Commentary

A rematch likely, but not a sure thing

Originally Published: November 28, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

If you believe the number crunchers, the matchup for the Allstate BCS National Championship Game might already be set.

No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama seem to be on a collision course for an SEC West rematch, after the Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 5.

But there's still plenty to be decided during championship week.

If voters decide they don't want to see an SEC West rematch in New Orleans, No. 3 Oklahoma State might reach the BCS title game if it defeats No. 10 Oklahoma in Saturday's Bedlam game in Stillwater, Okla.

No. 6 Houston can put the bow on an undefeated season and clinch its first BCS berth by beating No. 24 Southern Mississippi in Saturday's Conference USA championship game. No. 14 Georgia could steal a BCS berth by upsetting LSU in the SEC championship game.

BCS berths will also be decided in the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 championship games.

With the way the last month has gone in the 2011 college football season, anything could happen in the final week.

Here's a viewing guide to this weekend's conference championship games:

ACC

Who: No. 5 Virginia Tech (11-1, 7-1 ACC) vs. No. 20 Clemson (9-3, 6-2)
When; where: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN; Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
What's at stake: The winner will win the ACC championship and earn the league's automatic BCS bid to the Jan. 4 Discover Orange Bowl. The loser will probably end up in the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
What to know: The Tigers handed the Hokies their only loss of the season, 23-3 on Oct. 1 at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. The loss ended Virginia Tech's 12-game winning streak against ACC foes and was the first time the Hokies were held without a touchdown at home since 1995. Virginia Tech has won seven games in a row since that defeat; the Tigers lost three of their last four games after an 8-0 start.
Player to watch: Virginia Tech running back David Wilson, a junior from Danville, Va., has run for 1,595 yards with nine touchdowns. He needs only 61 rushing yards to break Ryan Williams' school single-season record. Wilson tied an ACC record with his 10th 100-yard game of the season in Virginia Tech's 38-0 victory over Virginia on Saturday, running for 153 yards with two touchdowns.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Clemson 20

Big Ten

Who: No. 15 Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 13 Michigan State (10-2, 7-1)
When; where: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox; Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
What's at stake: The winner will win the Big Ten championship and earn the league's automatic bid to the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. If the Badgers lose, they'll probably end up in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on New Year's Day. The Spartans could fall to the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., if they lose.
What to know: The Spartans handed the Badgers their first loss of the season, 37-31, on Oct. 22 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans won the game on quarterback Kirk Cousins' 44-yard touchdown to Keith Nichol on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game. The Spartans lost 24-3 at then-No. 14 Nebraska the next week, but won their last four games to win the Big Ten's Legends Division. After losing at Michigan State, the Badgers lost 33-29 at Ohio State the next week, before winning their last four games to win the Leaders Division. The Badgers rolled No. 19 Penn State 45-7 on Saturday to earn a trip to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Player to watch: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has run for 1,622 yards with 29 touchdowns, while catching 17 passes for 248 yards with five touchdowns. His 34 touchdowns are second-most in FBS history. He needs five touchdowns to tie the NCAA single-season record of 39 set by Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders in 11 games in 1988.
Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 31

Conference USA

Who: No. 6 Houston (12-0, 8-0 Conference USA) vs. No. 24 Southern Mississippi (10-2, 6-2)
When; where: Saturday, noon ET on ABC; Robertson Stadium, Houston
What's at stake: If the Cougars defeat Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game in their home stadium, they'll earn their first BCS bowl invitation as an at-large team. If the Golden Eagles end Houston's perfect season, they'll win the Conference USA championship. Southern Miss will probably play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis regardless of Saturday's outcome. The Cougars would fall to one of Conference USA's lesser bowls -- like the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl or Sheraton Hawaii Bowl -- if they fall to Southern Miss.
What to know: The Cougars and Golden Eagles didn't play during the regular season. Houston leads the country in passing (449.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (52.7 points). The Cougars scored at least 35 points in each of their 12 games and scored 56 points or more six times. The Golden Eagles won nine of their last 10 games, inexplicably losing 34-31 at UAB on Nov. 17. Southern Miss ranks No. 15 in scoring offense (36.9 points), No. 25 in scoring defense (20.5 points) and No. 12 in pass-efficiency defense (110.1 rating).
Player to watch: Houston quarterback Case Keenum came back from a knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season and leads the country in passing yards (4,726), passing touchdowns (43) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (43-to-3). Keenum already has set NCAA career records for total offense (19,217 yards), passing yards (18,312), touchdown passes (150) and completions (1,460). He completed 33 of 46 passes for 457 yards with five touchdowns in the Cougars' 48-16 win at Tulsa on Friday, setting another FBS record with his 37th 300-yard passing game.
Prediction: Houston 56, Southern Miss 31

