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Tag:Nebraska
Posted on: November 22, 2011 11:38 am
 

Conference Title Race Reset, Week 13

Posted by Chip Patterson

With the regular season winding down, we'll check in on the conference title races in all 11 FBS conferences. The contenders, key games, and some early predictions on who will claim the league's automatic bowl berth.

SEC
Champion Destination: BCS Bowl Game
2010 Champion: Auburn

EAST CONTENDERS
1. Georgia (9-2, 7-1 conference) - CLINCHED

WEST CONTENDERS
1. LSU (11-0, 7-0)
2. Alabama (10-1, 6-1)
2. Arkansas (10-1, 6-1)

LSU needs: Win over Arkansas on Friday, win against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and it's on to the BCS title game for the Bayou Bengals.
Alabama needs: Win against Auburn on Saturday, an LSU loss to Arkansas. The three-way tiebreaker in the SEC is decided by BCS standings, which the Tide would likely own after an LSU loss.
Arkansas needs: To beat LSU and for Auburn to upset Alabama on Saturday. The Razorbacks would have the opportunity to move up in the BCS standings with the losses and likely earn the bid to the BCS title game.
Georgia needs: Defeat SEC West Champion in Atlanta to cause mass chaos.

Pick: LSU over Georgia

BIG 12
Champion Destination: BCS Bowl Game
2010 Champion: Oklahoma

CONTENDERS
1. Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 conference)
2. Oklahoma (8-2, 5-2)

Oklahoma State needs: A win over Oklahoma in the Bedlam game on Dec. 3. However, the Cowboys could clinch the conference title with an Oklahoma loss to Iowa State this weekend.
Oklahoma needs: Win out against Iowa State and Oklahoma State to claim share of Big 12 Championship and earn BCS bowl bid.

Pick: Oklahoma State

PAC-12
Champion Destination: BCS Bowl Game (Rose Bowl or National Championship)
2010 Champion: Oregon

NORTH CONTENDERS
1. Stanford (10-1, 8-1 conference)
2. Oregon (9-2, 7-1)

SOUTH CONTENDERS
1. UCLA (6-5, 5-3)
2. Arizona State (6-5, 4-4)
2. Utah (7-4, 4-4)

Stanford needs: An Oregon loss on Saturday to clinch the Pac-12 North and a bid to the conference championship game.
Oregon needs: A win over Oregon State to move into a tie for the Pac-12 North, earning a championship game bid thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

UCLA needs: A win over USC clinches the Pac-12 South. A loss would result in the Bruins needing Colorado to beat Utah to avoid being jumped by the Utes.
Arizona State needs: A win against Cal and USC to beat UCLA. Even if Utah beats Colorado, the Sun Devils own the three-team tiebreaker.
Utah needs: A win over Colorado, Cal to beat Arizona State on Friday, and USC to beat UCLA on Saturday.

Pick: Oregon over Arizona State

BIG TEN
Champion Destination: BCS Bowl Game (Rose Bowl or National Championship)
2010 Champion: Wisconsin (Rose Bowl berth)/Michigan State/Ohio State

LEGENDS CONTENDERS
1. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1 conference) - CLINCHED

LEADERS CONTENDERS
1. Penn State (9-2, 6-1)
2. Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2)

Penn State needs: A win over Wisconsin on Saturday
Wisconsin needs: A win over Penn State on Saturday

Pick: Wisconsin over Michigan State

ACC
Champion Destination: BCS Bowl Game
2010 Champion: Virginia Tech

ATLANTIC CONTENDERS
1. Clemson (9-2, 6-2 conference) - CLINCHED 

COASTAL CONTENDERS
1. Virginia Tech (10-1, 6-1)
2. Virginia (8-3, 5-2)

Virginia Tech needs: A win over Virginia on Saturday
Virginia needs: A win over Virginia Tech on Saturday

Pick: Virginia Tech over Clemson

BIG EAST
Champion Destination: BCS Bowl Game
2010 Champion: Connecticut (Fiesta Bowl berth)/West Virginia/Pittsburgh

CONTENDERS
1. Louisville (6-5, 4-2 conference)
1. Rutgers (8-3, 4-2)
3. Cincinnati (7-3, 3-2)
3. West Virginia (7-3, 3-2)
3. Pittsburgh (5-5, 3-2)

Week 13 Key Games: Louisville at South Florida (Friday), Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Friday), Rutgers at Connecticut, Cincinnati at Syracuse
Week 14 Key Games: West Virginia at South Florida (Thursday), Syracuse at Pittsburgh, Connecticut at Cincinnati

Louisville needs: Win at South Florida, at least one loss for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh
Rutgers needs: Win at Connecticut, at least one loss for Louisville and West Virginia
Cincinnati needs: Wins against Syracuse and Connecticut, at least one loss for Rutgers and West Virginia
West Virginia needs: Wins against Pittsburgh and South Florida, South Florida defeating Louisville
Pittsburgh needs: Wins against West Virginia and Syracuse, at least one loss for Cincinnati and Rutgers

Pick: Louisville

CONFERENCE USA
Champion Destination: Liberty Bowl
2010 Champion: UCF

EAST CONTENDERS
1. Southern Miss (9-2, 5-2 conference)
2. Marshall (5-6, 4-3)

WEST CONTENDERS
1. Houston (11-0, 7-0)
1. Tulsa (8-3, 7-0)

Southern Miss needs: A win over Memphis OR a Marshall loss to ECU clinches the East
Marshall needs: A win over ECU and a Southern Miss loss to Memphis.

Houston needs: A win over Tulsa on Friday
Tulsa needs: A win over Houston on Friday

Pick: Houston over Southern Miss

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
Champion Destination: Maaco Bowl
2010 Champion: TCU

CONTENDERS
1. TCU (9-2, 6-0 conference)
2. Boise State (9-1, 4-1)
2. Wyoming (7-3, 4-1)

TCU needs: Having clinched a share of the title, the Horned Frogs can win outright with a victory over UNLV Dec. 3.
Boise State needs: Wins over Wyoming and New Mexico, and a TCU loss to earn a share of the conference championship.
Wyoming needs: Wins over Boise State and Colorado State, and a TCU loss to earn a share of the conference championship.

Pick: TCU

WAC
Champion Destination: Poinsettia/Hawaii/Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
2010 Champion: Nevada/Boise State/Hawaii

CONTENDERS
1. Louisiana Tech (7-4, 5-1 conference)
2. Nevada (6-4, 4-1)

Louisiana Tech needs: A win against New Mexico State earns a share of the WAC title, one Nevada loss will make them outright champions. Louisiana Tech earned the head-to-head advantage with a 24-20 win over Nevada.
Nevada needs: Wins against Utah State and Idaho earn the Wolf Pack a share of the WAC title. Nevada needs to win out and a Louisiana Tech loss to be outright champions.

Pick: Louisiana Tech

MAC
Champion Destination: GoDaddy.com Bowl
2010 Champion: Miami (OH)

EAST CONTENDERS
1. Ohio (8-3, 5-2 conference) - CLINCHED

WEST CONTENDERS
1. Northern Illinois (8-3, 6-1)
1. Toledo (7-4, 6-1)

Northern Illinois needs: A win over Eastern Michigan on Friday clinches the West Division thanks to the head-to-head advantage over Toledo.
Toledo needs: A victory over Ball State on Friday and a Northern Illinois loss to win the division and earn a spot in the conference championship game.

Pick: Northern Illinois over Ohio

SUN BELT
Champion Destination: GoDaddy.com Bowl + New Orleans Bowl
2010 Champion: FIU/Troy

CONTENDERS
1. Arkansas State (9-2, 7-0 conference) - CLINCHED

BOWL-BOUND: Arkansas State accepted an invitation to the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala. after their 45-19 win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday. After the announcement, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl offered an invitation to Louisiana-Lafayette. It will be the first time in the bowl's 11-year history a team from Louisiana will be participating.

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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.



Posted on: November 20, 2011 4:19 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 12



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: Michigan in the trenches

In the biggest "statement game" of Michigan's season, the Wolverines welcomed Nebraska to the Big House with a 45-17 butt-kicking. The game had been tied 10-10 midway through the second quarter, then Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint -- seen above -- simply took over the game (with Nebraska's complicity; more on that in a second), especially on the ground.

Before the Nebraska field goal by kicker Brett Maher tied the game at 10, Michigan had thrown the ball on nine of 25 plays. Afterwards? 10 throws on 55 plays. The difference was that offensive coordinator Al Borges was able to put his trust in the offensive line to give Toussaint rushing lanes and Robinson the time to scramble and improvise. The result was 186 rushing yards after that 10-10 tie, and 238 as a whole. 

LOSER: Nebraska's special teams

Of course, we would be remiss in not pointing out that the reason that Michigan stayed so run-heavy in the second half was because Nebraska's defense just plain couldn't get off the field -- and the Husker special teams had a lot to do with that. Kenny Bell and Tim Marlowe each fumbled second-half kickoffs, and Nebraska also allowed a fake field goal to be converted on 4th and 1 at the 5-yard line and committed a costly roughing the punter penalty in the 4th quarter. All in all, the four miscues would eventually lead to 21 points for the Wolverines, and the worst part for Nebraska is that it could have been worse; Marlowe's fumbled return only led to a missed field goal.

All in all, that's a level of generosity that cost Nebraska the opportunity to even make a game of it against Michigan, and while those miscues are more an aberration than a trend that needs to be remedied, they still led to a costly third loss for Nebraska -- one that could very welll keep the Huskers out of the top tier of the Big Ten's non-BCS bowls.

WINNER: Michigan State

Coming into this week, Michigan State needed a win over Indiana and a Michigan win over Nebraska to sew up the Legends division. Michigan, of course, played its part. And good heavens, did Michigan State ever put an exclamation point on its division title, slamming Indiana 55-3 in a contest that probably violated an international statute of warfare or 12. Geneva is unamused by this use of Keshawn Martin on helpless Hoosiers, Sparty.

So while it's a little misleading to say MSU is playing its best football of the season just three weeks after being drubbed 24-3 by Nebraska (and two weeks after beating Minnesota by only a touchdown), it is safe to say the Spartans are looking capable of bringing a dangerous team to Indianapolis in December. The Capital One Bowl brass is probably the happiest of anyone to see this bumplet of success from East Lansing as the Spartans prepare for the championship; MSU lost 49-7 to Alabama in that bowl just last season, and bowl reps usually don't need much of a reason not to bring a team back for a second year in a row. 

LOSER: Ohio State's momentum

QB Braxton Miller is improving week to week, RB Boom Herron is healthy and putting up big numbers in the terrifying Buckeye ground game, and now WR DeVier Posey's back and making big plays from the word go. So why's Ohio State on a two-game losing streak and in real danger of going .500 on the year?

It's a legitimate question, and one that a simple answer of "because Luke Fickell isn't good enough" doesn't adequately answer. Perhaps some of it is Fickell's inexperience as head coach, but he also had to deal with a slew of suspensions and the loss of a quarterback -- a loss that Ohio State just plain wasn't prepared to address this season. Braxton Miller may be showing flashes of greatness now, but in September, he could barely outplay Joe Bauserman. Things were not good.

Still, losses to Purdue and a reeling Penn State team are probably enough to convince Ohio State brass that no matter how unlikely the problems of 2011 are to repeat in 2012, the program needs a more experienced coach at the helm. And that's probably the correct call. But you've got to think that if Fickell gets replaced, he'll look back at these last two weeks and think about how close he was to delivering a solid season -- and earning the head coaching job long term.

WINNER: The rest of Penn State's season

No, Penn State didn't gain any ground in the Leaders Division race; that situation continues to come down to next week's Penn State-Wisconsin game, and it wouldn't have mattered if the Nittany Lions came into that one with a one-game lead or a tie. But strictly from the perspective of returning to normal, Penn State gained a huge victory by hanging on to win at Ohio State. PSU never threatened to score after being stuffed on a goal line stand midway through the third quarter, and all the Buckeyes needed to do in the second half was score seven points to take the lead. That, clearly, didn't happen; Linebacker U stood tall on defense and kept the Buckeyes from taking a single snap in field goal range after halftime, and the second half shutout preserved a 20-14 victory.

In terms of what the win represents to Penn State, division ramifications aside, it's huge. Even leaving out the emotional impact of the football program on the fanbase -- that's a can of worms best kept shut -- there's basically no way Penn State could have taken two straight losses to lower-ranked opponents, then walked into Camp Randall (where the Badgers have outscored their opponents by an average score of 52-12 this year) and come away with a win -- especially not with an interim head coach on the sidelines, forced to argue against all evidence that the world is not caving in on the program in a tailspin. But with this win, that tailspin's not happening, and Penn State can take a deep breath and begin preparation for the Badgers.

LOSER: Wisconsin's what could have been

In case you hadn't noticed, the Top 10 was basically incinerated this week, starting with Iowa State's shocking upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State on Friday and continuing on through Baylor's 45-38 stunner vs. Oklahoma late Saturday night. No, Wisconsin doesn't have anything to do with those games, but therein lies the problem. Just one month ago, Wisconsin was 6-0, ranked fourth in the nation, and rolling through its competition. Then two Hail Mary losses demolished Wisconsin's national standing, and the Badgers are still ranked 17th and unlikely to move much higher after a lackluster 28-17 win over Illinois.

