Although all of the top teams won impressively this past weekend, there was a shake-up at the top of the BCS standings as Oklahoma has positioned themselves in the second slot in the race for the national championship game while Texas fell to third position in the controversial BCS rankings. Looking ahead, there remains the potential for additional changes atop the polls as we head into the final weekend of the regular season with numerous conference championships remaining to be decided. The highlight game of the weekend is the SEC championship game as Alabama and Florida will collide in a battle that likely sends the winner into the national title game. Other key games to focus on are Oklahoma meeting Missouri, Boston College battling Virginia Tech, USC heading to UCLA, East Carolina tackling Tulsa, and Ball State versus Buffalo. Time for a detailed preview of the weekendís best games as the regular season comes to an end in the first weekend of December.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Alabama vs Florida
The SEC championship games sets up to be a knock-out contest, with the winner claiming a spot in the national championship game, while the loser is likely to accept a consolation prize of a berth in the Sugar Bowl. Florida enters this game at 11-1 overall and on an eight game winning streak since their loss to Mississippi, while Alabama stands at 12-0 and head to Atlanta atop the national rankings. The Crimson Tide are looking to claim their 22nd conference championship but first since 1999 while the Gators take aim at their eighth title with their last being in 2006, when Florida also won the national championship. Alabama leads the overall series 21-13, but Florida emerged victorious by a 28-13 score in the last meeting between these college football powerhouses in 2006. Letís take an in-depth preview of how these two title contenders match-up in this weekendís top game.
For Florida on offense the story continues to be a running game that is on fire late in the season as the Gators have rumbled for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games. A critical question for Florida is the health of the teams leading receiver and second leading rusher, Percy Harvin, who is listed as questionable with a sprained ankle. Harvin is a game breaking talent and a key weapon in the Florida offense, and his absence will significantly influence the Gator game plan, especially in the passing game. In what sets up to be a great match-up of strength versus strength, the Alabama rush defense is rated second in the nation as the Tide give up only 74 yards per game on the ground. The key question is who will win the battle between the Florida speed and the Alabama strength, and for the Tide to have any chance in this game, they must at least slow down the Gator attack because the Alabama offense will be unable to keep pace in a shoot-out. Overall, the Florida offense has basically played mistake free football this season, only turning the ball over eleven times and if the trend continues, it could be a long night for the Alabama defense.
Looking at the Alabama offense, the story is similar to Florida as the Tide prefers to pound away on the ground. Leading the Alabama running game is the combination of Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram who together average 159 yards per game and hold the key to the success of the Tide offense. Awaiting the ĎBama running game is a Florida rush defense that is loaded with speed and ranks twelfth in the nation, giving up only 103 yards per game. The Florida game plan is simple, overplay the run and force the Tide offense into the hands of quarterback John Parker Wilson, who has thrown nine touchdown passes on the season and only one in the past five games. The Alabama defense and running game have played so well all season, that Wilson has not yet had to win a game with his throwing arm, but this Florida team is the most athletic and talented team that ĎBama has faced, so Wilson must step up his game. If the Alabama running game is unable to get on track early, it will be a rough afternoon for a Tide offense that must play its best game of the season.
Along with Oklahoma, Florida is currently the hottest team in the nation as the Gators have been pounding their recent opponents in all phases of the game. Alabama has risen to the top of the polls behind a stout defense and a powerful running game, both areas that have carried this team from the opening weekend. In reviewing this game, Florida has the advantage due to their offensive balance that can adapt to the game plan of the Alabama defense. On the other hand, if the Tide running game is slowed, the ĎBama passing game is not nearly at the same level, making this team one dimensional. The offense has done well all season behind the running game, but they have not yet had to face as an athletic defense as Florida will bring into the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon. When all is said and done, Florida will continue their late season surge and take home the SEC championship and set their travel plans for Miami and the national championship game.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Oklahoma vs Missouri
Oklahoma enters the Big 12 championship game with a berth in the national championship game on the line while Missouri heads to Kansas City after completing the regular season at 9-3 and ending their campaign with a loss to Kansas. The story behind the success of Oklahoma is an unstoppable offense that has posted 61 points or more in their last four games and is the top scoring offense in the nation at 53 points per game. Leading the Sooner offense is quarterback Sam Bradford, who ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency and he will go to work against a Missouri pass defense that is giving up 277 yards per game in the air. Missouri is not likely to slow down the Oklahoma offense, so the Tigers will need huge efforts out of their star quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin to keep pace with the Sooner scoring machine. The Tigers can and will score as they average 45 points per game, but Mizzou will likely need more than their average if they have hopes of knocking off this Oklahoma team. The storyline is simple for Oklahoma, win this game and they are heading to the national championship game, while Missouri can make their season with an upset win to earn the schoolís first ever BCS bowl bid.
Boston College vs Virginia Tech
The ACC championship game will be the second meeting of these two teams in 2008 as Virginia Tech emerged victorious in their initial meeting by a 28-23 score at Boston College. The rematch figures to be more of a defensive battle as both offenses continue to look for consistency, while both defensive units have played great all season. Virginia Tech continues to rely on its ground game led by Darren Evans, but the Hokies will run directly into the nationís seventh ranked rush defense. If Tech is unable to generate sustained offense on the ground, the Hokies will struggle because the passing game has not been a legitimate threat all season long. On the other side, the Boston College offense is an exact replica of Tech as the Eagles rely heavily on the ground game, especially with the recent loss of quarterback Chris Crane to injury. Whichever team minimizes mistakes and can establish a semblance of a running attack is likely to win this game and to earn a BCS bowl bid.
