Championship weekend means BCS berths on the line
Tonight’s Civil War for the Rose Bowl kicks off what promises to be a weekend of triumph and disappointment.
In nearly every game, either a bowl bid or a berth in a BCS game, is on the line as conference championships will be decided in the Pac-10, Conference USA, Big East, SEC, ACC, MAC, and Big XII.
There are only 17 total games being played this weekend, beginning with Arkansas State and Western Kentucky tonight at 6 p.m. central, and No. 16 Oregon State visiting No. 7 Oregon at 8 p.m. Central, with the winner headed to Pasadena. More on that game later.
The Mid-American Conference will decide its champion Friday night, when Ohio meets Central Michigan in Detroit. More on that game is also later.
Saturday has three noon Eastern kickoffs with two huge games in the Big East—Cincinnati-Pittsburgh and West Virginia-Rutgers—and the Conference USA title tilt in Greenville between No. 21 Houston and East Carolina.
Fresno State visits Champaign on Senior Day to face Illinois in Juice Williams’ final game in an Illini uniform at 11:30 a.m. Central.
San Jose State travels to Louisiana Tech for a 1 p.m. Central kickoff. New Mexico State takes on No. 6 Boise State at 2 p.m. Central, and Arizona and No. 18 USC get going from the Coliseum 30 minutes later.
CBS will have the SEC championship game at 3 p.m. Central. The rest of Saturday’s slate has No. 19 California at Washington at 5:30 p.m. Central on Fox Sports Net and Florida Atlantic at Florida International at 6 p.m. There are three 7 p.m. kickoffs—Texas-Nebraska for the Big XII title, Clemson-Georgia Tech in the ACC championship, and South Florida and Connecticut. Wisconsin travels to Hawaii for a 10:30 p.m. Central time kickoff to close out the day.
If you’re wondering about Army-Navy, that’s Dec. 12.
Why did I list all 17 games? Because every game can be found either on CBS, Fox Sports Net, ABC, or the ESPN family of networks. So, grab a spot on the couch with some snacks and your favorite beverage around 11 a.m. Central time, and just stay there for over 12 hours of non-stop football. Isn’t it great?
Here are the 10 can’t-miss games, BCS rankings are used and all times are Central.
10. No. 19 California at Washington, Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Cal is 8-3 and bowl bound. Washington is 4-7, but has played the part of spoiler twice already this season—knocking off both USC and Arizona. Jake Locker (pictured) is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and leads a Washington team talented enough to beat the Bears.
Cal has surprisingly played well since Jahvid Best went down with an injury. The Bears have won three straight and look to keep that momentum going by finishing the regular season with a road win.
9. Arizona at No. 18 Southern California, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Two teams hopeful for a Rose Bowl berth just three weeks ago meet to wind up their Pac-10 schedule Saturday in Los Angeles.
Both teams have had their ups and downs, as both were upset by Washington earlier in the year. The Wildcats rebounded from a loss at California and a double-overtime loss to Oregon to beat in-state rival Arizona State last week.
The Trojans could slip to sixth in the Pac-10 standings and fall out of the Top 25 with a loss. A win by USC would mean it could still get to 10 victories on the season if it wins its bowl game. USC has an eight-game win streak against Arizona, and should win this one to wind up second in the league standings. But the Trojans should have also beaten Washington.
8. No. 23 West Virginia at Rutgers, Saturday, 11 a.m.
Rutgers has beaten West Virginia just four times in 36 meetings, but let’s face it—there were some really bad Rutgers teams during that stretch.
Greg Schiano has built a different Rutgers program, and has a chance to prove how far it’s come by knocking off the Mountaineers.
Both teams sit at 8-3, so both have shots at 10-win seasons. If the Scarlet Knights want to pull off the upset, it must find a way to contain West Virginia’s bevy of playmakers—quarterback Jarrett Brown (pictured in back), running back Noel Devine (with ball), and receiver Jock Sanders.
Rutgers is allowing just 17 points per game, and will need another stout defensive effort to beat the ‘Neers.
7. Ohio vs. Central Michigan at Ford Field in Detroit, Friday, 7 p.m.
Two of the country’s more underrated teams meet to decide the champion of the Mid-American Conference Friday night.
CMU is 10-2 and has one of the country’s best quarterbacks in Dan LeFevour. The 6-foot-3 senior (pictured) led the Chippewas to an unbeaten conference mark by throwing for nearly 2,800 yards, with 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 650 yards and 14 more scores. LeFevour ran for over 100 yards twice in wins over Akron and Bowling Green.
CMU’s only losses were at Arizona State and Boston College, but it won at Michigan State. The Chippewas are battle-tested, and will be tested against a good Ohio club that rolled a decent Temple team last week.
6. No. 21 Houston at East Carolina, Saturday, 11 a.m.
The Conference USA title is on the line Saturday in Greenville. Houston has been the most impressive team in the conference this year, and is ranked No. 18 in both human polls.
The Cougars own wins over two Big XII teams—Texas Tech and Oklahoma State—and Mississippi State from the SEC. But two inexplicable losses in conference play to UTEP and UCF have the Cougars on the road against the defending C-USA champions.
ECU beat UCF earlier this year at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but did not play UTEP. ECU’s non-conference schedule was just as impressive as Houston’s, but without the same success. The Pirates fell to West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. Their only conference loss was at surprisingly resurgent SMU on Oct. 10.
Since losing 16-3 to Virginia Tech on Nov. 5, the Pirates have been on a roll, winning three straight by an average score of 35-19. The defense scored three touchdowns in a 44-17 romp at Tulsa and came up big again last week in the 25-20 win over rival Southern Miss, to clinch the East Division.
It will need to play big again versus Houston’s stellar offense led by Case Keenum. The junior quarterback has put up monster numbers this year and needs just 88 passing yards to eclipse 5,000 for the year.
He’s got 38 touchdown passes to just six interceptions. He’s averaging better than 400 passing yards per game. Surprisingly he only threw for 323 yards and two scores last week, but completed 80 percent of his passes in the 73-14 whitewashing of cross-town rival Rice.
ECU counters with its good defense, but also rushing attack that needs to play ball control. ECU has a nice stable of running backs in Brandon Jackson and Giavanni Ruffin, but the leader is senior Dominique Lindsay, who can go over 1,000 yards with 46 against the Cougars.
Dwayne Harris can also be a difference maker for the Pirates. He’s got 13 total touchdowns on the year, with five on the ground, five receiving, and three kick returns.
5. No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. Clemson at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Saturday, 7 p.m.
Georgia Tech and Clemson ended their regular seasons on down notes—both upset by in-state rivals from the SEC.
Now the teams must regroup and prepare for each other with the winner headed to a BCS bowl game, most likely the Orange. Georgia Tech, thought to be a shoe-in as an at-large, needs the win more than ever now to land itself in the big-money bowl.
A loss and it will likely lose out to unbeaten Boise State, or a team from the Big Ten. Boise will have no problem dispatching New Mexico State Saturday to improve to 13-0 on the year.
If the Yellow Jackets are going to beat Clemson, it must limit the touches of C.J. Spiller (pictured with ball). The Heisman candidate lost his chance at the stiff-arm trophy last week in a dismal team effort against South Carolina. He returned the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, but was held in check thereafter.
Paul Johnson’s offense preaches ball-control with its spread triple option, and Josh Nesbitt has done a good job under center all season for the 10-2 Ramblin’ Wreck.
Being that South Carolina ran for 223 yards against the Tigers last week, it should have Jonathan Dwyer and the rest of the Georgia Tech running backs salivating for a chance to put up big numbers.
This was a 30-27 Georgia Tech win when they met in Week 2. If Tech can run the ball at will like the Gamecocks did, and keep Spiller off the field, this one might not be as close.
4. No. 16 Oregon State at No. 7 Oregon, Thursday, 8 p.m.
The Rose Bowl is on the line for the first time in ages in a winner-take-all Civil War. Oregon State hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1964, and was trounced by Oregon at home last year with a shot at the roses.
It’s been 15 years since the Ducks last played in the Rose Bowl, but this year’s team is 9-2, with the 19-8 loss to undefeated Boise in Week 1 and a shootout loss at Stanford last month.
Jeremiah Masoli (pictured) has done a phenomenal job leading a potent Oregon offense. He’s accounted for 26 touchdowns and LaMichael James has been a God-send stepping in for LaGarrette Blount this season. James has over 1,300 rushing yards with 11 scores. He’s averaging a mind-boggling seven yards per carry.
