Top Ten Games Left On The 2012 College Football Schedule
Ten Top Games Left To Decide College Football In 2012
As deflating as it is to consider, college football’s regular season reaches intermission this weekend with half of the year already in the rearview mirror. The resurgence of Florida Gators and Notre Dame Fighting Irish have surprised while the Florida State Seminoles losing a conference game it shouldn’t seems an annual box checked.
There’s an elite squad in Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Whether they stumble prior to Miami or not likely depends on a wandering LSU Tigers team and Steve Spurrier’s energized South Carolina Gamecocks.
Realignment has rendered predictions both wise and foolish. The West Virginia Mountaineers were presumed Big 12 contenders and the offense hasn’t disappointed. Their transition partner, the TCU Horned Frogs, saw their quarterback leave school to enter a rehab facility. It won’t be a kind second-half to Gary Patterson’s program.
In the SEC, the Texas A&M Aggies faltered against Florida but find itself ranked in October thanks to the playground dazzle of quarterback Johnny Manziel. Between injuries to James Franklin and an arrest for Dorial Green-Beckham, Gary Pinkel simply needs a glass of wine to forget Missouri’s dismal start.
No Big Ten teams are currently ranked in the Coaches Poll, though the Ohio State Buckeyes remain undefeated and ineligible. The Columbus faithful can thank Gene Smith’s foresight for that.
In the Pac 12, the USC Trojans probably won’t fulfill preseason expectations of a title run. Depth and a leaky offensive line in Los Angeles mean the Oregon Ducks require two victories over Lane Kiffin’s squad and a trip to South Beach is booked. That is, unless their Civil War rivals at Oregon State continue their rise from Mike Riley’s hot seat ashes.
Florida State had hoped to squash talk of the ACC’s mark in BCS games with a national title run only to see it undone against North Carolina State.
Even though Alabama has yet to abdicate their throne, this college football season feels like the shocking and the quaky have knocked and are waiting to knock the door down. It’s too planned for Oregon and the Tide to meet, undefeated, Chip Kelly’s offense against Nick Saban’s defense, for the BCS National Championship.
There’s something left out there for fans of this maniacal game before the focus shifts to recruiting and National Signing Day. These ten matchups figure to draw our intrigue, our eyes and most importantly, our words, be they profane or not celebratory.
10. Oregon Ducks v. Oregon State Beavers
Sean Mannion’s injury won’t keep the Oregon State Beavers from enjoying another trip to In-N-Out but a Civil War victory? That sort of win could force the franchise to build a store right outside Mike Riley’s office. Oregon State uses a debilitating rush defense to wear down opponents. Oregon likes to run down your throat or past you at 4.4 speed. Something’s got to give in Corvallis.
The Ducks have notched four straight victories in the bitter in-state rivalry, the previous two by double-digits. Riley’s job is no longer in jeopardy, he could earn a lifetime of fawning by ruining the Oregon’s national title dreams.
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. Oklahoma Sooners
In the preseason, this was a nice non-conference matchup between two traditional programs. Now, it’s a significant step on the road to Notre Dame Fighting Irish relevancy. Already installed in the top ten, Brian Kelly is eyeing a contract extension from those gracious South Bend administrators if he delivers a BCS appearance.
The Oklahoma Sooners haven’t been without issue in 2012 and more than likely, a win in Norman requires mistake-free football from Everett Golson. Is he capable?
In contrast, losses to Texas Tech in 2011 and Kansas State in 2012 lessened the Owen Field mystique for Bob Stoops. Oklahoma fans won’t be happy if a second home loss taints the schedule.
8. Oklahoma Sooners v. West Virginia Mountaineers
This was the assumed Big 12 championship prior to the Oklahoma Sooners' loss to the Kansas State Wildcats. Now, it’s a matchup that provides BCS stakes for both programs. A West Virginia Mountaineers win edges them closer to a conference crown while the Sooners prevailing erases some of the disappointment thus far in 2012.
Neither defense has impressed all that much but in the Big 12, outscoring the opponent remains a steady mantra. Landry Jones won’t crumble like he did in late 2011 and if he’s ever going to save his draft stock, this game presents an opportunity.
