2 Dec 2011 03:34 PM EST
-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: USM's Austin Davis is ready to go toe-to-toe with Houston's Case Keenum. (Image Source:Southern Miss Athletic Media Relations)
Saturday — December 3
12:00 – Conference USA Championship Game: Southern Miss (10-2, 6-2) @ #18 Houston (12-0 8-0) – ABC: The Cougars remain undefeated with their big win at Tulsa last week, earning their way into the Conference USA Championship Game. While the offense will get most of the credit (48 points) it was a bend-but-don’t-break defense in the first half that limited the Golden Hurricane to ten-first half points despite numerous possessions in Houston territory. They were great in the red zone and kept Tulsa out of the end zone after their opening drive. Southern Miss is an interesting foe in that their losses have come against Marshall and UAB, whose combined record is 7-15 taking away their wins over USM. Against teams with winning records, the Golden Eagles are 3-0, including a 30-24 at Virginia of the ACC.
Pick: Houston: The Golden Eagles will have their chance “to spoil Houston’s party” and knock them out of BCS consideration. The formula for the upset, as pointed out by the Hattiesburg American, is to slow down Houston’s aerial show and to score TDs (not FGs). Maybe USM can keep up for a while if they do a better job in the red zone than Tulsa did, but slowing down Case Keenum and company? It’s not happening and the fact the Cougs will be at home in front a raucous crowd makes it difficult to pick against Houston for a second straight week…we’re not making that same mistake again.
12:00 – Connecticut (5-6, 3-3) @ Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) – ESPN: The Huskies knocked Rutgers out of Big East title contention last week and can do the same to West Virginia on Saturday (to Louisville’s benefit), but the defending conference champs aren’t just spoilers, as they are playing for their bowl eligibility. Cincy was virtually eliminated from the Big East race with West Virginia’s victory on Thursday night. The ‘Cats can earn a share of the Big East crown with a win, but the Mountaineers are likely to win a potential three-way tie and earn the conference’s BCS Bowl bid. Expect to see several quarterbacks shuffling in and out for both teams, as the ‘Cats lean to Jordan Luallen as their “wildcat” QB, while UConn can turn to Scott McCummings off the bench.
Pick: Cincinnati: Connecticut hasn’t won two straight all season and they aren’t about to start now. The Huskies are last in total offense and second to last in total defense…it’s a wonder how they’ve even won five games…it speaks volumes of the Big East that they are 3-3 in conference play. Cincinnati’s solid run defense will force UConn to win through the air, while the ‘Cats should be able to hit on some passing plays even without Zach Collaros under center.
3:30 – #23 Texas (7-4, 4-4) @ #19 Baylor (8-3, 5-3) – ABC: Heisman candidate Robert Griffin III (concussion) is expected to play on Saturday and will face one his toughest tests against the ‘Horns. Texas is first in the Big 12 in total, pass and rush defense, and second in the conference in scoring defense, thanks to a lot of talent and according to Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s “manny” schemes. Griffin torched Oklahoma’s defense—you know, the Big 12’s No. 1 scoring defense—but Texas has yet to allow a touchdown pass of 20 yards or more this season.
Pick: Baylor: Texas’ ability on defense will give the ‘Horns a punchers chance in Waco on Saturday, make no mistake. But ultimately, they have been so inept offensively, it’s hard not to favor Griffin and believe he will do enough to out-score Texas, as long as the redshirt junior doesn’t try and do too much. Texas has played four teams in the current BCS Standings and they lost all four games, while Baylor has wins over OU, TCU and Mizzou.
Baylor Robert Griffin III can make his Heisman case against the Big 12's top defense. (Image Source: Baylor University Athletics)
4:00 – SEC Championship Game: #16 Georgia (10-2, 7-1) vs. #1 LSU (12-0, 8-0) – CBS (Atlanta, GA): We knew how deep the LSU defense was in week one, but as ESPN’s Chris Low points out, the Tigers offense has some depth to it as well. Has anyone seen freshman Kenny Hilliard lower the boom on defenders of late? The one-time fourth stringer is fresh and ready to be the Bayou Bengals’ bell cow against a Georgia defense that stud linebacker Jarvis Jones calls as good, “if not better” than LSU’s. The Tigers are virtually assured of making the BCS Championship game, win or lose, so in strange way, one can make the case that his game is bigger for UGA, but don’t tell that to Les Miles and company.
Pick: LSU: It’s great that Jones is a confident young man and while the Dawgs have some future pros on the defensive side of the ball, they are not nearly as talented as LSU is. UGA’s big edge is at quarterback but Aaron Murray hasn’t seen a defense like this since…well…ever. Georgia has won ten straight but none of the teams they beat is currently ranked in any of the polls or the BCS Standings. This is the 20th SEC Championship game and the previous 19 have seen 15 decided by double figures, including 12 of the last 13. Seven have been decided by at least 20 points and in LSU’s last eight games, other than their overtime win at Alabama, the Tigers have won by no fewer than 24 points. Expect another blowout on Saturday.
8:00 – Big Ten Championship Game: #10 Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) vs. #7 Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) – FOX (Indianapolis, IN): This is a classic battle of offense versus defense. Wisconsin sits at or near the top of every offensive category in the Big Ten, the same can be said of Michigan State’s defense. The first time these clubs met, at East Lansing, the Spartans defense held the Badgers to 17 points for the game’s first 50 minutes and changed the momentum of the game with a Denicos Allen safety of Russell Wilson. But Wilson answered, leading Wisky to 14 points in the final 8:30 setting up overtime until…you know what happened next. This one is all or nothing writes Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press, as the winner gets all the pageantry that comes with winning the Big Ten, including a trip to the Rose Bowl, while the loser will be shutout of the BCS altogether.
Pick: Wisconsin: Expect Wisconsin to be very motivated after giving up the Hail Mary to Sparty and focused, as seniors Wilson and Aaron Henry will have the Badgers ready to roll on Saturday night. Michigan State may feel like they are being disrespected because Wisconsin is favored, but the Badgers should be, the bottom line is they are the better team and will prove it on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium. Considering the Indianapolis Colts are winless this season, it’s fitting that the Badgers will be wearing the road uniform on Saturday night.
Russell Wilson's ability as a passer will be the difference in the Wisky-MSU rematch. (Image Source: FrankHyatt.com)
8:00 – #8 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2) @ #4 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) – ABC: The Sooners first strategy is to get to the quarterback, pressure Brandon Weeden, a good strategy against any signal caller if you can pull it off. They are second in the conference with 37 sacks, led by senior end Frank Alexander (8.5 sacks). While Tony Jefferson and Corey Nelson are two of the most effective blitzers in the country, bookend Ronnell Lewis, who has some of the best closing speed you will see on a defensive lineman, is out for the game. Which hurts. Then you have OSU’s offensive line, one that has allowed just 11 sacks this season, despite the fact the Pokes have thrown the ball 517 times. What might their second strategy be, you ask? It calls for mother-nature to join in as OU’s 12th man on defense and could have headman Bob Stoops and his Sooners singing, “Let it snow…let it snow…let it snow.”
Pick: Oklahoma: Both teams can move the ball and put up points, however the Sooners have the edge defensively. They have had their lapses, but the horses are there to run with the Cowboys. Last season Okie State was a slight favorite over the Sooners with a chance to make their first BCS Bowl and they fell short, look for OU to defend their Big 12 Championship crown and make their ninth BCS Bowl under Stoops, almost as many as the rest of the Big 12 combined (10).
8:00 – ACC Championship Game: #21 Clemson (9-3, 6-2) vs. #12 Virginia Tech (11-1, 7-1) – ESPN (Charlotte, NC): Another championship rematch but while the Spartans and Badgers gave us a dramatic ending, the first time the Tigers and Hokies met it was a laugher with Clemson winning by 20 points in Blacksburg, which is why Tech is looking forward to a title-game rematch. A lot has changed over the last two months, especially the total in Clemson’s loss column. The Tigers won their first eight games of the season but have dropped three of the last four. Of course to those in Clemson country, the season will be a rounding success with a win on Saturday and a BCS Bowl appearance.
Pick: Virginia Tech: Even when they were playing well, Clemson’s rushing defense was a cause for concern, but now their offense appears to be a question mark as well. In their three loses, the Tigers have scored just 17, 13 and 13 points a far cry from their streak of 35 points or better in seven of their first eight games. Their lowest point total in a win was 23 against the Hokies, so even when the Tigers were clicking on all cylinders, Tech did a good job of slowing them down. Tajh Boyd was just 13-of-32 passing (40.6 percent) against the Hokies and in their three loses has thrown just two touchdowns to five interceptions. Conversely, Logan Thomas hasn’t thrown a pick in three games, combining to throw seven touchdown passes in wins at Georgia Tech, versus North Carolina and at Virginia. Expect David Wilson to also be licking his chops, having rushed for 123 yards or better in 10 of 12 games, including his 123-yard day against Clemson on 20 carries (6.2 YPC).
Saturday — December 3
12:00 – Syracuse @ Pittsburgh – ESPN2
12:00 – Iowa State @ Kansas State – FSN
2:00 – Wyoming @ Colorado State – MTN
2:30 – UNLV @ TCU – Versus
6:00 – New Mexico @ Boise State – MTN
7:30 – BYU @ Hawai’i – ESPN2
8:00 – Fresno State @ San Diego State – CBS Sports
Follow Daniel Mogollon on Twitter @SportsMasterDan. Mogollon is a member of the Football Writers Association of American, in addition to being a voter for both the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Awards.