Stanford Has Plenty On The Line
Andrew Luck doesn't have cable. First, there's the chink in the armor. But honesty compels me to say he doesn't need to tune in to hear the hype about what's at stake against Oregon on Saturday (ABC, 8 ET). Let's go in ascending order of importance: Pac-12 North, Pac-12 championship game, Heisman hammerlock, national title game.
That's a lot to chew on one week after "the game of the century." It is actually the game of all eternity for the Cardinal. Stanford claims one national title. It came in 1926. The 1940 team was undefeated. But with all due respect to the Cardinal's annual "Big Game" with Cal, this is the Biggest Game. I used capital letters on purpose. Winning the game guarantees none of the stakes, save possibly the Heisman for Luck. But losing it takes those team goals pretty much out of play.
Luck says he didn't really come back to Stanford to play in games like this. He came back to play football with his buddies. Luck and his buddies have lost once in their past 22 games. That was a 52-31 loss to Oregon last season.
It's tempting to say Stanford "blew" a 21-3 lead, but more accurately, LaMichael James blew by them. Oregon's drives were like a Kim Kardashian marriage, instantly gratifying and then over. No drive lasted longer than 2:51. Four touchdowns came from 25 yards out or longer. The final score was a 76-yard explosion by James to cap his 257-yard and three-touchdown night.
While images of Washington's Chris Polk and USC's Curtis McNeal hitting the Cardinal defense for explosive runs are recent and vivid, statistically, Stanford has been fairly solid limiting the big play. They've allowed 32 plays of 20 yards or longer. That ranks 32nd in the country. They have been hit for a couple of 50-plus-yard runs.
While that ranks in the bottom half of the country, ordinarily, a stat like that is an aberration. But this is Oregon, who lives on such runs. The Ducks lead the nation with six 50-plus-yard runs. James leads the nation in rushing. Stanford's defense must keep the Ducks inside and in front of them.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Cardinal. The return of safety Delano Howell would be a big help. Howell is a sure and vicious tackler. Tackles can't be missed against the Ducks.
Luck will likely be missing a couple of key targets. Chris Owusu won't play after taking another wicked shot against Oregon State. Tight End Zach Ertz is listed as doubtful. Fellow tight end Levine Toilolo should be good to go after leaving the Oregon State game with a leg injury.
That means Luck will at least have two-thirds of his vaunted tight end troika. At 6-foot-8 and athletic, Toilolo is the ultimate matchup nightmare, while Coby Fleener always seems open in the end zone.
Those three tight ends have caught 15 of Luck's 26 touchdown tosses. Throw in Ryan Hewitt, who often lines up at fullback but almost seems to function as another tight end, and the total goes to 19.
Of equal concern to Oregon will be stopping Stanford on the ground. The Cardinal just pound on you with Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney. The Ducks' rush defense has been average at best. A potent Stanford running game will limit Oregon's possessions.
This won't be LSU-Alabama. The winning team has scored 50 or more the past two years. But clutch stops on defense will be key.
A big hit on Owusu forced a turnover and thwarted Stanford's hopes last year. The Ducks' D-line is coming off its best performance of the year against Washington. They bottled up Polk and registered five sacks. Stanford will be a much bigger challenge. As much fun as the offenses will be to watch, defense will likely decide it.
As much as I'd like to do so, it's impossible to discuss Nebraska-Penn State without regard to the scandal currently engulfing Joe Paterno's program. The despicable allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sicken all sane people. Ultimately, it hastened the end of the Paterno era and undeniably tarnished it.
While the primary sympathy is for the victims, I feel compassion for the current Penn State players, especially the seniors. They have no involvement in this issue. They haven't played for nor were they recruited by Sandusky. They're just caught up in the vortex.
This is a big game and was supposed to be a special moment for them, senior day in State College. As it has with everything else, this sorry episode tarnishes this game too. Opining as to whether Penn State's offense can muster enough offense to complement their stingy defense is completely secondary.
From the ubiquitous television trucks and cameras to the impromptu March to Paterno's house to his announcement that he will retire to the Penn State Board of Trustee's sudden decision to fire Paterno on Wednesday night, nothing suggests an atmosphere conducive to a team playing its best game in pursuit of a conference championship.
I realize that's unimportant in the grand scheme but Saturday they're going to play the game. This is a big opportunity for Penn State to creep closer to the inaugural Big Ten championship game. It's also a critical game for Nebraska as the Huskers try to keep pace with Michigan State in the Legends division. There will be no celebration of Paterno's legendary career. Instead, despite all he has done for the game and the university, there will be only questions of could he, or more importantly should he, have done one thing more.
Thursday night, Craig James, Jesse Palmer, Jenn Brown and I will call a huge game in the ACC. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech square off in a crucial Coastal Division battle.
