It’s Championship Weekend in college football with six conference championship games scheduled over Friday night and Saturday, and the Big 12 having a de facto title game in their regular season finale. Here’s the Notebook outlook on each game…
MAC: Ohio-Northern Illinois (7 PM ET, ESPN2, Ford Field in Detroit)
Tonight offers a chance to watch NIU’s all-everything quarterback Chandler Harnish. Skilled both running and throwing the ball, Harnish was the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year and no one else was even close. Ohio has a good quarterback of their own in Tyler Tettleton. While he’s not as versatile with his feet, the Bobcats do have a better conventional running game with Donte Harden in the backfield. The coaching matchup is intriguing. Ohio’s Frank Solich has rebuilt this program since being dismissed by Nebraska, but he’s yet to win the conference championship. NIU’s Dave Doeren is on the other side of the spectrum, and up-and-coming former Wisconsin assistant looking to make a quick splash. Northern Illinois did not play in two home games to close the season, though they escaped both times, but I look for Harnish to put on a show in Ford Field tonight and give the Huskies the championship.
Pac-12: UCLA-Oregon (8 PM ET, Fox)
The Pac-12 awards homefield advantage for its championship game, so even the remotest chance UCLA might have had of upsetting the Ducks is out the window. The pointspread on this game is up at 32 and I can see Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and that fast-paced Chip Kelly offense to cover it by halftime. The Bruins are only in this game at 6-6, because USC (10-2) is on probation and no one else was left in the South Division. For UCLA, it’s Rose Bowl or no bowl as far as their postseason hopes, but with coach Rick Neuheisel out the door, I look for the Bruins to have a hard time keeping their focus when things go against them, which they will, early and often.
Conference USA: Southern Miss-Houston (Noon ET, ABC)
Another homefield advantage championship game, this one will be in Houston and is a good example of why more conferences should look at moving their games off of neutral sites. You give a reward for the best league record and you protect your top teams as they play for BCS position. Principle and pragmatism work as one. Houston is looking to lock up a major bowl bid with a win here and on a neutral field it would be tough. Southern Miss hasn’t played well down the stretch, losing to UAB, but quarterback Austin Dantin is underrated and this is a program with steady track record of success. But I doubted Case Keenum, Patrick Edwards and Houston a week ago against Tulsa and after a 48-16 win I won’t make the same mistake here. The Cougar defense showed their stuff last Friday and they’ll play well again here, securing a title.
SEC: LSU-Georgia (4 PM ET, CBS, Georgia Dome in Atlanta)
We’re being assured that even though LSU has all but clinched its berth in the BCS National Championship Game, they’ll still be going all-out. We’re being assured that even if Georgia wins it makes perfect sense to have two teams that couldn’t win the SEC play for the national title over the Bulldogs. If the assurances on the former are right, we won’t need to worry about the latter. The Bulldogs can keep this game close with Aaron Murray at quarterback and if Isaiah Crowell’s persistent ankle problems are okay. But LSU is too good defensively and their ability to create points on D and special teams will give this game a “closer than the score made it sound” kind of feel. Let’s call it 27-10 for the Tigers.
Big 12: Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (8 PM ET, ABC)
If Oklahoma State can’t get a big win over the Sooners this year, they need to give up the fight. They’ve got homefield advantage and injuries over the course of the season have limited Oklahoma’s explosive capacities offensively, namely the loss of running back Dominique Whaley and receiver Ryan Broyles. If the Cowboys tandem of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon gets rolling, OU can’t keep up. And I expect Weeden to answer the bell, make his Heisman case and make a strong appeal for voters to spare us an SEC rematch and give Okie State a shot at the national title.
ACC: Virginia Tech-Clemson (8 PM ET, ESPN, BankofAmerica Stadium in Charlotte)
Virginia Tech lost this matchup at home in a decisive 23-3 fashion back in October. But the Hokies are coming on strong, with sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas clicking. Thomas has thrown 23 TD passes against only two interceptions down the stretch and running back David Wilson is one of the best in the country. Clemson has all the weapons to move the ball against that stout Tech defense, but the Tigers have looked dysfunctional of late. Tajh Boyd played himself out of both Heisman and ACC Player of the Year discussion and Andre Ellington hasn’t been a factor running the ball. I think this game will be good, because I can’t look past that October result too much, but there are also seems little doubt that the Hokies aren’t just the hotter team right now, they have really come together and are capable of playing like this on a sustained basis. Frank Beamer wins his third straight ACC title.
Wisconsin-Michigan State (8 PM ET, Fox, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis)
The rematch of an extraordinary October game in East Lansing where Michigan State won on a last-play Hail Mary pass. Both offenses can move the ball. Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins will throw the ball well in the climate-controlled environment. Wisconsin’s running game is better, with hard-charging Heisman hopeful Montee Ball, but the Spartans are much better on special teams. They blocked a punt for a touchdown in the October win and Wisconsin has had coverage issues all year long. I won’t make a pick in this game because I’m a Wisconsin fan, but I’ll offer this sobering thought—the Badgers haven’t won a close game all year. Now if you can win ten blowouts that says something good about your team, but with the issues they have on special teams I’m hard-pressed to say that 0-2 in close ones is bad luck.
The final BCS Standings and the bowl matchups will then be announced on Sunday.
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