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TITLE WEEK DETERMINES ALL BUT BCS MATCHUP
December 2, 2011

SCS.com Thanksgiving Week was full of rivalry football and tons of food, which means the hangover from the long weekend is just ending now at the end of this work week. However, there are a full slate of meaningful games on conference championship weekend, including two new conference championships being held for the first time in the Pac-12 and the Big 10. The inclusion of conference championship games in four out of six BCS conferences as well as two other conferences means that there is a chance for the entire BCS bowl slate to be shaken up by the results of these games. However, the most important game of them all does not appear to be affected whatsoever by conference championship weekend. That has not happened in the decade-long BCS era, and many are beginning to call for a plus-one or a playoff again. However, the cream of the crop in college football has risen to the top of the heap and just because the top two teams have played once before, that does not mean they are disqualified from being the two best teams in the country. There's little doubt that Alabama can give LSU a mighty test, so perhaps the rematch will be full of offense instead of defense and missed field goals. The BCS can only hope so, or else the egg will be on its face as viewers tune out in droves.

Even if the championship week slate leaves a lot to be desired at the top of the heap, there are still a ton of BCS bowl slots and conference championships to sort out on Friday and Saturday. The only conference championship without any bearing on the BCS bowls is the MAC Championship on Friday night between Ohio and Northern Illinois. That's the Ohio University Bobcats, not the "Ohio" that Brady Hoke is now 1-0 against. Although Frank Solich is certiainly the best coach in the conference, he has yet to overcome the conference championship drought in Athens, as Ohio has not won a conference title since 1968. Northern Illinois last won a MAC championship in 1983, so one long drought will end this year. Look for

Also on Friday night is the inaugural Pac-12 Championship, which is hosted at the team with the better record. This year, there is no question that the North division would be hosting the game as Oregon will play 6-6 UCLA. The only good news about this game is that UCLA won their petition to be bowl eligible at 6-7, so the Bruins could set a record for losses by a bowl team with 8 if everything breaks as expected. Oregon should be headed back to the BCS for the third straight year barring a colossal collapse, but stranger things have happened. No BCS bowl is likely for the loser, as Oregon would likely be passed over for Stanford for an at large berth. The winner will smell the Roses in Pasadena. Similarly, the first ever Big Ten Championship features two of the co-champions from last year as Michigan State plays Wisconsin. The Spartans defeated the Badgers last year and this year, but a third victory will be required for their first Rose Bowl since 1988. The loser is out of the BCS for sure, although Michigan State could stay eligible for selection even with a loss. The first version of this game was the craziest finish of the year with a hail mary deflected off a helmet for the winning touchdown, so the Spartans will be hoping for the same magic in Indianapolis.

The SEC Championship is usually a play-in game to the national championship, but this year the game will only determine if the SEC gets to illustrate the only exception to the two team per conference BCS bowl limit. If Georgia wins on Saturday, Georgia goes to the Sugar Bowl, but LSU and Alabama would still likely be the top two teams in the BCS standings. As a result, both of them are also accepted into the BCS making three SEC teams BCS-bound. The one team that cares about the SEC Championship is Michigan, oddly enough. The Wolverines need to move past Georgia and the loser of the Big Ten championship to reach #14 in the BCS Standings, which would almost certainly land them in the Sugar Bowl. So perhaps we can imagine Les Miles is coaching Michigan against Georgia rather than LSU for this week. The only team with any chance to catch LSU (with a loss) or Alabama is Oklahoma State, which plays a de facto Big 12 championship against Oklahoma on Saturday. The Bedlam Game is for all the marbles because Oklahoma would hold wins against both the Cowboys and Kansas State in a three-way tie at 7-2 with a win. The winner is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl, although a late voter revolt agaisnt the SEC rematch in the BCS Championship could put OSU in the BCS championship if the Cowboys win this game big.

The ACC Championship will determine one side of the Orange Bowl, as Virginia Tech looks to avenge its only loss of the season against Clemson. The Tigers are a much different team than the dominant force at the beginning of October that rocked Virginia Tech in Blacksburg by 20. The opponent for the winner of this game will be the Big East champion, which has yet to be determined. Louisville is in the clubhouse with a half game lead on West Virginia and Cincinnati. Louisville wins if WVU defeats USF and if Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, because Louisville defeated WVU head to head. West Virginia wins if WVU and Cincinnati win because the Mountaineers win the tiebreaker based on the BCS standings. Cincinnati wins the league with a win and a WVU loss. Although one would expect West Virginia and Cincinnati to take care of their business against 5-6 teams this weekend, the opponents will be hungry to earn bowl eligibility and thus are dangerous with a BCS berth on the line. The Conference USA championship also has a bearing on the BCS, as Houston is undefeated and will lock up an automatic BCS berth with a victory. If the Cougars are upset, then look for Boise State to be rewarded unless TCU slips into the top 16 (unlikely). With the exception of Stanford and obviously LSU and Alabama, the BCS still has a ton to determine to find out who the other seven teams will be earning a big payday in January. I project Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oklahoma, Houston, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia will be BCS bound, a wacky finishing weekend could instead leave the BCS with Louisville, Clemson, Michigan State, Georgia, UCLA, Oklahoma State, and Boise State instead. If that doesn't make Championship weekend worth watching, then nothing will.

