.

Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
ADAM SAYS: McNutt basically rewrote Iowa's receiving record books, and he looked at times like the best player on either side of the ball for the Hawkeyes this year. That he was left off the list of 10 Biletnikoff finalists is a joke. Illinois' A.J. Jenkins was a strong contender here, but his inability to get into the end zone even once during the Illini's six-game slump seals his fate as an also-ran. 

Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Rex BurkheadMarcus Coker, and Silas Redd all had admirable efforts this year, but c'mon. Could this trophy possibly go to anybody else? With 1,622 rushing yards (1,870 total from scrimmage) and 34 total touchdowns, Ball is third on my list of 2011 Heisman candidates and far and away the best running back in the Big Ten this year. 

Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
ADAM SAYS: 43 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns is a great year for a tight end (or superback, as it would be), and to do so in a season with three different quarterbacks seeing significant action is an even better accomplishment. Dunsmore was one of the three or four best TE in the nation this year and a deserving winner of the Kwalick-Clark Trophy.

Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: David Molk, Michigan
ADAM SAYS: If this award were given to entire offensive lines (which I would not mind), it would have to go to Wisconsin. At any rate, though, coming into the season, Ohio State's All-American Mike Brewster was the highest-profile center in the conference. It was Molk, however, who showed the most leadership and mashery over the course of the season. Hopefully, this award translates into All-American attention for Molk; he deserves it for the job Michigan did pushing the line of scrimmage forward on offense this year.

Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Devon Still, Penn State
ADAM SAYS: Illinois' terror at DE, Whitney Mercilus, would be the strongest contender for this award if Illinois hadn't collapsed down the stretch, but even that collapse is hardly on the aptly-named Mercilus; he led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles on the year (if Tyrann Mathieu is the honey badger for his six forced fumbles, what does that make Mercilus with nine? Galactus?). Devon Still was an absolute beast for Penn State, though, and his presence affected opposing game plans all season long. A split between Still and Mercilus would have been ideal.

Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Lavonte David, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Lavonte David's been even better than I thought he'd be this year, and he was my top preseason linebacker in the conference. No-doubter here. Look for Wisconsin's Chris Borland to be the leading candidate for this award next year; the former Big Ten defensive freshman of the year was strong in his return from a torn ACL this season, and he's got two more years of eligibility.

Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Purdue CB Ricardo Allen is the only guy who could make a decent case for being snubbed here, but Dennard turned this defense into an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He deserves this award.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: The fact that Maher was snubbed for Lou Groza consideration despite missing zero kicks from 50 yards and in this year is an absolute travesty the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, last year, when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery was also snubbed from Groza finalist consideration despite being pretty obviously the best kicker in college football. Maher's bona fides aren't as strong as Henery's, but he's still the best kicker in the Big Ten and should have been named a Groza finalist all the same.

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Oh, stop showing off, Nebraska.
Posted on: November 27, 2011 3:47 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 13



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Wisconsin's lust for revenge

The two heart-breaking losses Wisconsin absorbed in the middle of what was supposed to be a special season have never really let the Badgers go. Oh, the Badgers got over them, to be sure; they won their next four Big Ten games by an average score of 44-14, and of those only the 28-17 win over Illinois was even halfway competitive. And yet, Wisconsin has struggled in vain to so much as crack the Top 15 of the polls, as its only win against a ranked opponent all year was a 48-17 dismantling of then-No. 8 Nebraska in Week 5. That's it.

Or, that was it until Saturday, anyway, when Wisconsin officially ended Penn State's conference title aspirations (and the Nittany Lions' stint in the Top 25) with a 45-7 shellacking. Wisconsin's now the (sigh) Leaders Division winner and all set for the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday. And wouldn't you know it, Michigan State -- the team that dealt Wisconsin its first, most crushing loss will be waiting in Indianapolis for the Badgers.

And there's probably no team Bret Bielema and his Badgers would rather face.

The first meeting of the two teams was an outright classic, with Wisconsin going up 14-0 early before a Montee Ball injury derailed the Badgers' offense to the point that MSU was able to open up a 31-17 lead. But it wasn't until a deflected Hail Mary pass from Kirk Cousins found its way into the arms of Keith Nichol and Nichol twisted the ball across the plane while being tackled that the Spartans could sew up the victory. It was as slim a margin of victory could be in regulation, and it doomed Wisconsin's highest aspirations for the season. What more could you ask for after a game like that than a rematch? And if there must be a rematch, why not do it with everything in the Big Ten on the line? This week should be great.  

LOSER: The so, so, so fired Ron Zook

Ron Zook's Illinois squad just put the finishing touches on a 6-6 campaign, one that would probably be a little more palatable if it hadn't finished in six straight losses where a formerly formidable offense just plain cratered. The last effort that'll likely be on Ron Zook's resume is a 27-7 throttling at the hands of a Minnesota program that hadn't beaten a Big Ten opponent by that many points since it beat Indiana 63-26... in 2006, when Glen Mason was still at the helm. We'll have more on the Gopher revival in a bit, but suffice it to say that Zook is going to be fired very, very soon. 

There's no up side for this Illinois team's collapse. Nathan Scheelhaase has gone from a future first-team All-Big Ten quarterback to a potential second-team quarterback for the Illini in 2012. A.J. Jenkins scored zero touchdowns in the last six games after a scintillating first half of the season. The Illinois rush defense -- ranked second in the Big Ten -- ceded 248 yards to Minnesota, which was a season high for the Gophers. Whitney Mercilus was a terror all year long, racking up 9.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles, but now there's almost no chance he'll be back in 2012. So what is there to look forward to with this team in 2012 regardless of who's coach? And the fact that such a question is being asked in a coach's seventh year in a program probably means he won't be around for an eighth.

