Sports

Casey’s Call: College Football Preview – Championship Saturday

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Ah yes, championship Saturday is finally here. Conferences will be won and BCS berths will be decided. The biggest game of the week will take place at the Georgia Dome as Auburn tries to lock up a spot in the national championship game – standing in their way is a familiar foe, the South Carolina Gamecocks. (You can hear this game on the FAN following Devils hockey at 4pm).

The ongoing Cam Newton drama got some closure this week. The NCAA ruled that any wrongdoing in the pay-for-play scandal came way of Newton’s father Cecil, and not Cam. Anybody who actually believes that Cam had no idea what was going on is delusional – no way around it. However, the bottom line is Newton will be out on the field come Saturday and that’s a problem for South Carolina.

If you remember back earlier in the season when these two met – a 35-27 Tigers win – it was the Gamecocks who looked prime to win. This was before they blew a 13 point lead thanks to 4 untimely turnovers. This has become a theme to the season for Auburn – coming back from steep deficits. They consistently dig themselves holes in games only to battle back. Sooner or later they’ll dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of, but I doubt that will be this week.

South Carolina has plenty of offensive firepower. Quarterback Stephen Garcia has been banged up with an injury to both his non-throwing shoulder and his right hand. He is expected to play and even when not fully healthy can be downright dangerous both on the ground and through the air. His favorite target is wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and he has a scary good tailback in Marcus Lattimore. Defending these Gamecocks will be an area where Auburn will struggle. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley is great and everything, but the fact of the matter is their defensive unit ranks 58th nationally and 106th in pass defense.

One big thing the Tigers have in their favor is their ability to strike quick. They are cold-blooded when it comes to climbing back from big deficits. They never rattle or get demoralize. It won’t be enough for South Carolina to control the clock and play grind-it-out ball – they have to be able to put up some serious points on the board and play a complete 60 minute game. At no point cant they fall asleep, like Alabama did last week. The Gamecocks will make them pay, there’s no doubt about that.

At the end of the day, this game will come down to the Gamecocks defense and whether or not they can slow down Cam Newton. Again, this is something they can’t just do in spurts, they have to do it for the entire game. Just like Auburn, South Carolina has a very shaky defense. I doubt they’ll be able to do what no team has done yet this season – stop Newton for an entire 60 minutes… Prediction: Auburn

#9 Nebraska vs. #13 Oklahoma: The University of Nebraska will play its final Big 12 game ever when they take on the Oklahoma Sooners for the conference title and a prized spot in a BCS game.

These are both Jekyll and Hyde teams. You never know what you’re going to get out of them. One week they could be brilliant, the next they could commit 15 penalties and 4 turnovers. They both have a severe undisciplined side to them… I ask myself – when both are at their best, who is the better team? The answer is undoubtedly Nebraska.

Anybody who has seen the Sooners this year knows their defense is far from vintage. They don’t always play consistent and are vulnerable to the big play. Cornhusker quarterback Taylor Martinez hasn’t been himself lately and is banged up with an ankle injury. If he does play (which I expect he will) he’ll need to regain his old form, which he’s more than capable of doing, especially in such a big spot as this. The ground game is where the ‘Huskers will have the biggest advantage. Running backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead lead one of the best rushing attacks in the country, averaging 270 yards per game.

Sooner quarterback Landry Jones may be the best player on the field along with top target Ryan Broyles. They along with running back DeMarco Murray (if he plays) pose a huge threat to Nebraska’s defense. However, if the ‘Huskers defense plays anywhere near their ability they will keep Oklahoma’s offense in check – I’m 100% confident in saying that. Nebraska’s defense is one of the best units in the country, and the team as a whole will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. They have a chance to win their first Big 12 title in 11 years, in what is their final game in the conference.

The tight loss to Texas in last year’s title game still stings these ‘Huskers to a man. Oklahoma holds a 44-38-3 all-time lead in the series, but I believe the 86th battle will be won by the truly better team… Prediction: Nebraska

#2 Oregon @ Oregon State: The latest installment of the Civil War is one of the most significant in years. At stake for Oregon is a spot in the BCS title game. Standing in their way is an Oregon State team who has grossly underachieved this season.

The Beavers have an explosive offense led by gun slinging quarterback Ryan Katz and dynamic tailback Jacquizz Rodgers. They had the ability to be one of the best offensive units in the country early on, but injuries and inconsistency doomed them.

Oregon on the other hand we know all about. Quarterback Darron Thomas and receiver Jeff Maehl form one of the most lethal combinations in the country. The biggest weapon for the Ducks however is running back LaMichael James. He’s the straw that stirs the drink for the #1 ranked offense which averages 542 yards per game and 51 points per game.

Despite their dominant nature, the Ducks have suffered from slow starts the past few weeks. This is both alarming and beneficial. Alarming because the offense is supposed to be the unstoppable strength of this club, but it was also beneficial because it made the defense step up and the carry the team for a change. They responded in a big way and I think that brought the team closer together.

As dangerous as the Beavers can be there’s just no way Oregon loses this game. Its way too important – A national title game spot on the line. They didn’t come this far to blow a chance like this… Prediction: Oregon

#21 Florida State vs. #15 Virginia Tech (7:30pm WFAN): The Hokies enter this game as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 10 straight games since their 0-2 start. They’ll be going after their fourth ACC title since joining the conference six years ago. It won’t be an easy task against a very solid Florida State team.

Tyrod Taylor is a true dual-threat quarterback who can kill you with both his arm (2,258 yards, 20 TD’s, 4 INT’s) and his legs (613 yards, 4 TD’s). The Seminoles will have their hands full with not just him but the three-headed monster running game of Darren Evans, David Wilson and Ryan Williams. None of those three have rushed for less than 432 yards on the season.

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will have his moments in this game – He’s too good not to. But all in all, I believe this Hokie defense will be able to limit him and the Seminole offense. Most importantly, this is a defense that knows how to close out games. If Taylor and the offense can build a lead, they should be able to control the clock with the ground game. If Ponder is put in desperate situations this Hokie defense will eat him alive.

Despite Florida State having success historically over Virginia Tech in big games, I’m not betting against Frank Beamer in this spot. He has this Tech team playing fantastic and I don’t see any signs of that changing… Prediction: Virginia Tech

Connecticut @ South Florida: It doesn’t get any simpler… If UConn wins this game, they win the Big East and clinch the conference’s BCS berth. All you can ask for in this world is to have control of your own destiny – and that’s what Randy Edsall’s Huskies have. They are embarking on the biggest game of their lives.

The Huskies season hit rock bottom when they were shutout 26-0 at Louisville, dropping them to 3-4. From there, Edsall gave the quarterbacking duties back to Zach Frazier and the Huskies were rejuvenated and revived, beating West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Cincinnati. The reason for the success isn’t because of Frazier – because he’s a “manage the game” type of quarterback – but it’s obvious the team has a different vibe with him under center.

The main reason for UConn’s success is running back Jordan Todman, who truly is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. He runs behind the dominant Husky offensive line which creates holes at will. If South Florida’s defense can not contain Todman they better just pack up their bags and call it a day because that is where the game will be decided.

Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels is suffering from a quad injury and looks to be a game time decision. Whether he plays or not USF is in trouble. Daniels and company tend to be very mistake-prone, committing turnovers at a drop of a dime. This Huskies defense feasts off turnovers, and more times than not will cash in on your mistakes. The Bulls will have to play an error-free game if they hope to have a chance.

In the end, the difference in this game will be Jordan Todman. South Florida has a solid defense but they’re not capable of winning the battle up front and stopping a guy like Todman. Don’t look now, but the University of Connecticut is about to be heading to a BCS bowl game. Unbelievable… Prediction: Connecticut

Quick Hits…

- Big news for the Big East. TCU will be joining the conference as an all-sports member in 2012. Needless to say, this is an enormous boost for the conference on the football side. The Horned Frogs are a perennial power and will help upgrade the Big East’s profile immediately.

- Congratulations to Syracuse on accepting a bid to the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Bronx-native Doug Marrone has the Orange headed in the right direction. It will be their first bowl game in six years. Now if Marrone can recruit some offensive players the Orange will really be going somewhere.

- Despite all the rumors, it looks like Jon Gruden won’t be accepting the Miami job after all. Don’t worry though Cane fans, you still have a shot at Mike Leach. You might think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not… Leach is a hell of a coach and would be a great fit with the U.

Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend’s action.

Questions? Comments? Email me: ckeefe@wfan.com

Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN

pixy Casey’s Call: College Football Preview – Championship Saturday