NFP Saturday Tailgate
The final weeks of the regular season are upon us, which is both stunning and depressing.
The good news is that there are plenty of quality matchups on the slate this week.
So line up your leftovers and settle in for a full day of action because we’re ready to start this weekend’s tailgate.
Virginia Tech at Virginia: After Mike London out-recruited Frank Beamer this past February, it was clear that the Cavaliers were on their way to becoming a solid ACC program once again. But who could have predicted that the Cavs would be in position to advance to next week’s ACC title game with a win in London’s second season? The defense has played well under coordinator Jim Reid, and quarterback Michael Rocco has completed over 60 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and one interception during the team’s four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Hokies are getting consistent play from Logan Thomas, the dual-threat quarterback who has improved as the season’s progressed. And running back David Wilson is the most deserving Heisman Trophy contender that no one seems to be mentioning each and every week.
ICONMohamed Sanu and the Scarlet Knights are aiming for a Big East title and automatic berth to a BCS game.
Rutgers at Connecticut: The Scarlet Knights are looking to win a share of the Big East title for the first time in school history, while UConn looks to play spoiler. Jawan Jamison has given the Scarlet Knights a legitimate running threat, and Mohamed Sanu could take advantage of a Huskies secondary that is subpar.
Cincinnati at Syracuse: Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux struggled in his first start in place of Zach Collaros last week against Rutgers, so don’t be surprised to see elevated backup Jordan Luallen see action if Legaux struggles again. Meanwhile, the Orange will be looking to snap a three-game skid. Doug Marrone’s team is coming off of a bye, but quarterback Ryan Nassib needs a running game to be effective through the air. Expect the 'Cuse to be hungry because the team is fighting for bowl eligibility.
Ohio State at Michigan: Can the Wolverines stop the bleeding and end their seven-game skid against the Buckeyes? With home-field advantage and a stingy third-down defense — opponents are converting less than 36 percent of their third downs against the Wolverines — Brady Hoke’s squad is getting the Buckeyes at an opportune time (pre-Urban Meyer). Tackle Mike Martin and end Ryan Van Bergen pace a strong line, which is the strength of Greg Mattison’s defense. The key for the Buckeyes is getting off to a good start, as Luke Fickell’s bunch has fallen behind 10-0 in the first half three straight weeks.
Penn State at Wisconsin: The winner of this contest between the Nittany Lions and Badgers will face Michigan State next weekend in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. There’s no question that the Wisconsin offense is lethal, led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball. Wilson leads the nation in pass efficiency, while Ball leads the country in total touchdowns with 30. The Badgers offense leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 48.2 points per game. But this Nittany Lions defense is nasty, led by tackle Devon Still, who is a finalist for both the Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy. He’s tied for the Big Ten lead in solo tackles for loss, and he has recorded four sacks this fall. Wisconsin’s defense, meanwhile, has played better than expected. Because of Penn State’s inability to consistently generate offense, it’s hard to imagine Tom Bradley’s bunch scoring enough points to reach Indianapolis next week. However, the Nittany Lions are 4-0 on the road this season and have allowed more than 14 points away from State College just once.
Purdue at Indiana: The Boilermakers are looking to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. This is a big contest for third-year head coach Danny Hope, especially considering the Boilermakers reached bowls in 10 of Joe Tiller’s first 11 seasons as coach.
Missouri vs. Kansas (Kansas City, MO): We saw the end of the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry for the foreseeable future on Thanksgiving night, and Big 12 fans will say goodbye to the Missouri-Kansas rivalry, as well, with the Tigers moving onto the SEC. Mizzou quarterback James Franklin is playing very well, just as many had expected before the season began. Will the Jayhawks be able to avoid ending their season on a 10-game losing streak? And will head coach Turner Gill get a third year in Lawrence?
Texas Tech vs. Baylor (Arlington, TX): This contest is very intriguing because it’s hard to imagine Texas Tech needing a win to be bowl eligible, as this is the same Red Raiders squad that knocked off Oklahoma in Norman. But that’s exactly the position that Tommy Tuberville’s team finds itself. Will Robert Griffin III stay in the Heisman race with a win, or can Seth Doege and the Red Raiders pull the upset and find a spot in the postseason?
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