The Last Chance
Championship Week is here.
The final Saturday of the regular season arrives with plenty still at stake. Auburn and Oregon need one more victory to earn a trip to the Jan. 10 BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.
Long-lasting bragging rights are at stake in the Big 12 championship game, in which Nebraska plays its final game as a Big 12 member.
Here's everything you need to know about Championship Week:
MAC championship game
Who: No. 25 Northern Illinois (10-2) vs. Miami (Ohio) (8-4)
When/where: Friday, 7 p.m. ET/Ford Field, Detroit
What's at stake: The winner will probably return to Detroit for the Dec. 26 Little Caesar's Bowl, with the loser playing in the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Why to watch: The game features two of the country's most underrated coaches. Northern Illinois' Jerry Kill has a 23-15 record in three seasons and has his team ranked for the first time since 2003. The Huskies have won nine games in a row and averaged 65 points in their last three victories. Former Notre Dame assistant Michael Haywood has produced one of the sport's best turnarounds, going 1-11 in his first season and 8-4 this year in Oxford.
Who to watch: Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish is an underrated dual-threat, throwing for 1,949 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions, while running for 761 yards with five scores.
Predicted winner: Northern Illinois, 42-17
Conference USA championship game
Who: SMU (7-5) at Central Florida (9-3)
When/where: Saturday, noon ET; Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
What's at stake: The winner claims a spot in the Dec. 31 Autozone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The loser will end up in one of Conference USA's other bowl games.
Why to watch: The game pits one of college football's best defensive minds against one of its best offensive minds. Central Florida coach George O'Leary has built the Knights program around defense, as it leads Conference USA in rushing defense, scoring defense, pass-efficiency defense and total defense. SMU coach June Jones has used his run-and-shoot offense to guide the Mustangs to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1984-85.
Who to watch: Both teams are led by talented young quarterbacks. Central Florida freshman Jeff Godfrey has thrown for 1,875 yards with 12 touchdowns, while running for 529 yards with nine scores. SMU sophomore Kyle Padron has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 3,306 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Predicted winner: Central Florida, 24-21
Who: No. 2 Oregon (11-0) at Oregon State (5-6)
When/where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET/Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
What's at stake: If the Ducks can defeat the Beavers, they'll earn a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. The Beavers must upset Oregon to finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game.
Why to watch: The Civil War is one of the country's most underrated rivalries, and there has rarely been this much at stake. Oregon State seemed capable of giving the Ducks a good fight, before losing at Stanford 38-0 on Saturday. The teams have split the past 12 games in the series, with the Ducks winning the past two to deny the Beavers a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Who to watch: Oregon tailback LaMichael James has probably earned a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He ran for 1,548 yards with 19 touchdowns in 10 games, including 100-yard efforts in all but two contests.
Predicted winner: Oregon, 49-28
SEC championship game
Who: No. 1 Auburn (12-0) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (9-3)
When/where: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET/Georgia Dome, Atlanta
What's at stake: If the Tigers can defeat the Gamecocks and finish 13-0, they'll secure a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. If the Gamecocks upset Auburn, they'll earn a trip to the Jan. 4 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Why to watch: South Carolina gave the Tigers one of their toughest tests during the regular season, losing 35-27 at Auburn on Sept. 25. The Gamecocks blew a 20-7 lead in the first half, and the Tigers scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter after South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia fumbled. The Gamecocks drove deep into Auburn territory two times in the fourth quarter, but Garcia's backup, freshman quarterback Connor Shaw, threw two interceptions.
Who to watch: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton has probably wrapped up the Heisman Trophy and is his team's leading passer and rusher. He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 2,254 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions, while running for 1,336 yards with 18 scores.
Predicted winner: Auburn, 31-24
ACC championship game
Who: No. 21 Florida State (9-3) vs. No. 15 Virginia Tech (10-2)
When/where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET/Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
What's at stake: The winner claims the ACC's automatic bid to the Jan. 3 Discover Orange Bowl in Miami. The loser is probably headed to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve.
Why to watch: After the ACC championship game was played in half-empty stadiums in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tampa, Fla., in recent seasons, this game will actually have a championship-like feel in Charlotte. As of Sunday, the game was only 200 tickets shy of being a sellout. Florida State won its last three games to claim the ACC's Atlantic Division and defeated rival Florida 31-7 on Saturday, ending a six-year losing streak to the Gators. The Hokies won their last 10 games, after opening the season with consecutive losses to Boise State and FCS foe James Madison.
Who to watch: If the Hokies hadn't opened the season with consecutive losses, senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor might have been among the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. He has completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,258 yards with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions, while running for 613 yards with four scores.
Predicted winner: Virginia Tech, 28-24
Big 12 championship game
Who: No. 9 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. No. 13 Nebraska (10-2)
When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET/Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
What's at stake: The winner will claim the league's automatic bid to the Jan. 1 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale. The loser probably won't earn a BCS at-large bid, so it will probably fall to the Dec. 29 Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio or Jan. 7 AT&T Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Why to watch: It will be Nebraska's last game as a member of the Big 12; the Cornhuskers are moving to the Big Ten next season. Oklahoma and Nebraska are long-time, bitter rivals, and often played each other with the Big Eight championship at stake. From 1971 to 1995, Nebraska won 10 outright conference championships, and the Sooners won eight. They were co-Big Eight champions during three seasons.
Who to watch: Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has thrown for 300 yards or more in all but four games this season. He has completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,947 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez didn't play in last week's 45-17 victory over Colorado because of a sprained ankle but is expected to play against the Sooners. The freshman has passed for 1,435 yards with nine touchdowns and rushed for 974 yards with 12 scores.
Predicted winner: Oklahoma, 38-34
Ranking the BCS conferences for the final time this season:
ESPN Stats & Info: Conference Rankings
|Conference||AP Rank||Computers Rank||Rating|
|• ESPN Stats & Info blog|
There's no question the SEC's overall strength wasn't as good as it was during recent seasons, with SEC East teams like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee struggling. But when defending BCS national champion Alabama finishes fourth in the SEC West and No. 22 Mississippi State finishes fifth, that's proof the SEC is still the league to beat.
2. Big 12
The Big 12 didn't have a truly great team this season, but five of its schools -- No. 9 Oklahoma, No. 12 Missouri, No. 13 Nebraska, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Texas A&M -- ended up having good seasons. The league's depth will show up during bowl season.
3. Big Ten
Each of the league's three co-champions -- No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State -- are deserving of playing in a BCS bowl game. But with teams like Iowa, Michigan and Penn State struggling down the stretch, the Big Ten wasn't very deep.
Few leagues have as much cream at the top as the Pac-10, with No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford probably heading to BCS bowl games. The Pac-10 was hurt by Southern California's bowl ban, but the Trojans were still far from great, losing to Oregon State and Notre Dame in consecutive games. The Pac-10 will probably end up being two or three teams short in filling its bowl allotment.
Nine ACC teams are probably headed to bowl games, but the league once again failed to deliver a BCS National Championship contender. No. 15 Virginia Tech ended up having a pretty good season after losing its first two games, and No. 21 Florida State won its last three games to win the ACC's Atlantic Division.
6. Big East
There's finally a Big East team back in the Top 25 of the BCS standings, after No. 24 West Virginia routed Pittsburgh 35-10 in Friday's Backyard Brawl. The Mountaineers are the only Big East team that hasn't lost at least four games, but Connecticut will win the Big East championship if it wins at South Florida on Saturday.
On the mark: Precision passers
1. Danny O'Brien, Maryland
O'Brien completed 33 of 47 passes for a career-high 417 yards with four touchdowns in a 38-31 upset of NC State He became the first Terps quarterback to throw for 400 yards in a game since 1993.
2. G.J. Kinne, Tulsa
Kinne threw for a season-high 406 yards with four touchdowns on 23-for-37 passing in a 56-50 win over Southern Miss, helping the Golden Hurricane earn a share of Conference USA's West Division.
3. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State
The backup was thrust into the game with the Sun Devils trailing 17-0 and completed 27 of 36 passes for 380 yards with four touchdowns in a 55-34 rout of UCLA.
4. Christian Ponder, Florida State
Ponder left quite a mark on his injury-filled senior season, completing 16 of 24 passes for 221 yards with three touchdowns in a 31-7 rout of Florida, which ended FSU's six-game losing streak to the Gators.
5. Andrew Luck, Stanford
The Cardinal quarterback probably punched his ticket to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, throwing for 305 yards with four touchdowns on 21-for-30 passing in a 38-0 shutout of Oregon State.