WINNER: Michigan Men (even when they're not)

Much was made about Brady Hoke's ties to the Michigan program when he was hired after the 2010 season, with the phrase "Michigan Man" bandied about liberally. And to be sure, that's exactly what Hoke is -- right down to his insistence on calling Ohio State "Ohio" and never wearing red.

But when it came to hiring coordinators, Hoke wasn't dumb enough to limit himself to fellow Michigan Men. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is, if anything, a "Chico State Man," graduating from there in 1981 and spending the next 30 years bouncing around various schools as offensive coordinator (usually on the west coast, and never at Michigan). Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spent five years at Michigan back in the '90s, sure, but he also spent more time than that at Notre Dame. -- and did so more recently than his first Michigan stint. Is Mattison a Michigan Man? A Notre Dame Man? Both? He couldn't be both, could he? Anyway, all told, only three of Hoke's nine assistants have any prior ties to the program.

And yet, the difference in quality between last year's team and this year's is inestimable. The Michigan defense has gone from putrid to passable in just one season, and while it's not a championship-caliber unit just yet, it is good enough to get the Wolverines to 10-2 in the regular season and in immediate division contention -- back where the Big Ten figured Michigan would be when these division lines were drawn in the first place. And oh yes, there is that 40-34 victory over Ohio State that the Wolverines clawed for this year, their first over OSU in almost a decade.

LOSER: Will Hagerup

Welp, guess I'm just gonna punt this here ball away, just gonna do my job as punteWHAT AWWW HAMBURGERS OHHHHH NOOOOO

WINNER: Montee Ball's Heisman campaign

Montee Ball's probably not going to win the Heisman this year. That honor will probably go to someone in the trio of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or Trent Richardson. But at the very least, Ball probably bought* himself a ticket today with a 156-yard, four touchdown effort that pushed his season numbers to 248 carries, 1622 yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 17 catches, 248 receiving yards, and five more receiving touchdowns. He also threw a 25-yard touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana (which doesn't count for Ball in total touchdowns, only Wilson), a sure sign that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was very bored that day.

So that makes 34 total touchdowns on the season for Ball, a mark that only Barry Sanders has bested with his other-worldly 39 scores in 1988 (which doesn't even count his five touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, as bowl games weren't counted in official statistics back then). And Ball isn't just pushing scores in from a yard out, either; nine of his 25 rushing touchdowns have come from more than five yards out, and his 6.75-yard rushing average was fourth in the FBS among 1000-yard rushers coming into Saturday's action. Ball isn't a touchdown machine, he's an everything machine, and now that it's been him front and center in Wisconsin's push to Indianapolis, voters are likely to take notice.

*Metaphorically speaking, NCAA! We never meant to imply that Ball or anybody around him has ever so much has handled a dollar bill. We understand that the sanctity of this game can only be achieved if everybody involved is dead broke and rejects capitalism outright, and we assure you that Ball has not been tainted by the immoral slime of legal tender. They're student-athletes, not money-recipient-athletes. We get it. 

LOSER: The "Heroes Game"


What seemed like an intriguing new rivalry -- Iowa vs. Nebraska, every year, with the Missouri River set to be the most hotly contested border waterway since the Rhine. Whereas the French had the mighty but tragically immobile Maginot Line to protect themselves, though, Iowa's line just plain couldn't stop anyone coming right up the middle, either on Saturday or all year long. Rex Burkhead set a Nebraska record with 38 carries, and his 160 yards and a touchdown wore down the Iowa defense to the point of surrender. 20-7 was the final, and it really wasn't that close.

Next year's game might be more competitive simply because it's in Iowa City, but the 2012 Hawkeyes probably won't be any better than this year's iteration, and if this rivalry starts off lopsided it'll be hard to get the fanbases worked into the lather necessary for a lasting rivalry. Nebraska's never going to get tired of 13-point wins that are more one-sided than the final score indicates, of course, but the Huskers aren't really going to care about beating Iowa until they can't take it for granted anymore.

WINNER: Jerry Kill, eh?

It looks like everything Jerry Kill's been telling his team since he inherited it last December might yet be sinking in. After a 1-6 (0-3) start to the season where none of the Gophers' conference losses were even competitive, Minnesota turned the boat around in a big way with a 22-21 comeback win over Iowa. After that, Minnesota looked like a different team, hanging tough with Michigan State and Northwestern in losses and at the very least losing to Wisconsin by a smaller margin than Penn State just did. And now, the Gophers have closed the season out with the aforementioned 27-7 drubbing of listless Illinois. MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards, threw for 85 more, and accounted for all three of the Gopher's touchdowns in the victory without turning the ball over.

This Gopher team has a long way to go in order to start hanging with its Legends Division rivals on a weekly basis. The lines are a mess, there's a dearth of experience on both sides of the ball, and Kill isn't drawing high-quality recruits yet. He's got a complete overhaul on his hands, and those don't happen in a year at a school like Minnesota. But there's two ways to overhaul a program: spend four years recruiting "your" players into the system, or change the program's culture so substantially that the old coach's players buy in and become "your" players. Kill seems to be on that path, and that bodes well. Doesn't seem like something we thought we'd be saying just a couple months ago, when Kill was talking about needing to "babysit" his players and losing every game by 30 or so, but here we are.

LOSER: Michigan's classless fans

Look at them, rushing the field and celebrating after Michigan beats a 6-6 team. Act like you've been there, guys, right? The nerve of it all!

We're kidding, of course, because the cathartic value of a win like that, erasing eight years of misery and futility hard-wired into to Michigan's identity as a football program, would be off the charts even if Ohio State were coming into the game 0-11. But we're still talking about a bowl team here in OSU, and one that gave Michigan all sorts of fits over the course of the game. You have our full blessing on this field-storming, Michigan. And if anyone says otherwise, well, haters gonna hate. Feels nice to have haters again, doesn't it?



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Posted on: November 27, 2011 2:25 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
 

Can Andrew Luck still win the Heisman?



Posted by Adam Jacobi

Stanford just put the finishing touches on a 28-14 victory over Notre Dame, and Andrew Luck was his typical self in the victory: 20-30, 233 yards, four touchdowns and an interception for a QB rating of 169.2 (his season rating, by way of comparison, is now 167.5). Meanwhile, Stanford has finished the season at 11-1 and likely to move into the No. 5 spot in the BCS and No. 3 in the AP poll after Arkansas drops in the rankings on Sunday.

So what does this all mean for Luck's 2011 Heisman chances? 

The Case For

Luck's season numbers are stellar. We're looking at 261-373 (69.97% accuracy), 3170 yards, 35 touchdowns, and nine interceptions -- one of the most prolific and efficient lines in the nation. He's been the focal point of the Stanford offense, as tailback Stepfan Taylor has been merely good as the primary rushing threat on the offense (this isn't a situation like Wisconsin RB Montee Ball making Russell Wilson's job incredibly easy, in other words). Luck is an NFL prototype, standing 6'4" at 235 pounds, his reputation is spotless, he's got three quality years of play at QB, and he's intelligent in interviews off the field. He behaves like a Heisman winner and a coach's dream.

Also, as mentioned before, Stanford is probably going to finish in the Top 3 of the AP poll (a pool of people that's not exactly dissimilar to the Heisman voting ranks), and it'll likely be somewhere in a BCS bowl in January, even as a shot at the Rose Bowl eluded the team once again. All the while, Luck has been prominent in his contributions, throwing at least two touchdowns in every game and four touchdowns in three 2011 contests.

Also, Luck strikes a pretty sweet Heisman pose in the picture above.   

The Case Against

Luck's numbers might not be stellar enough this year. He's nowhere near NCAA passing efficiency leader Russell Wilson, and while Wilson's usage numbers are low enough that he's not receiving Heisman consideration anymore, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley, and Boise State's Kellen Moore all have similar amounts of attempts and completions, and aside from RG3 (one fewer passing TD), their touchdowns are all higher and their interceptions are all lower than Luck's. Luck's interceptions are up from last year, and his yardage and efficiency are both down (albeit slightly in all three cases). His rushing in 2011 is nowhere near the level of the last two years -- though voters probably won't mind that last fact.

Further, as mentioned before, Luck's Stanford team is likely to be ranked third in the AP poll on Sunday, but at the same time only fifth in the BCS. While that's not a disqualifier from Heisman consideration by any stretch of the imagination, it may not be high enough for some voters to consider taking Luck over, say, Trent Richardson from second-ranked Alabama. Moore and Keenum also have their teams in the Top 10, and again, their raw numbers are better than Luck's. Worse yet for Luck, regional Heisman voting bias is a very real thing, and the fact that Moore, Keenum, Barkley, and Griffin all play west of the Mississippi may mean Luck can't stand out among his peers in south and west-coast voting enough to overtake the strong showings of Richardson in the east or RG3 in Texas.

The Verdict

There's no question that Luck's going to New York as a Heisman finalist, and he's probably going to finish in the Top 3 or 4. But in such a loaded Heisman pack, it takes a lot to distinguish one's self as the best player in the nation. Trent Richardson's got highlight-reel plays and a likely berth in the BCS Championship. Robert Griffin III has the best efficiency among serious Heisman candidates and two high-profile last-minute victories. Montee Ball has the most touchdowns in one year since Barry Sanders in his legendary 1988 season. Kellen Moore has a 49-3 record and 134 passing touchdowns. Case Keenum rewrote the NCAA record books in career passing totals. In a field like that, what does Andrew Luck bring to the table better than anybody else, and is it a legitimate reason to vote for someone as the best player in the nation? Unfortunately for the Stanford faithful, we don't see how Luck answers that question well enough to bring home the Heisman.



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Posted on: November 26, 2011 7:34 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Wisconsin 45, Penn State 7

Posted by Adam Jacobi

WISCONSIN WON. Penn State's vaunted defense was no match for Montee Ball and the Wisconsin rushing game, and the Badgers rolled to a 45-7 victory to clinch the Leaders Division title and an invitation to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Ball rushed for 156 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries, and made significant progress toward the NCAA record for most total touchdowns in a season; the record set by Barry Sanders is 39, and Ball now has 34 with two games left to play.

