Originally Published: November 19, 2012

Irish eyes, still smiling, turn toward Atlanta

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

College football fans will have to wait two more seasons before they'll see a four-team playoff to decide the sport's national champion, but at least they'll get to watch a pseudo-national semifinal in Atlanta on Saturday.

After No. 1 Notre Dame beat USC 22-13 in Los Angeles on Saturday night, the Fighting Irish have punched their ticket to the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.

Whom will the Irish face?

That will be decided Saturday at the Georgia Dome, where No. 2 Alabama faces No. 3 Georgia in a winner-take-all SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide are trying to become the first consensus back-to-back national champion since Nebraska in 1994-95. The Bulldogs are trying to win their first national title since 1980.

The Fighting Irish will be among the interested parties closely following the action in Atlanta. They won't be the only ones paying close attention.

Just ask Harvey Updyke, the infamous Alabama fan who allegedly poisoned the beloved trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner after the Tigers won the 2010 national title. He made an unsolicited telephone call to this humble correspondent from a psychiatric facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Sunday night.

Updyke said he has been a patient at Taylor-Hardin Secure Medical Facility, where doctors are evaluating whether he's fit to stand trial on criminal charges for poisoning the trees. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to charges that include criminal mischief and desecrating a venerable object. Updyke's trial was supposed to start in October, but the case has been delayed indefinitely.

So for now, Updyke will worry about Alabama's chances of winning it all again.

"I think Alabama can run it on Georgia," Updyke said. "The key to that game is who doesn't make mistakes, just like a lot of them. I feel confident that Alabama can run it on them."

Updyke said he was able to watch the Crimson Tide rout Auburn 49-0 in Saturday's Iron Bowl on TV from his hospital room.

"I thought it was great," Updyke said. "I got to watch it. When I was in the Auburn jail, they wouldn't let me watch [Alabama]. I missed the LSU game and the others."

There's not a chance he'll miss Saturday's game in Atlanta.

Here's the rest of the conference championship games you'll see this weekend:

ACC

Who: No. 13 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3 ACC)
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN.com
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

What's at stake: The winner will win the ACC championship and earn the league's automatic bid to the Jan. 1 Discover Orange Bowl in Miami. If the Seminoles lose, they might fall to the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. If the Yellow Jackets lose, they'll probably fall to the Dec. 31 Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. If Georgia Tech loses, it would finish 6-7 and would need a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game.

What to know: Both teams enter the game coming off deflating losses to their in-state rivals. Florida State fell to No. 4 Florida 37-26 at home Saturday; Georgia Tech was blown out 42-10 at No. 3 Georgia. FSU had won five games in a row before falling to the Gators; Georgia Tech had won three in a row before losing to the Bulldogs.

Georgia Tech earned a spot in the ACC championship game by winning the Coastal Division after Miami banned its team from playing in the postseason because of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Oddly enough, the ACC foes haven't met since the Yellow Jackets won 49-44 during former FSU coach Bobby Bowden's final season in 2009. Georgia Tech's triple-option spread offense ranks No. 3 nationally in rushing with 323.3 yards per game; FSU ranks No. 4 nationally in run defense, allowing only 85 yards per game.

Player to watch: Florida State had one of the country's most ferocious defensive lines, before losing ends Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius "Tank" Carradine to injuries. They still have end Bjoern Werner, who combined with Carradine for 17 tackles, four sacks, five tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in the loss to the Gators. Werner, who is affectionately known as the "Germanator" by teammates and fans, is tied with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney for most sacks among FBS players with 13.

Prediction: Florida State 38, Georgia Tech 17

Big Ten

Who: No. 12 Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten)
When: Saturday, 8:17 p.m. ET on Fox
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

What's at stake: The winner wins a Big Ten championship and the league's automatic bid to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio in Pasadena, Calif. If Nebraska loses, it might fall to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day. The Badgers, who are playing for a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl, might fall to the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., if they lose.

