Friday, December 01, 2006

College Football Week 14 Preview

Say it ain't so! The regular college football season is almost over, and after Saturday we'll have to wait a whole...15 days until the Bowl Season begins.

But have no fear because when that silly season does start chances are you will be able to catch your favorite team one last time, with 32 bowls accommodating an astounding 64 of the NCAA's 119 D-1 teams. Next thing you know they're gonna have a play-in bowl featuring South Wichita State and Coppin State.

But I digress. Although there are a limited number of games to watch on the final weekend, the slate makes up for lack of quantity with plenty of quality (or at least in the case of USC/UCLA, important) matchups. In the spirit of the just-passed Thanksgiving holiday I'm going to give you the full menu of games to sit and digest with your belt unbuckled on the last day of the 2006 season.

12 Noon: UCONN (4-7) @ 6 Louisville (10-1) ESPN
The Cards and their high-powered offense (38PPG, 4th in NCAA) still have a lot to play for when they take on the disappointing Huskies at Papa John's Stadium. A Louisville win combined with a West Virginia loss later against Rutgers would give the Cards the Big East title and the BCS berth that goes along with it. A loss and/or a Scarlet Knight win and the Cards will have the whole winter to think about what could have been- had it been able to beat Rutgers 3 weeks ago they title would be theirs no matter what. But today will be a big day no matter what because it is senior day, and 15 members of coach Bobby Petrino's first recruiting class will take the field at home for the last time. These seniors have had a great run, too, going 21-1 at home with a current NCAA best 17-game winning streak at the Big Pizza Box. Playing the lowly Huskies should prove to be no problem for QB Brian Brohm and his offensive weapons, RBs Kolby Smith and Tampa's Anthony Allen and WRs Mario Urrutia & Harry Douglas. It could get ugly for the Huskies, but with a potential lucrative BCS bid on the line Louisville will show no mercy.
MY PICK: Cards 47, Huskies 13

1PM ABC: ACC Championship Game, Jacksonville
16 Wake Forest (10-2) vs. 23 Georgia Tech (9-3)
If you had said at the beginning of the season that these two squads would be squaring off for the ACC title, I would have told you to lay off the limoncellos. Miami and Florida State, yes. Boston College and Miami- okay. But the Demon Deacons and Yellow Jackets, two teams that combined to go 11-12 last season- no way. But here we are four months later and that is exactly the matchup we get. The Deacons have been the surprise of the 2006 season, as Coach of the Year candidate Jim Grobe has got Wake on the verge of their first league title since 1970 after leading the team to its first 10-win season. ACC Freshman of the Year QB Riley Skinner has been a calm, cool and collected signal caller, leading the team to huge wins against BC, FSU and Maryland and the Deacs run a balanced, no frills offense that gets the job done. The Jackets, meanwhile, are loaded with talent, especially at quarterback, where senior Reggie Ball can either win or lose a game on his own with his electrifying but sometimes erratic play. Ball's favorite target is WR Calvin Johnson, who despite being held without a catch in a loss to Clemson still leads the ACC in receptions (59), yards (899) and TDs(13.)Neither team lights it up on offense, averaging just over 300 yards & around 25 PPG, but these two surprise combatants should give us a solid, if not spectacular, title game.
MY PICK: Jackets 24, Deacons 23

4:30PM EST, ABC: 2 USC (10-1) vs. UCLA (6-5)
This is the most important game of the day, and not because it is the annual intra-city rivalry to see which squad is the king of the City of Angels. Every team, player, and pollster will have their eyes on this LA story because if the Trojans take care of business and defeat their cross-city rivals for the 9th straight time it will most certainly be heading to Glendale to face the Buckeyes in the BCS Title Game on January 8th. As I mentioned this rivalry has been mighty lopsided since the Trojans have ascended to the elite of the NCAA; UCLA has not won since 1998, including absorbing a 66-19 beating last year at the Coliseum. USC should have no problem handling the Bruins this season either, although 2 years ago as it marched to the title game it got a scare from their rivals, pulling out a 29-24 squeaker. That should not be the case today as the Trojans are just too deep and talented to falter to a depleted Bruins squad. QB John David Booty (2,682 yards, 25TDs) has taken the reigns admirably after waiting in the wings behind Heisman winners Carson Palmer & Matt Leinart, and the bevy of offensive weapons (RBs Chauncey Washington & CJ Gable, WRs Dwayne Jarrett & Steve Smith)should be able to put the Bruins away early. Combine all that firepower (32 PPG, nearly 400 YPG) with a speedy, hard-hitting defense (just ask the Irish) and this battle should more resemble the 2005 bludgeoning than the 2004 squeaker. The Trojans will be shouting "Glendale here we come" when this one's all over.
MY PICK: Trojans 43, Bruins 17

