Week 13 NCAA football preview: The Whole Nine Yards with Mia O'Brien
By MIA O'BRIEN
College Contributor Network
Thanks to all who read/humored a special edition of "The Whole Nine Yards" last week -- and thanks to all for the kind words following Ithaca College's heartbreaking, fifth straight loss in the Cortaca Jug game.
As much as it's tough making ESPN for all the wrong reasons, I know I felt immense pride that the Ithaca College students kept their heads held high and remained most respectful to the host Red Dragons and their fans. To get to the parking lot and buses, IC fans literally had to walk through the entire pack of exiting, SUNY Cortland fans; neither side threw punches, neither side got rowdy. Sure, some yelling back and forth, but compared to what could have happened -- especially after the events of last year's installment of the game... a very classy showing by the fans.
And, oh yeah, while everyone continues to laugh at what might be a "greater game than Alabama-Auburn 2013" the Bombers are still going to the playoffs; the Red Dragons with their fifth straight Jug but finish their season with a .500 record.
While you were away...
While those of us in Central New York were busy worrying over a $2 jug... down went the No. 1 team in the country.
Mississippi State fell to the now top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide last week, proving what we all already knew: the SEC West is truly a dog fight. Which is why, as Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said after the game, aside from losing their undefeated record, there's no need to fear if you're Mississippi State as "every other goal is still ahead of us."
For all we know, Western Carolina could surprise the Crimson Tide this weekend. Or, more likely, the Auburn Tigers could come back to haunt Tuscaloosa for the second straight year in two weeks.
Moral of the story is that this was not a "blowout" by any stretch of the imagination. Dak Prescott threw three picks, but he also threw for almost 300 yards; the Crimson Tide's defense may have "won" the game with a decisive, fourth quarter stand, but the Bulldogs also held Alabama to 124 yards on the ground -- and held Blake Sims to just over 200 yards in the air.
Thus, as Mullen alluded to, the Bulldogs aren't in the doghouse just yet. But they'll need some help from some of their SEC counterparts to once again regain the top spot.
Still hanging around
As much as they may not be featured in the top four, potential playoff teams heading into Week 13, there's still plenty of reason to show love for the Big 12 -- particularly TCU and the still-very-much-alive Baylor Bears.
Ranked fifth and sixth in the AP Top 25, respectively, both teams have but one loss on their record (TCU's was to Baylor, while the Bears lost to West Virginia the very next week), and those losses came in Weeks Seven and Eight. Since then, the two Midwest teams have been like runaway trains, steamrolling past the likes of Oklahoma, Kansas State, and those pesky Mountaineers of West Virginia.
They've also made the Big Twelve crown very clear: it's going to be in Texas by season's end -- although whether that be in Waco or Fort Worth is yet to be determined.
Will Beantown finally fall?
I mean, Rome did, so there's plenty of reason to believe the end might be near for some of Boston's teams this weekend -- and those visiting.
Undefeated Harvard will be the host of ESPN's College Game Day this week as they take on the 8-1 Yale Bulldogs. The visiting Bulldogs lead the Crimson in the all-time series, but by the narrow margin of 65-57-8. Perhaps the most interesting fact about the 139-year-old rivalry is that the first "Game" (played in November 1875) was only the second time two American colleges faced off in a ball-carrying form of the game.
Will Harvard be able to make that all-times series margin tighter with a win this weekend? If there's one thing you need to know about the Crimson before Saturday it's that their offense may not put up "ESPN highlight-worthy" numbers -- they're averaging just over 30 points a game -- but their defense will be entertaining to say the least.
The Crimson allow an average of 80 yards rushing and, with the exception of their game against UPenn last weekend, Harvard hasn't allowed more than 18 points all season. They did eek out a tough, 34-24 win over the Quakers last week though, so can the Bulldogs capitalize? They've certainly got the offense to do it (averaging 43 points a game) but they're also giving up nearly 400 yards a game.
Safe to say that "defense will win 'The Game'" this weekend, but a different tale will be told on the other side of the Charles River, as Boston College hosts another undefeated team: reigning national champion Florida State. Jameis Winston and company just squeaked out another game last week, and have somehow not lost a game in the ACC this season -- probably because it's the ACC, but hey, who's counting!
A tough task against the Eagles' offense could finally spell trouble for the Seminoles, though. Although senior quarterback Tyler Murphy has struggled at times in the air (nine touchdowns as compared to 10 interceptions), he can do it with his feet, also notching nine rushing touchdowns. Add in Jon Hillman's 11 touchdowns on the ground and the Seminoles' at-times-abysmal rush defense, and things just got very interesting up in Boston.
