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Light Schedule Has High Stakes

by Mike Mitchell
Updated 11/29/06 9:39 pm est

The week offers a light schedule of just 17 games, but the stakes are disproportionately high. Among the issues to be resolved are seven conference titles, one berth in the BCS title game, and year-long bragging rights by either Army or Navy.

Come Sunday, sixty-four bowl slots will be filled, but most of them can't possibly know who to invite until Saturday's games are over.

The ACC, Big 12, CUSA, MAC and SEC all have conference championship games. Additionally, this week's action will also determine the winners of the Big East and Sun Belt conferences.

Actually, there's a possible scenario in the Big East that could pass the decision on to the voters and computers. If West Virginia beats Rutgers, and Louisville loses to UConn, there would be a dead-heat three-way tie at the top of the conference. In that case, the Big East's BCS bowl representative would be determined by the final BCS Standings with the higher-ranked team receiving the automatic bid.

The computer (based on the Congrove Computer Rankings) forecasts all five championship games to be close, with no team favored by more than 3.11 points.

USC at UCLA - Everyone has an interest in this game as a victory by the Trojans will put them in the BCS title game against Ohio State. A UCLA win opens the door for a lot of hand-wringing as Michigan and Florida enter the week ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the BCS Standings.

ACC Championship: Who'd have thunk it - Wake Forest versus Georgia Tech in Jacksonville? The Yellow Jackets lost two of their last six games and ended the season by stubbing their toe against state rival Georgia. The Demon Deacons bounced back from a Virginia Tech bombing to take out Maryland in a head-on battle for the Atlantic division title. Virginia Tech had the best over-all record in the ACC for the third straight season (tied with Wake Forest at 10-2 this year).
(ACC Preview)

Big 12 Championship: Texas ended the season with its first back-to-back losses since 1999, allowing Oklahoma to snatch the south division title. The Sooners will take on Nebraska in what used to be one of college football's most-entertaining rivalries. The two teams met every year, without failure, from 1928-1997. Conference expansion put an end to that and the teams have met just four times since 1997 with Oklahoma winning three of those contests.
(Big 12 Preview)

CUSA Championship (Friday) - In the preseason, the CUSA media thought Tulsa and Central Florida would repeat 2005's title game. The computer forecasted Tulsa and Memphis. The reality is Houston and Southern Miss. The computer picked the Golden Eagles 2nd in the east division, nailing their record with a projection of 8-4 over-all, 6-2 in the conference. The computer had the Cougars forecasted 4th in the west division with a mark of 7-5 over-all and 4-4 in the conference. But Houston finished the year with five straight wins to go 9-3, 7-1. Tulsa, meanwhile, collapsed with a three-game losing streak in November that began with a loss at Houston. East Carolina would have won the east division were it not for a last-second loss to Rice.
(CUSA Preview)

MAC Championship (Thursday) - Central Michigan and Ohio were forecasted to go a combined 8-16. Instead, the Bobcats are playing for their first conference title since 1968 in Frank Solich's second year as head coach. Central Michigan hasn't won a MAC title since 1994, and neither Central Michigan or Ohio have ever played in a MAC Championship game since the league went to a two-division format in 1997. Last year's championship game was also staged between two teams that had not previously played in the MAC title game. Akron beat Northern Illinois on a TD pass with 10 seconds left for the first conference championship in school history.
(MAC Preview)

SEC Championship - Georgia and Auburn were expected to be here. Arkansas and Florida were each projected to go 8-4. The Razorbacks enter the contest with 10-2 record after a loss to LSU in their final game, while the Gators wrapped up an 11-1 regular season with a win at Florida State. Of all the championship game participants this weekend, Florida is the only one with a shot at landing a berth in the BCS title game. For that to happen, the Gators would have to destroy Arkansas and hope USC falls to UCLA.
(SEC Preview)

Big East - West Virginia hosts Rutgers while Louisville hosts Connecticut. The Mountaineers can win the Big East only if they beat the Scarlet Knights, the Cardinals lose to the Huskies, and the results make West Virginia the highest-ranked team from the conference. Louisville wins the conference if it beats UConn and Rutgers loses to West Virginia. Rutgers is the only one of the three that controls its own destiny.

Sun Belt - A win by Troy at FIU would clinch the crown for the Trojans and a berth in the New Orleans Bowl. But a loss would hand the title to Middle Tennessee whom Troy defeated 21-20 last week. FIU has been outscored 136-10 in the last five games.

Army vs. Navy - Navy has owned the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for three straight seasons. Paul Johnson is 36-24 in 5 years as head coach of Navy, and he is 34-14 over the last four years. Army enters the game with a disappointing 3-8 record after many preseason analysis' had the Black Knights going to a bowl game. The computer picked Army to finish 6-6 in Bobby Ross' third season. The Midshipmen have won four straight in the storied rivalry, and six of the last seven meetings.

The Big Game - November 20, 1982. Cal's five-lateral kick-off return on the final play of the game stunned Stanford and became the hallmark of this rivalry. The Golden Bears have won the last four meetings after The Cardinal took the previous seven straight games.

EARLY BOWL SELECTIONS
Thanks partly, if not entirely to the bowl glut, three schools have received their first bowl bids in ages. San Jose State is headed to the New Mexico Bowl for the Spartans' first postseason appearance since 1981; Ohio is packing its' bags for the GMAC Bowl where the Bobcats will play in their first holiday game since 1968; Rice is going to New Orleans for the Owls' first bowl appearance since 1961.

San Jose State's bowl credentials? Seven wins over opponents that have a combined 10 victories against 1-A foes.

Bowl slots that have already been secured, well in advance of "Selection Sunday".

Arizona State - Hawai'i (vs. Hawaii)
BYU - Las Vegas (vs. Oregon)
California - Holiday (vs. Texas A&M)
Central Michigan - Motor City (vs. TBD)
East Carolina - PapaJohns.com (vs. TBD)
Florida State - Emerald (vs. UCLA)
Hawaii - Hawai'i (vs. Arizona State)
Iowa - Alamo (vs. TBD)
Miami, Fla. - MPC Computers (vs. Nevada)
Minnesota - Insight (vs. TBD)
Navy - Meineke Car Care (vs. TBD)
Nevada - MPC Computers (vs. Miami, Fla.)
New Mexico - New Mexico (vs. San Jose State)
Northern Illinois - Poinsettia (vs. TCU)
Ohio - GMAC (vs. TBD)
Ohio State - BCS Championship Game (vs. TBD)
Oregon - Las Vegas (vs. BYU)
Oregon State - Sun (vs. TBD)
Purdue - Champs Sports (vs. TBD)
Penn State - Outback (vs. TBD)
Rice - New Orleans (vs. Sun Belt Champion - Troy or MTSU)
San Jose State - New Mexico (vs. New Mexico)
Texas A&M - Holiday (vs. California)
TCU - Poinsettia (vs. Northern Illinois)
Tulsa - Armed Services Bowl (vs. Utah)
UCLA - Emerald (vs. Florida State)
Utah - Armed Services Bowl (vs. Tulsa)
Western Michigan - International (vs. TBD)
Wisconsin - Capital One (vs. TBD)

UNBEATEN TEAMS
Only two unbeaten teams remain - Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten), and Boise State (12-0, 8-0 WAC). Both have completed their regular season schedules. The Buckeyes are a lock for the BCS title game while the Broncos are expected to land in the Fiesta Bowl.

Last year, Texas and USC were the only two undefeated teams left at this point of the season. The Longhorns defeated the Trojans for the national title (2005 recap).

WINLESS TEAMS
Duke (0-12, 0-8 ACC Coastal) and FIU (0-11, 0-6 Sun Belt) are the only remaining winless teams. Duke's season is completed. FIU hosts Troy on Saturday.

Last year, Temple finished 0-11 and New Mexico State ended the year at 0-12.

POISONED CUPCAKES
No 1-A schools play a 1-AA team the rest of the season.

1-AA teams were 7-71 this year against their higher-classified brethren. Since the start of the 2003 campaign, 1-A teams hold the upper hand by a huge margin, 235-25 (.904).

77 schools took the opportunity of a 12th game to schedule a cupcake opponent and New Mexico State double-dipped.

STREAKS
Ohio State has won 19 straight games.

Boise State has won 14 straight regular season games, 12 straight over-all, and 36 consecutive regular season home games. The Broncos have never lost a home game to a WAC opponent (24-0).

USC has won a nation's-best 33 consecutive home games.

Duke has lost 20 games over-all, and 22 straight to 1-A teams.

FIU has lost 11 straight games.

NEW COACHES
The 2006 season introduced 11 coaching changes. We've tracked their progress throughout the season.

Boise State, 12-0 under Chris Petersen, is finished (Bowl Game).
Wisconsin, 11-1 under Bret Bielema, is finished (Bowl Game).
Kansas State, 7-5 under Ron Prince, is finished (Bowl Game).
Middle Tennessee, 7-5 under Rick Stockstill, is finished (Bowl Game?).
Rice, 7-5 under Todd Graham, is finished (Bowl Game?).
Idaho, 4-8 under Dennis Erickson, is finished.
Northwestern, 4-8 under Pat Fitzgerald, is finished.
Buffalo, 2-10 under Turner Gill, is finished.
San Diego State, 2-9 under Chuck Long, hosts Colorado State.
Colorado, 2-10 under Dan Hawkins, is finished.
Temple, 1-11 under Al Golden, is finished.



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