6PM, CBS: SEC Championship Game Georgia Dome
8 Arkansas (10-2) vs. 4 Florida (11-1)
A couple of weeks ago this game appeared to have major national title implications. The Gators had been hovering around the top of the polls for most of the season thanks to a cheesy schedule courtesy of the watered-down SEC, and the Razorbacks hadn't lost since their 50-14 thrashing at the hands of the Trojans in the season's opening week. Then Ohio State outlasted Michigan in the most thrilling game of the year and USC whipped Notre Dame, vaulting either the Wolverines or Trojans into potential title game opponents for the Buckeyes, and Arkansas shit the bed by losing at home last weekend to LSU. Now appears that UF have to be content with winning their first league title since 2000, although they still have an outside shot at the BCS championship, and Arkansas will be happy to play in a New Years Day bowl.

So who will win this battle of Southeastern Conference titans? The way the Gators have played the past month, or really all season for that matter, is leading most experts to pick the Hogs. The 2-headed QB experiment coach Urban Meyer has employed has been mainly successful, but it still creates confusion on their own sideline as to which QB, wussy senior Chris Leak (2,540 yards, 22 TDs, 11INTs) or tough freshman Tim Tebow (756 combined yards, 11 combo TDs) should be in the game and when. Combine that with the fact that the already run-deficient Gator offense will be without its top running back, DeShawn Wynn (shoulder) and electric freshman Percy Harvin will be playing hurt after suffering a neck stinger in the FSU game. For a team that has trouble running the ball (157YPG, 40th in NCAA) this could spell doom against Arkansas, as the Hogs will be able to key on the Gators passing game.

The Razorbacks are the exact opposite of the Gators as far as offense: they are a run-first team, averaging 236 yards/game, good for 4th in the nation, and they are led by a leading Heisman runner-up contender Darren McFadden. The spectacular sophomore is proving to be a triple threat on offense- he can obviously run the ball (244 carries for 1,485 yards & 14 TDs), but he can also catch (9 recs, 122 yds, 1TD) and throw the rock, as evidenced by his awesome 5-5, 70 yards & 2TD stats as a passer. Oh yeah, he also returns kicks, parks cars, and cleans up the stands at War Memorial Stadium after home games. I'm kidding, but this kid can do it all, and he's going to be tough for the stout Florida defense to contain. QB Mitch Mustain was adequate (853 yards, 10TDs, 8INTs),so he's been replaced by sophomore Casey Dick, but when all you have to do is hand off to an All-Conference back you don't have to really worry about passing too much.
This game should be a classic battle of wills. As in which unit will prevail: Florida's 4th ranked rushing defense, or the Hogs 4th ranked rushing offense. The Gators need to win this game (and pray for USC to lose)to keep their slim hopes of a BCS title alive, and the Razorbacks want to defeat the team that gets all the glory in the SEC and send UF to the bowl they most deserve- the Gator Bowl.
MY PICK: Razorbacks 27, Gators 24