What to watch for
Since we've neglected to mention the Pac-12 thus far in this week's column, how about some of the matchups on the West Coast in Week 13? The "Battle of Los Angeles" gets underway with No. 9 UCLA (yes, still hanging around in the national rankings...) hosting No. 19 USC; meanwhile, No. 17 Utah hosts No. 15 Arizona in what should be a very close game.
So, yes, if you noticed that all four of those teams are ranked, the Pac-12 title is still very much up for grabs -- at least the Pac-12 South that is. While Oregon has had a cake walk through the North division, all but one of the six teams in the Pac-12 South remain ranked in the Top 20 in the nation -- not even Top 25. These two matchups -- combined with next week's Sun State battle royale between ASU and Arizona -- will determine what is sure to be a wild race to the finish.
If Pacific Coast Time doesn't suit your fancy this weekend, one of the more underrated matchups to watch just might be Ole Miss-Arkansas. Surely, the Razorbacks are the cellar dweller of the SEC West -- but the last-place team there would surely be a second- or third-place team in most any other division. They had a big, shutout win of LSU last week (following the Tigers' beatdown on Alabama) so they've got momentum in Fayetteville -- plus, they're the home team.
And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Big Ten at least once, so look out for Michigan State against the somehow-bowl-eligible Rutgers Scarlet Knights. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how Michigan State finishes out its season following the loss to Ohio State that more or less cost them the conference title -- save if Indiana or Michigan can pull an upset the next two weeks and spell the Buckeyes' comeback season.
Who to watch for
All the talk surrounding Georgia running back Todd Gurley -- both good and bad -- is understandable, but how about "the other" Bulldog running back, Nick Chubb? The freshman has just as many touchdowns as Gurley (nine), over 1,000 yards on the ground, and, oh yes, is a freshman.
With those statistics, don't think this kid can't carry Georgia and, should other teams falter, they'll still be in the SEC title/playoff discussion in a few weeks' time. Although with the absence of Gurley the Bulldogs have taken to the air and quarterback Huston Mason more, the running game was their bread and butter coming into 2014 -- and it might be their ultimate weapon in the SEC East.
Speaking of the SEC East: Georgia owns the head-to-head advantage should Mizzou lose one of its next two games (against Tennessee and Arkansas, respectively). So, just like its sister division, this one could very well be far from over.
For your reading (or viewing) pleasure
I know we spotlighted it above, but how intense is the Harvard-Yale rivalry? Just ask their student body presidents...
Division III playoff picture
The NCAA revealed its 32-team bracket last Sunday, with some surprises for at-large bids (North Central missing out, Muhlenberg over Framingham State/St. John Fisher, several University of Wisconsin teams -- most notably Oshkosh -- getting passed over), it will be business as usual for Division III's upper echelon of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mount Union, Mary Hardin Baylor, and Wesley.
What will be most interesting to see is what happens should/when these teams match up in the later rounds of the tournament. In particular, I'm looking at the potential matchup between the Wesley Wolverines and Mount Union.
The latter is the perennial powerhouse and has the most national championships at this level of college football; the Wolverines are the up-and-coming, offensive powerhouse that averages a ridiculous 51 points a game. End result: what very well could be a "changing of the guard" for the Raiders and Wisconsin-Whitewater's stronghold on the Stagg Bowl, the national championship. The two sides have faced off in eight of the last nine title games, with Wisconsin-Whitewater missing out in 2012. It could very well be Mount Union's turn this year.
More or less, it's safe to say that Division III's top four teams will be featured in the semi-final round of the tournament. But don't sleep on the likes of a team like No. 5 Wartburg or former top-five Linfield -- especially in light of the tragedy that hit the Wildcats, as linebacker Parker Moore was stabbed to death late Saturday night.
With one of the biggest fanbases in all of Division III football, Linfield could rally its way back into the conversation of being a "top-five" caliber team and make a run at the Stagg Bowl -- although a potential, second-round matchup with Mary Hardin Baylor looms.
The last laugh
One of the coolest things I've ever seen -- ever wonder what it's like to parachute into a football stadium? Ever wonder what it's like to parachute into an Alabama-Mississippi State game?
Mia O'Brien is a senior at Ithaca College's Roy H. Park School of Communications, where basically everyone calls her "Mobrien." She's a fan of country music, a good debate, and French dressing -- in no particular order. For sports updates, random musings, and many a creative hashtag, follow her on Twitter: @OBSportsLive16