College Football Corner: Field Narrows

It's starting to look clearer as to who will play in the BCS championship game.
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BCS National Championship Game is going to get the matchup of conferences it seemed destined for this season -- the Southeastern Conference vs. the Big 12.

The winner of Saturday's SEC championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Florida likely will find its place in the BCS title game. Of course Alabama will be there if it wins. But if Florida wins, most people expect the Gators to jump to at least No. 2.

Current No. 2 Oklahoma plays No. 20 Missouri this weekend for the Big 12 championship, and barring an unfathomable upset, would move up to No. 1 if Alabama lost, or stay at No. 2 if the Crimson Tide won.

One team that gets jilted in these scenarios is the No. 3 Texas Longhorns. Texas was leapfrogged Sunday by the Sooners -- who ran up 61 points on No. 12 Oklahoma State -- even though it beat Oklahoma, 45-35, earlier this season.

That said, there's no telling how the BCS will tally the final poll. The amalgam of human and computer votes seems capable of wide fluctuations -- and punishments -- this season.

Back in the day, if you won a game, you usually kept your spot, whether you beat a weak team or won by a point. Now there are so many contingenices. It's probably why we see teams regularly running up the scores into the 50s and 60s this season to keep the computers honest.

And all this garbage about how we couldn't have a playoff is just that. Most anyone would agree that if you took the top eight teams in the final BCS poll, you would be guaranteed of having the best teams in the country in the playoffs. Sure, a Boise State or a Utah or a Ball State may find fault with that. But then maybe they should schedule USC or Texas for one of their nonconference games. (OK, Boise did knock off Oklahoma in that amazing game a couple of years ago).

As President-elect Barack Obama has said, we need a playoff. The most logical way to do it would be to use the major bowl games as venues and start the playoffs at the conclusion of the regular season. We have about three to four weeks after the regular season before the bowls start, so the bowls could move up accordingly.

The non-major bowls would still go on. It's an incredibly easy solution that would satisfy the bowl committees and the university presidents supposedly concerned with the length of the season. The only wrinkle is that the conference championships may have to be eliminated, which surely most schools would agree to if they knew there would be a national championship playoff.

Anyway, we're going to end up with a couple of unhappy national powers when the BCS is sorted out. But we have conference championships on tap this weekend. Herewith, our previews:

No. 1 Alabama (12-0) (+9½) vs. No. 4 Florida (11-1), SEC Championship, Atlanta, 4 p.m. EST, CBS

: This is going to be a physical war for the crown of arguably the best conference in college football year in and year out. The game features two coaches -- Nick Saban of Alabama and Urban Meyer of Florida -- who already have won national championships. The conventional wisdom is that surging Florida wins this game, but a methodical, 12-0 team like Alabama is No. 1 for a reason. Alabama is a big team that has controlled the line of scrimmage in its contests, and that's something no one has managed to do much against the Gators. So this one should be won in the trenches.

There also is a lot of talk about Florida's speed, and the Gators are blazing. But Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson is used to seeing fast teams.

Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson

"Yeah, well, we see speed every day, and everybody in the SEC has got speed, so I don't think that's going to be a factor at all," he said at the SEC press conference for the game. "We've played there (Georgia Dome in Atlanta) already once this season, kind of know what to expect. But we've got fast guys, too."

Florida has a couple of injury question marks. One of those speedy Gators, star receiver Percy Harvin, is questionable with a sprained ankle. Defenisve tackle Matt Patchin is already out with a knee injury, and fellow DT Brandon Antwine is doubtful with a sprained knee. But Meyer is prepared with backups. True freshman running back Jeff Demps, who had 100 yards of total offense against Florida State last week, is ready to step in. And, of course, Florida is led by the peerless quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.

Meyer expects the Crimson Tide to come out and basically try to ram the ball down Florida's throat: "They're going to try to pound you and they have the personnel to do it," he said in a press conference earlier this week. "It's not so much the running game, it's the personnel behind that run game. No, we've not faced anything like that this year."

Saban was equally complimentary of the Gators and summed up their style with a discerning eye: "I think they ... have great space players. Leverage in the ball, tackling well, being in good, contained positions, all of those things are very, very important. But they have a direct run power game that is probably as good as anybody we played against all year. So to control the line of scrimmage is going to be a really critical factor in this game."

It has the makings of a classic, and though the smart money seems to be on the Gator juggernaut, don't discount methodical Alabama.

Corner's choice: Alabama 24, Florida 23

No. 2 Oklahoma (11-1) (-16½) vs. No. 20 Missouri (9-3), Big 12 Championship, Kansas City, 8 p.m. EST (ABC)

: Go figure -- the Big 12 Conference is looking into its tie-breaking procedure after the Sooners leapfrogged Texas in the penultimate BCS standings, earning the team the right to represent the South Division in the league's title game, despite a loss earlier this season to the Longhorns. Meanwhile, Oklahoma will be content to play for a shot at its third national championship game in nine seasons. The Sooners have lit up scoreboards across the Plains this year, scoring more than 53 points a game under the leadership of quarterback and Heisman favorite Sam Bradford, who has thrown an incredible 46 touchdowns, 12 of those to standout tight end Jermaine Gresham. Balancing the attack has been running back DeMarco Murray.

Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray

The Tigers are closing a disappointing season, as a No. 6 preseason ranking could evaporate into a finish entirely out of the polls if they drop this one and their bowl game (perhaps a Holiday Bowl matchup vs. No. 19 Oregon). Missouri's offense rolled all year, scoring 45 points a game thanks to quarterback Chase Daniel, but the plethora of quality Big 12 quarterbacks found the going similarly easy vs. the Tiger defense, which gave up a completion rate of nearly 64%. The recent book on Oklahoma is they wait until after the new year to lay their post-season egg. Look for the Sooners to claim their third-straight conference title.

Corner's choice: Oklahoma 34, Missouri 30

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No. 5 USC (10-1) (-33) at UCLA (4-7), 4:30 p.m. EST (ABC)

: Normally, the Corner isn't going to point readers to an expected five-touchdown rout, but the Bruins' 13-9 win two years ago in the Rose Bowl, which ruined the Trojans' trip to the 2007 national championship game, prompts us to at least suggest a "watch-a-quarter-and-see-what-happens" strategy. That said, on paper this looks to be quite a mismatch. USC has one of the strongest college football defenses in the last decade, having given up only 86 points in 11 games. Linebacker Rey Maualuga gets a lot of the ink, but the contributions of defensive end Kyle Moore and linebacker Clay Matthews have been vital, too.

USC linebacker Clay Matthews

The Bruins have retreated in Coach Rick Neuheisel's first year at the helm, and the school's six-bowl-game streak will end this year. It's not a complete surprise, as UCLA didn't return a lot of starters this year, but junior quarterback Kevin Craft has struggled mightily, throwing 19 interceptions. The Bruins have lost three of their last four, scoring fewer than 10 points in two of the games, and in those four contests Craft's touchdown/interception ratio has been 0/12. USC has won eight of the last nine in this contest, and the recent dominance should continue.

Corner's choice: USC 37, UCLA 10

No. 17 Boston College (9-3) vs. No. 25 Virginia Tech (8-4), ACC Championship, Tampa, 1 p.m. EST

This is a rematch of a regular season game in October and last year's ACC championship game. They have played each other four times in the last two years - a rarity in college football. The Coastal Division champion Hokies are making their third ACC Championship appearance in four years. The winner of this game earns a spot in the Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech won last year's title game, 30-16, with one of its specialties: a blocked extra point that was taken back for two points. The score changed the momentum of the game and sent the Hokies to Miami.

The Atlantic Division champion Eagles won the October contest, 28-23, despite quarterback Chris Crane throwing three interceptions - including two returned for touchdowns. The Eagles overcame the turnovers with 21 points in the second quarter, highlighted by a 65-yard punt return by Rich Gunnel. B.C. beat Maryland 28-21 last week with one of the scores coming off a pass by Billy Flutie -- Doug Flutie's nephew -- off a fake a field goal and 9-yard pass to Jordon McMichael.

The Hokies won their last four games, including a 17-14 victory over Virginia last week. "We've talked so much about getting to the championship game, and I told the team, now we've got to go get this thing, said Coach Frank Beamer. "We need to put great effort into it and not just be satisfied with getting there. It's not every year you're going to have a chance to play for the championship, and we're fortunate to be there and we've just got to go get it." --

Edison Sanon

--

Corner's choice: Boston College 24, Virginia Tech 23

Army (3-8) (+11) vs. Navy (7-4) in Philadelphia, noon EST, CBS

: It's the 109th edition of this classic between the two service academies. Navy leads the all-time series, 52-49, with seven ties. But Army hasn't won since 2001. Navy's triple-option attack leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 292. In Navy's last game, a 16-0 victory over Northern Illinois, sophomore QB Ricky Dobbs, in his first start, ran for 124 yards. Senior fullback Eric Kettani rushed for 92 yards.

Army fullback Collin Mooney

Army also runs the option and is averaging 254 yards rushing per game. Senior fullback Collin Mooney has 1,285 yards rushing this season and needs only 54 yards more to become the Black Knights' single-season rushing leader. Interesting stat: Army (45.7 yards) and Navy (63.5 yards) average the fewest passing yards per game in major college football. The Midshipmen already have their bowl invite secured. They'll play in the first EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 20 in Washington, D.C. Let's go with an old school score:

Corner's choice: Navy 14, Army 6

Corner kicks

:

Rutgers

(6-5) hosts

Louisville

(5-6) tonight (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. EST) in Piscataway, N.J., as the Scarlet Knights attempt to complete one of the best turnarounds in college football this season. RU was 1-5 before reeling off five straight victories, including a thrashing of current No. 23

Pitt

. Two years ago, Rutgers stunned No. 3 Louisville in one of the most thrilling games of the '06 season. ... No. 12

Ball State

(12-0) meets

Buffalo

(7-5) Friday night at 8 (ESPN2) for the MAC championship. ... Tommy Tuberville has resigned at

Auburn

after a 5-7 season, just his second losing year at the school. Tuberville took himself off the firing line, saying he knew he was losing support of Auburn trustees. He was was 110-60 during his 10-year tenure, including a 13-0 finish four years ago when the Tigers couldn't break into the national championship game. But the heat was on after a 9-4 finish last year, and expectations were high for 2008 with 16 returning starters and home games vs.

LSU

and

Georgia

. ... Charlie Weis is not out at

Notre Dame

, as the school announced the fourth-year coach would return in 2009 despite going 3-9 and 6-6 the past two years. Weis is now 28-21 in South Bend -- remember Ty Willingham was fired after three seasons (2002-04) and a 21-16 record.