It's a shame, because Wisconsin's got the talent to hang with just about anybody in the nation, and this sudden swarm of chaos in the Top 10 would have been the perfect way for the Badgers to start sneaking up toward the Top 5 even with one loss; they'd quite assuredly be ranked second if undefeated. But alas, Kirk Cousins and Braxton Miller had other ideas for the fate of Wisconsin's season, and as a result a team that looked like a very strong BCS contender will likely walk into the Rose Bowl as a borderline Top 10 team instead.

WINNER: Marvin McNutt

It's getting difficult to find a way in which Marvin McNutt isn't the best receiver Iowa's ever had. McNutt owns career marks in yards, touchdowns, and receptions at Iowa, and he just added the single-season touchdown mark to his single-season yardage mark today in a nine-catch, 151-yard, two-touchdown effort. McNutt made multiple highlight-reel catches in the game, including this juggling wonder that basically sealed Iowa's 31-21 victory over Purdue. It's a crying shame that McNutt, who's putting up these numbers in a non-pass-wacky offense, isn't being considered for the Biletnikoff Award, because he's been nearly unguardable this season.

LOSER: Anyone who felt like paying attention to more than two or three Big Ten games this week

We understand that networks have their reasons for wanting certain games at certain times, and that it's going to be difficult to drum up support for 'Cats-Gophers as anything but an early kickoff. We get that. We also realize that there's a very good reason for the Big Ten to not allow night games in November, since the Midwest is a cold, inhospitable prison of a region once the sun goes down this time of year. But when the Big Ten ends up with five of its six games all taking place at the same time, something's clearly out of whack, and it makes it extremely difficult for the most passionate fans of the conference to enjoy very much of it.

That all said, it's also a credit to the conference that it has a media presence robust enough to get all five of those games televised live (and in HD!), and without having to resort to an online video service (pay-per-view or otherwise) or ESPN GamePlan. Sure, it took two Big Ten Network overflow channels to make it happen, and not everybody has those extra channels, but as other major conferences struggle to get every game on TV even when there aren't many other conference games going on, it's nice to see the Big Ten at least up to this task.

Posted on: November 19, 2011 3:48 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Michigan 45, Nebraska 17

Posted by Adam Jacobi

MICHIGAN WON. Michigan turned a close game into a blowout in the second half, and the 20th ranked Wolverines slaughtered No. 17 Nebraska, 45-17. Denard Robinson was the man of the match the whole way through, finishing with 180 yards passing, 138 yards rushing, and four total touchdowns.

WHY MICHIGAN WON: Make no mistake: Michigan won this game and deserved it. But Nebraska's inability to get its defense off the field, particularly in the second half, meant that the Huskers were just never in position to make a game out of this one. In the second half alone, Nebraska fumbled two kickoffs, had a punt blocked, let a touchdown drive continue by allowing a first down on a fake field goal, committing a roughing the punter penalty (more on that in a second), and a Taylor Martinez fumble. Again: all in the second half. Michigan had a lot to do with those plays, obviously, but Nebraska simply can't play like that and expect to beat anybody

WHEN MICHIGAN WON: Nebraska had cut the game to a 31-17 contest and forced Michigan into a three-and-out early in the fourth quarter, and it looked like a comeback was fully possible. But Nebraska committed a, shall we say, debatable roughing the punter penalty on the ensuing punt, and Robinson found Martavious Odoms for a 38-yard bomb in the back of the end zone, and this one was over.

Oh, then Tim Marlowe fumbled the ensuing kickoff for Nebraska. Like we said, the second half was pretty rough. 

WHAT MICHIGAN WON: Michigan's bid for an at-large BCS bid is still alive as the Wolverines begin preparation for Ohio State. We're told that's a rivalry. What Michigan proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the defense is legit. Nebraska managed just 11 first downs and 254 total yards on the day, and while that's partly a function of the turnovers, it's also a function of Michigan's performance; the Wolverines forced 10 4th downs on 13 opportunities. 

WHAT NEBRASKA LOST: Nebraska's last shot at the (sigh) Legends Division title is now officially gone; Michigan State beat Indiana 55-3, and with this Husker loss the Spartans have won the division. Also gone is any hope for an at-large BCS invitation, and now even a spot in the Top 25 is questionable. This is a tough loss for Husker fans to take all the way around. 

