Opportunities for redemption loom in conference title games

Updated: November 30, 2007

SITUATION ROOM: MATCHUP REDUX

With two big rematches occurring in the Big 12 and ACC championship games, we asked former coaches Bob Davie and Bill Curry how they would prepare for Round 2 with an opponent.

By Bob Davie, ESPN.com
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Chase Daniel is the key to Missouri's Big 12 and national championship hopes.

Missouri-Oklahoma and Boston College-Virginia Tech are going to be great games for one simple reason: It's so hard to beat a team twice. When I was coaching at Notre Dame, we beat LSU in the regular season, and then were matched up with the Tigers in the 1997 Independence Bowl. We struggled against LSU the second time, losing 27-9. The prep for round 2 of a matchup isn't different than the first time around. If anything, the second time is tougher, because you've done it before; you have to fight the boredom factor. But for teams that are evenly matched, the team that lost the first round has a significant advantage: motivation for payback.

In most cases, this would work in Missouri's favor, because the Tigers lost to Oklahoma on Oct. 13. But the Sooners have a chip on their shoulder, and Missouri is in a position it hasn't experienced in quite a while. Can the Tigers find the holes in the Sooners' offense?

By Bill Curry, ESPN.com
The first thing a coach has to do when preparing for a rematch is obvious, but amazingly overlooked: Correct the things that got you beat the first time. There's nothing revolutionary about what I'm saying, but it's astounding how many teams will lose twice to the same opponent for the same reason. In the Missouri-Oklahoma game, the Tigers have to take better care of the ball. Missouri is going up against a bigger, faster opponent. Chase Daniel is a very good quarterback who trusts his arm immensely. Sometimes he tries to squeeze the ball into tight spots; against a team like Oklahoma, he has to be careful. On the other side of the ball, Missouri will have to force Sam Bradford and Co. to make mistakes.

The next factor: Make sure the players are not fearful. I'm not talking about being scared of getting hurt; coaches need to ensure their players aren't fearful about being embarrassed again. In football, as in life, we get what we think about, not what we want. The players must think about being efficient and excellent, play after play, with no reference to the scoreboard. On Thursday night, Steve Kragthorpe of Louisville coached his players to think about each play, not the embarrassment of the 2007 season. The result was a stunning comeback against Rutgers, the team that ruined the Cardinals' season the last time they played each other. The psychological aspect of the game is important and often underestimated.



BREAKING DOWN THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

By Jim Donnan, ESPN.com
ACC: Boston College vs. Virginia Tech (ABC, 1 p.m. ET)
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tyrod Taylor brings a new dimension to the Hokies' offense.

In the teams' first meeting, Virginia Tech was given a lot of credit for stopping Matt Ryan and Boston College in the first 58 minutes of the game, but the weather may have played as large a role as the Hokies' defense. When your offense is as reliant on throwing the ball as the Eagles' is, a wet ball can make running a game plan nearly impossible. That said, the Eagles will have the same matchup problems in protection that they had the first time around (Ryan was sacked three times). Virginia Tech will add a new element on the offensive side of the ball with freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was injured and did not play in Boston College's last-minute win. He helps in protection because he can jump around and make defenders miss. The other factor is the kicking game; two years ago, Virginia Tech was upset by Florida State because of the Noles' special teams play. Although it's hard for the current team to reflect on the 2005 conference championship game, expect coach Frank Beamer to be vigilant.

Big 12: Missouri vs. Oklahoma (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
When Missouri and Oklahoma met earlier in the season, I was impressed with the way both offenses were able to move the ball. With the exception of the Tigers' four turnovers, the defenses couldn't get off the field. The secret to beating Oklahoma, as Colorado and Texas Tech figured out, is to keep the ball away from the Sooners. Without the turnovers, Missouri could have won that game. Chase Daniel is talented enough to keep up with the Sooners; the key to the game may be his ability to take care of the ball. Unlike in the teams' first meeting, the Tigers have a healthy Tony Temple, which should give them more balance. Both teams have a number of offensive weapons, so open-field tackling will be at a premium. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford leads the nation in passing efficiency. Although Missouri's defense looked solid against Kansas, the Sooners present a much tougher test. The fact that a win could put Missouri in the BCS National Championship Game and a loss could leave the Tigers possibly out of a BCS bowl entirely is symbolic of the season.

SEC: Tennessee vs. LSU
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Harry How/Getty Images

Erik Ainge has quietly put together a great season.

These teams couldn't be coming from more different psychological places. Tennessee is on a big-time high since its loss to Alabama. The Vols have won some close games. I've nicknamed Phil Fulmer "The Cat," because he has nine lives -- his teams always find a way to win. Tennessee fans have cause to be extra excited about the team's success this season, because, with the notable exception of senior quarterback Erik Ainge, the Vols are relatively young and should be very good next season. Psychologically, five straight wins and a trip to the SEC championship is a very big deal for Tennessee.

After being No. 1 and having seemingly few obstacles on the road to the national championship, LSU's loss to Arkansas was heartbreaking. Now the Tigers are fighting for their BCS lives. Both of the Tigers' losses came in overtime to teams ranked fourth and third in their division, respectively. It's a rough outcome for a team that entered the season with high expectations.

On the field, LSU needs to improve its pressure on the passer. The Tigers barely touched Andre' Woodson, and Tennessee is even better at protecting the quarterback. Because of the play of quarterbacks like Woodson and Tim Tebow, Ainge hasn't received a lot of attention, but he's put together a very impressive season. He's been a big influence in the locker room, providing leadership for a young team, as well as sparking the offense on the field. Tennessee's defense will find matchup problems with LSU's offense as well. The Vols have had trouble stopping teams that are able to run and pass, and if Matt Flynn is healthy and well-protected, he could be tough to contain.

This matchup has a bit of history: In 2001, Tennessee entered the SEC championship game as the prohibitive favorite against an LSU team quarterbacked by backup Matt Mauck. The Tigers walked out of Atlanta with their first SEC title since 1988.

By Mark Schlabach, ESPN.com
C-USA: Tulsa vs. UCF ESPN, noon ET
One of college football's most underrated quarterbacks meets one of the sport's best tailbacks when Central Florida and Tulsa play in Saturday's Bright House Networks Conference USA Championship in Orlando. The winner earns a spot in the Dec. 29 Autozone Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Central Florida tailback Kevin Smith leads NCAA Division I-A in rushing with 2,164 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. The junior had one 300-yard game this season and three more with at least 200 yards. Smith needs 179 rushing yards against the Golden Hurricane to move into second place in NCAA history in rushing yards in a season, behind only Barry Sanders' record of 2,628 set at Oklahoma State in 1988. Smith helped lead the Golden Knights to a six-game winning streak to finish the regular season.

Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith ranks third in the country in pass efficiency, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 4,327 yards with 39 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Central Florida beat Tulsa 44-23 during the regular season, a game in which Smith was intercepted four times. Smith ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.



PAC-10 POWER STRUGGLES

UCLA-USC ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET
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Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Can Karl Dorrell's team get the best of the Trojans two years in a row?

The remarkable aspect of this game is that UCLA -- with five losses -- still has a shot at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins need a win against Southern Cal and an Arizona State loss. (However, if UCLA loses and California and Arizona win, the Bruins will likely be shut out of the postseason, as the Pac-10 will have seven bowl eligible teams.) UCLA is a decided underdog against its crosstown rival, but it has one significant advantage: Karl Dorrell's experience. The Bruins' coach played on a UCLA team that was 5-4-1 entering the rivalry game and beat USC for a trip to the Rose Bowl. That experience shapes the way he has prepared his team for the game. He knows it's not impossible.

Of course, the subtext of this game is Dorrell's future in Westwood. There will be much speculation about whether he'll be back on the Bruins' sideline next season, and a win would go a long way in ensuring his return. To be fair, no team has dealt with as many injuries at the quarterback position as UCLA. The Bruins will have to find a way to score to keep up with USC, but a win will be reliant on the Bruins' defensive effort. UCLA upset USC last season on the strength of its defense. Can Bruce Davis and Co. match last year's effort? In terms of talent, USC has the edge. The Trojans' O-line, now healthy, may be the best in college football.

Around the Pac-10
This time of year, Oregon State is always on the radar. Under coach Mike Riley, the Beavers have hit their stride in late October for the past few seasons. They enter their matchup with Oregon having won five of the past six games. Without Dennis Dixon, Oregon is a team without an identity. The Ducks are scrambling to find a way to move the ball. Oregon State RB Yvenson Bernard gives the Beavers a big advantage. He has six games with over 100 yards rushing.

Similarly, a few weeks ago, most would have dismissed Arizona against the Sun Devils. Now, the Wildcats are as hot as any team in the conference. Junior Mike Thomas is a dynamic receiver who is a lot of fun to watch. Willie Tuitama is throwing with confidence and beginning to look like the quarterback we expected when he arrived at Arizona. If the Cats' D can put pressure on ASU QB Rudy Carpenter, who has not been well-protected this season, Arizona could pull off the upset.




