NCAA Football: 20 Things to Look Forward to (or not) This Weekend
College Football: 20 Things to Look Forward to in Week 11
Now that the 2012 Election is over, we can focus on the important things: watching college football without the annoyance of campaign ads during every television break.
If only the Week 11 slate of games was exciting as the prospect of politics-free football broadcasts. When your prime time Saturday game on ABC is undefeated Notre Dame against a 2-7 Boston College team, it’s clearly a down week. The only thing that will make the Holy War worth watching is if the Eagles channel the 1993 version of themselves, and once again end the Irish's bid for an undefeated season at 9-0.
This week’s matchups might not be as heavily hyped as last week’s Oregon-USC or, of course, LSU-Alabama, but there’s still plenty at stake.
Many teams – including West Virginia, believe it or not – are fighting to become bowl eligible.
Forget bowl eligibility, teams from Auburn to Connecticut to Washington State are just trying to get a conference win.
Others are trying to win their division, or at least get one step closer to their conference’s championship game.
If those potentially hard-fought games don’t result in riveting football, it’ll be the fault of this year’s star players, the game-changers who have the ability and talent to put their team on their backs and take them to a blowout victory.
Oregon’s numerous weapons on offense, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Texas A&M’s Johnny ‘Football’ Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy ‘Ballgame’ Bridgewater – no matter who their opponents are, it’s worth tuning in to see what they’re going to do this weekend.
Thursday Night Football at Lane Stadium
There's a college football game on ESPN just about every Thursday night during the season, but the ones at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium have become a modern-day football tradition. Coming to Blacksburg on a Thursday night has often been like walking into a gladiator's arena for opponents because the Hokies have been so dominant in those games: 19-6 all-time in nationally televised Thursday night games.
This particular game, Florida State at Virginia Tech, was circled on the schedule back in the summertime as a battle between two ACC heavyweights, but the narrative hasn't played out as planned. The 'Noles are still rolling, but the Hokies, who lost badly in last Thursday night's game at Miami, have yet to become bowl eligible.
Virginia Tech has only lost three games in November since joining the ACC in 2004. Will the team's home field advantage be able to help them pull off a huge upset over the #1 team in the Atlantic Division?
The Re-Emergence of Florida State
For the first month of the season, it looked like it might really, after several seasons of miscues, finally be "the year" for Florida State. They beat Clemson, their only real competition in the ACC this year, and were getting their tomahawks ready in case they managed to sneak into the BCS title game.
Then came the upset at the hands of North Carolina State, when the 'Noles allowed 17 unanswered points in the second half and fell out of the national spotlight completely.
They could get back into it this Thursday night with a big win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Since the loss to NC State, they've fallen off the radar but they haven't stopped winning. They're 8-1 overall, still in the driver's seat to represent their division in the conference championship game and possibly the Orange Bowl, and they have a chance to remind the nation of that this week.
ESPN's College Gameday Broadcast from the USS San Diego
ESPN's College Gameday usually broadcasts from the site of the week's most-anticipated football game, but this week, they'll be live from the flight deck on the USS San Diego. Instead of screaming college kids, the crowd will include service men and women and their families from the Naval Base San Diego and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
The telecast is part of ESPN's fourth-annual America’s Heroes: A Salute to Our Veterans programming initiative and will feature a Tom Rinaldi segment on Clemson wide receiver, and Afghanistan War veteran, Daniel Rodriguez. As with many Rinaldi segments, it's sure to be a tearjerker so be sure to have tissues on hand.
South Carolina Getting a Win Over Arkansas
South Carolina wore its military appreciation uniforms a few weeks ago, but judging from the "What is that, even?" reaction on social media, most people watching didn't really appreciate them. What Gamecocks fans will appreciate is a win this weekend over Arkansas.
South Carolina hasn't beaten the Hogs since November 2008, the Saturday after President Barack Obama was elected the first time. With Arkansas in a down year - just 4-5 overall, with no quality wins - the Gamecocks shouldn't have too much problem getting another Election Year win in the series.
The Texas Longhorns' Tribute to Darrell K. Royal
College football lost a legend this week, longtime Texas coach Darell K. Royal. On their first offensive play on Saturday, in the stadium that bears his name, the Longhorns will line up in the wishbone formation that Royal first implemented back in 1969, to honor the coach who made the program the national power it is today.
Texas hosts Iowa State this weekend, but don't expect the Cyclones to pull off another upset. While the current Longhorns didn't play for Royal, they know he's part of the fabric of the team, and they'll be out to honor his memory with the win.
Penn State @ Nebraska
The Nittany Lions travel to Nebraska this weekend looking for their fourth straight conference road win, but the Cornhuskers have more at stake in this game. Penn State is ineligible for postseason play, but Nebraska is tied for the lead in the Big Ten Leaders Division and will go to the conference title game if they win out.
Need more reasons to watch? It could be a record-setting day for both quarterbacks. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez needs 190 passing yards to become the school's all-time leader. Martinez and Penn State's Matt McGloin are both closing in on their school records for passing touchdowns. Both QBs need four more to break the records, held by Zac Taylor at Nebraska and Daryll Clark at PSU.
The Battle of the New Starting Quarterbacks
When Stanford and Oregon State line up this Saturday in a key Pac-12 battle, each team will be relying on a quarterback who was a backup until very recently. Oregon State's Cody Vaz supplanted Sean Mannion two weeks ago; he stepped in when Mannion was recovering from minor knee surgery, and after the Beavers notched their first loss in Mannion's less-than-triumphant return, Vaz got the job back.
This week will be the first start for Stanford's Kevin Hogan, a redshirt freshman. Josh Nunes won the job as Andrew Luck's successor in camp but has had an up-and-down season for the Cardinal. Coach David Shaw gave Hogan a chance to ease into the college game against Colorado, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares against one of the top teams in the conference, especially with the added pressure of playing for the edge in the Pac-12 North.
Either Wake Forest or North Carolina State Becoming Bowl Eligible
It might not seem like a big deal to schools fighting for BCS berths, but one of these two teams will come out of their match-up this weekend with that key sixth win. Both Wake Forest and NC State entered the season with a lot of questions, but both expected to be bowl eligible at the very least. Missing out on the postseason would be a huge disappointment for either program, and one of them will reach that goal on Saturday.
West Virginia Finally (Maybe?) Becoming Bowl-Eligible
How the Mighty Mountaineers have fallen, from a Top 10 team led by the Heisman favorite to Big 12 newcomers struggling to become bowl eligible. West Virginia hasn't won since the first week of October, and they're coming off a tough loss, in overtime, to TCU.
Will the Mountaineers finally be able to cross the threshold into eligibility against Oklahoma State? It'll be the first time WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest will return to Stillwater, where they coached before moving on to Morgantown.
Florida Finding a Passing Game
Florida is still at the top of the SEC East, but the offense is near the bottom, nationally, in total passing yards and passing yards per game. The Gators simply don't pass very much; 102 quarterbacks around the country have attempted more passes that Florida's Jeff Driskel. The team has relied on the running game to take pressure off Driskel, who's been sacked 26 times and has looked, understandably, a little uncomfortable passing.
The Gators aren't going to have a better opportunity to figure out their passing attack than this weekend's game against the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. ULL has been even worse in pass defense than Florida has been in pass offense; the Ragin' Cajuns are 119th out of 120 FBS teams, and Driskel's not going to find an easier match-up this season. It could be a big boost for the Gators heading into the end of the year.
Georgia Clinching the SEC East
A win over Auburn on Saturday gives Georgia the SEC East title and sends them to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers are winless in the SEC, and the 'Dawgs have been dominant almost all year. That bizarre blowout at the hands of South Carolina is still puzzling but win this weekend and they can still win the conference.
The Holy War: Notre Dame at Boston College
The rivalry game between Notre Dame and Boston College looks, on paper, to be one of the more lopsided match-ups in the series. The Eagles are struggling - it's a mystery that head coach Frank Spaziani hasn't been canned yet - and the Irish are back on top, with a 9-0 record.
Anything can happen in a rivalry game, though, and Notre Dame didn't look like a powerhouse when it needed overtime to beat Pitt last Saturday. The Eagles have nothing to lose (other than their head coach) but the Irish would take a huge tumble with a loss.
Notre Dame fans should look forward to starting 10-0, and Eagles fans can look forward to the end of the Frank Spaziani era, which will be here even sooner with a loss this weekend.
The Beginning of a New Saturday Night Win Streak in Death Valley
BCS No. 1 Alabama wasn't phased by the raucous atmosphere on a Saturday night in Death Valley, beating LSU and ending the nation's longest home winning streak. The Bayou Bengals will have a chance to start a new streak this Saturday when they host Mississippi State. It won't be an easy win - both teams are 7-2, and both can chalk up one of those losses to Alabama - but the Bulldogs are a very different team than the Crimson Tide, and Tiger Stadium is a very difficult place to play. Look for that substantial home field advantage to have an impact.
The Return - Hopefully - of Collin Klein
Kansas State's Collin Klein is one of the best quarterbacks in college football; like any top playmaker, games are more fun to watch when he's on the field. He had to come out of last week's win over Oklahoma State with a probably head injury (Coach Bill Snyder has not been forthcoming with the specifics) and Wildcats' fans have their fingers crossed he's cleared to play this Saturday.
He could be the key to beating TCU, but Kansas State will have to play it safe. Without him, their undefeated season could end this week, but pushing him to come back too soon could have even bigger ramifications, both on the remainder of K-State's season and, more importantly, Klein's long-term health.
Like Klein, Teddy Bridgewater is one of those players who makes it worth tuning in to even the worst match-ups. Louisville's sophomore quarterback is one of the top five QBs in the country. The Cardinals wouldn't be 9-0 this season without him, and even though the team's Big East schedule hasn't been the toughest, Bridgewater certainly deserves much more attention (and awards consideration) than many are giving him. Tune in when Louisville seeks to continue its undefeated run against Syracuse; you won't want to miss whatever tricks Bridgewater might have up his sleeves.
What Gary Patterson Has In Store This Weekend
TCU got a big win over West Virginia weekend thanks to head coach Gary Patterson's gutsy overtime play-calling - going for a two-point conversion to win it at the end of the second overtime. This isn't the first time Patterson has gone all or nothing (see the win over Boise Statein 2011) so if the game's close against K-State, Patterson's alma mater, expect another big gamble from the coach who wins those bets more often than not.
The Ducks' offense put up 62 points against USC. With insanely talent like De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner, and quarterback Marcus Mariota, the sky's the limit against hapless Cal this weekend. It might not be much of a contest, but when you have that many skill players who are that good, it's just fun to watch what they can do.
Texas A&M's quarterback has been one of the surprises of the season, earning the moniker "Johnny Football" for his game-changing performances. Manziel has more than 2,500 passing yards, almost 1,000 rushing yards, and nearly as many rushing touchdowns (15) as he has passing (16). Those numbers might not mean anything this week against his toughest test of the year at Alabama, but if he can somehow get the win over the Crimson Tide, the legend of "Johnny Football" will continue to grow.
Lots of Horns Down Signs
Texas hosts Iowa State this weekend, and expect Cyclones' fans to be making the "Horns Down" sign even more than usual. The hand signal has long been used by Longhorns' opponents to mock the team, and since head coach Mack Brown called out opposing fans for it this week, saying that the conference "should look into it," it'll most likely be more popular than ever.
Jarvis Jones Proving That It Actually Does Take A Lot to Stop Him
Joining Mack Brown in the "Probably Shouldn't Have Said Anything" column this week is Auburn's Chris Slade who said that it's "not that hard" to stop one of the top defenders in the nation, Georgia's Jarvis Jones. Easy to say when you haven't had to do it yet. Of the bulletin board material, Jones said: "If he wants to come see me that’s fine." We'll see if the Tigers' sophomore O-lineman feels the same way after facing Jones this Saturday.