By Mitch Light(@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Wisconsin (-9) vs. Michigan State (Big Ten Championship Game)
The Badgers will have an opportunity to avenge their “Hail Mary” loss when they face Michigan State in the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans have had a fine season — they won 10 games for the second year in a row — but Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten. The Badgers have been mauling the opposition with a devastating rushing attack and an efficient passing game. Junior tailback Montee Ball ranks third in the nation in rushing (135.2 ypg) and has topped the 100-yard mark in all but one Big Ten game. Michigan State is good. Wisconsin is better.
Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 20
LSU (-13.5) vs. Georgia (SEC Championship Game)
LSU has all but locked up a spot in the national title game, but the Tigers still have plenty to play for — a coveted SEC championship. Les Miles’ club proved once again why it’s deserving of the No. 1 spot in the polls with a thorough, 41–17, victory over Arkansas on Friday. The LSU rushing attack churned out 286 yards on 46 attempts and simply wore down the Razorback defense in the second half. Georgia’s defensive numbers are outstanding, but keep in mind that the Bulldogs did not play Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in the regular season. Georgia did not beat another SEC team that had a winning record in league play.
LSU 34, Georgia 17
UCLA (+31) at Oregon (Fri)(Pac-12 Championship Game)
This isn’t what Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had in mind when the league expanded to 12 teams to set up a conference championship game. Oregon is a 31-point favorite over a UCLA team that went 6–6 overall and is fresh off a humbling 50–0 loss to USC. The Trojans were obviously the best team in the Pac-12 South, but are banned from the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. That leaves a very mediocre UCLA team — with a coach (Rick Neuheisel) who has been fired — as the representative from the South. This will be ugly.
Oregon 48, UCLA 14
Virginia Tech (-7) vs. Clemson(ACC Championship Game)
Clemson established itself as a legitimate national title contender — at the time — with a dominating 23–3 win at Virginia Tech back on Oct. 1. Times have changed. The Tigers are now 9–3, having lost three of their last four games, each by 14 points or more. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has won seven straight since that home loss to Clemson and is coming off an impressive 38–0 win at Virginia. Look for David Wilson and Co. to have their way against a Clemson defense that has given up an average of 410.7 yards in its last six games.
Virginia Tech 34, Clemson 24
Texas (+2.5) at Baylor
No Robert Griffin III? No problem for the Baylor Bears — at least for one half against a bad Texas Tech defense. With their star quarterback sidelined with a concussion, the Bears outscored Texas Tech 35–14 in the final two quarters of a 66–42 win at Cowboys Stadium. Griffin III should be back this week, and Baylor will need him at his best against a very good Texas defense. The Horns somehow won at Texas A&M over the weekend despite gaining only 237 yards of offense. Yards and points should be easier to come by in Waco, but Texas might not be good enough offensively to outscore the Bears.
Baylor 30, Texas 27
Oklahoma (+3) at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is ranked No. 3 in the BCS, but it appears as though the Pokes are a long shot to play in the national title game — even with a convincing win over Oklahoma coupled with an LSU loss to Georgia in the SEC title game. O-State would still welcome a Big 12 championship and a first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl, but the Cowboys will likely never get over the stunning loss to Iowa State that ultimately cost them a shot at a title. Oklahoma will no doubt provide a stiff challenge, but the Pokes are healthier and have the advantage of playing at home.
Oklahoma State 41, Oklahoma 33
Southern Miss (+12.5) at Houston(C-USA Championship Game)
Houston is one win away from its first Conference USA title since 2006 and its first-ever spot in a BCS bowl. With a win over Southern Miss, the Cougars are likely headed to the Sugar Bowl to face Michigan. But first things first: Southern Miss is a very good team that won 10 games in the regular season, highlighted by a 30–24 win at Virginia in September. The Golden Eagles are potent on offense — 15th in the nation in total offense and scoring offense — but have had trouble at times on defense. And that is a bad sign with Houston on deck.
Houston 47, Southern Miss 31
Ohio (-3.5) vs. Northern Illinois (Fri)(MAC Championship Game)
Both of these schools are making their third appearance in the MAC title game in the past seven seasons. Ohio lost to Central Michigan in 2006 and ’09, while NIU lost to Akron in 2005 and Miami (Ohio) in ’10. The Huskies, winners of seven straight, bring an explosive offense to Ford Field in Detroit. NIU ranks ninth in the nation in total offense and has scored 40 points or more in nine of its 12 games. Ohio, too, can score points, but Frank Solich’s club leans on its defense. The Bobcats allowed only 350.7 yards and 22.0 points per game.
Northern Illinois 34, Ohio 21
Iowa State (+10.5) at Kansas State
Kansas State still has a shot at its first BCS bowl since 2004. Here’s what needs to happen: The Wildcats need to beat Iowa State (likely); Oklahoma State needs to beat Oklahoma (very possible); and Michigan, which doesn’t play, needs to remain outside the top 14 of the BCS standings (it is No. 16 now). Not bad for a team that was predicted by most — including Athlon Sports — to finish ninth in the Big 12. Iowa Sate, with a win, can finish 4–5 and in a tie for sixth with Texas A&M and Texas — if Baylor defeats the Longhorns.
Kansas State 31, Iowa State 17
West Virginia (-1.5) at South Florida (Thu)
The league set this up as a potential Big East championship game. Didn’t work out. West Virginia, at 4–2 in the league, did its part, but South Florida is tied with Syracuse at the bottom of the standings with a 1–5 record. West Virginia will earn the league’s automatic bid to a BCS bowl with a win over South Florida coupled with a Cincinnati win over Connecticut. That would leave WVU, Cincinnati and Louisville tied at 5–2, and the Mountaineers, the highest ranked of the three in the BCS, would get the nod. However, if Cincinnati loses to Connecticut this week, that would create only a two-team tie, and Louisville would get the bid because it beat West Virginia earlier this season.
West Virginia 28, South Florida 14
Last week — 7-3 (3–7 vs. spread)
Season — 83–45 (62–66–2 vs. spread)