Off the mark: Hot-seat coaches
1. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
The Wolverines finished 7-5 after losing at Ohio State, 37-7. Rich Rod's teams have lost three games to the Buckeyes by a combined score of 100-24.
2. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
The Bruins were knocked out of bowl contention with their loss at Arizona State, which dropped their record to 4-7. Neuheisel might be safe this year, but he'll need big results in 2011.
3. Bob Toledo, Tulane
The Green Wave finished 4-8 after losing 38-23 at Marshall, dropping Toledo's record to 13-35 in four seasons.
4. Mike Locksley, New Mexico
The Lobos might not be willing to buy out Locksley's contract, even though he has a 2-22 record in two seasons.
5. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney guided the Tigers to last season's ACC championship game, but he'll need to show marked improvement in 2011 after his team finished 6-6.
On the mark: Ground-gaining RBs
1. Alex Green, Hawaii
Green ran for a school-record 327 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns in a 59-24 victory at New Mexico State, helping the Warriors claim a share of the WAC championship.
2. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
Thomas ran for a career-high 269 yards with two touchdowns on 36 attempts in a 49-41 win at North Texas. It was his seventh 100-yard and second 200-yard performance of the season.
3. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
Gray gained a career-high 223 yards with two touchdowns on 27 carries in a 24-17 victory at Texas in his sixth consecutive 100-yard outing.
4. Andre Williams, Boston College
In his first start, the freshman ran a school-record 42 times for 185 yards with one touchdown (after carrying 34 times in the first 11 games) in a 16-7 win at Syracuse.
5. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Ball ran 20 times for 178 yards with four touchdowns in the Badgers' 70-23 rout of Northwestern, giving him 11 touchdowns in the last three games.
Off the mark: Bowl-busting losses
The Longhorns had too many self-inflicted wounds in their loss to Texas A&M, which dropped their record to 5-7. It's their first losing season since 1997 and first season without a bowl under coach Mack Brown.
The Bears' string of seven consecutive bowl games came to an end after they lost to Washington, 16-13.
3. Oregon State
The Beavers were routed 38-0 at Stanford on Saturday, dropping their record to 5-6. They'll have to upset No. 1 Oregon in Saturday's Civil War to go bowling.
The Vandals just missed qualifying for their second straight bowl game by losing 23-20 at Fresno State, which dropped their record to 5-7.
The Cougars never recovered after losing star quarterback Case Keenum. They lost their last four games, including a 35-20 defeat at Texas Tech.
On the mark: Big-play WRs
1. Torrey Smith, Maryland
Smith was O'Brien's favorite target in the upset of the Wolfpack, catching 14 passes for 224 yards with a school-record four touchdowns. He became the first FBS player in five years to have at least 10 catches, 200 receiving yards and four touchdowns in a game.
2. Denarius Moore, Tennessee
Moore caught seven passes for 205 yards with one touchdown in the Volunteers' 24-14 victory over Kentucky. He is the first player in UT history with two 200-yard receiving games in his career.
3. Greg Salas, Hawaii
Salas had 10 receptions for 191 yards with one touchdown in a 35-point blowout of New Mexico State. It was his ninth 100-yard game of the season.
4. Rishard Matthews, Nevada
Matthews was the Wolf Pack's big-play threat in their 34-31 upset of Boise State, catching a career-high 10 passes for 172 yards with one touchdown. He scored a tying touchdown on a 7-yard catch with 13 seconds left in regulation and scored on a 44-yard run.
5. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
Hamilton helped the Hogs upset LSU 31-23 and move a step closer to playing in the AllState Sugar Bowl by catching three passes for 164 yards with two touchdowns. He scored on an 85-yard catch and on an 80-yard reception on the final play of the first half.
Off the mark: Not so special
1. Boise State
The Broncos missed a short field goal at the end of regulation and another one in overtime in their loss at Nevada on Friday night.
2. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets missed a tying extra-point kick with 4:57 to go in their 42-34 loss at Georgia.
The Wolverines allowed an 85-yard kickoff return, and their punter averaged 28.7 yards in their loss at Ohio State.
The Gators failed to convert a fake punt for the first time under coach Urban Meyer in their ugly loss at Florida State.
5. Central Michigan
The Chippewas gave up 99- and 95-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns to Toledo's Eric Page in a 42-31 loss.