Jim Donnan's Viewer's Guide
Conference championship games dominate the college football schedule. Jim Donnan breaks down what to watch for this week.
|Saturday, Noon ET|
This is the inaugural Conference USA Championship game, which will be played on Central Florida's home field at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
Tulsa won the West Division after UTEP was upset last week by SMU. The Golden Hurricane have won seven of their last nine games following an 0-2 start. Coach Steve Kragthorpe has done a fine job at Tulsa, which was picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the West Division.
Tight end Garrett Mills is one of the more underrated tight ends in all of college football this season (75 receptions, 1,031 receiving yards). Sophomore quarterback Paul Smith has developed into an outstanding passer and has done a good job of spreading the ball around.
Coach George O'Leary has done a tremendous job at Central Florida, in one of the great stories of the season. The Golden Knights started the 2005 season with a 15-game losing streak, then lost the first two games of the season. Since then, UCF is 8-1, including a five-game winning streak entering Saturday's title game. Now O'Leary has a shot at a 10-win season.
-- Jim Donnan
No. 2 Texas
|Saturday, 1 p.m. ET|
For the second straight year, Colorado is in the Big 12 title game after Iowa State failed on the final Saturday of the season to clinch the conference's North Division. At 5-3, CU was the only team in the North Division with a winning record in conference play.
Texas is expected to destroy Colorado. Despite losing 42-17, the Buffaloes played the Longhorns well in the first meeting, but couldn't stop them on third downs. (Texas was 10-for-17 on third downs.)
Coach Gary Barnett has done a good job getting CU to the title game the last two years, in spite of all of the adversity his program has faced. However, the Buffaloes offense vanished in the final two games of the season (one offensive touchdown and four field goals by Mason Crosby).
CU will have to rely on getting turnovers and using its excellent kicking game. It'll help if Texas is overlooking Colorado, but that's not likely after the Longhorns' performance last week against Texas A&M. I expect the Longhorns' defense to regroup and have a big game.
Texas won the inaugural Big 12 title game in 1996, but has not won one since -- losing to Nebraska in 1999 and Colorado in 2001.
|Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET|
The 106th meeting takes on added significance -- this is the first time since 1996 that the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy is on the line for both schools (Army and Navy both beat Air Force earlier in the season).
This series is tied at 49-49-7 with Navy winning the last three meetings. Navy's seniors can become the first since the Class of 1977 to go 4-0 against Army. Also, a win over Army would give Navy the CIC Trophy outright for a school-record third consecutive year. Army has not claimed ownership of the trophy since 1996.
The Black Knights have won four straight after starting the season 0-6. Army hasn't had a five-game winning streak since 1996.
Navy averages 408.8 yards per game, and leads Division I-A with 286.7 rushing yards per game. Navy quarterback Lamar Owens has only completed 55 passes all season, but is the team's leading rusher with 1,114 yards. The Midshipmen have already clinched a bowl bid and will play Colorado State in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 22.
On defense, Army needs to find some way to make some stops behind the line of scrimmage, get Navy out of rhythm and force the Midshipmen to throw the ball and take advantage of long down and distance situations.
Running back Carlton Jones has been outstanding for Army. The Black Knights need to control the clock and get big plays out of play-action passing.
|No. 11 UCLA at
No. 1 USC
|Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET|
This is the 75th meeting in this series, in which the winner in awarded the Victory Bell. After losing every game from 1991-98, USC has won the last six games in the series. This is just the third time that USC and UCLA have come into this game with a combined one loss.
The Trojans are a win away from clinching their fourth straight Pac-10 title and, more important, locking up a spot in the The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi (the BCS championship game). USC has won 33 straight games, has scored at least 50 points in four of its last five games and averages 53.6 points per game at home.
UCLA played USC extremely close last year (29-24) and running back Maurice Drew didn't play much. The Bruins offense matches up well against USC's defense because they are capable of running the ball like Fresno State did two weeks ago. They also have one of the most efficient passers in the country in Drew Olson (67.7 completion percentage).
Conversely, UCLA will have to find a way -- which has been mission impossible this season -- to stop that USC juggernaut offense. The Bruins are 115th in the nation against the run, allowing 219.5 yards per game. Last year Reggie Bush rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries.
UCLA wide receivers and USC's secondary are not up to what we normally see from each team, so whichever group steps up could make a difference. UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis is going to be a factor because USC will have to focus on him, but in the end, the Trojans are a better team on defense. UCLA will need help from Drew on special teams and hope Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart turns the ball over for the Bruins to have a shot at winning this game. This will be a high-scoring game, and UCLA's lack of defense will be the difference.
|No. 13 Georgia vs
No. 3 LSU
|Saturday, 6 p.m. ET|
This is the second time in the last three years that Georgia and LSU have met in the SEC title game (LSU won 34-13 in 2003).
LSU has won nine straight games, allowing 17 points or less in each game. Expect a low-scoring game; the Tigers and Bulldogs rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in scoring defense.
You have two outstanding defenses and two offenses that have the potential to be explosive, but both teams have played around their defenses.
Both teams have outstanding returners in the kicking game (Georgia's Thomas Flowers and Skyler Green for LSU), so the team that covers kicks and punts better will have the edge in what should be a battle of field position all day.
|Florida State vs
No. 5 Virginia Tech
|Saturday, 8 p.m. ET|
Florida State limps into the inaugural ACC Championship game. The Seminoles have scored 15 points or less during their three-game losing streak, and are 2-4 after starting 5-0.
It's been a long time since Florida State has lost three in a row (1983) and there is a good chance the Seminoles' losing streak will reach four in a row after Saturday.
Virginia Tech has bounced back nicely since losing to Miami with back-to-back wins by a combined score of 82-17. FSU has to find a way to harass quarterback Marcus Vick the way Miami did, because that is about the only way you can beat Virginia Tech. Florida State does have one thing on its side: Frank Beamer is 0-6 lifetime against the Seminoles.
-- Jim Donnan