2012 Week 14 Weekend Preview

November 28, 2012

Here’s where we stand with just one true week of college football left (I say “full” week because the Army-Navy game technically constitutes a 15th week of college football): Notre Dame is the nation’s only undefeated, bowl eligible squad and will be headed to the national title game. The opponent for Brian Kelly’s team? Almost surely the winner of the SEC Championship Game this weekend between Alabama and Georgia, although if you’re in Gainesville I suppose you could refuse to believe that.

Somewhat of an anti-climactic end to a regular season that began to get crazy three weekends ago.

On Around The Corn, things are not nearly as straightforward with regards to the prediction game. Heading into Week 14, the guests have a one game lead thanks to Florida State getting beaten soundly by in-state rival Florida last weekend. Since I lost to guest prognosticator Keegan Fitzpatrick 4-1 to 3-2, the overall records now stand:

K. Becks: 33-17

Guest Prognosticators: 34-16

This week, Matt Gardner is the guest prognosticator. You may remember Matt’s brother Trent making predictions back in Week 8. During that week, I cut the deficit between the guests and I by two games. As you will find out by reading Matt’s predictions, that will be much tougher this weekend. In addition, I think the games are much tougher to pick this week.

Although the prediction game will also include the annual Army-Navy game on December 8th, it won’t matter much in determining the winner (you’ll find out why next week). So, these five games are for all the marbles essentially.

Here is a list of my top five games to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#21 Northern Illinois vs. #17 Kent State (Friday, 7 PM ET)

This is probably the biggest title game that the MAC has ever had. For the first time since 2003, both teams come into Detroit ranked in the Top 25. However, unlike 2003, the MAC may send its champion to a BCS bowl for the first time in conference history. If Kent State were to win this game and Stanford beats UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, the Golden Flashes would be nearly assured an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. Don’t book your flights yet, though Kent State fans. This game is going to be a close one.

The Golden Flashes are amidst the best season in school history, and a lot of praise should be given to first-year head coach Darrell Hazel. The team was not predicted to do nearly as well as it has, and an early season loss to Kentucky could have sent the team down an entirely different path. However, Hazel’s team hasn’t lost since and an upset victory over Rutgers a month ago is one of the reasons Kent State could be playing in a major bowl game this winter. Another reason is running back Dri Archer, one of college football’s hidden gems this season. Archer is an extremely quick player who has gashed teams with his speed, running for over 150 yards three times this season. In addition to being a threat in the backfield, Archer also presents problems as a kickoff returner.

In order to stop Kent State, Northern Illinois will have to stop Archer. Defense has not been an issue for the Huskies this season, and there is reason to believe that Northern Illinois will be able to slow down the Golden Flashes rushing attack. In addition to giving up just 144.8 yards on the ground, the Huskies give up just 17.5 points per game. If they can get a few stops on defense, it will be up to MAC player of the year Jordan Lynch to do what he’s done all season to lead the Huskies to victory. Lynch is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, leading the MAC in rushing yards and total touchdowns and is fifth in passing yards. He has also thrown just four interceptions all year, which is where Kent State’s defense makes up for its issues in the secondary.

There is not much to separate these two teams, which is why it should be a good game. However, Kent State’s pass defense, which is second worst in the conference in terms of yards allowed, will end up being the difference. Jordan Lynch is the most dangerous player the Golden Flashes have faced all season. Also, going to the MAC title game is routine for Northern Illinois, which has been to three straight. I know my friends at Kent State will hate me for this (and refer back to this if they win), but I’m picking the Huskies.

My Pick: 33-24 Northern Illinois

Matt’s Take: Kent State is coming off an impressive win against an up-and-coming Ohio University Bobcats. However, I give NIU the advantage in this one because of raw talent. Jordan Lynch has 23 Touchdowns, 2750 yards passing and only 4 interceptions. Oh yeah, the man can run too. He is NIU’s leading rusher with 1611 yards coming on the ground averaging 7 yards a carry. Those are some impressive numbers, no matter who your opponent is. Kent State stays in the game early, but in the end they won’t be able to find a way to stop Lynch.

Northern Illinois 31, Kent State 17

#16 UCLA at #8 Stanford (Friday, 8 PM ET)

If you think you’re reading the wrong weekend preview, you’re not. This is a rematch of the game played last Saturday, but this time it’s for a trip to the Rose Bowl. Some people wondered whether or not UCLA was holding back against Stanford so that it didn’t have to face Oregon in this game, but I think that opinion can be thrown back where it came from. The Bruins clearly did not play with the same sort of intensity as they did against USC a week earlier, and why should they have? UCLA had already wrapped up a berth in the Pac-12 title game, and Stanford hadn’t. This week, I think we’ll see a much closer contest.

