Championship Game Previews
The Thanksgiving Day holiday and Rivalry Week are behind us.
State championships have been decided. So has the Big 12 South winner, whether it was the right decision or not.
But the final week of the 2008 regular season leaves us with plenty of drama.
The SEC and Big 12 championship games will ultimately decide which teams play for the BCS national championship. No. 1 Alabama is going for a perfect season in the SEC title game. So is Ball State, which can finish unbeaten if it beats Buffalo in the MAC championship game on Friday night.
Florida, which might be college football's hottest team, can likely earn a trip to the national title game for the second time in three seasons by beating the Crimson Tide.
Missouri limps into the Big 12 championship game after losing to rival Kansas on Saturday, but can play spoiler against No. 2 Oklahoma in Kansas City. The Tigers will be an overwhelming underdog against the Sooners, who have steamrolled their competition during a six-game winning streak.
An Orange Bowl trip is on the line in Saturday's ACC championship game in Tampa, where Boston College and Virginia Tech figure to play a black-and-blue game.
Here's a closer look at this week's conference championship games:
ACCWho: No. 17 Boston College vs. No. 25 Virginia Tech
When/where: 1 p.m. ET Saturday (ABC)/Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
What's at stake: The winner of Saturday's game earns a trip to the Orange Bowl, where it would play Big East champion Cincinnati on New Year's Day. The Hokies are playing in the ACC championship game for the third time in four seasons. Virginia Tech beat Boston College 30-16 in last year's game in Jacksonville, Fla.
What to watch: Points will surely be hard to come by in this matchup of two of the country's best defenses. Boston College ranks No. 7 in FBS in run defense (87.3 yards per game) and No. 8 in total defense (276.6). The Hokies rank No. 6 in total defense (274.5). The Eagles have been very stingy against the run, allowing fewer than 100 yards in each of their past five games. Boston College held Maryland to minus-six rushing yards in a 28-21 victory Saturday. The Eagles lead the country with 25 interceptions, including 14 in the past five games. Boston College has returned an interception for a touchdown in four straight games.
Who to watch: Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor finally appears to be healthy, running for 137 yards in a 17-14 win over Virginia on Saturday. He replaced senior quarterback Sean Glennon, who was named the MVP of last season's ACC championship game after he threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns. Taylor has thrown for only 812 yards and two touchdowns this season. He has passed for more than 150 yards only once. It figures to be very difficult running against Boston College's defense, so Taylor will have to throw the ball more efficiently.
On the Mark winner: Boston College
Big 12Who: No. 20 Missouri vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
When/where: 8 p.m. Saturday (ABC)/Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
What's at stake: The Sooners, who jumped ahead of Texas in the BCS standings on Sunday to earn a trip to the Big 12 championship game, can punch their ticket to the Jan. 8 BCS Championship Game in south Florida by beating the Tigers. Oklahoma would probably meet the SEC champion in that game. A Missouri victory would open the door for the Longhorns or Southern California to possibly play for the BCS national championship. The Tigers, who are coming off a 40-37 loss to Kansas on Saturday, would probably earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl with an upset victory.
What to watch: Sooner Schooner is firing on all cylinders. Oklahoma has scored 60 points or more in four consecutive games, including a 61-41 rout at rival Oklahoma State on Saturday night. The Sooners have scored 45 points or more in each of their past six games since losing to Texas 45-35 on Oct. 11. Oklahoma beat the Tigers twice last season, including a 38-17 rout in the Big 12 championship game.
Who to watch: Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is probably the leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. Bradford has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 4,080 yards with 46 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He has been sacked only nine times in 393 pass attempts. In his past four games, Bradford has thrown for 1,305 yards with 17 touchdowns and only one interception. After breaking an NCAA record with 36 touchdown passes as a freshman, Bradford has 82 touchdown passes in two seasons. Former Florida quarterback Rex Grossman held the previous NCAA mark with 55 through two seasons.
On the Mark winner: Oklahoma
Conference USAWho: East Carolina vs. Tulsa
When/where: Noon, Saturday (ESPN2)/H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, Okla.
