Week 12 Predictions: The slow week before the home stretch edition
I have to be honest…there are not a lot of great matchups this weekend. In the SEC, Florida and Alabama have already clinched spots in the conference championship game, so they are going to play teams whose brains they’ll beat in (Florida International and Chattanooga, respectively). In the Big 12, Texas plays Kansas in a game that looked like a good one five weeks ago. That was before Kansas lost five in a row and Mark Mangino lost his freaking mind. Only one top-10 team (LSU) plays an opponent with a winning record (Ole Miss), and only one game this weekend pits two ranked opponents against each other (No. 17 Stanford vs. No. 25 California). It’s that time of year when, but for a few outsiders jostling for positions for bowl games and conference championships they’ll lose, it’s kind of slow. That said, here are your predictions:
1. Ole Miss Strengthens Case For Cotton Bowl With Upset of LSU
LSU is currently in position to go to the Cotton Bowl to play the winner of the Big 12 North. They might still be even if Ole Miss were to beat them, but the Rebels could certainly strengthen their case for the prestigious Cotton Bowl with an upset of LSU. AccuScore gives Ole Miss a 66% chance of winning this game, and the current spread favors the Rebels by five. But that’s not why I’m picking them.
LSU has been begging to lose games all season, especially on the road. They beat Washington by eight, Mississippi State by four, Georgia by seven and then there was that road loss to Alabama in which they only totaled 15 points on 253 yards of offense. The combined records of the teams that have almost defeated LSU when they were on the road: 13-17. Not great.
Combine that with the fact that the Rebels are 23rd in the country in rushing offense with 191 yards per game and that LSU is 41st in the country against the run (allowing almost 127 yards per game), and I really like Ole Miss in this one. The Rebels’ already strong running game has gotten better in the last few games with the resurgence of Dexter McCluster. In his last three games, he has 591 yards rushing (better than 8.5 yards per carry) and five TDs. That’s on top of 15 catches for 176 yards and one more TD. The weather forecast is also calling for a 60% chance of rain, which would favor a running game. McCluster is going to have a field day against LSU, which will deservedly get bumped from the top 10 (as they should have when they lost to Alabama.
2. Another Ridiculous Jump for Stanford in the Polls
Last week, Stanford used an upset of USC and numerous other upsets to vault from unranked to No. 17 in the BCS. USC, by the way, is still ranked to high as computers and humans alike simply refuse to punish them for losing and losing badly. But I digress. Expect Stanford to take another big jump in the polls this week as the only ranked team to beat another ranked team, and as human voters attempt to justify putting two teams from the so-called best conference in football into BCS Bowls.
The computers already have Stanford ranked higher than two teams ahead of them in the BCS Rankings (Wisconsin and Penn State). They’re right on the heels of Oklahoma State, which could actually lose some points for barely scraping by a really bad 3-8 Colorado team. With just a little nudge from the human voters, Stanford could overtake a number of teams immediately ahead of them – Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Iowa and Oklahoma State – to move as high as No. 12. Just two weeks after being unranked. That’s progress.
3. Almost Upheaval All Over The Big 10
I don’t think that any of the teams up top in the conference will lose, but I think the Big 10 is in for the wildest weekend (again) of any of the conferences. Up top you have No.10 Ohio State playing at Michigan. Ohio State is a heavy favorite, and I don’t expect the Wolverines to break their five-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. Nevertheless, it is a great rivalry game, and we know anything can happen in those games. Especially when neither team plays much offense (both rank below 55th in total offense and 30th or lower in scoring) and when Ohio State has to go on the road (where they’ve already been upset by Purdue this year).
Next up is No. 13 Iowa against Minnesota. The Hawkeyes are trying to avoid losing their third straight game since losing QB Ricky Stanzi. I think Iowa’s defense will be able to handle Minnesota. But, with a backup QB, you never know. Iowa’s offense was already just 82nd in the country in scoring, and that was before putting James Vandenberg and his atrocious 94.0 QB rating.
Do I think it likely that Penn State will stumble and blow its chance to go and get whupped in another BCS Bowl? Definitely not. Possible? Most certainly. The Nittany Lions offense, despite the overall stats, has been shaky and inconsistent this season. Not that they couldn’t still take advantage of a pretty bad Spartans defense. But Penn State’s defense will also have to be on its game for Michigan State’s passing attack. Since they stopped having him share snaps with Keith Nicholls, Kirk Cousins has 10 TDs with just one INT and a QB rating better than 150.
Lastly, No. 16 Wisconsin is flying high with three straight wins since being pasted back-to-back by Ohio State and Iowa. But the Badgers had better watch out for Northwestern. The Wildcats already spoiled Iowa’s season and was just 15 minutes away from spoiling Penn State’s. Mike Kafka is a solid QB who is more than capable of taking advantage of Wisconsin’s defensive weaknesses. The key for them will be controlling the clock and keeping Scott Tolzien and John Clay off the field.
Again, I don’t think that any of these upsets will happen. But, they are real possibilities, and I would not be shocked if the Big 10 comes out a complete mess at the end of the weekend.
4. Three More BCS Teams Clinch Conference Championship Game Berths
Florida and Alabama have already clinched their division titles and a chance to play each other in the SEC Championship, Georgia Tech has clinched the ACC Coastal Division to play the winner of the Atlantic Division, and Ohio State has already clinched the Big 10 and a spot in the Rose Bowl. We will be able to add three more teams to these lists this weekend.
Texas will officially clinch the Big 12 South with a win over reeling Kansas and punch their tickets for the Big 12 title game (and probably the national championship).
Clemson holds the tie breaker over Boston College, so a win that should be easy against Virginia will win them the ACC Coastal Division and pit them against Georgia Tech in a rematch of the Thursday-night thriller from earlier this season.
Whoever wins the Kansas State at Nebraska game will win the Big 12 North and the long-shot chance to upset Texas. If Kansas State wins, they finish 5-3 in conference, which is the best record Nebraska could finish with. Since they would hold the head-to-head tie-breaker, Kansas State wins. If Nebraska wins, KSU is 4-4 in conference and Nebraska wins outright, as they could do no worse than 5-3. My money is on Nebraska, as the game is at Nebraska, and the Huskers have looked much better than the Wildcats lately, winning three straight against KSU’s 1-2 in the last three games (with bad losses to Oklahoma and Missouri).
That leaves only the Big East and Pac-10 undecided. Cincinnati and Pitt are both off this week, so nothing gets decided there. And, barring an upset of Pitt by West Virginia, the two teams will be undefeated when they meet to decide the conference title on Dec. 5 at Pittsburgh. Oregon could clinch the Pac-10 with a win over Arizona and a Stanford loss to Cal. If, on the other hand, Arizona pulls off the upset, the Pac-10 gets launched into tie-breaking madness. That would open up the possibility of having three teams (Stanford, Arizona and either Oregon or Oregon State) to finish 7-2 in conference play. Remember last year in the Big 12? Wanna find out how the Pac-10 breaks those ties?
But, since I don’t see Stanford or Oregon losing this weekend, I think it won’t be decided until Dec. 3 when Oregon takes on Oregon State.
5. Three High Profile Coaches Put the Nail in the Coffin of the Current Tenures
Three coaches have seen their names in the news way too much for the wrong reasons than they’d hoped to this year – Mark Mangino of Kansas, Charlie Weis of Notre Dame and Rich Rodriguez of Michigan. All started the season with such promise. Kansas started 5-0 and reached as high as No. 16 in the AP Poll. Notre Dame started 6-2, clawed its way into the rankings and got people talking BCS again. Michigan started 4-0, including a big win over rival Notre Dame.
It’s been downhill since those first few weeks.
Michigan has lost six of its last seven games since that 4-0 start. Notre Dame fell out of the rankings again with consecutive losses to Navy and Pitt. And Kansas has lost five in a row, in addition to Mangino finding himself in a whirlwind of controversy because of his temper.
I’m sorry to say, it won’t get any better this week for any of these coaches. Notre Dame will lose to UConn (great rushing offense against a bad defense…just look at Navy for the result). Michigan will get creamed by Ohio State for their sixth straight loss in what was once a great rivalry. And Kansas will get creamed by Texas. All three of these coaches will have officially worn out their welcome by the end of this weekend. Buyouts be darned. They’re all gone.