Originally Published: November 29, 2010

The Last Chance

By Mark Schlabach

Championship Week is here.

The final Saturday of the regular season arrives with plenty still at stake. Auburn and Oregon need one more victory to earn a trip to the Jan. 10 BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.

Long-lasting bragging rights are at stake in the Big 12 championship game, in which Nebraska plays its final game as a Big 12 member.

Here's everything you need to know about Championship Week:

MAC championship game

Who: No. 25 Northern Illinois (10-2) vs. Miami (Ohio) (8-4)

When/where: Friday, 7 p.m. ET/Ford Field, Detroit


What's at stake: The winner will probably return to Detroit for the Dec. 26 Little Caesar's Bowl, with the loser playing in the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Why to watch: The game features two of the country's most underrated coaches. Northern Illinois' Jerry Kill has a 23-15 record in three seasons and has his team ranked for the first time since 2003. The Huskies have won nine games in a row and averaged 65 points in their last three victories. Former Notre Dame assistant Michael Haywood has produced one of the sport's best turnarounds, going 1-11 in his first season and 8-4 this year in Oxford.

Who to watch: Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish is an underrated dual-threat, throwing for 1,949 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions, while running for 761 yards with five scores.

Predicted winner: Northern Illinois, 42-17

Conference USA championship game

Who: SMU (7-5) at Central Florida (9-3)

When/where: Saturday, noon ET; Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, Fla.


What's at stake: The winner claims a spot in the Dec. 31 Autozone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The loser will end up in one of Conference USA's other bowl games.

Why to watch: The game pits one of college football's best defensive minds against one of its best offensive minds. Central Florida coach George O'Leary has built the Knights program around defense, as it leads Conference USA in rushing defense, scoring defense, pass-efficiency defense and total defense. SMU coach June Jones has used his run-and-shoot offense to guide the Mustangs to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1984-85.

Who to watch: Both teams are led by talented young quarterbacks. Central Florida freshman Jeff Godfrey has thrown for 1,875 yards with 12 touchdowns, while running for 529 yards with nine scores. SMU sophomore Kyle Padron has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 3,306 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Predicted winner: Central Florida, 24-21

Civil War

Who: No. 2 Oregon (11-0) at Oregon State (5-6)

When/where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET/Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.


What's at stake: If the Ducks can defeat the Beavers, they'll earn a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. The Beavers must upset Oregon to finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game.

Why to watch: The Civil War is one of the country's most underrated rivalries, and there has rarely been this much at stake. Oregon State seemed capable of giving the Ducks a good fight, before losing at Stanford 38-0 on Saturday. The teams have split the past 12 games in the series, with the Ducks winning the past two to deny the Beavers a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Who to watch: Oregon tailback LaMichael James has probably earned a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He ran for 1,548 yards with 19 touchdowns in 10 games, including 100-yard efforts in all but two contests.

Predicted winner: Oregon, 49-28

SEC championship game

Who: No. 1 Auburn (12-0) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (9-3)

When/where: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET/Georgia Dome, Atlanta


What's at stake: If the Tigers can defeat the Gamecocks and finish 13-0, they'll secure a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. If the Gamecocks upset Auburn, they'll earn a trip to the Jan. 4 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Why to watch: South Carolina gave the Tigers one of their toughest tests during the regular season, losing 35-27 at Auburn on Sept. 25. The Gamecocks blew a 20-7 lead in the first half, and the Tigers scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter after South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia fumbled. The Gamecocks drove deep into Auburn territory two times in the fourth quarter, but Garcia's backup, freshman quarterback Connor Shaw, threw two interceptions.

Who to watch: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton has probably wrapped up the Heisman Trophy and is his team's leading passer and rusher. He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 2,254 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions, while running for 1,336 yards with 18 scores.

Predicted winner: Auburn, 31-24

ACC championship game

Who: No. 21 Florida State (9-3) vs. No. 15 Virginia Tech (10-2)

When/where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET/Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.


What's at stake: The winner claims the ACC's automatic bid to the Jan. 3 Discover Orange Bowl in Miami. The loser is probably headed to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve.

Why to watch: After the ACC championship game was played in half-empty stadiums in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tampa, Fla., in recent seasons, this game will actually have a championship-like feel in Charlotte. As of Sunday, the game was only 200 tickets shy of being a sellout. Florida State won its last three games to claim the ACC's Atlantic Division and defeated rival Florida 31-7 on Saturday, ending a six-year losing streak to the Gators. The Hokies won their last 10 games, after opening the season with consecutive losses to Boise State and FCS foe James Madison.

Who to watch: If the Hokies hadn't opened the season with consecutive losses, senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor might have been among the leading Heisman Trophy candidates. He has completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,258 yards with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions, while running for 613 yards with four scores.

Predicted winner: Virginia Tech, 28-24

Big 12 championship game

Who: No. 9 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. No. 13 Nebraska (10-2)

When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET/Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas


What's at stake: The winner will claim the league's automatic bid to the Jan. 1 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale. The loser probably won't earn a BCS at-large bid, so it will probably fall to the Dec. 29 Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio or Jan. 7 AT&T Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Why to watch: It will be Nebraska's last game as a member of the Big 12; the Cornhuskers are moving to the Big Ten next season. Oklahoma and Nebraska are long-time, bitter rivals, and often played each other with the Big Eight championship at stake. From 1971 to 1995, Nebraska won 10 outright conference championships, and the Sooners won eight. They were co-Big Eight champions during three seasons.

Who to watch: Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has thrown for 300 yards or more in all but four games this season. He has completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,947 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez didn't play in last week's 45-17 victory over Colorado because of a sprained ankle but is expected to play against the Sooners. The freshman has passed for 1,435 yards with nine touchdowns and rushed for 974 yards with 12 scores.

Predicted winner: Oklahoma, 38-34

Conference rankings

By Mark Schlabach

Ranking the BCS conferences for the final time this season:

1. SEC
There's no question the SEC's overall strength wasn't as good as it was during recent seasons, with SEC East teams like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee struggling. But when defending BCS national champion Alabama finishes fourth in the SEC West and No. 22 Mississippi State finishes fifth, that's proof the SEC is still the league to beat.

2. Big 12
The Big 12 didn't have a truly great team this season, but five of its schools -- No. 9 Oklahoma, No. 12 Missouri, No. 13 Nebraska, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Texas A&M -- ended up having good seasons. The league's depth will show up during bowl season.

3. Big Ten
Each of the league's three co-champions -- No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State -- are deserving of playing in a BCS bowl game. But with teams like Iowa, Michigan and Penn State struggling down the stretch, the Big Ten wasn't very deep.

4. Pac-10
Few leagues have as much cream at the top as the Pac-10, with No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford probably heading to BCS bowl games. The Pac-10 was hurt by Southern California's bowl ban, but the Trojans were still far from great, losing to Oregon State and Notre Dame in consecutive games. The Pac-10 will probably end up being two or three teams short in filling its bowl allotment.

5. ACC
Nine ACC teams are probably headed to bowl games, but the league once again failed to deliver a BCS National Championship contender. No. 15 Virginia Tech ended up having a pretty good season after losing its first two games, and No. 21 Florida State won its last three games to win the ACC's Atlantic Division.

6. Big East
There's finally a Big East team back in the Top 25 of the BCS standings, after No. 24 West Virginia routed Pittsburgh 35-10 in Friday's Backyard Brawl. The Mountaineers are the only Big East team that hasn't lost at least four games, but Connecticut will win the Big East championship if it wins at South Florida on Saturday.


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