2014 NCAAF Week 14 Weekend Preview

November 28, 2014

It’s finally here. And no, I don’t mean the beginning of the Christmas season.

The final week of college football’s regular season has arrived, which means not only a boatload of rivalry games on this week’s slate but also one final chance for an unknown to knock off one of the top teams fighting for a playoff spot before next week’s conference championship matchups.

Winning football games in November is never easy, no matter the opponent. And when you throw in the pageantry and tradition of an established rivalry in the mix, anything can happen on the last week of this month. Rarely do things play out exactly as the pundits predict.

Still, we’ll try to pick them correctly on Around The Corn. After last week’s tie with Taylor, the overall records in the head-to-head prediction game now stand:

K. Becks: 38-22

Guests: 39-21

This week my friend and former roommate Zach Mauric will try to put heavy pressure on me heading into Championship Week by extending the guests’ lead. Zach has been pretty good at this in the past and I can tell you with certainty that I will be hearing from him if I am not victorious this week.

Here are 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

#13 Arizona State at #11 Arizona (Friday, 3:30 PM ET)

If you’ve never watched the Duel in the Desert before, no is going to blame you. It’s not often that both teams come into this game inside the Top 15 with a chance to play in the Pac-12 title game. The scenario is very simple: if you win, you still have a shot to meet Oregon next weekend. If you lose, you’re out. Generally the Territorial Cup is enough to get the Sun Devils and Wildcats amped up to play this game, but this year the entire country will be interested to see the result.

Despite the success that each team has had in 2014, neither Arizona nor Arizona State has been particularly consistent this season. The Wildcats are coming off of a blowout victory against Utah on the road, displaying the ability to score at ease and do it quickly. Arizona is at an advantage if it can push this game into the high 30s or low 40s, although only slightly. Arizona State has been lighting up the scoreboard recently as well, posting 52 last weekend on an admittedly poor Washington State squad. So while each will have its chances to score on offense, I think that the X-factor in this one is the defensive secondary. Arizona hasn’t allowed more than 26 points in its last three contests, but played two of the bottom-feeders in the Pac-12 in passing offense. Arizona State has been much less impressive defensively, but had to stop far better quarterbacks in the process.

It appears as though the team with the better performance through the air will win this game. Arizona State has a solid rushing attack as well, but as a senior in his final regular season game, Taylor Kelly will be called upon to make big plays. Anu Solomon has struggled recently for the Wildcats, but Arizona State gives up more yards than any of the previous three defenses he has faced this month. Too young to know any better, I see Solomon coming out ready to play and putting Arizona’s defense in position to make a key stop late in the fourth quarter to preserve a victory.

My Pick: 42-38 Arizona

Zach’s Take: For me, this game is an easy pick. ASU has had a great season considering they weren’t picked to do much of anything in the off season. Arizona has had a solid season as well, but I’m gonna overlook the thrashing they took from UCLA and recent upset by Oregon State and give this one to the Sun Devils. ASU 38, Arizona 32

#16 Georgia Tech at #9 Georgia (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Often an overlooked rivalry game, this one has the potential to make major ripples throughout the college football landscape. If Georgia were to win this game and Missouri loses to Arkansas on Friday afternoon, the Bulldogs would be the team representing the SEC East in next week’s conference championship game. The Yellow Jackets have already wrapped up a spot in the ACC title game, but have only been victorious in this rivalry once since 2000. Expect some clean, old-fashioned hate to brew in this one.

Since many people outside of the greater Atlanta area have not watched the Yellow Jackets much this season, let it be known that these two teams are very similar in style. Both Georgia and Georgia Tech run the ball very effectively, the latter using a slew of backs in a triple option system while the former makes use of Todd Gurley. At the same time, neither team has completely figured out how to stop opponents from running all over them on defense. Thus, this could be one of the rare contests where run happy offenses manage to put up a lot of points. And if past results are any indication, that is exactly what will happen. Four of the past six winners in this rivalry have scored at least 40 points to win.

