What a difference a week makes. Notre Dame and the SEC appeared to be outsiders to the BCS National Championship, needing help to play for the title. With Turkey Day just around the corner, though, both Kansas State and Oregon were in giving moods last weekend. The Wildcats went into Baylor and got mauled by the Bears, 52-24. Meanwhile, the Ducks lost an overtime heartbreaker to a rough and tumble Stanford squad, 17-14.
That means Irish eyes are smiling, as Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the country for the first time in almost 19 years. Alabama moves back into the title picture as well, and the SEC Championship against an underrated Georgia squad should send one of those teams into the BCS championship. Still, as last week's slate of games showed, anything is possible until the final bell sounds.
As a thrilling rivalry week looms, let's look at this week's College Football Barometer.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri - The freshman phenom known as DGB came into the 2012 campaign as arguably the top recruit in the country. However, he struggled out of the gate due to a combination of adjusting to the college game, off-field issues and a crowded wide receiving corps. He finally made his presence felt recently, though, as DGB has scored three touchdowns in his last two games. With 17 grabs over his last four games, Green-Beckham has become the go-to receiver for the Tigers. Expect him to make some more noise at Texas A&M, a contest the Tigers should trail for a large part of the game.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor - Seastrunk has come out of virtual anonymity and exploded the last three weeks. He was one of the catalysts in Saturday's drubbing of previously top-ranked Kansas State, carrying 19 times for 185 yards and a touchdown. The last three games, he has rushed 51 times for a staggering 379 yards and four scores. Baylor finishes the season against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, two squads that are not exactly known for their defensive prowess. Seastrunk should be a stellar start for the remainder of the season.
Jordan Rodgers, QB, Vanderbilt - Another player who has really come on of late is Rodgers, the younger brother of reigning NFL MVP Aaron. Jordan has thrown for at least 217 yards and two touchdowns in each of the last four games for the Commodores. Rodgers is surrounded by talented weapons in running back Zac Stacy and wideout Jordan Matthews, giving him ample opportunities to get the ball to playmakers and find the promised land. Vanderbilt finishes the regular season at Wake Forest, a squad that allows 39.7 points per game, including at least 37 in three of its last four tilts.
Shadrach Thornton, RB, NC State - Thornton has bounced back and forth as the featured back for the Wolfpack but appears to have a stranglehold on the job heading into the last regular season game against Boston College. Thornton has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last two games, while also catching five passes for 65 yards out of the backfield. B.C. is on a three-game losing streak and has allowed 29.9 points per game in 2012, making Thornton a stellar play.
Max Wittek, QB, USC - Matt Barkley injured his shoulder late in Saturday's loss to UCLA and will miss USC's final regular-season game against Notre Dame. That means redshirt freshman Max Wittek will lead the Trojans against the visiting Irish. A four-star recruit out of football factory Mater Dei high school in Southern California, Wittek has seen limited action this season, including his relief effort in place of the injured Barkley on Saturday that netted 40 yards on 3-of-3 passing. This season, he's completed eight of nine passes for 95 yards and a score. An untested Wittek might not be the best play against one of the nation's top defenses, but Barkley owners might have few options this week. Monitor the situation closely.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State - Manuel has been lighting it up recently, tossing seven touchdowns in his last three games for the Seminoles. Manuel torched Virginia Tech for 326 yards Nov. 8, then completed 73.9 percent of his throws at Maryland last weekend. Despite this hot streak, Manuel faces the toughest defense on FSU's schedule this weekend in the Florida Gators. Florida is third in the nation in points allowed, yielding just 11.7 points per game. FSU has played just one ranked opponent this season, meaning Manuel has been largely untested despite a 10-1 record. In other words, start Manuel at your own peril this weekend.
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern - Mark hasn't finished the last two games for the Wildcats due to an "upper extremity" injury. He had just six carries for eight yards last week against Michigan State. One of the best runners in the country, Mark has rushed for 1,183 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Averaging a robust 6.1 yards per carry in 2012, Mark would make for an excellent start against Illinois, if deemed fit to play. The Illini allow 30.5 points per game, good for just 84th in the nation.
Brandon Ford, TE, Clemson - There are so many options for the Tigers, it's easy for Ford to get lost in all the offensive hoopla. Still, the 6-foot-3, 235, tight end has found the end zone eight times this season and is coming off of a career-high five-catch, 101-yard, two-touchdown performance against North Carolina State. Clemson faces South Carolina this week, and while the Gamecocks can certainly be stingy on defense, most of the attention figures to be focused on Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. That makes Ford a sneaky option.
Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia - The freshman tandem of Marshall and Todd Gurley has been nothing short of sensational for the Bulldogs. However, Marshall has been the lesser used back over the second half of the season. Other than a 105-yard outburst at Auburn on Nov. 10 in a blowout, Marshall has rushed for less than 37 yards in every game since Oct. 6. Meanwhile, Gurley has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of the last four games, finding the end zone three times over that span. Although this week's opponent, Georgia Tech, has a poor defense, Gurley should tote the rock the most for the Bulldogs and leave Marshall with only the scraps.
Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan - Toussaint suffered a gruesome leg injury in the first quarter of Saturday's win over Iowa, sending him to the hospital and ending his 2012 campaign. Toussaint was the second-leading rusher for the Wolverines behind quarterback Denard Robinson, carrying 130 times for 514 yards and five touchdowns this season. Oddly enough, it was Robinson who took Toussaint's place at running back following the injury, as the senior gunslinger is battling a nerve injury in his throwing elbow. Expect more trickery using Robinson this weekend at Ohio State in Toussaint's absence.
Gary Nova, QB, Rutgers - Nova has been a turnover machine the last few weeks, tossing 10 picks in the last four games for the Scarlet Knights, including a disastrous six-interception performance in Rutgers' only loss, to Kent State. Nova has also failed to throw for more than 186 yards in each of the last two games. In fact, he has failed to reach the 200-yard passing mark in six of Rutgers' 10 games this season. Nine of his 19 passing touchdowns came in two games, against Arkansas and Temple. Nova's inconsistency makes him too risky to trust, even at 4-6 Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Terron Ward, RB, Oregon State - Call this a gut feeling, but Cooks won't be able to school Oregon like he has done to the rest of the Pac-12 the last few games. It's been a breakout of sorts for Ward, who has found the end zone four times the last three games, while surpassing 100 yards rushing in two of those three tilts. However, the Ducks figure to be steaming mad after losing a shot at the national title, and could jump out ahead of the Beavers early in this year's Civil War. That would force OSU to air it out to Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, leaving Ward lost in the shuffle.
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