David Fox Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
A sound bite that college and conference administrators throw out when defending the BCS is that the system protects the sanctity of the regular season.
The statement has its limits.
As many as seven BCS bids are on the line this week with three conference championship games, one de facto conference championship game in the Big 12, two Big East games with BCS implications and the Conference USA championship game, which could result in an automatic bid if Houston caps an undefeated season.
As for the race for the national championship game, this week's impact seems nil. No. 1 LSU almost certainly will be in the title game even with a loss to Georgia in the SEC championship game. No. 2 Alabama, which looks like a title-game lock, isn't playing at all.
Then again, two weeks ago, everyone seemed to believe that weekend's games would be dull - and the weekend turned into an upset-fest.
Here's a look at the key games for Week 14.
All times Eastern.
WEEK 14 VIEWER'S GUIDE
WEST VIRGINIA AT USF When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Rece Davis play-by-play, Craig James and Jesse Palmer analysts
The line: West Virginia by 1
Why you should watch: The Big East's bid to the BCS, likely the Orange Bowl, is still up for grabs among three teams. West Virginia stayed alive with a sloppy 21-20 win over Pittsburgh last Friday. Cincinnati plays host to Connecticut this week while. Louisville completed its season last week with a 34-24 win over USF. West Virginia needs a three-way tie (wins by itself and Cincinnati) because that means the tiebreaker that would be used would be the BCS standings. The Mountaineers re-entered the BCS rankings at No. 23 this week. Cincinnati needs a win over Connecticut and a WVU loss, while Louisville needs a Cincinnati loss. USF has been a spoiler against WVU in the past. The Mountaineers have lost two of their past three in Tampa. But continuing that trend will be difficult. USF QB B.J. Daniels (shoulder) could miss his second consecutive game, and backup Bobby Eveld is far less mobile. After a quiet first half of the season, West Virginia defensive linemen Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin are back to form. USF needs a win to become bowl-eligible; a loss to WVU means the Bulls will miss out on the postseason for the first time since 2004. The Bulls have led at the start of the fourth quarter in each of their past four losses.
UCLA AT OREGON Pac-12 championship game When: 8 p.m., Fox
Broadcasters: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Charles Davis analyst
The line: Oregon by 31.5
Why you should watch: Commissioner Larry Scott has to be hoping future incarnations of the Pac-12 championship game won't be a dud. Other leagues have had lopsided championship games (hello, Big 12), but this looks to be in a different stratosphere. UCLA is 6-6 and going into the game with a lame-duck coach with the firing of Rick Neuheisel. In addition, the Bruins aren't really the South champion at all. At 7-2, USC, which defeated UCLA 50-0 a week ago, won the South but is ineligible for the title because of NCAA sanctions. A win would give Oregon its third consecutive Pac-12 title. And TB LaMichael James could claim a second consecutive national rushing title, measured by yards per game. James leads the nation at 142.7 ypg.
SOUTHERN MISS AT HOUSTON Conference USA championship game When: Noon, ABC
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick play-by-play, Craig James analyst
The line: Houston by 12.5
Why you should watch: If your favorite team has a coaching vacancy, odds are it's considering one of the coaches in this game, if not both. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin is a former Purdue and Oklahoma assistant, and his offense has helped Case Keenum become a record-setting quarterback. It would be a disservice, though, to put all the attention on Houston's offense. The Cougars have gotten better defensively as the season has progressed; in the past two weeks, they've held SMU and Tulsa to a combined 23 points. On the other sideline, Larry Fedora has guided Southern Miss to its first C-USA championship game since 2006; that one ended in a loss at Houston. Austin Davis is an accomplished three-year starting quarterback who surpassed Brett Favre's school passing records early this season. He can also run a little bit, with 1,308 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in his career.
GEORGIA VS. LSU
SEC championship game in Atlanta When: 4 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: LSU by 13.5
Why you should watch: The last time Georgia played at the Georgia Dome, the Bulldogs left embarrassed by a 35-21 loss to Boise State. They lost 45-42 to South Carolina the following week. But that was their final setback of the season, and the Bulldogs own the nation's third-longest winning streak at 10 games. Led by LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia's defense is ranked in the top 10 nationally in four major categories. Georgia needs its offense at full strength to challenge LSU's stout defense; starting TB Isaiah Crowell, who has been banged-up, is expected to play. The SEC title game hasn't been decided by fewer than 11 points since 2007, when LSU defeated Tennessee 21-14.
MICHIGAN STATE VS. WISCONSIN Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis When: 8 p.m., Fox
Broadcasters: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Charles Davis analyst
The line: Wisconsin by 9.5
Why you should watch: Though the Big Ten is out of the BCS title chase, the first conference championship game has its share of good storylines - not the least of which is that this is a rematch of Michigan State's 37-31 regular-season victory, which came on a 44-yard "Hail Mary." What was lost in the thrilling ending of that game was that Badgers QB Russell Wilson led a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin TB Montee Ball is making a run at Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record. Sanders had 39 touchdowns in 1988, and Ball has 34. Sanders scored five more in the Holiday Bowl against Wyoming, but bowl stats didn't count in the NCAA's official records at the time.
OKLAHOMA AT OKLAHOMA STATE When: 8 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: Oklahoma State by 3.5
Why you should watch: So much for the Bedlam Game being a national championship play-in game. Thanks to upsets by Baylor and Iowa State, this is "only" for the Big 12 title and a BCS berth. This rivalry is lopsided heavily in Oklahoma's favor, with the Sooners taking the past eight games. In addition, Oklahoma is 35-6-5 in Stillwater. There are two key questions. Can Oklahoma keep up with the prolific Cowboys after season-ending injuries to WR Ryan Broyles and TB Dominique Whaley? And which defense breaks first?
CLEMSON VS. VIRGINIA TECH ACC championship game in Charlotte When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Virginia Tech by 7
Why you should watch: As with the Big Ten game, this is a rematch. Clemson beat Virginia Tech 23-3 in Blacksburg on Oct. 1. But the Tigers have lost three of their past four after an 8-0 start. Tajh Boyd hasn't been the same quarterback of late; he has thrown seven interceptions in the past four games and has been sacked 10 times in the past two. WR Sammy Watkins has been limited with a shoulder injury. The best offensive player in the game may be Hokies TB David Wilson, who has rushed for 1,595 yards. Since Tech's loss to Clemson, QB Logan Thomas has thrown 14 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.