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Week 14 Preview

Seven Conference Titles To Be Decided

by Dave Congrove
December 1, 2010

If the final weekend of the 2010 season is anything like last year's final weekend, hold on tight. Of the 17 games played in the final week last year, 10 were decided by a touchdown or less.

This week's schedule is filled with great games and great story lines. The Ol' Ball Coach is back in the SEC Championship game; old rivals collide in the Big 12 and ACC title games, and Oregon State seeks to deal glorious payback to Oregon.

The 19-game football week features five pre-planned conference championship games while other matches will determine the Big East and WAC champions.

Here are the Conference championship game pairings:

ACC: Florida State vs. Virginia Tech
Big 12: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
CUSA: SMU at UCF
MAC: Miami vs. Northern Illinois
SEC: Auburn vs. South Carolina

The schedule begins on Thursday with the Duel In the Desert between Arizona (7-4, 4-4 PAC-10) and Arizona State (5-6, 3-5 PAC-10) for the Territorial Cup. The host Wildcats look to improve their bowl resume. The rival Sun Devils are eliminated from bowl consideration because two their wins are over FCS teams. The computer (Congrove Computer Rankings) likes Arizona by 8.42 points.

The MAC opens the conference championship portion of the schedule on Friday night when Northern Illinois (10-2, 8-0 West) and Miami (8-4, 7-1 East) meet in Detroit. The RedHawks are looking for their first MAC title since 2003 when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 440 yards with 4 TD passes to 4 different receivers. The Huskies haven't won the MAC since 1983. The computer takes NIU by 17.42.

Friday also has a regular season finale game in which the computer favors Fresno State (7-4) by a scant 0.36 points over visiting Illinois (6-5). This game is worth mentioning because last year's game topped a Saturday filled with fantastic finishes as the Bulldogs pulled out a miraculous 53-52 win in Champaign. After a 19-yard pass with 2 seconds left brought the Bulldogs to within a point of tying the Illini, Fresno State opted to go for two and the win. A pass deflected off the intended receiver and was picked out of the air by an offensive lineman who just managed to force his way across the goal line. Both the touchdown catch and the 2-point conversion were confirmed after lengthy reviews.

Saturday brings four conference championship battles, beginning with Conference USA's clash in Orlando between SMU (7-5, 6-2 West) and host UCF (9-3, 7-1 East).

The Mustangs are seeking their first conference title of any sort since 1984 when they were co-champs of the now-defunct Southwest Conference. After winning that title, SMU played only two more seasons before being hit with the NCAA "Death Penalty" which effectively shut down the program for 1987 and 1988. The school had just one winning season (1997) over the next 20 years, but has now produced two consecutive winning campaigns under June Jones. The offensive guru left Hawaii for Dallas after guiding the Warriors to an undefeated regular season and Sugar Bowl appearance in 2007.

UCF is making its third appearance in the 6-year history of the CUSA Championship game. Ironically, it has hosted each of its appearances. The Golden Knights lost to Tulsa in '05 and beat the Golden Hurricane two years later. UCF is a 10.09-point computer choice to earn its second 10-win season in the last four years.

At 4 p.m., the SEC stages its annual title affair in Atlanta's Georgia Dome with a rematch of Auburn (12-0, 8-0 West) and South Carolina (9-3, 5-3 East). The Tigers won the September 25th match, 35-27 in Auburn. The Gamecocks led that game 27-21 entering the 4th quarter, but lost with the help of two 4th-quarter fumbles by starting QB Stephen Garcia and an interception thrown by backup QB Connor Shaw.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier hasn't coached in the conference championship game since 2000 when his Florida Gators won 28-6 over the same opponent he faces this week. The Gamecocks have never played in a conference championship football game.

South Carolina's only conference title came in 1969 as a member of the ACC. It was a season in which no other conference team posted a winning record and the Gamecocks (7-4, 6-0 ACC) beat no one with a winning record. The best overall record of any other team in the conference that year was North Carolina at 5-5. The conference, as a whole, went 31-48-1 and was 7-24 against outside opponents.

This year, the Gamecocks claimed an SEC East division that was a combined 36-34 overall, but SEC West teams were a cumulative 53-19. And while the East division grouping was 18-6 against outside foes, the West went 23-1 with Ole Miss providing the only loss, an embarrassing 49-48 double-overtime home setback against FCS member Jacksonville State on opening weekend.

The Georgia Dome is accustomed to staging rematches in its SEC Championship contests. The last three times that has occurred, the regular season loser met the same fate - Alabama won both '09 meetings with Florida, Auburn downed Tennessee twice in '04, and LSU beat Georgia twice in '03. The last time a team avenged a regular season loss was in 2001 when LSU defeated Tennessee to claim the crown.

The Tigers are 7-1-1 all-time vs. South Carolina and were installed as an opening 7-point favorite by Vegas oddsmakers, but the computer gives them a mere 0.91-point advantage. Auburn needs a win to head to the BCS Championship game where it will face Oregon if the Ducks aren't upset at Oregon State in their "Civil War" regular season finale.

On Wednesday, Auburn QB Cam Newton was declared eligible to play by the NCAA after concluding an investigation into a pay-for-play scheme. The NCAA concluded the scheme did occur but was satisfied with Auburn University limiting access by Newton's father to the athletics program and Mississippi State disassociating itself with the "other involved individual".

Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, said. "In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete's eligibility, we must consider the young person's responsibility. Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity."

Note his words, "at this time." I hope this doesn't come back to haunt our sport and other Auburn players while Newton is off raking in millions in the NFL. It is unfortunate that we have to deal with this at all, especially when the Reggie Bush/USC revelations are so close in our rearview mirror.

The ACC Championship airs at 7:45 p.m. on ESPN and competes with the Big 12 Championship at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.

Virginia Tech (10-2, 8-0 Coastal) and Florida State (9-3, 6-2 Atlantic) meet for the second time in ACC title game, but the 35th time overall.

Florida State leads the all-time series 22-11-1, thanks to former head coach Bobby Bowden's 13-1 record against the Hokies. Since 1999, the Seminoles have been a huge pain in the Hokie Bird's tail feather. FSU defeated Virginia Tech in the 2005 ACC Championship game, the 2001 season Gator Bowl, and most importantly, the 1999 season BCS Championship.

But this is Jimbo Fisher's team now and he has the 'Noles on the cusp of their first 10-win season since 2003.

Virginia Tech has already secured a seventh consecutive 10-win season after a disastrous 0-2 start brought an abrupt halt to any national title hopes. A last-second loss in the opener to Boise State and a home defeat to FSC member James Madison five days later probably would have sunk most teams, but the Hokies regrouped and are riding a 10-game winning streak.

Virginia Tech has proven time and time again to be a resilient team and a resilient school. After all, Virginia Tech survived the worst lone gunman massacre in United States history, so a two-game losing streak is just a pebble in the pond. The last time the Hokies opened a season with back-to-back losses in 1995, they won their next 13 games, the 10th of which was a 28-10 Sugar Bowl victory over Texas in Virginia Tech's first major bowl appearance. The year of the shootings in 2007, Virginia Tech came within seconds of another BCS Championship bid.

The oddsmakers set the line at minus-4 in favor of the Hokies, but the computer likes them by 6.43.

Remarkably, Oklahoma (10-2, 6-2, Big 12 South) and Nebraska (10-2, 6-2 Big 12 North) have only met once before in a Big 12 Championship game with the Sooners claiming a 21-7 win in 2006. But the teams have met 85 times throughout history with the Sooners holding a 44-38-3 edge. As members of the former Big 8, either Nebraska or Oklahoma won or shared the conference title every year from 1962-1995.

With Nebraska leaving for the Big Ten next year, and Colorado heading off to the PAC-10, this will be the final Big 12 championship game - at least for awhile.

The opening line logged Oklahoma as a 5-point favorite and the computer basically agrees by giving the Sooners a 5.16-point edge.

Saturday night also features PAC-10 champion Oregon at Oregon State.

Though beating its state rival doesn't seem like a difficult task for the Ducks, this game has packed 100 years of drama into the last four seasons and the Beavers are loaded with extra incentive to spoil Oregon's season - stopping its run to the BCS Championship game. Considering that the Ducks have denied the Beavers a Rose Bowl bid in each of the last two seasons, it would be extremely sweet revenge.

Last year, Oregon rallied from a 30-21 second-half deficit for a 37-33 win that punched its own ticket to its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1994. The previous year, the Ducks won a 65-38 rout to keep the Beavers from Pasadena.

Other recent games include Oregon State's 38-31 double-overtime thriller in 2007, and the exciting finish in 2006 that saw the Beavers kick the go-ahead field goal with 1:12 left to play and block Oregon's game-winning attempt 52 seconds later to preserve a 30-28 victory.

As for this year's game, let's just say that Oregon State can't be feeling all that confident. The Beavers have been on either side of a blowout in each of their last three games. First, an inexplicable 31-14 home loss broke Washington State's strings of 18 straight FBS losses and 17 straight road losses. The following week, the Beavers gave the home crowd a 36-7 thumping of USC before losing 38-0 at Stanford last week.

Oregon was an opening 16-point favorite by the oddsmakers, but is favored by the computer by just 12.85 points.

Three teams remain alive in pursuit of the Big East's BCS bid - UConn, Pitt and West Virginia.

UConn (7-4, 4-2) controls its own destiny and would clinch the bid with a win at USF (7-4, 3-3). However, the home team has won every game in this series since both the Huskies and Bulls became members of the Big East. USF was an opening 2.5-point favorite while the computer gives the Bulls only a 0.60-point advantage.

