Weekend Football Preview and Heisman Watch

WEEKEND FOOTBALL PREVIEW

IT'S A REAL ROCK 'EM, SOCK 'EM WEEKEND ON TAP WITH COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S EXCITING TITLE TILTS (AND MORE)

PLUS WE TAKE A PEEK AT THE MARQUEE MATCHUPS IN NFL WEEK 13 PLAY WITH THE GB PACKERS SHOOTIN' FOR A PERFECT 12-AND-OH START

By Jim Hurley:

You mean ... it's over?

The 2011 College Football Regular Season is over this weekend for all intents and purposes (see Army-Navy game next Saturday afternoon in Landover) but in case you lost count there will be a record 36 Bowl Games beginning on Saturday, Dec. 17th and running through the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 9th, 2012.

So, don't you despair College Football fans.

Meanwhile, if this here-and-now regular season is gonna go out with a bang than why not Six (6) Conference Championship Games plus some great rivalry game matchups to put an exclamation point on things and we'll get to all the action plus lots of NFL Week 13 goodies in just a moment but first this key reminder:

Extra, extra: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to win big-time in NFL Week 13 action beginning with Thursday's clash between Philadelphia at Seattle and don't forget all the College Football & Basketball action all this week/weekend long including those aforementioned College Football Conference Championship Games from Detroit, Eugene, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte and Indianapolis. Hey, get 'em while we're hot! Make sure you get all the Football and Basketball winners at our toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or else go online right here as America's #1 Handicapper keeps up the winning beat!

THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND PREVIEWS
NOTE: All rankings below reflect the current BCS Standings:

On Friday, it's ...

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP - Ford Field - Detroit, MI

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (9-3, 7-1 MAC) vs. OHIO (9-3, 6-2 MAC) - 7 p.m. ET, espn2
Can a bad loss in the prior year's conference championship game be a major motivation this time around? No doubt that's what Northern Illinois is banking on here after getting beat 26-21 as 19-point betting favorites versus Miami (Ohio) last season.

The Huskies - starring dual-threat QB Chandler Harnish (2,692 yards passing and 1,351 yards rushing with 34 combined TDs) -- want to force the tempo of this tilt while Ohio truly needs a special game from talented WR LaVon Brazill (56 catches for 918 yards and 10 TDs) and the Bobcats' game plan here should include a few "go routes" where Brazill simply tries to outrun the NIU secondary.

First team to 40 points wins?

Spread Notes - Northern Illinois is 11-5-1 ATS (against the spread) versus fellow Mid-American Conference foes while dating back to the start of last year while Ohio is 16-7-1 spreadwise as an underdog side the past three-plus seasons.

 

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Autzen Stadium - Eugene, OR

UCLA (6-6, 5-4 Pac-12) at #9 OREGON (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) - 8 p.m. ET, Fox
Think about it for a second: A win here gets the 31 ½-point favored Oregon Ducks back into the Rose Bowl and so that would make it two bowl trips to Pasadena and a BCS Championship Game all within a mere three-year span for head coach Chip Kelly and Company ... not bad at all!

Oregon's ground game - ranked fifth nationally at 291 yards a game - has become nearly impossible to slow down in recent weeks but keep an eye here on RB LaMichael James (1,427 yards rushing and 14 TDs) who these days is playing with a pair of banged-up elbows. James might be a decoy for a slew of plays here but QB Darron Thomas knows all about dissecting the Bruins as last year he threw for 308 yards and 3 TDs in a 60-13 home romp against UCLA.

It's bye-bye time after this tilt for Bruins' boss-man Rick Neuheisel (21-28 in four years on this job) and how about the fact that this "offensive genius" only watched his offense score 36 TDs this 2011 campaign - that's the fourth-worst in Pac-12 play.

Maybe TBs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman (a combined 1,555 yards rushing) can put some type of scare into the Ducks here ... but don't necessarily count on it!

The winner gets the Michigan State vs. Wisconsin winner on Jan. 2nd.

