By Casey Keefe
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#18 USC (8-2) @ #4 Oregon (9-1) – 8pm (JIP on WFAN after Devils)
The Ducks couldn’t have been more impressive in their 53-30 thrashing of Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal. They forced 5 turnovers and were able to move the ball at will. The golden boy Luck accounted for 3 turnovers and was sacked 3 times—both career highs for him. Despite the disadvantages on playing in enemy territory on a slow field that was in brutal shape, there was no slowing down the Ducks. They now find themselves back in the BCS title picture (#4 in BCS rankings) and are a win away from clinching the Pac 12 North.
USC playing under the clouds of severe NCAA sanctions have proven to be much better and more motivated than some have expected. They came close to beating the aformention Stanford Cardinal a few weeks ago and are coming off a convincing 40-17 win over a dangerous Washington team. Matt Barkley (2,782 yards, 29 TD’s, 6 INT’s) is a spectacular quarterback and will be a sure-fire first round draft pick—as will his top two receivers, Robert Woods (1,126 yards, 11 TD’s) and Marqise Lee (732 yards, 8 TD’s). Plus, their defense is the best they’ve had in the past few years.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, my days of doubting Oregon are over. The Ducks have played a brutal schedule and the only team to have a shred of success at slowing down their offense was LSU—and that was the first game of the season, not to mention LSU has a top 2 defense. As solid as USC’s defense has been, they don’t have the speed nor depth to in any way slow down Oregon. They did a solid job against Stanford, but the Ducks up-tempo attack is a whole other animal. Quarterback Darron Thomas (1,704 yards, 22 TD’s, 5 INT’s) runs Chip Kelly’s system to perfection and LaMichael James (1,207 yards, 12 TD’s, 8 ypc) has overtaken Trent Richardson as the nation’s top running back. Backup back Kenjon Barner (643 yards, 8 TD’s) ain’t to shabby neither.
Speaking of Kelly, he is an absolute madman—and I mean that as a compliment. He has 110% faith in his players and isn’t afraid to make risky (even borderline insane) decisions. To his credit, most of those decisions (and all in the case of last week’s game) work out to perfection for his Ducks. His goal is to get as many snaps off on offense as possible. In some cases, this philosophy makes time-management guru’s pull their hair out. But it works for Kelly’s Ducks… The bottom line is it’s hard to deny that Chip Kelly is one of the elite coaches in all of college football. Very few are better at making successful adjustments on the fly. Betting against him in any situation wouldn’t be wise.
Trojan coach Lane Kiffin and his right hand man (and father) Monte Kiffin are pro-style coaches through and through. There is nothing Kelly and the Ducks do that is pro-style. Oregon’s players are faster, smarter and just better. This game is a matchup nightmare for USC… Thomas, James and Barner will destroy the Trojans’ defense. Their helter-skelter offense will keep the thin USC defense on its heels and gasping for air for all four quarters. And yes, Barkley has the ability to compete in a potential shootout, but the constant pressure he’ll be under will force him into at least two interceptions. If there’s one thing the Trojans can’t do, it’s give more possessions to the deadly Duck offense… Prediction: Oregon
#5 Oklahoma (8-1) @ #25 Baylor (6-3) – 8pm
The Sooners entered the season as the favorite in most people’s eyes to win the national championship. Flash forward to now, and the reality sets in that not only are they on the outside looking in regarding the BCS title race, but they’re not even the best team in their own state. That honor hands down goes to the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. Now, Oklahoma is one of only eight 1-loss teams and would make things interesting in the BCS picture if they can run the table and win their next three games—but that task will be impossible due to the injury of receiver Ryan Broyles (83 receptions, 1,157 yards, 10 TD’s) whose record-breaking career came to an end thanks to a torn ACL.