Georgia Tech has had another quietly successful season, so do not expect the Bulldogs to trounce their ACC opponent. I don’t really see either team building a large lead unless turnovers become a factor, which probably won’t happen. Both teams lead their respective conference in turnover margin this season. This being said, there isn’t a whole lot separating these teams other than the fact that the Bulldogs will have a home crowd behind them. I’ll take Georgia in a close one here because of the slight advantage caused by the hedges.

My Pick: 42-37 Georgia

Zach’s Take: I haven’t seen Georgia Tech play at all this season, so I can’t really say I’m an expert in this particular matchup. I do know that Georgia has had its ups and downs, but in my mind any team with Todd Gurley is the better team in pretty much every case. Georgia 27, GT 21

#4 Mississippi State at #18 Mississippi (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Things were shaping up for the 2014 edition of the Egg Bowl to be the most important game that this rivalry has ever seen. While it’s still an interesting matchup nonetheless, Ole Miss has resided itself to playing the role of spoiler. The Bulldogs are still looking to make it to the SEC title game, and with an Alabama loss to Auburn on Saturday evening that is still possible. But first Dan Mullen’s team must make it past a Rebels squad that is reeling after being thrashed 30-0 by Arkansas last weekend. Nothing would heal those wounds more quickly than a victory over the in-state rival.

The Heisman hype of Dak Prescott has subsided almost entirely, and for good reason. The junior has been terrific in games outside the spotlight, but in truth he has been just average in Mississippi State’s biggest games this season. At least, average as a passing quarterback. Prescott has still been tough to stop on the ground, and as a quarterback in the mold of Tim Tebow that is what he will revert to when a big play is needed. At one time Ole Miss would have been a prime candidate to stifle Prescott’s rushing abilities, but the Rebels have struggled immensely in that area due to a number of injuries. Ole Miss has allowed over 150 yards on the ground in three of its past four games, all of which were losses. Obviously the Rebels can give the Bulldogs trouble if good Bo shows up, but in order to break the hearts of Mississippi State the underdogs will need to do a better job stopping the run.

I don’t think that the Bulldogs will be able to hang onto the No. 4 spot in the rankings while potentially sitting out the SEC title game, but it’s not worth exploring the “what ifs” right now. The bottom line is that Mississippi State is still in the hunt with a win, and both of these squads know that. After watching the heartbreak that Ole Miss has suffered over the last month and the uninspired way it played at Arkansas, I see the Rebels giving a spirited yet less than perfect performance. That will be enough to keep this one close, but not enough to score a victory.

My Pick: 27-23 Mississippi State

Zach’s Take: Dak Prescott is a fantastic QB and Mississippi State has a very solid offense (against the majority of SEC defenses). Ole Miss just hasn’t been the same team since losing its best receiver, its key matchup against Auburn, and its Final Four hopes all in one play. Ouch. This one isn’t close. Miss. St. 41, Ole Miss 20

#18 Minnesota at #14 Wisconsin (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

This is in fact real life; Minnesota is playing for a spot in the Big Ten title game. At the same time, Wisconsin is playing its best football of the season and is in the driver’s seat to play Ohio State in Indianapolis next weekend. While all eyes in Columbus will be on The Game this weekend, the wise fans will also keep tabs on who might be in the way of the Buckeyes’ quest for a spot in the playoff.

Like several other marquee matchups this weekend, a heavy dose of the run game will be employed by both teams. Many people think that Melvin Gordon should be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, but there’s an interesting asterisk that can be applied to his statistics. The best Big Ten team against the run that Wisconsin has faced this year is Iowa, which is ranked No. 7 in the conference. Just ahead of the Hawkeyes in that category is Minnesota, who held Ameer Abdullah to less than 100 yards last weekend. It would be a bold prediction to say that the Golden Gophers can hold Gordon under the century mark as well, but I think that is what will have to happen for Minnesota to win this game. Senior back David Cobb may not be able to go for the Golden Gophers, which would make the Minnesota offense almost anemic. It’s not to say that the other backs behind him cannot get the job done, but rather that the passing game would have to step up and that hasn’t been required of Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner this season.