Spread Notes - Oregon is 26-16 ATS overall as hosts since the start of the 2005 season while UCLA is 9-18 ATS as point-grabbing sides the past two-plus seasons.

On Saturday, it's ...

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Robertson Stadium - Houston, TX

#24 SOUTHERN MISS (10-2, 6-2 C-USA) at #6 HOUSTON (12-0, 8-0 C-USA) - 12 p.m. ET, espn2
It's a given that the Houston Cougars - with a win here - will get a berth in one of the select BCS bowls come January and so you do have to wonder if the "pressure" of making it to the Sugar Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl will get to Kevin Sumlin's club here?

Let's just say that Houston hasn't responded negatively in recent weeks to any sort of "pressure" of staying unbeaten as last week's 48-16 efficient win against 3-point home dog Tulsa featured more from QB Case Keenum's goody bag (see 457 passing yards and 5 TDs) and now the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yards, TD passes and total offense will look to connect with speedy WR Patrick Edwards (second in the country with 1,496 yards) for some medium-range slant patterns that tore up Tulsa so badly the day after Thanksgiving.

Spread Notes - Houston has reeled off seven consecutive pointspread wins while heading into this Conference USA Championship Game and the UH Coogs are 10-1-1 ATS as double-digit betting favorites since the start of last year.

 

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Georgia Dome - Atlanta, GA

#14 GEORGIA (10-2, 7-1 SEC) vs. #1 LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC) - 4 p.m. ET, CBS
No doubt you've heard LSU head coach Les Miles - yes, our official Jim Sez National Coach of the Year winner this season - inform the media masses that his top-ranked team will indeed play hard here even though conventional wisdom tells folks that a Tigers loss here won't keep 'em out of the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans on the night of 1-9-12.

Miles' gang is striving for gridiron perfection - could it happen that LSU and the Green Bay Packers never lose a game between 'em this season? - and go ahead and find some team with a better mark considering the Bengals have beaten three teams that were either ranked #2 of #3 in the land at the time. A defense that ranks second nationally in both scoring defense (10.6 ppg) and total defense (284.4 ypg) will now try to stifle a Georgia offense that has averaged 39.5 ppg the past four weeks and no question the key here is knocking Dawgs QB Aaron Murray (2,698 yards passing with 32 TDs and 10 INTs) out of rhythm and so expect lots of off-the-corner blitzes and some "spy" tactics too.

If LSU's suddenly potent offense - one that's averaging 45 ppg ever since that epic 9-6 OT win at Alabama back on Nov. 5th - has its way than it'll be that RB-by-committee approach that will wear down Georgia's better-than-you-think defense. Throw in the fact LSU slinger Jordan Jefferson - now firmly entrenched in the starter's role - is coming on fast after throwing for 208 yards in last Friday's 41-17 hammer-job win against 12 ½-point dog Arkansas and you might see some deep balls to WR Reuben Randle (48 receptions and averaging 18.5 ypc).

Spread Notes - Georgia is 8-4 versus the vig overall this year but the Dawgs are 2-9 ATS as point-grabbers since the start of the 2009 season. LSU is 9-3 against the odds overall this season but the Bayou Bengals are just 9-8-1 ATS as twin-figure betting favorites the past two-plus seasons.

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Bank of America Stadium - Charlotte, NC

#20 CLEMSON (9-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. #5 VIRGINIA TECH (11-1, 7-1 ACC) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
No doubt that much will be made of the fact Clemson flattened than-host V-Tech 23-3 back on Oct. 1st and so the "R" word as in revenge will be uttered plenty of times this week - but shouldn't the real issue heading into this tilt be the fact Clemson's in a major free-fall right here and right now?

Head coach Dabo Swinney's club has dropped three of its last four SU (straight-up) and four in a row to Mr. Vig and last week's 34-13 loss at archrival South Carolina was particularly disturbing because the Tigers' offense looked lost - how about QB Tajh Boyd's stat line of 11-of-29 passing for 83 yards (a 2.9 yard passing average)?

Note that Virginia Tech sent a major message last week with its indomitable 38-0 whitewash of Virginia (so much for that Las Vegas line move of Tech favored by 4 or 4 ½ points after opening at -7) as the wobbly Cavaliers ground game rushed for 30 yards on 26 carries while Hokies RB David Wilson churned out 153 yards rushing and two TDs.

Our big question here is should a VT blowout win propel coach Frank Beamer's crew into the BCS Championship Game?

Some folks are shaking their heads "yes".

Spread Notes - Clemson staggers into this title tilt having failed to cover its last four games in a row following a glitzy 7-1 ATS start this year. Virginia Tech is just 4-8 versus the vig this year after going 10-3 ATS in 2010.
 

BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN

#13 MICHIGAN STATE (10-2, 7-1 Big 10) vs. #15 WISCONSIN (10-2, 6-2 Big 10) - 8:15 p.m. ET, ABC
The Big 10's inaugural conference championship game doesn't have Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State in the mix - perhaps that knocks a little "name" luster off the deal here even though the winner here could wind up inside the top 10 at year's end and revenge-minded Wisconsin is also shooting to make it to a second straight Rose Bowl.

Hey, the Badgers mean business after getting beaten at the buzzer on that crazy Hail Mary pass (and subsequent elongated replay review) back on Oct. 22nd when "Sparty" copped a 37-31 win and so expect Wisky's meat-and-potatoes rushing attack to come full bore at State's defense here with Heisman Trophy hopeful RB Montee Ball (1,622 yards rushing with 29 ground scores) getting 35-or-so carries.

How's Michigan State's gonna pull the upset here (note the Spartans are a 9 ½-point pup at press time)?

Get veteran QB Kirk Cousins (290 yards passing and 3 TDs versus Wisconsin in that earlier meeting this year) to stay with a quick tempo. Note that Cousins has thrown for 10 TDs and only 1 INT during this current four-game M-State four-game winning streak.

Spread Notes - Wisconsin has covered 10 of its last 16 conference tilts dating back to the start of last year while Michigan State's covered three in a row while heading in here and the Spartans had a four-game ATS win streak earlier in this '11 campaign.

In other Saturday key College Football Games in schedule order, it's ...

CONNECTICUT (5-6, 3-3 Big East) at CINCINNATI (8-3, 4-2 Big East) - 12 p.m. ET, espn2
The Cincy Bearcats remained alive in the Big East chase for first place last week with convincing 30-13 win at 2-point pup Syracuse and what impressed us there was head coach Butch Jones knew enough to get the ball in the hands of RB Isaiah Pead as much as possible (see 80 yards rushing on 17 carries along with 9 pass receptions for 112 yards and two TDs in all).

No doubt that Pead will be a central character here in this revenge game - UConn smoked Cincinnati 38-17 last year en route to the Huskies' conference crown - and so let's see if turnabout's fair play here.

SYRACUSE (5-6, 1-5 Big East) at PITTSBURGH (5-6, 3-3 Big East) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Memo to Pitt Panthers QB Tino Sunseri - you can't hang onto the ball forever, kid! Last Friday's painful 21-20 loss-but-cover at 6 ½-point fav West Virginia "featured" 10 sacks of the oft-confused hurler including four on that final drive to nowhere.

On the flip side, the 'Cuse converted just 4-of-15 third-down plays (and went 0-for-2 on fourth downs) in the above-mentioned home loss versus Cincinnati and maybe here RB Antwon Bailey (135 yards rushing on 27 carries a week ago) can motor on into the end zone a couple of times and keep this one close.

#10 OKLAHOMA (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) at #3 OKLAHOMA STATE (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) - 8 p.m. ET, ABC
They'll settle it the old, old-fashioned way in the Big 12 here with the winner of this Bedlam Game getting the conference's BCS bowl bid (remember that the Big 12 didn't have enough teams to have a conference championship game this season) and keep in mind if 3-point home favorite Okie State has a shot to "run it up" it will do so because that "margin of victory" category could get 'em into the #2 spot in the next (and final) BCS Standings.

