By Casey Keefe
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SEC Championship Game: #1 LSU (12-0) vs. #14 Georgia (10-2) – 4pm
The SEC Championship game is the granddaddy of all conference title games. LSU-Georgia sounds great on paper and I’m sure it’ll be competitive (for at least the first half). But there’s no denying a layer of drama has been taken off this matchup for the simple reason that LSU can lose and their spot in the national title game is still safe and sound. Yes, Georgia is playing for a BCS bid, but it’s the stakes which make conference championship games so dramatic and great… Unfortunately the stakes in this SEC title game are a one way street.
I’m not crying foul. LSU has earned this safe standing. They’ve been that dominant and have had that much built up thanks to their outrageously impressive body of work. The bottom line is at the end of the day (as Antrel Rolle would say) LSU is winning this game. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Tigers other than their talent it’s their killer instinct. Les Miles and his team only know how to play at one speed. The speculation of whether or not Miles would rest his starters has been comedy at its finest. This mind as well be the national championship game itself. That’s how Miles and his Tigers have approached it.
Georgia has been red hot since their 0-2 start, winners of the past 10 which is the Bulldogs’ longest winning streak in 29 years. Mark Richt has been great since his fanny first got a feel of the hot seat 2 1/2 months ago. They’re defense has improved week by week, but the strength of the team is their offense. Quarterback Aaron Murray (2,698 yards, 32 TD’s, 10 INT’s) has been great. He has a plethora of dangerous weapons led by Malcolm Mitchell (582 yards, 4 TD’s), Orson Charles (530 yards, 5 TD’s) and Tavarres King (413 yards, 7 TD’s). The return of running back Isaiah Crowell (832 yards, 5 TD’s) from his ankle injury will provide a nice shot in the arm to the Bulldogs’ offense.
Georgia’s offense sounds like a pretty deep and dangerous unit, right? Well, they are–but so was Arkansas. As a matter of fact, the Razorbacks offense is significantly faster and more talented and we saw what the Tigers did to them last week in Baton Rouge. We all know how good LSU’s defense is. They will stifle Crowell on the ground, jam the receivers and pressure Murray all day long. The Bulldogs receivers aren’t great at creating separation against top-tier defenses. They’ll be in way over their heads against Tyrann Mathieu and company.
As good as Georgia’s defense has been, they’ll have no answer for the balanced offensive attack of the Tigers. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is back playing at an acceptable level and Tiger receiver Reuben Randle (889 yards, 8 TD’s) is one of the top deep threats in the nation. The ground attack is as deep as it gets with Michael Ford (721 yards, 7 TD’s), Spencer Ware (687 yards, 8 TD’s), Alfred Blue (445 yards, 6 TD’s) and Kenny Hilliard (248 yards, 6 TD’s). This is an offense that never tries to do too much and always finds a way to control time of possession.
Despite playing in front of a pro-Bulldog Atlanta crowd, I don’t expect Les Miles’ club to break too much of a sweat come fourth quarter. This will be a case of a team being too focused, too determined and too well-coached to let anything get in their way of reaching the national title game unscathed… Prediction: LSU
ACC Championship Game: #5 Virginia Tech (11-1) vs. #20 Clemson (9-3) – 8pm
If there’s one certainty in life it’s that Frank Beamer’s Hokies will always find themselves in the ACC title game at season’s end. This year the matchup is sweeter than ever for Beamer’s bunch because they have the opportunity to avenge their only loss of the season. If you remember, on October 1st the red hot (at the time) Tigers whooped Tech 23-3 at Lane Stadium. Both teams have gone in opposite directions since then. Clemson has fallen back down to earth and have been struggling mightily of late, losing 3 of their past 4 games. Tech on the other hand has run the table and have seen several key players improve their play dramatically, most notably quarterback Logan Thomas (2,525 pass yards, 414 rush yards, 28 Total TD’s, 7 INT’s).
As exciting and explosive as Clemson was earlier in the season, they expectedly have suffered a rude awakening. Young quarterback Tajh Boyd (3,338 yards, 28 TD’s, 10 INT’s) and receiver Sammy Watkins (1,073 yards, 10 TD’s) were both Heisman contenders not too long ago but their sudden growing pains combined with several defensive letdowns have led to Clemson being exposed. Expect the dual-threat Thomas and the ACC’s top running back David Wilson (1,595 yards, 9 TD’s) to do a little more Tiger exposing in Charlotte tomorrow afternoon… Prediction: Virginia Tech
Big 10 Championship Game: #13 Michigan State (10-2) vs. #15 Wisconsin (10-2) – 8pm
Much like the ACC, the Big 10 title game provides an opportunity at revenge for Bret Bielema’s club. No way anyone could forget Michigan State’s miraculous Hail Mary victory over the Badgers earlier this season in East Lansing. Both have finished strong since that game winning 4 of the last 5. On the line is the coveted bid to the Rose Bowl. A trip to Pasadena would be Wisconsin’s second in a row whereas for State it’d be their first since 1988.
On the field, this matchup is about as even as it gets. Both these teams mirror each other in terms of talent and style of play. I give a slight edge to Wisconsin due to their strong defense, dominant offensive line and the out of this world play of transfer quarterback Russell Wilson (2,692 yards, 33 TD’s, 3 INT’s). The Badgers are great on the ground averaging 247 yards per contest thanks to Montee Ball (1,622 yards, 29 TD’s) and James White (683 yards, 6 TD’s). The Spartans are great at defending the run but it goes without saying they’ll have their hands full with Ball and White. They’ll be so concerned with the run which will really open up some big opportunities for Wilson and receiver Nick Toon (788 yards, 9 TD’s) over the top… Prediction: Wisconsin
Pac 12 Championship Game: UCLA (6-6) @ #9 Oregon (10-2) – 8pm (Friday)
Let’s be honest… UCLA has absolutely no business playing in this game. They have 6 losses and their head coach Rick Neuheisel just got fired (but will be coaching this game). The only reason why they’re representing the Pac 12 South is because USC who finished 2 games better is ineligible for postseason play. The Bruins lost to those Trojans 50-0 last week and are 30 point underdogs tonight—a number which seems a little generous.
I’m not even going to waste your time getting into the X’s and O’s of this matchup. The Bruins are being thrown in to the lions cage (lions sound a little more fearsome than ducks). UCLA allows 31 points per game and are 1-5 on the road. Oh, by the way, this game is being played in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium up in Oregon. LaMichael James (1,427 yards, 15 Total TD’s, 7.2 avg) and the Ducks will tear the Bruins apart on both sides of the ball… Prediction: Oregon
#10 Oklahoma (9-2) @ #3 Oklahoma State (10-1) – 8pm
The Big “12” doesn’t have an official championship game this year since they only have 10 teams—but this mind as well be it. Oklahoma was the preseason favorites in many people’s minds, but their BCS title dreams pretty much came to a crashing halt over a month ago. Their in-state rivals on the other hand still have a shot (albeit an extremely small one) at a BCS title spot. But Bedlam never requires stakes that high to make it interesting. These two are hated rivals and this game is so important to both for recruiting purposes alone. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that a BCS bid is on the line as well.
I think Oklahoma State matches up great in this game. Their offense averages 50 points per contest and coach Mike Gundy knows if the Cowboys are to have any shot at overtaking the #2 spot in the BCS they need a blowout win. Now, of course this game won’t be a blowout but you better believe Brandon Weeden (4,111 yards, 34 TD’s, 12 INT’s) will take his shots downfield, looking for star receiver Justin Blackmon (1,241 yards, 15 TD’s) early and often. The big question is can the Cowboys avoid committing turnovers. I think they will and I expect them to have success with the downfield pass especially with the vulnerability that exists in the Sooners secondary… Prediction: Oklahoma State
Final Scenarios for the Big East’s BCS Bid…
• Have clinched a share of the BIG EAST title.
• Clinches BCS bid with a Cincinnati loss to Connecticut Saturday.
– West Virginia
• Have clinched a share of the BIG EAST title.
• Clinches BCS bid with a Cincinnati win against Connecticut and being ranked higher than Cincinnati and Louisville in the final BCS standings.
1. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: (1,583 yards, 24 Total TD’s, 6 ypc) – Richardson’s monster performance last week against Auburn (203 yards, TD) catapulted him into my top spot. But unlike some of his competition, Richardson’s regular season is already over… Next: TBA
2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: (3,170 yards, 37 Total TD’s, 9 INT’s, 70%) – Luck was great last week against Notre Dame (223 yards, 4 TD’s, INT). I just think he lacked some of the “wow factor” we expected in the second half of the season. Richardson was more consistent and impressive… Next: TBA
3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: (1,427 yards, 15 Total TD’s, 7.2 ypc) – James has battled through multiple injuries this season but has still put up huge numbers. His 7.2 yards per carry stat speaks for itself. He’s been ultra vital to the Ducks’ success. A true MVP… Next: UCLA
4. Matt Barkley, QB, USC: (3,528 yards, 41 Total TD’s, 7 INT’s) – In a season where USC was playing for virtually nothing, Barkley has been downright spectacular. He’s approached each game as if it were the national championship since his Trojans are ineligible for postseason play. I admire that… Next: Nothing
5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston: (4,726 yards, 46 Total TD’s, 3 INT’s, 73%) – Keenum has had one of the best individual seasons in the history of college football. Unfortunately his Houston Cougars don’t play anybody of significance. Although tomorrow provides a little bit of a challenge… Next: Southern Miss
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN