In the penultimate week of the regular season for most conferences, with wary eyes on the high-profile rivalry games that blanket Thanksgiving weekend, it’s traditional for a goodly number of college football’s top teams to hit the dessert table first. Three of the top 11 teams in the BCS standings are hosting FCS teams this week. Another is playing Idaho, which is almost the same thing. No. 3 Ohio State is hosting Indiana, which is a conference game that won’t look like one from the scoreboard.
How many points do y’all reckon the haves of the Big Six can score in Week 13?But these are not their stories. Unless/until something goes terribly, terribly wrong in a presumed cakewalk, we’re too #blessed this week to bother with those teams, what with five Top 25 pairings spread across the slate:
All times Eastern.
On Your Marquee
• No. 4 Baylor at no. 10 Oklahoma State. The advantage of the Steadfastly Inaccurately Named Big 12 being a 10-team conference without divisions or a conference championship game: Control of the entire league is in play the whole way. Undefeated Baylor tops the conference standings with a 6-0 Big 12 record, and is pursued closely by Oklahoma State and Texas, who have 6-1 conference marks and also happen to be two of the Bears’ final three regular-season opponents. Unscathed on the scoreboard, if not on the injury report, and separated from no. 3 Ohio State by a gossamer-thin margin in the latest BCS standings, all the Bears can do is win and wish ill on other contenders.
Baylor has faced one 10th-ranked team already this season, at home a couple weeks back. After a pokey start, the Bears smoked the Sooners, 41-12. Oklahoma State has beaten its two ranked opponents, then-15th Texas Tech and then-24th Texas, by a combined margin of 90-47. Both Baylor and OSU weathered recent personnel swaps, with the Cowboys changing starting quarterbacks and the Bears’ fourth-string running back putting up a 100-yard game. Both have knotty injury problems that sprang up right when Big 12 action was getting good. And both have underrated defenses about to face their most vigorous confrontations of the year.
We love you and we want you to be happy, people of Internet. Don’t you dare miss this game. (8 p.m., ABC)
• No. 19 Wisconsin at no. 25 Minnesota. While we’re celebrating ascendant programs (DUKE FOOTBALL, Y’ALL), raise your glasses and shake your tails for the Golden Gophers, who have scrambled into the BCS standings for the first time since 2008 despite operating for periods of time without their head coach. That’s the good news for Minnesota. The bad news: Melvin Gordon, James White, and Corey Clement, who’ve combined for 2,977 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns in 10 Wisconsin games. Between those three and Minnesota’s own multipronged ground game, led by David Cobb, expect this game to clock the fastest finish of any midafternoon contest, and thank Football Jesus: Minneapolis temperatures on Saturday are expected to peak at a balmy 16 degrees. Stay warm and run straight, kids. (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
• No. 12 Texas A&M at no. 22 LSU. No division titles or BCS bids are on the line here, but devotees of the on-field stylings of one Jonathan F. Football-Manziel, Esq. will note that the remaining time in which to watch him play college football draws short. And the game’s in Death Valley. And LSU’s defense has been hospitable this year to less potent offenses than that of the Aggies. And A&M’s defense has been a gracious shootout-enabling unit to just about all comers this season. And Les Miles hasn’t been his eminently quotable self the past couple of weeks, and you have to think he’s about due for some noteworthy out-loud reverie or other. (3:30 p.m., CBS)
• No. 17 Arizona State at no. 14 UCLA. Here’s a game that will align the rooting interests of UCLA and USC fans for a week: In order for USC, and by extension Internet mascot Ed Orgeron, to claim the Pac-12 South title, the Trojans must win out (at Colorado in Week 13 and versus the Bruins in Week 14), and the Sun Devils, who are one game ahead in the standings and hold the head-to-head advantage, must lose out. For one Saturday only, Red Team and Blue Team Los Angeles will unite in support of Myles Jack & Friends. Will this be the game in which a team is both prepared and capable of stopping the Bruins’ most versatile resource? (7 p.m., Fox)
• No. 8 Missouri at no. 24 Ole Miss. Meanwhile, in the SEC East:Missouri currently has sole possession of its division and has its starting quarterback back. Missouri also has two more conference games between it and the SEC East title, both versus ranked opponents. Get past Ole Miss, and the Tigers’ reward is a visit from Johnny Football in Week 14. Survive that, and it’s on to Atlanta and, presumably, Alabama. (7:45 p.m., ESPN)
Weeknight Football and You
The best of the weeknight games have already come and gone; if you’re just tuning in, you’ve already missed NIU-Toledo and this marvel of a Large Guy Hurdling Things Touchdown from Kent State–Ohio:
Still to come: Rutgers at no. 18 Central Florida (7:30, ESPN), Rice at UAB (7:30, Fox Sports 1), and UNLV at Air Force (9:30, ESPNU) on Thursday, plus Navy at San Jose State (9:30, ESPN2) on Friday.
Q&A: Mike Gundy
Excerpts from a chat with no. 10 Oklahoma State’s head coach, on the Cowboys’ penchant for doing more with less and the future of the college football postseason.
Even when it’s brought on by necessity, Oklahoma State seems to have an easier time adjusting to new quarterbacks than most teams. Are there any particular factors you’d credit for that?
Well, honestly, we’re not sure. We feel like we have a system on offense that we have enough flexibility where we can run it more, throw it more, do more drop-back passing or play action, based on the strength of the quarterback that we have playing in our system.
We feel like unselfish football in the team game is very important here. We talk about the other 10 players on offense, meaning the one that doesn’t have the football. I think our society today is not built that way, and it’s kind of a lost art. And we’re lucky that the players that we’ve had, they understand our system and they’re unselfish. So their attitude’s good; the [other] players watch and they see that they have a good attitude. No matter who the quarterback is, it’s your job to support him. We don’t pick sides. I think we stress that as a coaching staff.