What's at stake: The winner earns a trip to the Jan. 2 AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, where it would probably play Kentucky or Vanderbilt. The loser will probably end up playing in the Jan. 6 GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The teams didn't meet during the regular season.
What to watch: The Pirates are beginning to look like the team that started the season 3-0 and stunned Virginia Tech and West Virginia. After losing three games in a row, East Carolina won five of its last six games to win Conference USA's East Division. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney has played better down the stretch, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,257 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. The Pirates won five games by five points or fewer.
Who to watch: Tulsa quarterback David Johnson leads FCS in pass efficiency with a 192.5 quarterback rating -- ahead of more celebrated passers such as Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow. In his first season as a starter, Johnson has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 3,671 yards with 42 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
On the Mark winner: Tulsa
MACWho: No. 12 Ball State vs. Buffalo
When/where: 8 p.m. Friday (ESPN2)/Ford Field, Detroit
What's at stake: MAC West champion Ball State can finish the regular season with an unblemished 13-0 record by beating the Bulls. Traditionally, a return trip to Detroit for the Dec. 26 Motor City Bowl has been at stake. But officials from the MAC and WAC are trying to set up a potential meeting between Ball State and No. 9 Boise State, another unbeaten team. The deal is far from being done, but would take place in the Motor City Bowl, Humanitarian Bowl or even the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
What to watch: The Bulls won't be a pushover. Buffalo had won five games in a row before losing to Kent State 24-21 on Friday. Quarterback Drew Willy has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,885 yards with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. Tailback James Starks has rushed for 1,226 yards and 14 touchdowns. Under coach Turner Gill, a former Nebraska quarterback, the Bulls won 12 games the past two seasons combined. They had won six games the previous four seasons combined.
Who to watch: Ball State quarterback Nate Davis is a legitimate NFL prospect. He has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 3,095 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. The junior threw only one interception in his past four games. Tailback MiQuale Lewis is equally dangerous, running for 1,570 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. Lewis ran for 100 yards or more in 10 of 12 games.
On the Mark winner: Ball State
SECWho: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida
When/where: 4 p.m. Saturday/Georgia Dome, Atlanta
What's at stake: The winner of Saturday night's game -- the first-ever matchup of SEC teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll -- is all but assured of earning a spot in the BCS Championship Game. The No. 1 Crimson Tide can cap a perfect 13-0 regular season by defeating the Gators. Florida will be trying to win its second SEC title in three seasons. The Gators won the 2006 SEC championship and beat Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship Game.
What to watch: The teams are as different as any squads in the SEC. Alabama relies on its size and brute strength. Florida relies on its speed and versatility on offense. The Gators have scored 40 points or more in each of their past seven games. They've outscored their past eight opponents by a combined score of 414-97 and won each game by at least four touchdowns. The Crimson Tide allowed nine points or fewer in four of their last five games. Florida's offense might not be as effective if junior receiver Percy Harvin, one of the fastest players in college football, can't play because of a sprained ankle.
Who to watch: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, has played at an entirely different level since the Gators' 31-30 loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27. In his past eight games, Tebow has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,491 yards with 19 touchdowns and two interceptions. He hasn't thrown an interception in his past 91 attempts. Tebow also has rushed for 382 yards and 10 touchdowns in his past eight games.
On the Mark winner: Alabama
On The Mark: First-year success
1. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Who said his triple-option spread offense wouldn't work at a BCS school? The Yellow Jackets went 9-3 and ended a seven-game losing streak to rival Georgia with a 45-42 victory on Saturday.
2. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
Nutt inherited a talented roster and led the Rebels to an 8-4 record. Ole Miss upset the past two national champions, Florida and LSU, and blasted rival Mississippi State 45-0 in the Egg Bowl.
3. Steve Fairchild, Colorado State
The Rams improved from 3-9 to 6-6 in Fairchild's first season, winning their last two games to become bowl eligible.
4. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers won their last three games to finish 8-4, a marked improvement from last season's 5-7 finish.
