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College Football 2012 — Week 13 Preview

Michigan hopes to end Ohio State's unbeaten season.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Iron Bowl. The Game. Bedlam. They’re the games that need no introduction. And those are just some of the ones with cool nicknames. They don’t even take into account big games this week like Florida/Florida State, Notre Dame/USC and South Carolina/Clemson.

Yes, it’s rivalry week. For most of these teams, it’s the final game of the regular season, and they’ve saved the best for last. Not only are bragging rights on the line, but many of these big games will have an impact on the national- and conference-title races. So read on for what should be a fun week in college football.

[All times Eastern]

#1 NOTRE DAME (11-0) AT SOUTHERN CAL (7-4)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

Notre Dame is 11-0 for the first time since 1989 and know they are just one game away from a national-title shot. The Fighting Irish have risen to the top thanks to a defense that is tied with Alabama for first in scoring defense, allowing just 10.1 points per game. Only two teams in the last five years have allowed fewer. USC came into the season with their own national title hopes, but are limping into this game having lost three of their last four. They will also be without quarterback Matt Barkley, who suffered a sprained shoulder in last week’s loss to UCLA. Star receiver Marqise Lee (924 yards and seven touchdowns in his last five games) should be able to stretch the field, but a lot of other Trojans will need to have big games to help USC pull off the upset. The Trojans have won nine of the last ten in this long-time rivalry.

AUBURN (3-8) AT #2 ALABAMA (10-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

The stakes are always high in the Iron Bowl, but this year there could be more on the line than usual. With Oregon and Kansas State falling last week, Auburn and Georgia are the last two obstacles standing between Alabama and the national championship game. Things could get ugly for an Auburn offense that, despite blowing out an FCS opponent last week, continues to rank near the bottom of virtually every offensive statistic. They’ll face an Alabama defense that is itching to show the A&M loss was a fluke and that they haven’t lost any of their SEC dominance. The Crimson Tide leads the nation in scoring defense and is second in total defense. Auburn is hoping to avoid going winless in the SEC for the first time since 1980.

GEORGIA TECH (6-5) AT #3 GEORGIA (10-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN]

Don’t look now, but Georgia suddenly controls its own destiny to win its first national championship in over three decades. If the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech this weekend and then upset Alabama in the SEC title game, they will be guaranteed a spot in the national championship game. Georgia, however, will have to face their toughest opposition yet to do it—thanks to some SEC scheduling quirks, the Bulldogs have beaten just one FBS team with a winning record this year. Quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown 16 touchdowns in his last five games and has not been picked off in his last three. The Bulldogs defense will be tested by the Yellow Jackets triple-option attack, but was at least able to get a preview last week against FCS Georgia Southern, which runs a similar offense. The Yellow Jackets have won three in a row and automatically clinched a spot in the ACC title game when Miami self-imposed a postseason ban this week. Georgia has won three in a row in this series and 10 of the last 11.

#20 MICHIGAN (8-3) AT #4 OHIO STATE (11-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on FOX]

There is no love lost between these two and, this year, the stakes are high for both teams. Ohio State is not eligible for the postseason, so this is the Buckeyes’ last game and opportunity to wrap up a 12-0 season and an outside shot at the AP national title. Michigan would like nothing better than to ruin the Buckeyes’ undefeated season but also have high stakes of their own—the Wolverines can still make the Big Ten title game with a win and a Nebraska loss. Denard Robinson is expected to play, but coach Brady Hoke will not say if he will be at quarterback. In last week’s win over Iowa, Robinson lined up at tailback while Devin Gardner, who has accounted for 939 yards and 13 touchdowns in three games as a starter, was under center. Ohio State, however, has no such question marks at quarterback where Braxton Miller is second in the conference in total offense and fourth in rushing. However, he was held scoreless for the first time this year last week at Wisconsin. Michigan won in Ann Arbor last year to snap a seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. The Wolverines have lost five straight in Columbus.

#5 OREGON (10-1) AT #16 OREGON STATE (8-2)

[Saturday, 3 p.m. on Pac-12 Network]

The Ducks’ loss to Stanford not only knocked them out of the national title picture, but they now find themselves needing help just to make the Pac-12 title game. Oregon needs to win and have UCLA beat Stanford this week to make the conference championship. Oregon is fourth in the nation in total offense and second in scoring, but Stanford may have provided a blueprint to slow them down, holding the Ducks to just 405 yards and 14 points (snapping an NCAA-record streak of 23 games with at least 30 points). This week they’ll be tested by an Oregon State defense that has given up an average of just 12 points per game at home this season. On-again/off-again starter Sean Mannion will be under center for the Beavers after throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s win over California. Oregon has won four in a row in this series.

#6 FLORIDA (10-1) AT #10 FLORIDA STATE (10-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC]

The SEC haters won’t want to read this, but we could be just one more upset away from another all-SEC national championship game. If Notre Dame falls to USC and Florida can win in Tallahassee, then the Gators, who are #4 in the current BCS standings, would likely move up to face the winner of the SEC title game in the national championship. But that may be easier said than done against the Seminoles, one of just two teams in the nation that rank in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense. Both teams feature stellar defenses, with the Seminoles and Gators both ranking in the top five of total defense and scoring defense. On the other side of the ball, however, the differences are stark. The Seminoles rank seventh nationally in scoring offense and have put up at least 30 points in nine of 11 games this year. Florida, meanwhile, has been fortunate to have a defense that can carry the water for an offense that ranks 107th in total yards and 82nd in scoring. Florida State has won the last two in this series.

#7 KANSAS STATE, BYE

Kansas State’s national-title hopes are probably gone after last week’s loss to Baylor. But the stakes are still high for the Wildcats. They get a bye this week to prepare for next week’s matchup with #18 Texas, which could guarantee them the Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl bid.

#8 LOUISIANA STATE (9-2) AT ARKANSAS (4-7)

[Friday, 2:30 p.m. on CBS]

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson is third in the SEC in passing, but he’ll face a tough task against the Tigers defense, which is giving up less than 180 passing yards per game (13th nationally). However, LSU gave up a season-high 316 passing yards in last week’s win over Ole Miss. Wilson’s counterpart for LSU, Zach Mettenberger, has come on lately, throwing for 270+ yards in the last three games after averaging less than 178 in the previous eight games. LSU is mathematically still alive for a spot in the SEC championship game, but a win this week and a Florida loss to Florida State would likely put the Tigers in the BCS for the sixth time in 13 years. Tyler Wilson needs just 88 passing yards to become the Razorbacks’ all-time leading passer.

MISSOURI (5-6) AT #9 TEXAS A&M (9-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2]

Their first years in the SEC have had markedly different results for A&M and Mizzou. The Aggies boast the SEC’s best offense, have pulled off the biggest college football upset of the year and now have a good chance to have the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in history. Missouri, meanwhile, has struggled through a rash of injuries and disappointing performances this year and now finds itself needing to pull off a road upset just to avoid their first losing record in eight years. A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has already set a number of freshman records and now just needs 167 total yards to break Cam Newton’s conference record for total offense. He is second nationally in total offense (378.3 points per game) and could be in for another big day if the Aggies choose to showcase him for the Heisman voters. Missouri quarterback James Franklin suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to Syracuse and is questionable for this game. So look for senior running back Kendial Lawrence (414 yards and six touchdowns in his last four games) to carry the load for the Tigers. Missouri has won the past three and five of the last six against the Aggies.

#11 STANFORD (9-2) AT #15 UCLA (9-2)

[Saturday, 6:30 p.m. on FOX]

This could be the first of back-to-back meetings between these two teams. If Stanford wins, they would win the Pac-12 North (via tiebreaker over Oregon) and would host UCLA for a rematch next week in the conference championship. The Cardinal held Oregon to a season-low 405 yards last week and limited Kenjon Barner to just 66 rushing yards, less than half of his season average entering the game. This week, they’ll face another challenge from UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher. Quarterback Brett Hundley has also played well for the Bruins, throwing 12 touchdowns and running for four more in his last five games. Since taking over as the Stanford starter, quarterback Kevin Hogan has thrown for 649 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions while leading the Cardinals to a 3-0 mark including upsets of Oregon State and Oregon. Stanford has won four in a row in this series.

#13 SOUTH CAROLINA (9-2) AT #12 CLEMSON (10-1)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN]

This is one of college football’s oldest, most bitter rivalries and the game could be a good one with two contrasting styles. Clemson’s offense has been almost unstoppable this year, ranking 6th nationally in total offense and fourth in scoring. In his last four games, quarterback Tajh Boyd has thrown for 1,459 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for four more. This week, however, he’ll face his toughest defensive test since a Week Four loss to Florida State. The Gamecocks rank 13th nationally in both total and scoring defense. However, some weaknesses have been found in recent weeks as South Carolina has given up 25.8 points per game in their last five after averaging just 10.5 through their first six. South Carolina is looking for its fourth straight win over the Tigers, something that hasn’t been done in this series since 1951-54.

#22 OKLAHOMA STATE (7-3) AT #14 OKLAHOMA (8-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN]

With Kansas State’s upset loss last week, the Bedlam rivalry takes on new meaning as both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are suddenly in the running for a Big 12 championship. The game could be another shootout as both teams rank in the top ten nationally in scoring. The Cowboys have announced that Clint Chelf, who began the season as the third-stringer, will start this week but that backup J.W. Walsh will play in some formations designed to take advantage of his running ability. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has thrown for 300 or more yards in five of his last six games, tossing 17 touchdowns and six interceptions in that stretch. But this game could hinge on the Oklahoma defense, which has been burned for 710 rushing yards the last two weeks. They’ll be tasked with slowing down Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher. OSU blew out the Sooners, 44-10, last year but had lost the previous eight in this series.

#17 NEBRASKA (9-2) AT IOWA (4-7)

[Friday, 12 p.m. on ABC]

Iowa is hoping to avoid its first six-game losing streak in 13 years, but that task may be easier said than done against a Nebraska team that is one of just two in the country that ranks in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense (Florida State is the other). We already knew that Nebraska’s offense was good (averaging 479 yards per game, their best since a national championship season in 1997). But, since being torched by Braxton Miller and Ohio State in early October, the Blackshirts defense has rebounded as well, giving up averages of just 19.6 points and 283.6 yards per game during their current five-game winning streak. That doesn’t bode well for an Iowa offense that ranks 113th nationally in total offense and 109th in scoring. Nebraska can clinch a spot in its first-ever Big Ten title game with either a win over Iowa or a Michigan loss at Ohio State. The Cornhuskers are seeking their first six-game winning streak since 2001.

TEXAS CHRISTIAN (6-4) AT #18 TEXAS (8-2)

[Thursday, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN]

Since back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma, the Longhorns have righted the ship, rolling up 141 points and over 1,900 yards of offense during their four-game winning streak. However, there are still some question marks as Texas was actually outgained in two of those games and needed a comeback in final seconds to beat 1-10 Kansas. This week, they’ll go against a struggling Horned Frogs defense that ranks seventh nationally in rush defense but has given up over 38 points per game in its last four games (lost three). After throwing for eight touchdowns against Baylor and Texas Tech, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrown just four touchdowns and three interceptions in his last three games.

CONNECTICUT (4-6) AT #19 LOUISVILLE (9-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on Big East Network]

Louisville saw its dreams of an undefeated season dashed two weeks ago at Syracuse. But the Cardinals have had a bye week to recover and prepare for a run toward a Big East title and a BCS bid. They’re a game behind #21 Rutgers in the standings, but will play the Scarlet Knights next week. However, they’ll do it without junior running back Senorise Perry, who led the conference with 11 rushing touchdowns but tore his ACL in the Syracuse loss. It should be an interesting challenge for Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who ranks fifth nationally in passer rating and is coming off a career-high 424 yard game, going against a UConn defense leading the conference in pass defense. The Huskies, however, could find it difficult to outscore Louisville. Connecticut ranks 112th nationally in total offense and 120th in scoring. The Huskies have lost two in a row in this series and eight straight against ranked opponents.

#21 RUTGERS (9-1) AT PITTSBURGH (4-6)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN2]

Rutgers announced Tuesday that it would be leaving for the Big Ten. But before they go, they’re looking to take their first-ever Big East title, of which they can lock up at least a share with a win this week. Rutgers is averaging less than 25 points per game, but they haven’t had to score much thanks to a defense that has forced at least two turnovers in eight straight games and ranks fourth nationally in scoring at 12.4 points per game. For their part, Pitt is hoping to do more than just play spoiler—the Panthers need to win out to be bowl eligible.

OHIO (8-3) AT #23 KENT STATE (10-1)

[Friday, 11 a.m. on ESPNU]

Kent State is riding a school-record nine-game winning streak and has already clinched a spot in the MAC championship game for the first time ever. They are led by running back Dri Archer, who is averaging 10.3 yards per carry this year and has already rushed for 14 touchdowns and almost 1,300 yards. The Golden Flashes are 11th in the nation in rushing and will face a struggling Bobcats defense that has given up over 245 rushing yards per game the last three weeks. For Ohio to pull off the upset, they’ll need a big game from running back Beau Blankenship, who is 12th in the nation in rushing. He needs just 80 yards to set a team single-season rushing record. After starting the season 7-0, Ohio has lost three of its last four. The Bobcats have been outscored 142-28 in their last four games against ranked opponents.

#24 NORTHERN ILLINOIS (10-1) AT EASTERN MICHIGAN (2-9)

[Friday, 12 p.m., no television]

Northern Illinois has already clinched a trip to the conference title game, but is looking to tie a school record with its 11th straight win and extend its nations-best 15-game conference winning streak. The Huskies are led by dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch, the nation’s third-leading rusher with 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, to go along with 2,582 yards and 22 scores through the air. He should be able to have another big day against an Eastern Michigan defense that ranks 110th in scoring and dead last (124th) in rushing. Northern Illinois has won four in a row in this series and 10 of the last 11.

#25 MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-3) AT MISSISSIPPI (5-6)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. on ESPNU]

Ole Miss suffered fourth-quarter losses to Vanderbilt and LSU and now finds itself needing an Egg Bowl win to become bowl-eligible for the first time in three years. They’ll have to do it against a Mississippi State squad that has lost three of its last four, but has held six opponents this year to 14 or fewer points. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace is fifth in the SEC in passing, but has been mistake-prone, throwing 13 interceptions to go with 14 touchdowns. The Bulldogs have won three in a row in this series and the Mississippi State seniors would like nothing better than to go out without having ever lost to the Rebels.

IDAHO (1-10) AT #25 UTAH STATE (9-2)

[Saturday, 3 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]

Utah State is ranked for the first time in 51 years and can clinch their first outright conference title since 1936 with a win this weekend. That shouldn’t be too problematic against an Idaho team that has given up at least 34 points in eight of its last nine games. The Aggies, meanwhile, boast a potent defense that is eighth in the nation in scoring and seventh in sacks. They were burned for 629 yards last week by Louisiana Tech, the nation’s top offense, but should have considerably better luck against an Idaho offense that ranks 121st nationally in scoring.

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