No. 24 Southern Miss at No. 6 Houston
In the first big conference championship game of the day, Houston puts its undefeated season on the line against Southern Mississippi for the Conference USA championship. However, for the Cougars, there is much more on the line besides a conference title. If Houston remains undefeated they almost guarantee themselves a spot in the school’s first ever BCS bowl. It is also a huge game for the team’s quarterback, Case Keenum, who is in contention for a Heisman trophy after his video game-like stats this season, throwing for 4,726 yards and 43 touchdowns on only three interceptions. If Keenum puts up another stellar game in his first game against a ranked opponent all season, he might force voters to take notice of him and make himself into a real contender, instead of a glorified seat filler in New York. The Golden Eagles would like to prevent all of those scenarios from happening, and are well equipped to do so, if they play their best football. Southern Miss plays quality all-around football, ranking in the top 25 in the country in offense and defense. The Eagles are also quietly only a pair of tough-luck, one-possession losses from being in Houston’s position as a no-loss BCS buster. The Golden Eagles will be Houston’s toughest test by far, but the Cougars just have too much on the line to let this game slip away.
No. 14 Georgia vs. No. 1 LSU
LSU has gone through one of the most brutal schedules in college football history this season, taking on three top-five teams and seven ranked squads this year. Remarkably, the Tigers have made it through unscathed. Fittingly, they will have take on one more ranked foe — Georgia — in order to win an SEC title and have an opportunity to compete in the National Title game. It won’t be an easy test either; the Bulldogs are one of the hottest teams in the country, winners of 10-straight games, in the toughest conference in America, the SEC. They are led on offense by one of the least talked about quality quarterbacks in the country, Aaron Murray, who has passed for 2,698 yards and 32 touchdowns as a sophomore. As adept as Murray has been this season, it is really the defense that is the calling card of this squad — they allow only 17.8 points a game and have not given up more than 28 points since Week 2 of the season. If Georgia’s defense has been good this year, LSU’s has been that great and then some. The Tigers allow only 10.8 points a game, despite facing some of the best offenses in the nation. Expect that group to stifle Georgia’s high-powered offense and for LSU’s attack to create just enough points to punch its ticket to the ‘Big Easy’.
No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 3 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma has dominated the ‘Bedlam’ series the last few seasons, winning the last eight contests by a combined score of 343-178. However, this year’s iteration could be — and has to be — different for Oklahoma State if it wants to keep its national championship hopes alive. The Cowboys are the higher-ranked team coming into the game, which has been the case the last two seasons, but that has been to no avail for them so far. This year they check in at No. 3 in the country, they have dominated opponents all season, and if it weren’t for an unthinkable slipup to Iowa State two weeks ago, they would be a lock for the title game, with a victory at home against the Sooners. Now the only thing at stake, at least for now, is a Big 12 title, but the atmosphere in Stillwater will still be insane regardless. Both schools feature explosive offenses that average more than 42 points a contest, with most of those points coming from the air. The Cowboys come in with the second-best aerial assault in the nation at 401.6 yards a game, and the Sooners are right behind them in third. Expect defense to be critical in this pivotal game for the ‘Sooner State’, the Big 12 and, if things fall correctly, for the national title picture as well.
Michigan State vs. Wisconsin
The Big 10 is America’s oldest Division 1 athletic conference, but despite all the history it carries, there has never been a conference championship game in the Big 10 for football. That all changes this weekend, as the conference’s addition of a 12th team, Nebraska, has allowed the conference to split into two divisions, Legends and Leaders, whose representatives Michigan State and Wisconsin will square off Saturday evening in primetime. While this game has no impact on the national landscape, the contest will still decide who earns a coveted spot in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin represented the conference last season in Pasadena, and this year’s Badgers squad could be even better than last years. They are led by senior quarterback Russell Wilson who has stabilized their offense, forcing teams to pay attention to the pass, instead of putting eight in the box every possession to stop their fourth ranked rushing attack. Their defense is great, too, allowing only 15.2 points a game, shutting down Big 10 teams all season. Michigan State faces a tough test to deal with that kind of talent, but the Spartans have a knack for winning tough games. Including perhaps the game of the year earlier this season, when the Spartans matched up with the Badgers, and knocked them off of their undefeated run on a Hail-Mary. The Badgers still have a bad taste in their mouth from that moment, and will look to take it to the Spartans once again, looking to finish the job this time.