THAT WAS CRAZY: Rex Burkhead had a very, very quiet day. The Husker workhorse didn't get into the end zone for the first time all year, and he set season lows in rushing yards (39) ... and rushes (10). The Nebraska offense is predicated on wearing defenses down over the course of a game, so why in the world is Bo Pelini giving his bruiser only 10 rushes out of 53 plays?!
Posted on: November 18, 2011 4:26 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 12

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

It's a bit of a low-carb diet this week thanks to most of the SEC deciding to take the week off and test itself against stalwarts like Georgia Southern and Furman, but that doesn't mean there aren't games out there worthy of your time. Besides, let's be honest with ourselves. We didn't really want to say anything to you about it, but you've been gorging on some great games the last few months and you're starting to get a bit pudgy around the edges.

You could use some lighter fare this weekend.

BREAKFAST

#18 Michigan vs. #16 Nebraska - ESPN 12pm ET

Michigan State may have the Legends division title all but sewn up, but if there's an at-large BCS bid to be had, it'll probably come from the winner of this game. As for reasons to watch instead of just care, come on. It's Denard Robinson. It's Rex Burkhead. There'll be some highlight plays in this one. - Adam Jacobi

Illinois vs. #17 Wisconsin - ESPN2 12pm ET

It's probably no exaggeration to say that Ron Zook's job at Illinois is on the line in this game; Zook, now the second-most tenured coach in the Big Ten, has seen his team drop four straight games and look listless in the process. Montee Ball would be happy to contribute a touchdown or five to Zook's going-away party, but can Illinois' stout defense save the day -- and the coach? - AJ

Rutgers vs. Cincinnati - ESPNU 12pm ET

After only winning one conference game in 2010 (Greg Schiano's worst conference record since 2004) and finishing dead last, the Scarlet Knights are in the hunt for BCS bowl bid.  The Bearcats have lost starting quarterback Zach Collaros for the season to an ankle injury, and now sophomore Munchie Legaux will face a the best defense in the conference to try and bounce back from their first league loss.  Cincinnati still holds one game on the rest of the conference, and can win the title outright if they win out.  Rutgers needs to win out as well, but also get some help to win the tie-breaker. The Big East slate is thin this weekend, but there will be enough on the line to expect the best effort from both teams. - Chip Patterson

#14 Georgia vs. Kentucky - SEC Network 12:21pm ET

There's one reason to tune into this game and one reason alone: to see how the Bulldogs react to winning the SEC East for the first time since 2005. As a competitive contest, well, one of these teams defeated Auburn by 38 points last week, while the other lost by 30 to Vanderbilt. Still, it's not every day you get to see how Mark Richt reacts to a Gatorade shower. - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

#6 Arkansas vs. Mississippi State - CBS 3:30pm ET

Dan Mullen's Bulldogs gave Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks fits last season, taking the eventual Sugar Bowl representatives into overtime. Could they do the same this year, with a potential SEC West title still on the line for the Hogs and the game in Little Rock? A somnabulant offense says "probably not", but in corner Johnathan Banks and tackle Fletcher Cox, the Bulldogs do have the defensive weapons to at least slow down Tyler Wilson and Co. - JH

Ohio State vs. #21 Penn State - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

For the multitudes of distractions facing Penn State, it still has two tough games to play, and it still has a division lead to protect. The Nittany Lions' first step is taking on an up-and-down Ohio State team that's going to try to wear down the PSU defense with its troika of tailbacks and dual-threat (if you can call his arm a threat) QB Braxton Miller. This'll be a classic Big Ten game, with pads a-popping, defenses a-stifling, and running backs a-barreling for four quarters. - AJ

N.C. State vs. #7 Clemson - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

This all be the ultimate test of focus for Dabo Swinney's young squad.  The Tigers set goals to win the division, state championship, and ACC Championship.  With the division clinched and South Carolina waiting next week, Clemson could lose to the Wolfpack and still accomplish their goals.  NC State needs to beat Clemson and Maryland in order to be bowl eligible for the second straight season.  The Tigers have an outside shot to still make a BCS bowl game if they lose in the ACC Championship, but even those long odds would be erased with a loss on Saturday.  Both teams are explosive and capable of scoring quickly, so expect the unexpected in this ACC battle. - CP

Missouri vs. Texas Tech - ABC 3:30pm ET

A bit of a last stand for Texas Tech, which has lost five of its last six games after starting the season 4-0. The Red Raiders still need one more win to become bowl eligible, and it won't be easy to get there. Missouri is a team that's proven it's capable of beating anybody in the Big 12 on any given Saturday, though you do have to wonder how this team will perform on its Senior Day without Gary Pinkel who is serving a suspension for a DWI arrest earlier this week. - Tom Fornelli