UConn can get the bid even if it loses, so long as West Virginia and Pittsburgh also lose their respective games. West Virginia hosts Rutgers while Pitt visits Cincinnati. The Mountaineers are an 18.66-point computer favorite over the Scarlet Knights, but the Panthers get a scant 0.62-point edge at the Bearcats.

West Virginia can nab the BCS bid if it beats Rutgers and UConn loses.

Pitt gets into a BCS bowl with a win at Cincinnati and losses by Connecticut and West Virginia.

The conference made other news this week when it announced TCU would leave the Mountain West and become a member of the Big East in all sports in 2012. TCU wrapped up an undefeated season last week and is headed to a BCS bowl game, most likely the Rose Bowl.

The WAC race is in a 3-way standoff between Boise State, Hawaii and Nevada which are all 1-1 against each other - Hawaii beat Nevada, Nevada beat Boise State and Boise State beat Hawaii. Hawaii has completed its WAC schedule at 7-1. Boise State and Nevada are each 6-1. Nevada visits Louisiana Tech on Saturday while Boise State hosts Utah State. No BCS bid, automatic or at-large, is at stake.

Other games to watch on Saturday include USC at UCLA, and the Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State in Pullman.

BCS TOP 5
Here are top five teams in the BCS and the Congrove Computer Rankings line on their respective games:
No. 1 Auburn (-0.91 vs. South Carolina
No. 2 Oregon (-12.85) at Oregon State
No. 3 TCU, season complete
No. 4 Stanford, season complete
No. 5 Wisconsin, season complete

STILL UNBEATEN:
Three teams remain perfect on the season - Auburn (SEC), Oregon (PAC-10) and TCU (Mountain West).

STILL WINLESS:
No team finished the season winless. However, we do have four teams with just 1 victory - Akron, Memphis, New Mexico and San Jose State. Of those schools, SJSU is the only one that notched its lone win over a Football Championship Subdivision school and it's the only one playing this week (at Idaho).

Prior to this season, 2007 was the last time every FBS school won at least one game, but that season also produced 5 teams that managed to get just 1 victory.

In 2009, Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky were winless, and Washington posted a goose egg in the win column in 2008.

Here's a look at the schools that were winless during the rest of the decade that ends December 31.
2006 - Duke, FIU
2005 - New Mexico State, Temple
2004 - UCF
2003 - Army, SMU
2002 - None
2001 - Duke, Navy and Houston (plus, 4 1-win teams)

FBS vs. FCS:
FBS teams went 83-7 (.922) vs. FCS schools this season and are 547-49 (.918) in such games since 2003.

Here are the results of every FBS loss to the FCS this season:
9/4: Jacksonville State 49, Mississippi 48 (2 OT's)
9/4: North Dakota State 6, Kansas 3
9/11: Gardner-Webb 38, Akron 37
9/11: Liberty 27, Ball State 23
9/11: South Dakota 41, Minnesota 38
9/11: James Madison 21, Virginia Tech 16
10/2: Cal-Davis 14, San Jose State 13

This year, 85 FBS teams played a total of 90 games against FCS foes. Five schools played two such games - Arizona State, Ball State, San Jose State, Syracuse and Virginia.

STREAKS:
Boise State's streaks of 24 overall wins and 35 regular season wins came to an end with its 34-31 overtime loss at Nevada. The Broncos still have streaks of 31 home wins, 61 regular season home wins, and 45 straight conference home victories. BSU has never lost at home to a fellow WAC member (39-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 6-1 in their last seven matches against BCS conference schools. (Next: vs. Utah State on Saturday).

Auburn has 13 straight wins overall. (Next: vs. South Carolina at Atlanta in SEC Championship on Saturday).

TCU has 12 straight wins overall, 25 straight regular season wins and 20 straight home wins. (Next: Bowl game to be announced).

Oregon has 11 straight wins overall. (Next: at Oregon State on Saturday).

Virginia Tech has 10 straight wins overall. (Next: vs. Florida State at Charlotte in ACC Championship on Saturday).

Oklahoma has 36 straight home victories. (Next: vs. Nebraska at Arlington in Big 12 Championship on Saturday).

Akron halted its losing streak at 11. (Next: Season complete).

Memphis has 9 straight losses overall. (Next: Season complete).

San Jose State has 9 straight losses overall. (Next: Season complete).

New Mexico has 16 straight road losses. (Next: Season complete).

COACHING CHANGES:
Dan Hawkins (Colorado), Tim Brewster (Minnesota) and Todd Dodge (North Texas) were each fired with games remaining. Here is how each of those teams performed under the direction of interim head coaches.

Hawkins' interim replacement at Colorado, Brian Cabral, went 2-1

Brewster's interim replacement at Minnesota, Jeff Horton, went 2-3

Dodge's interim replacement at North Texas, Mike Canales, went 2-3.



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