WHY WISCONSIN WON: The Badgers obviously have a high-powered offense, one that doesn't make many mistakes, so it was going to be crucial for Penn State's defense to force Wisconsin into punts and turnovers, while the Penn State offense was going to have to limit its own mistakes and focus on ball control and long drives. That clearly didn't happen. Penn State turned the ball over four times while Wisconsin only lost one fumble late in garbage time, and Wisconsin scored 24 points off turnovers as it cruised to victory.

WHEN WISCONSIN WON: Penn State had forced punts on two of the first four Badger possessions (three, actually, if we're counting the punt in the second drive; Penn State committed a penalty on the play and Wisconsin turned the drive into a touchdown), and Wisconsin's lead was a somewhat precarious 14-7, when a Penn State punt pinned Wisconsin back at its own 17 midway through the second quarter. Wisconsin answered with a scintillating touchdown drive marked by two long Russell Wilson scrambles to push the lead to 21-7, and when fullback Michael Zordich fumbled the ensuing kickoff and gave Wisconsin the ball 31 yards away from the end zone with two minutes left in the half, it wasn't too difficult to figure out how this game was going to end.

WHAT WISCONSIN WON: Just as expected at the beginning of the season, Wisconsin will represent the Leaders division in the Big Ten Championship. Of course, the route there has been a little different than expected, and the Badgers' ranking at No. 15 is beneath the standards set by the program and its preseason No. 9 status. But there's some redemption to be had here, at the very least, and if Wisconsin exacts its revenge on Michigan State in the Big Ten title game then shines in the bowl game, it's reasonable to think the Badgers could still climb back into the Top 10.

WHAT PENN STATE LOST: For the first time since Week 6, Penn State is not the front-runner for the Leaders Division title. Unfortunately, the season is also now over, so Penn State is hereby thrown to the mercy of bowl selection committees having lost two of its last three. Obviously these are less than ideal circumstances for Penn State off the field, and if those circumstances are going to have any effect on Penn State's bowl bid, it's going to be a negative effect. So we'll see what all that means for the Penn State postseason, and whether the PSU athletic department even feels like going through the process in the first place.  
Posted on: November 24, 2011 12:52 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 13


Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

It's Thanksgiving, and if you were to wonder what I'm thankful for this time of year I'd tell you that I'm thankful I'm only a few games behind Woman in this contest and that I still have two weeks to catch her. Of course, I'd be a lot more grateful if I was beating her already at this point and just had to hold her off, but knowing what we don't have makes us more thankful for what we do have, I guess.

Enjoy your turkey, folks, and Happy Thanksgiving. 

LSU (-13 1/2) vs. Arkansas - Friday, 2:30pm (All times Eastern)

Man - I really don't like picking against Les Miles because it seldom works out for me, and although I don't really think Arkansas is going to win this game, it's still a rivalry game and this is still the best offense LSU has faced since Oregon and it hasn't had an entire offseason to prepare for it. So I think the Hogs can keep things close enough. Pick: Arkansas

Woman - "Today, I offer my special Thanksgiving picks. This first one's easy. I give thanks for another LSU magical mystery tour season led by my guru  favorite coach, Les Miles. But while the Tigers will confound Arkansas with relentless D and some superfantasmalicious trick plays, I'm taking a knee on this spread." Pick: Arkansas

Machine - According to the Machine, we all get really close to total BCS chaos but Les Miles and LSU are able to overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Arkansas 27-24. Pick: Arkansas 

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia (-6 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - The Bulldogs have been playing their best football of the season over the last month, and though things were a bit close against Kentucky last week I think that had a lot more to do with Georgia not taking the Wildcats all that seriously. Which isn't going to happen with their rival. Pick: Georgia

Woman - "I'm giving thanks for an in-state rivalry that features the nation's number two team in rushing offense versus the nation's number two team in rushing defense. With a 56% third down success rate, home field advantage and points, the scales tip to the Yellow Jackets." Pick: Georgia Tech

Machine - Georgia keeps on rolling as it prepares for the SEC Championship, as Aaron Murray throws for 4 touchdowns and the Dawgs pick up a pretty easy 31-20 win. Pick: Georgia

Michigan (-8 1/2) vs. Ohio State - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Yes, Michigan fans, your long nightmare is going to come to an end on Saturday. You are finally going to see your Wolverines beat the Buckeyes, and I don't think it's going to be all that close come the fourth quarter. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "Grateful this season is nearly over for OSU. Stacked up against Denard Robinson on the road, and still reeling from personnel losses and NCAA sanctions, I think the Buckeyes will be content to stagger across the finish line and call it a year." Pick: Michigan

Machine - This may be the best chance that Michigan has had to beat Ohio State in years, but The Machine want the Wolverines to know that there's always next year. Ohio State wins 27-20. Pick: Ohio State

Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (-5 1/2) - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - I've actually picked Virginia to win this game outright. Virginia Tech hasn't beaten anybody of consequence this season, and it hasn't blown anybody out aside from Appalachian State. I mean, this Hokies team beat Duke 14-10 earlier this season, and Duke missed three field goals in that game. Sometimes the BCS corrects itself, and this will be one of those occasions. Pick: Virginia

Woman - "I am thankful I was able to suppress the gag reflex when the BCS ranked Virginia Tech at number five. I love the Hokies but don't think they've played a schedule worthy of that spot and am betting on a steady Virginia offensive line to put them back where they belong. Wahoowa!" Pick: Virginia 

Machine - It's been a nice season Virginia, but you're not quite there yet. Virginia Tech wins 34-13. Pick: Virginia Tech

