Pigskin (P)review – Conference Championships and the Like

It’s a big Saturday for a lot of NCAA football conferences. Last chances for teams to assert themselves BCS-wise, and a lot of final games before the season wraps and the long (monthish-long) wait begins for bowl games. Here are your weekend notables and what has gone down already.

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP

  • #24 Southern Miss is currently visiting and leading undefeated #6 Houston, 42-21 in the 4th. Can Houston overcome and stay undefeated (seems kind of unlikely now)? What will it mean for them bowl-wise? It’s always interesting when a dominant team emerges from a smaller conference – interesting in that even when staying undefeated, it’s hard to crack into a notable bowl. Southern Miss is playing spoiler hardcore.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #14 Georgia takes on #1 LSU for a 4 PM kick-off. If LSU beats Georgia (at the Georgia Dome), they will be (almost certainly) headed to the BCS national title game . LSU has already nabbed the first 12-0 regular season in school history, and today they battle for their 11th SEC title (first since 2007 – the year LSU also won the national title). Georgia might not make it easy for them, having won ten straight games.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #15 Wisconsin and #13 Michigan State are meeting in Indianapolis for the first-ever Big Ten Conference Championship game – and a rematch (remember that mildly controversial last-second Michigan State hail mary win? No? Go look it up.). Wisconsin was battling for a chance to go to the national championship when it lost to Michigan State earlier this season. Now, a ticket to the Rose Bowl is on the line for the Spartans and Badgers, both of which are riding a four-game win streak. Kick-off at (the awkward time of) 8:17 PM.
BEDLAM
  • The Big 12 no longer has a championship game (because it is kind of falling apart) due to the lack of having 12 teams, but there are big things on the line tonight when #10 Oklahoma faces off with #3 Oklahoma State for what is referred to as Bedlam (kick-off at 8 PM). There is still a (slight) chance that Oklahoma State can leap-frog current-#2 Alabama and catapult into the national title game – they have to blow-out Oklahoma tonight. The Cowboys, however, are only 3-point favorites and have historically been on the losing side of the Bedlam match-up (Oklahoma has a nine game win-streak). If an Oklahoma State win isn’t a big enough beating, or if the Sooners take another win away, the winner will head to the Fiesta Bowl (to most likely battle Andrew Luck-led Stanford).

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

  • #5 Virginia Tech is looking to avenge its loss to #20 Clemson earlier this season in tonight’s ACC Championship game. Kick-off at 8 PM. The Hokies haven’t lost since falling to Clemson on October 1, whereas the Tigers, after a strong 8-0 start, have lost three of the last four – most recently falling to South Carolina a week ago (34-13, ouch). Tonight’s ACC winner will also head to the Orange Bowl (the Hokies made it that far last year, falling to Stanford in the Orange Bowl 40-12. Damn that Andrew Luck).
PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #9 Oregon is headed to the Rose Bowl after beating UCLA 49-31 on Friday night. The win sealed Oregon’s third-straight conference title. The Bruins kept it closer than most thought they would, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Ducks and RB LaMichael James (who found himself in the endzone three times), who might be slipping to the NFL next year (James is a junior). ┬áThe game was the last for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired earlier this week.

 

Pigskin Preview – Saturday Style Football with Friday Crazy.

College football provides a Thursday night match-up (or two), as well as a Friday game at this point in the season, but I generally wait until Saturday morning to talk about the day’s game slate. I should’ve updated yesterday.

upset city.

Last night, #2 Oklahoma State fell to unranked Iowa State. The National Championship and Heisman races just got all scrambly. Again. I watched Oklahoma State struggle to find its rhythm early, but soon the score was 24-7 (in their favor), early in the third. I switched over to a sweet PBS doc on Women Who Rock. When I checked back in later – two OT’s had brought the Iowa State Cyclones a giant upset victory.

With the first loss of the season last night, Oklahoma State’s hopes of playing in a National Championship game have been dashed and the Heisman trophy has (most likely) slipped out of sight for 28-year-old QB Brandon Weeden, who threw 3 INT. LSU remains the only unbeaten top-10 team (#11 Houston is also undefeated this season) and can hold onto the top spot with a win over Ole Miss tonight at 7 PM. Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Alabama RB Trent Richardson are now in tight competition for the Heisman trophy at season’s end.

On a very sad note – it has a been an incredibly tough week for the Oklahoma State community, as they lost Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna (women’s basketball coach and assistant coach, respectively) Thursday night in a plane crash in Arkansas. This tragedy comes a decade after two Cowboy men’s players, along with eight others, were lost in a plane crash near Denver.

NOTABLE SATURDAY MATCH-UPS
-The #21 Penn State Nittany Lions visit the Ohio State Buckeyes for a 3:30 PM kick-off. Both programs have experienced and are still weathering off-field messes and tragedy (the scale isn’t the same, but both programs have been deeply affected. Think – last year Jim Tressel was squaring up against Joe Paterno). With a win (and a Wisconsin loss), Penn State can secure the Big Ten Leaders Division title, but the Nittany Lions historically struggle mightily in Columbus – they have won only once at Ohio State since joining the Big Ten. If anyone is looking for offensive excitement, don’t bother tuning in. Penn State and Ohio State are statistically at the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of passing and scoring.
-USC heads north to take on #4 Oregon in an 8 PM Pac-12 match-up. Oregon is slowly making its way to (and argument for playing in) the National Championship game, while USC is still under a post-season ban. Without any pressure, the Trojans could have dream killing in their game plan.
-#16 Nebraska visits #18 Michigan for a 12 PM game (IN PROGRESS). Nebraska is coming off a win at Penn State, and Michigan logged their own W last week against Illinois. Both of these programs started hot then faltered, sharing 8-2 records overall and 4-2 records in the Big Ten, but today’s game has Big Ten Legends Division implications. Nebraska and Michigan sit one game behind #15 Michigan State (facing struggling Indiana today), and if the Spartans win, Michigan is out no matter what. For Nebraska, today’s game is a must-win while still hoping for a Spartan loss (which would tie things up and give Nebraska the tiebreaker edge over the Spartans). JUICY.
-#5 Oklahoma takes on #22 Baylor on Baylor turf. Kick-off at 8 PM.
-#13 Kansas State goes after #23 Texas at Texas. Kick-off at 8 PM.

Saturday Wrap – DEFENSE and Upsets.

November 5 college football turned out to be doozy central. Here is the big ish that went down yesterday:

respect.

-#1 LSU stays #1 after Tigers K Drew Alleman booted a 25-yard field goal in OT against #2 Alabama. Final score, 9-6, which goes into the books as the second lowest score of a 1-versus-2 game since the AP poll was incepted. HOLY defense. Neither team could reach the endzone in four-plus quarters, Alabama missed four field goals and threw an interception at the goal line, and LSU turned the ball over twice as well. Not one for the highlight reels, but a strong defensive statement for the two teams at the top of the heap.
-#3 Oklahoma State joins its state-mate Oklahoma in beating #14 Kansas State, but this game was a little closer – Cowboys win 52-45. Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden threw for a school-high of 502 yards and four TDs, but it was the Oklahoma State defense that had to fight for the W as the clock ticked down – K-State was threatening on the OSU 5-yard-line with 12 seconds left on the clock. Three incompletions sealed the Cowboy win.
-#7 Arkansas comes up big in the final quarter to beat #9 South Carolina, 44-28. The Gamecocks’ four turnovers didn’t hurt, either.
-Another win pulled out from under #10 Nebraska, this time at the hands of unranked and 17-point-underdog Northwestern and back-up QB Kain Colter (starter Dan Persa was out the second half with shoulder problems). Northwestern wins 28-25. Second-stringer Colter ran for two TDs and tossed a third, helping the Wildcats beat a top-ten opponent for the first time in two years.
-Iowa upsets #15 Michigan, 24-16. Iowa’s defense stepped up to the task of stopping the talented Wolverine QB Denard Robinson, who had his offense on the Hawkeyes three yard line with four downs and 16 seconds left on the clock, trying to tie the game. The Wolverines came up short.
-UCLA sneaks a win from #19 Arizona State (who missed a last-second FG), winning 29-28 at home.
-Louisville upsets #24 West Virginia in Morgantown, 38-35. No one in the Big East was paying attention to Louisville, but they’ve won three in a row.

Pigskin Preview – A Weekend Without Nittany Lions (kind of).

SIGH. It’s always nice to get a break from a gut-twisting season like this one (SEE ALL OF THE PAST REVIEWS OF PENN STATE GAMES I’VE POSTED), but it does feel a little weird not to have a game to plan my day around. Penn State is unfortunately in the news for a terrible off-field reason, though, which would have been my Fugly had the headlines come up a few days earlier. Jerry Sandusky, a former PSU assistant coach, has been formally indicted on felony sex abuse charges AGAINST MINORS. I think I might vomit. I think when problem times for Penn State come into the news, it’s triple-disheartening for those of us who hold Penn State to a higher standard. I hope the university handles this in the appropriate ways, out of respect to any victims and their families, and out of a passion for making things right.

NOTABLE GAMES THIS WEEKEND
-This is the big one (and you have to wait till 8 PM tonight) – #1 LSU visits #2 Alabama. Both teams are undefeated, both 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC. This is huge. I don’t know how else to describe this game. Can’t wait.
-Another 8 PM kick-off – #14 Kansas State visits #3 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is putting up insane numbers this year, and Kansas State is coming off a rough loss to Oklahoma last week that pushed their ranking down. Can they bounce back? Or does another team from Oklahoma spoil their day?
-#9 South Carolina at #7 Arkansas, kick-off at 7:15 PM. This is a tough SEC match-up, and one that the Gamecocks have struggled with in recent years, having lost four of the last five match-ups. Arkansas only squeaked by Vanderbilt last week, so this is a prove-yourself game for both teams.

Finding a Way.

Sweet God. The Penn State-Illinois game was making me nauseous in a way only sports can. I clenched consciously and unconsciously as neither offense could do ANYTHING (the first points on the board came in the third quarter on an Illinois TD), and both defenses forced turnovers and three-and-outs like crazy. It was frustrating and painful, and I fully felt that Penn State was going to face its first loss since Alabama, and first conference loss altogether. Somehow, they didn’t, giving Joe Paterno his 409th win (now the Division I all-time leader) with an ugly final score of 10-7.

Everything came down to the final minutes of the game. Nittany Lion WR Derek Moye trotted onto the field (likely because despite broken foot, he was tired of seeing the offense look pathetic) and QB Matt McGloin got the ball to him multiple times, moving the chains (for what seemed like the first time all day) and marching the PSU offense down the field to allow for a 3-yard Silas Redd TD run with 1:08 left in regulation. The score was 10-7 Penn State. The Illini offense woke up for its final drive as well, moving all the way from the Illinois 17 yard line to the Penn State 25 to attempt a 42 yard tying field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Illinois K Derek Dimke’s kick was high enough and long enough – and then thwacked the right upright as the clock hit 0:00.

Nope.

Penn State again, eeks out a win and again, the defense carries the team. AGAIN, the quarterbacks looked very bad (Rob Bolden has no vision and his internal time clock is warped. I think he’s done; Matt McGloin can occasionally complete a pass but is not much better – I was shouting at him/my TV for most of the game). Each and every member of the offense (minus Silas Redd, who had ANOTHER +100 yard rushing game) should personally thank the defensive squad for keeping their asses in the game and giving them chance after chance to score. NO style points awarded, but somehow Penn State sits alone at the top of the Big Ten Leaders Division and remains the only unbeaten-in-conference-play Big Ten team.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Speaking of Big Ten teams, #11 Michigan State, fresh off their big-time win against Wisconsin last week, falls hard to #14 Nebraska, 24-3.
-#15 Wisconsin, looking to regain its footing after losing to Michigan State on an end-of-game Hail Mary last week (see above), lost for the second straight week on a late TD, but this time to Ohio State, 33-29.
-#9 Oklahoma played with a chip on its collective shoulder after falling from the top spot in the NCAA last week after losing to Texas Tech. They rolled over #8 Kansas State, 58-17.
-Texas Tech must have been all out of juice after that primetime win over Oklahoma last week. They couldn’t do much of anything against Iowa State, losing 41-7.
-Unranked Georgia Tech upset visiting #5 Clemson (who had previously been upsetting teams all over the place and climbing the rankings) 31-17.
-Unranked Missouri took #16 Texas A&M to OT and beat them, 38-31.

Cripes, Football.

If you haven’t noticed, I am not posting about the NFL this season. This is because I am in a pool (meaning ca$h is involved) and a Fantasy League, and my inner sports journalist is grumbling about discussing my quasi gambling and competitive ventures. I am still a giant (Steelers) fan, and I still analyze Sunday play each week – I just am not going to share it in a public forum. Been meaning to get that off the proverbial chest for a while. Whew.

College football, however, is not something I am dabbling in, in that way. I am reserving analysis, public shock, and overt expressions of feelings for the Saturday young men.

I PROMISE I’ll be returning to action this weekend with a preview and recap. I was in State College for Penn State’s Homecoming win over Purdue two weeks ago, and I was in a Penn State bar with my parents for (part of) Penn State’s win last weekend over Northwestern. Excuses are like assholes – everyone’s got one. I get it. Sorry. I’ll be better.

Homecoming.

PRETTY.

Tonight I’m hopping into a rental with two other Penn State alums and cruising on 80 West for four odd hours to make the trek from NYC to State College, PA. It’s Homecoming, for the 92nd time in Penn State’s history, and the third “homecoming” in my history (as an alumni). Other friends of mine are converging from different corners of Pennsylvania in the name of coming home – to the place where we met and spent years together, happy in Happy Valley.

Football starts early tomorrow (tailgating breakfast sandwiches.. oh yeah) for 5-1 Penn State and the visiting 3-2 Purdue Boilermakers: kick-off at 12 PM. Penn State has enjoyed plenty of Homecoming-game success over the years, with an overall record of 65-21-5, and a Joe Paterno record of 39-6. The Nittany Lions are looking to keep that winning feeling against Purdue and its noteworthy ground game (specifically RBs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers, who have combined for seven TDs).

Last week, Penn State dropped Iowa, while Purdue had no trouble with Minnesota, winning 45-17. The obvious match-up to watch for is Penn State’s bruising defense vs. Purdue’s take-care-of-the-football offense. In its five games this season, Purdue has only turned the ball over four times. The nasty Nittany Lion D, on the other hand, has forced 14 turnovers in six games.

Stat that doesn’t really matter: Purdue has not played at Beaver Stadium since 2007.

Non-stat that matters to me: I have not been in Beaver Stadium since September 18, 2010.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Big Ten match-up (with new Spartan uniforms), #11 Michigan at #23 Michigan State, 12 PM kick-off
-Offensively explosive #6 Oklahoma State visits #22 Texas, 3:30 PM kick-off
-Can Wake cause another upset? Unranked Wake Forest hosts #19 Virginia Tech for a 6:30 PM ACC battle
-10:15 PM (ET, obv) Pac 12 match-up between #18 Arizona St. at #9 Oregon

A Defense that Roars.

As I wrote in my previous post, we were due to find out whether Penn State’s defense was as good as it seemed, and whether they had enough to shut down Iowa’s Big-Ten-best passing game.

Crunch.

They were good enough.

Penn State grinded out another win, beating the Hawkeyes 13-3 at Beaver Stadium. Iowa entered Saturday’s game averaging nearly 38 points and 281 passing yards a game, but the Nittany Lion Defense held Iowa to 169 yards in the air and THREE points. Like I said… good enough.

On the other side of the ball, Matt McGloin again seemed to be the stronger QB, though Rob Bolden again got the start. Again (I’m tired of typing again), neither was able to really get the offense going. Instead, the ground game came alive, with sophomore RB Silas Redd rushing for 142 yards on 28 carries. If I were Galen Hall, giving the ball to Silas Redd as much as possible would be my game plan from here on out.

Next week, I’ll be in State College when Penn State takes on Purdue. I can barely describe how excited I am to be screaming (at noon) in Beaver Stadium. And I hope I’m screaming positive things.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-#3 Oklahoma finished off its beat-down of #11 Texas, 55-17. Ouch.
-#1 LSU stops #17 Florida easily, winning 41-11 and staying undefeated (and still #1?) in the process.
-#15 Auburn didn’t have it against #10 Arkansas, Razorbacks win 38-14.
-#14 Nebraska comes back from a 21-point deficit to beat Ohio State 34-27. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez took a lot of flak after the Wisconsin loss (and a lot of boos from the fans in the first half of this game), but Martinez ran for a TD and tossed two others to bring his team to victory. I’m sure he’s thinking something along the lines of “suck it”.
– Upset alert.. Wake Forest downed #23 Florida State 35-30. The Demon Deacons improve to 4-1 and start 3-0 in ACC play for the first time in school history.

Pigskin & Pumpkin Preview.

It’s a gorgeous Saturday in New York City, although a little on the warm side for fall (for me). College Football has already kicked-off today across the country, and there is a semi-full slate of big-time match-ups (see below). As for Penn State, the 4-1 Nittany Lions host the 3-1 Iowa Hawkeyes at 3:30 PM for the Lions’ Big Ten Home Opener. In recent years, Iowa has been notorious for thwarting Penn State’s efforts.

I felt her pain.

But with this being Iowa’s first conference game of the season and with a considerably different defensive roster this year, it’s hard to say just yet where the Hawkeyes stack up. We’ll soon find out if Iowa’s #9-in-conference ranking in total defense is reality, and subsequently a big positive for the (impotent) Penn State offense. We’ll also see if Penn State’s defense is as good as it seems (Devin Still is beastly in a good way), while they try to contain the conference’s top passing offense led by Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receivers Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:
-#3 Oklahoma is currently visting and beating on #11 Texas (48-10 in the 4th quarter)
-#17 Florida attempts to knock off #1 LSU in an SEC match-up at 3:30 PM
-Another big SEC game – #15 Auburn (people are taking note of the Tigers now/again) visits #10 Arkansas, 7 PM kick-off
-Ohio State @ #14 Nebraska for a Big Ten battle at 8 PM. Both are coming off ugly Big Ten opener losses.

PUMPKIN THING TO NOTE:

Plastic cup.. bummer.

I am working on sampling a vast variety of pumpkin beers available this season, and I’m going to be reviewing them. I am not a beerie (foodie… but with beer.. no?), but I have opinions, and I am very pro-beer and pro-pumpkin, respectively. With that said, my rating system is going to be unique. Check out my first review tomorrow.

Blue and White and Red.

As I expected, Penn State’s dual quarterback attack (mismanaged plan) proved to be ineffective and inefficient in the Nittany Lions’ 28-11 loss to Alabama. At this point, it’s hard to say who is leading the QB battle between Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. The two combined for a (whopping) total of 144 yards (completing 12-39 together), although for his part in that stat line, McGloin completed just 1 of 10 for no yards. Bolden did throw an interception, but he also suffered several key drops and eventually led a late scoring drive to avoid another touchdown-less loss to Alabama (see 24-3 2010 loss @ Alabama). One of the most frustrating things to watch in regards to a QB battle is that neither candidate seemed to be granted the chance to gain any momentum or settle into an offensive rhythm. There were a few series in which Bolden looked decent, more settled and closer to a real leader, but he was yanked the next series in favor of McGloin, who frankly could not do much of anything.

It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure.

As far as the other games I called out as intriguing, Ohio State eeked out a 27-22 win in the final minute of their game against Toledo, and Michigan took it even closer to the wire, scoring in the last second to nab a 35-31 victory over Notre Dame. Auburn also succeeded in the final seconds of their match-up, stopping Mississippi State at the goal line on the final play of the game (final score 41-34). South Carolina was victorious at Georgia (45-42) with the help of sloppy Bulldogs turnovers-turned-Gamecock-touchdowns.