Saturday Update: We'll be reviewing all the picks as they happen throughout the day. Check back for more updates, each labeled "Final Say." For comprehensive coverage of the weekend in college football, look for The Professor on Sunday.
Happy rivalry weekend, all. Sadly, the college football season is winding to a close, and this is the last full slate of games before the conference championships. But as always, November goes out with a bang. The schedule is filled with a bunch of great rivalries, many of which have impacts on the national championship and conference title races. Notre Dame and Ohio State are both going for undefeated seasons against their mortal enemies, while teams like Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Oregon fight to hold onto BCS title hopes.
(All times Eastern; rankings from the BCS; games ranked in order of value above your potential replacement activities.)
No. 1 Notre Dame (11-0) at USC (7-4)
8 p.m. Saturday, ABC
Line: Notre Dame by 6 ½
Eleven months ago, Matt Barkley and USC held a pre-Christmas celebration as the star quarterback announced he’d remain in school for his senior season, post-bowl banishment, to bring another championship to Troy. The Trojans now sit at 7-4, out of the BCS picture, and Barkley will watch from the sidelines as an under-the-radar Notre Dame attempts to cap its perfect season. Filling in for Barkley will be heralded freshman Max Wittek*, another in a long line of top QB recruits to start for USC. But, despite how good as he may become, the Notre Dame defense isn’t an ideal starting point for someone who’s thrown eight passes this season.
If the Fighting Irish are vulnerable anywhere defensively it’s in the secondary, and at times Oklahoma’s Landry Jones tested them, even though Notre Dame ended up winning handedly. While USC has a question mark at QB, it still boasts perhaps the best one-two punch at wide receiver in Heisman candidate Marqise Lee, who’s been on an absolute tear recently, and Robert Woods, who has caught 21 passes in two career games against the Irish. Oklahoma is the only good passing offense Notre Dame has faced all season, and Jones threw for 356 yards only with no TDs and an interception. If Barkley was playing, perhaps there’s be some reason for doubt about Notre Dame. But for as good as Wittek may be, he’s facing a defense that’s given up 10 points per game.
So Notre Dame must simply take care of the football offense and avoid lapses on special teams. USC’s back seven is weak, and the Irish should be able to use tight end Tyler Eifert to attack as a target for Everett Golson, who generally has been playing pretty well, in addition to running with a deep backfield against a defense that was demolished by UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin last week. In a shocking turn of events, fans of Florida, Oregon and Kansas State are rooting for Lane Kiffin this Saturday night, and based on Notre Dame’s history of near losses to mediocre teams this year (Purdue, BYU, Pitt), a team with the talent of USC has as much of a chance as anyone to finally knock the Irish off their throne. But the loss of Barkley coupled with a demoralized defense may be too much for USC to overcome.
Prediction: Notre Dame 20, USC 16
FINAL SAY: Notre Dame 22, USC 13. No one could have possibly predicted this. USC, preseason AP No. 1, finishes 7-5. Notre Dame, unranked in the preseason AP poll, finishes 12-0 and is headed for the national championship game in Miami. As usual, the Fighting Irish were dominant defensively, forcing two turnovers, holding USC to 281 total yards and coming up with a big goal-line stand late. Marqise Lee was largely held in check, and while freshman QB Max Wittek showed his potential, the Irish were too much for him in his first career start. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame took advantage of a weak USC defense, feeding the ball to Theo Riddick, who ran 20 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. Amazingly, for now, the pressure is off. Notre Dame has a month and a half to prepare and can sit back and watch next week as Alabama and Georgia fight for the SEC title and a spot opposite the Irish in Miami.
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No. 4 Florida (10-1) at No. 10 Florida State (10-1)
3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC
Line: Florida State by 8
One of the premier rivalries of the ‘90s, Florida-Florida State lost some of its luster over the past decade thanks to down years by one or both programs. Now, both teams are ranked in the top 10 of the BCS again, and, if Notre Dame loses, there are national championship implications (mostly for Florida, as the computers like the Gators’ SEC schedule and hate the Seminoles’ ACC slate). Just don’t tune in for the offense. These are hardly the days of the Fun ‘n’ Gun at Florida, a defense-oriented team that ranks 114th in passing and has a banged-up QB in Jeff Driskel. Driskel has been cleared from his ankle injury and is better than he was last year, but Florida’s national championship hopes don’t look great when in the hands of this offense against Florida State’s top-ranked defense. The Gators have been painful as a passing offense most of the season, not even breaking the 200-yard mark since Sept. 22.