7:45, ESPN: 13 Rutgers(10-1) @ 15 West Virginia (9-2)
This game has a lot riding on it, especially for the Scarlet Knights. Although its longshot chance at the BCS title went out the window after their disheartening loss to Cincy last week, it still can earn a BCS bowl bid by knocking off the Mountaineers and winning the Big East title. West Virginia has a slim shot at the crown, but that would require UConn to knock off Louisville, something that isn't going to happen. West Virginia blew its chance when it choked at home last week against USF, losing an embarrassing 24-19 game, and it will be out for blood against the darlings of college football this year. Coach of the Year lock Greg Schiano has gotten perennial doormat Rutgers to their first 10 win season ever and is a hot candidate to replace the canned Larry Coker at Miami. But the Scarlet Knights have not fared well in Morgantown, losing 14 straight, and WVU has an 11-game overall winning streak against the boys from Piscataway. Rutgers attack is led by RB Ray Rice, a dark horse Heisman candidate who has racked up 1495 yards & 17 TDs this season. FB Brian Leonard has also reemerged as an offensive threat after tallying 106 yards & 2 TDs in a win over Syracuse last week, and sophomore QB Mike Teel (1589 yards, 9TDs, 13 INTs) does just enough to keep the offense moving. But the Rutgers defense will have their hands full with the high-powered Mountaineer offense. West Virginia averages nearly 39 PPG, good for 3rd in the nation, and their rushing attack (312 YPG) is ranked second nationally. That attack is led by twin Heisman hopefuls QB Pat White (1524 yds & 11 TDs passing, 1074 yds & 17 TDs rushing) and Steve Slaton (1621 yards, 14 TDs.) After being shut down last week by a stifling South Florida defense (White & Slaton ran for only 60 yards combined), look for those two to bust out against the solid but unspectacular Scarlet defense. It has been a wonderful season for the State University of New Jersey and a big bowl game will still be a nice reward for this overachieving bunch.
MY PICK: Mountaineers 30, Scarlet Knights 24

8PM, ABC: Big 12 Championship Game
19 Nebraska (9-3)vs. 8 Oklahoma (10-2)
It has been a topsy-turvy year for Coach Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners. It started out 2-0 and RB Adrian Peterson looked like a Heisman candidate with 304 yards in their first 2 wins. Then the wheels started to fall off. The Sooners were robbed of a win by two horrendous officiating calls in a 34-33 heartbreaking loss at Oregon. To make matters worse, Peterson went down with a broken collar bone in a 34-9 win at Iowa State and has been out ever since. But the Sooners have persevered, ripping off 6 wins in a row and rushing for more yards since Peterson went down. A credit to Stoops and his staff that they kept the team on track despite losing a player of Peterson's caliber. Meanwhile the Huskers have been a pleasant surprise this year, coming back from obscurity behind coach Bill Callahan's passing attack, led by Big 12 Player of the Year QB Zac Taylor (2789 yds, 24 TDs.) These two old foes have not met in a title game since 1988, back in the days of the Big 8, so this will be like a trip in the wayback machine for both schools. A trip to the Cotton Bowl is on the rise for the winner, and each school can be proud of overcoming odds to make it back to the Big 12 promised land.
MY PICK: Sooners 30, Huskers 27

12 MID, ESPN: Oregon State (8-4) @ 24 Hawaii (10-2)
A great way to end the day, and the season, with a late night tilt on the West Coast in what should be an offensive showcase. Most people don't get a chance to see the Rainbow Warriors since they play on a 5 hour time difference over there, but tune in tonight to catch one of the premier passers in the NCAA. Colt Brennan continues the Hawaii passing tradition left him by record-setting Timmie Chang as he has racked up 4589 yards and 51 TDs this season. You read that right. This kid is like an arcade game, putting up numbers usually reserved for Arena ball. With 4 more TDs tonight he will break the NCAA record of 54 set by Houston's David Klingler set in 1990 and he has already broken the yardage & touchdown marks set by Chang. Hawaii will have their hands full tonight, though, as OSU is the only team to knock off USC this season. The Beavers are led by precise QB Matt Moore, who hasn't thrown an INT in his last 144 attempts, exciting receiver/kick returner Sammie Straughter (1100yds, 3TDs) and RB Yvenson Bernard (1102 yds, 11 TDs.) Two teams that average over 30 PPG and play an exciting, up-tempo style game. Throw in a possible record-setting performance from Brennan and the beautiful vistas of Honolulu and I can't think of a better way to end the 2006 season.
MY PICK: Warriors 51,Beavers 33

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