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Six Conferences Stage Championship Games

Big 12 and Big East Crowns Also To Be Decided

by Dave Congrove
November 29, 2011

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.

Conference championship week begins on Thursday when West Virginia visits USF as a 0.40-point underdog in the Congrove Computer Rankings. The Mountaineers, along with Louisville and Cincinnati, are still alive for the conference's automatic BCS bowl bid. West Virginia was expected to be in the mix at the end, but the Cardinals and Bearcats were forecasted in the preseason to finish in the bottom half of the conference standings.

Louisville has already finished their regular season at 7-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big East and is guaranteed a share of the conference title. But nabbing the BCS bid requires the Bearcats to lose this week at home to UConn on Saturday. The computer doesn't see that as a very likely scenario as it forecasts Cincinnati to win by 10.34 points. A Cincinnati win and a West Virginia loss would give the Bearcats the automatic BCS bowl bid.

West Virginia's only pathway to the BCS requires a three-way tie to be created so that the BCS Standings become the tie-breaker since all three schools went 1-1 against each other. For that to occur, West Virginia must beat USF and root for a Cincinnati win and hope it gets a higher final BCS ranking than the other two teams. Considering that Cincinnati and West Virginia would both be 9-3 and the Mountaineers beat the Bearcats in the regular season, WVU would almost certainly get the bid.

A pair of conference champions will be crowned on Friday when Northern Illinois faces Ohio in Detroit for the MAC title, and Oregon hosts UCLA and lame-duck head coach Rick Neuheisel in the inaugural PAC-12 championship game.

Conference Title Games
ACC Clemson vs. Virginia Tech (at Charlotte)
Big Ten Michigan State vs. Wisconsin (at Indianapolis)
CUSA Southern Miss at Houston
MAC Ohio vs. Northern Illinois (at Detroit)
PAC-12 UCLA at Oregon
SEC Georgia vs. LSU (at Atlanta)

The Bobcats (9-3) have played in the MAC Championship game twice in the last five seasons, losing to Central Michigan in 2006 and 2009. Northern Illinois (9-3) lost to Miami in last year's title game. The Huskies will be aiming for their first conference title since 1983 and Ohio will be looking to take the crown for the first time since 1968. The computer favors the Huskies by just 2.92 points for the tightest margin of all the conference championship game tilts.

Oregon is a whopping 25.21-point computer pick to win the PAC-12 clash at home against a UCLA team that claimed the conference's south division by default when Colorado ended its 22-game road losing streak with a 17-14 upset at Utah last Friday and Arizona State lost 47-38 at home to Cal for its 4th straight loss. The Bruins then went out on Saturday night and laid a goose egg in a 50-0 shellacking at USC to finish the season at 6-6 overall. The Trojans easily topped the division record-wise at 7-2 while UCLA finished 5-4, but USC is serving the final year of a two-year postseason ban. To make matters worse, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel was fired on Monday and this could be his last game as head coach.

Oregon (10-2) will be gunning for a third straight conference title while UCLA hasn't been crowned champions since 1998.

The Conference USA Championship kicks off around Noon on Saturday in Houston where the Cougars are favored by the computer by 10.54. The Cougars surprisingly jumped all the way up to 2nd in the CCR Top 120 after they clinched the CUSA West title with a 48-16 blowout win at Tulsa. Houston is ranked 6th in the BCS after its first-ever undefeated season (12-0) and the Cougars can clinch a BCS bowl at-large bid with a victory over the Golden Eagles.

Other Conference Champions
Big East Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia are still alive for the conference's automatic BCS bowl bid.
Big 12 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State control their destiny and face-off in Stillwater next week. Kansas State can win share of title, but can not earn the automatic BCS bid for the conference due to losses to both the Sooners and Cowboys.
Independents Only BYU (Armed Forces Bowl) and Notre Dame are bowl eligible
MWC TCU clinched the conference's No. 1 bowl bid. Boise State can win share of title with a home win over New Mexico or a TCU loss at home to UNLV.
Sun Belt Arkansas State (GoDaddy.com) clinched Sun Belt's No. 1 bowl bid. Claims outright with home win over Troy.
WAC Louisiana Tech clinched outright title and accepted a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl.

Southern Miss (10-2) is No. 19 in this week's Congrove Computer Rankings and 24th in the BCS Standings.

Houston last played in the championship game in 2009 when it lost at East Carolina. The Cougars won the title in 2006 when the championship game was last played in Houston, beating who else but Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have never played in a CUSA Championship matchup and last won the league title in 2003.

The SEC Championship gets underway in Atlanta at 4 with undefeated LSU projected to win by 17.32 over Georgia (10-2). What's at stake couldn't be more obvious - a national title shot for the Tigers and most likely, a rematch with Alabama in the BCS title game. Even an upset win by Georgia might not be enough to alter that course and none of the secondary options appear to be as deserving. By default, the SEC could get a shot at its 6th straight national championship.

At 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, Virginia Tech will have the opportunity to avenge its lone regular season loss when it faces Clemson (9-3). The Hokies have reeled off 7 straight wins since their 23-3 home loss to the Tigers and are 8.59-point computer favorites to capture their 4th ACC title in the last 5 years. Clemson, playing for its first ACC championship since 1991, lost 3 of their last 4 games to end the season and are just 4-3 since their win over Virginia Tech.

The last conference title game on the agenda is the inaugural Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, pitting Wisconsin against Michigan State, both of which finished the regular season with 10-2 marks. This is also a rematch of a regular season game, won 37-31 by the Spartans at Michigan State. The Badgers were 5.30-point favorites in the first meeting and are favored by 8.16 this time on a neutral field. Both teams were just 3-2 in games played away from home during the regular season.

Michigan State hasn't won an outright Big Ten title since 1987. Wisconsin's last outright title came in 1999.

There isn't a Big 12 Championship game this year due to the departures of Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (PAC-12) shrinking the league membership to 10 teams. But Saturday's game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Stillwater is a de facto title game with the winner earning an automatic BCS bowl bid. The 10-2 Sooners face the 11-1 Cowboys as mere 1.26-point underdogs in the Bedlam rivalry contest. Outside of Alabama and LSU, Oklahoma State has the best chance of earning a BCS title game berth. The Cowboys are ranked 3rd in the latest BCS Standings, .0153 points ahead of 4th-place Stanford and .1901 ahead of No. 5 Virginia Tech.

Oklahoma leads the all-time series 82-16-7 and has won the last 8 meetings. This is the second year in-a-row that the game will be played in Stillwater with the Sooners taking a 47-41 decision last year. In that game, the teams combined to score 40 points in the 4th quarter after the score was knotted at 21-each at the end of the 3rd.

Kansas State would gain a three-way share of the title with the Sooners and Cowboys if Oklahoma beats OSU, but the Wildcats can not gain the automatic BCS bid as they lost their regular season matchups with both teams.

Also on Saturday, Arkansas State can clinch the Sun Belt title outright with a win over Troy in which the Red Wolves are favored at home by 11.10. Western Kentucky slammed Troy 41-18 in its final regular season game last week and can claim a share of the Sun Belt title if Arkansas State loses. The Red Wolves have never won an outright Sun Belt tile and last shared it in 2005 with Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe.

Baylor can improve to 9-3 with a home win over Texas. The Bears are favored by a scant 0.22 points to notch their best season win total since also finishing 9-3 in 1985 and 1986.

Pittsburgh is a 9.14-point home favorite over Syracuse with both teams needing a win to become bowl eligible at 6-6.

FBS vs. FCS:
All of the FBS-FCS games have been played and FBS teams finished the season 91-6 (.938) to raise their record to 638-55 (.921) vs. the FCS since 2003.

Here are the results of the FBS losses to FCS schools this season:
9/24: North Dakota St. 37, Minnesota 24
9/24: Sam Houston State 48, New Mexico 45 (OT)
9/24: Southern Utah41, UNLV 16
9/17: Indiana State 44, Western Kentucky 16
9/3: Richmond 23, Duke 21
9/3: Sacramento State 29, Oregon State 28

93 FBS teams played at least one FCS foe this year and four of those schools played two such games - Air Force, Eastern Michigan, N.C. State and Wyoming.

STREAKS:
LSU - 13 straight wins overall and 17 straight home wins. The Tigers face Georgia in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta on Saturday.

Houston - 12 straight wins overall. The Cougars host Southern Miss in the CUSA Championship game on Saturday.

Georgia - 10 straight wins overall. The Bulldogs face LSU in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta on Saturday.

TCU - 23 straight conference wins. The Horned Frogs host UNLV on Saturday.

Virginia Tech - 13 straight road wins. The Hokies face Clemson in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte on Saturday.

Kansas - 10 straight losses overall. The Jayhawks have completed their season.

Tulane - 10 straight losses overall. The Green Wave have completed their season.

New Mexico - 21 straight road losses. The Lobos are at Boise State on Saturday.

Mississippi - 14 straight conference losses. The Rebels have completed their season.

COACHING CHANGES FOR 2012:
See Coaching Changes.

THIS SEASON'S NEW COACHES:
At the start of the season, 24 FBS teams had a new head coach. Last season saw 23 new head coaches, only 8 of whom matched or exceeded the W-L record of their predecessors' final season.

See how this year's crop of new coaches is performing, relative to their predecessor, by visiting 2011 Coaching Changes.

No games this week match new head coaches against each other.

Here is how each of the new head coaches is faring this season:

Team Coach Game
Arkansas State Hugh Freeze (9-2) vs. Troy
Ball State Pete Lembo (6-6) Regular season complete
Colorado Jon Embree (3-10) Regular season complete
Connecticut Paul Pasqualoni (5-6) at Cincinnati
Florida Will Muschamp (6-6) Regular season complete
Indiana Kevin Wilson (1-11) Regular season complete
Kent State Darrell Hazell (5-7) Regular season complete
Louisiana-Lafayette Mark Hudspeth (8-4) Regular season complete
Maryland Randy Edsall (2-10) Regular season complete
Miami (Fla.) Al Golden (6-6) Regular season complete
Miami (O.) Don Treadwell (4-8) Regular season complete
Michigan Brady Hoke (10-2) Regular season complete
Minnesota Jerry Kill (3-9) Regular season complete
North Carolina Everett Withers (Interim) (7-5) Regular season complete
North Texas Dan McCarney (4-7) vs. Middle Tennessee
Northern Illinois Dave Doeren (9-3) vs. Ohio in MAC Championship game (Friday)
Ohio State Luke Fickell (Interim) (6-6) Regular season complete
Pittsburgh Todd Graham (5-6) vs. Syracuse
San Diego St. Rocky Long (7-4) vs. Fresno State
Stanford David Shaw (11-1) Regular season complete
Temple Steve Addazio (8-4) Regular season complete
Tulsa Bill Blankenship (8-4) Regular season complete
Vanderbilt James Franklin (6-6) Regular season complete
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen (8-3) at USF (Thursday)


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