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November 28, 2007

Conference titles set to be decided

How much more chaos does this season have in store?

One week remains in a regular season where upsets and surprises have become the norm.

Even with a limited schedule of games this week, there's potential for a stunning finish heading into bowl season.

Take the SEC Championship Game. LSU is one week removed from being ranked No. 1 in the country before its loss to Arkansas last week. Entering the conference title game on the opposite end of the spectrum from the deflated Tigers is Tennessee, coming off a thrilling quadruple-overtime win over Kentucky.

Virginia Tech already has been surprised once this season when Boston College rallied in the final minutes of a 14-10 loss on Oct. 25. The Hokies get their chance at a rematch in Jacksonville in the ACC Championship Game.

But the biggest games for the chaos-watch will be in Morgantown and San Antonio. West Virginia is a long shot to lose the Backyard Brawl to Pittsburgh, but a loss would throw the BCS into controversy. So could a Missouri loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Sooners already have defeated the Tigers this season, winning 41-31 on Oct. 13.

If the first three months of the season were any indicator, there's more madness to come. We'll try to sort it out in the Five to Watch.

All times Eastern.

SATURDAY
ACC Championship Game in Jacksonville
Boston College (10-2 overall, 6-2 in the ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2, 7-1)

Time: 1 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: There's the matter of the Oct. 13 meeting in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech, with a tepid offense but a lights-out defense, led 10-0 going into the final 4:16. But Boston College QB Matt Ryan led touchdown drives of 92 and 66 yards for a 14-10 win. The second time around, Ryan is still Ryan and the Virginia Tech defense is still among the nation's best. The wild card will be the Hokies' offense, which has averaged 39 points in three games rotating QBs Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor.
Players to watch: Virginia Tech TB Branden Ore needed 12 games to reach the 100-yard mark: He ran for 147 against a solid Virginia defense. Ore will look to repeat that effort against the nation's No. 2 rush defense.
Best matchup: Ryan vs. Virginia Tech's defense. Which Ryan will the Hokies remember? The one who was sacked three times and intercepted twice or the one who shredded their defense in the final minutes?

SEC Championship Game in Atlanta
LSU (10-2 overall, 6-2 in the SEC) vs. Tennessee (9-3, 6-2)

Time: 4 p.m.
Network: CBS
Storylines: What would be perceived as a mismatch many other weeks of the season could be less so in Atlanta thanks to momentum. The Tigers look to have lost their chance at a national championship with a 50-48 loss to Arkansas last week. Meanwhile, the Volunteers' don't-quit attitude has become the theme of Tennessee's season after a 52-50 win over Kentucky. How much will fatigue be a factor after the teams played a combined five overtimes last week?
Player to watch: Coming off a 397-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Kentucky, Vols QB Erik Ainge could further enhance his profile in the Tennessee record book by leading the Vols to their first SEC title since 1998.
Best matchup: Tennessee's offensive line vs. LSU's pass rush. Ainge will be a key to Tennessee's chances, but so will the Volunteers' ability to protect him. LSU DT Glenn Dorsey's knee injury and back spasms will be worth watching against a Volunteers' offensive line that has allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC.

UCLA (6-5 overall, 5-3 in the Pac-10) at USC (9-2, 6-2)

Time: 4:30 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: What would be a more bizarre ending to the season than UCLA, a team that gave Notre Dame its first win of the season, representing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl? It could happen with a Bruins win and an Arizona State loss to Arizona. If UCLA loses, could this be Karl Dorrell's final game as coach?
Player to watch: USC's defense turned in one of its best performances of the season against an overmatched Arizona State offensive line in a 44-24 win last week. DE Lawrence Jackson led the effort a career-high four sacks.
Best matchup: UCLA G Shannon Tevaga vs. USC DT Sedrick Ellis. Bruins TB Chris Markey returned for his first full game in a month and gained 91 yards against Oregon last week. UCLA's quarterback situation remains unsettled. Any effort by the offensive backfield will be for naught if Ellis isn't contained.

Pittsburgh (4-7 overall, 2-4 in the Big East) at West Virginia (10-1, 5-1)

Time: 7:45 p.m.
Network: ESPN
Storylines: Why is the Backyard Brawl particularly unnerving for West Virginia? The Mountaineers occupy the haunted No. 2 spot in every ranking but the coaches poll. Oregon, Boston College, USF, California and USC have lost at No. 2 this season to unranked foes. Here's the good news for West Virginia: Pitt has lost the past two meetings by a combined score of 90-40. Here's the bad news (other than being ranked second): It's a rivalry game against a team with nothing to lose. Stranger things have happened this season.
Player to watch: All the pundits have turned the Heisman hunt into a two-man race between Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden, yet neither are playing this week. WVU QB Pat White, who has averaged 161 rushing yards over the past four games, could make voters second-guess themselves.
Best matchup: Pittsburgh TB LeSean McCoy vs. West Virginia's run defense. The Mountaineers have enjoyed a defensive turnaround this season by leading the Big East in total defense, scoring defense and rush defense. McCoy gives Pitt its best chance to win.

Big 12 Championship Game in San Antonio, Texas
Missouri (11-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big 12) vs. Oklahoma (10-2, 6-2)

Time: 8 p.m.
Network: ABC
Storylines: Like Virginia Tech, Missouri has a chance for redemption. The Sooners defeated Missouri 41-31 in Norman on Oct. 13, the Tigers' only loss of the season. Missouri is looking to win its first league title of any kind since winning the Big Eight in 1969. Bob Stoops is looking to guide Oklahoma to its fifth Big 12 title of his tenure. Each has been won with a different quarterback under center.
Player to watch: Like Pat White, Missouri QB Chase Daniel has an advantage in the Heisman race by playing only a few days before ballots are due. He has an additional advantage over White by playing against a team with six more wins in a conference title game. He fared well last time out against the Sooners, going 37-of-47 for 361 yards and a touchdown but also two interceptions.
Best matchup: Missouri TB Tony Temple vs. Oklahoma's run defense. The Tigers' leading rusher missed the first meeting between the teams, and Mizzou ran for only 57 yards. Could a balanced offense against the Big 12's No. 1 rush defense on a neutral field make up for the 10-point deficit in October?

Other games to watch

Rutgers (7-4 overall, 3-3 in the Big East) at Louisville (5-6, 2-4), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Stakes aren't nearly as high as last year's meeting, when both were undefeated.

Fresno State (7-4 overall, 5-2 in the WAC) at New Mexico State (4-8, 1-6), 8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2
Fresno already knows it's going bowling. This is the final game for New Mexico State defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer, who is retiring.

MAC Championship Game in Detroit
Central Michigan (7-5 overall, 6-1 in the MAC) vs. Miami of Ohio (6-6, 5-2)
, 11 a.m., ESPN2
Central Michigan goes for two MAC titles in two years with two coaches.

Conference USA Championship Game in Orlando.
Tulsa (9-3 overall, 6-2 in Conference USA) vs. Central Florida (9-3, 7-1)
, Noon, ESPN
Check out a battle between UCF TB Kevin Smith and Tulsa QB Paul Smith.

Army (3-8) vs. Navy (7-4) in Baltimore, Noon, CBS
Will this be coach Paul Johnson's final game for the Naval Academy?

Oregon State (7-4 overall, 5-3 in the Pac-10) at Oregon (8-3, 5-3), 4:30 p.m., ABC
From No. 1 in the country to No. 2 in the state: Is there any question how important Dennis Dixon is to his team?

Cal (6-5 overall, 3-5 in the Pac-10) at Stanford (4-8, 2-7), 7 p.m., Versus
How the mighty have fallen: With a loss here, Cal will have gone 0-3 against Pac-10 teams in its own state.

Arizona (5-6 overall, 4-4 in the Pac-10) at Arizona State (9-2, 6-2), 8 p.m., ESPN2
Arizona would be a bowl team with a win here. That would mean wins over Washington, UCLA, Oregon and the rival Sun Devils to finish the season.

Washington (4-8) at Hawaii (11-0), 11:30 p.m., ESPN2
All that stands between Hawaii and a possible BCS bowl bid is Washington QB Jake Locker.

David Fox is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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