Auburn vs. Alabama (-20 1/2) - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - I really don't see Auburn knocking off the Tide for a second year in a row, and I don't have a lot of confidence in this Auburn offense to put up many points against this Alabama defense. That being said, this is still one of the greatest rivalries in the sport, and a three-touchdown spread is an awful lot of points to give up between these two teams. Pick: Auburn

Woman - "I really can't even talk about what I'm thankful for here due to, like they say, an ongoing investigation. So, let's look at what we know. Alabama is a national championship contender. Meanwhile, Auburn lost nearly all its players last year and is starting over. No doubt, they'll soon mature into fierce competitors but in the meantime, I located footage of the Tigers' latest practice. Not pretty." Pick: Alabama 

Machine - The Machine seems to think that Trent Richardson could put the finishing touches on a possible Heisman Trophy, as he rushes for 214 yards and 3 touchdowns and the Tide take the state of Alabama back, winning 31-13. Pick: Auburn

Wisconsin (-14 1/2) vs. Penn State - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Wisconsin has been the best team in the Big Ten all season, with its only two losses coming via prayers at the end of consecutive games. That's not going to happen in Madison, and I don't see the Penn State offense as being capable of exploiting the weaknesses in the Wisconsin defense. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has a couple different ways to beat you on offense, and their names are Montee Ball and Russell Wilson. Pick: Wisconsin

Woman - "I'm grateful for an eighty-something grandma who tried Pop Rocks for the first time, giving me an excuse not to write anything more about the Big Ten." Pick: Wisconsin

Machine - Penn State doesn't do much to keep Wisconsin from heading to Indianapolis, as the Badgers steamroll the Nittany Lions 38-17. Pick: Wisconsin

Baylor (-12 1/2) vs. Texas Tech - Saturday, 7pm

Man - This is going to be a fun, exciting game in which we see both teams go back and forth down the field putting up points. So while I'm going to give the edge to Robert Griffin in this matchup, the Baylor defense hasn't shown me anything this season that would make me want to give up nearly two touchdowns. Pick: Texas Tech

Woman - "I'm thankful I get to see Robert Griffin play again, this time on the grand stage at Jerry's World. The Raiders are playing for bowl eligibility (which they haven't missed since 1993), and neither of these teams have any defense to speak of, so plan on lots of action. Baylor wins but just by ten." Pick: Texas Tech

Machine - Baylor rides the momentum from last weekend all the way to Arlington and knocks off Texas Tech 45-31. Pick: Baylor

South Carolina (-4 1/2) vs. Clemson - Saturday, 7:45pm

Man - Last week was exactly the kind of thing you'd expect Clemson to do. It was the Clemsoning we'd been waiting for all season, and the next logical step in a Clemsoning is for the Tigers to come back the next week and play like nothing ever happened. Pick: Clemson

Woman - "Giving thanks I don't have to think about, much less pick, either of these teams again after this week. I'm going to roll the dice and guess Clemson plays a game that masks the stench of their atrocious loss to North Carolina State last week." Pick: Clemson

Machine - It's not the prettiest game every played, but the Machine sees South Carolina managing to eek this one out. Gamecocks hold on to keep control of the Palmetto State, beating Clemson 21-16. Pick: South Carolina

Stanford (-6 1/2) vs. Notre Dame - Saturday, 8pm

Man - After covering every spread for over a year, Stanford has gone 0-2 against the number the last two weeks. So am I going to go against the Cardinal this week? No, because, you see, this is a Notre Dame spread and Notre Dame spreads never resemble reality. Pick: Stanford

Woman - "Stanford loses one game and suddenly it's not even a one-touchdown favorite at home against Notre Dame. Really? I'm grateful for how much this spread made me laugh." Pick: Stanford

Machine - Andrew Luck and the Stanford Machine get it rolling once again, taking care of Notre Dame 38-17. Pick: Stanford

USC (-14 1/2) vs. UCLA - Saturday, 10pm

Man - USC can't go to the Pac-12 Championship this year, so for the Trojans the next best thing would be to keep crosstown rival UCLA from being able to take advantage of it. Oh, and there's also the fact that USC is just a much better team than UCLA is, so rivalry or not, the Trojans will put an end to this one early. Pick: USC

Woman - "USC is going to tattoo the Bruins, so let me just give thanks for a great short video about toys that escape a dreary office prison to the wondrous world where this game will be played on Saturday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone." Pick: USC

Machine - Los Angeles still belongs to the Trojans, as USC knocks off UCLA 42-21. Pick: USC

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Woman 69-56 (4-6)
2. Man 67-58 (4-6)
3. Machine 64-61 (3-7)
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:46 am
 

Free Bruce Podcast: Thanksgiving Edition

Posted by Chip Patterson

It's an extra special Thanksgiving Edition of the Free Bruce Podcast, and seconds are encouraged. Bruce Feldman and Bryan Fischer run down one of the most memorable upset-filled weekends in college football history, and discuss how the outcomes have affected the BCS and Heisman races. Trent Richardson has been thought of as the top running back in the Heisman race, but how do his numbers compare to Wisconsin's Montee Ball?  Finally the duo previews a decisive Week 13, where questions should be answered as we prepare for the postseason.

