John Mitchell: Welcome back to a new edition of the tailgater. We’re trying a new shortened format that should make the column a quicker read. With me as always to dissect the coming weekend are Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl, who are eager to get to the action. The biggest story in college football remains the controversy over Cameron Newton’s recruitment as new allegations have come to light this week. What do you make of the new allegations?
Bigalke: One thing after another is stacking up and making it more difficult to trust the credibility of the denials coming out of the Plains. You get the feeling that Auburn is going to be vacating some wins, though the school has redoubled its defenses and squared the wagons trying to force the investigators to go in wider circles. But they’ll get to the center of this problem, and there’s too much corroboration to think these are all red herrings. The saddest part is that, unless Alabama or South Carolina can pull off the upset, we might see TCU or Boise State snubbed for the title game. And if Auburn wins, and has to forfeit the title after the fact, calls to curtail the cartel will be renewed with full force.
Strobl: I’ll hand it to Newton for being to play through the distractions, but with each passing day the accusations seem to be strengthened. I think the investigation is going to uncover something—what that something is or what type of punishment it leads to remains to be seen, but I would be very nervous right now if I were part of the Auburn athletic department.
Mitchell: With every passing day, more and more things are brought to the attention of all of us. Mississippi State is at the center of this as they continue to comply with the NCAA and report more and more. All the stories that have come out seem to make it increasingly more likely that Cameron Newton is guilty. The saddest part is, even if he didn’t do anything himself, and it was his Dad that accepted money on his behalf, then that still makes him ineligible. The biggest questions will be what the voters do in the polls and for the Heisman if the NCAA hasn’t came to a decision. It’s been a crazy season in college football and this is one of the biggest stories in the history of the game – especially if it is true. Only time will tell if these allegation are true, so at this point we just have to sit back and be patient.
Strobl: Heads-up, Wisconsin. When the Badgers head into The Big House this week, they’ll be facing a Michigan team that just earned a hard-fought triple overtime win over what was a good Illinois defense. But Rich Rodriguez is still searching for a signature win. Wisconsin is built to run the ball, and (breakaway rushes aside) isn’t necessarily a quick-strike offense. UM is.
Mitchell: Consider yourself warned, Missouri. The Iowa State Cyclones are in need of one more win to get bowl eligible and I believe that Paul Rhoades will have this team motivated and they will get the win and go to a bowl game for a second straight season.
Bigalke: Look out, USC, because your past four trips to the state of Oregon have been nightmares. Things have been down in Corvallis this year, but Oregon State could ride a healthy dose of Jacquizz Rodgers to another upset of the Trojans.
What team is in most need of a STATEMENT WIN this week?
Mitchell: After losing by 20 points at Bryant-Denny Stadium to Alabama last Saturday, I believe Mississippi State is in most need of making a statement this week against Arkansas. A lot of people now don’t believe they were as good as their 7-2 record showed, but they can erase all doubts if they beat Arkansas.
Bigalke: After rising into the top five, Utah is on the road against a San Diego State team that took TCU to the brink and also nearly upset Missouri in Columbia. The Utes can’t get to the Pac-12 soon enough.
Strobl: Ohio State lived on the edge last week and got away with it, but the Buckeyes need a more complete game if they want to escape Iowa City with a win. A share of the Big Ten title might hang in the balance…
What are this week’s KEY POSITIONAL MATCHUPS?
Strobl: Coming off of a pair of bad games that included a loss to Northwestern and a close shave against Indiana, Iowa desperately needs to play well in week 12. That will hinge on Ricky Stanzi and his ability to exploit the Ohio State defense. But the Buckeyes had 2 pick-6 scores last week and the front 7 will put pressure on the Hawkeyes’ backfield.
Mitchell: I’m intrigued to see Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill go up against the “blackshirts” defense at Nebraska. Nebraska’s defense ranks 8th in the nation in pass defense, so this matchup will be particularly intriguing.
Bigalke: Andrew Luck should be able to find holes in the Bears’ secondary, but I really can’t wait to see how a Cal rushing defense that held LaMichael James below 100 yards last week fares against a good Stanford O-line and RB Stepfan Taylor.
What player will be the BIGGEST GAME-CHANGER this week?
Bigalke: Oklahoma has had a pedestrian, mid-pack defense this year. I’m looking for Baylor’s Robert Griffin to exploit the deficiencies in the Sooners’ D to drive the Bears to victory.
Strobl: Nebraska can lock up the Big 12 North with a win this week by virtue of a tie-breaker edge over Missouri. Look for ‘Huskers cornerback Prince Amukamara to step up against Texas A&M’s newfound passing threat Ryan Tannehill.
Mitchell: California’s defense shut down one of the nation’s premier offenses last week against Oregon. That means Stanford QB Andrew Luck will have to be up to the task against a stingy California defense if the Cardinal want to go to Berkeley and get a victory.
Now let’s focus on some of the big matchups in week 12.
Early Saturday, an intrastate ACC game takes place in Raleigh as North Carolina State plays host to North Carolina. Who wins this matchup of rivals?
Bigalke: Did UNC suddenly get all their preseason roster back in a leniency move by the NCAA? No? Then I can’t help but think Russell Wilson and NC State are going to prevail in a shootout before turning an eye to the FSU-Maryland game later in hopes their ACC title dreams stay alive.
Strobl: Without knowing which Tar Heels team will show up, I’m going with NC State. Russell Wilson and the Wolfpack demolished Wake in week 11, but a bad loss to Clemson is surely etched on the team’s psyche. Topping an inconsistent UNC team would lessen the sting.
Another loss in the Big XII would pretty much eliminate Oklahoma from contention in the Big XII South. They head to Waco this week to face off with a slumping Baylor team. Can Oklahoma keep their Big XII South hopes alive?
Bigalke: Yes, we’ve seen them fall back to earth a bit, but I still have a sneaking feeling that Baylor has one more upset in its back pocket. The Sooners just don’t have the defensive stability to contend with Robert Griffin.
Strobl: With ue respect to Robert Griffin and company, Baylor has come up short in key divisional matchups. I’m taking Oklahoma in a close one.
Mitchell: Baylor has proven the last two weeks to be a pretender. Oklahoma should get the win, they know what is at stake and I think they win in a shootout over the Bears.
Michigan has been up and down for most of the season after winning five straight, losing three in a row, and then rebounding with back-to-back wins. They now face a stern test as Wisconsin invades the Big House fresh off of an 83-20 shellacking of Indiana. Can Michigan win its third straight, or will Wisconsin strengthen their case for the best one-loss team in the nation?
Mitchell: I expect a rather high scoring game, but Wisconsin has the playmakers on defense to come up with the plays when they need to get the win.
Bigalke: With an offensive line that controls the trenches and a clock-eating ground game, Wisconsin is more steak than sizzle. They should knock off a Wolverines team that is winning despite being all sizzle.
California gave #1 Oregon all they could handle in Berkeley on Saturday night. They couldn’t quite pull off the upset, but they get another chance at home against #6 Stanford on Saturday night. Can California pull off the upset?
Bigalke: Cal certainly can pull off the upset, but as they showed against Oregon they don’t have the offense to take advantage of their stout defense. Stanford has enough weapons on both sides of the ball to win the Bay Area grudge match.
Strobl: Stanford will move to 10-1 on the season by beating Cal this week. The Bears just don’t have what it takes to stop Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck.
Arkansas has played much better since their loss to Auburn earlier in the year and now they head to Starkville to play a team in Mississippi State that is looking to rebound from a bitter loss to Alabama last week. Who wins this big SEC West matchup?
Bigalke: Mississippi State has overachieved this season but is starting to fall back to earth. The Razorbacks have been there at the end of several tough games. I have a feeling Arkansas proves it’s the better team on the road this week.
Strobl: Arkansas has too much offense. Although Dan Mullen has done wonders with the MSU program, the Bulldogs fare better in lower scoring games. I doubt Ryan Mallet and the Razorbacks’ offense will oblige.
Mitchell: Mississippi State will be playing with heavy hearts once again due to their loss of teammate Nick Bell. But, even at home, the Bulldogs don’t have enough firepower on offense to keep up with Ryan Mallett and Arkansas.
Virginia Tech has a chance to clinch the ACC Coastal division on Saturday against Miami on the road. Can they do it?
Strobl: I’m taking Miami here. I’ve watched the recent VT games and know that they were outplayed by NC State and matched by GT. They managed to pull out close wins thanks to some late-game breaks, then got a fistful of turnovers against the Tar Heels. That kind of luck can’t hold forever.
Mitchell: The Hokies have looked like a completely different team since their losses to Boise State and James Madison. This is the best team in the ACC and led by Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech should beat Miami and clinch the Coastal Division title.
Bigalke: Maybe you’ve got faith in Miami, Matt, but I sure don’t. Virginia Tech has had several close wins, but they’re wins. And the Hurricanes will rue another missed chance to snag a statement win after they fail to get it on Saturday.
Ohio State heads to Iowa City for a game against an Iowa team that is coming off a tough loss to Northwestern that ended their chances in the Big Ten Title race. Can Ohio State keep their chances alive on the road?
Mitchell: I haven’t been overly impressed by either of these teams this season. Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes haven’t performed that well on the road and that’s why I believe Iowa will avoid their fourth loss of the season.
Bigalke: In recent weeks, it has looked like Jim Tressel has stopped focusing on turning Terrelle Pryor into a Heisman winner and started refocusing on winning games. Ohio State is better for it and should prevail against the Hawkeyes to keep the standings messy in the Big Ten.
Strobl: John’s right about OSU and Pryor being disappointments, but Iowa has looked lousy in 3 of its last 4. And besides, what kind of fan would be if I didn’t take Ohio State?
Texas A&M is surging right now since switching to Ryan Tannehill at QB. They now play host to the team that seems to be the class of the Big XII in Nebraska. Can Texas A&M keep their Big XII Title hopes alive with a win in College Station?
Bigalke: I really like how Ryan Tannehill has stepped up to help revive the Aggies’ offense, but no defense is stouter than Nebraska in the Big XII. A&M has a decent D but hardly one built to stop Roy Helu, Taylor Martinez and company.
Strobl: Nebraska is the best team in the conference. I think the Cornhuskers lock up a trip to the Big 12 title game with a win this week.
Mitchell: The Aggies have looked like a completely different team with Ryan Tannehill at QB, but I don’t think that he will be enough on Saturday. Led by Taylor Martinez and a tough secondary, Nebraska should flex their muscles against Texas A&M.