Weekend Preview: Red River Rivalry remains a tradition like no other

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No sport does tradition quite like college football, at least in this admittedly biased college football writer’s opinion. This weekend we get a glimpse of one of the great traditions in the sport with a side of deep-fried, well anything probably. The Texas State Fair is on my bucket list and is highlighted by the annual meeting between Oklahoma and Texas. The fanfare that surrounds the game may only be rivaled by a few others in the sport. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and the Army-Navy Game are two that quickly come to mind.

Neutral site games may not be quite the novelty they once were, thanks to multiple games played in Atlanta and Arlington purely for a big-ticket event to please television partners, but the Red River Rivalry is something else that brings everything back to pure basics. The venue is the historic Cotton Bowl, full of history and lacking the modern-day luxuries many fans seem to take for granted. Yet, it is the perfect setting for one of college football’s classic rivalries.

The Red River Rivalry highlights the action this weekend, but so much for the focus on what it could mean in the Big 12 race. Instead the narrative will focus on the future of head coach Mack Brown.

Mack’s last stand?

The annual Red River Rivalry game remains one of the top traditions the college football regular season has to offer, and thankfully it managed to survive the wreck left by realignment over the past few seasons. But the big question this year will be whether or not Texas head coach Mack Brown can manage to save his job with a win against the Sooners. Oklahoma has roughed up the rival Longhorns each of the past two seasons and bring a three-game winning streak in to the early afternoon Big 12 clash. Since 2000, the Longhorns have lost nine out of 13 meetings. Although Texas enters this year’s edition with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play, there is much speculation that Brown could be coaching in his final Red River Rivalry game.

Texas may need to win to help save Brown’s job for next year, but a hard-fought contest with the Sooners is all most Texas fans hope to see given the recent history in this series. That could be a realistic expectation. Oklahoma seems to have turned a corner with Blake Bell taking over at quarterback, starting with a win at Notre Dame, but this Oklahoma team may not be as strong as they have been so Texas should manage to prove they at least belong on the same field. Proving that should start with protecting the football. Texas has had 10 turnovers in the last three meetings at the Texas State Fair.

Is Georgia ripe for an upset?

Georgia looks to be one of the top one-loss teams in the country, having only been defeated by an undefeated Clemson team currently sitting in the top five of the rankings on the road in the first game of the year. Since then the Bulldogs have come through in the clutch to beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee. In those times of need Georgia has been able to turn to quarterback Aaron Murray, who has delivered when needed time and time again and earned a spot in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. This week, however, will Murray be able to rally Georgia to another SEC win with a number of players out of action?

Running back Todd Gurley is expected to be back for the Bulldogs as they host Missouri, who comes to Sanford Stadium with a perfect 5-0 record. His running mate, Keith Marshall, suffered an ACL injury last weekend and is done for the year. Receivers Michael Bennett (knee) and Justin Scott-Wesley (ACL) are also out of the mix this weekend. The injuries have been piling up for Georgia but they have managed to get by. Could Missouri be the team who end that winning streak? Missouri should be able to put up some points. The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season, and they scored 38 points the one game they did not.

Big road test for Oregon 

One of the more bitter rivalries that few seem to recognize is the one between Washington and Oregon. Fortunately this game will receive an afternoon time slot, so everyone can get a chance to check out the animosity for themselves. Oregon has certainly been piling up points this season but they face their first real test when they visit Washington Saturday afternoon. The Huskies are coming off their first loss of the season but put up a respectable fight against Stanford on the road last weekend. Returning home to what should be a raucous crowd thirsty for a win against Oregon should be a good setting for Washington. Oregon has won each of their last three trips to Seattle, and the Ducks have won nine straight in the series for the longest winning streak in the series.

Who should be on upset alert?

Other than the teams already mentioned above, who else might want to be on high alert this weekend?

LSU: You could make a case that LSU is the best one loss team in the country, if not for Georgia. The Tigers host the Florida Gators this weekend. Florida’s defense may be capable of giving LSU some problems, and if LSU’s offense is sluggish at any point, Florida could steal a rare victory for a road team in Baton Rouge.

South Carolina: The constant question regarding the status of Jadeveon Clowney is a bit overdone at this point, but his impact on the field is still respectable even if the numbers suggest otherwise. The Gamecocks are on the road this weekend at Arkansas for the first of three straight road games.The Razorbacks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of their schedule but pack a running game that could make things interesting.

Northwestern: After hanging with Ohio State last weekend, the Wildcats are on the road for another tough Big Ten match-up. Northwestern travels to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. The only games Wisconsin has lost this season have come on the road, at Ohio State and Arizona State (who could forget that cray ending?). As usual, the Badgers can run the football very well with sophomore Melvin Gordon rushing for nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns so far.

Michigan: The Wolverines have struggled at times this season, including in games against Akron and Connecticut. Could Michigan be walking in to the lion’s den this weekend in Beaver Stadium? Well, technically, probably. Penn State was roughed up by Indiana, of all teams, last week and look to bounce back in a strong way. The depth concerns at Penn State may get a lift from one of the top crowds in Beaver Stadium in the Bill O’Brien era, but will it be enough to rattle Michigan?

Alabama ties 1990-2000 Florida for longest winning streak vs. unranked opponents

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There’s that, I guess.

The outcome of top-ranked Alabama’s scrimmage game against FCS Mercer Saturday was never in doubt, with the lone question being the margin of victory.  The answer came in the form of a 56-0 Crimson Tide over the Bears that could’ve been exponentially worse as, after jumping out to a 35-0 halftime lead, Nick Saban took his foot off the overmatched program’s throats in the second half.

With the win, Alabama has now won 73 straight games against unranked opponents.  That ties the 1990-2000 Gators for the longest such streak since the Associated Press poll originated in 1936.

The last loss?  To Louisiana-Monroe in Tuscaloosa during Saban’s first season with the school.

‘Bama won’t get the opportunity to break the tie with Florida as the will face a ranked Auburn team in the Iron Bowl before very likely facing another ranked team/teams in a bowl/playoffs.

Minnesota QB Demry Croft posts negative QB rating in loss to Northwestern

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Even Blutarsky said “dayum” when apprised of this development.

In Week 11, Demry Croft was steady in both the passing (9-15, 105) and running (10-183) games as Minnesota dominated Nebraska in a 54-21 win.  Seven days later, the quarterback put together one of the worst statistical performances you’ll ever come across.

In a 39-0 whitewashing at the hands of Northwestern, Croft completed two of his 11 passes for 43 yards and three interceptions.  So, yes, he had more completions to Wildcats defenders than he did to Golden Gophers receivers.

Add it all up, and Croft posted a pass efficiency rating of minus-3.5.  Again, a negative.  Quarterback.  Rating.

Throw in minus-17 yards rushing, and with the full understanding there were at least a couple of drops by his receivers, Croft cobbled together one of the worst statistical days for a quarterback in college football history.

The loss means that 5-6 Minnesota needs to beat fifth-ranked Wisconsin in the regular-season finale next Saturday to become bowl-eligible. Northwestern, meanwhile, has won six straight and stands at 8-3 on the season, two wins in the Week 13 matchup with Illinois and a bowl game away from the fifth 10-win season in the football program’s history.

No. 5 Wisconsin muscles their way to 11-0 against No. 24 Michigan

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No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) moved one step closer to an undefeated regular season thanks to a strong second-half showing against No. 24 Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten). The Badgers struggled to get much of anything going on offense in the first half, but the plays seemed to come together in the second half en route to a 24-10 victory in Madison on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers scored 21-unanswered points to overcome a 10-7 deficit in the third quarter.

Michigan was on the wrong end of a controversial instant replay in the first half, but even if the correct call had been made in the review it would not have been enough to score the upset. The Badgers wore down Michigan in the second half and found some passing plays to use to their advantage off the arm of Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook completed just nine passes out of 19 attempts with one going for a touchdown and another deep ball providing a spark along the way. The recipe for a win, of course, remained running the ball. Freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor ripped off 132 yards on 19 carries to power Wisconsin’s offense.

Michigan starting quarterback Brandon Peters was carted off in the third quarter with an apparent head injury. He did not return, and John O’Korn was tasked with taking over the offense for the remainder of the game. Had Peters not been injured, it may not have mattered. Wisconsin’s defense was still making plays when they needed and not allowing Michigan to seize control for extended periods of time.

The win keeps Wisconsin knocking on the door to the College Football Playoff. If the Badgers win their next two games, they will stand an excellent chance of getting to the playoff for the first time in school history. Wisconsin will wrap up the regular season on the road next week with the annual rivalry game with Minnesota. The Gophers were getting thumped by Northwestern and will need a long-overdue win against Wisconsin in order to become bowl-eligible. Wisconsin has not lost to Minnesota since 2003. After that, it will be a date in the Big Ten Championship Game against the champion of the East Division, which will more than likely be the team Michigan plays next week.

Michigan will be home in Ann Arbor for their rivalry game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes will need the win in order to remain on the playoff radar heading into the Big Ten championship game. Jim Harbaugh has not beaten Urban Meyer yet.

No. 3 Miami scores 30 unanswered points to go 10-0 for first time since 2002

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The No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (10-0, 7-0 ACC) overcame a disaster of a first half to keep their undefeated season going. On Saturday against Virginia (6-5, 3-4 ACC), the Hurricanes looked sluggish for one half and allowed Virginia to capitalize on big plays to a 28-14 lead, but Miami roared back with 30 unanswered points to improve on the best start since the last time Miami played for a national championship. Miami topped Virginia 44-28.

Miami players got to wear the famous turnover chain twice in the game, but the biggest turnover may have come with Jaguan Johnson‘s 30-yard interception for a game-tying score in the third quarter. The pick-six knotted the game at 28-28 in a wild third quarter, and Miami never looked back from that point on. Miami took the lead late in the third quarter on a 44-yard field goal by and Malik Rosier and Travis Homer added rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Hurricanes cemented the win.

Rosier was picked off twice in the game, but he ended his day with 210 passing yards and three touchdowns to go with 38 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. His Virginia counterpart, Kurt Benkert, actually had a fantastic afternoon with 28-of-37 for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Until the lone interception thrown by Benkert, he looked more than capable to lead Virginia to an upset on the road. But Virginia needed more out of the running game and could not keep the big plays coming in the fourth quarter as Miami was taking control of the game.

Miami’s 10-0 start is the best start for the Hurricanes since playing for the BCS national championship in the 2002 season. This is also Miami’s first double-digit win season since 2003. That makes this Miami’s first 10-win season since joining the ACC. And they may not be done just yet.

Before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game in two weeks, Miami will first make a business trip to Pittsburgh for the regular season finale against the Panthers. The Panthers were eliminated from postseason eligibility Saturday afternoon with a road loss to Virginia Tech, dropping Pitt to 4-7 on the year. Virginia will take on the Hokies next week in their regular-season finale on Friday night.