On defense, Florida (led by DT Sharrif Floyd and SS Matt Elam) and Florida State (led by sack artists Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner) have stifled opposing offenses all season, so the obvious pick is to favor whichever team appears more likely to move the ball. We’ve mostly seen Florida State play against inferior defenses in the ACC, but I’ll still take my chances with E.J. Manuel, even if the Noles are missing lead tailback Chris Thompson and were atrocious running the ball a couple weeks ago at Virginia Tech. Florida loses, and we can likely stop worrying about another all-SEC national title game.
Prediction: Florida State 17, Florida 13
FINAL SAY: Florida 37, Florida State 26. It’s hard to explain how it happened, but what was a 13-3 defensive battle dominated by Florida in the first half opened up with 17 third-quarter points by the Seminoles and 24 fourth-quarter points by the Gators. Florida’s defense has been relentless all season, and this time the Gators forced five Florida State turnovers, including three interceptions by E.J. Manuel, who also lost a fumble on a big hit that temporarily knocked him out of the game. That’s when the game changed in the fourth quarter, as one play later Mike Gillislee (24 carries for 140 yards and two TDs) broke off a 37-yard TD run to put Florida back ahead. With four wins over teams ranked in the top 12 of the BCS heading into the weekend (LSU, Florida State, Texas A&M and South Carolina), Florida amazingly has the best one-loss resume in college football.
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No. 19 Michigan (8-3) at Ohio State (11-0)
Noon Saturday, ABC
Line: Ohio State by 3 ½
Ohio State survived in overtime last week at Wisconsin, and, once again, it’s rather amazing to see how little attention the Buckeyes are getting. Their run for an undefeated record has been acknowledged, but in Urban Meyer’s first season, as he gets set to dominate a newly expanded Big Ten for the rest of the decade, the team’s bowl ineligibility has caused it to be more of a sideshow. Still, there’s plenty to play for. Even if the Buckeyes don’t have a great chance at capturing the AP’s No. 1 ranking (they’re still ranked fourth), they’re playing for a 12-0 regular season, and they’re playing to bounce back after last year’s loss to their hated rivals from up north. Denard Robinson led Michigan to a 40-34 win at the Big House last November, snapping a dominant seven-year run in the rivalry by Ohio State.
Robinson has taken on a different role now, though, as his elbow issues have made room for Devin Gardner to play quarterback, while Robinson actually started at running back and ended up as the lead runner last week when Fitz Toussaint got hurt. There’s still a chance Robinson will be healthy enough to play QB in his final game against Ohio State, but either way expect to see both QBs against Ohio State’s impressive front seven, one that’s getting brilliant play from DE John Simon and LB Ryan Shazier. That’s where Ohio State’s edge lies in this game. Gardner played very well against a disinterested Iowa team last week that’s hardly as good as a motivated and improved Buckeyes unit. Michigan’s defense has played well too, but Braxton Miller gives Ohio State another edge as he attempts to garner an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan 20
FINAL SAY: Ohio State 26, Michigan 21. Hello, perfection. The Buckeyes’ season is finished, no Big Ten title game, no bowl game, but Urban Meyer, in his first season, still led them to their sixth undefeated and untied record in school history. Ohio State overcame a 67-yard TD run by Denard Robinson, who didn’t throw a pass and finished with 122 rushing yards, and a 75-yard TD pass from Devin Gardner to Roy Roundtree, giving up little else the rest of the game. Braxton Miller was solid, but RB Carlos Hyde paced the Ohio State offense with 26 carries for 146 yards and a TD as they dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 36:50. Ohio State may lack a true standout win, but the job Meyer did in his first season is still amazing, and it’s easy to imagine this program dominating the Big Ten for the next several years.
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No. 5 Oregon (10-1) at No. 15 Oregon State (8-2)
3 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network
Line: Oregon by 9 ½
This game is still extremely important as a lead-in to the Notre Dame-USC game, but the Civil War isn’t quite as big after Oregon’s 14-point effort in an overtime loss to Stanford. At No. 5 in the BCS, the Ducks are alive in the championship race, but they no longer control their own destiny, not even in the Pac-12 North, let alone the BCS picture.
So how do the Ducks respond in this bitter rivalry game, one they’ve won four straight years, including 49-21 last season? For one, last season’s result is irrelevant, given that the Beavers underwent an enormous turnaround, jumping from 3-9 with the Pac-12’s worst run defense to 8-2 with the Pac-12’s second-best run defense. The Beavers have avoided getting into shootouts, although last week they scored 62 points in the return of Sean Mannion to the starting QB job against California, and he has a couple good receivers in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks against an Oregon defense that’s struggled with injuries. The question is whether or not the Beavers’ defense can come close to duplicating Stanford’s success in containing Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Given that the Ducks had scored 40 points in 13 straight games and 30 points in 23 straight games before last week, it still seems likely that they’ll return to their high-scoring ways, and if so, it’s hard to imagine Oregon State keeping pace. Then, Oregon has to sit and wait as its Pac-12 fate (needing a Stanford loss to go to the Pac-12 title game) and national championship fate (needing a Notre Dame loss to get back in the mix) are decided at night.
