While this coming weekend of games may or may not have much to do with the national title race -- it depends on how voters would view a potential loss for LSU or a blowout win for Oklahoma State -- there is still plenty at stake. Eight of 11 conference titles will be determined between when the MAC title game kicks off early on Friday evening (7:00 p.m. ET) to when the Big Ten title game wraps up around midnight on Saturday night.
To give you a feel for what to watch and when, it's time to break out our first totally arbitrary ratings scale in a while. Let's rank each of the conference title games and de facto conference title games based on five factors: the impact on the national title race, the sheer entertainment value involved, the level of uncertainty with the outcome (i.e. the tossup/drama potential), the level of pure talent and pro potential on the field, and the announcers in the booth. (Why these categories? Why not?) Each game can receive up to 30 points.
Big 12: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 3 (If OSU wins by 40, and/or LSU loses...).
Entertainment Value (1-10): 10 (Average score of last two Bedlam games in Stillwater: 54-41).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 4 (If Oklahoma weren't so banged up, it's a 5).
Pro Potential (1-5): 4 (Only LSU-Georgia has more).
In The Booth (1-5): 4 (Brad Nessler & Todd Blackledge).
Final Score: 25.
Whether or not this game actually has an impact on the national title race doesn't really matter. When Bedlam is in Stillwater, you watch. Keep tabs on Wisconsin-Michigan State if you need to; it's fine. This game will last a good, solid hour longer than that one anyway. That's what happens when you have 200 plays and 17 kickoffs.
(Of course, there is at least a bit of potential that this game isn't nearly as high-scoring as past OU-OSU battles, simply because Oklahoma is possibly too banged up to play at Ludicrous Speed, and both defenses are good enough to prevent at least a couple of scores. Still, you want to watch, just in case.)
SEC: Georgia vs. LSU (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 4 (If Georgia wins, things do get blurry).
Entertainment Value (1-10): 7 (If athleticism trumps pure point potential for you, anyway).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 2 (Georgia is big, strong and fit, and they probably won't fade. And it probably won't matter.)
Pro Potential (1-5): 5 (ALL OF THE PRO POTENTIAL).
In The Booth (1-5): 3 (Uncle Vern Lundquist & Gary Danielson).
Final Score: 21.
Granted, there is at least a little bit of 9-6 potential in this game, but not a lot. Both teams have underrated offenses that should be able to manufacture a few drives. Honestly, the lower-scoring the game is, the better it is for Georgia; they are banged up in the backfield and try not to put too much pressure on Aaron Murray's arm. So you potentially have a choice to make: points or upset potential. Which will it be? LSU spotted Arkansas 14 points then went on a rampage last weekend. Does Georgia have the ability to keep things close and avoid wearing down at the end?
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, Fox)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 1 (One point in remembrance of what could have been with Wisconsin).
Entertainment Value (1-10): 7 (Wisconsin + Hail Mary II potential).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 3 (We assume Bucky wins, but...)
Pro Potential (1-5): 3 (Curious what happens to Montee Ball in the pros).
In The Booth (1-5): 4 (Gus Johnson & ).
Final Score: 18.
The best grind-it-out back in the country versus a grinding defense. That sounds like a recipe for 17-14 with long bouts of field position and punts. There is nothing wrong with that style, really -- it wins games -- but it isn't altogether exciting. Wisconsin, however, makes it work. They have been one of the more enjoyable teams to watch in recent years, and they are two desperation passes away from a spot in the national title conversation. Michigan State, the purveyor of Desperation Heave I, will attempt to make some magic again in Indy late Saturday night. And hey, bonus points for Gus Johnson.
(By the way, how much better is Charles Davis when paired with Gus? He used to drive me crazy, but he has been fantastic on FX this season.)
MAC: Ohio vs. Northern Illinois (Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 0.
Entertainment Value (1-10): 8 (MACtion!!).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 4 (NIU is favored by 3.5).
Pro Potential (1-5): 1 (Chandler Harnish gets a look, right?).
In The Booth (1-5): 4 (Joe Tessitore & Rod Gilmore).
Final Score: 17.
Joe Tessitore calling the MAC Championship Game. JOE TESSITORE CALLING THE MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. The SEC may win the titles with their punt-on-third-down style, but the MAC has entertained us over the last month with their any-playcall-at-any-moment, defense-optional approach to football. Granted, the Entertainment Value is only an eight in the scale above because Ohio is involved and Tyler Tettleton and company don't have quite the same offensive cachet (all of the really fun teams -- NIU, Toledo, Western Michigan -- are in the MAC West), this game promises fourth-quarter drama. So here's what you do: Tune into this game until 8:00 PM ET, watch the first half of Oregon-UCLA (or until the game gets out of hand ... so, the first quarter), then flip back for the final 15-20 minutes of MACtion.
Conference USA: Southern Miss vs. Houston (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 1 (One point in honor of Houston's undefeated record).
Entertainment Value (1-10): 9 (I mean, you do like points, right?).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 3 (USM is ranked, after all).
Pro Potential (1-5): 2 (Can't wait for the "Case Keenum: system quarterback?" debate).
In The Booth (1-5): 1 ( & Craig James).
Final Score: 16.
Due to the sheer ridiculousness of his statistics, Case Keenum has received a respectable amount of Heisman buzz (enough to potentially get him to New York as a finalist, at least), but unless you get CBS College Sports (I do not), you probably haven't actually gotten to see him play much. Naturally, ABC/ESPN has decided to troll you with "Congratulations, here's your chance to see Case Keenum! But wait: you have to listen to Craig James, knowing that James will probably bump Houston entirely out of the Top 25 if they lose!" but still. You don't need announcers or ambient noise to watch what could be a ridiculous battle between Keenum and Austin Davis' Golden Eagles. Just hit the mute button and stream The Roots' Undun, and you've got yourself a happy start to Saturday.
ACC: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 0.
Entertainment Value (1-10): 5 (Logan Thomas and Sammy Watkins are involved, after all).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 3 (Clemson is, in the words of Joe Namath, strug-a-ling).
Pro Potential (1-5): 3 (Watkins, David Wilson, Jayron Hosley...).
In The Booth (1-5): 4 (The Brent Musberger Drinking Game & Kirk Herbstreit).
Final Score: 15.
Are they seriously sending Musberger and Herbstreit to this one instead of Bedlam?
A month ago, this rematch would have seemed exciting. Virginia Tech was picking up steam, and Clemson was still cruising right along. Now, Clemson has derailed, and the Hokies are looking a little too good, and the odds of them turning the tables with their own 23-3 win (to match the score of Clemson's win in Blacksburg on October 1) are pretty high. Tell me you've saved something for championship week, Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd.
(Then again, it doesn't really matter; most are going to be watching Bedlam and the Big Ten anyway.)
Big East: West Virginia at South Florida (Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Connecticut at Cincinnati (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 0 (Ha, no).
Entertainment Value (1-10): 5 (Points for WVU and Cincy, deductions for USF and UConn).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 5 (I mean, I have absolutely no idea).
Pro Potential (1-5): 2 (Cincy's Isaiah Pead, UConn's Kendall Reyes and WVU's Bruce Irvin, at the very least, should get drafted).
In The Booth (1-5): 2 (Rece Davis, Craig James & Jesse Palmer on Thursday, Dave Pasch & Chris Spielman on Saturday)
Final Score: 14.
The Big East does have the benefit of possibly needing two different games to determine its winner. Here is the scenario:
- If South Florida beats West Virginia, WVU is eliminated. If Cincy then beats UConn, they are headed to the BCS (likely the Orange Bowl); if UConn wins, then Louisville goes.
- If West Virginia beats South Florida, Cincinnati is eliminated. The title then goes to either WVU if Cincy wins, Louisville if UConn wins. So basically, WVU's title hopes are pinned on beating USF, then hoping Cincy isn't too demoralized to take out UConn.
So one of the three title-eligible teams will be eliminated on Thursday night, and Louisville takes the title if UConn wins on Saturday, no matter what. Crystal clear, right?
Pac-12: UCLA at Oregon (Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET, Fox)
Impact On National Championship (0-5): 0.
Entertainment Value (1-10): 6 (Anything involving Oregon gets at least a 6).
Uncertain Outcome (1-5): 1 (I mean, come on).
Pro Potential (1-5): 3 (Is this the second-to-last game for LaMichael James and Cliff Harris?).
In The Booth (1-5): 4 (Gus Johnson & Charles Davis).
Final Score: 14.
Placing the Pac-12 title game on the home field of the higher-ranked team was an incredibly smart move considering the way the Pac-12 race played out. Instead of some half-empty, neutral-site game in, say, San Francisco, we get one last night game at Autzen Stadium to send us out. Autzen Stadium should be the single most entertaining part of this game unless UCLA pulls off a miracle.
Check that: a couple of miracles. One probably isn't enough. It's been fun, Coach Neuheisel.