Track meet in Morgantown? You bring the stop watch, I’ll bring the moonshine.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. USC Trojans
Over the last two decades, this tilt has meant more to the USC Trojans’ title dreams than to the NBC-propped Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With a revamped defense and a subdued Brian Kelly, Notre Dame might need a win in Los Angeles to assure a BCS appearance. On the flip side, Lane Kiffin’s squad winning out – including the Pac 12 championship – gets them in the BCS Championship conversation. For the first time since 2005 nationally, this game matters.
At the center of an ESPN special report I imagine will be Irish linebacker Manti Te’o. His recruitment surprised when he chose South Bend over the Trojans and BYU Cougars.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks v. Clemson Tigers
The Battle of the Palmetto State, one of four games highlighted on this list from rivalry weekend, hasn’t been close the last three seasons. Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks posted three straight double-digit victories and with a possible berth in the SEC Championship on the line, the ‘Ole Ball Coach won’t take his foot off the petal. Chad Morris’ offense looked incredible during the first half of the Florida State Seminoles-Clemson Tigers matchup. A redux of that performance coupled with Tajh Boyd’s career night might be the only thing keeping South Carolina from notching their fourth straight win in this series.
5. Florida Gators v. Florida State Seminoles
Until Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack decided to ruin it, folks were dreaming of this game pitting the Sunshine State’s best two programs, undefeated in Tallahassee. Instead, it’s a chance for Jimbo Fisher to save face on a season that’s already being called disappointing by Florida State Seminoles fans. He’s not in danger of a pink slip yet but sooner or later, Fisher must produce on all that recruiting talent.
Will Muschamp has renovated and rebuilt the culture in Gainesville less than a year removed from a 7-6 finish. Should the Florida Gators run their SEC gauntlet, they could be playing Florida State and Alabama in back-to-back weeks.
4. Oregon Ducks v. USC Trojans
Another one of the presumed semifinals from August, USC’s loss to Stanford and Oregon’s repetitive explosion probably means the Trojans are underdogs at home. If the Cardinal front seven horrified the USC offensive line, I’d expect similar from a stingy Ducks defense. Does that mean an Oregon victory though? Perhaps not, Matt Barkley is due a signature senior moment.
De’Anthony Thomas quietly moved away from Heisman conversation in late September. The Oregon speedster can recoup some of his buzz by shining in this matchup and again in the conference championship. Should he score in both contests, an invite to New York seems inevitable.
3. Kansas State Wildcats v. West Virginia Mountaineers
At present, the Kansas State Wildcats and West Virginia Mountaineers sit atop the Big 12. And they couldn’t be more different. Bill Snyder will attempt to slow Dana Holgorsen’s potent offense and punish them for any turnovers. Geno Smith simply hopes to throw Kansas State off the field and build a two-game lead in the standings.
Both have tentative trap games this weekend as they try not to look toward each other. Kansas State opposes Big 12 upset heathen Iowa State and the Mountaineers get a taste of west Texas dust in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are a small dog according to Vegas, this intrigues me.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide v. LSU Tigers
For the third time in a calendar year, these SEC juggernauts tangle. But even in Baton Rouge, are the LSU Tigers a threat to the Alabama Crimson Tide? Zach Mettenberger has yet to make LSU fans forget about Jordan Jefferson while the Alabama offense continues to ascend. What was thought to be an SEC West decider may end up simply being a trap for an undefeated Crimson Tide team.
As frustrating as the Tigers have appeared though, they’ve yet to drop a contest. The Auburn scare provoked questions that should be answered this weekend against South Carolina. Emerging with a victory over the Gamecocks and upsetting the Crimson Tide could stabilize a perceived shaky season for Les Miles.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks v. Florida Gators
With a decimation of the Georgia Bulldogs, Steve Spurrier’s jaunt to the Swamp becomes the play-in game for SEC East supremacy. Will Muschamp’s crafted the Gators into a blue-collar behemoth on defense and instilled enough confidence in Jeff Driskel to remain undefeated. The winner won’t guarantee an appearance in Atlanta but they’ll occupy the driver’s seat.
And if a team in the East plans on knocking off either a resurgent LSU or a dominant Alabama, it will have to be either Muschamp's Gators or Spurrier's Gamecocks. For Florida, there's a foundation laid that means their second-year head coach's tenure can look toward 2013. The 'Ole Ball Coach isn't getting any younger and his best shot at claiming an SEC championship in Columbia is now.
Chris Hengst is a College Football writer at Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ShootyHoops.