Prediction: Oregon 48, Oregon State 35
FINAL SAY: Oregon 48, Oregon State 24. Now this is the Oregon team we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. After struggling to find the end zone against Stanford, the Ducks turned things around and ran all over the Beavers to cruise to a Civil War victory. Oregon State actually cut the lead to 20-17 early in the third quarter, but Oregon then scored four straight touchdowns to take control. As a team, the Ducks rushed 64 times for 430 yards, with Kenjon Barner carrying the ball 28 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns and De’Anthony Thomas rushing for 122 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion did throw for 311 yards, but it didn’t matter because he threw four interceptions.
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No. 8 Stanford (9-2) at No. 17 UCLA (9-2)
6:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX
Line: Stanford by 2
Sometimes conference championship games add weird layers to a college football season. Last year, UCLA backed its way into the Pac-12 title game at 6-6 because USC was ineligible and Utah lost to a horrendous Colorado team late in the season. This season, this game is very meaningful: Stanford is playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl for the right to host UCLA in the Pac-12 title game the following week for the right to play in the Rose Bowl. Got that?
A Stanford win gives it the North title and another game with UCLA at the site of the team with the better conference record, which would be the Cardinal. A Stanford loss and a Oregon win would give Oregon the North title. And a loss by both teams would mean Stanford would win the division and return to play at the Rose Bowl against UCLA a second straight week. If it all seems complicated and repetitive, well, it is. But the matchup on the field should be interesting, and the stakes were raised significantly after last week’s brilliant efforts by these teams. UCLA’s offense got off to a hot start behind QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin in a win over crosstown rival USC, while Stanford pulled off a shocking upset over undefeated Oregon -- shocking in that the Cardinal held the Ducks to 14 points. Does the Stanford defense have enough in the tank to duplicate that performance against a very good UCLA offense? More points should be scored, given the Bruins’ questionable defense, and freshman Stanford QB Kevin Hogan appears capable of making some plays flanked by RB Stepfan Taylor. We’ll see how these teams respond after emotional wins on both sides. For Stanford, it’s a second tough road game in a row, and the bet is that the defense slips up after a near-flawless effort in Eugene.
Prediction: UCLA 30, Stanford 26
FINAL SAY: Stanford 35, UCLA 17. Get used to seeing this. By losing to Stanford, UCLA set itself up to avoid playing at Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and instead … play Stanford again, this time in Palo Alto. The Cardinal dominated the game behind running back Stepfan Taylor, who ran 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman QB Kevin Hogan simply avoided mistakes. Stanford was able to ride its defense to victory then, as the physical front seven shut down UCLA’s prolific running game, holding RB Johnathan Franklin to 65 yards and a TD on 21 carries and QB Brett Hundley to zero yards on eight carries. Stanford has successfully knocked Oregon out of Rose Bowl contention, and now these two teams will meet again Friday night.
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No. 12 South Carolina (9-2) at No. 11 Clemson (10-1)
7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Line: Clemson by 3 ½
My colleague Tommy Tomlinson said it best: Every rivalry is better when Steve Spurrier is involved. Spurrier does some annoying things, says some annoying things, but generally he’s entertaining, willing to say anything and capable of benching any QB at any time for pushing back his tee time by slowing down games with interceptions. Spurrier loves to take his shots at Nick Saban and Alabama, but for once he’s found an occasionally willing sparring partner in Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. This is not a bad thing. It’s one of America’s more heated rivalries, and harmless trash talking is better than other things we’ve seen.
The game has taken a step up lately thanks to South Carolina’s emergence under Spurrier, and the Gamecocks are actually going for their fourth win in a row in the series for the first time since 1951-54. The Tigers boast one of the country’s most explosive offenses -- one that scored 62 points and put up 754 yards against N.C. State last week -- but they’ve run into trouble against South Carolina, scoring a total of 37 points the last three years. To compare, they’ve scored fewer than 37 points in only one single game this season. But Clemson has faced only one great defense all season, and it scored 37 in that one loss to Florida State. This will be the second great defense.
