Remember those sharply dressed fellows in last week’s What to Watch? You know… the ones desperately trying to gain entry into that South Beach BCS night club? Their names were Iowa, TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State and LSU. Well, the lights are coming on and last call is rapidly approaching. This weekend, one of those teams has the opportunity to finagle its way to the front of the line. The others must continue to sit back and watch, hoping the BCS voters who work the door look favorably upon them, which is unlikely if Florida, Texas and Alabama continue to handle their business. The NFL doesn’t rely on doormen, but its season is no less exciting. This Sunday, the NFL reaches its midseason. As one avid SportsChump reader pointed out, we have six games pitting over-.500 teams against each other this weekend, a rarity for this late in the season. Sounds like a separation Sunday worth watching.
The biggest game of the weekend tangles two top ten teams, the Tigers and the Tide, in Tuscaloosa. If Alabama wins, they’ll secure the SEC West and assure themselves a chance to play Florida in the SEC Championship. If LSU wins, they’ll have a tiebreak advantage over the Tide and can force a rematch against Florida if they win out. If LSU hopes to handle Alabama, however, they’ll have to stop Heisman candidate Mark Ingram who has already rushed for 1,000 yards on 6.6 yards per carry. LSU had won the last five meetings in this rivalry before ‘Bama ended that streak last year with a 27-21 overtime victory. Oh yeah, and in case you’ve forgotten, Alabama’s Nick Saban, used to coach at LSU.
Now that the Ducks are in the drivers seat in the Pac-10, let’s see if they can stand prosperity. Keep in mind, Stanford stunned USC not long ago so they’re not a program to be overlooked. Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has yet to confirm whether running back LeGarrette Blount will be reinstated for the game. Blount was suspended earlier this season for sucker-punching Boise State’s Byron Hout after the game. Blount, who has been practicing with the team, hasn’t been missed all that much as his backup, freshman LaMichael James, is averaging 7 yards per carry. Oregon hasn’t lost that first game, but the Ducks still have four conference games they must win to secure a Rose Bowl berth. Meanwhile, Stanford has yet to lose at home this season.
Earlier this season, most football fans had assumed these two schools would contend for the Big Ten title. Then Iowa decided to win every game on its schedule. Despite Iowa’s success, neither the Buckeyes nor the Nittany Lions are out of contention yet. Ohio State hosts Iowa next week, meaning a victory this Saturday puts them in the driver’s seat. Win out and it’s a Buckeye Rose Bowl. Lose and the rumblings of whether Terrelle Pryor is suited for Jim Tressel’s offense will linger. Penn State leads the nation in points allowed (9.3), however, if the Bucks can put a few touchdowns on the board and come away with a huge road victory, celebration will ensue in Columbus.
(24) Oklahoma at Nebraska – (Saturday, 8:00 pm – ABC – Okla minus 4)
It seems odd to not mention Oklahoma-Nebraska as a relevant football game, so out of respect for the rivalry, I’ll include it in this week’s ‘What to Watch.’ At the beginning of the season, most probably thought this game afforded Nebraska the chance to play spoiler to the Sooners national championship hopes. Then Oklahoma lost its Heisman trophy winner to a shoulder injury. Nebraska hasn’t beaten Oklahoma since 2001 and will likely be looking to kick the Sooners while they’re down.
Cardinals (4-3) at Bears (4-3) – (Sunday, 1:00 pm – FOX – CHI minus 3)
Sure this is a battle between two over-.500 teams, but if it weren’t for Arizona leading its own division, both teams would be outside the playoff race looking in. The good news for Bears fans is that they still have Minnesota left twice on their schedule. The bad news for Bears fans is that they still have Minnesota left twice on their schedule. The Bears are tied with Green Bay in the NFC North but have already lost to them once. They are, however, coming off successive scrimmages against the Browns and Bengals in which they outscored those teams 75-16. The Cardinals are still struggling to find their Super Bowl form of last year. Kurt Warner is coming off a five interception let-down to one of the worst teams in the league. He might want to locate his receivers more accurately this week if they hope to come out with a win.
If there’s something that Steelers fans enjoy as much as winning Super Bowls, it’s watching division rivals beat up on each other. At times, both the Ravens and the Bengals have looked like Super Bowl contenders, yet on other weekends, they’ve looked like busts. The Bengals have already beaten Baltimore earlier this season, holding them to a season-low 257 yards. The Ravens will be looking to return that favor. There is little room for error atop the AFC North.
It’s about time an AFC South team runs with the undefeated Colts. The Jaguars and Titans have struggled this season, leaving the Texans with the best chance. Behind Peyton Manning, the Colts are once again the class of the division, yet he’s still unhappy with his team’s play. Only a Peyton Manning-led 7-0 team could still gripe about its imperfections. Their record might be somewhat misleading considering they’ve only played one team over .500, but 7-0 is still 7-0. This will be a great road test for the Texans who are looking to go three games over .500 for the first time in franchise history.
I recently lost a wager to a friend of mine. We were watching last Monday night’s game between the Falcons and the Saints. I forget how the actual wager came about, although I’m sure whiskey was involved. I was impressed by how the Falcons controlled time of possession early on against New Orleans. My buddy felt the Dolphins controlled the clock better. He bet me the Fish had better numbers when it came to time of possession. Thinking the Falcons were the more balanced offense, I mistakenly took his wager. The wildcat-lovin’ Dolphins are fourth in the NFL in time of possession per game (32:52). Unfortunately for them, they travel to Foxboro this weekend to face the Patriots who lead the league in time of possession at 35 minutes. This game itself is of crucial importance to the Pats, who have a better overall record than Miami, but are 1-1 in the division while the Fish are 3-0. The Pats can not afford the loss while the Fish know they have the Patriots just where they want them… if they can control the clock.
Chargers (4-3) at Giants (5-3) – (Sunday, 4:15 pm – CBS – NYG minus 4.5)
The Giants better hope the Yankees are a good luck charm, for the city’s other recent world champion has been on the slide lately. The Giants have lost their last three. This Sunday’s Chargers-Giants matchup will feature two teams of contrasting styles, both struggling to find their former identities. After an inconsistent start, the Chargers have won their last two, but are on their verge of a three-game stretch where they’ll face New York, Philadelphia and Denver. LaDainian Tomlinson hasn’t been himself lately, but he did rush for two touchdowns last week against the Raiders. He’ll look to have continued success this week against a Giants team that is surprisingly 24th in the league against the run.
Another weekend, another bruising NFC East battle. This week, the Cowboys will try to fare a little better than the Giants did in Philly last week. With the Giants recent cold streak, the winner of this game can give themselves a leg up in the division, although Dallas needs it more as they’re still winless in the NFC East. They have not lost in a month, however, averaging over 30 points a game during that streak. Miles Austin has become Tony Romo’s number one option, scoring five touchdowns over that stretch, including a ridiculous 250-yard game. Then again, none of that came against Philly’s defense.
When will the Broncos finally get some respect? People were shocked they started the season 6-0. After their first loss of the season last week to Baltimore, they’re home underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roesthlisberger, one of the league’s leading passers, will take his show on the road this Monday against the league’s stingiest defense. The Steelers once again lead the NFL in rushing yards allowed, so Kyle Orton may have to prove he can air it out against Pittsburgh’s defense. He might want to realize Troy Polomalu is back on the field and looking to get his team back to the Super Bowl.