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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. 




UCLA DB coach Demetrice Martin raps at the "Beat SC" bonfire

Last night the UCLA campus gathered for a "Beat SC" bonfire where the Jim Mora and some of the Bruin's leaders addressed the fans about this weekends game against USC in the Rose Bowl.

Towards the end of the clip, defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin takes the stage to lead the team in a rap to get the place hyped.

It looks like this isn't coach Martin's first time doing something like this...




Friday TV - Two college and two high school games tonight

Florida International takes on Florida Atlantic and Air Force hosts Hawaii tonight, along with a few high school regionally televised high school games.

Eastern time listed.

NFL:

No games

College:

Florida International at Florida Atlantic - 8 - ESPNU

Hawaii at Air Force - 9:30 - ESPN2

High School:

Bishop Hartley vs. Ottawa Glandorf - 10:30 - Sportstime Ohio

Alemany vs. Mater Dei - 10:30 - Fox College Sports Atlantic

 




VIDEO: '60 Minutes' tackles the role of football programs within the university

Armen Keteyian will provide a report for "60 Minutes" on Sunday night on how a healthy football program benefits its universty as a whole. As CBS says, "Large-scale football programs have become critical tools in a race to raise revenues, bolster images and ultimately, win championships that will attract more students and better players to universities."

We could not agree more. In fact, we wrote the same thing a year ago. 

If nothing else, watch at the 1:03 mark as Towson head coach Rob Ambrose addressed his team at halftime of a 17-9 game.

"Any of you sons of bitches that are smiling because you think we did something? I'm gonna kill ya'", said Ambrose. "It's a 15-round fight, not five. Now what the hell are we waiting for? Let's go." 

 




Video: James Franklin carries mascot into the locker room to celebrate

After Vanderbilt reached bowl eligibility with a big win over Ole Miss (and collected their third road win for the first time since 1873) , James Franklin embraced some of his assistants, and even athletic director David Williams on the way to the locker room.

That didn't surprise us. Anyone who knows Coach Franklin knows that he is a passionate guy and we're sure that he wanted to make sure that his assistants knew that their hard work was appreciated and that they enjoyed the moment.

But on the way to the locker room, Franklin corners the Vanderbilt mascot (known as "Mr. Commodore"), picks him up, and personally escorts him over his shoulder to the locker the room to celebrate with the team.

After enjoying that section of the video, be sure to go back to the beginning and catch the pregame atmosphere in the locker room. Great stuff.




The Scoop on tonight's games

Two games dot the schedule tonight, the traditional Thursday night affair on ESPN and a special mid-week game in the Southland Conference. Let's get right to it.

North Carolina at Virginia (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Though it may have seemed impossible when the Cavaliers endured their six-game losing streak, Mike London's team is still in contention for a bowl game. Virginia bookended its half-season slide wth wins over Richmond and Penn State to open the year and defeats of N.C. State and Miami in the last two weeks. A win tonight and next week at Virginia Tech will send the Cavs to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2004-05. Nevermind that Virginia hasn't beaten Virginia Tech since 2003, that's next week's problem. What does Virginia need to do to beat North Carolina?

A big issue for Mike London's team has been its disconnect between yards and points. The Cavs have gained the fifth-most yards in the ACC but scored the ninth-most points. Their defense has allowed the third-fewest yards in the conference but allowed the fifth-most points. Underlying that issue has been its problems with turnovers.Virginia possesses and even turnover margin (6-6) in their four wins and stand at a minus-12 (16-4) in their six losses. That minus-12 margin puts them in last place in the ACC and 112th in the nation in turnover margin.

Quarterback Michael Rocco returned to a regular spot in the line-up last week and threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in the 41-40 win over Miami. Virginia will need Rocco to remain hot and put pressure on a smarting North Carolina defense fresh off a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels have also struggled away from home this season, winning only once in four tries. Tonight's game is in Charlottesville. 

If nothing else, you should tune in to watch the masterful North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. The sophomore leads the ACC and ranks eighth nationally with 126 rushing yards per game while simultaneously ranking fourth in the country in punt returns at nearly 18 yards per return. Bernard won the N.C. State game with a 74-yard punt return touchdown with 13 seconds to go to break a 35-35 tie. The combination of Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner (270 yards per game, 20 touchdowns) will be a handful for Jim Reid's defense. 

A bowl game is out of the picture for Larry Fedora's group in his first year at the helm, but at 6-4 he can still lead the Tar Heels to their first eight-win regular season since 2009. 

Southeastern Louisiana at Nicholls State (7 p.m. ET)

Bragging rights in the River Bell Classic are on the line tonight as Ron Roberts' first season at the helm of Southeastern Louisiana concludes in Thibodaux, La., against Charlie Stubbs and Nicholls State. At 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Southland Conference, 2012 has been a trying season for Nicholls State but part of that can be salvaged if the Colonels can extend their home winning streak in the River Bell Classic to six games. The 2010 meeting came down to a late two-point conversion when Nicholls State batted down a Southeastern Louisiana pass to preserve a 27-25 win. 

A win tonight for Southeastern Louisiana means the Lions will finish in third place in the Southland in Roberts' first year. Roberts has impressively put the Lions near the top of the standings despite ranking at the bottom of the Southland Conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Luckily for Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State is seventh among eight teams in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense.  




Texas A&M is keeping it simple on offense and getting results

Would the people who said that Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury's up tempo offense wouldn't work in the SEC please step forward. With the body of work that Sumlin and his offensive staff have put together this season, it's now safe to say that statement could not have been more wrong.

In their first year in the new league, under a new coaching staff with a very different offensive approach, Texas A&M's offense has improved in every offensive statistic since 2011. The Aggies rank in the top 18 in rushing offense (13th - 243 ypg), passing offense (18th - 303 ypg), total offense (5th - 545 ypg) and scoring offense (4th - 43 ppg). All of those stats surpass what they were able to accomplish last season under Mike Sherman and his staff in their fourth season (and they were no slouch on offense last year by any means).

Those numbers aren't far off from what Sumlin and Kingsbury (who was our 2011 FootballScoop offensive coordinator of the year) helped engineer last season at Houston where they led the country in passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense.

When people said that the up tempo, "Air Raid" approach wouldn't work in the SEC, I flashed back to watching Houston play multiple times throughout the 2011 season where I caught myself wondering, "Can anyone stop these guys?"

Kingsbury's offensive success over the past two seasons has hinged on keeping things simple and allowing their guys to play fast, while (most importantly) getting players to play with confidence within the scheme..

“That's by design. We're better off having 11 guys knowing what to do on offense and the guys we're playing against knowing what we're going to do, than having two or three guys (on offense) knowing exactly what we're going to do and it being real fancy or complicated.” Sumlin explained to the Houston Chronicle.

Sumlin also noted that the logic behind being with players for just 20 hours a week factored into their offensive scheme, as opposed to tyring to install and execute a complicated pro style scheme. They don't hand out a playbook, instead they focus on perfecting a handful of plays that players easily remember and can eventually execute in their sleep.

"In the NFL, there's a lot more time. You have to use your time wisely, and it's hard to do that with a real thick playbook."

The staff believes that if you can get your guys to play fast without analyzing things, you'll end up with a better product on game day, which is something that Kingsbury learned firsthand playing under Mike Leach. 

"It's a belief that if you can get them to play faster and not think as much and let them use their natural abilities the best they can, then you're going to have a better product. We'd have so many repetitions, and he (Leach) would say, 'They're going to know it's coming, and they're still not going to be able to stop you.'"

That feeling of confidence on the field as a player is extremely empowering, and that makes calls a whole easier to to make from the sideline when you've got really good players executing with confidence.




Emotional pre game speech following Hurricane Sandy

After enduring one of the worst storms in recent U.S. memory, many teams out in New York had to prepare for a first round playoff game.

Two teams that the storm hit particularly hard, Queens Beach Channel HS (NY) and Port Richmond HS of Staten Island (NY), got paired up in the first round of the state playoffs, and had to overcome some incredibly difficult circumstances just to make it to game day.

According to Cameron Smith of Yahoo!Sports, the first day following Hurricane Sandy, only 15% of Beach Channel's students showed up to school, which was held in makeshift emergency location. All of the football team's equipment had been washed away in the storm and their football field had been transformed into an emergency landing area for helicopters carrying medical and disaster releif supplies.

And these guys still found a way to prepare for a playoff game. 

Despite those obstacles, the staff and players at Beach Channel came together for the big playoff game and as the video shows, head coach Victor Nazario had a difficult time keeping his emotions in check as he addressed his team before kickoff.

Many of us across the country get so caught up in our own programs, and trying to win games and change lives,  that it's easy to lose sight of what others are going through, particularly out on the east coast. After our games the past few weeks, we're fortunate enough to board the bus and head to the comfort of our own homes and resume our everyday lives, while thousands and thousands of coaches and players out on the east coast went home to help repair their communities and homes following their games over the past several weeks. 

This pre game video captures coach Nazario's pre game speech before the playoff game. Listen to his message and the emotion in his voice, and how he uses adversity and the game of football to help provide a platform for life lessons. Good stuff.

Coach Nazario and his team ended up falling that afternoon, 38-6 to Port Richmond.

Coach Nazario's pep talk [contains profanity] from GothamSchools on Vimeo.