The Gamecocks have significant issues on offense without star RB Marcus Lattimore and with starting QB Connor Shaw dealing with a foot injury, and they were tied 7-7 with Wofford heading into the fourth quarter last week. Couple those offensive problems with the knee and foot problems of DE Jadeveon Clowney, and the Gamecocks are not going into Death Valley at full strength. Clemson’s woeful defense is a cure for anything, but it may not matter. Between Tajh Boyd (he accounted for EIGHT touchdowns last Saturday), Andre Ellington, Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson has the firepower to give South Carolina fits, especially if Clowney can’t go. Win this, and Clemson has a strong argument for an at-large BCS bid.
Prediction: Clemson 31, South Carolina 24
FINAL SAY: South Carolina 27, Clemson 17. So much for Clemson’s BCS at-large hopes. The Tigers capped off an 0-4 day for the ACC against the SEC in rivalry games, despite the fact that South Carolina is playing without star RB Marcus Lattimore. Dylan Thompson got the start at QB for the Gamecocks, and he threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson’s weak defense. Meanwhile, after scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, Clemson’s explosive offense fizzled against South Carolina’s defense, as Tajh Boyd completed only 11-of-24 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions with a rushing TD, a week after he accounted for eight total TDs against N.C. State.
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No. 21 Oklahoma State (7-3) at No. 13 Oklahoma (8-2)
3:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Line: Oklahoma by 7
While Bedlam is an intense rivalry -- "The bottom line is we live in the Sooner state, so that alone pisses you off quite a bit,” said Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken -- Oklahoma has completely controlled the series, even recently despite the Cowboys’ T. Boone Pickens led surge. The Sooners lead 74-17-7, and Oklahoma State has never won more than two games in a row. The only run of success the Cowboys had was from 1995-2002, when OU was down and they won five of eight. After that, Oklahoma won eight in a row under Bob Stoops before a 44-10 blowout win by the Cowboys last season.
No Brandon Weeden, no Justin Blackmon, but the Cowboys continue to score at a high rate. Both these teams score more than 40 points per game, and Oklahoma State is doing it despite week-to-week uncertainty at QB, where Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf have all started games. Chelf has started the last two, blowout wins over West Virginia and Texas Tech in which the Cowboys have scored a total of 114 points. With Josh Stewart at receiver (73 catches) and Joseph Randle (1,099 yards) running the ball, the Cowboys have weapons, and a pretty good Oklahoma defense has looked vulnerable the last two weeks, allowing a 778-yard effort from West Virginia in which receiver Tavon Austin rushed for 344 yards. So, clearly the Sooners can be attacked by highly productive offenses, and that’s just what the Cowboys have. Still, it’s not like OU can’t move the ball just as well. Landry Jones threw six TDs last week, and while he still makes too many mistakes, this is a dangerous offense that shouldn’t have much trouble against an Oklahoma State defense that has struggled to duplicate its 2011 success in forcing turnovers. Expect a lot of points, and expect Oklahoma to turn things around after last year’s embarrassment as it still holds out hope for a Big 12 title.
Prediction: Oklahoma 41, Oklahoma State 35
FINAL SAY: Oklahoma 51, Oklahoma State 48. Bedlam, indeed. This is what we expect from an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, a fast-paced, Big 12 shootout in which Sooners QB Landry Jones attempted 71 passes, throwing for 500 yards and three touchdowns. Oklahoma needed to work some magic late to force overtime, just barely getting a four-yard TD run from Blake Bell with four seconds left in regulation. Four receivers hit 100 yards in the game, including Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders, Justin Brown and Kenny Stills, and the Cowboys also got a 113-yard, four-TD effort on the ground from Joseph Randle. With the dramatic win, Oklahoma is now a win over TCU away from a likely BCS bid.
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Georgia Tech (6-5) at No. 3 Georgia (10-1)
Noon Saturday, ESPN
Line: Georgia by 13
Because of the ineligibility of North Carolina and Miami’s decision to get a jump on its bowl banishment, Georgia Tech is going to win the ACC Coastal by default, sort of like UCLA in the Pac-12 South last year. On top of that, the Yellow Jackets can now play spoilers as well, looking to knock Georgia out of the national title picture in a rivalry known as “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” Georgia must beat Georgia Tech, then beat Alabama to claim a spot in the national title game, despite its odd SEC slate in which its only meaningful win came against a Florida team that is incapable of passing. The Bulldogs were blown out by South Carolina, and they lucked out by avoiding LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M in cross-division games. So, with a terrible schedule for an SEC team, the Bulldogs are still a bit of an enigma, although we know they have an effectively balanced offense with QB Aaron Murray and RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and a very good defense led by likely SEC defender of the year Jarvis Jones. Georgia has dominated the rivalry lately, winning 10 of 11, and the Bulldogs have enough defensive talent to slow down the Yellow Jackets’ option offense as they move ahead toward the SEC title game.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Georgia Tech 20
FINAL SAY: Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10. And now the fun begins. There was never a doubt Saturday, as the Yellow Jackets failed to show up for their rivalry game. Georgia controlled the game the entire way, jumping out to a 14-0 lead thanks to two Todd Gurley touchdowns and never looking back. Georgia Tech actually held the ball for two-thirds of the game, rushing 67 times for 306 yards, but it failed to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. By then, the game was well out of reach. The Bulldogs took care of business in dominant fashion, and now they face Alabama in Atlanta with the SEC championship and likely a trip to the national title game on the line.
