Week 11 was one of the most memorable three-day stretches in recent college football history. With three clashes between teams with BCS bowl aspirations—and featuring three teams with BCS championship aspirations—one can only picture last Thursday and Saturday as the creator and destroyer of marriages, wholly depending on your team's outcome.
Week 12? Umm, well, not so much.
If you like clarity in your college football soup, this Saturday is for you. Only two matchups of BCS Top 25 teams are on the slate, and one of them involves Mack Brown. So we all know how that should play out. The Week 12 schedule looks like a much-needed breather after the fusillade of top-tier contests a week ago, a welcome reprieve to repair those aforementioned shattered homes.
In essence, not all that much should change. Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State have each been given opponents they should have no trouble giving a backhand to, ones that shouldn't move the BCS rankings needle in the slightest. That should put our top three teams in something of a holding pattern when things should get [looks at Week 13 schedule], umm...hey, at least Week 14 will be fun, you guys!
With that in mind, let's take a step away from our triad atop the BCS rankings and focus on matchups that may actually have some long-term bearing this weekend.
Texas Tech vs. No. 5 Baylor
Say it with me: Traaaaaaaap gaaaaaaame. We're but a mere couple weeks removed from Texas Tech-Baylor seeming like it would decide the Big 12 championship and possibly propel one or the other into the national championship conversation. The Bears have entered that talk by themselves, thank you, right as the Red Raiders have gotten thrown off their own pirate ship.
Texas Tech has gotten the money dance done to them in each of the last three weeks, losing by a combined seven touchdowns. Last week, it was Kansas State—yes, the same Wildcats team that opened their season losing to North Dakota State—throwing up a 49-26 whooping on the Red Raiders to make it three straight losses.
Meanwhile, Baylor's once-flimsy resume has only gotten stronger. The Bears throttled Oklahoma, 41-12, last Thursday despite a slow start, with quarterback Bryce Petty creeping his way into the Heisman conversation. Petty is by far the nation's most efficient passer with a 210.6 rating, a 21-1 touchdown-to-interception rate and is averaging more than 13 yards per attempt.
Art Briles is developing quite the reputation as a quarterback creator, but Petty is currently rivaling anything Robert Griffin III did at Baylor. He's not a great runner but a smart one, picking the right moments to take off and forcing opposing defenses to give him just enough respect.
With the Bears also boasting a seemingly never-ending stable of running backs able to break off 80-yard runs, this matchup seems cut and dried. Baylor has the momentum. Baylor has the quarterback. Baylor has the revered head coach. Baylor has the almost four-touchdown advantage in the spread, per Vegas Insider.
But call this a gut feeling if you so choose, but Texas Tech has the tools to stay in a shootout with Baylor. The Red Raiders are leading the nation in passing for the 73rd straight season (note: NOT an official stat) and are as dangerous as ever when they're humming. Davis Webb is talented, even if he's inconsistent. The Bears' slow start against Oklahoma and their less-than-stellar performances against West Virginia and Kansas State prove that they're not quite infallible.
They're also plagued with injuries. Tevin Reese is out, and both Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin are hampered. Even if Baylor doesn't get upset, I see a closer than expected game that reignites some of the "Is Baylor for real?" conversation.
No. 25 Georgia at No. 7 Auburn
Well, this is awkward. If someone would have said that Georgia-Auburn would consist of the 25th-ranked team in the nation against the seventh-ranked team in the preseason, it would have only been proper to congratulate the Tigers on rejoining the rankings after such a tumultuous 2012 campaign. For Gus Malzahn to build his program back to No. 25 is pretty impressive. I mean, the Tigers don't stand a chance against what we could only assume is senior leader Aaron Murray's push for a BCS bowl berth, but it's a noble cause.
And that, folks, is some cliche about the game being decided on the field or something. Because we all know by now that our preseason assumptions would have been for naught, as it's Auburn knocking on the proverbial BCS door while Mark Richt's Bulldogs are one of the most disappointing teams in the nation.
The Tigers, led by Malzahn's revamped offense, sit third in the nation in rushing. Tre Mason has already passed the 1,000-yard plateau and has 16 touchdowns, while quarterback Nick Marshall is actually nipping at his heels. Marshall has been an inconsistent enigma as a passer, at times looking Air Force-esque in his putridity and other instances being competent. Only three times has Malzahn asked Marshall to attempt 20 or more passes, and it might be interesting to see whether the Tigers should go with a dual-quarterback system with freshman Jeremy Johnson.
For all the disappointment pervading through Athens, Georgia has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Murray looks more like a "college quarterback" every time I watch his film—the arm strength just isn't adequate—but he's one of the most decorated signal-callers in Bulldogs history for a reason. Todd Gurley has looked strong since returning to the lineup, thundering into opposing defenses with the force of Thor.
The key to this game will be Georgia's defense. The Bulldogs have given up 30 or more points against every ranked team they've faced this season, even in wins over LSU and South Carolina. Their secondary is a work in progress at best, helping steer a majority of their 28.8 points per game allowed toward the painted surfaces.
However, Georgia has actually been adept at stopping the run. Opposing teams are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, and this is a top-20 unit in terms of overall yardage and yards per game. Should the Bulldogs' run-stopping ways continue, Marshall will be forced to pass. And I'm not sure that's such a good thing.
No. 12 Oklahoma State at No. 24 Texas
It's the return of the Mack, once again, return of the Mack, top of the world, return of the Mack...Brown?
Amid the horrified cries of Longhorns nation for their longtime coach's job—and some pretty juicy Nick Saban rumors—Mack Brown has quietly returned his team to national prominence. Texas rejoined the Top 25 for the first time since its loss to BYU this week and is currently tied with Baylor as the only undefeated Big 12 teams remaining.
And, to be honest, I'm still not exactly sure how the Longhorns have done it. Duct tape, I guess? Case McCoy is still as shaky as he's ever been under center, boasting four straight games with an interception coming into Sunday. Johnathan Gray has been solid and consistent running the ball, but hardly spectacular; he has just two 100-yard games.
It's been Texas' defense that has shined. After giving up 40 points in each of its two losses, the Longhorns went five straight games holding opponents to 30 or fewer before last week's 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia. Also, holding itself together despite non-elite talent at a lot of spots, plenty of credit should go to Brown for coaching his team up.
All that fun and optimism should stop here.
The Cowboys are both top-20 in points scored and points allowed, which one could say is a byproduct of their conference, if only Texas wasn't also a Big 12 school. Their offense is also held together a bit flimsily by the not-so-great Clint Chelf under center and an uninspiring running game, but Mike Gundy's system has helped keep the unit thriving. Oklahoma State has averaged just under 50 points over its past three contests, wins that included a 52-34 win over the aforementioned Red Raiders.
Things are not always as they may seem, but this one seems rather obvious. Oklahoma State's defense is excellent, its offense pretty good and its coach not under massive scrutiny. We're about to hit the point where the return of the Mack returns to the hot seat of the moment.
OK, sorry. I'll stop now. Oklahoma State wins.
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It took a couple of games, but T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake have become yet another of Alabama’s signature one-two punches at running back under head coach Nick Saban.
Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in 2009 were the first elite tandem Saban had. That followed with Richardson and Eddie Lacy in 2011 and Lacy and Yeldon in 2012.
Yeldon and Drake might not be the most talented duo Alabama has had under Saban. Neither particularly scream “NFL” like Ingram, Richardson and Lacy did (all of whom were drafted in the first two rounds their respective years).
But they are the most versatile, and it’s giving defenses fits.
The aforementioned Ingram, Richardson and Lacy were all known as physical backs who could break away in the open space. None of the trio ever shied away from contact, and it showed in their running.
Yeldon isn’t quite as physical as those three were, but he’s much more of a between-the-tackles runner. He hits the hole hard and makes people miss in open space.
He’s much more of a smooth runner and makes guys miss with his moves and misdirection, rather than raw power. Where Richardson or Lacy would look to run people over, Yeldon can make a quick move through the hole.
And when he gets to the second level, he can be absolutely nasty as he showed against Ole Miss:
Drake, meanwhile, is pure speed.
He has more speed than any featured running back under Saban and has shown flashes of it this season. He currently averages 7.62 yards per carry, which would be the most for any top two running back for Alabama under Saban if it holds up.
The only thing that has held Drake back is a penchant for goal line fumbles. He fumbled in the red zone against Kentucky and Tennessee, with both resulting in a turnover.
But he has also proven why he could be another great running back this season. His speed is the main reason for that, and it is deadly.
Highlight at the :45 mark.
Drake’s speed, combined with Yeldon’s power-run abilities, make the pair one of Saban’s most dangerous combinations. Rather than having two running backs who can punish you the whole game, swapping in and out to stay fresh, the Crimson Tide boast two running backs that are truly a change of pace. You can’t defend Yeldon the same way you defend Drake.
There were questions about who would be the No. 2 running back this season. Alabama carried a crowded backfield behind him with four highly touted freshmen and three returning backs in Drake, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart.
But Drake has grabbed a solid hold on the backup job, and against LSU he was the only other back to play in the game besides Yeldon—a high compliment from Saban. He will play as many backups as he can in certain situations, but only those he trusts the utmost in the biggest games.
And the scariest part? They’re both true sophomores. They’ll be back for more next season.
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