December 1, 2010

Viewer's guide: The deciding weekend

If this week is as eventful as last week, fans will be in luck. That is, fans of just about every team other than Oregon and Auburn.

The final hurdles to the national championship game are set for the Ducks and the Tigers. Oregon goes on the road to face its biggest rival, while Auburn faces a team it beat by eight points at home in September.

In addition, the final Big 12 championship game will be played, ending a conference rivalry between Oklahoma and Nebraska that began in 1912.

Conference championships in the ACC, Big East, Conference USA and MAC also will be decided this week.

Here's a look at the games this weekend that will determine conference titles and - potentially - spots in the national title game.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 14 VIEWER'S GUIDE
FRIDAY

MIAMI OF OHIO VS. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
MAC championship game in Detroit
When: 7 p.m., ESPN2
Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst
The line: Northern Illinois by 16
Why you should watch: June Jones holds the record for a single-season turnaround by improving Hawaii from 0-12 to 9-4 in his first season at the school in 1999. If Miami wins the MAC title and its bowl game, Mike Haywood can match that feat. The RedHawks were 1-11 last season and have not been to a bowl since 2004. Miami has been without starting QB Zac Dysert, who is out for the season with a lacerated spleen, for the past two games. RB Thomas Merriweather rushed for 323 yards in those games. Without Dysert, Miami beat Akron and Temple. Despite Miami's feel-good story, NIU is the heavy favorite and with good reason. The Huskies went 8-0 in league play, defeating MAC opponents by an average of 32 points per game. Northern Illinois is led by RB Chad Spann (1,239 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns) and QB Chandler Harnish (1,949 passing yards with 17 touchdowns, and 761 rushing yards with five touchdowns). NIU is making its first title game appearance since 2005 and is seeking its first title since 1983.

SATURDAY

SMU AT UCF
Conference USA championship game
When: Noon, ESPN2
Broadcasters: Bob Wischusen play-by-play, Brian Griese analyst
The line: UCF by 9.5
Why you should watch: The June Jones reclamation project at SMU continues. The Mustangs finished the regular season with the same overall record (7-5) and conference record (6-2) as a year ago, but thanks to Houston QB Case Keenum's season-ending injury and a 21-18 win over division foe Tulsa on Oct. 9, SMU won the C-USA West this season. Jones built Hawaii into the nation's top passing offense, but SMU has been more balanced, which is somewhat unexpected considering the gaudy passing numbers in C-USA. QB Kyle Padron has passed for 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and RB Zach Line is the conference's leading rusher. SMU has not won an outright conference title since winning the Southwest Conference in 1982. Meanwhile, UCF won the C-USA East title for the third time since 2005. East Carolina won the offense-dominated league on the strength of its defense in 2008 and '09, and UCF has taken up that cause (because East Carolina sure hasn't). The Knights lead C-USA in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass efficiency defense. True freshman QB Jeffrey Godfrey can make plays with his arm and his legs.

OREGON AT OREGON STATE
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
The line: Oregon by 16
Why you should watch: The "Civil War" is an underrated rivalry nationally. In recent seasons, it has been competitive (the teams have split the past 12 games). This season, Oregon State is in danger of missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2005, and Oregon is looking to seal its spot in the national championship game. If Oregon State is going to pull the upset, the Beavers will need to find a way to capitalize if Oregon starts slow. The Ducks led Cal only 8-7 at halftime and trailed Arizona 19-14 after two quarters. Oregon State might have trouble keeping up with Oregon's offense. In seven games without star WR James Rodgers, Oregon State has averaged only 314.3 yards and 2.8 touchdowns per game.

SOUTH CAROLINA VS. AUBURN
SEC championship game in Atlanta
When: 4 p.m., CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
The line: Auburn by 5
Why you should watch: This is a matchup few saw coming in the preseason. South Carolina is here for the first time in school history, but Steve Spurrier was 5-2 in the title game while at Florida. Auburn is here for the first time since the Tigers' 2004 undefeated season. This time, if Auburn wins the SEC championship, the Tigers will play for a national title. Auburn won the first meeting 35-27 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 25, but South Carolina had a disastrous fourth quarter to end the game. The Gamecocks carried a 27-21 lead going into the final frame, but four turnovers helped Auburn win the game. QB Stephen Garcia fumbled twice, Spurrier yanked him and freshman backup Connor Shaw threw two interceptions. South Carolina leads the SEC in run defense and has improved its pass defense in recent weeks. Cam Newton, who may have locked up the Heisman last week against Alabama, has proven he doesn't need to rush for 150 yards for Auburn to win important games. He was 13-of-20 for 216 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rallied past the Crimson Tide.

VIRGINIA TECH VS. FLORIDA STATE
ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
When: 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Sean McDonough play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Virginia Tech by 4
Why you should watch: Jimbo Fisher led Florida State to its first win over Florida since 2003 last week. Could the Seminoles' first ACC title since 2005 be next? For the first time, the ACC championship game won't be in Florida. Either the change of venue or the combination of two enthusiastic fan bases has been a boon to ticket sales. This will be a rematch of the first ACC championship game in 2005, when Florida State shocked then-No. 5 Virginia Tech 27-22. To pull another upset, FSU will need to stymie the Hokies' rushing attack. The Hokies - who have won 10 in a row - also have a ball-hawking secondary; Tech has 20 interceptions this season.

NEBRASKA VS. OKLAHOMA
Big 12 championship game in Arlington, Texas
When: 8 p.m., ABC
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Oklahoma by 4
Why you should watch: Nebraska's final Big 12 game will come under fitting circumstances, as the Huskers face their old Big 8 rival. Nebraska hasn't won a conference championship since 1999. The Huskers' starting quarterback remains a mystery. Bo Pelini said the position will be determined during practice. Cody Green was 10-of-13 for 80 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown in last week's 45-17 win over Colorado; normal starting QB Taylor Martinez sat out with an ankle injury. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is hopeful RB DeMarco Murray can return from a knee injury that limited him against to Oklahoma State. The Sooners will need as much help as possible against Nebraska's defense. A week after throwing three interceptions against Oklahoma State, OU QB Landry Jones faces a defense with 18 picks this season.

CONNECTICUT AT USF
When: 8 p.m., ESPN2
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Bob Griese and Chris Spielman analysts
The line: USF by 2
Why you should watch: Connecticut was a trendy sleeper pick for the Big East title heading into the season. The season hasn't been ideal for the Huskies or the Big East, but Randy Edsall's team has the BCS in its grasp. The Huskies own every tiebreaker, but only if they win this game. In the Big East this season, nothing is pretty, so the Huskies are an underdog to USF, which might be without its starting quarterback. True freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld came on for B.J. Daniels in the second half against Miami last week and led the Bulls to a 23-20 overtime win. Daniels is continuing to recover from a quad injury while Eveld prepares as the starter. There's no mystery in what Connecticut will do on offense: The Huskies will hand the ball to RB Jordan Todman.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.




 

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