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What We're Watching - Week 10

Two months of the 2012 college football regular season are gone, and only one remains. Here's what we'll be keeping an eye on throughout another packed Saturday. 

Oklahoma at Iowa State (12 p.m. ET, ABC). Since Paul Rhoads first roamed the sidelines in Ames it has not been safe to be a power program in Iowa State's line of sight. It started with the 9-7 win over Nebraska in 2009, continued with the 52-38 win over Texas Tech and the 28-21 defeat of Texas in 2010, and rolled into the 44-41 triumph over Iowa and the 37-31 stunner over Oklahoma State last season. Other than the 27-21 near miss versus Kansas State on Oct. 13, Oklahoma is the only power program that hasn't been bitten by Rhoads' Cyclones. Oklahoma has won 19 straight regular season games following a loss but not all losses are as emotional as the prime time defeat to Notre Dame, and not all games after losses call for a trip to Ames for a morning kickoff. Iowa State won't have Oklahoma's talent, but the Sooners had better come out ready to play.

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (12 p.m. ET, ESPN). If the de facto SEC West championship is Saturday night at Baton Rouge, then consider this the de facto SEC West consolation game. These BCS top 20 teams have just one top 25 win between them, so the winner claims the right to the biggest challenger to Alabama and LSU. Mississippi State will try to produce a carbon copy of Florida and LSU's game plans, making the dynamic Johnny Manziel beat them with his arm and therefore keep the score in the 20's. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury will try to do what they couldn't in their two losses - break Manziel loose. Manziel averages 138 rushing yards per game in the Aggies' six wins and 42 yards per game in their two setbacks. Not coincidentally, Texas A&M scores 55 points per game in wins and 18 points per game in losses.

Temple at Louisville (12 p.m. ET, ABC). With all due respect to everything else on the schedule, this game may be the most interesting chess match as former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, the current Louisville head coach, squares off with former Florida offensive coordinator and current Temple head coach Steve Addazio. Temple has allowed more yards and gained fewer yards than any team in the Big East. After a 2-0 start in the league, the Owls have dropped back-to-back games to Rutgers and Pittsburgh. This game should be close, though, as the Cardinals tend to play to the level of their competition. Despite the 8-0 record, five of their last six games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC). As long as Notre Dame, Oregon, Kansas State and Alabama, every one of the Fantastic Four's games become appointment television. Notre Dame football can't run a play without hearing the phrase "wake up the echos" but for this Saturday the Irish will hope a few echos remain asleep. In 1993 Notre Dame suffered a 31-24 setback to Boston College following a defeat of No. 1 Florida State that moved the Irish to 10-0, and in 2002 Notre Dame again fell to Boston College, 14-7, after the Irish topped No. 16 Florida State to improve to 8-0. Pittsburgh gone 4-2 after a very slow start to the Paul Chryst era, but a two-game winning streak over Buffalo and Temple won't scare Brian Kelly's team. Notre Dame has played four games decided by seven points or less, and all four occurred at Notre Dame Stadium. 

Texas at Texas Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2). The struggles of the Texas defense have been well-publicized, but nothing sums up the season that Texas has had more than this: the Longhorns have allowed an opposing rusher to set a career high in all five Big 12 games this season. Texas Tech will never be confused with Navy or Air Force, but the Red Raiders do run the ball for 4.6 yards per carry, led by Kenny Williams' 6.19 yards per rush on 83 carries. When Texas has the ball, the Big 12's No. 3 rushing offense will square off against the Big 12's No. 3 rushing defense. If this preview seems heavy on rushing anecdotes, especially since both offenses rank in the nation's top 20 in passing efficiency, consider this: the team that rushes for more yardage has won every Texas-Texas Tech game since 1990. 

Nebraska at Michigan State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2). Michigan State's last five games have been decided a sum of 13 points. Unfortunately for Mark Dantonio, his team has come down on the right side of things just twice in that handful of games. The Spartans have struggled to score this season, ranking No. 108 nationally at 19.2 points per game and registering less than 20 points six times in nine games, including three straight. That's not good news as Michigan State prepares to host the Big Ten's best offense. Nebraska leads the conference in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and passing efficiency. Pat Narduzzi's defense has put the clamps down on some proficient offenses this season, though, holding Ohio State to 17, Michigan to 12, and an improved Wisconsin offense to 16 points and 19 rushing yards. 