If this game is a defensive struggle, it’s either team’s game. Minnesota has been gritty on both sides of the ball, but potentially without Cobb on offense, the Golden Gophers may have trouble moving the football. Wisconsin’s offense has come alive in the second half of the season and would love to make this one a shootout with Minnesota’s offensive philosophy in mind. If you’re a fan of the underdog, this may not be the game to bet on this weekend.

My Pick: 28-17 Wisconsin

Zach’s Take: Better overall team and an improved passing game, Wisconsin 24 Minnesota 14

#15 Auburn at #1 Alabama (Saturday, 7:45 PM ET)

It will be nearly impossible to top the ending to the 2013 Iron Bowl. And Auburn is no longer in the playoff picture, so the game doesn’t carry quite the weight that it did last season. But to assume that both of these teams would not love to win this game simply because it would mean bragging rights for the next 365 days would be silly. These teams do not like each other, and no number next to either school’s name will change the emotion that will be displayed throughout this game. Additionally, Alabama is still playing for an SEC title game berth.

Alabama isn’t going to have an easy time with the Tigers this season, if only because Auburn is essentially the same football team as in 2013 and the Crimson Tide are a bit different. In last year’s Iron Bowl, neither quarterback threw and interception and A.J. McCarron’s three passing touchdowns were a big reason why Alabama even had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. Auburn has continued to employ the up-tempo run game with a “get the job done at any cost” defensive philosophy; the only difference is that the Tigers haven’t had quite the good luck that they experienced last season. In order for the Crimson Tide to retain the No. 1 ranking, Blake Sims will have to come up big like he did against LSU a few weekends ago. Sims has been efficient but not spectacular the second half of the season, and that’s really all Alabama needs to ask of him. T.J. Yeldon can take care of the spectacular against Auburn’s iffy rush defense.

The Crimson Tide are a business as usual football team heading into big games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Nick Saban asks his players who were around last season what it felt like to lose in such a fashion to their most hated rivals. Alabama has looked strong this season, but is clearly beatable and no team is more aware of that than the Tigers. The Crimson Tide could benefit from some early emotion, but truthfully this one will be tight for four quarters. Someone on either team will have to step up and make a play when things are hanging in the balance, and my gut tells me it will be one of the quarterbacks.

My Pick: 31-24 Alabama

Zach’s Take: This is where I pull the craziest play in my playbook and go with a hook and ladder. The obvious choice is the Crimson Tide. I am not a conventional guy. I believe firmly that rivalry games bring out the best and worst in teams. Alabama is on its way to building a dynasty and Auburn is a team that has had its own recent success. This year I think Auburn’s best will outweigh its worst side. Bama has been on a tear as of late, but for some reason I think this Iron Bowl belongs to the Tigers or War Eagle or whatever they want to be called. Auburn 34, Alabama 32

5 Games to Flip To

Arkansas at #17 Missouri (Friday, 2:30 PM ET)

The Tigers are one win away from playing in the SEC title game for a second consecutive season, but the Razorbacks have been on a tear as of late.

Michigan at #6 Ohio State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Zach’s Commentary: F*** Michigan, Ohio State by 5,000.

I concur, and also note that Ohio State could use an impressive win to stay even with TCU in the minds of the Committee.

Florida at #3 Florida State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Nearly every team in the second half of the season has given Florida State a game. Assuming that Florida won’t is silly.

#2 Oregon at Oregon State (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The Civil War has been interesting in prior years, but it would be a huge upset were the Ducks to go down in this one.

Utah State at #23 Boise State (Saturday, 10:15 PM ET)

If the Broncos can win out, they’ll most likely be headed to one of the six access bowls, which is almost like making a BCS bowl in the old system.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Zach did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

– K. Becks

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