College Football Weekend Preview: SEC-ACC Rivalries Turned Up a Notch

Four inter-conference rivalries highlight Saturday's action: Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt-Wake Forest.

It's rivalry week in college football, which means it's time for the Iron Bowl, Bedlam and Ohio State-Michigan. Those are all great rivalries in their own right, but there's a set of interconference match-ups between the SEC and the ACC that deserve its own attention this weekend.

The stakes are different in each of the four games between the conferences, and each offers a different amount of history and intensity. But without doubt, the best football in America is played in the South, and that alone is worthy of any football viewer's consideration.

Florida-Florida State

The skinny: As two of the few remaining one-loss teams in America, Florida––and to a lesser extent, Florida State––still has an outside chance at playing for the national championship. And each team would love nothing better than to squash the hopes and dreams of its opponent.

The SEC might get all the respect and glory, but it's the ACC team that's won the past two in this rivalry.

Even though the Seminoles won last year, it wasn't exactly pretty. Florida State gained only 95 yards the entire game, but won on the strength of four interceptions by the defense.

It will be another battle on Saturday with points difficult to come by, as each team's calling card is on the defensive side of the football. The team that wins the turnover battle should win the game.

Senior to watch: Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel. Throwing for over 2,700 yards and 21 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions, Manuel has had a terrific senior season and has shown that he can be an early-round NFL Draft choice next year. He'll put the Seminoles in good position to win if he throws fewer interceptions than his counterpart on the other sideline, Gators quarterback Jacoby Brissett (assuming Jeff Driskell is still out due to injury).

Prediction: While they're not going to run wild, Mike Gillislee and the Gators should see enough success on the ground to get by the Seminoles in a hard-fought victory, 21-14. The game will be televised at 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC.

South Carolina-Clemson

The skinny: Clemson is ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings and South Carolina is ranked No. 12 as the teams meet in the Battle of the Palmetto State. Neither are candidates for the national championship, but state bragging rights are on the line in one of the highest-profile meetings in several seasons.

South Carolina hasn't been been able to be consistently good this year with the evidence pointing to the demolition of Georgia at home but getting blasted by Florida on the road. The Gamecocks must travel to Death Valley on Saturday, so they'll have to make a better effort than they did at Florida.

Clemson has a variety of playmakers on the offensive side of the football, but the improvement of quarterback Tajh Boyd might just be the biggest key to success this season. Boyd was good in 2011, but he's been among the best in the nation in 2012. His passer rating of 172.7 ranks second in FBS.

Senior to watch: Clemson running back Andre Ellington. Josh Norris of says of Ellington, "He's a great backside runner. He finds cutback lanes, and his burst and his straight-line speed, he can just outrun everyone." The South Carolina defense is ranked 13th in the nation. If Ellington can find room to run against the Gamecocks, Clemson will be in good shape.

Prediction: It will be tough to contain the Clemson offense for a full four quarters, especially at home. Tigers win 31-21. The game will be televised at 6:15 p.m. on ESPN.

Georgia-Georgia Tech

The skinny: Georgia is very much in the hunt for the national championship, and the opportunity is there for Georgia Tech to rain on their rival's parade in the game known as "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." Yet, Georgia knows all it has to do is win on Saturday and it will play Alabama in a game in which the winner will, in all likelihood, play for the crystal trophy.

Thanks to Miami's self-imposed postseason ban, Georgia Tech will be playing in the ACC Championship game next week. The Yellow Jackets can get excited about getting a chance to go to a BCS bowl game, but at the same time, there's a chance they'll finish with a less than .500 record if they lose to Georgia and again in the ACC title game. If that happens, they'll have to get an exemption from the NCAA in order to play in a bowl game.

Senior to watch: Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins. Checking in at more than 350 lbs., Jenkins is considered a potential first-round draft choice this upcoming April. Jenkins is a space eater that opens things up for linebackers like Jarvis Jones behind him. Facing Tech's option attack, Jenkins will be called upon to face an offense unlike any other he's seen this season.

Prediction: The Yellow Jackets have been playing better football as of late, but they won't be any match for Georgia. Bulldogs win 34-20. The game will be televised at 11:00 a.m. on ESPN.

Vanderbilt-Wake Forest

The skinny: There's not a rich history between Vanderbilt and Wake Forest, but they agreed to a seven-year series back in 2006, and it's a rivalry that makes sense for two small private schools in big conferences.

Vandy is in the midst of one of their best seasons ever, largely thanks to the work of head coach James Franklin, formerly a Packers assistant. Aaron Rodgers' brother Jordan Rodgers is doing a passable job at quarterback for the Commodores, but it's a balanced offensive system that brings Vandy most of its success.

Wake Forest, meanwhile, is in need of a victory in its season finale in order to go bowling. But for a team that hasn't had a signature win since Week 2 against North Carolina, it will be a tall task.

Senior to watch: Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. Though not a highly-rated prospect, Stacy still has a chance of playing on Sundays next fall if he can have a strong postseason from a bowl game to an all-star game to his pre-draft workouts. He rushed for over 1,000 yards last year and has a chance to do it again (854 currently).

Prediction: Wake Forest has its hopes of going bowling dashed by Vanderbilt, 27-17. The game will be televised at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU.


Where College Gameday Is At

The ESPN College Gameday crew will be in Los Angeles for USC-Notre Dame, and the stakes couldn't be higher, at least for the Fighting Irish. If Brian Kelly's crew wins, they get their ticket punched for the national championship.

While quarterback Everett Golson has improved as the season has progressed, it's all about the defense for Notre Dame. It's the last opportunity for linebacker Manti Te'o to make his push for Heisman consideration. With a couple big plays and a win, he could have a chance.

The challenge for Te'o and company will be to contain wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Lee is a Heisman contender himself, but because USC has lost four games this year, it will be tough for him to get the necessary backing. A big win over the Irish and a couple touchdowns could change that, though.

One big difference will be the person throwing Lee the football, freshman quarterback Max Wittek who is taking over for an injured Matt Barkley, hurt in last week's game against UCLA. Wittek has the pedigree and talent around him in order to be successful, but whether the Notre Dame defense allows him to be is another situation entirely.

Prediction: Considering all the attention this game will be receiving, and the fact that the Trojans really have nothing to gain other than bowl seeding, the pressure will be off. They'll play loose and it will show. They'll make several plays people wouldn't expect that will keep the game competitive, but USC will also make at least one big mistake that will cost them the game. Irish win and keep the dream season alive, 24-17. The game will be televised at 7:00 p.m. on ABC.


The Wisconsin Connection

Wisconsin and Penn State have identical 7-4 records. But if the Badgers want to win Saturday in Happy Valley, they're going to have to want it, really want it.

For Penn State, Saturday is their bowl game. The Nittany Lions are ineligible for the postseason, so despite a winning record, this will be their last game until next September.

The job Bill O'Brien has done at Penn State has been rather miraculous considering the circumstances: the defections, the bad press, the sanctions.

Among the most impressive things O'Brien has accomplished is how he's been able to resurrect the career of quarterback Matt McGloin who's looked inept during his first few seasons.

McGloin has passed for more than 3,000 yards this season with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions and a passer rating of 140.57. And he's been able to do all that with a receiving corps that's been ravaged by injuries and a transfer during the offseason.

The job of beating the Badgers will be made tougher without the services of linebacker Matt Mauti who's been the emotional leader for the Nittany Lions this season and a fine player on the field who's made 96 tackles, four for a loss and three interceptions. Mauti suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.

There's no consequences if Wisconsin loses. The Badgers will still play in the Big Ten championship game for the right to play in the Rose Bowl no matter what.

So if they're to beat Penn State, Wisconsin will have to be motivated. Perhaps the prospect of going into the title game on a two-game losing streak will be enough. The Badgers will rely on their running game as they always have, because the better Montee Ball does, the less pressure will be on quarterback Curt Phillips.

Prediction: It might not be pretty, but Wisconsin will come away with a win. The Badgers defense will hold the Penn State offense in check and Bucky will come away with a 24-21 victory. The game will be televised at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2.


Player Q&A

This week's exclusive player interview is with San Jose State tight end Ryan Otten whose Spartans are 9-2 this season. Otten has received an invite to the Senior Bowl.

Photo by Terrell Lloyd, San Jose State University athletics.

Question: What did it mean to San Jose State to win in a nationally-televised game last week against BYU?

Otten: It means a lot. It's probably the biggest win we've had since I've been here, and it's awesome to be able to show a lot of the country how far we've come in the past couple years and that we're a pretty good team now.

Question: This week you have Louisiana Tech. Can you give a scouting report on them and what makes them tough?

Otten: Obviously they're very explosive on offense. I think they're No. 1 in the country in offense and scoring offense, so we're going to have to score with them. Also, sometimes your best defense is a good offense, so we're going to have to control the clock and put up some points, help our defense out. It should be an exciting game.

Question: You average over 16 yards per catch, which is awesome for a tight end. What's been your secret to that success?

Otten: I'd say probably the guys I have around me. We're very talented at wide receiver and running back and quarterback. They can't really key on me too much. They also have to key on the wide receivers, and because of that, we've all had some pretty good success.

Question: What is your single best quality, the single best thing you bring to your team?

Otten: I think probably my versatility. I can line up in a lot of different spots and do a lot of different things in the pass game and the run game.

Question: What was your reaction to being invited to the Senior Bowl?

Otten: Really excited. I didn't even know invites were coming out that early. Coach Mac(Intyre) told me, and I was just really excited. I feel blessed, and it's a big honor. I hope I can go down an represent San Jose well.


What Happened Before Saturday

TCU upset Texas on Thanksgiving, and there was a whole slate of games on Black Friday, among them, LSU's 20-13 road win over rival Arkansas to keep alive their slim hopes of playing in the SEC championship alive.

The odds aren't good that LSU can win the SEC West. First of all, they need Texas A&M to beat Missouri, which isn't all that far-fetched. But they also need Auburn to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl, which is about as likely as eating hamburgers for Thanksgiving.

Still, LSU did its part and all they can do now is watch the day unfold. The Tigers gave up 462 yards of offense to the Razorbacks, but they kept them out of the end zone for the most part.

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger continued his recent improvement that started with the game against Alabama as he threw for 217 yards and a terrific one-handed touchdown catch by wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the first half.

Enjoy your football and turkey leftovers.

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