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Posted on: November 23, 2011 3:37 am
Edited on: November 23, 2011 3:37 am
 

Keys to the Game: Penn State at Wisconsin

Posted by Adam Jacobi

PENN STATE WILL WIN IF: Wisconsin's feeling generous. Penn State is scoring a hair under 21 points a game, good enough for 11th place in the Big Ten. 21 points is, of course, not going to beat Wisconsin; the Badgers scored 28 points against Illinois last week, and even that was a season low. So if Penn State's going to stay in this one, it's going to need put points up early and often. And yet, this is a Matt McGloin-led offense we're talking about, so the Nittany Lions are going to need some help. Wisconsin's defense hasn't given up more than 17 points in any of its nine wins, but that number jumps to 35 ppg in the two losses. So if the Badger defense can be coerced into allowing several successful touchdown drives, we might be looking at a shot for the Nittany Lions to walk into Camp Randall and steal a victory. If Wisconsin plays a strong game on defense and takes care of the ball, though, this might be a long day.

WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: Montee Ball stays Montee Ball. Heisman voters are starting to realize what Wisconsin and its opposing defensive coordinators have known all year: Russell Wilson is a very good quarterback, but it's Ball who's the real focal point of this offense. Ball now has a commanding lead among all non-QBs in most total touchdowns with 30 on the season, and he just showed off his durability by racking up 38 carries for 224 yards at Illinois (who has the Big Ten's second-best rushing defense) last week. Penn State's going to need to shut down Ball without committing so completely to the task that Russell Wilson can throw with ease. Wilson can demolish pretty much defense if it has eight men in the box all watching Ball's every move at the snap.  

X-FACTOR: The almighty turnover will likely loom large here. Penn State basically can't afford to give away the ball deep in Badger territory; points are going to be hard enough to come by without wasted drives. Similarly, it would behoove both teams not to give the other a short field with a turnover deep in their own territory; those can swing a game all by themselves. So while an armpunt with no return isn't exactly the end of the world here, a fumbled kick return or a red zone interception might be enough of an opening for Wisconsin to make this one a blowout -- or Penn State to make it a game.



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Posted on: November 21, 2011 12:42 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 1:17 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 12



Posted by Bryan Fischer


On Saturday it stops.

The bylaws, the scandals, the arrests, the arguing, the issues - the scars of college football -  it's all gone and it becomes just a game. When the whistle is blown there are no rankings or underdogs, just a game between the lines, two teams with 11 on either side.

Saturday seemed like a perfect reminder of that. Looking at the schedule earlier in the week, the lack of marquee match ups - just three involving two ranked teams - made it seem more like a bye week than Week 12.

As the season made - to borrow a metaphor from another sport - its final turn and moved onto the home stretch, it was looking like we were indeed destined for a week off of drama. Wisconsin beat Illinois, Michigan State rolled Indiana, Michigan put on a clinic against Nebraska, Georgia had a close but ugly win over Kentucky, Houston beat SMU handily, Arkansas steamrolled Mississippi State and shockingly N.C. State had beaten Clemson before halftime.

Then consider what happened as night fell and some of the late games got interesting, with plays happening just about every minute. A quick sampling in case you missed the drama:

- Matt Barkley hit Randall Telfer for a touchdown to put USC up 38-14 over Oregon.
- De'Anthony Thomas returned a kickoff 96 yards, and showed why he's one of the fastest players in college football.
- Eric Gordon picked off Jordan Rodgers and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to seal a 27-21 Tennessee win over Vanderbilt. Only there was mass confusion thanks to the officials.
-  A Robert Griffin III pass is deflected right into the arms of a streaking Kendall Wright for a 87-yard touchdown to tie Oklahoma 24-24.
- Kenjon Barner caps a 75-yard drive to pull Oregon to within 38-27 with over 12 minutes left in the game.
- Michael Rocco caps off a 75-yard drive in less than a minute to give Virginia a 14-13 lead over Florida State.
- Zach Maynard tosses a perfectly thrown pass to Keenan Allen to take a 10-7 lead over Stanford.
- Baylor retakes the lead 31-24 after a 10 play, 85-yard drive after another RGIII touchdown pass.
- Texas' drive stalls and the Longhorns settle for a field goal to trail 17-13.
- Barkley is picked off by the Ducks defense then score a touchdown. Two-point conversion is good (barely) and they cut USC's lead to 38-35 with 7:05 left.
- A crazy play involving Florida State's Bert Reed happens. He was ruled to have caught a ball but inbounds, running out the clock. A five minute replay takes place.
- Landry Jones throws an interception, setting up a Terrence Ganaway touchdown as Baylor goes up 38-24 on Oklahoma.
- Case McCoy is sacked on 4th-and-10 at midfield, Kansas State takes over but has to punt.
- The replay overturns Reed's play, ruling it incomplete. FSU sets up for a 48-yard field goal but Virginia players bark out signals drawing a flag. Shorter kick misses anyway, giving the Cavilers their first ever victory at Doak Walker as Mike London screams at his team to get to the locker room.
- The Trojans are in the red zone when Barkley and Marc Tyler fumble an exchange, leading to Oregon getting the ball back.
- Oklahoma can't convert a 4th-and-14, Baylor gets the ball back.
- Kansas State barely holds on but beats Texas 17-13.
- Cal hits a short field goal to extend their lead to 13-7 in the Big Game against Stanford.
- The Ducks march right down the field but Chip Kelly fails to use his timeouts leaving a 42-yard field goal to tie the game with five seconds left. It's no good allowing USC to escape with a 38-35 upset to further shake up the BCS.
- The Belldozer formation (with backup quarterback Blake Bell) scores a TD to make it 38-31 Sooners with six minutes left.
- Oklahoma gets the ball back then Bell scores his 4th touchdown of the night and the Sooners look like they're going for two. They don't but tie the game up at 38 with 51 seconds on the clock.
- RGIII finds Terrence Williams in the back of the end zone for a perfect 34-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to give Baylor their first ever win against Oklahoma 45-38.
- Andrew Luck leads two scoring drives coming out of halftime to take a 28-13 lead over Cal.
- The Bears come right back down the field and score a touchdown, connecting on a two-point conversion to pull to within 28-21 in the 4th quarter.
- Stanford takes over seven minutes off the clock with a drive that ends in a field goal and 31-21 lead.
- Cal makes things interesting with a touchdown to pull to within 31-28 with 14 seconds left.
- Onside kick recovered, Stanford beats Cal 31-28 to win the Big Game.