The Bruins may play with more intensity this week, but the offensive line is going to need to play much better as well if they want to be victorious in round two. Neither Johnathan Franklin nor Brett Hundley were able to do much against Stanford’s defensive front last weekend, with Franklin being held to 65 yards on 21 carries and Hundley being sacked a season high seven times. For UCLA to win this game, it will have to be more effective offensively, perhaps even to the point of forcing a shootout. Even with Kevin Hogan leading the offense, Stanford wants to control the pace and beat teams with a punishing run game and tough defense. If the Bruins can protect Hundley and give him time to find his receivers, Norm Chow’s team has the ability to put up more than 17 points against the Cardinal.

As for Stanford, the game plan will essentially be “do the same thing we did last time”. If they can, they’ll probably win. The defense played spectacularly, holding two of the Pac-12’s most talented offensive players to very modest success while making UCLA’s offensive line look like boys among men. On offense, Stepfan Taylor will again be the key to success. However, assuming UCLA’s offensive line plays better and Taylor does not break free on two long runs, Stanford will need to rely on Kevin Hogan a bit more. Hogan gives the Cardinal the ability to move at a quicker pace offensively, which may be necessary if UCLA is better at moving the ball.

I expect UCLA to look like a completely different team from the one that took the field last Saturday. They will not come out flat, and they the offensive line will not look hapless against the Stanford defense. If this happens, UCLA has the offensive firepower to beat Stanford and be the prototypical Pac-12 team that makes it to the Rose Bowl.

My Pick: 35-28 UCLA

Matt’s Take: This is a no brainer to me. Stanford just played UCLA last week and thumped them 35-17. In the rematch the result will be no different. Stanford’s physical play will overwhelm the Bruins. Expect a huge game from Stepfan Taylor as the Cardinal stick to the ground game. This game will be over at halftime.

Stanford 38, UCLA 17

#2 Alabama vs. #3 Georgia (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

For the sixth straight year, the winner of the SEC title game will be heading to the national championship game. The headline has become a bit boring, but luckily this year there is no clear favorite. Thanks to Texas A&M and LSU exposing Alabama’s weaknesses, no one will be prematurely penciling in the Crimson Tide to play Notre Dame on January 7th before this game is over. Georgia, similarly to last season, is playing its best football when it matters most.

Those who know me or read this blog regularly know that I am a big fan of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. That much has not changed, and I am not surprised that the junior quarterback was able to lead the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship Game. However, I am a bit surprised as to how balanced Georgia’s offense has been this season. Murray has thrown for over 3200 yards and 30 touchdowns, but the backfield is pretty dangerous as well. Led by freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the running game has accounted for almost as many touchdowns (29) as the passing game. Thanks to these offensive weapons and a solid defense, Georgia can play any game that Alabama wants. However, based on the amount of points they’ve been able to put on the board this season, it seems likely that the Bulldogs would be just fine with a shootout.

The same is not true of the Crimson Tide. Alabama does not usually let opposing teams score more than 17 points, and when it does, it has lost. Granted, that has only happened once this season, but it happened against the SEC’s most potent offense and Georgia isn’t far behind. On offense Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon shouldn’t have much trouble against a defense that was gashed by South Carolina and has continued to struggle against the run despite improving in every other aspect. However, the defense could be a concern. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger showed that even a mediocre quarterback can slice up Alabama’s pass protection, and Aaron Murray is not a mediocre quarterback. Should Murray have success picking apart the defense, Alabama may be playing catch-up all game.

I would love to pick Georgia to win, because I’d like to see Murray play for a national title and I don’t really want to see Alabama win the crystal football again. However, giving Nick Saban a second chance is very dangerous. I think that the Crimson Tide will be extremely focused and may play near flawlessly. Thus, Alabama will be extremely difficult to beat.

My Pick: 27-21 Alabama

Matt’s Take: Everyone and their brother is picking the Crimson Tide to roll over the Bulldogs. I disagree, here’s why: Georgia’s West Coast offense will lead the Bulldogs over Alabama in a monumental upset. Aaron Murray already has 30 passing touchdowns this season and has an incredible arm. He is also surrounded by weapons Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. Georgia always produces top of the line wide receivers and this class is no different. Georgia’s offensive line however will be the key to this game. If they can give their quarterback time in the pocket then I see the Bulldogs pulling this one off. On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia has a top linebacker in the country in Jarvis Jones who I see making multiple plays in this game.

