All about those conference title games

THERE ARE SIX conference championship games this weekend. Only one really matters. That of course would be the SEC final, the one that begat the proliferation of all of these other imitators some 2 decades back. Alabama and Georgia will meet in Atlanta in a defacto national semifinal to determine who gets to play Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7 for the BCS title.

So why isn't it the prime-time matchup? Instead, you can catch it on CBS3 at 4. The loser won't even make it to a BCS bowl, because of the Florida factor. Alabama coach Nick Saban said that's not right. I guess he forgot that his team got to play for, and win, a title last season after it finished second in the SEC West.

Anyhow, you think there's anybody in South Bend who won't be watching?

There are some who feel that Georgia might actually pose a bigger matchup threat to the Fighting Irish. But there is something to be said for the fact that Bama is going for its third ring in 4 years. The only team that's done that since the poll era began in 1936 was Nebraska in the mid 1990s. And one of those was shared. The Tide almost lost at LSU in early November, then lost the next week at home to Texas A&M. Yet here it is, back in position again. The Tide hasn't been in this game since 2009, when it was also ranked No. 2 and beat No. 1 Florida by 21 before beating Texas in the Rose Bowl in finish things off. This is the first time in its eight appearances that the opponent isn't the Gators.

Georgia lost to LSU in this game a year ago, 42-10. It won in 2002 and '05. These teams haven't met in 4 years. A lot of folks probably wrote the Dawgs off after they lost 35-7 at South Carolina in early October. And you could hardly blame them. But 3 weeks later they beat Florida. Other than those two games, their schedule hasn't been what you'd call overly challenging. But you could sort of say the same about Bama's. Doesn't matter. The voters and computers have spoken. The survivor is headed to South Beach.

Hey, at least there won't be another all-SEC final, which is what would've happened had Notre Dame lost. The rest of the country might not have been able to deal with that.

Looking back, when Georgia and Herschel Walker won it all in 1980, it had to beat ND in the Sugar Bowl. And when ND went unbeaten in 1973, it played Bama in the Orange.

So much for the history lesson.

On Friday night in the Pac-12, UCLA and Stanford will play for the second straight week. This time it's at Stanford, which won in the Rose Bowl by 18. The winner will be in Pasadena on Jan. 1, something Stanford hasn't done in four decades. But the Cardinal, which did play in a BCS bowl the last 2 years (Orange and Fiesta), have won six straight, including at Oregon two weeks ago. UCLA hasn't been to the Rose for the holiday in 14 seasons. It lost at Oregon in last year's inaugural Pac-12 final, 49-31. The Bruins have lost four straight in this series.

The Big Ten winner will provide the opposition in Pasadena. Wisconsin, which lost the last 2 weeks to Ohio State at home and Penn State on the road, lost at Nebraska in late September by three in a game it led by 17 early in the third quarter. Now it gets a rematch in Indianapolis on Saturday night, as the third-place finisher from that ever-popular Leaders Division. The Badgers have lost in the Rose the last 2 years. Nebraska has been there twice, and lost each time: 11 years ago to Miami in the BCS final, and in 1941 to Stanford.

At the same time, the ACC will be deciding who goes to the Orange Bowl when Florida State and Georgia Tech meet in Charlotte, N.C. Not sure how many still care at this point. The Seminoles blew a seven-point lead in the closing 13 1/2 minutes at home last week against Florida, in a game they really needed to win for any number of reasons. They should be playing Miami, in a rematch of a game they won on the road 6 weeks ago. But the Hurricanes have NCAA issues so it's the Yellow Jackets, who should they lose will have to follow UCLA's lead from last season and get a special exemption to go to a bowl at 6-7. FSU won the first ACC final, in 2005, but this is its first trip back since then. Tech lost in 2006 and won in '09. They haven't played in 3 years. The Jackets have won the last two meetings.

On Friday night, probably in front of friends and family at Detroit's spacious Ford Field, Northern Illinoios and Kent State will settle the MAC. There's a chance the winner actually could go to a BCS bowl, most likely the Orange, depending on what goes down elsewhere. Kent has never been here before. The Huskies won this game last year, after losing in 2010. Their lone blemish came in the opener, by one at home to Iowa. Kent's setback was by 33 in week two to 2-10 Kentucky. Go figure. These guys haven't played since 2008. Kent, the first MAC team to go 8-0 in conference play in 9 years, hasn't beaten NIU since 2001. It's the first time two ranked teams are in this game since 2003.

In Conference USA, with the noon slot on Saturday, it's Central Florida at Tulsa. Both will no doubt be in the Big East any day now. Because there is a point spread, somebody will be paying attention. UCF lost at Tulsa on Nov. 17 by two. Both have played in this game three times. Both are 1-2. Twice they've faced each other (they split). This is the first time UCF, which is coached by George O'Leary of almost Notre Dame fame, has had to go on the road. Tulsa lost the one time it was home, in its last appearance in 2008.

The Big 12 doesn't have a title game any longer, but Kansas State will claim the title if it beats Texas at home Saturday. If it doesn't then Oklahoma, which lost to K-State at home, is the champ. Assuming the Sooners aren't upset at TCU.

The Big East will have a championship game next year. Well, the way it's going who knows anything for sure any more. Rutgers can clinch this title if it beats Louisville at home Thursday night. Both are coming off bad losses. It looks like both will soon be part of other conferences. If Louisville wins it's all but assured of getting that automatic BCS bid, something the Big East is soon losing. But it could come down to those dreaded BCS standings, for the second straight year, if Cincinnati also wins to create a four-way tie (with Syracuse). It sounds almost fitting.

 


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