Naturally, all eyes are on Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden who has thrown 34 TD passes this year and ranks second in FBS play with nearly 374 passing yards per outing - Oklahoma will counter with multiple defensive looks and lots of five-man lines with some blitzes mixed in - a "pick six" against Weeden (who has a tendency to stare down receivers), however, could be the diff here.

Note that Sooners' QB Landry Jones threw for 468 yards and 4 TDs in a wild 47-41 back-and-forth win at Oklahoma State last year.

#22 TEXAS (7-4, 4-4 Big 12) at #17 BAYLOR (8-3, 5-3 Big 12) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Major revenge spot here for the visiting Longhorns who were whacked 30-22 last year by 7 ½-point pup Baylor but now the big question is whether or not Bears' mega-star QB Robert Griffin III is good-to-go after suffering concussion-like symptoms in last weekend's rollicking 66-42 win/cover versus Texas Tech.

Hey, reserve QB Nick Florence (151 yards passing with two TDs) did fine in relief but we gotta know who's under center here before taking any type of financial plunge ... got it?

NEW MEXICO (1-10, 1-5 MWC) at #7 BOISE STATE (10-1, 5-1 MWC) - 6 p.m. ET, Mountain Network
Safe to say that the B-State Broncos have responded in predictable fashion following their one-point loss to TCU back on Nov. 12th as Chris Petersen's squad has failed to cover its last two outings (versus San Diego State and Wyoming) and now the Broncos are laying major bundle of points (like 48 of 'em!) against woeful New Mexico Lobos crew.

Maybe Boise State slinger Kellen Moore (279 yards passing with 3 TDs in last week's 36-14 non-cover win against 32 ½-point dog Wyoming) will pile up more numbers here but who really cares at this point! Go get yourself a kicker, guys.

BYU (8-3) at HAWAII (6-6, 3-4 WAC) - 7:30 p.m. ET, espn2
Just in case you didn't notice, the BYU Coogs have covered their last five consecutive games and now head coach Bronco Mendenhall's gang - already headed to the Military Bowl on Dec. 28th - gets to tackle an "old pal" as BYU versus Hawaii hasn't happened since 2002.

Look for RB J.J. DiLuigi to be stat-sheet stuffer guy for BYU here.

Note the 50th-state squad is a rotten 4-8 versus the vig this year after going 10-3 spreadwise in 2010. Just sayin'!
 

NFL WEEK 13 SUNDAY PREVIEWS
Here's the top games in NFL Week 13 play ...

CINCINNATI (7-4) at PITTSBURGH (8-3) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's Round II in this AFC North skirmish and the revenge-minded Cincy Bengals (a 24-17 loser to Pittsburgh back in Week 10) figure to attack this banged-up Steelers secondary here - is this a game where rookie QB Andy Dalton chucks it 12-to-15 times to rookie WR A.J. Green?

No doubt that nifty tandem shined in the 23-20 come-from-behind non-cover win against 7-point pup Cleveland last week and should Pittsburgh play here without stud S Troy Polamalu (head injury) than the road team's game plan figures to include more downfield chucks.

NEW YORK JETS (6-5) at WASHINGTON (4-7) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
All this talk about "running the table" for the Jets has got us asking one thing:

Is Rex Ryan's team really good enough to win its final six games of the regular season?

Last Sunday's scary 28-24 hang-on-for-dear-life non-cover win against 9-point dog Buffalo featured key third-down receptions by WRs Patrick Turner and Plaxico Burress but when does the J-E-T-S ground game ever get going?

No question the 'Skins will be dropping more folks into coverage here and challenging NYJ slinger Mark Sanchez and look for Washington CB DeAngelo Hall to be a central character here - for better or for worse.

