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College Football Season

Conference Championship Week Preview

Only 1 Conference Title Is Already Secured

by Dave Congrove
November 28, 2012

Last year at this time, this was the opening paragraph to my weekly preview:

"This week's 22-game schedule includes six conference championship matchups, a de facto title matchup in the Big 12, and another 3-team Big East mess to get sorted out."

There is even more work to be done in the final week of this season. A 19-game schedule includes six conference championship matchups, a de facto title matchup in the Sun Belt, and another Big East mess to get sorted out. The Big 12 and Mountain West are also yet to be decided.

In 2011, the Big East had Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia going to the wire and all three schools finished tied at 5-2 in the conference. West Virginia received the automatic BCS bowl bid as the highest-ranked team among those three schools in the final BCS Standings (they were the only ranked team in the standings at No. 23).

This year, the Big East has Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers in the mix. The Scarlet Knights (9-2, 5-1) can clinch an outright title with a win at home over Louisville (9-2, 4-2) on Thursday. And my Congrove Computer Rankings give Rutgers a 4.01-point advantage.

But, should Rutgers lose and Cincinnati defeat Connecticut this Saturday, there would be a 4-way tie between Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, and Syracuse at 5-2 each. Cincinnati is forecasted to win by 8.20 but that wouldn't help the Bearcats as they and Syracuse would be eliminated because Rutgers and Louisville would own 2-1 records in the mini-conference grouping. The team with the highest BCS rank would earn the Big East’s BCS bid, which likely would be Louisville.

If Louisville beats Rutgers and Cincinnati loses to Connecticut - neither of which is expected to happen - there would be a 3-way tie between Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse. All would own 1-1 records in the mini-conference grouping. The team with the highest BCS rank would earn the Big East’s BCS bid and that would likely be Louisville.

So it basically comes back to Louisville at Rutgers on Thursday night.

Friday night brings simpler solutions to determining the MAC and PAC-12 titles when they present their conference championship tilts.

In the MAC, Kent State and Northern Illinois each won their respective divisions with 8-0 conference marks and 11-1 records overall. This is the third consecutive conference championship game appearance for the defending champion Huskies, and their fourth overall. NIU is 1-2 in its previous appearances and its only other MAC title came in 1983. The Golden Flashes have never competed for the title since the two-division format was formed in 1997 and their one and only MAC title came in 1972. The computer takes Northern Illinois by 7.07, but a Kent State upset could propel it into a BCS bowl.

The PAC-12 is a UCLA-Stanford rematch, just one week removed from last week's 35-17 Stanford win in Pasadena. The Cardinal earned the privilege of hosting round 2 and are a computer pick to win by 12.03 points.

Conference USA holds is the first conference championship game on the calendar on Saturday at Noon ET. It sends UCF back to Tulsa for a rematch of a game played just two weeks go which Tulsa won 23-21. The computer expects a similar result this week, picking the Golden Hurricane to prevail by 2.03 after having a 3.09-point edge in the first meeting.

Then comes the SEC showdown between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta at 4:00 p.m. ET with the winner advancing to the BCS Championship game where it will face Notre Dame. The Bulldogs didn't face Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M in the regular season and were rolled 35-7 at South Carolina. As a result, both Oregon and Kansas State are ahead of Georgia in the Congrove Computer Rankings and a Bulldog upset win may not lift them above the idle Ducks or a victorious Wildcat team. Instead, the computer would likely have Notre Dame and Oregon ranked 1-2. Alas, it won't matter if the computer is correct with its forecasted 7.07-point Alabama win.

At 7:45 p.m. ET, the ACC Championship pits a 6-6 Georgia Tech team against a 10-2 Florida State squad in Charlotte. The 'Noles are a 13.75-point computer pick, but a win by the Yellow Jackets would send a 7-6 ACC representative to the Orange Bowl as an automatic qualifier. If Georgia Tech loses, it will have to ask the NCAA for a waiver to go bowling anywhere. Granting such a waiver would only be fair, considering that the school would already be bowl-eligible if it weren't "forced" to play an extra game because Miami bowed out of the postseason for a second straight year.

At 8:17 p.m. in Indianapolis, the second Big Ten Championship is also a mess - just not as big a one as the ACC. Due to Ohio State and Penn State being on probation, Wisconsin gets in as the 3rd-pace team in the Leaders division. The Badgers are just 7-5 after losing 3 of its last 4 games, all in overtime. Meanwhile, Ohio State ran the table and Penn State was a surprising 8-4 overall (6-2, Big Ten) after losses to Ohio University and Virginia to open the season. A 10-2 Nebraska team represents the Legends division and is favored by 4.27 points. This is a rematch of a regular season contest played in Lincoln on September 29 which the 'Huskers won 30-27 by scoring the last 20 points of the game.

Saturday also features a de facto championship game in the Sun Belt when Arkansas State hosts Middle Tennessee as a 15.75-point computer favorite. The Red Wolves are seeking a second straight outright title and third overall, while MTSU is looking for its first outright crown. The Blue Raiders shared the title with Troy in 2006.

Kansas State claims the Big 12 automatic bid to a BCS bowl if it beats Texas at home on Saturday, and the Wildcats are picked to do so by 9.98 points. If they fail, Oklahoma can clinch the bid with a win at TCU where the Sooners are favored by 5.03. Kansas State has more "ins" than Oklahoma as the Wildcats also get the bid over the Sooners if both teams win or both teams lose.

Boise State could also be in the mix for a BCS bowl bid if it wins at Nevada to finish 10-2. But it's a bit of a stretch considering that the Broncos enter the game at No. 20 in the BCS Standings and need to rise to 16th - and be the top non-AQ school in the mix - to force the BCS's hand. Boise State (9-2, 6-1) is favored by 10.31 points and a victory would leave the Mountain West with an unbreakable 3-way tie at the top between the Broncos, Fresno State (9-3, 7-1) and San Diego State (9-3, 7-1).

Utah State secured an outright WAC title with its rout of Idaho last Saturday and has already accepted an invitation to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl where the Aggies are likely to face Toledo.

Last week, the computer forecasted a whopping 11 outright upsets for the 41 games played on Saturday. This week, it doesn't pick a single Vegas underdog to win, at least not against the opening line.

Tulane and East Carolina are headed to the Big East in 2014. Those announcements came on Tuesday of this week after Maryland and Rutgers said they were joining the Big Ten in 2014. Get a refresher course on 2013 Conference Realignment and beyond.

The Big 12 needed wins last week by Baylor and West Virginia to get 9 out of its 10 members bowl eligible and both squads prevailed.

Virginia Tech achieved bowl eligibility with a 29-yard field goal on the last play of the game to beat Virginia 17-14. It will be the 20th straight bowl appearance for the Hokies who suffered their worst regular season since 1992 and finished just 6-6. Only once before have the Hokies entered a bowl game with less than 8 wins on their resume and that came in 1997 when they went 7-4 in the regular season, a year after playing in back-to-back Sugar and Orange Bowls. Ironically, this year's slip also comes in the season following back-to-back Orange and Sugar Bowl appearances.

The loss by Wake Forest to Vanderbilt last week left the ACC with just 5 definite bowl eligible teams. Georgia Tech will be sixth if it upsets FSU in the ACC Championship game, or if the NCAA grants the school a waiver to be bowl eligible at 6-7 if it loses to Florida State as expected. The ACC would have had 8 eligible teams were it not for North Carolina's probation and Miami's self-imposed bowl restriction.

Wins last week by Michigan State (at Minnesota) and Purdue (vs. Indiana) gave the Big Ten 7 bowl eligible teams. It would have had 9 were it not for NCAA probation barring Ohio State and Michigan from the postseason.

Conference USA has just 5 bowl eligible teams and two of those are getting in with 6-6 records after wins last week by SMU (at Tulsa) and Rice (at UTEP).

The Sun Belt has a conference record 5 bowl eligible teams.

The WAC has 3 bowl eligible teams in its final year as a football conference. Utah State and San Jose State are in at 10-2 while Louisiana Tech finished 9-3 after dropping its last two games to the aforementioned Aggies and Spartans. An 8-4 UTSA team failed to qualify because it was not only in a transition period of moving up from the FCS, but also had 4 of its 8 wins against lower-division schools (2 from the FCS and 2 from Division 2).

FBS vs. FCS:
FBS teams are 97-10 (.907) on the year vs. FCS schools and 735-65 (.919) in such games since 2003.

The last such game of the year will take place this week when Nicholls State heads to Oregon State to make up a game that was forced to be postponed on Labor Day weekend by Hurricane Isaac.

When all is said and done for this year, 101 FBS teams will have played a total of 108 games against FCS foes. UTSA played 4 such schools in its first year of transitioning from the FCS. Cincinnati, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Texas A&M each played two such games.

Here are the results of the FBS losses to FCS schools this season:
9/29: Stony Brook 23, Army 3
9/15: Cal Poly 24, Wyoming 22
9/8: Sacramento State 30, Colorado 28
9/8: North Dakota State 22, Colorado State 7
9/8: Illinois State 31, Eastern Michigan 17
9/8: Northern Arizona 17, UNLV 14
9/1: Youngstown State 31, Pittsburgh 17
9/1: Tennessee-Martin 20, Memphis 17
8/30: McNeese State 27, Middle Tennessee 21
8/30: Eastern Washington 20, Idaho 3

Notre Dame - Won 12 straight overall. Awaiting BCS Championship game opponent.

Ohio State - Won 12 straight overall. Season complete due to NCAA probation.

Kent State - Won 10 straight games. Plays Friday vs. Northern Illinois in MAC Championship game at Detroit.

Northern Illinois - Won 15 straight conference games (MAC), 21 straight home games and 10 straight overall. Plays Friday vs. Kent State in MAC Championship game at Detroit.

LSU - Won 41 straight nonconference games. Regular season complete.

Michigan - won 14 straight home games. Regular season complete.

Oregon - Won 15 straight road games. Regular season complete.

Southern Miss - Lost 12 straight overall. Season complete.

Akron - Lost 26 straight road games, 22 straight FBS games and 16 straight conference games (MAC). Season complete.

Kansas - Lost 20 straight FBS games, 20 straight conference games and 18 straight road games. Visits West Virginia on Saturday.

UNLV - Lost 22 straight road games. Season complete.

28 FBS teams entered the 2012 season with a new college football coach and 2 of those have already been released - John L. Smith at Arkansas and Ellis Johnson at Southern Miss. See the group's performance versus their predecessor..

Here are this week's games for each new head coach:

Team Coach Game
Akron Terry Bowden (1-11) Season complete
Arizona Rich Rodriguez (7-5) Regular season complete
Arizona State Todd Graham (7-5) Regular season complete
Arkansas John L. Smith (4-8) Season complete
Arkansas State Gus Malzahn (8-3) Saturday vs. MTSU
Colorado State Jim McElwain (4-8) Season complete
FAU Carl Pellini (3-8) Saturday vs. UL-Lafayette
Fresno State Tim DeRuyter (9-3) Regular season complete
Hawaii Norm Chow (2-9) Saturday vs. South Alabama
Houston Tony Levine (5-7) Season complete
Illinois Tim Beckman (2-10) Season complete
Kansas Charlie Weis (1-10) Saturday at West Virginia
Massachusetts Charley Molnar (1-11) Season complete
Memphis Justin Fuente (4-8) Season complete
Mississippi Hugh Freeze (6-6) Regular season complete
New Mexico Bob Davie (4-9) Season complete
North Carolina Larry Fedora (8-4) Season complete
Ohio State Urban Meyer (12-0) Season complete
Penn State Bill O'Brien (8-4) Season complete
Pittsburgh Paul Chryst (5-6) Saturday at USF
Rutgers Kyle Flood (9-2) Thursday vs. Louisville
Southern Miss Ellis Johnson (0-12) Season complete
Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin (10-2) Regular season complete
Toledo Matt Campbell (9-3) Regular season complete
Tulane Curtis Johnson (2-10) Season complete
UAB Garrick McGee (3-9) Season complete
UCLA Jim Mora (9-3) Saturday at Stanford (PAC-12 Championship)
Washington State Mike Leach (3-9) Season complete


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