Pigskin (P)review – Conference Championships and the Like

It’s a big Saturday for a lot of NCAA football conferences. Last chances for teams to assert themselves BCS-wise, and a lot of final games before the season wraps and the long (monthish-long) wait begins for bowl games. Here are your weekend notables and what has gone down already.

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP

  • #24 Southern Miss is currently visiting and leading undefeated #6 Houston, 42-21 in the 4th. Can Houston overcome and stay undefeated (seems kind of unlikely now)? What will it mean for them bowl-wise? It’s always interesting when a dominant team emerges from a smaller conference – interesting in that even when staying undefeated, it’s hard to crack into a notable bowl. Southern Miss is playing spoiler hardcore.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #14 Georgia takes on #1 LSU for a 4 PM kick-off. If LSU beats Georgia (at the Georgia Dome), they will be (almost certainly) headed to the BCS national title game . LSU has already nabbed the first 12-0 regular season in school history, and today they battle for their 11th SEC title (first since 2007 – the year LSU also won the national title). Georgia might not make it easy for them, having won ten straight games.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #15 Wisconsin and #13 Michigan State are meeting in Indianapolis for the first-ever Big Ten Conference Championship game – and a rematch (remember that mildly controversial last-second Michigan State hail mary win? No? Go look it up.). Wisconsin was battling for a chance to go to the national championship when it lost to Michigan State earlier this season. Now, a ticket to the Rose Bowl is on the line for the Spartans and Badgers, both of which are riding a four-game win streak. Kick-off at (the awkward time of) 8:17 PM.
BEDLAM
  • The Big 12 no longer has a championship game (because it is kind of falling apart) due to the lack of having 12 teams, but there are big things on the line tonight when #10 Oklahoma faces off with #3 Oklahoma State for what is referred to as Bedlam (kick-off at 8 PM). There is still a (slight) chance that Oklahoma State can leap-frog current-#2 Alabama and catapult into the national title game – they have to blow-out Oklahoma tonight. The Cowboys, however, are only 3-point favorites and have historically been on the losing side of the Bedlam match-up (Oklahoma has a nine game win-streak). If an Oklahoma State win isn’t a big enough beating, or if the Sooners take another win away, the winner will head to the Fiesta Bowl (to most likely battle Andrew Luck-led Stanford).

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP

  • #5 Virginia Tech is looking to avenge its loss to #20 Clemson earlier this season in tonight’s ACC Championship game. Kick-off at 8 PM. The Hokies haven’t lost since falling to Clemson on October 1, whereas the Tigers, after a strong 8-0 start, have lost three of the last four – most recently falling to South Carolina a week ago (34-13, ouch). Tonight’s ACC winner will also head to the Orange Bowl (the Hokies made it that far last year, falling to Stanford in the Orange Bowl 40-12. Damn that Andrew Luck).
PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
  • #9 Oregon is headed to the Rose Bowl after beating UCLA 49-31 on Friday night. The win sealed Oregon’s third-straight conference title. The Bruins kept it closer than most thought they would, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Ducks and RB LaMichael James (who found himself in the endzone three times), who might be slipping to the NFL next year (James is a junior). ┬áThe game was the last for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired earlier this week.

 

Pigskin Review – The Mighty are Falling

nnnnnotttttt quite. bummer.

#2 Oklahoma State losing on Friday night (to Iowa State) set the tone for the toppling trend in the BCS top ten (holy alliteration). LSU, Alabama, Arkansas – that’s your new top three. Here’s what went down.

-#1 LSU continued to roll, throttling Ole Miss 52-3. #3 Alabama made their BCS title game case with a big win over Georgia South, 45-21. #6 Arkansas didn’t have much trouble with Mississippi State, winning 44-17. LSU holds onto the top spot, Alabama moves up to #2, and Arkansas jumps three spots to #3.
-#4 Oregon couldn’t get past visiting USC, losing 38-35. The Ducks booted a 37-yard field goal wide left with little time left in the game, giving the Trojans the win and quashing Oregon’s hopes of moving up the NCAA ranks and entering a second consecutive BCS championship game. Oregon drops to #10.
-#5 Oklahoma now has two losses this season (and crushed national title hopes) after being upset by #22 Baylor, 45-38. Historically, Baylor had been 0-20 against the Sooners, but Bears QB Robert Griffin III found a receiver in the back of the endzone with 8 seconds left to lift Baylor to the school’s first versus-Oklahoma win. Baylor creeps up to #18, Oklahoma drops to #9, and the Sooners find themselves with new end-of-season goals – vying for another Big 12 championship, and getting into (and winning) a bowl game.
-North Carolina State turned it ON against #7 Clemson, beating the favored Tigers 37-13. Four Clemson turnovers did not help matters, and they drop to #17 overall.
-#13 Kansas State eeks one out against #23 Texas, 17-13. Kansas State edges up to #11, and Texas moves to #25.
-#21 Penn State held on against Ohio State in Buckeyes territory, winning 20-14. A surprising amount of offense for both teams early, but the defenses hunkered down in the second half to allow no scoring on either side of the field. Penn State goes into a game against Wisconsin next weekend with the Big Ten Leaders Division on the line.
-#17 Wisconsin held on to beat Illinois this weekend, which booted Ohio State from a shot at the Leaders division because the Buckeyes had already fallen three times in conference play (prior to the loss against PSU). On the Legends side of things, though #18 Michigan beat up on #16 Nebraska 45-17, #15 Michigan State was able to clinch the division with a 55-3 victory over Indiana. The inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship game will pit newly-numbered #14 Michigan State against either #19 Penn State or #16 Wisconsin.

Blue and White and Cherry.

sigh.

Penn State somehow beat Temple today, 14-10. Temple led for most of the game; it was 10-7 Temple until a 1-yard TD run by PSU fullback Michael Zordich with just under three minutes to play. If what I wrote doesn’t make this immediately clear, the Nittany Lion offense continues to struggle mightily.

Penn State’s two-prong mess of a quarterback situation is still in effect. Matt McGloin looked slightly better than he did against Alabama (not a real high bar set for him that game), but Rob Bolden has better goods – it just doesn’t seem like the receivers can perform for him. At any rate, neither is getting (or deserves to get) enough reps to really settle into the rhythm of being the offensive leader. And this problem isn’t going to resolve itself, so it does not bode well for future conference games against much better defenses than that of the Temple Owls.

Aside from the offense, the Special Teams put on an absolutely offensive show. Two missed field goals. One blocked (and therefore missed) field goal. One blocked punt. I really have nothing else to say. Other than I miss Kevin Kelly.

The one positive thing I can say about the game is that the defense is looking fairly stout this season. Typical, grinding Penn State defensive play is almost expected of the Lions, but it’s a nice thing to see (when so many other things are going wrong). But for as much as the defense can do, the offense still has to put points on the board, and one of the kickers needs to figure out how to get the damn ball through the uprights because field goals count too.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Watching unranked Clemson snap #21 Auburn’s 17-game win streak was fun. Seemingly everyone on the Clemson football team has braids. Clemson wins 38-24.

Flowing braids.

-#10 South Carolina grabbed another sloppy win, edging a surprising Navy 24-21. Navy was driving in the last minutes of the game but an interception rained on that parade.
-Notre Dame stomped on #15 Michigan State for its first win, 31-13. Turnovers abounded for both teams, but Michigan State gave it up more when it counted.
-In the battle of the scandal-ridden, Miami trounced #17 Ohio State 24-6. Miami’s QB Jacory Harris was back after his one game suspension as part of the NCAA sanctions connected to the Nevin Shapiro case. He had two touchdowns but also two interceptions and a fumble.
-In Saturday night’s prime time event, #1 Oklahoma beat #5 Florida State 23-13. The Seminoles offense was shaky (although go check out the late-game 56-yard TD pass by back-up Clint Trickett on third-and-28 that tied the game at 13), but the defense kept Florida State in it for most of the game. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones had an up and down night (18-27 for 199 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions in a LOUD Florida State stadium), but he connected with Kenny Stills for a tie-breaking TD in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma’s D held on.