Time for our final regular-season edition of what to watch, where we highlight 10 story lines to keep an eye on this weekend. Special thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for some of the nuggets sprinkled throughout.
1. Upsets, anyone? Most expect Auburn and Oregon to win their games this weekend and meet in Arizona for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. But how about a little history lesson: The No. 1 team in the BCS standings has lost its conference championship game each of the past three seasons. There’s more: A team ranked in the BCS top two has lost its final game of the regular season 13 times in the previous 12 years. The last time neither of the top two teams lost on the first weekend of December was 2005. So the No. 1 Tigers and No. 2 Ducks are on upset alert.
2. Cam the Man. The NCAA ruled earlier this week that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is eligible to play in the SEC championship game against South Carolina, much to the outrage of many people around the country. Quibble all you want about the decision, there is no stopping Newton from stepping onto the field, where he has been the best player in the country. He gets one more shot to definitively make his case for the Heisman.
3. Will Auburn make like Houdini again? The Tigers have made a living this season off being a comeback team, and we saw that in full effect last week against Alabama. Auburn erased a 24-point deficit to win 28-27. It was the eighth time in 12 games the Tigers had to come back – including its win against South Carolina this season. In fact, this is the first season in school history where Auburn has won four games after trailing by double-digits.
4. Can Oregon State pull the upset against Oregon? The Beavers would have a better chance if they had James Rodgers playing in this game. They showed some fight two weeks ago in a win against USC, but then got shut out against Stanford last week. The Beavers have lost three of their past four, including games to UCLA and Washington State. Jacquizz Rodgers is going to need a big game to help Oregon State win the time of possession battle and keep the ball away from the high-powered Ducks offense.
5. Big 12 injury report. Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray and Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez come limping into the game with injuries. Murray hurt his knee last week against Oklahoma State, but is expected to play. Martinez sat out last week against Colorado with an ankle and toe injury. Having two of their best players hobbled by injury is less than ideal for both teams. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini suggested this week that he might play Martinez and Cody Green. The bigger impact could be felt with the Huskers, who have played inconsistently with Green at quarterback.
6. Christian Ponder vs. Tyrod Taylor. Two of the best quarterbacks in the ACC battle it out in the conference championship game, and the key to the game for each team: slowing the other down. Ponder has struggled this year because of injuries, but he has played better since he missed the Clemson game, throwing for 391 yards, four touchdowns and one interception over his past two games. Taylor, who was just selected ACC Player of the Year, is going to face a formidable front, one that leads the nation in sacks with 43.
7. Who emerges as the Big East champion? There are a few scenarios: If Connecticut beats USF, the Huskies win the title. If Connecticut loses and West Virginia beats Rutgers, the Mountaineers are in. If Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati and Connecticut and West Virginia lose, the Panthers are in. If Connecticut, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all lose, there would be a five-way tie, but Connecticut wins all the tiebreakers so the Huskies would be the Big East rep in the BCS. Got all that?
8. How does Boise State bounce back? The Broncos are in the unusual spot of having to play a game the week after losing. That hasn’t happened since 2007. They get Utah State at home on a day a senior class that has gone 46-5 will be honored. Of course, there is also the pride of the blue turf on the line. Boise State would finish WAC play with an all-time 40-0 record at home with a win. Utah State is 1-53 against opponents ranked in the AP poll including 0-42 on the road.
9. Non-AQ title games. There are two other championship games this weekend: Northern Illinois plays Miami (Ohio) tonight for the MAC title, and SMU plays UCF for the Conference USA title on Saturday. The Huskies (10-2) have won nine straight and are ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings. UCF is ranked No. 25 in the coaches’ poll. Both are favored to win.
10. BCS selection show. Sunday is the day all the bowl announcements will be made, making the selection show must-see TV for college football fans everywhere. If Oregon and Auburn win, then most of the matchups seem clear. But if either team loses, the BCS standings will be very important in determining who goes to the national championship game. No. 3 TCU has the most hope of any other team to sneak in, but we will know for sure come Sunday night.