ATLANTA (7-4) at HOUSTON (8-3) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Next! That's the sound of Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak calling out for his newest quarterback - that would be rookie T.J. Yates of North Carolina fame - following the recent apparent season-ending injuries to starter Matt Schaub (foot) and backup Matt Leinart (collarbone). The Texans do own the NFL's best ground game and so this interconference tilt figures to feature lots of rushes by RB Arian Foster and Ben Tate but how will they fare when facing an eight-men-in-the-box defensive scheme?

Hey, keep in mind this is all foreign stuff for the Texans who sport a two-game lead in the AFC South over Tennessee (6-5) and playing from the lead late in the year hasn't exactly been Houston's M.O. since they were born back in 2002 - Jim Hurley knows better than anyone that putting teams/players in uncomfortable or unusual situations could be hazardous to one's health and so make sure you check with us for this game and all the NFL Week 13 key tilts.

DETROIT (7-4) at NEW ORLEANS (8-3) - 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
It's prime time again for the scorching hot-at-home Saints who are 5-0 SU and 5-0 ATS and now Sean Payton's gang catches a major break as Lions' D-lineman Ndamukong Suh is in the sin-bin for two games for his rather despicable actions in his team's Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay - can't this Detroit team behave itself from the head coach on down?

Note that N'Orleans is averaging 450 yards a game on offense (Detroit's averaging 377) and even that oft-criticized ground game has perked it up lately.

DENVER (6-5) at MINNESOTA (2-9) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Tim Tebow Show treks into the Twin Cities and won't this be fun watching Minnesota DE Jared Allen track (or try to track) down Tebow when he starts running - do you realize he rushed the ball 22 times in last Sunday's 16-13 overtime win against the 4 ½-point favored San Diego Chargers?

Meanwhile, it's the Broncos' defense that ought to be taking the lion's share of bows these days as Denver's stop unit has held its last three foes to 10, 13 and 13 points with Rookie of the Year frontrunner LB Von Miller a uber-active player for John Fox's team.

The Vikes believe RB Adrian Peterson (ankle) will be able to play by game time but don't be surprised if RB Toby Gerhart gets 20 totes - and one note to the Denver special teams:

Do not kick the ball in the direction of Minny's Percy Harvin because in this game where the margin for error is slim on both sides he could be the X-factor plus.

GREEN BAY (11-0) at NEW YORK GIANTS (6-5) - 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox
The pursuit of perfection is making everyone take a closer look at these GB Packers - did you know that the defending Super Bowl champs have won their first 11 games this season by a per-game average of 14.1 points a game. Really!

Now, Green Bay ace QB Aaron Rodgers (3,475 yards passing with 33 TDs) looks to humble a Giants team sorely lacking a pass rush in recent weeks and now missing oft-injured DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle).

How does Tom Coughlin's NYG crew bounce back from Monday Night's brutal 49-24 loss in New Orleans?

Our best educated guess here at Jim Sez is that the Jints should spread the field, keep QB Eli Manning (3,358 yards passing with 20 TDs) in the shotgun and chuck it 45-to-50 times ... heck, the ground game ain't getting them a darn thing!

THE JIM SEZ HEISMAN TROPHY WATCH LIST - LIKE IT OR NOT, LUCK'S STILL THE LEADER

By Jim Hurley:

The 77th annual Heisman Trophy will be handed out on the night of Saturday, Dec. 10th and - even at this late stage of the campaign - there are plenty of folks in denial.

It seems that many media members don't wish to acknowledge the following:

Stanford QB Andrew Luck is the leader of the pack for this bronzed statue - and he's been the leader since Day One of this 2011 season.

Here we'll release our penultimate Jim Sez Heisman Trophy Watch List - it's our top five as we head into this weekend's games when the aforementioned Luck won't be in action as his club's regular-season wrapped up last Saturday night with the 28-14 win against Notre Dame - with a reminder that late next week we'll have our final Jim Sez Heisman Watch List as we declare the winner (guess who!).