The Beavers got to 8-3 on the year with one of the more balanced offense in the nation. Sean Canfield is just 200 yards shy of a 3,000-yard passing season and Jacquizz Rodgers—aside from having one of the coolest first names in college football—has 1,313 yards on the ground with 19 touchdowns.
3. No. 5 Cincinatti at No. 15 Pittsburgh, Saturday, 11 a.m.
Pitt’s unblemished conference mark went by the wayside last week with a 19-16 setback to West Virginia.
This week, the Panthers would like to deliver the same kind of disappointment to Cincinnati by handing the Bearcats their first loss and end their slim national title hopes. Even with last week’s loss, the game is a de-facto conference title game with the winner leaving the league champs.
Two of the conference’s best quarterbacks will be on display in Cincinnati’s Tony Pike and Pitt’s Bill Stull.
Pike (pictured) has put up silly numbers this year (2,048 passing yards, 23 TDs, 3 INTs), despite missing three games with an injury. Pike lit up Illinois last week with six touchdown passes. Stull (2,294 passing yards, 19 TDs, 6 INTs) has been the steady leader of a Pittsburgh offense that averages 32 points per game.
Cincinnati could be distracted by the rumors that head coach Brian Kelly will leave for Notre Dame. Kelly tried to dispel the rumors, but they’re out there, and the Panthers could pounce on the opportunity.
2. No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Saturday, 3 p.m.
It doesn’t get much bigger than this with the winner headed to the BCS title game.
Two of the top Heisman Trophy candidates will be on the field. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (pictured) was impressive in last week’s dismantling of Florida State.
Alabama running back Mark Ingram had his Heisman campaign take a hit when he was limited to just 30 yards on 16 carries in his team’s slim victory at Auburn. Still, Ingram has over 1,400 rushing yards and 12 scores on the year, with another three touchdowns receiving.
This game will be about the defenses, with two of the country’s best. Alabama has the top-ranked unit in the nation, and Florida allows less than 10 points per game. Of course, those numbers are skewed because of Florida’s despicable non-conference schedule.
Offensively, the Gators are all about Tebow. He leads them in rushing with 796 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 2,166 yards and 17 scores. His two favorite targets are Aaron Hernandez (51 receptions, 654 yards, 4 TDs) and Riley Cooper (41 receptions, 703 yards, 8 TDs).
The Tide is more than just Ingram, as quarterback Greg McElroy proved last week in the late game-winning drive to beat Auburn, without Ingram on the field. McElroy’s turned the ball over just four times this season, and ball control will be vital in a game where points will be at a premium.
The Gators have been here before, and knocked off an undefeated Alabama team in last year’s SEC title game en route to a BCS championship. If Alabama buckles under the pressure, it could fall again.
1. No. 22 Nebraska vs. No. 3 Texas at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Saturday, 7 p.m.
If any one conference championship game has had the proclivity for the upset, it’s been the Big XII title tilt.
Time and again, the favored team—often with a shot at the national championship on the line—loses. This year, Texas is poised to get into the BCS title game, but must figure out one of the country’s best defensive front lines to do so.
Colt McCoy, who put on a dazzling display on Thankgsgiving against rival Texas A&M, can solidify himself as the Heisman front-runner with another solid outing. Across from him will be the Big XII’s No. 1 scoring defense led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Cornhuskers are allowing just 11 points per game, and will try to become the first Big XII North team to win the conference championship since 2003, when Kansas State upset Oklahoma.
McCoy has over 3,300 passing yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but he’s also rushed for 368 yards—with 175 of those yards coming against the Aggies last Thursday.
Jordan Shipley (pictured) needs just one catch to reach 100 receptions on the season. McCoy’s roommate has been on the receiving end of 11 touchdown strikes, and it’ll be on Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee and running back Roy Helu to keep the Texas offense off the field.
The key will be the Nebraska defense, led by Suh up front and safety Larry Asante in the back. If Nebraska’s front seven can generate a good pass rush, it’ll make it easier for Asante to direct his secondary mates and could have the Huskers in position for the upset.
This game affects more than just the Big XII, it also has an impact on the BCS hopes of TCU and Boise State. Win or lose, Texas will play in a BCS game. If the Longhorns fall, TCU could slide into the BCS title game against the SEC winner. It could also mean that Boise State could be unjustifiably snubbed for a BCS bowl bid.