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TCU (6-4) at No. 16 Texas (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Line: Texas by 7
Nothing says Thanksgiving tradition like TCU-Texas. The Longhorns are attempting to become the Dallas Cowboys of college football, hosting a Thanksgiving game every year as an unfortunate replacement for the Texas A&M rivalry that fell apart when the Aggies left for the SEC. (If there’s any justice, the two will meet in this year’s Cotton Bowl.) So, instead we get Big 12 newcomers TCU traveling to Austin. Take your pick between this and three hours of Tim Tebow standing on the sidelines in East Rutherford. Texas is actually still in the BCS picture with just two losses, and the defense has finally looked good the last couple weeks. That should continue against TCU, which has lost three of four games, although the Horned Frogs’ defense is capable of giving David Ash and Texas some problems. But Texas should be able to handle TCU and QB Trevone Boykin, setting up a big game with Kansas State in the final week.
Prediction: Texas 27, TCU 17
FINAL SAY: TCU 20, Texas 13. Everything about Texas was sluggish on Thanksgiving night. The stingy TCU defense held the Longhorns to 300 yards and only one touchdown, forcing four turnovers, including an interception by Case McCoy and two interceptions by David Ash. McCoy made a brief appearance in the game in the first half and then took over in the fourth quarter when Ash went out with a rib injury. McCoy led a touchdown drive, but neither was particularly good, and Texas also struggled to run the ball. TCU’s offense wasn’t spectacular either, and Trevone Boykin attempted only 10 passes, but Matthew Tucker ran for a couple touchdowns and the Horned Frogs had only one turnover. The Longhorns’ hopes of sharing the Big 12 title are now gone.
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Auburn (3-8) at No. 2 Alabama (10-1)
3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS
Line: Alabama by 31 ½
America’s most passionate football rivalry suddenly looks like a joke. It’s simple: Auburn has absolutely no chance of winning the Iron Bowl. None. Alabama is on its post-Texas A&M loss rebound tour, and after blowing out Western Carolina, now it gets to take out its frustrations on the worst Auburn team in years, one that’s 3-8 with wins against Louisiana-Monroe (overtime), New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. Alabama needs two wins to get back to its third national championship game in four years. This one is guaranteed.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Auburn 10
FINAL SAY: Alabama 49, Auburn 0. Apologies to the Alabama defense for predicting 10 points for Auburn. The Tigers couldn’t have rolled over more throughout the season, and this embarrassment at the hands of their rivals in the Iron Bowl secured a winless SEC season just two years after winning the national championship. Good luck, Gene Chizik. As for Alabama, it moves on to a real test against Georgia in the SEC title game likely for a spot in the BCS championship.
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Wild Card: Louisiana Tech (9-2) at San Jose State (9-2)
10:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Line: San Jose State by 4
Sad times. The last televised game of the last full weekend of college football before championship Saturday. Savor every moment while you can. Amazingly, in its last year of football existence, the WAC has three compelling teams, although Utah State now controls the league after its win over Louisiana Tech last week. Still, both of these teams are pretty good, as the Bulldogs’ only other loss was 59-57 against Texas A&M, and San Jose State lost by only three to Stanford to open the season. It could also be the final games at their respective schools for Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes and San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre, as the two should both be hot coaching names for bigger programs over the next several weeks. Louisiana Tech owns the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and has put up at least 40 in all but one game, so the edge goes to QB Colby Cameron (28 TDs, two picks) and RB Kenneth Dixon (26 TDs) in an entertaining late-night WAC shootout.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 49, San Jose State 42
FINAL SAY: San Jose State 52, Louisiana Tech 43. Few programs had a more impressive season than San Jose State, a team that went 1-12 two years ago and is now 10-2, with its only losses coming against Stanford and WAC champion Utah State. The Spartans beat the Bulldogs at their own game Saturday night, racking up 610 yards on offense behind RB De’Leon Eskridge (217 yards, three touchdowns) and QB David Fales (367 yards, three touchdowns).