NFL Thanksgiving Report and Saturday College Previews (November 25, 2011)




By Jim Hurley:

So, what was the final verdict coming out of the NFL's Thanksgiving Games?

Well, the Green Bay Packers again displayed their mettle en route to a 17th consecutive win and they stayed perfect on this 2011 season at 11-and-oh and both the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens flexed their muscles en route to home wins that allowed all three of the above-winning teams to stand alone in their respective divisions by end of day.

Not even foot-stomping Lions' DL Ndamukong Suh or that Cowboys cheerleader who was run over by Dallas TE Jason Witten could stand in the way of the Packers and 'Boys, respectively, in those traditional Thanksgiving Day tilts but let's spend a few moments on that famed Harbaugh Bowl in Baltimore on Thursday Night as folks 'round the league learned one thing:

When the Ravens throw the proverbial kitchen sink at an enemy quarterback, it's usually lights out time!

No doubt that Ravens' DE/LB Terrell Suggs - yes, the guy the NFL Network folks kept calling by his nickname "T-Sizzle" - deserved that post-game pudding pie after he collected a team-best three sacks on a night Baltimore sacked San Francisco QB Alex Smith a grand total of nine times.

The Ravens held the Niners to 2-of-12 on third-down plays and - let's be fair - were quite fortunate that 49ers wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. dropped that pass 'round midfield late on a fourth-down play or else things might have gotten a tad dicey in the waning moments of that clash. Still, when push came to shove here there were the Ravens keeping SF out of the end zone entirely and kudos to a Baltimore offense that didn't commit a single turnover against a defense that's prided itself this season on rough-housing opposing QBs/RBs/WRs.

So, score one for older brother John over younger/bigger brother Jim on this first-ever showdown of coaching brothers and remember that - even though the Packers are perfect SU (straight-up) and may stay that way the rest of this season -- the Niners proved it's tough to win 'em all spreadwise - note SF entered this game at 9-0-1 ATS (against the spread) and so that's history.

Note: The rankings below reflect the current BCS Standings:

#2 ALABAMA (10-1, 6-1 SEC) at #24 AUBURN (7-4, 4-3 SEC) - 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
This marks the fourth consecutive year that this Iron Bowl matchup had some sort of impact on the national championship picture - although this year there are more than a few critics who simply don't believe the 'Bama Crimson Tide deserves a BCS Championship Game berth if they can't even win the SEC West! Let's not get into all the possibilities here but instead focus on the between-the-white-lines stuff and that means three-TD fav Alabama needs RB Trent Richardson to go to the well for another 30-plus carry game.

Last weekend Richardson (1,380 yards rushing and 20 TDs) rushed it 32 times in a 45-21 non-cover win against Georgia Southern and so Auburn's gotta bring eight men to the line of scrimmage and look to stuff the Heisman Trophy candidate and so if the Tide's gonna win by a substantial margin here than kid quarterback AJ McCarron (2,216 yards passing with 13 TDs and 5 INTs) must be razor-sharp.

Hey, remember last year Alabama dashed out to a 24-0 lead and still lost to Cam Newton and friends 28-27.

Spread Notes - Alabama is 7-4 ATS this season but note the Crimson Tide's failed to cover its last three games in a row (versus LSU, Miss State and Georgia Southern). Meanwhile, Auburn's covered 12 of its last 16 SEC affairs dating back to the start of last year.

#5 VIRGINIA TECH (10-1, 6-1 ACC) at VIRGINIA (8-3, 5-2 ACC) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC or espn2
In case you had not noticed, the Virginia Cavaliers moved into the Associated Press Top 25 rankings this week for the first time since 2007 (the AP's got the Wahoos at #24 but the BCS Standings don't have Virginia in the Top 25) and - while we're at it - the V-Tech Hokies are better than folks originally thought as Frank Beamer's squad was ranked #13 by the AP back in August.

So, what gives here for the right to win the ACC's Coastal Division by these two "overachievers"?

In short, upset-minded Virginia - a 4-point dog at press time - will try to snap a seven-game SU (straight-up) losing streak to Tech here by gang-tackling Hokies QB Logan Thomas (2,338 passing yards and 387 passing yards) while the Cavs' offense needs WR Kris Burd (53 receptions) to make some home-run plays downfield versus a Tech defense that's held six foes to 14 points or less this season.

Spread Notes - Virginia Tech is a dreadful 3-8 versus the vig this season but note the Hokies are 5-1-1 against the odds in their last seven head-to-head showdowns against Virginia. On the flip side, the Wahoos enter this clash on a four-game spread winning streak.

#22 NOTRE DAME (8-3) at #6 STANFORD (10-1, 8-1 Pac-12) - 8 p.m. ET, ABC
What's on the line in this prime-time affair from Palo Alto? Not much unless you discount Stanford's still-alive status in the BCS Championship Game hunt (albeit that's a long shot) or the fact that the winner here figures to snag a spicy January bowl game and than there's Heisman Trophy hopeful QB Andrew Luck (2,937 yards passing with 31 TDs) who could pull a modern-day "Carson Palmer" and throw for 350-or-so yards and a few TDs to take full command of that bronzed statue.

Know this about the ND Fighting Irish: They've won four in a row SU but that's come against teams with a composite SU mark of 15-29 and now must go it here without RB Jonas Gray (791 yards rushing and 12 TDs) who last weekend suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 16-14 non-cover win against Boston College.

Spread Notes - Stanford is 8-2-1 versus the vig overall this season and did you know the Cardinal has failed to cover four of its last five home games played against Notre Dame? Note that the ND Fighting Irish is just 11-10-3 ATS under second-year head coach Brian Kelly.

#19 PENN STATE (9-2, 6-1 Big 10) at #16 WISCONSIN (9-2, 5-2 Big 10) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's really rather simple: The winner of this clash plays opposite Michigan State in next weekend's inaugural Big 10 Championship Game and there will be no trickery here when it comes to the Wisky Badgers' game plan as RB Montee Ball (25 rushing TDs and 5 receiving scores this year) figures to get his mitts on the ball 35-or-more times and so Penn State must force some fumbles and win the field position game or the Nittany Lions will be "toast" here as 14 ½-point road dogs.

Is there some magic in the genie bottle for Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley?

We'll see but a likely bad sign for Penn State is it ranks 96th nationally in passing offense (194.5 yards a game) and odds are the Lions will be forced to play catch-up at some point here, right?

Spread Notes - Wisconsin has failed to cover four of its last five spread verdicts this season but the Badgers overall are a haughty 6-and-oh versus the vig in their last half-dozen Big 10 home games. Meanwhile, Penn State's 3-8 against the Las Vegas prices this year and just 8-15 ATS overall dating back to the start of last season.

NOTE: Get the NFL 12 Sunday afternoon previews in the next Jim Sez.

Under's Win....Ravens Win...Cowboys lose
In Hoops Jim goes 2-1 with UNC-Ashville and Wake Forest both winners, losing with Washington St.



By Jim Hurley:

The holiday beat goes on ... Jim Hurley's Annual Turkey Shoot is banging out more big-time winners (just like those pilgrims once did!) and so a quick reminder here and than it's onto College Football's Top Friday Previews:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will be winning big-time in with all the College Football NFL Week 12, and Basketball action all holiday week/weekend long. Ladies and gents, it's the start of The Annual Jim Hurley Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot - that's Five (5) full days/nights of winning action - beginning here and going right through Monday Night Football (that's the New York Giants at the New Orleans Saints). Remember that you can have it all when checking with us at the toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or else go online right here online for all the gridiron winners. It's only $100 for the whole Turkey Shoot ... so what are you waiting for?



