Sports

Casey’s Call: Week 11 College Football Preview

Rob Bolden #1 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Rob Bolden #1 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

By Casey Keefe
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The disgusting Penn State scandal has been talked about and covered around the clock for the past week just as it should have. Those poor victims are in the thoughts and prayers of us all. It’s one of the worst scandals and coverups we will ever witness. There was no way in hell Joe Paterno could stay on as head coach of the Nittany Lions. He attempted to bully his way into “going out on his terms” by announcing he’ll retire at season’s end—but PSU’s Board of Trustee’s had other plans and finally fired him Wednesday night after a long drawn-out PR nightmare.

I know time was of the essence in so many ways, but I’ll never understand why the firing of Paterno (and University President Graham Spanier) was announced late at night, after 10pm. I respect that the Board felt the need to act and announce their plans immediately—but these people couldn’t be so ignorant not to know that ugly riots would follow. The fact that it was at night made these riots so much worse than they would’ve been had the announcement come first thing Thursday morning.

Watching the coverage, it was impressive to see a few Penn State students actually be able to put together complete and coherent sentences while defending and supporting their coach. Whether you agreed with their stance or not, at least they were intelligent and respectful with their thoughts. The same couldn’t be said for 99% of the other rioters. There will always be clowns who look for a reason to be angry and stupid and flip trucks. Unfortunately, you’d find this to be the case throughout any campus in this country. I guess its part of the growing process.

All in all, we should feel lucky that the riots were not worse. They certainly could’ve been. There was always going to be a riot/protest no matter when this announcement came down, but a lot of this ugliness could’ve been avoided if the Board better timed their announcement. The fact they didn’t is just another reason why this whole situation has been handled so poorly from a PR standpoint… But in the end, the right decision was made. Joe had to go. I give credit to the Board for at least coming to that conclusion and not allowing themselves to be bullied by the old lion.

I know it’s hard to turn the page to football, but there is still a game to be played tomorrow at noon and it’s a pretty big one. #12 Penn State stands at 8-1 and will do their best to celebrate senior day against #19 Nebraska (7-2). One can only imagine the distraction this scandal has been for the current players and coaches. And it’s unfortunate because all of the current players and a lot of the coaching staff have absolutely nothing to do with this travesty. These kids are in the midst of a great season—a season which has the chance to end with a Big 10 title and a BCS bowl berth. Tomorrow, Penn State’s seniors will play their last ever game in Happy Valley, and it’s a shame they’ll have to do so under such surreal circumstances.

Getting to the game—call me crazy, but I think Penn State will win. They have one of the best defenses in the nation, allowing just 282ypg and 12ppg. Anyone who’s followed my work knows how I feel about Nebraska’s offense. Running back Rex Burkhead (951 yards, 13 TD’s) has been on a tear lately but Cornhusker quarterback Taylor Martinez (1,545 yards, 10 TD’s, 7 INT’s) has been terrible. He is a dangerous threat with his legs, but Penn State is very strong against the run.
The Nittany Lions offense won’t set the world on fire. They use two quarterbacks (Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden), neither of which pose much of a threat—especially Bolden who is embarrassingly bad. Fortunately for State, they do have one of the best running backs in the nation in sophomore Silas Redd (1,006 yards, 7 TD’s). Nebraska’s defense is awful. They’re a far cry from the Cornhusker units of the past few seasons. Just last week they let up 468 yards to a hampered 18 point underdog Northwestern team at home in Lincoln.

Emotionally, this is a game that can go either way for Penn State. Their focus and play could end up being affected by all the distractions and stress caused by the scandal. Or they could rally around each other amidst the drama and play the game of their lives. I think we’ll see more of the later. With the nation watching, those kids will play for themselves, for their teammates, and in the case of most, for Joe Paterno… Prediction: Penn State

#7 Oregon (8-1) @ #4 Stanford (9-0) – 8pm (JIP on WFAN after Devils)

It may not be an epic #1 vs. #2 showdown like we saw last week, but it’s pretty close. These are the two best teams in the Pac 12, both vying for a BCS bid, and with a little help a national title game spot as well. It’s safe to say the stakes will be pretty high at Stanford Stadium come tomorrow evening and you can listen to all the action right here on the ‘FAN following Devils-Capitals.

The talk of the college football season (on the field at least) has been Andrew Luck (2,424 yards, 28 total TD’s, 5 INT’s). He’s the Heisman favorite and sure-fire #1 pick should he decide to enter the NFL Draft. He thrives in Stanford’s unique offensive system which features bunch formations and utilizes multiple tight ends and fullbacks. Luck loves targeting his tight ends so much that they account for 16 touchdowns whereas his receivers have just 5.

Oregon’s defense isn’t nearly as stout as they’ve been the past couple years. Even with the knee injury to tight end Zach Ertz, Stanford has a plethora of other offensive weapons who will give the Ducks nightmares. Besides Luck, the two guys that will tear Oregon apart are tight end Coby Fleener (431 yards, 8 TD’s) and running back Stepfan Taylor (891 yards, 8 TD’s). The biggest factor for the success Stanford will have is their offensive line which in my opinion is the best in the country. They will create running lanes for Taylor and will give Luck time in the pocket to pick apart the Ducks secondary.

As confident as I am with Luck and the Cardinal offense, the biggest reason why I like Stanford in this game is their defense. What people seem to forget is how bad Oregon struggles against the quick, physical and relentless style of defense which Stanford possesses. Remember the Rose Bowl against Ohio State two years ago? Or the BCS title game against Auburn last year? How about this year’s season opener against LSU?… Those three defenses mirror the style Stanford plays—and to this point, that style has been the kryptonite to Oregon’s up-tempo offense.

I’m not trying to make it sound like it’ll be an easy task to slow down an offense which averages 511ypg and 46ppg. LaMichael James (1,061 yards, 9 TD’s) is one of the best running backs in the country and quarterback Darron Thomas (1,549 yards, 21 total TD’s, 5 INT’s) has improved his consistency dramatically. But the Ducks’ weaknesses at receiver and along the offensive line make them vulnerable in this game. I also worry about their inability to sustain drives. It sounds funny, but their time of possession (23:52) is poor because they strike so quickly. Hey, the object of the game is to score points, but you need to be able to “grind” in games like this and that’s not strength of Oregon’s.

Luck and company on the other hand average 33:17 in the battle of time possession. The longer Luck is on the field, the worse it is for the Ducks. Stanford is 52-52 in the red zone this season. They’re a team that from top to bottom does not make mistakes. Their efficiency combined with the defense’s ability to contain and limit Oregon’s “quick strike” offense makes me very confident in Stanford’s chances tomorrow evening. Plus, having the game in front of the Cardinal crowd certainly doesn’t hurt matters.

What some people have yet to realize is that the Stanford Cardinal are not just Andrew Luck. Sure, he’s a major reason why they’re having the success they are—but this is a team that is extremely deep and talented on both sides of the ball. This powerful balance will be the reason why they beat Oregon tomorrow night… Prediction: Stanford

#20 Auburn (6-3) @ #15 Georgia (7-2) – 3:30pm

The Bulldogs have been one of the better stories this season. Since their disastrous 0-2 start they’ve reeled off 7 straight wins against some stiff competition. Georgia will clinch the SEC East crown with a victory over their hated rivals from Auburn and a Florida win over South Carolina. Now, I’m not betting the house on the Gators tomorrow, but it’s amazing to think just how close the Bulldogs are to the East title considering their near-fatal start.

Auburn has had an extra week to prepare for this one, but don’t be mistaking these Tigers for the national champions of a year ago. Running back Michael Dyer (989 yards, 9 TD’s) is having a great season but Auburn as a whole is a very flawed team and their defense is atrocious, allowing nearly 30 points per game. They’re running into a buzzsaw in Athens.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (2,060 yards, 23 TD’s, 8 INT’s) has been as good as advertised. He’s been the major reason for the Bulldogs success and will be the main reason why their win streak will reach 8 come tomorrow evening… Prediction Georgia

West Virginia (6-3) @ #23 Cincinnati (7-1) – 12pm

In case you didn’t know, they still play football in the Big East. No, really… And as one would expect, this matchup between the two best teams in the conference will go an awfully long way towards deciding who will represent the league in a BCS game.

Thanks to Geno Smith (3,125 yards, 23 TD’s, 5 INT’s), West Virginia’s offense is still as explosive as ever, but their defense can sometimes be downright non-existent. The Mountaineers are very much a Jekyll and Hyde team. Don’t ever allow yourself to be fooled though—after all, this is a team that lost to Syracuse!… Cincinnati is a better, more sound and definitely more consistent club. Bearcat quarterback Zach Collaros (1,784 yards, 22 TD’s, 8 INT’s) is a contender for Big East player of the year, as is his running back Isaiah Pead (821 yards, 8 TD’s).

Collaros and company will eat West Virginia’s defense alive… But in the end, this game will be won by Cincy’s outstanding defense. They’re opportunistic (12 INT’s) and really know how to get to the quarterback (25 sacks)… Prediction: Cincinnati

TCU (7-2) @ #5 Boise State (8-0) – 3:30pm

It seems these two meet each other every year, but truth be told this is the first and last time they will ever share a conference. They’ve only met two prior times—both of those meetings came in bowl games which the two split. This year’s edition of the “at large” rivalry takes on extra importance because it’s pretty much the equivalent of the Mountain West Conference title game.

Boise State still has an outside shot at a spot in the BCS title game. Those dreams are over if they slip up tomorrow against the Horned Frogs. Star running back Doug Martin (756 yards, 9 TD’s) will be limited with a leg injury. But the bottom line is as long as Kellen Moore (2,229 yards, 29 TD’s, 5 INT’s) is breathing, TCU stands no chance.

The Horned Frogs are a solid, well-coached football team. However, it’d be an outrageous understatement to say their defense is unrecognizable to the ones of the past few years. They have no shot to stop Moore and company… Prediction: Boise State

Quick Hits…

- #2 Oklahoma State (9-0) cannot in any way overlook or underestimate Texas Tech (5-4). Oklahoma made that foolish mistake and it cost them their season. If the Cowboys hope to play in the BCS title game they need to show some killer instinct tomorrow afternoon.

- If you told me five years ago that Miami was playing Florida State and no one would care I would have laughed you out of the room. But that’s exactly what we have on our hands this weekend. The mediocre Hurricanes (5-4) travel to Tallahassee to take on the slightly less mediocre Seminoles (6-3)—and nobody cares.

- After such an epic showdown last week, I’d be interested to see what type of intensity #1 LSU (vs. Western Kentucky) and #4 Alabama (@ Mississippi State) play with tomorrow. It would be human nature for both to have a letdown in intensity and focus… Let’s see.

Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN