Conference Championship Week
by Mike Mitchell
The final week of the regular season delivers games that will determine the champions of seven different conferences and the traditional Army-Navy rivalry.
Here are this week's games.
Texas and USC are the only remaining unbeaten teams. The Longhorns and Trojans need to survive one more week to set up a BCS title match between the only two undefeated teams in major college football.
New Mexico State (0-12) and Temple (0-11) each ended the season winless. New Mexico State will enter the 2006 campaign on a 13-game losing streak. Temple will start next year on a 12-game losing skid.
Conference Championship Games
ACC at Jacksonville:
Florida State vs. Virginia Tech - Bobby Bowden is 14-0 vs. Virginia Tech, including 3-0 as the head coach of West Virginia prior to his move to FSU. His most recent wins over the Hokies came in the 1999 BCS title game at the Sugar Bowl and the 2001 Gator Bowl. Frank Beamer is 0-6 vs. FSU. Prior to Bowden's arrival in Tallahassee, the Hokies had won three straight from the 'Noles and had a slight edge in the series. This will be their first meeting since Virginia Tech joined the ACC last year and their second in Jacksonville in the last five years. The Seminoles enter the contest in the midst of their first three-game losing streak since 1983. The 2001 squad that beat the Hokies in the Gator Bowl had entered that contest with losses in two of its last three regular season games.
Big 12 at Houston:
Colorado vs. Texas - Texas won the regular season meeting in in Austin 42-17 on October 15. The Buffaloes backed into the game when they failed to win their last two games, either of which could have clinched the title. They lost at Iowa State, then got bombed at home by Nebraska. Colorado was saved by Iowa State's own choke as the Cyclones blew a lead against Kansas last Saturday and eventually lost in overtime. Otherwise, Iowa State would be playing Texas. The Longhorns have taken three straight from Colorado. The Buffaloes' last win over Texas was in the 2001 Big 12 Championship.
CUSA at Orlando:
Tulsa at Central Florida - An absolutely amazing turnaround by the Golden Knights has them one step away from a conference championship. UCF opened the year with two losses that ran their losing streak to 17 games, a streak that began on November 1, 2003 and didn't end until September 24, 2005. Since then, Central Florida is 7-1 with their only loss coming at Southern Miss 52-31. They enter the CUSA Championship game on a 5-game winning streak over teams that finished the season with a combined record of 19-36. Tulsa also started the year 0-2 but has since won seven of its last nine. The Golden Hurricane beat Southern Miss 34-17 in Hattiesburg and delivered bigger wins than UCF over East Carolina, Tulane and Rice. Houston is the only common opponent comparison that gives Central Florida an upper hand. Tulsa hasn't won a conference title since it captured the 1985 Missouri Valley championship. UCF became a 1-A member in 1996 and never finished higher than second (2002) during its three years in the MAC from 2002-2004. The game will be played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando which is where UCF plays its home games.
MAC at Detroit (Thursday):
Akron vs. Northern Illinois - Akron has never won the MAC title, Northern Illinois hasn't won it since 1983 and neither team has ever played in the MAC Championship game which began in 1997. Marshall, Toledo, Western Michigan, Miami and Bowling Green are the only teams that have appeared in the previous eight title matches. This is only the second year that it has been held in neutral territory at Ford Field in Detroit. The Zips beat the Huskies 48-42 in overtime in the conference-opener for both teams at Akron.
SEC at Atlanta:
Georgia vs. LSU - If LSU wins, it will probably be in overtime. The Tigers two biggest wins this season were overtime defeats of Auburn and Alabama. Their lone loss, at home to Tennessee, was also in overtime. The last time these teams met, Georgia clobbered LSU 45-16 in Athens in the 2004 regular season. In 2003, LSU beat Georgia in the regular season and in the conference championship game. This is LSU's third appearance in the SEC championship game in the last five years and the Bayou Bengals have never lost in this game. This is Georgia's third appearance in the last four years and the Bulldogs are trying to win their first conference title since 2002.
OTHER Conference Games
Louisville at Connecticut - UConn needs a big upset victory to become bowl eligible. Last week, the Huskies upset South Florida 15-10 to knock the Bulls out of a Big East title and BCS bowl shot. UConn is 4-1 at home this year but the opponents include Buffalo, Syracuse and 1-AA Liberty. The Cardinals are just 2-2 on the road having blown a big lead at West Virginia and getting bombed at South Florida.
West Virginia at South Florida - This game could've meant something. The Bulls could have been a contender for the Big East title. But they blew it by losing 15-10 at Connecticut last week. Now, all USF can strive for is an upset win that could improve the Bulls bowl stock. The Mountaineers, who are favored to win, would like to finish the year 10-1. Secretly, the Big East powers are likely hoping the same thing.
UCLA at USC - The Trojans have won the last six meetings with their crosstown rivals. UCLA hasn't won since 1998 when the Bruins beat USC to finish off an 8-0 conference campaign and claim their last PAC-10 title. A win this Saturday would give UCLA a share of the conference title with USC and Oregon and throw the BCS into chaos. The Trojans bring a 33-game winning streak into the contest as they shoot for their third straight national title.
Middle Tennessee at FIU - Hurricane Wilma caused this game to be moved to the end of the season. Middle Tennessee may wish that hadn't happened. Since the postponement, Florida International has won 3 of its 4 games to improve to 4-6 and are coming off a 52-6 crushing of nearby rival Florida Atlantic. They were just 1-5 before the storm hit south Florida. The Blue Raiders have won only two of their last five games and are also 4-6.
Louisiana Tech at Fresno State (Friday) - Fresno State got an early invitation from the Liberty Bowl, then went out and got whacked by Nevada a week after almost ending USC's national title run. The loss put an abrupt end to an outright WAC title and leaves Fresno State in need of a victory to avoid falling out of a tie with Nevada and Boise State for first place in the conference. Both teams, incidentally, are named "Bulldogs".
Army vs. Navy - The rivalry that beats all rivalries. Navy has already clinched a berth in the inaugural Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego an can finish the year no worse than 6-5. Army can't get bowl qualified but can improve their record to 5-6 and take home the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 1996. Both teams beat Air Force in the regular season so the winner of this contest gets outright ownership of the trophy. The Black Knights are riding a four-game winning streak. The Midshipmen have lost two of their last four games. Navy has won the last three contests and five of the last six.
Other Interesting Non-Conference Games:
San Diego State at Hawaii - The Aztecs can get to .500 with a win and finish the year 6-6. The Warriors (4-7) are already assured of their first losing season since 2000. The two teams have not met since 2002 when Hawaii snapped a 9-game losing streak to SDSU.
Streaks: USC has won 33 straight games over-all, 26 in-a-row at home and 22 consecutive PAC-10 games. The Trojans are 44-1 since losing at Washington State on October 5, 2002. The 33-game over-all winning streak is the longest in PAC-10 history, breaking their own record of 25 games set in 1931-1933. USC hosts rival UCLA in the final regular season game for both teams this Saturday.
Texas has won 18 straight games, second-longest streak in the nation behind USC. The Longhorns play Colorado in Houston for the Big 12 Championship.
TCU has won 9 straight. It's regular season was completed on November 12th.
Boise State has 31 straight home wins. Regular season complete.
New Mexico State owns the nation's longest losing streak at 13 games. Season complete.
Temple has the second-longest losing streak at 12 games. Season complete.
New Coaches: The 2005 season began with 23 coaching changes. Eleven teams fared better this season than last, three teams finished with the same record and nine wound up with records worse than last season. See how they fared versus their predecessor. Six of the teams are definitely going bowling (LSU, Notre Dame, Florida, South Carolina, BYU and Utah) and eight are bowl eligible. Nine of the teams that switched coaches went bowling last year. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State and Marshall failed to make it back to the postseason and Miami (Ohio) may not return despite being 7-4. BYU and South Carolina are going bowling this year. The Gamecocks were eligible last year but had to stay home as punishment for participating in a brawl with Clemson players during their state rivalry game. BYU was 5-6 last season and ineligible for bowl selection.
Here is how each fared, by order of success, and who they face this week:
LSU, 10-1 under Les Miles, vs. Georgia in SEC Championship.
Notre Dame, 9-2 under Charlie Weis, regular season complete.
Florida, 8-3 under Urban Meyer, regular season complete.
Miami, O., 7-4 under Shane Montgomery, regular season complete.
South Carolina, 7-4 under Steve Spurrier, regular season complete.
Western Michigan, 7-4 under Bill Cubit, regular season complete.
BYU, 6-5 under Bronco Mendenhall, regular season complete.
Utah, 6-5 under Kyle Whittingham, regular season complete.
East Carolina, 5-6 under Skip Holtz, season complete.
Pittsburgh, 5-6 under Dave Wannstedt, season complete.
Stanford, 5-6 under Walt Harris, season complete.
Indiana, 4-7 under Terry Hoeppner, season complete.
Marshall, 4-7 under Mark Snyder, season complete.
Ohio, 4-7 under Frank Solich, season complete.
Oklahoma St, 4-7 under Mike Gundy, season complete.
Mississippi, 3-8 under Ed Orgeron, season complete.
San Jose St., 3-8 under Dick Tomey, season complete.
Utah State, 3-8 under Brent Guy, season complete.
Illinois, 2-9 under Ron Zook. season complete.
UNLV, 2-9 under Mike Sanford. season complete.
Washington, 2-9 under Ty Willingham. season complete.
Syracuse, 1-10 under Greg Robinson, season complete.
New Mexico St., 0-12 under Hal Mumme, season complete.