The comfort level the players seem to have with both quarterbacks seems like it would have to develop really quickly, given OSU’s inclination for short practices. When did you guys first look at cutting back on reps?
Four or five years ago. We sit down as a staff … three times during the year, and talk about our program, like most companies do. How we can make things better. Four or five years ago, we realized that we were practicing way too much, and our players physically couldn’t hold up throughout the season, year-round. Offseason training, summer conditioning, winter conditioning, and then the season. And so we sat in there and started to cut down on total reps. We tried to figure out the exact number of steps that guys would take, and we reduced it considerably.
How do you sell that to guys coming in?
I think our players are fresh. From a recruiting aspect, players want to come to Oklahoma State University to graduate, have a chance to win a championship, be a part of the team. But most of them also have the desire to play in the NFL. And so when they come here, we feel like their bodies will be in better shape four years later than when they got here. And I don’t think that would be the norm across the country. I think by the time most college football players leave, their bodies are beat up, and they’re not the same as they were when they showed up, but that’s not the case here. We tell ’em the truth: We haven’t had a full scrimmage, an all-out live scrimmage, here in four or five years. Spring, summer, fall, any time.
Does that obsession with keeping your players fresh affect your opinions on further conference expansion? Would you like to see the Big 12 get back to the point where it has enough teams to play a conference championship?
No, I don’t think it’s best for our conference. I think it’s a difficult task to finish high enough after playing league games, to be high enough in the BCS standings or where you’ll be able to get into a playoff game in the future. So I don’t think it’s important, I don’t think it’s smart for our league to have a championship game.
I’m concerned about the seasons we have now. The television market’s extended our season so that our players start August 1 and we finish December 7, I think, this year. That’s a long season for a college football player. They’re getting close to what the same time schedule would be for an NFL player.
So, safe to say you’d be against the eventual transition to an eight-team playoff?
I think what’s going to happen is there’s going to be a huge television and fan market for the four-game playoff, and they’re going to get big-time money and advertisements, and then at some point there’s going to be a committee that sits down and says, “Why don’t we have an eight-team playoff?” Because ultimately, in the end, it’s all about the dollar. As coaches we don’t like that, as players we don’t like that, but as administrators they do. And so I think it’ll expand. I don’t think it’ll be long.
• Most unfortunate punning opportunity: The Big Game? More like the Big Gain! Does the SEC ever loan out Daniel Moore, the Alabama artist who churns out and sells canvas depictions of famous plays to sentimental alumni? Would Moore consider a brief change of scenery, knowing Tyler Gaffney’s about to be unleashed on the Bears’ defense? (Cal at no. 9 Stanford, 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
• Most promising nightcap: Week 13 is light on late-night fare, but there are a couple points of interest: Washington at Oregon State (10:30 p.m., ESPN2) offers the chance for another look at presumptive Huskies QB of the future and current Keith Price fill-in Cyler Miles, while Boise State at San Diego State (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports) has the potential to shape the Mountain West race: A Broncos loss could send Utah State to the conference championship game instead.
• Best rivalry game: “Best” is defined here by a complicated and proprietary algorithm relying solely on the trophy awarded to the winning team, utilizing the following rigorous hierarchy:
1. Sculptures of meat
3. Cute animals
4. Deadly weapons
The abovementioned Wisconsin-Minnesota series actually fulfills criteria 1 and 4; the game now played for Paul Bunyan’s Axe once awarded a slab of bacon carved from black walnut.1
• How likely is it that no. 1 Alabama and/or no. 2 Florida State will lose this weekend, reopening the race for slots in the BCS title game? Granted: It is November. Things happen. They happen a lot:
In past 15 years, only 6 times did No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Week 5 BCS poll both make BCS title game
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) November 18, 2013
However: The Tide are hosting Chattanooga this weekend (2 p.m., ESPN3), and the Noles get Idaho at home (3:30 p.m., ESPNU). The forecast calls for clear skies, prevailing winds from the garnet and crimson sidelines, and plenty of rest for the starters.
(For the latest on the unfolding Jameis Winston investigation, click here.)
• How likely is it that the BCS-busting hopefuls will lose in Week 13? Northern Illinois: Impossibly unlikely, since the no. 16 Huskies clinched the MAC West on Wednesday night. Fresno State: Not likely, seeing as the no. 15 Bulldogs are playing 3-7 New Mexico in Fresno (4 p.m., ESPNews). It might be worth tuning in early if the Lobos are running well, but there’s a lot of interesting football happening elsewhere in that middle flight of games.
• The ACC Coastal race: What the hell? Games of interest for those tracking which teams are on pace to get flung at Florida State in Charlotte: Duke at Wake Forest (noon, ESPN2) and Virginia at Miami (noon, ESPNU).
• Which winless team has the best shot at a victory on Saturday? Connecticut, maybe, but tread with caution: The Huskies are traveling to 1-9 Temple (7 p.m., ESPN3), but the Owls looked frisky in last week’s near-upset of Central Florida and are better than their record indicates. Hawaii’s another guess; the Warriors are traveling a long way to get to Wyoming, but the Cowboys are in a bit of a free-fall at the moment (2 p.m., The Mountain).2
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Dukes
2. Ellington and His Orchestra
3. Neely O’Hara–era Patty
4. Blue Devils football
5. Randolph and Mortimer
6. Of Hazzard outhouse destruction scene
“What we were, we ain’t, and what we is, now, is good. How’s that?” —Art Briles
CORRECTION: This column originally asked readers to “shake their hairless tails” for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. We have learned that the animal Minnesota identifies as a gopher for mascot purposes is known in other parts of the country as a “ground squirrel.” The Minnesota mascot’s tail is not hairless. We regret the error.