What to know: The teams battled in one of the Big Ten's best games on Sept. 29, when the Cornhuskers rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half to defeat the Badgers 30-27 at home. After falling behind 27-10 early in the third quarter, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez rallied his team to four consecutive scoring drives. Nebraska won after Badgers tailback Montee Ball was stuffed on fourth-and-1 and fumbled at the Wisconsin 49 with one minute to play.

Martinez completed 17 of 29 passes for 181 yards with two touchdowns, while running 13 times for 107 yards with one score in the first meeting. The Cornhuskers won their last six games to win the Legends Division; the Badgers dropped three of their last four games. Wisconsin finished third in the Leaders Division, but is playing in the Big Ten championship game because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible to play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.

Player to watch: Ball got off to a slow start this season after missing much of training camp because of a concussion, but he was red hot in the final two months of the regular season, running for 100 yards or more in six of his final seven games. He ran for 247 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-14 win at Purdue on Oct. 13, and then set an NCAA record with his 79th career touchdown in a 24-21 overtime loss at Penn State on Saturday. Ball ranks eighth nationally among FBS players with 127.3 rushing yards per game.

Prediction: Nebraska 24, Wisconsin 17

Conference USA

Who: UCF (9-3, 7-1 Conference USA) vs. Tulsa (9-3, 7-1 Conference USA)
When: Saturday, noon ET on ESPN2/WatchESPN.com
Where: H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, Okla.

What's at the stake: The winner earns the league's automatic bid to the Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. If the Knights lose, they could fall to the Dec. 21 Beef 'O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. If the Golden Hurricane lose, they could fall to the Dec. 29 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

What to know: The teams met just over two weeks ago, with the Golden Hurricane winning 23-21 at home Nov. 17. Tulsa quarterback Cody Green threw three touchdown passes to Keyarris Garrett, helping Tulsa take a 23-14 lead into the fourth quarter. The Knights pulled to within 23-21 on Latavius Murray's 2-yard run with 9:01 left, but the Golden Hurricane took possession and ran nearly seven minutes off the clock.

Green completed 21 of 34 passes for 252 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. It will be the third time UCF and Tulsa have played in the C-USA championship game; the Golden Hurricane won 44-27 in the inaugural game in 2005, and the Knights won 44-25 in 2007.

Player to watch: UCF receiver Quincy McDuffie, a senior from Orlando, is one of the most explosive players in Conference USA. He has run 16 times for 163 yards with three touchdowns; caught 27 passes for 342 yards with two scores; and averages 34.3 yards on 16 kickoff returns, third-best among FBS players. McDuffie tied an NCAA record by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns (97 and 98 yards) in a 54-17 win over Marshall on Oct. 27.

Prediction: UCF 20, Tulsa 19

Mid-American Conference

Who: No. 21 Northern Illinois (11-1, 8-0 MAC) vs. No. 17 Kent State (11-1, 8-0 MAC)
When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2/WatchESPN.com
Where: Ford Field, Detroit

What's at stake: The winner takes the MAC championship and probably earns a trip back to Detroit for the Dec. 26 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, which gets the first pick among MAC teams this season. There's a chance that No. 17 Kent State might qualify for a BCS at-large spot if it beats the Huskies and Stanford defeats UCLA in the Pac-12 title game. If the MAC champ finishes in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ranked ahead of the champion of an AQ league (the Big East), it would be an automatic selection under BCS rules. The loser probably ends up going to the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

What to know: The Huskies, who will appear in their third straight MAC championship game, have won 11 consecutive games since losing to Iowa 18-17 in their opener. Last season, Northern Illinois won its first football league championship in 28 years with a 23-20 win over Ohio. The Huskies rank No. 1 in the MAC in rushing (245 yards per game), total offense (482.6 yards) and scoring offense (40.5 points). Kent State won the MAC East for the first time and is off to its best start in 90 years. The Golden Flashes' only loss was a 47-14 defeat at Kentucky on Sept. 8; they've won 10 games in a row, including a 35-23 upset of then-No. 15 Rutgers on the road on Oct. 27.

Player to watch: Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, a junior from Chicago, is the best Heisman Trophy candidate from outside an FBS conference, and his numbers easily rival those of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Kansas State's Collin Klein.

Lynch ranks No. 5 nationally in rushing (134.2 yards), No. 3 in total offense (363.4 yards) and No. 12 in pass efficiency (157.3 rating). Lynch broke an NCAA record for quarterbacks with more than 100 rushing yards in each of the past 10 games, and he has thrown 16 touchdowns with only one interception in his past eight games.

Prediction: Northern Illinois 34, Kent State 31

Pac-12

Who: No. 16 UCLA (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) vs. No. 8 Stanford (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12)
When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox
Where: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.

What's at stake: The winner takes home the Pac-12 championship and earns a trip to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Cardinal last played in the Rose Bowl in 2000; the Bruins haven't played in the Grandaddy of 'Em All since 1999. The loser of Friday night's game probably ends up in the Dec. 29 Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

What to know: The Bruins and Cardinal will play for the second time in six days, after Stanford won 35-17 at the Rose Bowl on Saturday to win the Pac-12 North and set up a rematch. Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor ran for 142 yards with two touchdowns, and quarterback Kevin Hogan passed for 160 yards with another score.

The Cardinal outgained the Bruins 381-334 in total yardage and forced two turnovers. UCLA's offensive line really struggled to contain Stanford's pass rush, as quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked seven times. Stanford has won four consecutive games over UCLA.

Player to watch: Taylor has helped lead the Cardinal to six consecutive victories, running for 100 yards or more in each of the past three contests. He has run for 1,364 yards with 11 touchdowns this season, while catching 32 passes for 215 yards with two more scores. Taylor has run for 4,134 yards in his career and needs 36 yards to break Darrin Nelson's school record of 4,169 set from 1977 to 1981.

Prediction: Stanford 28, UCLA 24

SEC

Who: No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on CBS
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

What's at stake: The winner takes home the SEC championship and earns a date against No. 1 Notre Dame in the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Alabama is playing for a chance to win back-to-back national championships; UGA is attempting to win its first national title since 1980. If Alabama loses, it might end up in the Cotton Bowl or Capital One Bowl in Orlando. Georgia could fall to the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl with a defeat.

What to know: The teams have nearly mirrored each other at times this season, relying on their stingy defenses and balanced offenses to win all but one game. Alabama lost to Texas A&M 29-24 at home on Nov. 10; Georgia was walloped 35-7 by South Carolina on the road on Oct. 6. UGA freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have combined to run for 1,858 yards with 22 touchdowns, and quarterback Aaron Murray leads FBS players in pass efficiency, completing 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,201 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is No. 2 in pass efficiency, completing 67.2 percent of his attempts for 2,507 yards with 25 touchdowns and two picks. Tide tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon combined to run for 1,848 yards with 24 touchdowns.

Player to watch: Georgia might have the best duo of linebackers in the country in juniors Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Jones, a USC transfer, is projected as the No. 1 prospect for next spring's NFL draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

Ogletree, who has played in only eight games because of a four-game suspension to start the season, is considered a potential top-15 pick. Ogletree leads the Dawgs with 87 tackles and has 7½ tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. Jones has 71 tackles, 19½ tackles for loss, 10½ sacks, one interception, six forced fumbles and 30 quarterback hurries.

Prediction: Georgia 24, Alabama 21

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 three others that are still alive to play in the postseason. Here's a league-by-league breakdown:

ACC
Bowl-eligible teams: 5
Still alive: 1
Eliminated: 6
Bowl slots: 8

With a 17-14 victory over rival Virginia on Saturday, Virginia Tech finished 6-6 and extended its string of consecutive bowl games to 19, third longest in the country. With North Carolina being ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanction, and Miami self-imposing a ban, half of the ACC will miss bowl games. Georgia Tech will finish 6-7 if it loses to Florida State in Saturday's ACC championship game, but can still play in a bowl game if the NCAA approves its waiver.

Big 12
Bowl-eligible teams: 9
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 1
Bowl slots: 8

After Baylor and West Virginia became bowl eligible on Saturday, the Big 12 figures to have all but one of its teams in bowl games this postseason. There probably will be just enough spots in its bowl allotment if Kansas State and Oklahoma are both invited to BCS bowl games.

Big East
Bowl-eligible teams: 4
Still alive: 2
Eliminated: 2
Bowl slots: 6

UConn and Pittsburgh pulled off big upsets Saturday to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Panthers improved to 5-6 by upsetting No. 18 Rutgers 27-6 at home and now must win at USF on Saturday to go bowling. The Huskies upset No. 20 Louisville 23-20 in three overtimes and must beat Cincinnati at home Saturday to finish 6-6.

Big Ten
Bowl-eligible teams: 7
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 5
Bowl slots: 8

Purdue and Michigan State became bowl eligible with victories on Saturday. The Boilermakers defeated rival Indiana 56-35 at home, but coach Danny Hope was still fired Sunday. Hope had a 22-27 record in four seasons at Purdue.

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

It was a big day for Conference USA's bowl hopes as two more teams became bowl eligible. SMU upset Tulsa 35-27 to get to 6-6, and Rice also finished .500 with a 33-24 victory at UTEP. Marshall just missed the postseason, finishing 5-7 after a 65-59 loss at East Carolina in double overtime.

Independents
Bowl-eligible teams: 3
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 1
Bowl slots: 3

No. 1 Notre Dame is going to the BCS National Championship Game after defeating USC, and Navy and BYU are penciled in for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 and San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20, respectively.

Mid-American Conference
Bowl-eligible teams: 7
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 5
Bowl slots: 8

It might be a banner postseason for the MAC, which had a seventh team become bowl-eligible Saturday. Central Michigan improved to 6-6 with a 42-21 victory at UMass, but there might not be an open bid for the Chippewas when the dust settles.

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

The only question remaining in the Mountain West is where the top three teams end up, after Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State finished in a three-way tie for first place in the standings, with the Broncos still facing a visit to Nevada on Saturday. Boise State is the odds-on favorite to land in Las Vegas, with San Diego State probably going to the hometown Poinsettia Bowl and Fresno State going to Hawaii (not a bad consolation prize).

Pac-12
Bowl-eligible teams: 8
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 4
Bowl slots: 7

The Pac-12 won't be part of the BCS championship game, but three-fourths of its teams will be playing in bowl games. The Pac-12 has one too many bowl teams for its allotment, but the Pac-12 champion (Stanford or UCLA) and Oregon should be invited to BCS bowl games, which will leave enough spots for the other six teams.

SEC
Bowl-eligible teams: 9
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 5
Bowl slots: 8

Ole Miss was the last SEC team to become bowl eligible with a convincing 41-24 victory over rival Mississippi State in Saturday's Egg Bowl. Missouri was eliminated from the postseason after losing to Texas A&M 59-29.

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

The Sun Belt might see as many as four of its teams go bowling, but there's a chance Western Kentucky might be left out for the second year in a row. The Hilltoppers dropped three of their past four games, but beat North Texas 25-24 to go 7-5 for the second straight season.

Western Athletic
Bowl-eligible teams: 3
Still alive: 0
Eliminated: 4
Bowl slots: 1

Utah State won the WAC and has accepted an invitation to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Louisiana Tech and San Jose State are left looking for a postseason home. Texas-San Antonio finished 8-4, but is ineligible for the postseason because it's making the transition to FBS.

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