Georgia 24, Alabama 21

#12 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

To say that the Big Ten was down this season would be an understatement. Seven of the 12 teams in the conference have seven wins or less, and only three teams (all in the Legends Division) are ranked in the latest BCS standings, no higher than 12th. But as the ACC can attest, the BCS bowls would rather take an unranked Wisconsin squad than the Utah State team that nearly beat the Badgers at home back in September. As a result, the Big Ten title game is as important as it was last season, when Wisconsin beat Michigan State 42-39.

Wisconsin’s 7-5 overall record and 4-4 conference record are a little misleading. The Badgers have lost three overtime games this season, and their other two losses came by a combined six points. One of those two losses was to Nebraska on the road, and Wisconsin nearly pulled off a furious second half comeback against the Cornhuskers. For a team that has had numerous injuries and quarterback issues for a good portion of the year, that isn’t too bad. In this game, the Badgers will need to do what they do best in order to beat Nebraska and earn a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl: run the ball. In recent weeks Monte Ball has shown glimpses of what made him a preseason Heisman candidate, and Nebraska has had trouble against the run this season. If the offensive line can open up holes for Ball, Wisconsin will be in good shape.

Nebraska might be the most inconsistent team in the entire nation. The Cornhuskers have benefited from blown calls in at least one game this season, but most weeks one does not know what to expect from Bo Pelini’s squad. Some weeks the defense saves the offense from being blamed for a poor performance, while in other weeks the offense finds a groove and can score close to 40 points. Nebraska doesn’t take particularly good care of the ball either, committing 29 turnovers this season. If the Cornhuskers to win a conference title for the first time since 1999, the offense will need to be sharp and the defense will need to find a way to slow down Ball.

I thought Wisconsin was improving near the end of the season, but the team’s lopsided victories may have been a result of who it played. I have to cringe often when watching Nebraska games, but I think in this one Rex Burkhead provides a spark on offense and his leadership on the field makes a difference.

My Pick: 27-24 Nebraska

Matt’s Take: The top two teams in the big ten face off, other than you know…THE OHIO STATE BUCKEYES. Both of these teams have the same style of play: smash-mouth football. Montee Ball recently broke the FBS record for most touchdowns as a running back. He is slightly better than the Peyton Hillis prototype Rex Burkehead. This game will not get much attention from the national media because both teams aren’t deserving of a BCS bowl even though the winner will receive an invitation to the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin 21, Nebraska 18

#18 Texas at #6 Kansas State (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

Last time the Wildcats played, they lost a chance to play in the national title game. This time, Kansas State will lose out on a chance to play in a BCS bowl altogether if it loses to Texas. Some teams may suffer from the “hangover effect” after a setback like the one against Baylor two weekends ago, but it would be hard to attribute another lackluster performance by Kansas State to that considering Bill Snyder’s team has had an extra week to prepare.

Colin Klein still has a chance to win the Heisman Trophy, but he is no longer the front-runner for the award. Klein can do a lot for his case by destroying a Texas defense that has been decent all season, though. Kansas State’s offense was stopped by a previously awful Baylor defense in its last outing, so it may be easier said than done, but we have seen the Wildcats do well against good defenses before. Klein may want to return to a punishing run-first style of play, as the Longhorns have the worst run defense in the Big 12. Forming a 1-2 punch with leading rusher John Hubert would be very difficult for Texas to stop.

The only way the Longhorns win this game is if the quarterback play improves tremendously. Case McCoy has been named the starter for this game, but the Texas fanbase has to be getting tired of the quarterback controversy. Along with the fact that neither quarterback has shown the ability to guide the team down the field on a consistent basis, both have had problems with accuracy. It is unlikely that the offense will be able to perform as efficiently as Baylor two weeks ago, so Texas will need to rely on its defense to avoid being blown out. That is too much to ask, in my opinion.

My Pick: 45-24 Kansas State

Matt’s Take: Collin Klein, that’s all.

Kansas State 42, Texas 28

5 More to Flip To

Louisville at Rutgers (Thursday, 7:30 PM ET)

A win by Rutgers would place the Scarlet Knights in the Orange Bowl.

#11 Oklahoma at TCU (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

If the Sooners beat TCU, they’ll be hoping for a Kansas State loss to give them an automatic BCS bid.

#23 Oklahoma State at Baylor (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

This might be the highest scoring contest of the weekend.

#20 Boise State at Nevada (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

If things get really crazy ahead of them, the Broncos might be able to make a BCS bowl if they can impress the voters enough against Nevada.

#13 Florida State at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

This game is very similar to the Pac-12 title game last season, where Georgia Tech may need an NCAA waiver to play in a bowl game if they lose and finish 6-7.

– K. Becks

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