What to watch, Week 14: Championship Week, featuring a colossal SEC title game

Frank Schwab
November 30, 2012

The result of the SEC Championship Game will dramatically change the way both Alabama and Georgia remember the 2012 season.

A win means a date in the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame. Either team will be favored to win that game. The loser of the game likely won't go to any BCS bowl. The potential tumble down the bowl hierarchy is so great, the SEC had to confirm to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the loser of Saturday's title game wouldn't fall any further than the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That would be the sixth-best SEC bowl, assuming two teams from the conference are in the BCS.

So not too much on the line when Georgia and Alabama kick off at 4 p.m. ET. Just the difference between a opportunity to be favored to win a national title, or playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve. No pressure.

The bowl stakes are high because Florida is almost assured a spot in the BCS regardless of who wins Saturday. Then the Capital One Bowl has its pick of SEC teams, and while Alabama and Georgia would be a good fit, Texas A&M with Heisman Trophy frontrunner Johnny Manziel is also an enticing option. LSU is also a candidate for that bowl. The Cotton Bowl will pick someone from the Western Division, and the Outback Bowl will pick someone from the Eastern Division. Georgia played in the Outback Bowl last year, and bowls usually try to avoid repeat participants. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is next in the pecking order.

"It's not really a great scenario," Alabama coach Nick Saban said about the loser falling out of the BCS picture, even though his team won the national title last year without playing in the SEC Championship Game.

So the stakes are incredibly high this week in the SEC Championship Game, which makes it one of the better conference championship games we've seen. Georgia has won six in a row behind its explosive offense. The Bulldogs have scored at least 40 points seven times this season, and 37 and 38 points in two other games. Yet, when Georgia needed to grind out a victory against Florida, the defense came up huge in a 17-9 win. Over its last five games, Georgia hasn't allowed more than 14 points.

Since barely escaping LSU with a 21-17 win and losing at home to Texas A&M, Alabama has won two straight games by identical 49-0 scores. That doesn't tell us definitively if the Crimson Tide has rebounded from that loss, because the wins came against Western Carolina and a hapless Auburn team. But Alabama's talent is not really in doubt. If Georgia wins to advance to the BCS Championship Game, it will do so by beating a very good Crimson Tide team in the Georgia Dome.

So we have two fantastic teams playing for a SEC championship and a spot in the BCS Championship Game in January. It doesn't get much bigger than that.

Here's the rest of what to watch in Week 14:

• There are two games Friday night, and both are very meaningful in the BCS picture. The Pac-12 Championship Game between Stanford and UCLA (8 p.m. ET Friday) is the marquee game of the night - although it might not end up being the best one.

This a rematch from last week, when a UCLA team without much to play for lost 35-17 at home to the Cardinal. The Bruins have plenty of motivation this week, because the winner of this game is going to the Rose Bowl.

It's very rare that football teams play two weeks in a row, so it's an unusual challenge for both staffs.

''I cannot recall ever being in this situation before,'' UCLA coach Jim Mora said, according to the Associated Press. ''I don't know that it benefits either team, or is hard on any team. It just comes down to going out on Friday night and executing. Any familiarity we have with them, they'll have with us.''

''Our challenge is to make sure that we don't outsmart ourselves,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said, according to AP.

• Kent State went from being a program with very little history, to a nice underdog tale when it started having success early this season, to one of the most unlikely BCS gate-crashers since the BCS was formed.

Thanks to an 11-1 record and a lot of upsets in front of it, Kent State finds itself 17th in the BCS standings. If a team outside of the automatic-qualifying conferences finishes in the top 16, and is ranked ahead of a BCS conference champion, it gets a BCS spot. Nobody from the Big East was in the top 25 of the BCS standings this week. A team from a non-qualifying conference also gets an automatic spot if it finishes in the top 12. With a win in the MAC Championship Game (7 p.m. ET Friday), Kent State has a real shot at getting a BCS bid, probably knocking Oklahoma out of the BCS picture in the process.

However, Northern Illinois might even be better than Kent State. NIU also has a shot at the BCS, although it's unlikely considering the Huskies are 21st in the BCS standings. Northern Illinois has the same 11-1 overall and 8-0 MAC record as Kent State, and for Friday night's game at Ford Field, NIU is about a touchdown favorite. The Huskies haven't lost since a one-point loss to Iowa to start the season. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is as productive as any player in the nation, with 2,750 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions to go with 1,611 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.

This game might be one of the more entertaining of a big college football weekend, and it also has serious BCS implications.

• While Oklahoma might be left out of the BCS if Kent State can climb up into the top 16, the Sooners can ruin their own chances at a Fiesta or Sugar Bowl trip. Oklahoma travels to play TCU (12 p.m. ET) in its regular-season finale. The Sooners can stay alive for the BCS automatic berth with a win, but would need a win and a Kansas State loss to clinch the outright Big 12 title.

Beating TCU won't be easy. This is the Horned Frogs' fourth straight game against a ranked opponent, and it has already won two of the first three games in that stretch.

• If Oklahoma wins, it will turn its attention to Kansas State. The Wildcats play Texas (8 p.m. ET) and while a BCS Championship Game spot isn't on the line anymore after an upset loss to Baylor two weeks ago, Kansas State can clinch the outright Big 12 title and a BCS bowl trip with a win.

"I would be excited about it," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said about winning the Big 12. "I would be pleased about it, and pleased more for the people that are so actively involved, our fan base, for our players for our coaches, their families, and all the people that really care so much and, in so many cases, make so many sacrifices for they hope to achieve."

Case McCoy will start at quarterback for Texas, because David Ash has injured ribs.

• It seems odd to think that Nebraska has not won a conference championship since 1999. The Cornhuskers played in the Big 12 title game in 2006, 2009 and 2010 but came up short each time. Nebraska, in its second Big Ten season, can claim the conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl if it can beat Wisconsin (8 p.m. ET) in the Big Ten Championship Game.

"Last week I asked Will (Compton) when the last time (Nebraska) won a conference championship," senior linebacker Alonzo Whaley told HuskerOnline.com. "(Compton) pointed up to the banner and I was like 'whoa.' I think a lot of us have that in our mind and want to be a part of winning a conference championship."

Wisconsin is looking for its third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, and fifth trip to Pasadena since the 1998 season. That's impressive considering the Badgers had just one Rose Bowl championship in their history before 1998. Wisconsin has known for a while it would play in the title game, considering Penn State and Ohio State are ineligible. Wisconsin won the first ever Big Ten title game last year, and that experience could help on Saturday.

"It's a really unique experience, more so than any other game I'd ever been involved with, bowl games or anything, just all the different little things that you have to be engaged in, in addition to playing in Lucas Oil Stadium," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema told BadgerBlitz.com.

• Georgia Tech is in a weird position. It found out a week ago that it would be in the ACC Championship Game, not by winning a game, but through Miami's announcement that it was pulling itself out of consideration for any postseason play. Then there was the administrative business this week of requesting a bowl eligibility waiver from the NCAA, which was approved, just in case the Yellow Jackets lost this week and fell to 6-7. While Georgia Tech obviously had to apply for the waiver, it's probably an odd message for the players to process.

But still, Georgia Tech has a shot at an ACC title and a BCS bowl berth with a win over Florida State (8 p.m. ET), no matter the circumstances that led to the opportunity.

''It's like I said when I talked to the team, 'There's a lot of teams in the country that would love to change places with you and have a chance to go play in the conference championship game,''' Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said, according to the Associated Press. ''Is it a challenge? Sure, we're playing a really good team, but it's also an opportunity.''

• Pittsburgh and Connecticut have games this week that mean a tremendous amount for each program. Those two teams are the only ones left in the FBS that can become bowl eligible with their sixth win on Saturday.

UConn hosts Cincinnati (3:30 p.m. ET) trying to get its sixth win. Pitt kept its bowl hopes alive with a win over Rutgers last week, and travels to South Florida (7 p.m. ET) in another do-or-die situation. Bowl bubble teams in the MAC, WAC and Sun Belt will be watching those games intently. With Georgia Tech's waiver granted, there are 71 bowl-eligible teams for 70 spots.

• Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee (3 p.m. ET) isn't officially a championship game like some of the other blockbusters this week, but the regular-season finale for both teams will decide the Sun Belt title.

Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee are each 6-1 in the conference and the winner wins the outright conference championship. Middle Tennessee has never won an outright conference championship, and this wasn't supposed to be its year to do it. The Blue Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Sun Belt by the league's coaches, so they've already beat some odds to even be in this position.

"To me, if you closed the door today and ended the season today, I'd look every one of those players in the eye and tell them it was a great year. You had a great year," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. "But it's not over yet. We still have two games left. I said it a month ago, there's still a lot of meat on that bone. We're going to try to get a big chunk of that this weekend. We'll reflect on this year when it's done. I'm extremely proud of this team. I love this team. I love every one of them. I love their attitude and how hard they work and compete at everything they do."

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