5. Art Briles, Baylor
The Bears finished 4-8 -- only one game better than last season's 3-9 finish -- but were much more competitive under Briles.
Off The Mark: First-year concern
1. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
The Aggies' season didn't get much better after the opening 18-14 loss to Arkansas State at home. Texas A&M lost to Oklahoma by 38 points and Texas by 40.
2. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
The former West Virginia coach didn't inherit much talent, but a 3-9 finish is inexcusable. The Wolverines' nine losses are the most in school history and they won't play in a bowl game for the first time in 34 seasons.
3. Paul Wulff, Washington State
Wulff inherited perhaps the worst program in FCS football, but the Cougars barely put up a fight. Washington State allowed 45 points or more seven times and finished 2-11.
4. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
The Bruins are 4-7 going into Saturday's finale against USC. The offense has been inept under Neuheisel, who is supposed to be one of the game's brightest offensive minds.
5. Bill Stewart, West Virginia
The Mountaineers rebounded from a difficult 1-2 start, but lost two of their last three games to fall out of Big East title contention.
On The Mark: Bowl-clinching victories
1. NC State
The Wolfpack are the ACC's hottest team, winning their last four games after a 2-6 start, including a 38-28 victory over Miami on Saturday.
The Tigers won three of their last four games to become bowl eligible, including a 45-6 rout of Tulane on Saturday.
3. Southern Miss
New coach Larry Fedora recovered from a 2-6 start, winning his last four games to lead the Golden Eagles to a 6-6 finish.
The Tigers blasted rival South Carolina 31-14, earning their seventh victory (Clemson had to finish 7-5 because it played two FCS opponents). The win was enough to earn interim coach Dabo Swinney the head-coaching job.
5. Florida Atlantic
The defending Sun Belt champions outlasted Florida International 57-50 in overtime on Saturday, improving their record to 6-6 after a 1-5 start.
• To see all the teams eligible for bowl games this season, click here.
Off The Mark: Bowl-killing losses
The Cavaliers lost at rival Virginia Tech 17-14, their fourth loss in a row to end the season. Virginia failed to make the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
After a promising 3-0 start, the Buffaloes finished 5-7 after a 40-31 loss at Nebraska on Friday.
The Miners lost two consecutive games to end the season, including a 53-21 loss at East Carolina on Friday, to finish the season with a 5-7 record.
Not many people expected the Tigers to upset No. 1 Alabama, but the ugly 36-0 loss to the Crimson Tide left Auburn with a 5-7 record. It was Auburn's worst loss in the Iron Bowl since a 38-0 defeat in 1962.
The Zips lost at Temple 27-6 on Saturday, leaving them with a 5-7 record. Akron is one of five teams in the MAC East to finish with a losing record.
On The Mark: Big surprises
1. Boston College
The Eagles flourished without quarterback Matt Ryan, finishing 9-3 to win the ACC's Atlantic Division. Boston College beat Maryland 28-21 on Saturday without starting quarterback Chris Crane.
Bearcats coach Brian Kelly lost more than his share of quarterbacks this season, but finished 10-2 and won the Big East title.
The Warriors didn't fall off the map without coach June Jones and quarterback Colt Brennan, winning four of their last five games to finish 7-5.
The Wildcats finished 9-3 and put themselves in position for a New Year's Day bowl game. Northwestern won at Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan.
The Owls flipped their record from 3-9 in 2007 to 9-3 in 2008. Rice won its last six games, including a 56-42 victory over Houston on Saturday.
On The Mark: Big disappointments
The defending BCS national champions finished 7-5 after losing at Arkansas 31-30 on Friday. The Tigers lost three of their last four games.
The Volunteers salvaged coach Phillip Fulmer's last season by winning their final two games, but finished with a 5-7 record.
A 4-8 finish wasn't what the Boilermakers had in mind for coach Joe Tiller's final season at the school.
The preseason No. 1 team in the country finished 9-3 after losing to Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Bulldogs allowed 40 points or more in three games this season.
5. Arizona State
The Sun Devils were a preseason top 15 team, but must beat rival Arizona to finish 6-6 and play in the postseason.