Championships pit unlikely teams in title games
As impressive as USC's 44-24 victory over Notre Dame was, Saturday's game (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET) might be an even bigger challenge for the Trojans. USC will be going up against a rested UCLA team that has a lot of burrs under its saddle. USC has dominated this series, winning the last seven games. The Trojans have already wrapped up an unprecedented fifth consecutive Pac-10 title and a berth to the Rose Bowl, but can make a third consecutive trip to the national championship game with a win against UCLA.
The game is hardly a given, however. As Georgia and Texas A&M demonstrated in defeating ranked Georgia Tech and Texas, respectively, teams that have been on the losing end of a rivalry series can rise up. As long as USC quarterback John David Booty continues to play at the level he has been playing at, it is going to be hard for anyone to stop the Trojans. USC's defense is beginning to look like the type of unit we've come to expect from Pete Carroll's teams. The defense is pressuring people and creating turnovers and could cause problems for UCLA.
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Pete Carroll's Trojans are one win away from the national title game.
One of the biggest questions is who will start under center for the Bruins. Ben Olson led UCLA to a 4-1 start before tearing a ligament in his knee Oct. 7 against Arizona. Sophomore Patrick Cowan has started in his stead, compiling a 2-4 record and completing 53.9 percent of his passes (9 touchdowns, 7 interceptions). Coach Karl Dorrell has yet to announce a starter for Saturday's game, but whoever starts will get little help from the Bruins' running game. Running back Chris Markey has racked up 912 yards on 188 carries, but has rushed for more than 100 yards in just three games (versus Rice, Washington and Cal). The Bruins will have to contend with an improved USC defense that did a good job of containing Notre Dame's high-powered attack.
UCLA does a good job of stopping the run, but should be overmatched in this game. As Oregon State proved, the best way to beat the Trojans is to let them beat themselves. Although there is a lot on the line for USC, games against lesser opponents are often more difficult because it's easy to look past the other team. Carroll does a good job of getting his team to focus on the task at hand, which could spell trouble for the Bruins.
KEY CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHUPS
No. 23 Georgia Tech
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
The big question for both teams is whether their quarterbacks can step up against very good run defenses. Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball has had a good year, but his performance in Saturday's loss to Georgia (6-of-22 passes for 42 yards and 2 interceptions) certainly sticks out. Ball was able to get the ball to star wide receiver Calvin Johnson just twice. The Yellow Jackets' running game has been impressive, with Tashard Choice tallying 10 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards on 249 carries so far this season. Georgia Tech cannot afford to be one-dimensional against Wake Forest, however. The Demon Deacons will exploit any weaknesses in the Georgia Tech offense.
Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner hasn't been asked to throw with a lot of regularity, but Georgia Tech's defense will force that. In all but three of their 12 games, the Yellow Jackets have held their opponents to under 100 yards rushing. Georgia Tech lost two of those three games (Notre Dame, Clemson). This should be a tight matchup pitting two running offenses against two solid run defenses. I give the edge to Georgia Tech because of Johnson's playmaking abilities.
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, CBS
This game will feature a great collection of athletic, speedy players. I give the edge to Florida, as Chris Leak has the advantage at quarterback, but McFadden is such an X factor in every phase of the game -- from kick returns to running to throwing. Momentum-wise, Arkansas' loss at home to LSU hurt. Florida enters the contest knowing that a win (and a USC loss) would give it a greater chance to reach the national championship game.
No. 8 Oklahoma
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
The key to the game will be Oklahoma's stout defense. Facing a team with the offensive capabilities of Nebraska -- which can be explosive when quarterback Zac Taylor gets enough protection -- the Sooners' defense will be relied upon to keep Nebraska off the scoreboard. This game won't be a shootout; I expect a hard, physical game similar to the Huskers' game against Texas. I give the edge to the Sooners because of their defense. They're playing at a level that other teams cannot handle.
Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.