Two games dot the FBS schedule tonight, and we'll break down what each game means to the participants and what match-up figure to decide the doubleheader.
Florida International at Florida Atlantic (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
The 11th Annual Shula Bowl takes place tonight Sun Belt's South Florida programs square off in Boca Raton. Don Shula helped both programs get off the ground financially and has a connection to a former head coach at each school, former FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger worked for Shula with the Miami Dolphins and former FIU head coach Don Strock played quarterback for Shula in Miami. The Owls have a commanding 8-1 lead in the series, but FIU earned its first official win last season, 41-7. (FIU's 2005 win was vacated.)
The first half of the season was unkind to first-year head coach Carl Pelini, but the Owls enter tonight on a two-game Sun Belt winning streak, including a 38-27 upset of Western Kentucky last week. A strong finish can put FAU in position to contend for the Sun Belt crown in 2013, as the Owls will lose a Sun Belt-fewest nine seniors after the year. One of those seniors, however, is quarterback Graham Wilbert, the Sun Belt's third-leading passer. Wilbert has thrown for 518 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in FAU's last two wins.
After playing in bowl games in back-to-back seasons, this season has been a disappointing one for Mario Cristobal and FIU. The Panthers' best moment came on Nov. 3 when they bested South Alabama 28-20 to stay out of the Sun Belt basement.
Hawaii at Air Force (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
This match-up slants heavily in favor of an Air Force team looking to sneak its way into a tie for the Mountain West title. At 5-5 overall and 4-2 in league play, Troy Calhoun's team will need to win out and receive some help to claim a share of the conference crown. But that won't matter if they can't beat a 1-8 Hawaii team looking for its first conference and road wins under first-year head coach Norm Chow.
The telling match-up figures to be when Air Force runs the ball. The Falcons' triple option has been its usual self in 2012, ranking second nationally with 335.3 yards per game and 5.41 yards per carry. Attempting to slow down the Falcons will be a Warriors run defense that checks in at No. 106 in the country with an average of nearly 210 yards per game and 4.77 yards per carry allowed.
In a telling sign of the struggling season, a marriage between passing guru Norm Chow and a Hawaii program with a history of prolific passers has not materialized in year one. The Warriors rank ninth in the Mountain West in passing efficiency, seventh in passing yards and 10th in scoring.
VIDEO: Texas A&M pushing #JohnnyFootball for Heisman
Texas A&M released a video pushing freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel for Heisman.
Here's what A&M had to say about Manziel...
Johnny Manziel is most dynamic player in college football this season. He's broken the 43-year-old SEC record for total yardage in a game - twice. Through just 10 games, he's thrown for more yards than Tim Tebow & Troy Smith had in their respective Heisman seasons, and he's on pace to break Cam Newton's SEC total offense record - even though he will play in one fewer game.
Without a doubt, Johnny "Football" Manziel is best candidate for this year's Heisman Trophy Award.
Unlike American football, Canadian football holds that once a punt travels more than 10 yards downfield, the kicking team can recover the free ball and regain possession. In this way, Canadian punts are essentially just like American kickoffs.
However, in a nod to rugby, Canadian football holds that on scrimmage kicks (i.e., punts and missed field goals), the returning team can respond by immediately punting the ball back to the other team, creating a free-for-all where whichever team gets to the ball first will retain possession.
Yep. Only in Canada....
Fedora reached out to other coaches on how to prepare on a short week
Preparing for a quality opponent during a short week always provides unique challenges to a coaching staff. So much work to do in such a short window of time...
With that in mind, immediately following their 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora reached out to a few coaches for some advice on how to prepare his guys in a five day span before they kicked off against Virginia last night (which they won 37-13).
"The best advice I got from a majority of guys is just don't wear them out. You're going to think you need to keep getting repitition, and really it's more important that they're fresh." Fedora explained to the Herald Sun yesterday.
Coming off from a loss that looked more like a basketball score, a lot of coaching staffs would have to bite the bullet to take that kind of advice. Conventional coaching wisdom says that the more repititions you take at something (like defense), the better off you'll be. But, as coaches told Fedora, sometimes allowing your guys to play with fresh legs under them is just as (if not more) important.
Last night, the UNC defense came up big on a goal line stand to maintain their seven point lead, and then the offense took things over from there.
That was the story of the night. Both sides of the ball looked fresh for the Tar Heels, and that likely hinged on the decision that Fedora and his staff made to take their foot off the gas during practice this last week and sacrifice some repititions for fresh legs. The decision defintiely paid off as the staff collected their win number seven in their first season in Chapel Hill.
What We're Watching - Previewing the Week's Biggest Games
Here is the FootballScoop viewing schedule for Week 12 of the college football season. What games will you keep your eye on throughout Saturday?
Rutgers at Cincinnati (12 p.m. ET, Big East Network): Everything in the Big East points toward a winner-takes-the-Orange Bowl showdown between Rutgers and Louisville on the season's final Thursday night. That is, unless Butch Jones and Cincinnati get in the way. A win by the 3-1 Bearcats would force a three-way logjam atop the Big East standings that, due to the way the tiebreakers would break, could effectively end Rutgers' shot at the conference title. Rutgers has never won the Big East and is quickly running out of chances to play in a BCS game, so Saturday is without a doubt the biggest game in Kyle Flood's short tenure.
