We enter the final weekend of the regular season knowing a few things. If Auburn and Oregon win, they play for the crystal ball. If either falters then TCU has a good shot to sneak in. If both of them lose, all hell will break lose.
Speaking of Auburn, in a surprise, Cam Newton was ruled eligible to play this week, despite the fact that his dad did solicit money from MSU. This has to open a Pandora’s Box for a lot of other rulings that the NCAA has made or will make going forward. The loophole most likely will be addressed after the season, but you can’t help but feel that this was a money decision driven by the almighty SEC. But I won’t put on my tin-foil hat just yet. On to the games.
SEC Championship Game: 1 Auburn at 19 South Carolina
Gamecocks win if: They can run the football with consistency. Auburn’s run defense has been stout all season long. The Gamecocks will have to control Nick Fairley in the middle to allow Marcus Lattimore to control the clock, and keep the ball out of Newton’s hands. That also will open up the play-action game for Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery just like in the first matchup (7-125 2TDs). Over the last 3 games, Garcia has had 0 turnovers, and that’s important because in the first meeting, he was benched in the 4th quarter for fumbling the football.
Tigers win if: Cam Newton is Cam Newton. The poise that he showed against Alabama was the stuff that legends are made of. He hasn’t let all the off field allegations affect his play, and next week he’ll be holding up the Heisman in NYC. We all know that he is the key to this game, but don’t forget about the defense. They shut down the Alabama offense and will need to be equally strong this weekend.
Prediction: At some point the magic has to run out, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be this week. Auburn maybe a bit drained emotionally from last week, so they get off to a slow start, but that hasn’t stopped them all year. Auburn 31 South Carolina 27.
The Civil War: 2 Oregon at Oregon St
Beavers win if: They control the Ducks’ run game. Stephen Paea is one of the best interior lineman in the country. He can create havoc for the offensive line all night long, not only in stopping the run, but in getting pressure on Darron Thomas. On offense the Beavers must not turn the ball over. The Ducks don’t need anymore help to score. The big key will be to get off to a good start. The crowd at Reser Stadium will want blood, so they have to ride that emotion early.
Ducks win if: They stay patient and focus. Chip Kelly’s “seize the day” mantra will be tested on Saturday. Oregon State scored 0 points against Stanford on Saturday, so the Ducks will have to fight the urge to look past them. If things don’t go well early, they must continue to feed LaMichael James, and get big plays out of the pass game when they are there. Turnovers will be key for Oregon as well. They can’t turn the ball over and allow the Beavers to stay in the game and gain confidence.
Prediction: Come on. I tried to make it seem like this will be competitive, but I honestly think this will be over by the half. Oregon 55 Oregon St 21.
Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship Game: 9 Oklahoma at 13 Nebraska
Huskers win if: Duh, they need to pound the football down the Sooners throats. That is what they do, and they’ve been excellent at it all year. When Taylor Martinez plays well, they win, and when he doesn’t they lose. So he has to be healthy for them to have a chance at moving onto the Fiesta Bowl. On defense they have been great against the pass all year, so they should be able to slow down Broyles and Jones a bit. But they must be able to stop the run without committing an extra defender, or it’ll be a long day.
Sooners win if: they can out score the Huskers. Now while that may seem elementary, it is the truth. This won’t be a 9-6 defensive battle. OU needs to get this game into the high 30s, maybe even the 40s to win. Landry Jones has thrown 8 of his 10 picks away from Norman, so he needs to take care of the ball. DeMarco Murray may be able to find some running room as well, and if so, that will take some pressure off of Jones and the rest of the offense.
Prediction: This is Oklahoma’s 8th appearance is the Big 12 title game. They are 6-1, including winning 3 of the last 4. In big games like this, I like the experienced team to make more plays to win. Add in the fact that it’ll basically be a home game for the Sooners playing in Dallas, and I like them to roll up a bunch of points in this one. Oklahoma 45 Nebraska 35.
ACC Championship Game: 21 FSU at 15 Virginia Tech
Hokies win if: They stick to what got them here. They are the first team to ever finish the ACC regular season undefeated. They did it with a simple formula: run the ball, efficient QB play, forcing turnovers, and scoring more than anyone else in the conference. It’s hard to argue with that. Frank Beamer became successful with this style, and he’s kept to it all these years.
Seminoles win if: They can turn the Hokies over. Over the last three games, all wins, the Seminoles have forced 10 turnovers. The Hokies have only turned it over 12 times all season, so that will be a big factor. Also, whenever you think FSU football, you think pressure on the quarterback. This year hasn’t been any different. They led the ACC in sacks this year, and will have to make Taylor uncomfortable to force some mistakes and loose throws.
Prediction: I want to take the Hokies because they have been the best team in the conference all season long. But when I look at the Seminoles, I see a team that is really hungry and a defense that is forcing the opposition out of it’s comfort zone. Look for a close game, and a late turnover by the Hokies to seal it. FSU 24 Virginia Tech 21.
The City Championship: USC at UCLA
Bruins win if: They control the clock. Rick Neuheisel would probably like a 60 play, 99 yard, 60 minute drive that ends in a touchdown, without the Trojans ever seeing the ball. I kid, but the truth is that they must control the tempo. If they try to outscore USC it will be a long day. The score has to stay down, seeing as how they only average 20 points a game.
Trojans win if: Lane Kiffin doesn’t blow it. USC has more talent at every position on the field, including the Song Girls. If Kiffin lets the game take care of itself, the Trojans should distance themselves early. If they take too many chances, and try to force things, it could prove much more difficult. A healthy Matt Barkley should help their cause. Without him last week, they lost to a not very good Notre Dame team.
Prediction: Last year, the Trojans added a late touchdown pass to ice an already frozen game. The Bruins have been steaming about this all year. Now is time for retribution at the Rose Bowl. It will be an ugly game between to teams and coaches that have a strong dislike for each other. Kai Forbath needs one more field goal to be come the all-time leader at UCLA. He gets it in his last game as a Bruin, for the win. UCLA 24 USC 21. (EDITOR’S NOTE: You’re dreaming.)