For most conferences today is the last day of the regular season, so there’s national championship, major bowl, bowl eligibility and division championship battles throughout the day. If you’re ready to grab some leftover turkey and sit down in front of the TV here’s how your day shapes up…
Ohio State-Michigan (Noon ET, ABC): Michigan hasn’t won this rivalry battle since 2003 and if this isn’t the year, I don’t know when their year could possibly come. Brady Hoke has the Wolverines improving defensively and running the ball well, while Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has simply made no progress as a passer this year. Playing on the road, the Buckeyes own good defense isn’t enough and Michigan wins a game they must have to stake their claim to a major bowl bid.
Georgia-Georgia Tech (Noon, ESPN): Georgia is set up to play LSU for the SEC title in Atlanta next week, so this rivalry game could end up being a lookahead spot. But keep in mind, if the Bulldogs win, it keeps them alive as a possible darkhorse shot to play for the national championship if they pull the upset next week. I expect this game to be close, as it’s likely to mean more for Tech this year, and Tevin Washington can present any defense with problems as he runs the option. But the Dawgs are better balanced and more battle-tested in the SEC and they get the win.
Rutgers-UConn (Noon ET, ESPN2): Yawn if you want, but this is the biggest game of the early time slot. Both teams are in the mesh of teams tied for first in the Big East and could be your Orange Bowl viewing fare against the ACC champ. Rutgers is a vastly better team and only a two-game hiccup when they insisted on experimenting with freshman quarterback Gary Nova prevents them from being in the driver’s seat. The defense carries the Scarlet Knights to a solid win in Storrs.
Iowa State-Oklahoma (Noon, FX): Oklahoma must win this game to ensure they have a Big 12 title snot next week in Oklahoma State. The Cyclones are coming off last Friday’s epic double-overtime win over Okie State, but going on the road to face a team that won’t be dealing with tragedy, as the Cowboys were last week, spells Sooner blowout here.
Rice-SMU (Noon, FSN): SMU reaches the end of a disappointing season and tries to get to 7-5, while the game means nothing for Rice.
Alabama-Auburn (3:30 ET, CBS): Based on current BCS projections, Alabama locks up a spot in the national title game with a win here, even as they come in second to LSU in the SEC West. But it would behoove the Tide to win this one decisively, with the 21-point spread Las Vegas has posted being a good benchmark. The reason? The last time conference rivals were set to rematch for a national crown was 2006 after Michigan lost to Ohio State. The Wolverines held down the #2 spot at this point on the calendar, but their season was over and there was a groundswell for Florida in the SEC that built over the following week. With Oklahoma State and potentially a one-loss Virginia Tech in action next week, there’s time for voters who don’t want to replay the SEC schedule in January to reconsider. ‘Bama needs to provide them the reasons to stay the course.
Virginia Tech-Virginia/.Oregon State-Oregon (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2): The Hokies-Cavs battle in Charlottesville is for a spot in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson and as noted above for Tech, it’s about keeping alive their shot at a national title. But to me, Virginia just seems on a miracle run. They won close games against Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State. They run the ball well with Perry Jones and take good care of the football. They play good defense. They’ve got a firey leader in Mike London. Now if the Hokies’ sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas continues his improvement and is able to make some plays in the passing game, Virginia can’t keep up and none of that will matter. But Thomas is still a kid and still been inconsistent and this kind of road atmosphere may rattle him. If this one’s tight in the fourth quarter, Virginia pulls the upset and I believe that’s what will happen.
Oregon needs to win clinch the Pac-12 North and a matchup with UCLA in the inaugural conference title game next week. The Pac-12 also awards homefield advantage for its championship game, and that’s also there for Oregon. They overmatch their in-state rivals and have everything to play for.
Penn State-Wisconsin (3:30 ET, ESPN): Regular readers know I’m a Wisconsin fan and as I type this I’m getting set to get in the car and head to Camp Randall. So I can’t make an unbiased pick, but as a Badger fan here’s what worries me—while UW has an infinitely more explosive offense and the ability to blow the game open, Penn State can play tough defense and they should be able to run the ball with Silas Redd. That’s a formula for keeping a game close and the Badgers have yet to win a close game this year, mainly because their punt and kickoff teams are terrible. I’m confident, but not overly so as these two teams play for the right to meet Michigan State next week in Indianapolis.
Missouri-Kansas (3:30 ET, FSN): Missouri s playing to climb up the bowl ladder in the Big 12 and cap off a nice season and there’s nothing that suggests the Jayhawks can prevent them from doing that in this traditional rivalry game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Florida State-Florida (7 ET, ESPN2): At 7-4, Florida State could use a win to make a case for a spot in the New Year’s Eve Chick-fil-A Bowl, the ACC’s top consolation prize and offering a date with a good SEC team—a spot the ‘Noles took advantage of last year when they beat South Carolina and went into the offseason on a high note. Florida’s playing to have a winning season. I like Florida’s running game, homefield and SEC pedigree to prevail here.
Clemson-South Carolina (7:15 ET, ESPN): It’s the third of the trio of SEC-ACC rivalry games that traditionally play on this day, and I’ll take the SEC to run the table. Clemson seems to have peaked offensively a few weeks ago and Tajh Boyd hasn’t been the same. South Carolina has quietly adjusted very well to the loss of their offensive weapons and is playing some rock-solid defense that continues here and makes it a 3-0 sweep for the SEC.
Texas Tech-Baylor (7 ET, FSN ): Texas Tech is 5-6 and needs this one to get bowl-eligible and could catch Baylor in a letdown spot after the Oklahoma win last Saturday night. Red Raider quarterback Seth Doege played his best game in a month last week and looks ready to get into a shootout with Robert Griffin III. It’ll be close, but in the end the homefield edge for the Bears allows them to scrape out a win and move to 8-3 as they continue their best season since a 1980 Cotton Bowl appearance, when the Cotton was still a major bowl.
Notre Dame-Stanford (8 ET, ABC): Stanford’s still in the hunt for a national title shot with one loss and they’ll know by kickoff whether Oregon lost and handed the Cardinals the Pac-12 North title and right to host the conference championship game. Regardless of the championship pictures, both nationally and in conference, a Stanford win here seals a second straight major bowl bid and they can’t lose sight of that. The Notre Dame defense cannot stop the physical Cards running game with Stephan Taylor and Andrew Luck will be able to carve up the secondary. This one won’t be close in the fourth quarter.
UCLA-USC (10 ET, FSN): UCLA clinched the Pac-12 South after Utah’s loss to Colorado yesterday, so the only meanings this game has are the rivalry factor, the USC “this is our bowl game” factor due to their probation and, something that would be nice for the Pac-12, if UCLA wins they would be division champs over USC without the help of the Trojans’ probation (both would be 6-3 in the conference with a head-to-head Bruin win). Frankly none of that’s a reason to stay up late in the East or Midwest unless you’re a displaced fan of either team, and in either case, USC is playing too well to be stopped by a mediocre UCLA defense.