DINNER

#25 Florida State vs. Virginia - ESPN2 7:30pm ET

The Seminoles are on a five-game game winning streak since EJ Manuel returned to the starting lineup, averaging over 35 points per game.  But the "turnaround" from the early season setbacks has been not only the result of improved play from Florida State, but also the advantage of facing much more favorable competition.  Four the teams in the streak have defenses ranked in the bottom half of the ACC, and other game was the 34-0 shutout of NC State at home.  Virginia's defense ranks third in the ACC, and the Cavaliers are arguably just as hot winning five of their last six.  Mike London's new power rushing attack has helped the team reach bowl eligibility in just his second year, but Saturday will be a true test of how "legit" this ACC Coastal contender is heading into the postseason. - CP

#4 Oregon vs. USC - ABC 8pm ET

Like offense? This game is for you. The Ducks are well on their way to another conference title and can clinch hosting the first ever Pac-12 Championship game with a win. The Trojans have designs on an upset however and it's not out of the realm of possibilities with Matt Barkley and Robert Woods on the field. - Bryan Fischer

#22 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma - ABC 8pm ET

So far this season Baylor has lived on beating the lower-tiered teams of the Big 12 and struggling against the conference's best. This is the Bears last chance at a marquee victory in 2011, and it's probably catching Oklahoma at the best possible time. The Sooners have lost Dominique Whaley and Ryan Broyles to knee injuries the last couple of weeks, and while there's never a good time to suffer such blows on offense, it hurts a bit more when you have to go head-to-head with Baylor's offense. There could be a big upset brewing in Waco. - TF

#23 Texas vs. #13 Kansas State - FX 8pm ET

Here's something you might not know: Kansas State has beaten Texas the last three times the schools have met, with Texas' last victory over the Wildcats coming in 2003. It's a losing streak that the Longhorns would really like to put an end to, though it won't be easy against a Kansas State offense built around Collin Klein. This should be a pretty interesting matchup boasting the Big 12's best run defense and its best running quarterback/battering ram. - TF

LATE NIGHT SNACK

#9 Stanford vs. Cal - ESPN 10:15pm ET

The band won't be on the field for this one (well, they will, but at halftime not on the final play) but the Big Game will still have plenty of memorable moments when you consider that Andrew Luck is playing and looking to make up for last week's loss. - BF 
Posted on: November 18, 2011 4:12 pm
 

PODCAST: Big Ten/Heisman/Thursday's Games

Posted by Adam Jacobi

I'm the guest on the College Football Podcast today as we debate: Who would you rather have going forward - Denard Robinson or Taylor Martinez? We break down the Nebraska-Michigan and Penn State-Ohio State games, talk about Russell Wilson's Heisman chances and wonder why in the world I have Aaron Murray on my Heisman Ballot. Plus, we analyze Virginia Tech's win over UNC and UAB's shocking win over Southern Miss

For the record, if I had the ballot to do all over again, I'm putting Collin Klein on it instead of Murray if for no other reason than to shield myself from the withering scrutiny of Mr. Aizer. Still, we're talking about a fifth place Heisman vote; why not go a little bit off the reservation to give it to someone you don't think is getting enough recognition? It's harmless. Plus, let's not start pretending Murray isn't CRUSHING FOOLS right now. Best QB in the SEC by far, and the Boise State and South Carolina losses aren't exactly on him.

I hope Georgia pulls the SEC Title upset while Murray puts up middling stats if for no other reason than I want to see people come around on Murray even after he has his worst game of the season, then pretend the Heisman isn't all about the team record. Please. 

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Posted on: November 17, 2011 4:11 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 12



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.

I was able to make up some ground against Woman last week, though not nearly as much as I had hoped to as we're approaching the finish line here and I don't have a lot of time. Unfortunately, this week I won't gain any ground at all. It took 12 weeks for it to happen, but for the first time, Woman and Man have the same picks in all 10 games this week. 

Is it a coincidence? Probably, as we both hand over our picks to each other at the same time to assure there's no foul play. Still, is there a chance that she infiltrated my mind using female powers in an attempt to extract my picks and make sure she made the same ones so I couldn't pick up any games on her? I'm not ruling it out. Science is yet to scratch the surface of women's intuition, so we can't be sure what their full powers are.

What this means is that this will be the week that Machine either gets all the way back into the game or falls out of the race, as it does not agree with us on a few games. So without further ado, let's get to the picks.

Virginia Tech (-10 1/2) vs. North Carolina - Thursday, 8pm (All times Eastern)

Man - I'm not sure how North Carolina went from scoring 49 points and beating Wake Forest to being shut out by N.C. State, but that's not the kind of thing that makes me want to put any faith in the Tar Heels. So even though I'm not completely sold on the Hokies yet, I'm still going with Tech. Pick: Virginia Tech

Woman - "The Hokies beat Georgia Tech by 11 points on the road last week, so I don't think the Tar Heels will pose much of a problem at home." Pick: Virginia Tech

Machine - The Machine makes this one a clean sweep as it doesn't see the Tar Heels doing all that much to make this one interesting late, as the Hokies win 31-16. Pick: Virginia Tech

Michigan (-3 1/2) vs. Nebraska - Saturday, 12pm

Man - This is an incredibly important game for both teams and their chances to play in the first Big Ten Championship, and though at times Michigan does some things on offense that make me shake my head, I'm going to go with the homefield advantage in this one. Though it'll be fun to see Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez facing off to see who can miss their receivers by more. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "In an alternate Star Trekian universe, did you know the Cornhusker receivers morph into a Taiwanese father?" Pick: Michigan

Machine - The Machine foretells of Michigan falling out of the Big Ten Legends race when the Cornhuskers come to Ann Arbor and beat the Wolverines 27-24. Pick: Nebraska

Illinois vs. Wisconsin (-14 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Let's see, an Illinois team in a free fall that will probably hear news of their head coach being fired soon, or a Wisconsin team that's lost on two Hail Marys and has dominated just about everybody else. Such a tough decision! Pick: Wisconsin

Woman - "Three weeks ago, Illinois lost to Purdue 21-14. One week later, Wisconsin beat Purdue 62-17. Maybe the Badgers will get Zook'ed but I doubt it." Pick: Wisconsin

Machine - The Machine thinks that this game will be closer than most expect given what we've seen from Illinois over the last month, but Wisconsin still prevails 37-28. Pick: Illinois

N.C. State vs. Clemson (-7 1/2) - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Honestly, if there was ever going to be a game that Clemson goes all Clemson on us and pees down its own leg, this would be it, wouldn't it? Still, I don't think that's going to happen as there's just way too much talent on this team. Pick: Clemson

Woman - "With the ACC Atlantic Division clinched and a match-up against rival South Carolina looming, many assume Clemson won't be focused. But coach Dabo Swinney will remind his team its pride is at stake, especially since N.C. State played a better game against Georgia Tech than the Tigers did." Pick: Clemson

Machine - The Wolfpack is going to get blown out in Raleigh this week, as The Machine sees Clemson winning this game 41-17. Pick: Clemson

Ohio State (-6 1/2) vs. Penn State - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Listen, before all of the terrible news to come out of Happy Valley surfaced, there was another secret about the Penn State football team that nobody seemed to realize. It's just not that good. Ohio State hasn't been great this season, either, but I don't think that will matter all that much on Saturday. Pick: Ohio State

Woman - "Two teams fractured due to very different circumstances. Feels like a coin flip - going with home field advantage." Pick: Ohio State

Machine - It's unanimous, as Dan Herron rushes for 187 yards and 3 scores against this Penn State defense to give Ohio State a 24-13 win and further muddy up the Leaders Division. Pick: Ohio State

Arkansas (-13 1/2) vs. Mississippi State - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Here's a list of SEC West teams not named Ole Miss that Dan Mullen has beaten since taking over at Mississippi State: none. So until that changes I'm not picking Mississippi State to even cover. Pick: Arkansas

Woman - "Over the last two weeks, the Razorbacks have gone on an SEC scoring spree, putting 44 and 49 points on the board against South Carolina and Tennessee, respectively. The most points Mississippi State has put up against a ranked team this season was 24. Fear the inexplicably adorable, calorically challenged Tusk." Pick: Arkansas

Machine - Arkansas keeps its SEC Championship and BCS hopes alive in a relatively easy 49-34 win over the Bulldogs. Pick: Arkansas

Baylor vs. Oklahoma (-14 1/2) - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Baylor has not had its best games of the season against the strongest teams in the Big 12 this season, which initially had me leaning toward the Sooners. What changed that, however, was that I'm not sure what this Oklahoma offense will look like without Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley, and that those Baylor losses all came on the road. I don't know that Baylor wins this outright, but I think it's going to be a close game. Pick: Baylor

Woman - "Robert Griffin III's sizzle is oh-so-mesmerizing but let's focus on facts. The Bears have scored an average of 36 points a game this season -  the Sooners, an average of 45 points. So, Okies win but don't cover." Pick: Baylor

Machine - The Machine is not worried about the absence of Ryan Broyles, for it believes in Kenny Stills and sees him catching 10 passes for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. Oklahoma wins 41-24. Pick: Oklahoma

Texas (-9 1/2) vs. Kansas State - Saturday, 8pm

Man - You want this spread explained? No problem. There's no way Vegas is going to get any action on the Kansas State side if it lists the Wildcats as a favorite. People would just jump on Texas and the points not realizing that Kansas State beat Texas 39-14 last season in what was Collin Klein's coming out party. Now Klein is taking every snap and the Longhorns are decimated by injuries in the backfield. Pick: Kansas State

Woman - "I'm not sure what Texas has done to deserve this spread, especially with last week's pantsing by Missouri." Pick: Kansas State

Machine - The Machine just really does not like Kansas State. Week after week it picks against it, and that doesn't change now. Texas wins 31-20. Pick: Texas

Oregon (-14 1/2) vs. USC - Saturday, 8pm

Man - USC has played in close games all season, which made me want to take the Trojans and the points this week but with Robert Woods' status in question at the moment, I'm not as comfortable with the Trojans in Eugene. So I'm going to roll with Oregon, though I wouldn't be shocked if USC keeps it close or even wins outright. Pick: Oregon

Woman - "In these closing weeks, the Trojans are coming on strong but against the Oregon juggernaut, I'd suggest they just duck and cover. (By the way, after watching the Arkansas version above, who'd have guessed USC has its own inexplicably adorable, calorically challenged version of Tusk? Hey, us Americans, we're not so different after all!)" Pick: Oregon

Machine - Go ahead and hand Oregon its Pac-12 title. The Ducks stomp the Trojans 52-21. Pick: Oregon

Stanford (-19.5) vs. Cal - Saturday, 10:15pm

Man - Last week was the first time Stanford didn't cover a spread since last season, but that's not going to deter me from picking the Cardinal once again. The main reason for this being that Cal is not Oregon. Pick: Stanford

Woman - "Speaking of animal mascots, if affluent Stanford ever choses one, it should be a NSFW hip-hop horse that kicks butt. Specifically, Cal's butt." Pick: Stanford 

Machine - The Machine sees Stanford winning this game rather easily, but a late fourth quarter touchdown by Cal kills the cover. Stanford wins 42-24. Pick: Cal

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Woman 65-50 (4-6)
2. Man 63-52 (5-5)
3. Machine 61-54 (5-5) 
Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Nebraska at Michigan

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Yes, Nebraska has a gifted option quarterback, but that doesn't mean that his passing skills are up to par with... Hang on a second. If this is Nebraska's key, then what's Michigan's...


MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF:
Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Glitch! We have a glitch! 


In all seriousness, Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson aren't that similar as players, and the Nebraska and Michigan offenses are fundamentally dissimilar as well. While Nebraska doesn't run an offense heavy on wishbone or I-formation triple option like the days of yore, it does utilize heavy amounts of read option between Martinez and Rex Burkhead. Martinez is also being trusted to throw the ball more often, and he's been improving in that facet over the last couple weeks.

Still, Martinez is most dangerous as a runner at this point, and if you give him a lane, he'll take it -- and Nebraska's downfield blocking is good enough that Martinez can potentially take that open lane for a score from any point on the field. Thus, the key for the Michigan defense is to get Martinez out of his comfort zone and force him to make split-second decisions to do something with the ball -- a pitch on the option, a check-down in his pass progression, a scramble to the outside when, say, Mike Martin blows up the front of the pocket. Those are situations that turn Martinez into a less effective player, and that's what defensive coordinator Greg Mattison needs to strive for.

On the other sideline, Nebraska's aims on defense should be different. Denard Robinson is a wonderfully gifted improviser with the football, so quite unlike Martinez, Nebraska should make sure Robinson doesn't have to make the split-second decisions. That's what he's good at! No, the lesson defensive coordinator Carl Pelini should have taken from Michigan's losses is that you don't give Robinson the edge; it's all contain, contain, contain, then funnel, funnel, funnel to the middle of the field. Lavonte David needs to have about 30 tackles in this game. 

X-FACTOR: The tailbacks. Both Michigan and Nebraska also have hard-nosed running backs that will probably be getting 20 carries in this game -- Burkhead for Nebraska, and Fitz Toussaint for Michigan -- and while Burkhead's much more of a focal point of the Nebraska offense than Toussaint is, Toussaint is certainly capable of breaking a long run or two and getting over 100 yards. Both players are tough to bring down once they get a full head of steam, but Burkhead in particular is the kind of guy you need to bring down at the line or prior, or he's getting 5-10 yards and that drive's going to keep going. So if Michigan lets Nebraska move the point of attack, it might not be enough to just wait for Taylor Martinez to make a bad play or three.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com