Note: The rankings below reflect the current BCS Standings:

#3 ARKANSAS (10-1, 6-1 SEC) at #1 LSU (11-0, 7-0 SEC) - 2:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The weekend's marquee matchup is dripping with BCS implications - please don't ask what happens if 12-point underdog Arkansas pulls a shocker here 'cause even the SEC head honchos don't have a real-live answer! - and all the LSU kids know is this: They have beaten everyone on their schedule including an OT win at Alabama and a "neutral field" win against Oregon and have bested 10 of its 11 foes by double-digit margins and take note the Tigers have allowed 11 points or less in nine of their 11 games ... wow is right!

No doubt this Arkansas team is a different type of animal as the Razorbacks have exceeded the 40-point mark six times this year including in each of their last three games - and QB Tyler Wilson (3,215 yards passing with 21 TDs and 5 INTs) might well be the most accomplished passer that Les Miles' crew will face all year long. Look for LSU's dynamic CB Tyrann Mathieu (among others) to try and get Wilson to pull the trigger prematurely at times here as he has been prone to making some panic passes, especially in the red zone.

On the flip side, LSU's offense won't win any "style points" but that ground game is perking up with four different running backs capable of big games and it appears that Miles & Company are granting more freedom to born-again QB Jordan Jefferson who needs to stretch the field early with a couple of deep balls so as to soften up the Hogs' defense for up-the-middle runs - we say Jefferson will either run or pass it 30+ times in all and so much of LSU's national title hopes rest back on a guy who wasn't even a prime figure on this team till that 9-6 win at 'Bama.

Biggest part of this game?

First down plays - LSU must bite off 5 and 6 yards on first down to get the Hogs on their heels while Wilson and mates have to mix things up on first down plays against this LSU defense and be aware of some Arkansas "trickerration" here.

Spread Notes - LSU has covered five of its last six games this year but the Bayou Bengals are an ugly 0-4 ATS (against the spread) against Arkansas since 2007. Did you know that LSU, however, is a tasty 6-1 versus the vig against SEC foes this season? Meanwhile, Arkansas enters this post-Thanksgiving Day tilt on a three-game spread winning streak (versus South Carolina, Tennessee and Miss State) and the Razorbacks are 13-6 spreadwise as dogs dating back to late in the 2008 season.
#8 HOUSTON (11-0, 7-0 C-USA) at TULSA (8-3, 7-0) - 12 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Network
Here's what you may not know about the here-and-now Houston Cougars: This is their highest ranking in more than 21 years and an unbeaten season would put 'em in no worse than a Fiesta Bowl or Sugar Bowl setting come the winter holidays ... not bad, eh?

No doubt QB Case Keenum is the numero uno star here (see stats below in our Jim Sez Heisman Trophy Watch List) and just last week he added to his many personal records by becoming the NCAA's all-time pass completions leader (1,427) and now he looks to attack a Tulsa team that currently shares first place with the Coogs in the Conference USA West Division.

Keenum may be the front-and-center guy here but keep an eye on Tulsa slinger G.J. Kinne who only seems as if he's been a Golden Hurricane star for 10 years - note that Kinne (2,700 yards passing with 24 TDs and 10 INTs) ranks second to Keenum in C-USA in terms of QB rating (186.9-to-154.7).

A spot in next week's C-USA Championship Game is on the line - and so much more is on the line for Kevin Sumlin's Coogs.

Spread Notes - Talk about being red-hot ... The Houston Coogs have covered their last six consecutive games and overall they're 9-2 ATS this season after having gone 3-7-1 against the odds a year ago. Tulsa has its own little spread streak going too as the Golden Hurricane has notched five consecutive ATS wins including an outright upset against 2-point fav Central Florida back on Nov. 3rd.

PITTSBURGH (5-5, 3-2 Big East) at WEST VIRGINIA (7-3, 3-2 Big East) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The latest version of the famed "Backyard Brawl" will have lots of raw emotion - after all, the Pittsburgh kids are still haunted by last year's 35-10 home loss (as 3-point betting favorites, no less) - and remember this is all new stuff for Pitt first-year head coach Todd Graham and West Virginia's rookie boss-man Dana Holgorsen although these gents know each other from their days at Tulsa and Oklahoma State, respectively.

Key here for the home favored Mountaineers is QB Geno Smith (3,497 yards passing with 24 TDs and 5 INTs) can't self-implode in the red zone as has been an issue over the year while the Panthers need WRs Devin Street and Mike Shanahan (they've combined for 69 catches and 6 TDs this year) to shake loose from some oft-wobbly WVU defensive backs.

Spread Notes - West Virginia's covered six of its last nine head-to-head showdowns with archrival Pittsburgh and the Mountaineers are a solid 11-7-1 spreadwise in all Big East action the past two-plus seasons. Note that Pittsburgh enters this clash on a three-game spread winning streak and the Panthers are 17-9-2 ATS away since the start of the 2007 campaign.


#1 - ANDREW LUCK, QB, STANFORD - Most of the so-called experts dropped this junior slinger from his top perch as Heisman frontrunner, but not us! Last week Luck threw for 257 yards and two TDs in the 31-28 non-cover win against 17-point underdog California and his season-long numbers - while maybe not eye-popping in nature - are splendid with 2,937 yards passing with 31 TDs and 8 INTs. If Luck shines Saturday night against Notre Dame, he'll have a more firm hold on the bronze statue ... trust us!

#2 - CASE KEENUM, QB, HOUSTON - Hey, if it's merely numbers that's gonna make the man for the Heisman than you'd have to hand the award to this sixth-year star who has thrown for 4,269 yards passing with 38 TDs and 3 INTs. Keenum must beat Tulsa and have a solid stat day to stay in the hunt but be sure this kid's getting at least an invitation to the New York City ceremony next month.

#3 - ROBERT GRIFFIN, QB, BAYLOR - Lots of folks have put "RG3" back in the lead for this year's trophy but are they forgetting those bad showings in back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State? True, Griffin's regained his footing in the Heisman race as last week he threw for 479 yards and 4 TDs in that stirring 45-38 last-second win against 17-point fav Oklahoma. The up-to-date stats include 3,572 yards passing with 33 TDs and 5 INTs and don't forget his 550 rushing yards.

#4 TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA -This 'Bama back has been somewhere in our Heisman Top 5 all year long and still could make a case should he bust loose this Saturday against archrival Auburn. Note that the junior RB has 1,380 yards rushing (a 5.8 ypc average) along with 20 TDs and his 26 receptions have equaled another 322 yards (that's a 29.3 ypc average).

#5 - MONTEE BALL, RB, WISCONSIN - Welcome to the show, Mr. Ball! The Badgers' junior star has catapulted into our Heisman Watch List thanks to last weekend's 38-carry, 224-yard, 2-TD game and so now Ball enters this Saturday's home game against Penn State with 1,466 yards rushing and 25 ground scores along with another 5 TDs as a pass-catcher.


Don't forget the College Basketball action amidst all this great Thanksgiving Week football - there's a nice little tournament going on this week in Orlando - the Old Spice Classic - and it includes first-round matchups on Thursday between Texas Tech-Indiana State, Minnesota-DePaul, Dayton-Wake Forest and Arizona State-Fairfield (it concludes with the Championship Game on Sunday night).

Keep an eye out on the Dayton Flyers (2-1) who are on espn2 in a 7 p.m. Thanksgiving Night game against the WF Demon Deacons. Note that Dayton just held UNC-Wilmington to 34.5 percent shooting from the floor in a 74-49 win/cover as 13-point home favorites last Saturday and players-to-watch here for the Flyers include Chris Johnson and Kevin Dillard who combined for 37 points against UNCW.

NOTE: Get our College Football Saturday Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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