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2011 NCAA College Football – Week 11 Preview

Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal take on Oregon with the nation's longest winning streak--and perhaps a national title shot--on the line.
Craig Mitchelldyer, Getty Images

While we may not have the marquee appeal of another #1 vs. #2 matchup this week, there are still plenty of huge games in college football this week. Third-ranked Stanford must face #6 Oregon to keep its national title hopes alive, while #12 Penn State will look to escape all its controversy with a big game against #19 Nebraska in its first game since Joe Paterno was relieved of his duties. And, to whet your appetite for another big Saturday, three top 25 teams are in action this Thursday night. Here’s what you should look for in this week’s games involving teams from the AP Top 25.

Western Kentucky (5-4) at #1 Louisiana State (9-0)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7:00 PM ET on ESPNU]

After winning last week’s defensive slugfest with Alabama, the Tigers take a quick step out of conference play this week. They will look to avoid a letdown against a Hilltoppers squad that started the season 0-4, but has turned things around and is riding a five-game winning streak. However, it may be tough sledding for a WKU offense that ranks 101st nationally in scoring going against the nation’s second-best defense. A win will move LSU to 10-0 for the first time since the Tigers’ national championship season in 1958.

#2 Oklahoma State (9-0) at Texas Tech (5-4)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on ABC]

Texas Tech has lost four of its last five, but Oklahoma State will not be taking the Red Raiders lightly considering that one win was an upset of then-#1 Oklahoma. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have their highest ranking in school history after winning a wild shootout over #17 Kansas State. OSU’s offense just keeps rolling, ranking third nationally in total yards and second in both passing and scoring. While Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon rack up the passing statistics, running back Joseph Randle has turned into another home run threat for the Cowboys, putting up 409 total yards and scoring 11 touchdowns in the last three games. Texas Tech rolled up 41 points and 572 yards in its upset of the Sooners. But in the two games since (losses to Iowa State and Texas), the Red Raiders have managed just 701 yards and 27 points combined.

#6 Oregon (8-1) at #3 Stanford (9-0)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

This should be the game of the year in the Pac-12, as two of the nation’s most potent offenses square off. Oregon relies on speed and a powerful running game that ranks fifth in the nation behind Heisman finalist LaMichael James, who leads the nation in yards per game (151.6). On the other side, while quarterback Andrew Luck understandably gets all the hype, the Cardinal offers a much more balanced attack, averaging 284 passing yards and 225 rushing yards per game. Both offenses are in the top 10 nationally in total yardage and in the top five in scoring, so expect a shootout. Luck has thrown multiple touchdowns in each of Stanford’s last nine games, the first Pac-12 player to do so since 2005.

#4 Alabama (8-1) at Mississippi State (5-4)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7:45 PM ET on ESPN]

The Crimson Tide faithful can’t help but wonder what might have been after Alabama miscues (four missed field goals and a fourth-quarter interception at the goal line) doomed their chances to knock off top-ranked LSU last week. But all is not lost, as the Tide are still very much in the national title hunt (although they’ll need some help from whoever plays Oklahoma State, Stanford or Boise State). Alabama leads the nation in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense. This week, it’ll go against a Bulldogs team that alternates quarterbacks (the two have combined for 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions) and ranks 64th nationally in scoring. Look for a big day from Alabama running back Trent Richardson — the Heisman candidate put up 89 yards rushing and 80 receiving against LSU, the nation’s second-best rush defense. He should have plenty of room for even bigger numbers against a Mississippi State defense that ranks 66th against the run.

Texas Christian (7-2) at #5 Boise State (8-0)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 PM ET on Versus]

TCU, which is leaving for the Big 12 next season, has won 21 consecutive Mountain West games. But that streak will face its biggest challenge on the blue turf at Boise State, where the Broncos have not lost a home conference game since 1998. Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore has thrown 29 touchdowns this season, but has been kept out of the end zone in two previous meetings with TCU. But he may have to find a way to score, as the Broncos could be without leading rusher Doug Martin, who is listed as day-to-day with a leg injury suffered last week against UNLV. After giving up 50 points in a season-opening loss to Baylor, the TCU defense has improved steadily, holding six of its last eight opponents to 20 or fewer points.

#7 Oklahoma BYE

The Sooners have the week off and will return to action next week at Baylor.

Tennessee (4-5) at #8 Arkansas (8-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 6:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

Arkansas trailed Texas A&M 35-17 at halftime on October 1. Whatever the coaches said in the locker room, obviously worked then and hasn’t worn off as the Razorbacks have won five straight, including wins over the then-#14 Aggies, #15 Auburn and #10 South Carolina. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is 11th in the nation in passing yards per game (291.8) and the Hogs rank 15th in scoring (first in the SEC). Although Arkansas’ defense has been respectable (55th in total yards, 40th in scoring), it should be up to the challenge of slowing down a Tennessee offense that ranks 96th in scoring and 97th in total offense. Before shutting out Middle Tennessee State last week, 24-0, the Vols offense had put up just 28 points total during a four-game losing streak.

Wake Forest (5-4) at #9 Clemson (8-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPNU]

Clemson has had a week off to recover from its loss to Georgia Tech, and the Tigers offense can’t wait to get back to work. Prior to their 17-point, four turnover effort against the Yellow Jackets, the Clemson offense had been a machine, rolling up 35-plus points in seven of the Tigers first eight games. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been spectacular, already throwing for nearly 2,800 yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. Clemson could clinch the ACC Atlantic Division for the second time in three years with a win.

#10 Virginia Tech (8-1) at #20 Georgia Tech (7-2)

[Thursday, Nov. 10 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN

In each of the last six years, the winner of this game has advanced to the ACC Championship game, and this year is looking no different. If you like old-fashioned power running, this is the game for you. Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense is second in the nation in rushing (328 yards per game), while Virginia Tech running back David Wilson is the nation’s second-leading rusher (1,185 yards this season and eight 100-yard games). Virginia Tech will need another strong showing from its defense -- the Hokies rank sixth in the nation in rush defense and have held their last three opponents to 17 points or less. Georgia Tech is riding a six-game home winning streak in which it has averaged 41 points per game. Both teams are coming in off a bye.

#11 Houston (9-0) at Tulane (2-8)

[Thursday, Nov. 10 at 8:00 PM ET on CBSSN]

Let’s be honest: the Cougars can probably name their score in this one. Case Keenum now holds most major career passing records and is trying to keep himself in the Heisman race and his team in the BCS hunt. Houston leads the nation in passing, scoring and total offense, and will be going against a Tulane team that ranks 111th in scoring defense, has lost seven straight and has given up at least 33 points in each of those seven games. Houston is averaging 52.7 points per game, which puts them on pace to go down as the highest scoring team in FBS history.

#19 Nebraska (7-2) at #12 Penn State (8-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Although the game itself will certainly be overshadowed by the turmoil currently swirling around Penn State, this is still an important showdown for both football teams. Nebraska is coming off a stunning upset in Lincoln at the hands of Northwestern and must win to stay in the Legends Division hunt. Penn State will win or lose this game with defense — it ranks third nationally in scoring defense and eighth in total defense. The Nittany Lions probably can’t expect much help from an anemic offense that ranks 102nd in the nation in scoring. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead has had 100 yards or more rushing and receiving in the Cornhuskers’ last seven games. This was supposed to be Joe Paterno’s last game at Beaver Stadium, but the Penn State Board of Trustees fired him Thursday amid the ongoing scandal surrounding child molestation charges filed against former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Assistant coach Tom Bradley now takes over head coaching duties.

#13 Michigan State (7-2) at Iowa (6-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

With upset losses by Nebraska and Michigan last week, the Spartans and Hawkeyes are the only two teams who still control their own destinies in the Big Ten Legends Division. Iowa running back Marcus Coker has carried the Hawkeyes this season, rushing for 100 yards in six of nine games and has scored two touchdowns in each of the last four weeks. On the other side, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins recovered from a disastrous outing at Nebraska to throw for 296 yards and two touchdowns in a fourth-quarter comeback win at Minnesota last week. The Spartans average 36 points per game at home this season, but have scored less than nine per game in their three road contests.

#24 Auburn (6-3) at #14 Georgia (7-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS]

Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell, the team’s leading rusher, will return from a one-game suspension to lead the Bulldogs against the nation’s 84th-ranked run defense. Leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury, could be back this week, as well. They’ll be going against an Auburn team that has had a bye week to work on a struggling offense that has been held to 16 or fewer points in five of the last six games. Auburn has not won in Athens since 2005. Georgia can clinch the SEC East with a win over Auburn and a South Carolina loss to Florida.

Florida (5-4) at #15 South Carolina (7-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on CBS]

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has been cleared to play after leaving last week’s game against Arkansas with a concussion. However, Shaw will need to improve if he is going to carry the Gamecocks back to the SEC championship game. In his last three games combined, he has thrown for just 370 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. On the other side of the ball, a Gators defense that started out on fire, giving up just 36 points total in the first four games, has gone into a tailspin, surrendering over 28 points per game during the last five games, in which the team has gone 1-4 — with all four losses to ranked teams. It certainly hasn’t helped that Florida’s offense has been equally bad, only scoring more than 20 points once in that span.

#16 Wisconsin (7-2) at Minnesota (2-7)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network]

Wisconsin ended a two-game losing skid last week by blasting Purdue, 62-17. Although Minnesota’s record certainly wouldn’t indicate this game would be much of a challenge, the Golden Gophers have shown signs of progress in recent weeks, upsetting Iowa and falling in the final minutes against Michigan State. However, they will certainly face a tall order in upsetting the Badgers, who rank fourth in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is averaging nearly seven yards per carry and leads the nation in touchdowns. He needs just two more scores to tie the Big Ten record. The Badgers have not won a true road game this year, with their only win away from home at Soldier Field in Chicago vs. Northern Illinois.

Texas A&M (5-4) at #17 Kansas State (7-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC]

Texas A&M ranks sixth in the nation in total offense, but Kansas State showed in last week’s final second loss to #2 Oklahoma State that they can go toe-to-toe with the best offenses in the country. Although Kansas State certainly isn’t a passing team (it ranks 111th nationally in passing yards) and quarterback Collin Klein is averaging over 100 rushing yards a game, he should be able to find some success through the air against the nation’s worst pass defense. Texas A&M will be without leading rusher Christine Michael, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. In their four losses this year, the Aggies have been outscored 101-30 after halftime.

Washington (6-3) at #18 Southern Cal (7-2)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:45 PM ET on FX]

USC quarterback Matt Barkley threw for a school record six touchdowns last week at Colorado and will be looking for another big game this week against the Pac-12’s worst pass defense. In three games against ranked teams this season (all losses), the Huskies have been outscored 150-76 and turned the ball over nine times. Washington has won the last two in this series. Because of a quirk in Pac-12 scheduling this year, the game will be played at Southern Cal for the second year in a row.

#21 Texas (6-2) at Missouri (4-5)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on FX]

After a slow start, Texas’ running game is finally clicking on all cylinders. The Longhorns have put up at least 400 rushing yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 1977 and will be taking on a Missouri team that just gave up 686 total yards in a loss to Baylor. However, they’ll be going against a Missouri offense that can rack up some big numbers on its own. The Tigers rank 10th in the nation in total offense (500 yards per game) and running back Henry Josey leads the Big 12 in rushing. Texas has won three consecutive games in Columbia, outscoring the Tigers 127-43. This may be Mizzou’s last chance to get a win over Texas, since the Tigers will move to the SEC next season.

#22 Michigan (7-2) at Illinois (6-3)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN]

These are two teams looking to save their seasons. Illinois is coming in off a bye, but is still trying to end a three-game losing skid. And Michigan has lost two of its last three. This week, Illinois will rely on its defense, ranked sixth in the nation, to slow down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who has shown flashes of his home run ability. He leads the Big Ten in total offense and has had at least one rushing touchdown in seven of the eight games in which he’s played, but has also been prone to mistakes (12 interceptions, fourth most in the nation). Although he may not get the headlines that Robinson does, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is an equally dangerous dual threat, averaging 187 yards passing and 56 yards rushing per game. Last year, the two teams combined for over 1,200 total yards in the Wolverines’ 67-65 triple overtime victory.

West Virginia (6-3) at #23 Cincinnati (7-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:00 PM ET on ABC]

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith continues to put up big numbers (WVU ranks fifth nationally in passing and Smith has thrown at least two touchdown passes in all but one game this year), but special teams miscues and shaky second-half defense has cost the team dearly in losses against Syracuse and  Louisville. Cincinnati is solid on both sides of the ball, ranking 12th nationally in scoring offense and 18th in scoring defense. The Bearcats have trailed by at least nine points in the second half of their three Big East games this season, but have come back to win each time.

Central Florida (4-5) at #25 Southern Miss (8-1)

[Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8:00 PM ET on CBSSN]

Southern Miss is off to its best start since 1996 and is ranked for the first time since 2004. The Golden Eagles boast a balanced attack (252 passing yards, 207 rushing yards per game) on offense and are helped by an explosive defense that not only ranks 19th in the nation in fewest points allowed, but has shown it can put up some points of its own (four defensive or special teams touchdowns last week at East Carolina). Central Florida is 0-4 on the road this year; the Knights have not lost five straight road games since 2004. With a win, the Golden Eagles would have their first eight-game winning streak since 1958.

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