Here's the next-to-last Heisman Trophy look at the top five:

#1 -- ANDREW LUCK, QB, STANFORD - The redshirt junior slinger exited the aforementioned regular-season finale win against Notre Dame with 3,170 passing yards and 35 touchdown passes with just 9 interceptions and note Luck also rushed for 153 yards and two TDs this year. P.S., his Stanford team finished regular-season play 11-1 SU (straight-up) and a nifty 9-2-1 ATS (against the spread) as this Pac-12 team scored 40-or-more points seven different times.

No doubt that the 53-30 loss to Oregon back on Nov. 12th puts a slight dent into Luck's Heisman Trophy case but - than again - everyone else on this short list has lost at least once during this 2011 season and now the future #1 NFL draft pick is the frontrunner for this year's most glamorous college football award.

#2 -- TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA - Let the numbers speak for themselves here as this 'Bama back has carried the ball 263 times for 1,583 yards and than there's the 27 receptions worth 27.3 yards a play with 23 overall touchdowns for the nation's #2 team according to the latest BCS Standings.

The 5-foot-11, 225-pound junior has been the key figure in this 11-1 SU squad and keep in mind his final outing prior to the Heisman Trophy vote was truly scintillating as Richardson rushed for 203 yards including the tackle-breaking 57-yard dash in the 42-14 win against archrival Auburn.

If there's one thing that hurts Richardson it's that he did not have a monster game in the epic 9-6 overtime home loss against LSU back on Nov. 5th (see just 89 yards rushing on 23 carries) but he still could get enough South votes to make him the second Tide back in three years to cop this award (see Mark Ingram in 2009).

#3 -- CASE KEENUM, QB, HOUSTON - Note that this 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has set all sorts of career FBS records this year including most completions and most passing yards and his up-to-date stats this year include 4,726 passing yards with 43 TDs and 3 INTs for a Coogs team that's won all 12 of its regular-season affairs while heading into Saturday's Conference USA Championship Game against Southern Miss in the Cougars' own backyard at Robertson Stadium.

It's worth mentioning here that Houston's been a real smash hit versus the vig this season with a 10-2 ATS mark so far and keep in mind Keenum is averaging nearly 394 aerial yards per game and he's only thrown an interception once every 156 pass attempts.

The arguments against having Keenum cop this year's Heisman Trophy include the fact he does not play against BCS competition but he's accomplished everything you can ask for on this level.
 
#4 -- ROBERT GRIFFIN III, QB, BAYLOR - This 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior is making a major late-year run at the Heisman Trophy after his back-to-back glitzy showings against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Griffin enters this weekend's duel against rival Texas with 3,678 yards passing (that's 508 more aerial yards than Luck already) with 34 TDs and 5 INTs plus he's rushed for 612 yards with another 7 TDs.

The single-most exciting player in FBS-land has the proverbial "it factor" with late-game heroics against TCU and Oklahoma the stuff of college QB legends and keep in mind Baylor enters this Texas game at 8-3 overall mark (and a decent 6-4 ATS).

To be honest, however, right now we'd rate Griffin's odds to win the Heisman Trophy at no better than 15-to-1.

#5 -- MONTEE BALL, RB, WISCONSIN - This relative late-comer to this year's Heisman Trophy chase likely deserves an invite to NYC after having rushed for 1,622 yards with 29 ground scores prior to Saturday's inaugural Big 10 Championship Game against the Michigan State Spartans.

Ball averages a hefty 6.5 yards a tote and he's chipped in 17 pass receptions and 5 TDs as a pass-catcher for a Wisconsin crew that is 10-2 overall following that 45-7 win against Penn State last weekend when Ball battered the Nittanies with 156 yards rushing on 25 carries with four TDs.

As you've seen for yourself, Ball is "money in the bank" when rushing the ball behind that Wisconsin offensive line anytime he is inside the 10-yard line and a 200-plus yard ground game against "Sparty" in Indianapolis on Saturday night could seal an invite to the ritzy Heisman Trophy ceremony and maybe even a third- or fourth-place finish in the balloting.

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