Championship Saturday preview
MAC: Miami-Ohio vs. Central Michigan (11 AM EST, ESPN)
Now, for those of you who looked at the MAC East standings and wonder why 5-2 Miami-Ohio is playing in this game and 6-2 Bowling Green is not, here’s the answer. Thanks to having thirteen teams in the league, some schools played eight conference games while others played seven. Therefore, thanks to their 47-14 win over the Falcons back in October, it’s the Redhawks who get the opportunity to slow down quarterback Dan LeFevour and the Chippewas. While LeFevour won’t be mistaken for Tim Tebow, he does have a combined thirty-seven touchdowns and leads CMU in both passing and rushing. However, Miami does lead the conference in scoring defense, allowing 24.8 points per game. The winner will be right back at Ford Field for the Motor City Bowl later this month.
Conference USA: Central Florida vs. Tulsa (Noon EST, ESPN2)
Thanks to their 7-1 record in conference play, the Golden Knights will have the home field advantage in what shapes up to be a high-scoring affair. And given the offensive fireworks in CUSA this season, it would only be fitting. Two of the nation’s most underrated offensive threats will be on display in this one: UCF running back Kevin Smith (2,164 yards and 25 touchdowns) and Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith (4,327 yards and 39 touchdowns). Smith, in fact, has an outside shot at Barry Sanders’ single season record of 2,628 yards (they now include bowl stats in the records). These two have met this season, with UCF winning at home 44-23 back on October 20th. The winner gets a trip to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and a ten-win season, while the loser will most likely head to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
ACC: Boston College vs. Virginia Tech (1 PM EST, ABC)
The Eagles make their first-ever trip to the ACC Championship Game, while the Hokies were on the losing end back in 2005 to Florida State. Their regular season meeting was an interesting affair, one in which the Hokies dominated for about 56 minutes before Matt Ryan took over. Two touchdowns later, the Eagles were leaving Blacksburg with a 14-10 win. This time, don’t expect Virginia Tech to let their foot off the gas on defense, and their Tech offense has played much better over the last month. Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon have both done a good job with their reps, and running back Branden Ore is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game of 2007. BC is banged up on defense, with linebackers Jolonn Dunbar and Tyronne Pruitt both nursing injuries, and corner DeJuan Tribble is out for the season. The winner will play in the Orange Bowl, while the loser could most likely end up either in the Chick-Fil-A or Gator Bowl.
SEC: Tennessee vs. LSU (4 PM EST, CBS)
While Tennessee comes in off of a quadruple-overtime win over Kentucky, the Tigers arrive in Atlanta licking their wounds from a 50-48 overtime loss to Arkansas. The loss knocked the Bayou Bengals out of the national title picture, but the SEC title is still there. But with the “Les Miles to Michigan” talk running rampant, and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini reportedly headed off to Nebraska to become their head coach, you have to wonder just how much this team has left in the tank emotionally. A season full of close games, as well as the subsequent questioning of their defense (some have even used the word “overrated”), also means that this is a battle-hardened bunch. However, the talented yet inconsistent (on and off the field) Ryan Perrilloux will get the start at quarterback for LSU. On the other side of the field, Erik Ainge will lead a team that’s seemingly risen from the dead on numerous occasions with hopes of winning their first SEC title since 1998. Unlike LSU, who can be found at the top of more than a few statistical categories, Tennessee is second in the SEC (behind LSU) in the one category that’s proven to be quite valuable in college football this year: turnover margin. On paper, LSU would be expected to win with ease, but these Volunteers don’t just lie down.
Big 12: Missouri vs. Oklahoma (8 PM EST, ABC)
The showcase game of the day takes place in the Alamodome, and given the way some have talked about it you’d think that Oklahoma’s already won the game. The Tigers, ranked number one after their emotional win over rival Kansas last week, have one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, led by junior quarterback Chase Daniel. He’s got a nice group of skill position players at his disposal as well, with the most important one possibly being the guy who missed their 41-31 loss in Norman back in October. Running back Tony Temple missed the prior meeting due to injury, and his performance last week (22 carries for 98 yards) showed how important he is to this offense. On the other side of the football, Missouri must find an answer for running back Allen Patrick, who lit up Oklahoma State for more than 200 yards on the ground last week. Sam Bradford has played wise beyond his years at quarterback for most of the season, but the Sooners will need one more performance like that if they are to repeat as Big 12 champions. Missouri wins, and they’re headed to New Orleans, but Oklahoma will go back to the Fiesta Bowl if they win.
Other Games of Note
- Army vs. Navy (in Baltimore) (Noon EST, CBS)
One of the great rivalries in sports, the Cadets and Middies will clash for the 108th time. The two teams bang heads for sixty minutes, and then stand together at attention for both alma maters. And for all the emotion that comes out at various “Senior Day” events throughout the nation, nothing matches seeing Cadets and Midshipmen realizing that they’re moving on to more important battles in the near future. Navy comes in hoping to win six straight over Army for the first time in the history of the rivalry.
- Pittsburgh @ West Virginia (7:45 PM EST, ESPN)
The Panthers won’t be bowling this season, but what better way to end their disappointing season than to make sure that the Mountaineers won’t be playing for the national title. Not sure how realistic that hope is, but you never know what can happen in the “Backyard Brawl”. The 100th meeting has a lot riding on it, and the key will be West Virginia maintaining focus throughout.
- UCLA @ USC (4:30 PM EST, ABC); Arizona @ Arizona State (8 PM EST, ESPN2)
These two games will determine who the Pac-10’s representative is in the Rose Bowl. USC, thought to be long gone about a month ago, can eliminate all suspense by exacting revenge on the rival Bruins. But if UCLA were to pull off the stunner for the second straight season, things suddenly get interesting. The heated rivalry game between the Wildcats and Sun Devils would then determine the champion: if ASU were to win, they go to the Rose Bowl. But if the Wildcats leave Sun Devil Stadium with the Territorial Cup, UCLA would be playing in the home stadium on New Year’s Day. The numbers point to the Trojans winning big, but wouldn’t it be appropriate for this season if something crazy happened?
- Florida Atlantic @ Troy (2 PM EST)
The Owls and Trojans get together to play for the Sun Belt title, with the winner headed to the New Orleans Bowl. Line play will determine the winner of this one, as Troy leads the Sun Belt in sacks per game while FAU allows the fewest in the conference. Troy, armed with the Sun Belt’s best offense and second-best defense, has practically rolled through the competition on their way to a 7-0 conference mark. However, the Owls lead the league in turnover margin and are right behind Troy in scoring offense.
- Washington @ Hawaii (11:30 PM EST, ESPN2)
In the final game of the day, Hawaii will look to finish 12-0 and essentially wrap up a BCS berth. Quarterback Colt Brennan, while he hasn’t matched his numbers from a season ago, is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks and will be right up their in the all-time discussions once his career ends. But on the other sideline is young Jake Locker, who’s done some special things for the 4-8 Huskies this season. But their problem has been defense, something you don’t want to say heading into a game at Hawaii. Washington can score some points, but they may find out that just like in the game against Oregon that they don’t have the firepower needed to slug it out with the nation’s best offenses right now.