Mid-American Conference

Who: Ohio (9-3, 6-2 MAC) vs. Northern Illinois (9-3, 7-1)
When; where: Friday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2; Ford Field, Detroit.
What's at stake: The winner claims a MAC championship and a berth in the Jan. 8 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The loser probably ends up in the Dec. 27 Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit.
What to know: The Bobcats and Huskies' didn't play each other during the regular season, but they were the MAC's hottest teams at season's end. The Ohio Bobcats have won five games in a row since losing back-to-back games to Buffalo and Ball State in October. Ohio is led by dual-threat quarterback Tyler Tettleton, a sophomore from Norman, Okla., who has passed for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns while running for 576 yards and eight scores. The Huskies have won seven games in a row since losing 48-41 at Central Michigan on Oct. 1. Northern Illinois ranks No. 8 nationally in rushing (255.3 yards per game) and No. 11 in scoring (39.6 points).
Player to watch: Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, a senior from Bluffton, Ind., is extremely dangerous throwing or running the ball. He has completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,692 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions, while running for 1,351 yards and 11 scores. In the Huskies' 51-22 victory over Western Michigan on Oct. 15, Harnish ran for 229 yards and passed for 203. He ranks No. 7 nationally in total offense with 336.9 yards per game.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 49, Ohio 35

Pac-12

Who: No. 9 Oregon (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. UCLA (6-6, 5-4)
When; where: Friday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox; Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
What's at stake: The winner of the inaugural Pac-12 championship game earns the league's automatic BCS berth and a trip to the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Bruins, who won the Pac-12 South because USC is ineligible for the postseason due to its NCAA probation, might have to win to play in a bowl game. If the Bruins lose, they'll finish 6-7 and would have to petition the NCAA for a waiver to play in the postseason with a losing record.
What to know: The Ducks will be an overwhelming favorite at home. Oregon's only losses came against No. 1 LSU and USC. The Ducks rank No. 5 nationally in rushing (291 yards per game) and No. 3 in scoring (45.9 points). Oregon tailback LaMichael James, the country's leading rusher with 142.7 yards per game, injured his left elbow in Saturday's 49-21 rout of Oregon State, but he should be ready to play against the Bruins. After upsetting then-No. 19 Arizona State 29-28 on Nov. 5, the Bruins lost two of their last three games -- 31-6 at Utah and 50-0 at USC. The Bruins won the Pac-12 South after the Utes lost at Colorado 17-14 on Friday. According to published reports, Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel might be fired after Friday night's game.
Player to watch: Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has been nearly as good as he was last season, when he guided the Ducks to the BCS National Championship Game. Thomas, a junior from Houston, has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,274 yards with 27 touchdowns and five interceptions. Against Oregon State in Saturday's Civil War game, he completed 27 of 40 passes for 305 yards with four touchdowns.
Prediction: Oregon 52, UCLA 20

SEC

Who: No. 1 LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC) vs. No. 14 Georgia (10-2, 7-1)
When; where: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on CBS; Georgia Dome, Atlanta
What's at stake: The No. 1 Tigers can complete a perfect season and earn a trip to the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Even if the Tigers don't beat the Bulldogs, there seems to be a good chance they'll still play in the BCS title game because of their lofty BCS ranking. If Georgia wins, it would earn the SEC's automatic BCS berth and would probably play in the Sugar Bowl. If the Bulldogs lose, they'll probably play in one of two Jan. 2 bowls, the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., or the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
What to know: The game will feature two of the country's best defenses. The Tigers rank No. 2 among FBS teams in total defense (248.4 yards per game), No. 2 in scoring defense (10.6 points), No. 3 in pass-efficiency defense (95.8 rating) and No. 4 in run defense (86 yards). The Bulldogs rank No. 5 in total defense (271 yards), No. 10 in scoring defense (17.7 points), No. 4 in pass-efficiency defense (98.8 rating) and No. 6 in run defense (94.7 yards). Georgia lost its first two games against Boise State and South Carolina, but then won 10 games in a row to win the SEC East.
Player to watch: If the Bulldogs are going to keep the game close, quarterback Aaron Murray might have to play the game of his life. Murray, a sophomore from Tampa, Fla., leads the SEC in pass efficiency, completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,698 yards with 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Murray threw 14 touchdowns in his last four games; his last eight scoring passes were caught by seven different players.
Prediction: LSU 27, Georgia 17

Bowl math

With 35 bowl games this season, there are 70 available slots for teams to play in the postseason. With one week to go in the regular season, exactly 70 teams are bowl-eligible and six others which are still alive to play in the postseason. Here's a league-by-league breakdown:

ACC
Bowl-eligible teams: 8
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 4
Bowl slots: 8

NC State (7-5), which has two victories over FCS opponents, came from 27 points down to stun Maryland 56-41 on Saturday. The Wolfpack finished 7-5 to become bowl-eligible, meaning the ACC will fill its bowl slots.

