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CALENDAR TURNS TO MONTH OF SHOWDOWNS
November 4, 2011

SCS.com Welcome back everyone to November, the month when the rubber hits the road for every major college football team. The top national title contenders face some of their biggest tests of the season as the pressure mounts to an all time high, while other teams try to salvage seasons with bowl eligibility or better bowl positioning. October was a wild ride both on and off the field, as undefeated teams started falling rapidly towards the end of the month while dominoes continued to fall in conference realignment. I got crushed by work and then was out of the country the past two weeks for vacation, but college football was always there in the background, thrilling at every October turn. Thankfully things are going back to more normalcy, so I look forward to bringing you weekly content as expected throughout the remainder of the season. But that's enough about me, let's turn back to all this action in October and November.

Just four weeks ago, fourteen undefeated teams stood ready to compete for a national title, or at least a BCS berth. Of those fourteen, only six remain as Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Clemson, Texas, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Illinois, and Kansas State have fallen, some multiple times. LSU and Alabama will cause another to fall from the ranks this weekend, but there will be plenty more on that showdown later. Oklahoma State faces tough tests against Kansas State and Oklahoma, but the Cowboys may have the most favorable path to the BCS Championship. Stanford must survive Oregon and the Pac 12 championship, while Boise State and Houston face the tough computer mountain as well as not good public perception with no nationally huge games left on the schedule. Once again, the national champion appears to be destined to come from the top 7 in the first BCS standings (which did not include Houston, but the Cougars are not going to make the title game). If Oklahoma State and Stanford stumble, it will be interesting to see if LSU and Alabama can each overcome Boise State to rematch in the BCS championship. That would be a good way to guarantee a sixth straight national championship!

Conference races that were in infancy four weeks ago are now well defined. The ACC could determine the championship game competitors this weekend as a renewed Georgia Tech team hosts Virginia Tech with first place in the Coastal on the line, while Clemson hosts Wake Forest for first place in the Atlantic. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State has an early lead of one game on OU and KSU and two games on every other team. Assuming the Cowboys handle Kansas State, then the BCS berth will come down to the Bedlam Game once again, despite Oklahoma's earlier shocking loss at home to Texas Tech. The Big East is a ridiculous mess, and I'm not referring to the realignment situation. Cincinnati survived a scare at Tampa to remain the only undefeated conference team, albeit at 2-0. West Virginia, Louisville, and Pittsburgh are sitting at 2-1 and the Bearcats have already beaten the Cardinals, with Pitt and WVU coming up the next two weeks. If Cincinnati wins those games, it will be nearly impossible for anyone to knock off Butch Jones's team from the BCS bowl perch.

Turning to the Big Ten, the Legends Division is in Nebraska's hands after beating Michigan State, although the Cornhuskers cannot afford losses against Iowa or Michigan as those teams and the Spartans remain in the mix. The Leaders Division is currently led by Penn State with a 2.5 game lead over Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue. However, the Nittany Lions still face the meat of their schedule against Nebraska and at OSU and UW. Thus, the Buckeyes and Badgers are not done yet in the conference title chase. The Pac 12 North is all about the Stanford-Oregon game, although Washington is still in the mix at 4-1. The South division could be wrapped up this weekend as Arizona State visits UCLA with a chance to gain a two game edge and the tiebreaker that would all but clinch the division title with three weeks left to go. The SEC has come out about as expected, with LSU and Alabama likely deciding the West title this weekend and Georgia hoping for a South Carolina stumble against Arkansas or Florida to open the door for the Bulldogs to overcome their early loss to the Gamecocks. The number of teams that could win a coveted BCS berth will shrink as the season winds down, but nearly half of each conference still has hope halfway through the conference seasons.

A few teams finally got off the schnide in conference play last weekend, which provides a chance for some of these teams to recover into bowl eligbility. Utah snuck a win out of Corvallis, where Oregon State is tough to beat even in a down season. Mississippi State notched a relatively easy win against fellow winless Kentucky in the SEC, leaving the Wildcats, Tennessee, and Ole Miss behind. A week after the Red Raiders rocked Oklahoma on the road, they were throttled at home by Iowa State to give the cyclones their first Big 12 win. Northwestern picked up their first win against winless Indiana, while Minnesota also left Indiana in the dust after shocking Iowa for the second straight season. Boston College became the last ACC team to win a conference game by knocking off Maryland last weekend. Each of these teams still has a chance to reach six wins, and that would be quite an accomplishment for most following a most disappointing start to conference play. Here's hoping the other winless teams in the major conferences get their share of success as the calendar turns to November.

Similar to the BCS Championship chase, the Heisman Trophy hopefuls have been pared down significantly in the past few weeks of October. Competitors like Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III have dropped off the radar thanks to their team's struggles in conference play, but other top contenders have thrived in similar environments. The leading example of this is Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who continues to lead the Cardinal through tough spots with seeming ease such as this past weekend's triple overtime game at USC. If Stanford runs the table and knocks off Oregon, then Luck will likely have no equal in the Heisman voting. However, there is still hope for Alabama's Trent Richardson, who continues to put up big numbers against strong SEC run defenses, and Boise State's Kellen Moore, who may not have many national television opportunities but still impresses with highlights. Case Keenum is likely the only other serious contender at this point, after breaking all kinds of NCAA career and game passing records in the past two weeks. If the other leaders tumble a bit, Keenum could find himself right there with Moore at the end.

So let's jump right into the top three games of the week. Normally we save the best for last, but #1 vs. #2 in the regular season does not happen often (only twice since 1996, both times when Ohio State knocked off opponents in 2006 (Texas, then Michigan). So we must spend a couple of paragraphs on perhaps the biggest regular season game since OSU-Michigan 2006 and perhaps for over two decades. When #1 LSU travels to #2 Alabama on Saturday night, it will be the first regular season SEC conference game between the top two teams in the nation ever, and considering the five straight national titles in the conference coffers, this is bigger than ever. If this game were the ifnal game of the season, then one might consider it the true national championship game (although Ohio State found out the folly of this in 2006, when Florida began the SEC run). The journey for each team to this showdown has been similar, although LSU has faced a slightly tougher road to 8-0 and 5-0 in the SEC. The Tigers rocked Oregon in the opening game and followed that up with dominant performances at Mississippi State and West Virginia. In SEC play, ranked opponents Florida and Auburn have each lost by 30+ points as the LSU offense has started to roll nearly as well as the Tigers defense. Meanwhile, Alabama rolled through Penn State with no trouble and then blew out Florida and Arkansas in back to back weeks. So LSU may be slightly more battle tested, but this game is in Tuscaloosa, so all bets are off.

Both teams have been led by defense, as Alabama leads the nation by far in points allowed at 6.9 per game while LSU ranks third in FBS Football with 11.5 points per game against. The underrated aspect of these teams are booming offenses though, as LSU has scored 39.3 points per game (13th in FBS) while Alabama has racked up 39.4 points per game (12th). Alabama has amazing balance with 229 rushing yards per game and 228 passing, while LSU is a "bit" less balanced at 189 rushing and 183 passing. When LSU has the ball, look for quarterback Jarrett Lee to try and find some holes in the Alabama secondary. Lee has been less prone to interceptions this year and has won the job easily over Jordan Jefferson. However, Lee will not be able to do this on his own, as his offensive line must hold up and open some running lanes for Spencer Ware and/or Michael Ford. When Alabama has the ball, A.J. McCarron will also try to open up some running lanes by hitting some early passes. LSU's defense is more opportunistic than the steady Alabama unit, so McCarron must proceed with utmost caution. Trent Richardson will certainly try to soften up the LSU front, although do not sleep on backup running back Eddie Lacy, who is also a big threat. Alabama spreads the ball out more than LSU, so the talented LSU defenders may have a tougher time stopping the Crimson Tide offense than the Alabama defense has when trying to stop LSU. That being said, LSU will likely come up with more big plays, especially in special teams, to perhaps turn the tide in this game. Expect a game in the 20's, as both offenses will outperform expectations against these vaunted defenses. Alabama appears to be the better team, but LSU has the look of a team of destiny, similar to 2003 and 2007. One may figure LSU could actually still get into the BCS Championship with a road loss, but they will not need to worry about that after winning this game by 3.

The second game of the week is Kansas State at Oklahoma State. Kansas State feasted on a relatively easy early schedule but ran into a huge roadblock last weekend in a 41 point loss to Oklahoma. The Sooners racked up over 600 yards of offense, which is bad news with a more prolific offense to face this week in Oklahoma State. Quarterback Brandon Weeden has already thrown for 22 touchdowns and 2710 yards on the season, and Justin Blackmon is his favorite target with 10 touchdown receptions. The underrated aspect of the OSU offense are running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, who have torn up Missouri and Baylor the past two weekends. Considering the Wildcats defense struggled a week ago, the Cowboys should be able to exploit the same openings the Sooners found a week ago and rack up their average 50 points. Meanwhile, Kansas State will need to improve dramatically on their 340 yards per game and 32 points per game to keep up with the Cowboys. The Wildcats have been relatively one-dimensional with the running game driving the offense, but quarterback Collin Klein is the leading rusher and thus is tough to stop. Oklahoma State will be ready to punish Klein if he makes any mistakes in the passing game, and Klein does not have enough help to defeat OSU on his own. The Wildcats keep it close into the second half, but Oklahoma State pulls away with a 24 point win.

The third game of the week is another top ten showdown in the SEC as South Carolina visits Arkansas. Each of these teams has one SEC loss and is still in the mix for a championship game appearance, but only if they survive this weekend's contest. The Gamecocks have won many games with a stifling defense this season, which has racked up 16 interceptions so far this year. More importantly, the Gamecocks have only given up three touchdowns in the last five weeks, which bodes well with a tough Arkansas offense coming to town. Junior quarterback Tyler Wilson has only thrown three interceptions all year and has not thrown a pick in the last month, a remarkable achievement with a pass-heavy offense. South Carolina's defense has struggled to stop the Arkansas passing offense the past two years, so it will be interesting to see if anything has been learned from these prior struggles. South Carolina would normally find the going easier on offense against a relatively poor Razorbacks defense, but the Gamecocks are learning how to make any offense without quarterback Stephen Garcia (kicked off the team) and running back Marcus Lattimore (injured for season). Connor Shaw has made fewer mistakes than Garcia, but he will likely make a couple mistakes in a hostile road environment. Arkansas continues their dominance over South Carolina with a 24 point home victory.

Other Games of the Week - Week 10

(4) Stanford def. Oregon State
(5) Boise State def. UNLV
(6) Oklahoma def. Texas A&M
(8) Oregon def. Washington
(10) Nebraska def. Northwestern
(13) Houston def. UAB
(15) Michigan def. Iowa
(17) Michigan State def. Minnesota
(18) Georgia def. New Mexico State
(19) Arizona State def. UCLA
(20) Wisconsin def. Purdue
Texas Tech def. (21) Texas
(24) West Virginia def. Louisville
East Carolina def. (25) Southern Miss

2011 GOTW Record: 11-4
Last Week: 3-0
2011 Overall Top 25 Record: 94-15
Last Week: 17-3

Fitz Top 10 - Week 10

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma State
4. Boise State
5. Stanford
6. Houston
7. Oklahoma
8. Arkansas
9. Nebraska
10. South Carolina

Just Missed: Penn State, Oregon, Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Clemson

So the big game is finally here and word has it that over 600 press credentials have been issued for LSU-Bama. This could be the most covered game ever considering the number of writers and photographers on site, and it appears that nearly every angle of both teams has been covered this week. After this game, the debate will rage as to whether a rematch will be warranted. However, in case there is no rematch, enjoy this weekend and the fact that a second SEC game has been allowed in prime time on network television. Channel flipping between the two big SEC showdowns will make for a great Saturday night, and I look forward to recapping the action next week. Until then, enjoy the week!

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