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November 27, 2007 The 2007 college football season all comes down to this: will the craziness and endless upsets lead to two non-traditional national championship contenders, or will currently established national powers back into the national title game? In the season best suited for a playoff, the BCS appears to be in the clear as far as criticism goes following LSUís upset against Arkansasís ďWild HogĒ offense. Rivalry week cleared up the picture significantly, with yet another 3 teams in the Top 6 dropping games. The situation at the top now has Missouri and West Virginia playing for the title, with a clear margin over third-ranked Ohio State, in large part due to Floridaís dismantling of the Buckeyes last January. If either of those teams slip up, OSU finds a way into their second consecutive national championship game. If both slip up, there will be absolute chaos as one-loss Kansas, undefeated Hawaii, and all kinds of two-loss teams will have a claim to the #2 spot.

Before analyzing the new BCS bowl projections, letís take a look back at a memorable rivalry week. The 9/11 and Pearl Harbor speech apparently did not fire up the Crimson Tide enough, as Alabama dropped another Iron Bowl to Auburn and may not even make a bowl at 6-6. That wasnít even the second best story in the SEC though, as each division leader was tested in multiple overtimes. LSU could not overcome Arkansas (maybe the Razorbacks took offense to Les Milesí terrible third-grade level pronunciation of their state) in three overtimes, leaving them 10-2 with a SEC West title but no more national championship hopes. Both of LSUís losses came in that fated third overtime, so Tiger fans will dread those long overtime games for years to come. Tennessee actually needed a win over Kentucky to win the SEC East, and they got it after four overtimes. Despite a six game winning streak, Georgia will be left out as the SEC Eastís other hot team Tennessee goes to play LSU for the automatic (and only available) BCS berth. Donít feel bad for the Bulldogs, as they will almost certainly now be guaranteed a BCS at-large berth, instead of having to play LSU for it.

The SEC was the craziest rivalry week destination, but the biggest game was Missouri beating Kansas. The Jayhawks finally have a loss, but Kansas would have certainly won the game had there been two more minutes on the clock at the end of the game (the Tigers could not stop the Jayhawks in the second half). Missouri has now won its first Big XII North title and will get a chance to avenge their only loss when they play Oklahoma for the Big XII title. West Virginia won the de facto Big East championship game by blasting Connecticut 66-21, leaving only 4-7 Pittsburgh to beat for a championship game slot. Rivalry Week always brings the chance for some upsets, and this year full of upsets did not change the trend.

Thanks to many of the good top team games being Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening, I personally did not miss any big game with the exception of WVU-UCONN when I traveled to Athens, Ohio for Ohio vs. Miami. This rivalry is probably the worst-blooded rivalry in the MAC outside of Toledo-BGSU. Tensions were high on the field as Ohio had struggled to a 5-6 start after winning the MAC East last season, while Miami was coming into Athens 6-5 and 5-1 in MAC play, already having clinched the division title Ohio had won last season. Despite there being seemingly nothing to play for, the game was hard-fought and chippy at certain points. A Miami player tackled a punt returner a full second before the ball landed in the first quarter, but the officials did a nice job of keeping the players from escalating that incident to a brawl. The stadium was actually pretty dead because Ohio University students end their academic quarter and finals before Thanksgiving, so almost everyone had gone home and the only attendees were residents of local towns. There might not have been many people in the stands (maybe 7,000 in a 20,000 person stadium), but they got loud in the second half when it mattered.

Ohio turned a couple Miami mistakes around to make a 17-7 halftime deficit into a 28-17 lead with nine minutes left in the third quarter. Still, Miami kept fighting back to get into the game, and Ohio kept answering those scores. The final score ended up 38-29, and Ohio made their season with a win over their rival, getting to 6-6 on the season. The game actually does matter a little to Miami, as they now sit at 6-6 and must defeat Central Michigan in this weekís MAC Championship to go to a bowl (usually both participants in that game are guaranteed bowl berths, but Miami cannot go at 6-7 if they lose). The key point here is that even if you do not live close to an Iron Bowl or Backyard Brawl, rivalry games in college football are good all the way down to the lower divisions and you can see some passionate games on the cheap. My wife came along with me to Athens and I got her a front-row ticket on the 25 yard line for $15. Of course this game was a little different because all the students were home for holidays, but you can get great seats even on game day for a very reasonable price in most of these rivalry games. Thanks go to the Ohio University athletic department for providing a credential to, and I look forward to visiting Peden Stadium again soon.

Turning to the BCS picture, all of the assumptions made last week got a whole lot easier with last weekís upsets and games. It really does come down to one game, Oklahoma vs. Missouri in San Antonio. This game will have a major effect on how the rest of the bowls shake out, so two projections are appropriate, much like last year when the Florida or Michigan debate raged for a week. Still, some assumptions are necessary like last week. I project LSU beating Tennessee, Virginia Tech avenging their loss to Boston College, and USC locking up the Pac-10 with a win over UCLA. Tennessee and Boston College matter not only for the automatic BCS berths shown below (if they win, substitute their names in for LSU and VT), but also because one of them losing opens a spot in the Top 14 for Illinois, an attractive candidate for the Rose Bowl if OSU moves into the championship game.

In the first projection, Missouri defeats Oklahoma for the Big XII title. The automatic BCS berths go to Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, LSU, USC, Hawaii (Top 12 non-BCS school), and Georgia (Top 4 BCS school who did not win their conference). This leaves two at-large spots open among this pool: Kansas, Arizona State, Illinois, and maybe Clemson. Florida is ineligible due to the SEC championship winner and Georgia locking up the two possible BCS berths. This leads to the following projection:

BCS Bowl Projection II(A)
BCS Championship: Missouri vs. West Virginia
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia
Fiesta: Kansas vs. Arizona State
Sugar: LSU vs. Hawaii
Rose: Ohio State vs. USC

In the second projection, Oklahoma defeats Missouri for the Big XII title. The automatic BCS berths then go to West Virginia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, LSU, USC, Hawaii, and Georgia. The at-large pool to select two teams from then includes Missouri, Kansas, Arizona State, and Illinois. Only one of the Big XII teams could be chosen, and it would be a tough decision with Missouri beating Kansas but having a worse record than the Jayhawks. The problem is the picking order, as in this scenario the Rose likely snaps up a Big Ten team to replace OSU (Illinois) and the Orange takes Georgia away with the second selection. This leaves Missouri, Kansas, and Arizona State. The Fiesta could set up a conference game between Kansas and Oklahoma since they did not play this season, but the Fiesta may instead opt for another undefeated WAC team to play Oklahoma just like last seasonís classic. The Fiesta would also consider Arizona State, the hometown team, but that would leave both Big XII teams in the cold, an unlikely choice for the bowl with that conference tie-in. This Fiesta Bowl decision gets very interesting, but Iíll say they try to recapture the magic of last season with Hawaii vs. Oklahoma.

BCS Bowl Projection II(B)
BCS Championship: West Virginia vs. Ohio State
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Hawaii
Sugar: LSU vs. Missouri
Rose: USC vs. Illinois

Both projections look equally entertaining. The first one has the dream Rose Bowl match between the biggest dynasties of this decade, Ohio State and USC. The first one also has a non-traditional BCS championship, which is desirable in a season with so many upsets. The second projection offers Oklahoma another chance at an undefeated WAC champion, and it also offers Ohio State a chance to exorcise its demons against another spread offense with good athletes for a national title. LSU-Missouri could be a lot of fun as well, making up for a relatively lackluster Illinois-USC game in the Rose.

Now that we are on much more solid footing, hopefully these projections will stand up next weekend. If the games break as expected, you will not hear from me next weekend. If things change considerably (A.K.A. if West Virginia loses), a new BCS bowl projection with explanation will be posted on Sunday. With that said, letís move on to the games of the week in Championship Week.

The first game of the week is LSU vs. Tennessee in the SEC Championship. LSU will try to recover from a devastating loss to Arkansas, and Tennessee will try to keep their five-game winning streak going. LSU QB Matt Flynn has led the Tiger offense this season, and RB Jacob Hester is one of the best in the country. Now that WR Early Doucet is healthy for the stretch run, LSU has many options for Flynn to throw to, opening up the offense. Tennessee has only lost three times, all on the road at quality opponents California, Florida, and Alabama. Volunteer RB Arian Foster has averaged over five yards per carry this season in the tough SEC, but the real story behind the Vols is definitely QB Erik Ainge. Ainge can make critical mistakes in close games, but his experience as a starting quarterback has made him more reliable. The key to the game will be whether Tennessee can stop LSUís potent offense and keep their own offense on the field. The Tigers will likely bounce back nicely after the loss, and thereís no way LSU loses motivation with a BCS bowl on the line. LSU wins by 4.

The second game of the week is the ACC Championship, Boston College vs. Virginia Tech. The first time these two teams met, Boston College survived the curse of being #2 in the country by scoring two touchdowns and recovering an onside kick in the final three minutes of regulation to win 14-10 after being outplayed by the Hokies all game. Expect another strong defensive showing by both teams, but a few more points than the 24 scored in a downpour a month ago. Eagles QB Matt Ryan was a candidate for Heisman before BC lost the two games following the win over Virginia Tech, but his 60% completion rate and 28 touchdowns drive the team. The Hokie offense has not put up big numbers this season, but this unit scores about as much as BC. Hokie QB Sean Glennon only throws when necessary, as RB Branden Ore has carried most of the load. Virginia Tech has helped their campus recover from the springtime shootings with a very successful football season. The Hokies had Boston College beat last time and let Matt Ryan steal the victory. Not this time, as the Hokie defense steps up again and holds Boston College below 20 points again, while the offense puts up bigger numbers. Hokies win by 13.

The final game of the week is the Saturday night showdown everybody wants to see, the Big XII Championship between Missouri and Oklahoma. Missouri has survived the North division by knocking off the last major-conference undefeated team in Kansas. Missouri defeated Illinois, Kansas, and blew away Texas Tech 41-10. Still, Missouri has given up a lot of points since that dominating performance, and Oklahoma will be looking to repeat their performance from a 41-31 win in Norman earlier this season. Oklahoma lost both of their games with a banged up quarterback, but freshman Sam Bradford looked fine last week in a 4 touchdown performance against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma will not have that injury problem, but RB Allen Patrick will be asked to carry more of the load with backup RB DeMarco Murray out for the season. On the other side of the ball, Missouri QB Chase Daniel is making a late run at the Heisman ceremony with quality numbers and RB Tony Temple delivers the 1-2 punch for the Tiger offense. Each defensive secondary will be truly tested by these wide-open offenses, but I think this game will come down to who can establish a running game. Despite the loss of DeMarco Murray, look for Allen Patrick to have a statement game. A late mistake by the Tiger offense costs them dearly, as Oklahoma pulls out to another 10 point victory.

GOTW Record to Date: 22-20 (.524), slowly making our way back to .500
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 Ė Week 13
1. Missouri (11-1)
2. Ohio State (11-1)
3. West Virginia (10-1)
4. Georgia (10-2)
5. Oklahoma (10-2)
6. Hawaii (11-0)
7. Kansas (11-1)
8. USC (9-2)
9. LSU (10-2)
10. Virginia Tech (10-2)
Just Missed: Tennessee, Illinois, Boston College, Florida, Arizona State

Enjoy the limited final week of college football, and letís look forward to a great holiday and bowl season! See you next week!

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