Central Florida at Tulsa (12 p.m. ET, FSN): With identical 6-0 league records, these clubs could easily meet again on December 1 for the Conference USA title. Each team has played in the CUSA Championship three times, and the Golden Hurricanes and Knights squared off in 2005 and 2007 with each squad winning once. Both teams are solid across the board, ranking Nos. 1 and 2 in C-USA in scoring defense and total defense and Nos. 2 and 3 in scoring offense. Tulsa doesn't throw the ball well but protects and rushes the passer better than anyone in the conference, while UCF leads the league in pass efficiency defense and ranks third in sacks. My advice to both offensive coordinators: run the ball.
USC at UCLA (3 p.m. ET, FOX): It's been awhile since this much was riding on the battle for the Victory Bell. A spot in the Pac-12 Championship and, perhaps more importantly, supremacy in Los Angeles will be all that's on the line Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl. By now we're well aware what USC's strengths (offensive firepower) and weaknesses (defense, penalties) are, and the bad news for Lane Kiffin and co. is that they will face more of the same with UCLA. After surrendering 101 points and 1,318 yards in consecutive losses to the Pac-12's top two offenses in Oregon and Arizona, the Trojans will square off with the conference's third-best rushing, total and scoring offense in UCLA. Oh, and if you weren't already convinced this will be a down-to-the-wire shootout, Gus Johnson will call the game for FOX.
Wake Forest at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC): The only thing standing in between Notre Dame and a shot at an undefeated season are Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons. The Fighting Irish have yet to run away from an opponent in South Bend, winning by 3, 7, 7, 3 and 3 points, and in fact were very fortunate to remain unscathed after the Stanford and Pittsburgh games. Wake Forest ranks 111th nationally in total and rushing offense and 87th in passing offense, averaging just 12.6 points in their last six outings, but even favorable match-ups haven't seemed to matter in Notre Dame home games. The one ingredient that has manifested itself in every Notre Dame close call (Notre Dame has committed 13 turnovers in its five home games) happens to be a strength for Wake Forest and its plus-7 turnover margin.
Ohio State at Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): Much has been made of the resurgence of Wisconsin's running game, and with games of 564, 337 and 467 rushing yards in recent weeks it has been quite resurgent, but it has been Chris Ash's defense that propelled Wisconsin back to the Big Ten Championship. During a 4-1 run in which Wisconsin claimed the Big Ten Leaders Division, the Badgers limited opponents to 13 points per game in regulation. They have not allowed an opponent to reach 20 points since September 29. Meanwhile, Urban Meyer's has been held to less than 29 points only once this season and rank in the Big Ten's top two in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and passing efficiency. Wisconsin will look to keep momentum going in hopes of playing in its third straight Rose Bowl, while Ohio State is two wins away from joining Auburn in 1993 as the only teams to complete perfect seasons while on probation.
Utah State at Louisiana Tech (4 p.m. ET, ESPN3): What could decide the final WAC title happens to be a game with perhaps the biggest offense-defense dichotomy in this college football season. Nearly 40 points separate Louisiana Tech's scoring offense (53.4 points per game) and Utah State's scoring defense (13.5 points per game). The game will be decided by which team can tug the pace of the game in their favor, and which team can win when their "other" units are on the field. Utah State boasts a top-30 total offense and scores 32 points per game, while Louisiana Tech ranks 119th in total defense and 108th in scoring defense.
Tennessee at Vanderbilt (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2): What's at stake? Let's see. Tennessee's six straight wins over the Commodores. A shot at Vanderbilt's first eight-win season since 1982 and first nine-win season since 1915. Meanwhile, a loss would doom Tennessee to three consecutive losing seasons since 1904-06. Oh, and a loss to Vanderbilt would force Derek Dooley to eat crow on a comment he made following last season's Tennessee win.
Stanford at Oregon (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Stanford will do what Stanford does, and that's run at an Oregon defense that will play without half its starters. Stanford tried a similar tactic in its last two dates with Oregon and lost 52-31 and 53-30, and they won't have Andrew Luck at quarterback this go-round. The Ducks showed a dimension of its offense it didn't possess in previous years when quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 27-of-34 passes for 377 yards and six touchdowns in last week's win over Cal. "It's going to take our best game and not their best game to pull this thing off," said Stanford head coach David Shaw.
Kansas State at Baylor (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Baylor's path to victory is a narrow one - turn this game into Baylor - WVU Part II and hope Kansas State can't match Baylor's firepower. Bears quarterback Nick Florence is quietly having a very good season and wide receiver Terrance Williams is the best NFL prospect but every other match-up favors Bill Snyder's teams. A Baylor defense allowing 4.67 yards per carry will have to find a way to slow a Kansas State offense that's run for 5.17 yards per carry and 35 touchdowns. And when the Wildcats throw, the nation's seventh-most efficient passing offense will be covered by the 108th best pass efficiency defense. Outside of their win over Kansas, Baylor has allowed 50.5 points per game in Big 12 play.