Saturday Storylines: Week 12
Wrigley Field fiasco has stolen the show heading into the Week 12 cupcake fest
Ohio State's quest for six straight Big Ten titles could hit a road block at Iowa
Nebraska can clinch the Big 12 North, but will the 12th man stand in its way?
The 10 things we're buzzing about as we reposition the ball to face the west end zone.
Got frosting?: Because Week 12 is loaded with cupcakes. BCS proponents like to preach that by preserving the current system, we are protecting the best regular season in sports. A season so grand, every game counts. But if the system is such a rare treasure, why does it give us weeks such as this? With three weeks of football remaining, the nation's top three teams are all on byes. Luckily, we've got grudge matches like Georgia State-Alabama, Troy-South Carolina, Appalachian State-Florida, Weber State-Texas Tech and Florida Atlantic-Texas to entertain us. Friday on SI.com, Andy Staples provided mathematical proof that more of this season's remaining games would count if a playoff were in place instead of the BCS. It was a sound and compelling argument -- and one that, as Andy would be the first to admit, could have been made by anyone with a calculator and access to a weekly schedule. Maybe the big boys will stop scheduling these meaningless late-season games if a creampuff pulls an upset. We're looking at you, FAU.
Take me out to the ballgame: How sad is the Week 12 slate? GameDay is going to watch Northwestern and Illinois play. Wrigley Field or no Wrigley Field, that pretty much says it all. Granted, End Zone Gate has added quite a bit of spice to an otherwise charming but secondary Big Ten affair. For those of you who have not turned on a television or computer in the last 24 hours, a quick recap: Early Friday morning, the Big Ten announced that the Illini and Wildcats would both run their offenses toward the west end zone due to safety concerns over the proximity of Wrigley's outfield wall to the east end zone. The consensus criticism went something like this: Why did it take this long for the involved parties to reach this decision? And why is the game being held at Wrigley to begin with if the football field flat out doesn't fit? It would have been neat to watch the first football game at the friendly confines since 1938 regardless. Now it'll be flat-out fascinating. By the way, Army and Notre Dame are playing at Yankee Stadium this weekend. Hard to believe the Yankees pulled this off seamlessly while the Cubs ran into disaster.
Big stakes in Big Ten: Iowa's loss to Northwestern whittled the Big Ten contenders to three, but the picture is not exactly clear. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State are all still alive. The Spartans face the easiest test of the week, getting 4-6 Purdue at home. The Buckeyes face the hardest task, heading the Iowa to face a Hawkeyes team looking for retribution after last week's crushing loss. The Badgers fall somewhere in between, landing a Michigan team that can post points in a hurry but plays sieve-like D. But back to the Buckeyes, who are working toward a sixth straight shared or outright Big Ten title: Ohio State has fared well at Kinnick Stadium, winning six of its last seven contests, but Iowa has been best at home, outscoring opponents 208-54. If Ohio State gets out to an early lead, Iowa will have a hard time evening the score. If the Hawkeyes shut down Terrelle Pryor and Co. early, it could be a different story.
The 12th man: Ryan Tannehill has generated most of the headlines during Texas A&M's four-game win streak, and understandably so. Tannehill has thrown 10 touchdowns during that span, and the Aggies have averaged 488.3 yards. But let's not forget about fellow fill-in Cyrus Gray, who topped 100 yards in each of those wins while rushing for eight touchdowns. Tannehill and Gray will be facing their toughest test yet when Nebraska's blackshirts come to town, but the Aggies are hoping to get a boost from their third weapon: the 12th man. A&M has pulled a school-record 31,005 student tickets for the game, and athletic direction Bill Byrne has instructed the Kyle Field staff to create as much additional seating and standing room as possible. Nebraska fell apart amid the madness of the Texas game -- and that was in Lincoln. The Huskers have some wiggle room with a game remaining against Colorado, but Texas A&M is out of the race if it doesn't pull the upset. The Aggies know it, and so does the crowd.
Packed house: There is a definite disconnect between the Pac-10's reputation and the Pac-10's bowl reality. Many thought this preseason that the Pac-10 would be the nation's best and deepest league, and one could argue that's proven to be true. The league is the top-ranked conference according to the Sagarin Ratings and boasts the nation's top team in Oregon. But with USC ineligible, there's a very real chance only three Pac-10 teams (Oregon, Stanford, Arizona) will be bowl eligible. Considering the league has produced five or more bowl teams every year since 1996, that's a bit of a puzzler. Cal is best positioned to become bowl team No. 4, needing one win in its final two games against Stanford and Washington, both of which are in Berkeley. The Game always has the potential for drama, and Cal's defense has been lights out at Memorial Stadium. But if the Bears come out hung over after failing to knock off Oregon last week, Andrew Luck and Stanford will be poised to strike.
Yes he 'Cane: Three weeks ago, there was a lot of talk about Miami burning Stephen Morris' red shirt. Now, most of the talk is about whether the Hurricanes should stick with the freshman even once former starter Jacory Harris is medically cleared to return from a concussion. Morris can earn even more support this weekend when Miami battles Virginia Tech with the Coastal Division title on the line. He hasn't posted jaw-dropping stats -- 28-of-48, 516 yards, two touchdowns, two picks in two starts -- but the offense has been clicking with him under center. And though the 'Canes have leaned on their tailbacks since losing Harris, Morris has shown he can make the big play when he needs to (just ask Maryland). They say guys are no longer freshmen at this point in the season. Maybe the truth is they're no longer freshmen if they have a target as good as Leonard Hankerson.
Bedlam awaits: Oklahoma State can win the Big 12 South even with a loss Saturday. Oklahoma cannot. Luckily for the Sooners, this weekend's opponent is Baylor, against whom Oklahoma is 19-0 all time. But this year may be different. For starters, Baylor is a seven-win, bowl-eligible team for the first time since joining the Big 12. For another, this game takes place in Waco, and Oklahoma has lost four straight conference road games dating back to last season. Landry Jones is 1-5 in road games since taking over as Oklahoma quarterback, though he's delivered neutral site wins against Cincinnati and Texas. One month ago, the Sooners were the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. Now they're facing possible losses to Baylor and little brother OK-State. One would be bad enough. Both truly would be bedlam.
Mississippi mud: Auburn and South Carolina may have locked up spots in the SEC title game, but that doesn't mean they're the only SEC teams sniffing the BCS. LSU is all but guaranteed an at-large berth if it finishes with just one loss, while fellow SEC West also-ran Arkansas has a shot if it wins out. Next week's meeting will decide which squad has the at-large edge, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, because neither faces a gimme this week. LSU plays Ole Miss, and though the Rebels are down, they've made a habit of knocking off ranked Tigers teams the past two years. Arkansas plays much-improved Mississippi State, but has been scoring at will during a four-game win streak. Les Miles has already started making his pitch. Bobby Petrino might want to begin crafting a draft.
Your requisite Big East update: Here's a fun little nugget to mull: Pitt, which holds a one-game lead in a BCS conference heading into Week 12, has yet to qualify for a bowl. The Panthers will attempt to achieve that feat Saturday against a South Florida team that's as hot as any in the Big East -- which admittedly is not saying much. The establishment will be rooting for Skip Holtz's Bulls, because at the end of the day a three-loss team is better than a four-loss team. Speaking of three-loss teams: Syracuse can keep its tiebreaker hopes alive with a win over resurgent UConn. Unfortunately for Syracuse, this game takes place at the Dome. The Orange are one of three FBS teams with five road wins on the year, but are just 2-2 at home.
Michigan milestone: Cam Newton's sizeable shadow has so thoroughly eclipsed the rest of college football that it's strange to recall the season's opening stretch, when Denard Robinson was king. Robinson has struggled during Michigan's 2-5 stretch, throwing eight interceptions and delivering his only three sub-100-yard rushing games of the year. But he's still closing in on a record season. With 1,417 rush yards, Robinson enters Saturday 77 yards shy of the all-time record for rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback. He also still rates as the nation's second-leading rusher, trailing Oregon's LaMichael James by a mere five yards.