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College Football 2012 — Week 11 Preview

Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards and 5 TDs vs. USC.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We’re getting down to crunch time in the college football season. Several top teams are trying to wrap up their respective divisions or keep their title hopes alive while others are just struggling to hold on to bowl eligibility. There are several interesting games this week: only three matchups between ranked teams, but 11 ranked teams have tough road trips.

Here is what to watch for this week in college football:

#15 TEXAS A&M (7-2) AT #1 ALABAMA (9-0)

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

Texas A&M lit up one of the SEC’s best defenses last week, rolling up 38 points and almost 700 yards at Mississippi State. Things will get much tougher this week, however, against an Alabama defense that is second nationally in total defense and first in scoring. The Aggies are averaging almost 45 points and 560 yards this season, both tops in the SEC. Quarterback Johnny Manziel leads the conference in passing, scoring and total offense. A&M will match up against an Alabama offense that has been efficient this season but needed a last-minute score after struggling much of the game against LSU. In that game, the defense also showed a few cracks, giving up 475 yards, the most by an Alabama defense in five years. This is probably the last real obstacle standing between the Crimson Tide and the SEC title game, as Alabama’s final two opponents (Western Carolina and Auburn) are a combined 3-16 this season.

#2 OREGON (9-0) AT CALIFORNIA (3-7)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN]

Kenjon Barner moved himself squarely into the Heisman mix with his 321-yard, five-touchdown effort against USC. Now, Barner and the Ducks will go against a struggling Cal squad that has lost three in a row and is already guaranteed its second losing season in three years. The Ducks lead the nation in scoring offense and are fourth in total offense, thanks in large part to Barner, who is averaging over 164 total yards and 13.3 points per game. While Oregon’s defense was torched for 51 points by USC’s aerial attack, they should have better luck against a Bears offense that ranks 88th nationally in scoring. Oregon has won three in a row in this series, and 11 of the last 15.

#3 KANSAS STATE (9-0) AT TEXAS CHRISTIAN (6-3)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on FOX]

All eyes in this one will be on the health of Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. The Heisman frontrunner was knocked out of last week’s win over Oklahoma State with an apparent head injury. However, Wildcat coach Bill Snyder is notoriously secretive with injury information and refuses to disclose the specific injury or whether or not Klein will be ready this weekend, saying only, “Would I expect him to play? I certainly hope that’s the case, and I would expect that to take place.” Klein is the leader of the nation’s fifth-leading scoring offense and has guided the Wildcats to their first 9-0 start since 1999. If Klein can’t go, it will fall on athletic backup quarterback Daniel Sams and running back John Hubert to move the ball against a Horned Frogs defense that is giving up less than 97 rushing yards per game (eighth nationally).

#4 NOTRE DAME (9-0) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (2-7)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

Notre Dame needed some serious luck of the Irish to survive an overtime scare from Pitt last week. But they should have no similar problems this week from a Boston College squad that has lost six of its last seven and brings in an offense that ranks 98th nationally in scoring. They’ll face Manti Te’o and the stifling Notre Dame defense, which is tenth in total defense and second in scoring, giving up less than 12 points per game. The Eagles have been held to 17 or fewer points six times this season. Notre Dame has won three in a row in this series and is trying to reach 10-0 for the first time since 1993.

#5 GEORGIA (8-1) AT AUBURN (2-7)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2]

Although Auburn may not resemble a big challenge, Georgia knows that there is still a lot at stake in this game as the Bulldogs can clinch a spot in the SEC title game with a win this weekend. On paper, Georgia should have little trouble with an anemic Tigers offense that ranks 116th nationally in total offense and 115th in scoring. Even when they are able to move the ball, Auburn isn’t much of a threat to score: inside the red zone, Auburn quarterbacks are just 3/11 for 14 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Georgia’s offense, meanwhile, has been rolling with quarterback Aaron Murray throwing for 961 yards and nine touchdowns in his last three games and freshman running back Todd Gurley rushing for 100+ yards six times this season.

#5 OHIO STATE (10-0), BYE

After becoming the first FBS team to ten wins this season, the Buckeyes finally get a bye week to prepare for the last two obstacles standing between them and an undefeated season. Ohio State returns to action next week at Wisconsin before closing out the season at home against archrival Michigan.

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (5-3) AT #7 FLORIDA (8-1)

[Saturday, 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network]

Thanks to an odd front-loaded schedule, the Gators are already finished with SEC play and begin the first of three games against non-conference opponents. Florida’s defense has carried the team, ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense and holding its last six opponents to 17 or fewer points. However, the offense, which has struggled all season, has gone in reverse lately, averaging just 241.7 yards and giving up seven total turnovers in their last three games. The defense will be called to slow down a Ragin’ Cajuns offense that averages 35 points and 435 yards per game, but has never faced a defense of the Gators’ caliber. Florida has clinched a share of the SEC East, but would need Georgia to slip up to get in to the SEC title game.

#8 FLORIDA STATE (8-1) AT VIRGINIA TECH (4-5)

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

After playing in the ACC championship game in four of the last five years, Virginia Tech finds itself in the unfamiliar position of a needing to win two of their last three just to avoid a losing record for the first time in two decades. However, that task won’t be made any easier this week with the Seminoles’ high-powered offense coming to town. Florida State ranks seventh nationally in total offense and third in scoring. They’ll be going against a Hokies defense that has given up an average of almost 33 points per game in their last five contests, of which they’ve lost four. However, Blacksburg is always a tough place to play, and the Hokies are 4-1 at home this year.

#22 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-2) AT #9 LOUISIANA STATE (7-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN]

After starting the season 7-0, the Bulldogs find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to snap a two-game losing streak with a night game at Baton Rouge. They’ll be facing an LSU squad that is still stinging from the last-minute loss to Alabama. Mississippi State’s defense had been the team’s bright spot before being torched for 38 points and almost 700 yards last week by Texas A&M. This week, they’ll face a Tigers offense that has struggled throughout the season, but is coming off its best performance of the season against Alabama’s top-ranked defense. Zach Mettenberger threw for a career-high 298 yards and a score last week and will look to build on that against a Bulldogs defense that gave up 332 yards through the air last week. This is Mississippi State’s third straight game against a ranked opponent. LSU has not lost back-to-back home games since 2001.

MARYLAND (4-5) AT #10 CLEMSON (8-1)

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

Maryland has lost its top four quarterbacks to injury and is now using freshman Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker, under center. So the Terrapins can be forgiven a little bit for having an offense ranked 121st in total yards and 111th in scoring. But that may be small consolation as they try to match up with a Clemson offense that ranks seventh in scoring and is averaging over 522 yards per game. The Tigers have put up at least 37 points in each of their last eight games and are coming off their biggest day of the season (56 points and 718 yards vs. Duke). Quarterback Tajh Boyd has scored 25 touchdowns in his last six games and has thrown for 340+ yards four times in that stretch. Clemson has won the past two meetings with Maryland.

#11 LOUISVILLE (9-0) AT SYRACUSE (4-5)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ABC]

Louisville is an undefeated team from a BCS automatic qualifier conference, but can’t seem to get any love from the BCS computers or pollsters as a title contender. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been spectacular for the Cardinals this year, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 2,434 yards, 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions. This week, however, the Louisville offense will face a scoring challenge against a Syracuse squad that leads the Big East in total offense (463.8 yards per game). A win this week would give the Cardinals their first ten-win season in six years. Louisville has won six straight road games and three in a row over the Orange.

ARKANSAS (4-5) AT #12 SOUTH CAROLINA (7-2)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on CBS]

After a bye week, South Carolina returns to action for the first time since a gruesome knee injury ended the season for star running back Marcus Lattimore. He’ll be replaced in the backfield by senior Kenny Miles, who was actually the Gamecocks’ leading rusher in 2009 before being replaced by Lattimore the next year. On the other side, Arkansas looked dreadful in their 1-5 start but has seemed to right the ship, winning three of their last four. Quarterback Tyler Wilson leads the SEC in passing yards per game. The Gamecocks have lost three in a row to Arkansas and five of the past six, but have won 10 straight at home.

#13 OREGON STATE (7-1) AT #16 STANFORD (7-2)

[Saturday, 3 p.m. on FOX]

After leading last week’s 48-0 win over Colorado, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan will get his first start at quarterback for the Cardinal. Likewise, Oregon State’s Cody Vaz will be under center again for the second time after replacing starter Sean Mannion. In a game featuring two inexperienced quarterback against two very solid defenses, this game could well come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. Stanford safety Ed Reynolds has already returned an FBS-best three interceptions for touchdowns this season, so Vaz must account for his presence. On the other side, while Hogan didn’t have to do much to beat Colorado, he’ll have to carry a much bigger load this week with his arm. Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor is fourth in the conference in rushing, but has managed just 101 total yards in the last two games and is going against a Beavers defense that ranks fifth nationally in rushing defense.

BAYLOR (4-4) AT #14 OKLAHOMA (6-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Net]

Baylor represents an interesting dilemma/opportunity for the Sooners—the Bears rank first nationally in total offense (581.5 yards per game), but rank dead last in total defense (giving up 527 per game). So OU quarterback Landry Jones (1,382 yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games) and the Oklahoma offense, which ranks 15th nationally in scoring should be able to put up some big numbers. But they may have to in order to outscore a Bears offense that has put up 41 or more points in all but two games this season. The key matchup could be Baylor quarterback Nick Florence (leads the nation in passing and scoring) against a Sooners secondary that has given up just three passing touchdowns this year. Led by Robert Griffin III’s Heisman-defining moment, Baylor beat the Sooners last year for the first time ever. However, the Bears are 0-26 all-time in road games against ranked Big 12 opponents.

#17 UCLA (7-2) AT WASHINGTON STATE (2-7)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2]

UCLA controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South and now faces a Washington State squad in turmoil. The Cougars have lost six straight and, after last week’s 49-6 loss to Utah, coach Mike Leach suspended star receiver Marquess Wilson and accused the effort of his team of “bordering on cowardice.” Despite the absence of its top receiving threat, don’t expect the Wazzu offense to try to pound the ball on the ground—the Cougars are last in the nation in rushing yards and have been held to negative rushing yards in their last two games. UCLA is coming in off its highest scoring performance in 15 years and now goes against a Cougars defense that is giving up almost 32 points per game (94th in the nation). Weather could be a factor in this one, however, as the Bruins must leave sunny southern California for a late game in Pullman, where the temperature at game time is expected to be in the low 20s.

PENN STATE (6-3) AT #18 NEBRASKA (7-2)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

Nebraska controls its own destiny in the Big Ten Legends division and faces what should be its toughest remaining test of the season. Nebraska boasts the Big Ten’s top offense (487 yards and 38 points per game) and could have star running back Rex Burkhead (8.6 yards per carry) back from a lingering knee injury. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin could be key in this contest: the Nittany Lions are 6-0 this season when they complete 59 percent of their passes, but 0-3 when under that. Meanwhile, Nebraska is eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to just 46 percent completions. Nebraska has already won three games this year with fourth-quarter comebacks and there’s a good chance they could need another one this week. Penn State has outscored its opponents 76-3 in the first quarter and 137-33 in the first half of games this year, while the Cornhuskers have been outscored 89-65 in the first half of their conference games this season.

#19 LOUISIANA TECH (8-1) AT TEXAS STATE (3-5)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on Longhorn Network]

Louisiana Tech is second only to Oregon in scoring offense and should be able to roll up more big numbers against a Texas State defense that is giving up almost 32 points per game this season. The Bulldogs have won 15 of their last 16 regular-season games and are ranked for the first time since 1999. They have put up 500+ yards in each of their last five games, ranking third in total offense. Quarterback Colby Cameron has already thrown for 24 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards without an interception this season. Louisiana Tech still has slim BCS hopes alive—they would need to move up four spots in the rankings and finish ahead of a BCS conference champion to have a shot at a BCS at-large bid. In other words, the Bulldogs are big fans of whoever is playing Nebraska.

IOWA STATE (5-4) AT #19 TEXAS (7-2)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on Longhorn Network]

With a three-game winning streak and quarterback David Ash coming off his best game of the, the Longhorns are riding into this game on a high. Texas is putting up over 40 points per game, good for 12th nationally. They’ll face an Iowa State squad that has been decent on defense, holding their last four opponents under their season averages, but has struggled to find any consistency on offense. The Cyclones rank 93rd in total offense and 90th in scoring, but have had some success on the ground, something they’ll try to exploit against a Texas defense giving up 206 rushing yards per game (107th nationally). Mack Brown announced Wednesday that the Longhorns will line up in the wishbone for their first offensive play in memory of former coach Darrell Royal, who passed away this week.

ARIZONA STATE (5-4) AT #21 SOUTHERN CAL (6-3)

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

USC’s defense gave up a school-record 730 yards and 62 points last week to Oregon. This week, they’ll look to rebound against a Sun Devils offense that, while not as explosive as the Ducks (who is?), is still averaging almost 460 yards and 37 points per game. They also feature the Pac-12’s second-best defense, but will be tested this week by Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and a Trojans aerial attack that has put up 1,275 yards and 14 touchdowns the last three weeks. USC is hoping to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2001 while the Sun Devils are trying to break out of a three-game skid of their own. Arizona State has not won at The Coliseum since 1999.

BALL STATE 34, #23 TOLEDO 27

In a rare Tuesday night game, Ball State scored the final 14 points of the game to put an end to Toledo’s eight-game winning streak. The Cardinals were outgained 526-446 and turned the ball over three times, but were still able to pull off the upset thanks to 280 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Keith Wenning. Toledo running back David Fluellen rushed for 200 yards and a touchdown in the loss, the third time this season he has topped the 200 yard mark.

ARMY (2-7) AT #24 RUTGERS (7-1)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPNU]

Rutgers has had a bye week to recover from their first loss of the season and now will look to take its ninth straight from Army before returning to Big East play next week. The key to this game could be how well the Scarlet Knight’s defense rebounds. Rutgers ranks fourth nationally in rush defense, but gave up 224 on the ground in their loss to Kent State. This week, they’ll face Army’s triple-option attack, which leads the nation at 375.4 yards per game. Rutgers will also need a better game from quarterback Gary Nova, who threw six interceptions his last time out. Army has lost nine straight road games, but snapped a 13-game losing streak in service academy games with an upset win over Air Force last week.

KANSAS (1-8) AT #25 TEXAS TECH (6-3)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on Fox Sports Net]

Texas Tech is riding a two-game losing streak, but should be able to break out of it home against a hapless Jayhawks squad that has lost 18 straight conference games and 16 straight on the road. Kansas is giving up 446 yards (97th nationally) and 31.3 points (88th) per game. So stopping quarterback Seth Doege and the Red Raider offense (fourth nationally in passing) could be a tall order. Kansas’ only real shot is to get another strong ground game going. Running back James Sims is seeking his sixth-consecutive 100-yard game against a Red Raider defense that ranks 28th in the nation against the run, but has stumbled in recent weeks, giving up 540 yards and six touchdowns in its last three games.

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