Coaching firing and hiring season went to a whole new level now that the regular season is over for many teams. Arizona grabbed Rich Rodriguez and Washington State grabbed Mike Leach, which are two of the biggest names off the board. However, Ohio State took the proverbial cake right away and quickly forgot about the first loss to Michigan in eight years by hiring Urban Meyer the following Monday. The excitement in Columbus is through the roof as Meyer was the highest profile coach on the market and has Ohio roots, which means Brady Hoke (a Michigan man) and Meyer could rekindle another "ten year war" like when Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler coached at these schools. The rest of the Big Ten has to be worried that the league is headed back to the big two and little ten days from the past, although good coaches like Mark Dantonio and Bret Bielema are not going to roll over to the old powers automatically. If Meyer can maintain balance in his life as a college football coach and also win consistently in Columbus, he has the possibility of becoming as legendary as the likes of Hayes and Tressel. A huge pull for the biggest opening in college football coaching ranks.

Turning to the games of the week, the first game of the week is Georgia vs. LSU in the SEC Championship. These teams started their seasons simultaneously on the first Saturday night back in September playing in the biggest games of the weekend. Georgia lost to Boise State and then followed that up with a loss to South Carolina, but LSU defeated Oregon that night and never looked back. These are the two hottest teams in the country though as Georgia has ripped off 10 straight wins and LSU is 12-0. Both teams have an opportunistic defense that does not allow a lot of points or yards. LSU only surrenders 10.6 points per game, while Georgia gives up 17.8 (10th in the nation). When LSU has the ball, look for the Tigers to try and establish the running game with Michael Ford and Spencer Ware. Although Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee have not turned the ball over much this season, LSU would prefer to not force them to throw against a talented Georgia defensive backfield. Speaking of talented defensive backfields, LSU features perhaps the best defensive player in the country in CB Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu will be hoping that the LSU defensive front continues to stuff the run and force Aaron Murray into obvious passing situations. Georgia will keep it close in the first half, but Isaiah Crowell will not be able to shake his lingering ankle injury completely and Georgia's offense will falter as LSU locks up an undefeated regular season. LSU wins by 13.

The second game of the week is the Big Ten championship: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin. As mentioned above, the first time these teams played this season ended with an epic finish as Wisconsin stormed back in the fourth quarter to tie the game, only to watch a hail mary be answered on the final play of the game for a Spartans touchdown and victory. Just like in the SEC Championship, both of these teams rank in the top 10 nationally in points allowed per game, about 15 for each. Wisconsin has more star power and better statistics on offense, scoring nearly two touchdowns more per game than the Spartans. The Badgers have thrived with the efficient passing of Russell Wilson and the running of Montee Ball. Ball had one of his worst games of the season in East Lansing, but he still ripped off 115 yards and a touchdown in that game. The Spartans will be tougher against the run this time with defensive end William Gholston back from the suspension that held him out of the first meeting. Wisconsin has also inflated the stats by blowing away teams at home, but the Badgers are very vulnerable on the road with a 2-2 record and no impressive performances. Kirk Cousins leads a balanced Spartans offense and will be looking for Keith Nichol and B.J. Cunningham to burn the Wisconsin secondary throughout this game. Wisconsin will not blow away Michigan State, but this Badgers team is simply too good to miss out on a second straight Rose Bowl. Wisconsin wins with a late defensive stand, Badgers by 4.

The third game of the week is the Bedlam game: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. The Sooners have dominated the series in the Bob Stoops era, winning eight in a row dating back to 2002. However, the Sooners have proven to be mortal, especially away from home this season. Landry Jones has thrown for over 4000 yards, but his favorite target Ryan Broyles is not going to play in this game due to injury. Jones has actually failed to throw a touchdown pass in the last two games, which could be trouble with the high-powered OSU offense on the other sideline this weekend. However, Oklahoma State lost its previous game due to mistakes, poor execution in the second half, and five turnovers against Iowa State. Brandon Weeden was a darkhorse Heisman candidate before the loss to the Cyclones, based primarily on ridiculous statistics such as 374 passing yards per game and 34 touchdowns in 11 games. Justin Blackmon found some openings against the Sooners defense last year and should once again stretch out the defensive backfield to test whether the Sooners have improved since the loss to Baylor two weeks ago. Oklahoma will surprise by focusing on running the ball with Roy Finch and Brandon Williams to control the clock. Expect OSU to turn the ball over a couple of times and play right into Oklahoma's ball-control strategy. The streak continues for the Sooners as Oklahoma wins a close one in Stillwater by 6.

OTHER GAMES OF THE WEEK - WEEK 14

(23) West Virginia def. South Florida
(9) Oregon def. UCLA
(5) Virginia Tech def. (20) Clemson
(6) Houston def. (24) Southern Miss
(7) Boise State def. New Mexico
(11) Kansas State def. Iowa State
(17) Baylor def. (22) Texas
(19) TCU def. UNLV

2011 GOTW Record: 20-4
Last Week: 3-0
2011 Overall Top 25 Record: 135-28
Last Week: 14-2

Fitz Top 10 - Week 14

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Houston
4. Oklahoma State
5. Virginia Tech
6. Boise State
7. Oregon
8. Stanford
9. Arkansas
10. Oklahoma

Just Missed: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, USC, Georgia

Thanks for reading this week and all weeks during the season. I look forward to previewing the bowls in December and early January, so stay tuned for more coverage even though the regular season is over. Although the SEC rematch in the BCS Championship seems assured, the number of teams still competing for about seven BCS bowl berths is astounding. These are the weekends we cherish and look forward to as casual and hardcore football fans. Enjoy the final weekend of college football for the 2011 season, and see you in bowl season!

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