The calendar for the sports fan this week is defined by college football, with six conferences holding championship games, two more holding de facto title clashes and still two more having high-profile games with at least a share of the league title on the line. Thus, it’s the college football schedule that begins TheSportsNotebook’s look at the week in sports for November 26.
Georgia-Alabama is the biggest game of the entire week in any sport, as the SEC Championship Game (Saturday, 4 PM ET, CBS) will decide the opponent for Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship battle on January 7. The Dawgs-Tide game is one of four conference championship games scheduled for December 1.
Saturday starts with Central Florida-Tulsa in Conference USA (Noon ET, ESPN). This matchup comes out of a strange set of circumstances. UCF was on probation and we assumed East Carolina would get their spot in the game. Then the Knights appealed and while it’s being heard they’re eligible to play in this game and a subsequent bowl. All of which is very shady—we’ve had situations with schools like Miami self-imposing bowl bans late in the year because they were going to be heavy underdogs in the league championship game, and now we have Central Florida—curiously enough with a good shot to win this game—pulling the opposite routine. Call me crazy, but it looks like some opportunism on display.
Prime-time on Saturday night features the championship games in the Big Ten & ACC, as Nebraska-Wisconsin (8 PM ET, Fox) play for the Rose Bowl, while Florida State-Georgia Tech (8 PM ET, ESPN) settle an Orange Bowl bid. The Big 12 will also settle its automatic BCS bid, as Kansas State hosts Texas (8 PM ET, ABC). This is the regular season finale in a league without a title game. If the Wildcats win, they’ll clinch a Fiesta Bowl bid. If they lose, that bid is there for Oklahoma—so long as the Sooners beat TCU earlier in the day (Noon ET, ESPN). And let’s not overlook Boise-Nevada (3:30 PM ET, ABC), as the Broncos go for a piece of the Mountain West championship along with San Diego State and Fresno.
All of this above is just the Saturday fare for college football. The championship build-up starts on Thursday night with Louisville-Rutgers (7:30 PM ET, ESPN) in the Big East. This is a regular season finale that worked out to be a title clash. If Rutgers wins they claim the conference crown outright. If Louisville wins, they share the title with the Scarlet Knights and Syracuse, and potentially Cincinnati if the Bearcats beat UConn on Saturday. But when it comes to BCS eligibility, Louisville would hold the tiebreakers so they are playing for what likely amounts to an Orange Bowl date against the ACC champ.
Then on Friday, it’s one of the most exciting games that no one will watch, as Northern Illinois-Kent State (7 PM ET, ESPN2) get set to play for the MAC title. If anyone does watch football on Friday it’s more likely to be the UCLA-Stanford game (8 PM ET, Fox) in the Pac-12 Championship. This game will be in Palo Alto, as the Pac-12 is the one conference that awards homefield advantage for its title bout, and it’s a rematch of last Saturday’s game, where the Cardinal thrashed the Bruins. It should be noted though, that UCLA already had its division clinched, while Stanford had to hold off Oregon for the division crown.
NFL ACTION AHEAD
NFL Week 13 also begins on Thursday and we actually have a pretty good game on the NFL Network, with New Orleans visiting Atlanta. The Saints loss to the 49ers yesterday was a tough blow, but every other leader in the race for the final wild-card spot in the NFC also lost, so New Orleans is still only a game out. Atlanta remains in a tough fight with San Francisco for the NFC’s #1 seed. Then the NFC wild-card race picks up again on Sunday with key games in Seattle-Chicago and Minnesota-Green Bay. The AFC race is a little quieter with all four divisions looking under firm control, but Pittsburgh-Baltimore (4:25 PM ET, CBS) will be the late afternoon money game and the Steelers are now desperate after losing to Cleveland yesterday.
Prime-time pro football is an NFC East feast, starting with Philadelphia-Dallas on Sunday night (8:20 PM ET, NBC) and then NY Giants-Washington (8:30 PM ET, ESPN). Can I ask why the Eagles-Cowboys game isn’t flexed into a 1 PM ET slot and a better game—let’s say Seahawks-Bears—shown on prime-time? On Monday night, RG3 and the Redskins can pull to within a game of the Giants with a win.
WE HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN HOOPS
The early part of the week in college basketball is marked by the Big Ten-ACC challenge. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will all have doubleheader action. The best games on the board are North Carolina-Indiana on Tuesday and Ohio State-Duke on Wednesday, both tipping at 9:30 PM ET on ESPN. Then attention shifts to the Big East and SEC, who play a series of games against each other starting Wednesday. The game you want to see in this group is Kentucky-Notre Dame (7 PM ET, ESPN2) as the Irish faithful get focused on playing the best in the SEC—a mindset that will soon be carried over to the football field.
Finally, we come to the NBA, still in the sort-out portion of the schedule as teams jockey for some early position. TNT has a juicy matchup for Thursday night in San Antonio-Miami at 8 PM ET, as the defending champs host the team that held the #1 seed in the West and looked like the best in the league. The Spurs are off to a strong start so far this year and will be the subject of a feature here at TheSportsNotebook some time later in the week.
TheSportsNotebook will also have a feature on the best teams in Big East basketball coming, and our early week football coverage will chronicle the latest developments in projecting the BCS bowl matchups (all of them, not just the top game, which is now self-explanatory), and we’re at the point in the NFL season where our exit polling will start showing projected playoff matchups. And our usual preview of NFL Sunday will run late in the week.
Most of all though, this week is about college football. So while TheSportsNotebook will keep you up to date in the NFL and check in with college basketball and the NBA, we’ll be going full steam on all the championship games—both actual and de facto—throughout the week. Come on by TheSportsNotebook.com each day for commentary, historical perspective and predictions you can confidently bet against.