If you're looking for a third guy to put on your Heisman ballot (and I am) check out David Wilson. The Hokies' running back is doing more than wearing a coat, tie and top hat to every class. He's second in the nation with 1,185 yards. He's explosive and he's trying to get the Hokies back to the ACC title game. At the moment, they're in that one-loss team mix. It's a long shot, but we've got a month for chaos and should the Hokies make the ACC title game, they'd likely have a chance to avenge their only loss.
Georgia Tech hit a two-week sputter against Virginia and Miami, but it has rebounded. The Jackets need to take care of their business and have someone knock off the Cavaliers for them, but a win Thursday night would put Georgia Tech in great position to make the ACC title game.
This is a huge week for Boise State and Houston. For the Broncos, their game against TCU is the only one left in which it's conceivable that they could lose and Houston desperately needs Boise State to lose if it has any hope of making a BCS game. The Cougars are ranked 11th.
Their best path to a BCS game is for Boise State to get out of the way with a loss, finishing in the top 14 and ranked higher than a major conference champion. That is certainly possible given that the highest ranked Big East team is 23rd-ranked Cincinnati. By the way, Houston plays Tulane. Get the erasers ready for the record book as Case Keenum warms up the arm against the Green Wave.
TCU doesn't have the stifling defense we've seen the past few seasons, but it is capable. Two times in the previous three seasons, the Frogs and Broncos have spoiled perfect seasons for the other. Don't lose sight of the fact there is a Mountain West Conference championship at stake. The Frogs would like to get one at the Broncos' expense on their way to the Big 12.
The impact and potential BCS shakeup is coming on "College Football Final" on Saturday night. Join Mark May, Lou Holtz and me and hit us on Twitter all day Saturday.
Here are three things to watch this weekend:
1. Should No. 2 Oklahoma State be concerned about playing at Texas Tech?
2. Will No. 3 Alabama bounce back against Mississippi State?
The Crimson Tide have to be deflated after last week's 9-6 overtime loss to No. 1 LSU, but they're still in the hunt for a spot in a BCS bowl game -- and maybe even a spot in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9. Alabama plays at Mississippi State on Saturday, and running back Trent Richardson shouldn't have much trouble running against the SEC's No. 8 run defense, which is allowing 161.2 rushing yards per game. The Tide might be without left tackle Barrett Jones, who is nursing a right ankle injury.
3. Can TCU knock off No. 5 Boise State?
The Horned Frogs might have had a chance at home in Fort Worth, Texas, which is where the game was originally scheduled to be played, but they'll have a tough time winning on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium. Boise State hasn't lost a conference game at home since 1998, after dominating the WAC before moving to the MWC this season. TCU has won four games in a row and 21 consecutive games against MWC opponents. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore guided the Broncos to a 17-10 victory over TCU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, but he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in two games against the Horned Frogs.
For more things to watch this weekend, click here.
8 p.m.: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (ESPN)
9 p.m.: South Florida at Syracuse (ESPN2)
9 a.m.: "College GameDay" from Palo Alto, Calif. (ESPNU)
10 a.m.: "College GameDay" from Palo Alto, Calif. (ESPN)
11 a.m.: "College Football WhipAround" (ESPNU)
Noon: Nebraska at Penn State (ESPN)
West Virginia at Cincinnati (ABC)
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (ABC)
Michigan State at Iowa (ESPN2)
Florida at South Carolina (CBS)
Wake Forest at Clemson (ESPNU)
3 p.m.: Louisana-Lafayette at Arkansas State (ESPN3)
3:30 p.m.: Auburn at Georgia (CBS)
Michigan at Illinois (ABC/ESPN)
Texas A&M at Kansas State (ABC)
Miami at Florida State (ABC/ESPN)
TCU at Boise State (Versus)
3:45 p.m.: Washington at USC (FX)
6 p.m.: Tennessee at Arkansas (ESPN2)
7:45 p.m.: Alabama at Mississippi State (ESPN)
8 p.m.: Oregon at Stanford (ABC)
Blog Network: What to watch
Each week, our bloggers will take a closer look at the storylines you should be watching. What's on tap for Week 11?
Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster has revamped his starting lineup in preparation for Georgia Tech's spread option offense.
Who wins the battle up front in Missouri and Texas' game on Saturday?
Geno Smith vs. Zach Collaros: The quarterback debate that has raged since the preseason.
For the first time since 1965, Penn State will play a game without Joe Paterno as its head coach.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made headlines this week when he said he'd pick Trojans QB Matt Barkley over Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Despite the East's struggles this season, Saturday could be a very exciting day to determine the East champion.
Preview: Florida-South Carolina
Another undefeated team will lose on Saturday, shaking up the BCS national championship race even more. No. 7 Oregon plays at No. 4 Stanford on Saturday night, with a Pac-12 North title and possible trip to the Jan. 9 AllState BCS National Championship Game on the line.
To read the rest of this entry, click here.
Picking the winners
Scouts' Edge: Week 11 previews
Fantasy college football