Having set the stage for the impending doom that lies ahead for Oklahoma, I will tell you that they will have no problems tomorrow against Baylor. Heisman candidate Robert Griffin III (3,093 yards, 34 total TD’s, 5 INT’s) has been Mr. Do-It-All for the Bears. He has a solid partner in crime in shifty receiver Kendall Wright (1,073 yards, 9 TD’s). Together, they help form the #1 offense in the Big 12… Unfortunately, their defense (36 ppg allowed) is of nowhere such stature. Landry Jones (3,349 yards, 28 TD’s, 9 INT’s) will have no problem dicing them up early and often. Its true Baylor is a different team at home (5-0, 49 ppg), but they haven’t faced anyone the caliber of Oklahoma. The Sooners are 20-0 all-time against the Bears and 10-0 in Waco—look for those numbers to improve around 11:30 tomorrow night… Prediction: Oklahoma
#17 Nebraska (8-2) @ #20 Michigan (8-2) – 12pm
A November afternoon in Ann Arbor, playing stage to an enormous game in the Big 10—this is what college football is all about… Nebraska was fortunate to knock off Penn State last weekend and managed to flash some glaring weaknesses while doing so. Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, their vulnerable defense struggles mightily against mobile quarterbacks. Expect Denard Robinson (1,611 pass yards, 864 rush yards, 25 total TD’s) to gash Nebraska’s defense on the ground. The emerging Fitzgerald Toussaint (673 yards, 5 TD’s) will be sure to get in on the action as well.
What sells me most on the Wolverines is their improving defense. A unit which has struggled at times has taken some major strides in recent weeks. Their defensive line is stacked with the likes of Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin who provide a consistent push up front. Freshman Jake Ryan has gotten his college career off to a fast start and has proven to be a legitimate playmaker. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez (2,456 total yards, 19 total TD’s. 7 INT’s) is terribly inconsistent. And as good as running back Rex Burkhead (1,072 yards, 14 TD’s) is, I expect Michigan’s front seven to hold strong in the trenches and play a major factor in winning this game for the Maze and Blue… Prediction: Michigan
#16 Kansas State (8-2) @ Texas (6-3) – 8pm
All season long, Kansas State has been an easy book to read. They excel at running the football but pose no threat in the passing game. Defensively, they can be solid but most of the time fall victim to critical breakdowns. Coming off two straight losses the Wildcats looked to be heading into a tailspin, but they not only came back to beat Texas A&M in four overtimes, they re-found themselves and might have built a new identity in the process. Their defense clamped down and quarterback Collin Klein actually made some plays through the air.
I believe Klein (1,504 pass yards, 1,009 rush yards, 34 total TD’s) and the Wildcats will build off the momentum and confidence they gained against A&M. If Klein can continue to be a threat with his arm he will really open up the opposing defense. Also, look for running back John Hubert (781 yards, 2 TD’s) to regain some of his early season swagger… Even though the Longhorns are at home, they’ll be in for a long night. Their quarterback situation with David Ash and Case McCoy is an absolute disaster and they suffered the unfortunate loss of running back and team leader Fozzy Whittaker (386 yards, 6 TD’s) who tore both his ACL and MCL. He will be missed both on the field and in the huddle… Prediction: Kansas State
Quote of the Week…
– Louisville Head Coach Charlie Strong: “It’s young people. That’s what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with young guys who all of the sudden there’s something new and they want to try it, and it just engulfs them.” – Blaming the Cardinals 21-14 home loss to Pittsburgh on the recent video game release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: (2,695 yards, 31 Total TD’s, 7 INT’s, 71 %) – Luck is hanging onto the top spot by a thread after his mediocre performance against Oregon last week. It is crucial for him and his Cardinal to get back on track… Next: California (6-4)
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: (1,207 yards, 13 Total TD’s, 7.9 ypc) – James has proven to be the best running back in all of college football. His stock took an enormous hike after his tremendous performance on the road against Stanford… Next: USC (8-2)
3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: (1,205 yards, 19 Total TD’s, 5.9 ypc) – Richardson will be a better pro than James. And yes, he faces much better competition on a weekly basis than James—but James packs more of a “wow” factor as a college running back. Richardson needs to get his edge back… Next: Georgia Southern (9-1)
4. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: (3,635 yards, 31 TD’s, 9 INT’s, 73%) – Weeden and his Cowboys have been one of the best stories in all of college football. If he keeps playing the way he is and OSU keeps winning, he may have a shot at the hardware… Next: Iowa State (5-4)
5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston: (3,951 yards, 39 Total TD’s, 3 INT’s, 74 %) – Keenum has put up video game like numbers. His accuracy and efficiency is downright scary. Unfortunately, his Houston team doesn’t play anything close to an SEC or Big 12 type schedule. That will no doubt cost him… NEXT: SMU (6-4)
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN