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We know enough about journalism and sportswriting to realize that Thanksgiving week typically results in a "let's mention all the things we are thankful for" story. (Even MMA writers got in on the act this year.) If you have read the College Football Report before, you can guess at most of what would appear on our list. And we will spare you a cynical treatment by not producing a list of everything that makes for juicy copy: dumb coaching decisions, odd mascot stories, Lane Kiffin and Rich Rodriguez, massive conspiracy stories, the start of Layoff Season, and the ongoing saga of one Cameron Newton. (Wait, what did we say about lists?)
Thus, in lieu of the usual Turkey Day column, we will focus on what we're most thankful for: Football. See below, dear reader, for our overview of all the Top 5 action this holiday weekend including our picks in parentheses.
#1 Oregon @ #20 Arizona (+19, Friday 6:00PM)
Oregon's offense leads the country with a scoring average of 50.7 points per game. But the Ducks face off against a tough Wildcats defense that has allowed only 102 yards rushing at home. Combined with Arizona's D, we wonder if some of the recent distractions and a lingering lower-leg bruise that limited him in practice on Tuesday might hamper the performance of Oregon running back LaMichael James.
The sophomore star hopes to get his Heisman campaign back on track after Cal limited him to less than 100 yards rushing (for only the second time this season) and kept James out of the end zone for the first time this year.
Should Oregon win on Friday, the Ducks will lock up the Pac-10 conference title and an appearance (at least) in the Rose Bowl. But as one of only four undefeated teams remaining in the Top 25, Oregon's sights are on the BCS championship game.
Meanwhile, Arizona's last win came nearly a month ago - October 30th - on the road over UCLA. The Wildcats haven't fared well against the spread, going 1-6 vs. Pac-10 opponents, 1-4 in their last five games and only 2-3 at home. But we expect the Wildcats will have learned from watching tape of Cal's near-upset over Oregon last week and will show up for Friday night's feature game.
#2 Auburn @ #9 Alabama (-4.5, Friday 1:30PM)
Alabama owns the overall advantage in the Iron Bowl (40-33-1 all time, 2-0 last two) but can only play spoiler in the 75th meeting against cross-state rival Auburn. 'Bama can still play in a BCS bowl as an at-large team, but derailing the Tigers' shot at the championship game will spur on the Crimson Tide. Auburn secured a berth in the SEC championship game (against #18 South Carolina) by beating Georgia two weeks ago but needs to win out to stay in the BCS chase.
The Iron Bowl hasn't featured two Top 10 teams since 1994 (#4 Alabama over #6 Auburn, 24-14) but the game doesn't need top rankings to produce high drama; former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville resigned under pressure after losing a squeaker to Alabama last year. Even when both teams are out of the Top 25, all of Alabama comes to a halt each November to watch this game. This Friday, with the entire nation's attention on the BCS and Heisman hopes at stake, we expect Nick Saban to fire up his crew for a win.
Just for kicks, here's a bit of Iron Bowl trivia:
* Auburn won the inaugural game 32-22 on February 22, 1893.
* Alabama posted the highest margin of victory in a 55-0 drubbing on December 4, 1948.
* The highest scoring game (Auburn 49 - Alabama 26) fell on November 29, 1969 while the lowest point total (Alabama 3 - Auburn 0) took place on November 26, 1960.
* Alabama has had games during the season rescheduled for after the Iron Bowl three times: in '63 against Miami (postponed due to the JFK assassination); in '88 when Hurricane Gilbert delayed the match-up against Texas A&M; and after 9/11 when all the games to have been played on September 15, 2001 (including Bama vs. Southern Miss) were rescheduled. (With thanks to "I-59 Tiger" of www.TigerDroppings.com. Yes, TigerDroppings. LSU fans - whatever.)
#3 Boise State @ #19 Nevada (+14, Friday 9:20PM)
Did we say that the Oregon game was the featured match-up on Friday night? Why didn't someone call us on that? The late show from Reno might determine the national championship. Boise (#3 AP, but #4 BCS) gained on TCU (#4 AP, #3 BCS) again last week in the BCS, and now trail the #3 Horned Frogs by only a fraction of a point in the latest standings.
If the projections hold true, Boise can (finally, for all of us fans of The Little Guy) gain a spot in the BCS title game. But those projections, by USA Today among others, assume both a win by Boise and a loss by Auburn this weekend. And you know our position on Alabama-Auburn.
And while a Boise win may not be much of a stretch, but the Wolfpack seem too wily a bunch to spot two touchdowns at home. Nevada (10-1, 5-1 WAC) averages 44.1 points per game, good for fourth in the country, while senior QB Colin Kaepernick needs only 16 rushing yards to become the first player in NCAA history to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in three consecutive seasons.
Kaepernick runs Nevada's signature "pistol" offense. Reportedly developed by coach Chris Ault in 2004, the scheme resembles the shotgun but places the quarterback closer to the center and the back directly behind (rather than beside) the QB in the backfield. When employed by a team with a dual-threat like Kaepernick, the formation can create an advantage in both the rushing and passing game. There must be something to the idea, as Nevada has posted a 47-33 record since 2004.
"System" quarterback or no, at 6' 6" we hope Colin makes it in the NFL. Even as a backup. His fallback option? To play for the Chicago Cubs. (Kaepernick was drafted by the North Siders in the 43rd round of the 2009 MLB draft.)
#4 TCU (-44) @ New Mexico (Saturday, 3:00PM)
The Horned Frogs must feel the Broncos breathing down their collective necks. About the only play for TCU will be to blow out New Mexico. At 1-10 on the season, the Lobos should be able to oblige. For more on the fate of the Horned Frogs, go here.
Northwestern @ #5 Wisconsin (-23.5, Saturday 2:30PM)
We mistakenly backed Northwestern last week, forgetting that QB Dan Persa was on crutches. Yet even Persa's absence doesn't quite explain the 519 yards of rushing the Wildcats defense yielded to Illinois, including 330 yards to Illini RB Mikel Leshoure. We doubt NU will fare much better against the road-graders of Wisconsin in Camp Randall this weekend.
#6 (#5 BCS) LSU @ #12 Arkansas (+3.5, Saturday 2:30PM)
Despite the potential implications, this match-up will be tough to predict until Saturday morning. Regardless of what happens elsewhere, a win by LSU should guarantee the Tigers a BCS berth. But for a shot at the national championship (still a possibility), LSU can only hope that Auburn loses at Alabama - although it might also take a Boise loss to Nevada.
We feel the stakes for LSU will play a major part in the outcome - with everything on the line, we would take Les Miles but The Battle for the Golden Boot doesn't generate a great deal of natural drama on its own. Our gut tells us LSU won't feel like much is at stake and might come out a little flat against Arkansas - probably not a good idea on the road against the likes of QB Ryan Mallet.
And here is a quick review of the remaining Top 10 action this weekend:
Oregon State @ #7 Stanford (#6 BCS, -13.5, Saturday 6:30PM)
Possibly the biggest layup of the weekend. But buy the hook (to -13) just to be sure.
Michigan @ #8 Ohio State (-17, Saturday 11:00AM)
Yes, that does seem like a lot of points to lay in a rivalry game. But have you seen Michigan play defense this year? Neither have we.
#14 Oklahoma @ #10 Oklahoma State (#9 BCS, -2.5 Saturday 7:00PM)
We love the Cowboys' fun-n-gun style of play . . . but the over (67) might be the safer pick here.
#11 Michigan State (#10 BCS) @ Penn State (+1.5, Saturday 11:00AM)
Joe Paterno has extended his pact with the Devil for another year and will return next season. Michigan State will be playing for a share of the Big Ten title, the first for the school since 1990. We imagine the Spartans sidelines might take a few peeks at the scoreboard during the game as an Ohio State loss would leave the door open for an MSU Rose Bowl trip. We're guessing the Nittany Lions will make it a moot point.
Mike "Stargate" Luce brings you The College Football Report in this space every week. He welcomes your comments.