That. Was. Fun.

We probably should have guessed something was up this week. Northern Illinois kicked a field goal with eight seconds left to beat Ball State 41-38 on Tuesday, rolling up 710 yards of offense in a little midweek MACtion. The story was much the same the next night as Ohio made a chip shot field goal as the gun went off to beat Bowling Green 29-28. Also on Wednesday, Western Michigan held on to beat Miami (Ohio) with both starting quarterbacks topping the 400 yard passing mark. Thursday produced a huge - relatively - CUSA upset as a terrible UAB team upset #22 Southern Miss to beat a ranked team for just the second time in school history.

North Carolina, with an interim head coach and not much to play for, gave Virginia Tech a fight with two touchdowns in the 4th quarter before the Hokies decided to pay attention on defense. It was an off night for David Wilson, who never could get going, but a solid one for quarterback Logan Thomas. He tossed two touchdowns and ran for a third to provide most of the Hokies scoring to setup a showdown next week with rival Virginia for a trip to the ACC championship. The late comeback from UNC should have been a warning that no one was safe, home or road, regardless of the conditions.

Oklahoma State rolled into Ames, Iowa as 27-point favorites but holding a heavy heart just a day after a plane crash killed the women's basketball coach and three others. It was an unspeakable tragedy for a school that had already suffered a similar one a decade before. Friday was supposed to be about the second-ranked Cowboys giving their fans something - anything - to cheer about.

But it's a game between the lines and though Iowa State came into the match up 2-4 in Big 12 play and winless in 58 tries against teams ranked sixth or better, head coach Paul Rhoads knows a thing or two about upsets. He had pulled off at least one shocker each year he was in charge of the Cyclones and was defensive coordinator of a lowly 4-7 Pittsburgh team four years ago that helped cause BCS chaos with an upset of then-No. 2 West Virginia. He threw a similar wrench into the Cowboys' plans in large part by shutting down the ground game and forcing five turnovers. Brandon Weeden put some big numbers - 42-of-58, a quiet 476 yards and three touchdowns - but threw three interceptions, his last in the second overtime to lose the game.

"We got a group of young men that put their hard hats on every day and just continue to go to work," Rhoads said. "I could not be prouder of the effort they put out tonight."

The field storming after the upset was well deserved, with Rhoads even getting hit by a fan who spilled his drink on the emotional head coach at midfield. The Iowa native took over the program from Gene Chizik after serving as Auburn's defensive coordinator the season before Chizik headed to the plains. Ironically, his upset sent cheers up in Tuscaloosa because no program stood to benefit more from the loss than Alabama.

It was the first of many on a topsy-turvy week that saw the #2, #4, #5, #7, #17, #22 and #23 in the BCS suffer a loss. As you can tell from the boom-boom nature of the plays listed above, the drama and action seemed to culminate in another perfect weekend in college football. Fitting, perhaps, that on the sport's supposed week off, it gave us the most drama-filled few days of the year.

As the Big Game was wrapping up late on the West Coast, I was trying to think of another time there was so much craziness, so much excitement, packed into just a few hours. It thought about the NCAA tournament but MLB's final day this year immediately popped into my mind right after. The country was glued to the television as pitch after pitch carried more meaning than the last. Four games determined two wild cards (and the eventual World Series winner) and three of them were tied. Three blown saves and two incredible walk-off wins had produced one of baseball's finest nights.

This weekend, and late Saturday in particular, was not quite what that Wednesday in late September was. That night for baseball does contrast however, and serve as a reminder of how great a regular season can be with a playoff still to come. The BCS proponents out there had no problem coming out and saying the system enhanced the upsets because they somehow mean more. As baseball showed us, even after 162 games and plenty more to play, nothing takes away from the drama. We're still going to watch Baylor try and beat Oklahoma for the first time ever with RGIII taking snaps. People will still tune in to see USC make an emphatic statement to the country that their time out of the spotlight is over.

It does however make the losses that much more painful. Boise State has lost three games in three years by five points thanks to walk-on kickers missing field goals. They never get a shot at playing for the national title. Oklahoma just hopes they can beat their rival and get to the same old exhibition (the Fiesta Bowl) they're used to playing in.

'Every week is a playoff'  is the line you'll see often in BCS literature. If that's the case then, Alabama would not be sitting at No. 2 in the country and set to play LSU - again - for the national title. They lost their playoff game at Bryant-Denny in the Field Goal Festival of the Century. Talk of another rematch involving Oregon was put to bed thanks to the conquering Trojans but had they won, they should have taken note that no, they can't be playing in New Orleans after losing a game earlier in the season.

Now we are left with a BCS beauty pageant. Boise could be a top five team at the end of the year but will likely play right before Christmas. Stanford might be passed over for Michigan despite the Cardinal being in the top 10 all season. The SEC is strong at the top but weak all over - as evidenced by FCS Southern Conference teams having a combined 52-34 lead on SEC teams at one point Saturday. Alas, this is the system we have.

The modeling still isn't over with a few more weeks left in the season and that should provide clarity on the situation, especially with Arkansas traveling to Baton Rouge and Alabama playing the Iron Bowl at Auburn. There's still Bedlam and championship games. This show will go on.

But a Saturday that didn't shape up to be much ended up being quite a bit thanks to what happened on the field. It's why we all love college football and why we put up with six days of arguing and rankings. 60 minutes between the lines never looked so good in week 12.

Stat of the week

USC is the first loss Chip Kelly has suffered as head coach when the opposing team has just one week to prepare. It was also his first ever home loss and the Trojans win snapped a 19 game conference winning streak and the longest home winning streak in the country.

Stats of the week

- The SEC has 9 offenses ranked 75th or worse in the country but four of the top five defenses. The former is responsible for the latter more than the other way around.

- Wisconsin had a 12 play, 27 yard drive against Illinois that took 7:11 off the clock before Montee Ball scored a touchdown. At that point, Texas A&M had scored 44 points in 8:24 against Kansas.

- FCS Georgia Southern scored 21 points and ran for 302 yards on Alabama's defense, which led the country in just about every major defensive category. Dominique Swope had an 82-yard touchdown and finished with 18 carries for 153 yards (8.5 yd ave.). In the process, Swope became just the fifth back to rush for over 100 yards against Nick Saban in his five seasons in Tuscaloosa. Alabama's scoring defense went from 7.1 points per game to 8.36 ppg afterward and the rush defense jumped from 51.9 ypg to 74.64 just from the one game.

- This is the first time since Bo Pelini's first year that Nebraska has allowed more than 40 points in a game twice in a season.

- Oregon's 24-point deficit they faced against USC was the biggest they faced since October 4, 2008, also against the Trojans.

- Via the AP, before Miami did it yesterday, no FBS team had scored less than seven points and won a road game since Auburn topped Mississippi State 3-2 in 2008.

- Five starts for David Ash, six interceptions. Ouch.

- LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are 1, 2, 3 in the AP Poll. The only other time one conference has done that in the poll era is Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado of the Big 8 in 1971.

- Kansas has - by far - the worst defense in the country. It is dead last in three major categories and is giving up 45.55 points per game and 531.45 yards per game. A sampling of the worst defenses since 2001 for comparison:

2001: Idaho 45 ppg, (Worst BCS defense: Duke 44.6 ppg)
2002: Eastern Michigan 47.2 ppg, (Kansas 42.3 ppg)
2003: Mississippi State 39.3 ppg
2004: San Jose State 42.6 ppg, (Baylor 36.9 ppg)
2005: Temple 45.3 ppg, (Illinois 39.5 ppg)
2006: Louisiana Tech 41.7 ppg, (Duke 33.8 ppg)
2007: North Texas 45.1 ppg, (Nebraska 37.9 ppg)
2008: North Texas 47.58 ppg, (Washington State 43.85 ppg)
2009: Rice 43.08 ppg, (Washington State 38.5 ppg)
2010: New Mexico 44.33 ppg, (Washington State 35.83 ppg)

Tweet of the week

"Down 22-7 in Q1, Gators DE Sharrif Floyd told teammates, "Listen it's Furman. No disrespect but it's Furman."

- Via Jason Lieser, Palm Beach Post.

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Arkansas

5. Stanford

6. Boise State

7. Houston

8. USC

9. Oregon

10. Virginia Tech

Where we'll be this week

Dennis Dodd will be at two games this week, starting with the big showdown on CBS between Arkansas and LSU on Friday and Missouri-Kansas on Saturday, the final game in the second-longest rivalry west of the Mississippi. I will cover two games as well, with the final Texas-Texas A&M game on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and end with the crosstown showdown between USC and UCLA. Brett McMurphy will be at the Iron Bowl as Alabama looks for revenge on Auburn and to keep their name in the national title race.

Leaning this way

Penn State at Wisconsin

This is for a trip to the Big Ten title game and there's no doubt that commissioner Jim Delany hopes Wisconsin can win and hopefully cover the two touchdowns+ spread. Penn State's offense showed signs of life in the first half against Ohio State but managed to throttle back down to nothing in the second half against an ok defense. Montee Ball and Russell Wilson have this thing over early though and the Nittany Lions can't claw their way back.

Alabama at Auburn

The Tide are ranked second in the country, the Tigers are unranked. Normally that doesn't matter when these two get together but that's just one indication of how good/bad these teams are. Neither team looked impressive against FCS foes so you wonder if they were saving a few things for this game. Still, hard to see an upset when Alabama is in the top three in the conference in every major category.

Arkansas at LSU

BCS chaos can rain supreme if the Razorbacks are able to go into Baton Rouge and pull off the upset. They will certainly be the best passing offense LSU's fantastic secondary has faced but the key will come down to protecting Tyler Wilson. If LSU turns it over a few times there is certainly a chance at a loss but it all seems unlikely for 'The Hat' to lose this close to taking a trip to Atlanta.



 
 
 
 
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