It’s Conference Championship Week in college football, with teams battling for BCS bowl bids and bragging rights. Four of the six games land the winner an automatic spot in a BCS bowl game; and, one of them - the SEC Championship Game - will see its winner square off against Notre Dame for the Crystal Football on January 7th in Miami. Thanks in part to conference realignment, not every BCS Conference has a championship. Rutgers hosts Louisville in a de facto Big East title game Thursday night. A win probably sends the Scarlet Knights to a BCS bowl (if they crack the BCS top 25), while a loss creates a potential three-way tiebreaker scenario and threatens the Big East’s automatic BCS bid. Kansas State and Oklahoma are tied atop the Big 12. A Wildcats win would give K-State the title. A loss, and they’ll be praying for Texas Christian to topple the Sooners. So, there’s no actual championship game, but Kansas State’s win over Oklahoma earlier in the season could wind up having the same effect. As for the six games on the schedule this weekend, here’s a look at each in order of overall importance…
Conference USA Championship
Who: UCF Knights and Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
Where: Tulsa, Oklahoma
When: Saturday at noon ET
Why watch: Aside from alumni of these two institutions, and college football junkies, not many people will find a reason to watch this game. Both teams are 9-3. Tulsa has lost to Iowa State, Arkansas and Southern Methodist, while UCF was beaten by Missouri, Ohio State and…Tulsa. So yes, this is a rematch of a game won 23-21 by the Golden Hurricane a mere two weeks ago. Tulsa is led by Junior quarterback Cody Green, a former Nebraska Cornhusker. UCF features running back Latavius Murray, a 6’3 senior who ran for over 900 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in just nine games this season. With a head to head win under its belt, and a home field advantage, the Golden Hurricane has the edge. The winner of this game will most likely play in the Liberty Bowl on December 31st against an SEC opponent (Mississippi State or Vanderbilt look like possibilities).
Who: Northern Illinois Huskies and Kent State Golden Flashes
When: Friday night at 7:00 PM ET
Why watch: Believe it or not, the Golden Flashes could earn an Orange Bowl bid
with a win Friday and some outside help.
Right now they sit at number 17 in the BCS standings, and if they can wrangle their way to 16 they have a shot.
Quite an accomplishment for a team that lost 47-14 to a Kentucky team that wound up finishing 2-10.
To this point, that remains Kent State’s only loss.
The team’s top performer is jack-of-all-trades Dri Archer.
The junior rushed for 1337 yards (averaging almost 10 yards per carry), caught 30 passes for 458 yards, and averaged 35.8 yards per kick return.
Perhaps most impressively, Archer found the end zone 21 times in all.
Northern Illinois will need to find ways to contain him.
The Huskies may actually have the better résumé. Their one loss came at the hands of 4-8 Iowa, but it came on the season’s opening weekend and by just a single point. If not for allowing nine unanswered points in the fourth quarter that day, Northern Illinois might be getting looks from the BCS. Led by junior, dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch (2750 yards and 23 TDs passing, 1611 yards and 16 TDs rushing), the Huskies offense ranks 13th in the nation in yards, and 12th in scoring. Kent State’s defense will have its hands full. If the Golden Flashes don’t get that Orange Bowl slot, the winner of this game will most likely play on December 26th in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, also in Detroit.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 35-24
Who: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Florida State Seminoles
Where: Charlotte, North Carolina
When: Saturday night at 8:00 PM ET
Why watch: The 6-6 Yellow Jackets lucked their way into the game courtesy of sanctions against North Carolina and Miami. Tech actually beat the Tarheels this season, but lost in overtime to the Hurricanes. Under Head Coach Paul Johnson, the Jackets employ a triple option offense that propelled them to third in the nation in rushing, but just 119th in passing yards. But make no mistake: Tech is a big play offense. Running back Orwin Smith averages nine yards per carry, and when quarterback Tevin Washington does pass, he’s usually taking shots down the field.
Florida State finished the season 10-2 after a home loss to in-state rival Florida. The Seminoles had lost on the road to NC State earlier in the year. Senior quarterback E.J. Manuel is the headliner on offense, but FSU’s defense is stocked with NFL prospects like defensive end Bjoern Werner, linebacker Christian Jones, safety Lamarcus Joyner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. An injury to rising senior defensive end Tank Carradine stings, but the ‘Noles still have the makings of a top-notch college defense. If things pan out as expected, they’ll be heading to the Orange Bowl and Tech will be bound for the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Prediction: Florida State 38-17
Who: Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers
Where: Indianapolis, Indiana
When: Saturday night at 8:00 PM ET
Why watch: Much like in the ACC, thanks to bowl bans for undefeated Ohio State and 8-4 Penn State, a Wisconsin team that lost to both gets a shot to play in the Rose Bowl. They’re led by star running back Montee Ball, who rebounded from a slow start to rush for 1528 yards and 18 touchdowns. In last week’s loss, Ball set an FBS record when he scored the 79th touchdown of his college career.
Nebraska finished the season 10-2. They won nine of their last ten games, including a three-point victory over the Badgers. Their only Big Ten loss came on the road at Ohio State. The ‘Huskers top threat is junior quarterback Taylor Martinez, a player who has always been a dangerous runner but who made serious strides as a passer this season. Three times this year, he threw for over 300 yards, and four other times he rushed for over 100. Wisconsin’s steady defense provides a test, but the first time Martinez faced them, he passed for 181 yards, rushed for 107 and accounted for three TDs. The winner of this game will head to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. If Nebraska loses, they will be headed to the Capital One Bowl. If the Badgers lose, they appear to be Gator Bowl bound.
Prediction: Nebraska 27-24
Who: UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal
Where: Stanford, California
When: Friday night at 8:00 PM ET
Why watch: UCLA had a resurgence of sorts under first year Head Coach Jim Mora Jr. Prior to 2012, the Bruins hadn’t won more than seven games since 2005, and had done so in just two of the last 13 seasons. The offense is piloted by quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman has passed for over 3200 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first season. He’s been helped by senior running back Johnathan Franklin, who added 1803 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. On defense, talented ends Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh combined for 12.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss, while linebacker Anthony Barr exploded for 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a junior after playing fullback for his first two seasons. The Bruins enter this game with a 9-3 record, with losses to Oregon State, Cal, and Stanford just one week ago.
The Cardinal is in its first season of life after Andrew Luck. During a three week span in late September and early October, Stanford lost two of three, including a loss to number one Notre Dame. Since then the Cardinal has rattled off six straight wins. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan has steadied the offense, while senior running back Stepfan Taylor has provided veteran leadership. On defense, linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas, and end Ben Gardner, combined for 22.5 sacks. With senior Shane Skov manning the middle, Stanford’s D allowed the fewest rushing yards of any FBS team, and the 11th fewest points. Last week at UCLA, they allowed just 73 rushing yards on 33 attempts, and held the Bruins to 17 points – less than half of their season average. The winner of this game heads to the Rose Bowl, while the runner up likely winds up in the Alamo Bowl on December 29th.
Prediction: Stanford 28-20
Who: Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs
When: Saturday afternoon at 4:00 PM ET
Why watch: The winner of this game goes to the National Championship Game and faces undefeated Notre Dame, and Georgia has the benefit of playing close to home. Each team has lost just one game. Alabama fell three weeks ago at the hands of Texas A&M and Heisman frontrunner Johnny Manziel. The Bulldogs went down in flames to South Carolina back on October 6th at South Carolina, and have since won six games in a row. Both teams feature veteran starting quarterbacks. Bama’s A.J. McCarron has thrown 41 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in his two seasons as a starter. Both of his picks this year occurred in the team’s lone defeat. Georgia’s Aaron Murray has been on fire. Since a three-interception game against Florida, he has tossed 13 TDs without a pick over his last four games.
Both of these teams feature strong defenses. The Bulldogs’ unit boasts NFL prospects Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, and Shawn Williams in the defensive backfield; Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree at linebacker; and massive nose tackle John Jenkins up front. Meanwhile, the Tide gave up the fewest points and yards in the FBS this year, and has its own army of high-end NFL hopefuls. Nose tackle Jesse Williams has been a force up front, junior C.J. Mosley is the team’s best linebacker, and cornerback Dee Milliner has shutdown potential. Outside of the 29 points that A&M scored, Alabama has not allowed a team to score more than 17 points against them. In fact, the Tide has pitched four shutouts and has allowed seven points or fewer six times. In contrast, Georgia has scored 40 or more points seven times this season. Something has to give. The loser of this game gets an automatic berth in the Capital One Bowl, but there’s a good chance they’ll still end up with an at-large BCS bowl bid.
Prediction: Alabama 17-13