NFP Saturday Tailgate
With the exception of the Army-Navy game, the college football regular season is over. Where has this season gone?
So for the last time in 2011, let's hit the tailgate.
Michigan State (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (10-2)
Wisconsin and Michigan State will battle in the inaugural Big Ten championship game with a spot in the Rose Bowl at stake. It will be interesting to see how the attendance figures end up at Lucas Oil, as there’s concern that the general public hasn’t warmed up to a game that does not have national championship implications.
Stopping Badgers running back Montee Ball will certainly be the focus of the MSU defense, but quarterback Russell Wilson poses a threat in the passing game as well, so the Spartans have to be ready for coordinator Paul Chryst’s multi-dimensional offense. The Badgers offensive line continues to play well, but MSU’s defensive line will be at full strength for this one after end William Gholston missed the first matchup between the teams. The Spartans are ranked No. 11 against the run, but they certainly will have their hands full against Ball, who was effective when he was on the field in the first game (he was banged-up in the first meeting but managed to finish the contest).
Virginia Tech (11-1) vs. Clemson (9-3)
David Wilson and the Hokies are playing their best football of the season.
Clemson will be seeing a different Logan Thomas this time around, as the Virginia Tech quarterback finally emerged in the second half of the season as one of the better dual-threat signal-callers in the nation. Since that loss to the Tigers, Thomas has combined for 23 total touchdowns and 2 interceptions in helping the Hokies run the table. With Heisman Trophy candidate David Wilson in the backfield, this Virginia Tech offense is a different unit than the one Clemson saw in the first meeting.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have dropped three of their last four contests, and turnovers have been the main issue. Dual-threat quarterback Tajh Boyd has thrown seven interceptions in that time span, though he also hasn’t been protected well during this skid. The problem for the Tigers is that Bud Foster’s defense is playing its best football of the season, coming off a shutout against Virginia in a game that many thought the Cavaliers could steal at home. Virginia Tech is seventh in the nation in sacks, head coach Frank Beamer is used to ACC title games and Dabo Swinney’s squad is young. Despite the downward spiral, Clemson still accomplished a lot this season. It would be a real coup if the Tigers can snag an ACC title with a win over the Hokies.
Georgia (10-2) vs. LSU (12-0)
Can Georgia play with LSU for a full 60 minutes? That’s the big question. While Aaron Murray is arguably the second-best quarterback in the SEC, we saw what Tyler Wilson had to deal with when going up against Alabama and LSU — and Georgia hasn’t faced a defense quite like this one since it went up against South Carolina in Week 2. Running back Isaiah Crowell will play despite being banged-up, but I’m not sure how much he would hold up against the Tigers defense even if he was 100 percent healthy. The Bulldogs have a nice set of big receivers, but they aren’t sprinters. So will the Bulldogs’ offensive line be able to hold up enough against the LSU pass rush to give Murray enough time to make plays down the field? Keep in mind the ‘Dawgs have allowed 25 sacks on the year. And even if he has time to throw, Murray will be going up against a secondary that has allowed only one touchdown versus throws of 20 yards or longer.
The Bulldogs boast the No. 5 overall defense in the nation and are stout against the run, but they haven’t faced a team like LSU all season. The Tigers employ as many as four running backs in the game plan, each one with a different style. And it’s hard to imagine that Georgia front holding up all game long against that Tigers offensive line.
CONTINUE TO PAGE 2 FOR MORE OF THE TAILGATE