Inside The Helmets Of Ohio State-Michigan State, Oklahoma-TCU & Baylor-Oklahoma State
The SEC, which pretty much dominates the college football conversation for 3/4 of the year, steps to the side this weekend and hoists two other conferences up on the big stage.
The Big 12, which has pretty much been in hibernation the whole season, comes alive with not one but two key games. (And, in keeping with conference policy of screwing up every possible aspect of exposure, puts both games on at the same time!) The Big 10 has its lone marquee game while its other marquee team plays Indiana.
At 11 a.m, Iowa time.
Hit the snooze button for that one.
Meanwhile, in the once-vaunted Pac-12, things have imploded. Some coaches (and some misguided media who always over-rate the conference and are looking to cover themselves) are blaming the nine-game conference schedule.
The conference wasn’t that good to begin with and with the swift fall of Oregon had no championship-caliber team this year. Plus, other than USC, the Pac-12 has a long history of teams being inconsistent over the length of a complete season. And it’s consistency that wins championships.
You COULD make the same argument about the SEC of late, but that league has produced five different National Champions the past 15 years. Still, the SEC West has been Pac-12ish the past two years by starting strong and fading fast, although it still has that big elephant in the room, Alabama.
Now onto this weekend’s games. All times PT.
Friday’s Key College Football Game
AIR FORCE at BOISE STATE (6:30 p.m., ESPN2)
This one is for the Boise Boys. Guys, the Broncos are buckling, not bucking. They lost to 30-point underdog New Mexico, had a player (a backup tight end) arrested on strangulation charges this week and is 7-3. So much for that undefeated season you were optimistic about while hoisting beers in the Fiesta Hermosa beer garden back on Labor Day Weekend. As a result, the mood in Boise is as blue as the turf. The athletic department is offering $20 for tickets to this week’s game but they might have more people watching if they played the game in the bar that has dollar beers across the street from the stadium. Winner: Boise State
Saturday’s Key College Football Games
NORTH CAROLINA at VIRGINIA TECH (9 a.m. ESPN)
This is the last home game for Frank Beamer and if the Turkeys can’t get their tails up for this one – a week before Thanksgiving, no less – then they are cooked for quite a while. The program has slid back almost to where it was when Beamer started, but he created an atmosphere and a love for the school that’s among the best in college football. True, he should have been given a rocking chair and a shawl two years ago, but until now he just couldn’t dig his claws out of something he built pretty much from scratch with his hands. The Hokies play a team that apparently doesn’t realize basketball season has started and that the football team at North Carolina is supposed to do like your fall wardrobe and go to the back of the closet for the winter. Should the Tar Heels win, they become the one team capable of kicking Clemson out of the College Football Playoffs. But you can’t beat emotion in college football and if the Hokies have it and keep it throughout the game, they will win. Winner: Virginia Teach
MICHIGAN at PENN STATE (9 a.m., ABC)
What a finish! Michigan did it again, providing an unbelievable ending to a game, except it was on the winning end of it this time. The fact it took such an effort to beat Indiana shows that maybe this Jim Harbaugh resurrection thing isn’t happening as fast as everyone thought earlier in the year. There are, obviously, leaks in the dam. Penn State is having the quietest 7-3 season in school history – after all, everybody wrote off the Nittany Lions after they lost to Temple – but they have also played a schedule as weak as my knees whenever I see PubClubette Lindsey. This is a bigger game for PSU because James Franklin needs to make a statement win to get Penn State back on the college football map. And I bet he knows it, too. Winner: Penn State
MICHIGAN STATE at OHIO STATE (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Well it’s about time. After skating through the season like an Olympic figure skater in a practice routine, Brutus now faces a team that can actually execute plays. Either Ohio State has been merely toying with teams – hiding its full capabilities until ready to unleash them when it finally faces a capable opponent – or it’s in real trouble. There’s too much talent, and offensive firepower in particular, to be slogging through boring wins against Northern Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. Sparty has been ready to implode all season and finally did so against Nebraska. Sparty is well coached enough to make a game of it, perhaps even win. But Michigan State has shown too many vulnerabilities and the Buckeyes are ready – surely – to finally showcase their full talent These teams have the big stage practically all to themselves; let’s see what they can do with it. Winner: Ohio State
USC at OREGON (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Well where did THAT come from, Ducks? Maybe you’re better off playing Stanford with nothing on the line, nothing to lose. Play that loose the rest of the season and you’ll be plunging that hot seat of Head Coach Mark Helfrich into the icy waters of the Columbia River Gorge. On the other sideline, Clay Helton’s future at USC could well depend on this game. Unfortunately for him (but perhaps not for Troy, at least in the long run), while Tommy Trojan certainly has the horses to win, he’s riding into a place that’s going to be an uphill climb. Winner: Oregon
UCLA at UTAH (12:30 p.m., Fox)
The Prognosticator is mad at himself. For the second time this year, I told what should happen rather than what would happen last week, and I was wrong. I knew – just knew – that Washington State would beat the Bruins. The Baby Bears were thinking ahead, talking the Pac-12 Championship game, did not respect their opponent (Wazzu players said the game was over when UCLA was tossing around the football on their end of the field during warm-ups) and were ready for a fall after a couple of wins. The Prognosticator did not factor in their tradition as the Trampolines and become just like every other analyst by focusing on the on-field stuff rather that what happens as, I call it, “inside the helmets.” Well no mas! That’s why I’m expecting the Trampolines to bounce back up this week and beat the Utes. Winner: UCLA
NOTRE DAME at BOSTON COLLEGE (Fenway Park, 4:30 p.m., NBCSN)
The Irish may have lost their shot at the College Football Playoff because of a game they didn’t even play in a stadium halfway across the country from South Bend. Stanford’s loss to Oregon takes the luster out of what was once looked at as a play-in game to the playoffs and now everyone is realizing that Notre Dame’s “signature” win of the season came against, er, Temple. While it’s true Boston College often gives Notre Dame fits and has even knocked the Irish out of the National Championship picture a few times – and the Prognosticator feeds on such historical elements – these Eagles couldn’t get off the ground if they were put in the space shuttle. Winner: Notre Dame
BAYLOR at OKLAHOMA STATE (4:30 p.m., Fox)
Here’s what’s wrong with the Big 12. It schedules all its heavyweight games at the end of the season, then puts them head-to-head against each other. Seriously, how could they allow this game to be going on at the same time as TCU-OU? It’s hard enough for this league to get any respect with the non-conference schedules of Baylor and TCU and when there’s finally something of interest to watch, they divide our attention. Plus, its kickoff is opposite Notre Dame playing in Fenway Park. Maybe they just don’t want us to see how bad the defenses are on these two teams. Of course, the Pac-12 is hardly better, putting the two Los Angeles teams on opposite networks at the same time. What’s wrong with these people!? Winner: Oklahoma State
TCU at OKLAHOMA (5 p.m., ABC)
OU is rising and TCU is falling. The Sooners put the Boomer on Baylor last week and should do the same to the Horned Frogs this week. So why is it the Prognosticator still doesn’t completely trust the Sooners? Is it because they lost to Texas (now 4-6) or because they always seem to tease with potential only to stumble as if they’ve been drinking schooners rather than riding the Schooner? Actually, it’s both. Winner: Oklahoma
CAL at STANFORD (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Cardinal have to be red in more than just the face after falling on their face to Oregon last week. Just when the College Football Playoff was calling, they dropped the phone and smashed the screen (they fumbled two center snaps in the fourth quarter). Now they are the fallen Trees. Season-long consistency remains the root of the problem for this team. A win over the Bears won’t make up for that but it’s always sweet to beat the rival. Maybe Cal should bring out the band instead of its football team for this one. Winner: Stanford