By Casey Keefe
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#2 Auburn @ #11 Alabama (JIP on WFAN after Devils/Islanders): Black Friday just wouldn’t be the same without the Iron Bowl, and this installment is the biggest and most significant in years. At stake for Auburn is a spot in the national championship game. Alabama has been out of the BCS title race for a few weeks, but there’s nothing the Tide would savor more than to crush the dreams of their biggest rival.
Needless to say, all eyes will be on Cam Newton. Auburn is coming off a bye week and Newton hasn’t spoken publicly about his off-the-field situation in two weeks, but the questions and scrutiny won’t go away. Newton knows there’s more at stake in this game than a BCS title game spot – He knows he will either win or lose the Heisman trophy depending on how he performs against the Tide. All things considered, this will undoubtedly be the biggest game Newton has ever played in.
Cutting to the chase, the difference in this game will be defense. Alabama plays it, and Auburn doesn’t. The Tide are as stingy as they come on the defensive end and they will find a way to contain Newton both on the ground and through the air. They will be tested at times. They may bend, but I’m confident they won’t break. The unit’s rare struggles have all come on the road. It’s a different story at home where the Tide really feed off the crowd and play at a whole other level.
On the other side of the ball is where Auburn will really be in trouble. Their defense is garbage. They are inconsistent defending both the run and pass, and often have several breakdowns throughout the course of games. Getting pressure on Greg McElroy is out of the question because they’ll never be able to crack through ‘Bama’s offensive line. They’ll struggle to defend dynamic receiver Julio Jones and they’ll certainly struggle to stop running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Auburn has everything to play for, and you’ll see that desperation seep through. It will be a close game that won’t be decided until late in the final quarter, but I just don’t see Alabama losing. The Tigers are really walking into a buzz saw this week, especially with the game being at Tuscaloosa.
I have no doubts Newton will flash his brilliance – but at the end of the day, the one weakness for Auburn is what will end up costing them the game and likely a chance at the national championship… Prediction: Alabama
#21 Arizona @ #1 Oregon: Much like Auburn, Oregon is a team playing with everything on the line. They control their own destiny for a spot in the national championship game. Standing in their way this week is a very dangerous Arizona Wildcat team.
I’ll be interested to see how Oregon’s prolific offense responds. Remember, the last time out, the seemingly unstoppable Ducks offense was silenced by Cal. It was the first time all year that the unit ran into some adversity. They needed their defense to bail them out, which they did. But this week the Ducks offense better play up to their ability or else they’ll be in trouble.
Playing off what I just stated, Oregon’s defense is coming off their best effort. Can they have a repeat performance? Or just play anywhere near the same level as they did against Cal? If they do, they’ll be in great shape. They’ll be facing a lethal quarterback-to-receiver combination in Nick Foles and Juron Criner. They’ll have to be physical with the deep-threat Criner and jam him at the line. Pressuring Foles out of the pocket will certainly help.
The bottom line is if Oregon’s offense is clicking there’s not much you can do to stop them. Arizona has a solid defense, but they’ve really struggled when facing big-time offenses. I expect Darron Thomas, Jeffery Maehl and LaMichael James to all regain form which is just about a death sentence for Arizona… Prediction: Oregon
#4 Boise State @ #19 Nevada: This game is very significant because it’s Boise State’s last real chance to impress the pollsters and the BCS computers. They’re taking on a legitimate opponent, and if they want to make a final statement for a spot in the title game they have to win, and win big.
We’ll be seeing two of the most exciting quarterbacks in the country – Kellen Moore and Colin Kaepernick. Whichever defense does a better job of holding down the fort will go a long ways towards deciding this game. Kaepernick and tailback Vai Taua are nearly flawless running the pistol offense. They are the #4 rushing offense in the country, averaging 304 yards per game on the ground.
We know all about Moore and his ability. He has two phenomenal receivers, Titus Young and Austin Pettis. Running back Doug Martin ain’t too shabby either. Nevada has played tough defense in stretches. They tend to play a “bend don’t break” style. They let up yardage, yet they clamped down in the red zone. If there’s ever an opponent to keep out of the end zone it’s these Broncos.
As dangerous as Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack offense can be, I think they’re just too one-dimensional. Boise State will be able to key in on defending the pistol and limit the damage – And if you think for a second that they’re not athletic enough, just think back to the Virginia Tech game at the start of the year…
Too add insult to injury for Nevada, there’s just no way they’ll be able to keep the Broncos offense down. Moore and company are just way too explosive. Throw in the fact that it’s such a big statement game for Chris Petersen’s guys, there’s just no way they have a letdown… Prediction: Boise State
*** Showdown Saturday ***
#5 LSU @ #12 Arkansas: A BCS bowl will likely be the award for the winner of this game. You can break down the game every which way, but at the end of the day, this game will be decided by the outcome of one matchup in particular – Ryan Mallett against LSU’s secondary.
Mallett is the best pure quarterback in the country and leads a high flying Arkansas offense which gets up and down the field in a hurry. Mallett averages 340 passing yards per game and he’ll be facing an LSU pass secondary that ranks #1 in the SEC with just 151 pass yards allowed per game. This is the key matchup to watch, and needless to say, something’s got to give.
The battle on the other side of the ball will be interesting as well. Everybody knows how I feel about Tiger quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He’s struggled throughout this season, but he is coming off a very impressive performance against Mississippi. Les Miles is hoping Jefferson is finally “getting it”… We’ll find out soon enough.
Jefferson may play well, and LSU’s defense may be able to hold down Mallett – but for how long, I don’t know. It may be a sloppy game, but my gut tells me that sooner or later we’ll see Mallett become Mallett, and Jefferson become Jefferson… Prediction: Arkansas
#13 Oklahoma @ #9 Oklahoma State: Roles will be reversed when the 105th edition of Bedlam is unveiled on Saturday. Oklahoma State usually goes in heavy underdogs against their “big brothers”, but that’s not the case this year. Despite the Sooners holding an 80-24 series lead and a 7 game win streak, it is the Cowboys who are one win away from clinching the Big 12 South.
We’ll see two of the best quarterback-receiver combinations in the country. With Oklahoma we have Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles. With State it’s Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. It goes without saying that we’ll see our share of fireworks come Saturday. Playing in Stillwater will provide a huge boost to the Cowboys, there’s no doubt about that.
The difference to me is the Sooners defense that I believe will really struggle to handle the Cowboys offense. This isn’t a classic Bob Stoops defense – Far from it actually. Plus, as explosive as the Sooners offense can be, they tend to be sloppy at times. I think we’ll see Oklahoma commit a couple turnovers which will really cost them… Prediction: Oklahoma State
- The Big 10 (aka the best conference in the country) will be decided by Saturday night. Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are tied for the conference lead. The Badgers are in the best position to seize a Rose Bowl berth with a win due to their BCS standing. Here’s the complete slate of action…
Wisconsin vs. Northwestern… Michigan State @ Penn State… Ohio State vs. Michigan.
- The Connecticut Huskies can jump into the Big East lead with a win over Cincinnati and a West Virginia win over Pittsburgh. It’s safe to say that Storrs will be the unofficial capital of the Mountaineer fan club. Would it shock me to see West Virginia beat Pitt?… Absolutely not.
- The re-energized Notre Dame Irish travel to Southern California to take on the Trojans. Both teams are in a down year (for their standards), but this remains one of the best rivalries in the country. Can Tommy Rees and the wounded Irish take advantage of a very vulnerable Trojans defense?… I think so, but can they keep up on the scoreboard with the Trojans? That is the question.
Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend’s action.
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- Casey’s Call: Handicapping The Heisman (newyork.cbslocal.com)