USC at UCLA
With Oregon State losing to Oregon this past Saturday, USC now controls their destiny in the Pac-10 race and a win over the Bruins will send the Trojans to a fourth consecutive Rose Bowl. The story of this USC team is a swarming and nasty defense that ranks first in the nation both yardage allowed and scoring, and has given up ten points or less in nine out of their eleven games. To make matters worse for UCLA, the Bruins have struggled all season on offense as the Bruins rank 107th in the nation in scoring, so getting into the end zone will be a victory in of itself in this game. With the defense playing so well, the Trojan offense has been inconsistent at times this season, but behind a strong running game this group has still been able to post 38 points per game to rank thirteenth in the country. Expect USC to unleash their running game against a UCLA defense that has been unable to stop opponentís ground games and now must face one of the best stable of running backs in the nation. Talent wise this game is clearly a mismatch as UCLA is in a rebuilding mode while USC continues its run among the nationís elite and for the Bruins to deny the Trojans their Rose Bowl berth it would require a monumental upset.
East Carolina at Tulsa
Tulsa is making its second consecutive appearance in the Conference USA championship game after a 10-2 regular season while East Carolina makes their debut after an 8-4 season. Tulsa enters this game led by one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, a unit that has the Golden Hurricane ranked first in total offense per game and second in scoring at 49 points per contest. The East Carolina defense has played well down the stretch, but they have not had to face the challenge of an offense with as much firepower as Tulsa will feature in this game. The season has been a struggle for the East Carolina offense, although the Pirates do enter this game off a 53-point effort in the win over UTEP, a trend that will have to continue for the Pirates if they hope to keep pace with the Tulsa attack. The good news for ECU is that the Tulsa defense will give up chunks of yardage as the Hurricanes yield over 400 yards per game and are especially susceptible against the pass. Expect Tulsa to continue the same game plan that has worked all season long, simply try to outscore East Carolina in a fast-paced game that should be great fun to watch.
Ball State vs Buffalo
Heading into the Mid-American conference championship game, Ball State is one of the nationís four remaining undefeated teams at 12-0 while Buffalo stands at 7-5 as the Bulls gear up for the first post-season trip in the programís history. On offense for Ball State, the star is quarterback Nate Davis, who ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, throwing 25 touchdowns versus six interceptions on the season. Expect Davis to have a big game as he attacks a Buffalo defense that has struggled in defending the pass all season long. Buffalo will look to keep pace behind their star running back in James Starks, who averages 123 yards per game on the ground and broke the schoolís single season rushing mark with 1,226 yards. Starks will receive plenty of carries as the Bulls look to establish a ball control offense and he should find room to run against a Cardinal defense that gives up 146 yards per game on the ground. The winner of this game likely receives a bid to the Motor City Bowl while the loser falls to either the GMAC or International Bowl.
GAMES OF INTEREST
Louisville at Rutgers - Thursday 6:30 PM CDT
Rutgers has been red-hot since starting the season 1-5 as the Knights have now won five straight and sit in a second place tie in the Big East. Louisville needs a victory to earn their sixth win of the season to become bowl eligible and avoid missing the post-season for a second consecutive year.
Pittsburgh at Connecticut - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Pittsburgh is part of a three team tie for second in the Big East as the Panthers look to close out their season with back-to-back wins and head to the post-season for the first time in four years. Connecticut has won three of the last four in the series and a win by the Huskies would be big for bowl positioning in the tightly bunched Big East.
Navy vs Army - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
Navy has already accepted a bid to the EagleBank Bowl as the Middies now shift their focus to claiming a sixth consecutive Commander-In-Chief trophy. Army is looking to end a six game losing streak to their archrivals and to complete their 2008 campaign on a high note with a fourth win.
Arkansas State at Troy - Saturday 6:00 PM CDT
Troy stands alone atop the Sun Belt at 5-1 and they can clinch the conference title outright with a win at home. Arkansas State can force a tie for first with a win, and the Red Wolves have played Troy tough, winning six out of eight in the series.
Arizona State at Arizona - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
Arizona State needs a win over the Wildcats for their sixth victory on the season and to head to the post-season for a fifth consecutive year. Arizona is already bowl eligible but the Wildcats would like nothing more than to end their season with a win in a series that has been dominated in recent years by ASU.
South Florida at West Virginia - Saturday 7:00 PM CDT
West Virginia sits in a three-way tie for second in the Big East and the Mountaineers look to rebound after their loss to Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl. South Florida ended a three game losing streak with a win over Connecticut last weekend as the Bulls now shift their focus to earning a second straight win over the Mountaineers.
Cincinnati at Hawaii - Saturday 10:30 PM CDT
The Bearcats are on a roll, winning five straight games and they have clinched a BCS berth as the champions of the Big East. Hawaii has also been playing well of late, winning three straight and the Warriors are especially tough when playing at home.