Big 12
Bowl-eligible teams: 8
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 2
Bowl slots: 7

Texas Tech (5-7), which lost five games in a row after upsetting Oklahoma 41-38 on Oct. 22, lost to Baylor 66-42 on Saturday, eliminating the Red Raiders from postseason consideration.

[+] EnlargeDustin Garrison and Jarred Holley
Charles LeClaire/US PresswirePitt's loss to West Virginia leaves the Panthers needing a win over Syracuse to become eligible for the postseason.

Big East
Bowl-eligible teams: 4
Still alive: 4
Eliminated: 0
Bowl slots: 7

There are still four Big East teams alive for a bowl slot: Pittsburgh (5-6), Connecticut (5-6), South Florida (5-6) and Syracuse (5-6). The Panthers and Orange will play a postseason elimination game in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Huskies will have to win at Cincinnati on Saturday to play in a bowl game, and the Bulls will have to beat West Virginia at home on Thursday night.

Big Ten
Bowl-eligible teams: 10
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 2
Bowl slots: 8

Purdue (6-6) became the 10th Big Ten to become bowl-eligible by winning 33-25 at Indiana on Saturday. The Big Ten might have to find a postseason spot for only one of its eligible teams if two of its teams play in BCS bowl games.

Conference USA
Bowl-eligible teams: 5
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 7
Bowl slots: 6

Marshall (6-6) became bowl-eligible by defeating East Carolina 34-27 in overtime on Saturday. The Pirates and UTEP, which lost 31-14 at Central Florida on Friday, were eliminated from postseason consideration with their seventh losses.

Independents
Bowl-eligible teams: 2
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 2
Bowl slots: 4

Notre Dame (8-3) will probably be invited to play in the Champs Sports Bowl against an ACC team. BYU (8-3) will be invited to play in the Armed Forces Bowl against a Conference USA squad. Army and Navy have been eliminated from bowl games, leaving open spots in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (an ACC team might fill it) and the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.

Mid-American
Bowl-eligible teams: 6
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 7
Bowl slots: 3

Eastern Michigan (6-6), which has two victories over FCS opponents, was eliminated after its 18-12 loss at Northern Illinois. Kent State (5-7) also was eliminated after a 34-16 loss at Temple.

Mountain West
Bowl-eligible teams: 5
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 3
Bowl slots: 4

Air Force (7-5), which has two victories over FCS opponents, became bowl-eligible by winning 45-21 at Colorado State on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeUCLA vs USC
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUCLA will represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game due to USC's postseason ban. The Bruins might need to win to become bowl-eligible.

Pac-12
Bowl eligible teams: 6
Still alive: 1
Eliminated: 5
Bowl slots: 7

USC (10-2) is ineligible to play in the postseason because of NCAA probation. UCLA (6-6) must defeat Oregon in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game on Friday night, or try to petition the NCAA to play in the postseason with a losing record if it loses to the Ducks.

SEC
Bowl-eligible teams: 9
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 3
Bowl slots: 9

Vanderbilt (6-6) became bowl-eligible by blasting Wake Forest 41-7 on the road on Saturday, and Mississippi State did it by beating rival Ole Miss 31-3 in the Egg Bowl on Saturday night. Tennessee (5-7) was eliminated from postseason consideration by losing to Kentucky 10-7 on Saturday.

Sun Belt
Bowl-eligible teams: 4
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 5
Bowl slots: 2

Only two Sun Belt teams are guaranteed spots in bowl games. Arkansas State (9-2, 7-0) will play in the Jan. 8 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) has accepted an invitation to play in the Dec. 17 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Western Athletic
Bowl-eligible teams: 3
Still alive: 1
Eliminated: 4
Bowl slots: 3

Utah State (6-5) qualified to play in a bowl game by beating Nevada 21-17 on Saturday. Hawaii (6-6) stayed alive by defeating Tulane 35-23 on Saturday night, but the Warriors will have to beat BYU on Saturday because they play 13 regular-season games.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball