As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.
9:00: Oregon State @ Oregon (ESPN): The Civil War is back. On the line? A berth against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Cross-state rivalries don’t get much bigger than that. Add to the mix that this game is in Eugene, which is normally crazy but gets even crazier after dark. All year, I’ve felt that Oregon is one of the best teams in the Pac-10, with Oregon State in the echelon just slightly below the Ducks. I’ll stick to my guns here, but it could still be close. Worth watching, that’s for sure.
8:00: Central Michigan vs. Ohio (@Detroit, MI; ESPN2): (Author’s note: I just added the phrase “upset Temple” to my vocabulary so I can type the following sentence.) Ohio upset Temple Saturday to earn a berth in this game against everyone’s favorite mid-major Tebow, Dan LeFevour, as Central Michigan hopes to avoid being upset themselves a la Ball State in last year’s game. I don’t see that happening though.
- Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (ABC): It’s the de facto Big East title game featuring the guy Notre Dame should hire (Brian Kelly of Cincy) and the guy whoever Notre Dame hires is likely to resemble (Dave Wannstadt). Which is to say, I just don’t see how Cincy loses here, as has been foretold by numerous message board pundits. Cincy plays decent enough defense and is light-years ahead of Pitt offensively.
- West Virginia @ Rutgers (ESPN): Despite Bill Stewart’s best efforts to the contrary, West Virginia will probably win this game.
- Houston @ East Carolina (ESPN2): This (the Conference USA title game) may be the most exciting of the noon games, in all honestly. ECU is probably one of the more mature teams in C-USA, while we know Houston’s going to score a lot of points and not play a lot of defense. This one is hard to figure, though note that the game is at East Carolina. In the end, I’ll take the flashy Houston offense, and if I were a betting man (as you might guess from the quality of my predictions, I’m not) I’d take the over on this one, whatever it is.
12:30: Fresno State @ Illinois (BTN): Fresno should be able to put the Illni out of their misery.
- Arizona @ Southern California (ABC): Perhaps USC has its mojo back after Pete Carroll did everything but literally flip the bird to Rick Neuheisel last weekend? Can Arizona shake off the excitement from its own rivalry game (which they won on a last second FG)? I think USC will come out on top and salvage a Holiday Bowl bid in the process.
- Carson-Newman @ Grand Valley State (ESPN): More playoffs (playoffs?!?), this time brought to you by Division II. If nothing else, they’ll give you something to watch until…
4:00: Florida vs. Alabama (@Atlanta, GA; CBS): And so it has come to pass. Florida versus Alabama. Atlanta. SEC title game. Is there anything that I can say about this game that hasn’t been said already? Those of you who’ve tracked my bowl predictions throughout the year have no doubt noted that I’ve projected Alabama to the title game in most of them. For most of the season, this made sense. My perception has been that Alabama has sort of cooly and professionally sailed through their SEC schedule while Florida has looked vulnerable several times and was willed to win by a stingy defense and Tebow-ian moxie. Of course, then rivalry weekend happened, and Alabama found itself trailing to Auburn most of the game while Florida took Bobby Bowden and FSU out behind the woodshed.
The funny thing about perceptions, though, is sometimes (read: most of the time) they’re not always accurate. In SEC play, Florida outscored its opponents by 15.625 points per game. Alabama outscored its opponents by 15.375 points per game. Both are in the top quarter of the conference in scoring and are, by far, the two stingiest defenses (10.625 pts/game for Alabama 12 pts/game for Florida) in the SEC.
So what does this mean? This means the game will probably live up to its billing: tight, low-scoring, yet exciting. And, somehow, writing this is making me renege on my bowl predictions. I’m picking the Gators.
- Nebraska vs. Texas (@Arlington, TX; ABC): I think we all know the expected result. Colt McCoy goes out there, completes 75% of his passes and runs for a bunch of yards. Yet while I’m fully aware of the disclaimers surrounding rivalry games (you might say I’m acutely aware of such things this year), Texas did struggle to put away Texas A&M and didn’t play that great of a defense. And, indeed, if there is any team in the Big 12 that can actually slow down Texas it would have to be Nebraska. The problem for Nebraska, of course, is that they themselves cannot score against Big 12 defense, which is pretty bad when you consider that they don’t get to play themselves. It’s hard to for me to go against the grain here.
- Georgia Tech vs. Clemson (@Tampla, FL; ESPN): So, as you may or may not know, I am actually leaving SFO at 12:30 AM to go to Tampa for this game. I’ll try to update as I go along.
At any rate, when Clemson lost to (and by “lost to”, I mean “got shellacked by”) South Carolina on Saturday I was ecstatic. With a victory over Georgia, Tech would have all the advantages going into the ACC title game and could be reasonably expected to win.
Yeah, well, so much for that.
So instead we have two teams coming off losses to bitter rivals (though at least Tech’s offense showed up, unlike Clemson’s) playing for a berth to the Orange Bowl. So you have to assume both teams are going to be ready to play. Tech won the first meeting, 30-27, by building up an early lead (24-7 at the half), squandering it, and then kicked a late field goal to win it in regulation. Since then, both teams have an appropriate number of all-conference players (Tech has the 1st team QB, RB, WR, and DE, Clemson has the ACC Player of the Year) and so there doesn’t figure to be a lack of offense for this game, especially given Tech’s major issues on defense.
Speaking of said defense, so far the wisdom in Tech circles what used to be a decent rush defense (the pass defense has been a known liability all year, and indeed that was mechanism for Clemson’s rally in the first game) relates to mostly two things. The first is overpersuit by the linebackers, and the second is our defensive tackles just got manhandled. Suffice it to say, both have been known issues all year, but they really manifested themselves last weekend. So what can Tech do to counter Clemson’s weapons? Well, keep them off the field, for starters. Secondly, this means doing whatever South Carolina did to limit CJ Spiller to 18 yards on 9 carries (and 19 yards on 3 receptions). Tech was able to “contain” Spiller on the ground (87 yards on 20 carries), but got gashed through the air (4 receptions for 69 yards) the first time.
At any rate, we’ll see how it goes. This weekend promises to be crazy, regardless of the result.
- South Florida @ Connecticut (ESPN2): I’m as glad as anyone that UConn beat Notre Dame last weekend. (Indeed, if anyone deserved to get a win last weekend, it was UConn.) Unfortunately for them, they have to play USF this weekend, and I have to say I like the Bulls here.
8:30: California (PA) @ Northwest Missouri State (CBSCS): Just pushing more DII playoffs here, folks.
11:30: Wisconsin @ Hawaii (ESPN2): Hawaii could throw a spanner into the WAC bowl works by pulling off the upset here to get bowl eligible, but they probably won’t as long as Wisconsin takes their vacation at least somewhat seriously.
Like I said, I will be in Tampa this weekend! I may do a series of posts on my weekend, or maybe sign up on Twitter or something. We’ll see!