One More Time
Sometimes, sequels are perfect. Ali and Frazier fought three times. "Rocky" had a half-dozen entertaining incarnations. "The Godfather" trilogy was riveting. But the flavor of the moment is to react as if rematches are all "Porky's II." I'm not even talking about LSU-Alabama. Yet.
The rematch is the theme of the season. Wisconsin gets a second shot at Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. The original thriller with Keith Nichol's plot twist at the end should've left us hungry for more.
It left a bitter taste in the Badgers' mouths. If not for that loss, or another Hail Mary against Ohio State, the Badgers might be in the national championship discussion. I say "might" because Wisconsin hasn't scored well in the BCS computers all season. They've scored extraordinarily well on the field.
Montee Ball is five touchdowns shy of Barry Sanders' single-season record of 39. Russell Wilson is on a record-setting efficiency pace. But two of Wilson's three interceptions this year were picked off by the Spartans. The senior hasn't thrown a pick since.
Wilson, Ball and the Badgers offense will face a little different look from the Spartans' defense this time. Defensive end William Gholston will be in the lineup. He was suspended the first time these two met. Sparty's run defense is already top shelf. Gholston is physical and plays with an edge. Whether Gholston and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy can make life tough on Ball and Wilson will determine whether the Spartans can make it a sweep.
Wisconsin had some self-inflicted wounds that helped get Sparty back in the game the first time. The Badgers gave up a safety when Wilson was called for intentional grounding in his own end zone and had a punt blocked for a touchdown. Michigan State scored 23 unanswered points in the second quarter after falling behind 14-0.
The Badgers ran for 220 yards in the first meeting. That's more than twice what the Spartans have allowed on the season. Gholston's return will be a lift. But if Wisconsin runs it that effectively again, the Badgers will take a giant step toward a return trip to the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State hasn't smelled roses since Lorenzo White ran them there in the 1988 season. The Spartan offense has been a little erratic. They haven't run it as consistently as they'd like. Le'Veon Bell was the most effective back in the first meeting. Kirk Cousins has had more yards in a game this season, but he played his best game against Wisconsin. The Spartans need a similar performance to sweep the Badgers.
Oklahoma State is hoping Bedlam doesn't play out like any of the "Friday the 13th" sequels. The circumstances change, but the result is always the same. The Cowboys come out blazing, but they see the Sooner Schooner and by the end of the game they're firing blanks.
Oklahoma State has lost nine straight Bedlam games. It's maddening to the Pokes. Worse than seeing their inside track to the BCS title game evaporate along with a 17-point second half lead in Ames would be to see the Sooners render their argument for making the game moot.
Oklahoma State has won just 16 times in the history of the rivalry. As a columnist in the state of Oklahoma pointed out, if you take out the four years of Howard Schnellenberger/John Blake at OU, the Sooners have lost to the Pokes just three times in the last 45 years.
It is the definition of a helmet game. That's a game in which one team sees the other's helmet and finds a way to lose. But this Oklahoma State team believes it's different.
The Sooners' defense has been wildly unpredictable. They've been alternately impenetrable and porous. The Cowboys bring the best offense the Sooners have faced this season.
The game figures to turn on two things. Can Oklahoma State take care of the ball and protect Brandon Weeden? The Cowboys turned it over five times against Iowa State. Oklahoma has been at its best defensively when it gets to the quarterback. They're third in the nation, averaging more than three sacks per game. But Weeden gets rid of the ball quickly.
Justin Blackmon has seen plenty of receivers have field days against the Sooner secondary. We know the scoreboard operator will be busy. Whoever can either save a possession by avoiding a turnover, or create an extra one by snagging the ball, will celebrate all the way to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
The ACC is also in rematch mode. One team beat the other 23-3 the first time they played. If you've watched the last few weeks, you'd swear there's no way Clemson could've beaten Virginia Tech by 20 in the Hokies' house. But it did.
The Tigers are down. They've lost three out of four since starting 8-0. Considering they had to rally from 14 down in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest, they're lucky they aren't on a four-game losing streak.
After South Carolina beat Clemson, a tweet from @GamecockFB that was attributed to Steve Spurrier said, "We're not LSU. We're not Alabama. But we sure ain't Clemson." [Editor's note: The tweet was later corrected and said the quote was not from Spurrier.] That will stick with the Tigers for a while.
Regardless, it brings up an interesting point. Who is Clemson? Are the Tigers the team that mauled Virginia Tech or the team that wasn't able to score more than 13 against North Carolina State or South Carolina? Are the Tigers the team that was 12th in the country in turnover margin through their 8-0 start or the squad that coughed it up 11 times in a three-game span and now has a negative turnover margin for the season?
That's not to be confused with the 11 sacks Tajh Boyd has taken the past two games. Turnovers and sacks are a bad combination. Virginia Tech's defense has had its depth severely tested by injuries, but the Hokies can smell blood.
Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is a completely changed man at quarterback from the first game. A poor performance in the first game against Clemson was his turning point.
The build-up to this sequel has all the earmarks of a completely different ending. Or maybe I should say the same ending. I'm going to petition our College Football Final producer to have the Hokies removed from the ACC Wheel of Destiny. Because in the ACC, that thing spins like a fixed roulette wheel. It always turns up a winner for Virginia Tech. If the Hokies beat Clemson, that will be five ACC titles in their eight years in the league. Blacksburg is running things in the ACC.
Drama could be in the offing during the BCS Selection Show (ESPN, 8:15 p.m. ET Sunday). We'll let you know exclusively who will play in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
Columnists, bloggers and people on Twitter have been exploding all week on both sides of the rematch issue. Is it ideal? No. But is it ideal for a team to be voted higher solely to avoid a rematch? The answer to that is also no.
The primary purpose of the BCS is to match the two best teams. If that happens to be LSU and Alabama, so be it. The fact that they're in the same division is an anomaly.
My primary criticism of the BCS in the early years was that the formula kept changing in response to a set of circumstances that were unlikely to be repeated. I believe that's what we have this season. If the formula is deemed to be as thorough as possible, it's the height of folly to try to adjust it so something "can't happen again."
If the BCS wanted to make the title game just for conference champions, that would be fraught with potential controversy, too. Would it be crazy to expect Georgia, Clemson and Oklahoma to win Saturday? Not really.
If a rule limiting the title game to conference champion were in place and those results happened Saturday, LSU would be eliminated from the discussion despite having a better record, playing a tougher schedule and beating Oregon decisively while the Ducks would probably go to the title game likely against Oklahoma. Why? Because Alabama, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Boise State would be eliminated too. Crazy? Not as crazy as Oklahoma State losing to Iowa State or Oklahoma face-planting against Texas Tech.
Strange things happen in college football. The dramatic impact of an upset is part of what draws us in. To some voters, a conference title will be important in determining which is the best team. My point is that no answer will satisfy everyone. But we'll give you the answer that will ultimately deliver the national champion complete with plenty of lively debate Sunday night. College Football Final will let you know what to expect Saturday night. See you then.
8 p.m.: West Virginia at South Florida (ESPN/ESPN3D)
7 p.m.: Ohio vs. Northern Illinois (ESPN2)
8 p.m.: UCLA at Oregon (FOX)
9 a.m.: "College GameDay" from Atlanta (ESPNU)
10 a.m.: "College GameDay" from Atlanta (ESPN)
11 a.m.: "College Football WhipAround" (ESPNU)
Noon: Southern Miss at Houston (ABC)
UConn at Cincinnati (ESPN)
3:30 p.m.: Texas at Baylor (ABC)
4 p.m.: Georgia vs. LSU (CBS)
7:30 p.m.: BYU at Hawaii (ESPN2)
8 p.m.: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (ABC)
Virginia Tech vs. Clemson (ESPN/ESPN3D)
8:17 p.m.: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (FOX)
SEC title-game preview
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Mike Gundy and his players shied away from campaigning for inclusion into the BCS National Championship Game this week. But what if they beat Oklahoma?
USF, UConn, Pitt and Syracuse all have a chance to become bowl-eligible with victories.
Third-down efficiency: Arguably no statistic has played a bigger role in Michigan State's past two victories against Wisconsin.
Big upsets happen when the favorite decisively loses the turnover battle. But Oregon doesn't turn the ball over much.
If Georgia is going to have a chance to win this game, it has to be able to run the ball at least a little bit.
Big Ten title preview
Depending on how voters vote and computers compute this weekend, No. 3 Oklahoma State still might have a chance to play in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game. At the very least, the Cowboys will earn a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl with one more victory.
First, the Pokes will have to beat No. 10 Oklahoma in Saturday night's Bedlam game in Stillwater, Okla., which they haven't done since 2002.
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