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Viewer's Guide

(All times ET)

Saturday:
10 a.m.: "College GameDay" from San Antonio (ESPN)
11 a.m.: Miami (OH) vs. Central Michigan (ESPN)
Noon: Tulsa vs. UCF (ESPN)
1 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. Boston College (ABC)
4:30 p.m.: UCLA at USC (ABC)
Oregon State at Oregon (ESPN2)
7:45 p.m.: Pittsburgh at West Virginia (ESPN)
8 p.m.: Oklahoma vs/ Missouri (ABC)
Arizona at Arizona State (ESPN2)
11:30 p.m.: Washington at Hawaii (ESPN2)

Schedule | GamePlan

Three-Point Stance

1. Coaches don't miss a trick. While Iowa and Northwestern finished the regular season 6-6 and are long shots to actually be invited to a bowl, they are eligible. So both teams are practicing. At worst, it's a very early start on bowl practices. At best, the teams get a few extra "spring" practice sessions. Either way, the practices fit neatly through the loopholes in the NCAA rules on postseason workouts.

2. The Pac-10 bowl picture, assuming that USC goes to the Rose Bowl, depends on whether the Fiesta Bowl stays local and selects Arizona State. If it doesn't, which seems logical since Sun Devils fans won't fill hotel rooms and restaurants, the effect will stretch all the way to Fort Worth. If the Pac-10 has only one BCS team, then the league's sixth-place team -- UCLA? -- will go to the Armed Forces Bowl.

3. A lot of you have e-mailed since my I-Formation column about the lack of interviews of minority coaching candidates to suggest that getting an interview based on color is as bad as not getting one. That's good as verbal jujitsu. But it ignores how nearly half of the players are African-American and have been for some time. I have yet to hear an explanation of why head coaches and coordinators don't reflect that.

Craig James: Senior Tribute

Jim Donnan: BC-Va. Tech

Fan Feedback

Each week, I'll propose a rule change I think would benefit college football. Sound off on the Conversation page and let me know what you'd like to see changed.

I'd like to see the NCAA change the pass interference penalty. In college, the offending team is penalized 15 yards. In the pros, the ball is put on the line where the interference occurred. Fifteen yards isn't enough to keep players from grabbing a guy and interfering in a big play.

What do you think, SportsNation? Sound off.

EA Sports Preview: Missouri-Oklahoma

What We've Learned This Season

• Preseason predictions aren't perfect. Before the season started, USC was among those in "the best team of all time" debate. Michigan was a national title contender. Chad Henne and John David Booty were Heisman front-runners. Starting with Appalachian State's win, this has been one of the most chaotic seasons in college football …

• Thanks to the spread offense. There's no question the evolution of the spread is the biggest reason we're seeing the balance of power swing in college football. The effect of this is both near- and far-reaching. First, in order to defend the spread, it's nearly becoming a necessity for the team to run the spread. Michigan is the perfect example; the Wolverines had trouble with mobile quarterbacks because they didn't practice against one. Secondly, the prevalence of the spread limits the number of NFL-ready quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see how Chase Daniel, Pat White and Tim Tebow fare at the next level, where QBs aren't asked to run the ball as much. Matt Ryan and John David Booty are among the few NFL prototypes at the position this season. Will the NFL adapt its offenses to take advantage of these athletes' talents? Or will the NFL offenses stay the same, but the pool of quarterbacks will be diminished?

• Because the spread has become college football's latest great equalizer, nontraditional powers are finding ways to win. One of the repercussions is that it has made the coaching profession even more volatile. Administrators at a host of schools now feel that they too can hit the jackpot with a coaching change.

Beano Cook: Army-Navy

By The Numbers

• The Sooners are 6-12-2 all time against the AP's No. 1 team, but they are 4-1 the last five times they've played No. 1 while also being ranked in the Top 10. Oklahoma is actually favored in this game by about a field goal. The last four times the AP No. 1 team has been an underdog on the Vegas line, it has won the game outright.

• Pittsburgh is one of only three teams in Division I-A that has not scored on its opening possession of any game this season. Temple and Iowa are the other two.

• West Virginia has 663 wins in program history, which ranks 15th all time. That's the most wins by any program without a national championship.

• In its last 77 games (dating back to the start of the 2002 season), LSU has allowed only two 300-yard passers. Sam Keller (Arizona State) threw for 461 in the 2005 season opener and David Greene (Georgia) threw for 314 in 2003. LSU won both games. The last 300-yard passer to beat the Tigers was Florida's Rex Grossman on Oct. 6, 2001.

• Navy has outscored Army 202-68 in the past five meetings. But that hasn't always been the case. Consider that in the 107 meetings, only 226 points separate the teams (2.1 PPG).