Oregon at USC (7 p.m. ET, FOX). Oregon has thoroughly feasted on a relatively soft schedule to this point, but now things get real for Chip Kelly's squad. The Ducks close the year with three top 20 foes in the final four games, starting with a chance to avenge last season's 38-35 loss, the only setback Oregon has suffered in its last 27 Pac-12 games. USC's most scrutinized unit, its defensive line, has played productive run defense this season but all of that is for naught unless it can find a way to slow down Oregon's light-speed avalanche of an offense. The Ducks have run for 34 scores this season, more than USC, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State combined. In light of Alabama's dominance, it's somewhat startling to remember that it was the Trojans who were the AP's preseason No. 1 as USC faces the possibility of its third loss of the season with Notre Dame and a much-improved UCLA team still ahead.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (8 p.m. ET, ABC). The shoe was on the other foot last season when the 14th-ranked Wildcats challenged No. 3 Oklahoma State, 52-45, with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein throwing into the end zone as time expired. The close loss marked the only setback Bill Snyder's team has suffered in its last 11 games decided by seven points or less. In a conference that boasts four of the nation's top six passing offenses, it is Kansas State that leads the Big 12 in scoring at 44.4 points per game. The Wildcats accomplish that by producing almost no negative plays - they complete more than 70 percent of their passes (No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency), endured only 32 tackles for loss in eight games (tied for sixth nationally) and have allowed only four turnovers (second-least in the FBS). Oklahoma State has sacrificed last season's high risk, high reward style of defense (No. 1 in turnovers forced, No. 107 in yards allowed) in favor of a more steady and consistent approach (No. 109 in turnovers forced, No. 42 in yards allowed). The results have shown that the Cowboys are three points per game better in scoring defense, but let's see where they stand after facing the Big 12's most punishing offense.

LSU at Alabama (8 p.m. ET, CBS). It's without a doubt the most anticipated game of the 2012 regular season. In lieu of my preview, a series of tweets from FootballScoop President Scott Roussel and ESPN's Brett McMurphy will tell you all you need to know about the Battle in the Bayou.


A few notes about tonight's game

Washington visits California tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Here's what stands out to us gametime approaches. 

Two-faced Huskies: Washington has been stout at home this season. The undefeated seasons of Stanford and Oregon State came to an end in Seattle. Add in wins over San Diego State and Portland State and the Huskies are 4-1 in their home kennel, with the lone setback coming 24-14 to USC. Going on the road, however, is a completely different story. Washington is 0-3 and has been outscored 145-38 away from home. The competition in the first three games (LSU, Oregon and Arizona) is tougher than what Steve Sarkisian's team will face tonight, but the Huskies haven't beaten anyone away from Seattle in 13 months. 

In between a rock and a hard place: California enters tonight at 3-6, which means the Golden Bears must win out to avoid missing a bowl game for the second time in three seasons. Nevermind the fact that Jeff Tedford's next two games after tonight come against BCS No. 4 Oregon and BCS No. 11 Oregon State, the Bears will doom themselves to an extra-early hibernation (Cal's regular season ends on Nov. 17) without a win tonight. 

When the Huskies throw: Washington has struggled to throw the ball this year, standing ahead of only Colorado in the Pac-12 and 109th in the country in passing efficiency. Washington passers throw for a conference-worst 5.73 yards per attempt with a total of eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Meanwhile, Cal's defense has picked off eight passes in their last four games.

The Tosh Bowl: Tonight marks the first time Washington defensive line coach/defensive run game coordinator Tosh Lupoi returns to Berkeley after a dozen years in the Cal program as a player, graduate assistant and defensive line coach. Lupoi has his work cut out for him in retooling a unit that ranks last in the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for loss.

Turnovers tell the story: Washington has not lost a game in which it won the turnover battle. Conversely, the Huskies have not won a game in which they did not force more turnovers than their opponent. (LSU and Washington tied the turnover battle, 1-1). On the opposite sideline, USC's win over Cal stands alone as the only time a team that lost more turnovers than it gained managed to win the game in the Golden Bears' nine outings this season. In the 17 combined games of Cal and Washington's season, only one time has a team lose the turnover battle and win the game. 

Video of Oregon's white on white uniform

...Just when you thought Oregon had every uniform combination covered, they come out with this white on white on white version for their match up tomorrow against USC. Very smooth looking.

The futuristic themed video breaks down all of the features. 



Video: ESPNU Ole Miss All-Access

ESPNU cameras honed in on Hugh Freeze and his Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday, Oct. 16.  The show lasts a full 23 minutes, so instead of simply providing the video, we decided to point out what stood out to us in the peek behind the curtain of Freeze's program. The Worldwide Leader had good timing, as Ole Miss was fresh off a 41-20 win over Auburn. 

The show opens with Freeze and his staff in the meeting room. The staff is reading through "The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge" by Tony Dungy. Today's passage focuses on the importance of expressing love to your children. Moments like that won't help Ole Miss gain a schematic edge over their next opponent, but they will help the staff pull together when the Rebels find themselves down by five on the road with two minutes to play. 

Oddly enough, watching Ole Miss All-Access made me realize the far-reaching impact that Oregon has had on college football. At the 8:30 mark, Freeze explains how important it is for his program to "Win the Day." The phrase is plastered on the wall in Ole Miss' football facility, and it's even on the front end of the golf cart Freeze drives through campus to make sure his players attend class.  

Freeze also subscribes to another Oregon staple - short, efficient practices.

"We don't practice long," said Freeze. "The shorter practices for us are sometimes the better ones. You've got to be on top of your details to do that and you have to have great energy and coach on the run, becuase we're not going to have any time to correct on the field. We do that in the film room."

Freeze's assistants are the stars of the show. ESPN cameras take viewers in the film room with offensive line coach Matt Luke, cornebacks coach Wesley McGriff and special teams coordinator/linebackers coach Tom Allen. The coaches are clear, effective communicators that clearly have the respect and attention of their players.

"Our assistant coaches are invaluable," Freeze explained. "They really are where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Every single person in this building was faced with one tasked when they were hired by me and that is to capture the hearts and minds of our players."

Freeze spent the majority of his attention on the offensive backfield working with quarterbacks on the timing, fundamentals and decision-making of the Rebels' spread offense.

Freeze is in his first year as the Rebels' head coach but not his first go-round in Oxford. He served as an assistant in the Ole Miss program from 2005-07. He remembers the tradition of Ole Miss football - and thinks he can lead them back there.

"It's not that long ago that this program was competing for the (SEC) West championship," Freeze told the ESPN cameras (21:30 mark). "Certainly there's been a few lean years here but there's no reason it can't be restored."

The show closes with Freeze motivating his team for the short term, to stay focused during their off week, and the long term, to keep improving throughout the season.

"Don't be satisfied with where we are," Freeze said. "Let's keep it moving forward. Keep building until the end of the year."

So far, so good. The Rebels defeated their next opponent, Arkansas, 30-27. 


Howard Schnellenberger: I can convince anyone Kentucky is a good job

Howard Schnellenberger, the famed head coach at Miami, Louisville, Oklahoma and most recently at Florida Atlantic, recently gave an interview to Larry Vaught at VaughtsViews.com. Schnellenberger provided a myriad of thoughts on what direction Kentucky should go in hiring its new head coach, provided they indeed decide to make a change.

“Miami was going to drop to Division I-AA before I got there and it was about the same way at Louisville,” Schnellenberger said. “Both were on their last gasp. They both called a timeout and tried to analyze what to do and who to bring in. In both cases, they brought in somebody that was bigger than the job. That’s one part of the equation at Kentucky."

Obviously Kentucky is nowhere close to dropping to FCS, but the program has struggled of late. Kentucky football recently dropped below .500 all-time for the first time since 1902. The Wildcats are 1-8 this season and are in the midst of their third straight losing season.

“If they do decide make change, they have to decide what they have done in the past will not get it done,” said Schnellenberger. "Bring in someone with a proven track record and has a reason for wanting the job. If you give me 20 minutes with a coaching candidate, I can convince him why Kentucky is a good job.”

Schnellenberger emphasizes that the ideal coaching candidate not only knows how to win, but wants to win at Kentucky.

“Kentucky has every natural resource you need to be good,” Schnellenberger said. “There should be no inferiority complex at Kentucky. If the university will focus its resources financially, spiritually and psychologically for the development of a great football program with the right guy in charge that brings a lot of confidence with him and a lot of public awareness to the university, then they have a chance to succeed."

According to Schellenberger, Kentucky presently finds itself stuck between mediocrity and success. From 2006 to 2011 the Wildcats bounced anywhere from five to eight wins. 

"The worst thing that can happen to a program is going 4-8, 6-6, 5-7, maybe 7-5," he said. "Just good enough to every once in a while have a winning season. Those are the ones that limp along and there’s no way they will take the next leap up.”

But Coach, does Kentucky have the facilities to compete in the SEC?

“Bull—-. Facilities are the last thing you need," said Schnellenberger. "At Miami we had the worst facilities of any top 100 team in the country and we won the national championship. At Louisville, look at where we were before they got Papa John’s (Cardinal) Stadium and we beat Alabama."

In Schnellenberger's mind, everything Kentucky needs to succeed is already at its fingertips. He thinks an SEC schedule can be used to the Wildcats' benefit in recruiting.

"Kentucky is in the greatest conference in the world. It’s people that make a difference because you have the schedule to sell. You are in the most productive, financially sound conference in all of them. The university is an outstanding academic institution. You are sitting in a great geographical area. And you are fortified by the best basketball team in America.”

If there are four schools in the country that will never be confused as anything but a basketball school, Kentucky is one of them. But Schnellenberger doesn't see that as a negative.

“At Louisville, I used the basketball program," he said. "Can you imagine bringing football players in from Florida and bringing them into Rupp Arena on any given game and see the pageantry and excitement and all that. That is a recruiting opportunity that is unprecedented. Only a few schools have that kind of stage. You have all kinds of stuff going at Kentucky.”

It remains to be see what steps Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart takes with his football program but a stop in Louisville to see the old coach is certainly one of them.

Read the full interview at VaughtsViews.com.

Maryland is at it again with unique uniforms

MarylandUnisAfter last years season opener, Maryland has become synonymous with using their state flag in their uniforms. 

First the helmets and the jerseys, and now the cleats. They'll be rocking the black uniforms pictured above for tomorrow's game against Georgia Tech.

Take a look at the cleats and gloves below.



Paul Johnson defends his program

Georgia Tech isn't sitting where Paul Johnson and his staff had hoped to be at this point in the season. Instead of being in the drivers seat for the ACC title, they're battling their way back to .500 and are currently sitting at 3-5 (2-3 in ACC play) heading into this weekends match up with Maryland (4-4, 2-2).

Earlier this week, Johnson got on 790 The Zone and took calls from listeners who didn't dice their words when it came to the program's recent struggles.

Johnson reminded callers and listeners of how close they are to having a record that looks much different.

"We’ve lost two games in overtime. It isn’t making excuses, it’s just facts. We’ve lost two games in overtime. We lost the one at Clemson after being ahead in the fourth quarter. But all in all we played with them to toe to toe until we fumbled the snap on 4th and 1 from the 7 yard line. If we don’t fumble the snap, maybe we go up two scores in the fourth quarter and it’s different."

Johnson was also asked about recruiting and if they're bringing in the caliber of players that can compete in the ACC, and responded by noting that they've entered the fourth quarter five different times with a lead.

"If the talent level is that bad, then we must be doing a hell of a job coaching to stay in there and I don’t think that’s the case. We’ve got to finish the games. Now, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. We need to win games"

Two areas that casual fans always seem to critique the most when a team is struggling is the play of the quarterback, and the playcalling. Georgia Tech is no different. Johnson responded to one caller on the radio show Wednesday by saying that he's not ready to throw the season away and start over with a back up quarterback, and added that calling plays on Saturdays is much different than calling one with a controller in your hand in the living room.

"You try to call the plays that people can run," Johnson explained. "I don’t mean this in a  bad way or whatever, but it’s not like PlayStation, where you just pick a play. You have guys out there who can do certain things. And if guys struggle pulling, you don’t run the pulling plays. If guys aren’t as good at throwing one way, you try to throw the other way. That’s all the things that you know from being with those guys every day in practice and going into the game plan.”

He explained that if he does decide to get the backup quarterback some snaps, it won't be because someone told him to do it.

"It’s going to be because I think he gives our football team the best chance.  Because my job is to try to give us the best chance to win the game. I see those guys every day we practice. I know there’s a lot of people out there that can do my job better than I can. I gotcha. I understand that. But pardon me if I’m not going to listen to everybody who tells me who I should be playing, what I should be doing."

"I’ve managed to survive for 34 years doing what I’m doing without getting fired and we’ve won a lot of games. If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down doing what I do and knowing what I know."

The last four games on their schedule will test the Yellow Jackets. After traveling to Maryland this weekend, they'll wrap things up at North Carolina (6-3, 3-2), before taking on Duke (6-3, 3-2) at home, and ending the regular season against rival Georgia (7-1, 5-1). We'll see how things shake out, but that's a heck of a stretch when your looking to get things back on track. 

"We grade the performance, not the person"

Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was asked yesterdat how he manages to keep things light and fun at practice and how that has played a role in the team's success this season.

Snyder answered by explaining, "We're all in this together, and it starts at the top with Kevin (Sumlin)."

"Kids have got to trust you nowadays...times are different. They just are, even with my girls. They have to know that you care about them, you have to have a little fun, and you have to keep it real with them. I think players respond to that at all levels. That give me an opportunity, when it is time to put the foot down, I can do that, and they don't take it personal."

Then he added, "We're grading the performance, not the person. That's the key."

If your a coaching staff that hands out performance based grades, or breaks down film with the whole team after your games, that point may be something worth touching on before you hit "play" next time. Good stuff.