Championship Saturday is just about here, offering college football teams across the country a final chance to decide their own destiny. Three BCS conferences will stage title tilts on Saturday, with two having a direct impact on the national title race. The other will decide the host school in the FedEx Orange Bowl on New Year's Night. Saturday is also a good time to have a second television available in the evening, with Oscar De La Hoya taking on Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas (I'd advise you to pool your money amongst friends to handle the absurd $54.99 fee). Enjoy!
ACC Championship: Boston College vs. Virginia Tech (in Tampa) 1 PM EST on ABC
Billy Palmer: I love rematches because there always seems to be the revenge factor. Most of you may think both of these teams are boring but this will be one of the best games to watch on Saturday. Boston College beat the Hokies earlier this year 28-23 in Chesnut Hill. Neither team looked impressive at all and I don't expect much different in this game. Virginia Tech has had a tough time scoring this year averaging just over 21 points a game. BC hasn't been much better but they average around 27 a game. Neither team in this game is going to move the ball. I think that's pretty much a given. I also give both of the defenses a push.
So what am I to do? How do I decide the key to the game? Both teams are virtually identical but you have to remember the special teams success of Frank Beamer coached teams. Every year in a big game or two the Hokies special teams seem to come up with a huge play. Could be a punt return or it could be a blocked punt it doesn't really matter where it comes from but it'll probably happen. So the key to this game for me is for Boston College not let the Hokies have any special teams gamebreakers.
Raphielle Johnson: Billy you are correct about the play of both teams in that regular season meeting. But the Hokies were the far worse team on offense in that one, with both touchdowns coming by way of Boston College turnovers. Could that happen again? It's a definite possibility with freshman Dominique Davis getting his first full-time taste of Bud Foster's defense. But Montel Harris wasn't running the football as effectively as he has been of late for Jeff Jagodzinski's Eagles. He's effectively turned Josh Haden, the back that many (myself included) thought to be a favorite for ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors a change of pace guy instead of the feature back.
And I'd be really worried about the Boston College defense since Virginia Tech has proven themselves to be inept in the passing game. It's easy to focus on big fellas Ron Brace and B.J. Raji at the defensive tackle spots (given how big they are, how could you miss them?), but how about linebackers Robert Francois, Mark Herzlich and Mike McLaughlin? Those three make up one of the best linebacking units in the ACC, bolstering the league's top-ranked run defense. Neither team is very good through the air, but I'd have more faith in BC receivers Rich Gunnell and Brandon Robinson than the youngsters at Frank Beamer's disposal.
Key to the Game
BP: Boston College's special teams
RJ: Dominique Davis handling the championship atmosphere
BP: I can't believe one of these teams is going to play in a BCS bowl! This game will be nip and tuck deep into the 4th quarter. Virginia Tech will come up with a big punt block in the last few minutes to pull out a 27-24 win.
RJ: It'll be close, but I'm going to stick with my New England roots here. Look for Billy Flutie to make a play on special teams that helps deliver the first ACC title to Chestnut Hill. 17-13 Eagles.
SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Florida (in Atlanta) 4 PM EST on CBS
BP: Man, talk about getting stone cold dissed. Alabama, the #1 team in the country, heads to take on the Florida Gators as underdogs? I think this says a couple of things. People are a little too overwhelmed with what Florida has done and people are also still not believing in the Crimson Tide. So what gives on Saturday? I'm still surprised myself that Alabama has gotten this far into the season unscathed. The SEC is down this year but it's still ridiculously hard to go through an entire BCS Conference schedule without a loss. You have to give them their due. The reason people still doubt them though are the games against Kentucky, Ole Miss and LSU. In games like those (2 of them being at home) a true #1 should have ran away from their opponents. However, in all three, the Tide managed to escape narrowly.
Their big problem is getting stalled on offense from time to time. Florida on the other hand is clicking on all offensive cylinders. The Gators are averaging around 46 points a game. A lot of this is thanks to Mr. Tim Tebow. He has taken a dip in stats but the offense is better than ever. He's let Chris Rainey, Percy Harvin, and Louis Murphy help him out and made the offense as dynamic as any in the country. Both teams have great defenses. Alabama's defense has kept them from losing those close games they have had this year. They have, in my opinion, the most physical defensive line in the country. The Crimson Tide rely on the defense to get field position for the offense.
However, Alabama's D isn't the key to this game. The key to this game for me is the play of the Florida defense. Everybody said last year that if Florida could step up on defense they'd be unbeatable. Well, the Gators D has stepped it up allowing just 12 points a game. If they can play like they've been playing most of the year in this game Alabama won't be able to move the ball.
RJ: Glad to see that you pointed out the Gator defense as a key to this one. People may cite Tim Tebow's speech following the loss to Ole Miss as the turning point in their season (and rightfully so), but the turn from possible SEC champ to possible national champ took play on one first quarter hit. That would be the decleater laid on Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno by middle linebacker Brandon Spikes on November 1st. They'd been waiting for him to be a leader on this defense in the mold of Brandon Siler, who led that national title unit two seasons ago. That hit showed that it was about the message and not just the play for Spikes, and it should be no coincidence that Urban Meyer's team has blown every opponent out of the water since.
Opposites attract, and that's what this game will be about. Alabama will look to win this one in the trenches with their dominant line play, but don't think that Florida can't stand toe-to-toe with them just because they're faster. You can't hit what you can't catch, as Ohio State found out in Glendale two seasons ago. But the area that could have a significant effect on this game is special teams. Alabama has Javier Arenas to return kicks, but Florida's got Brandon James and a head coach who looks at special teams in a way that very few coaches in America do. That unit is Urban Meyer's pride and joy, and when you can get stars to beg onto the unit (which could have as much to do with being first in line at training table and getting first dibs on new gear) your opposition will be in some serious trouble.
Key to the Game
BP: Florida's defense
RJ: Alabama's special teams
BP: Florida gets great play from their defense but Tim Tebow has an off day. Alabama manages to keep this game close but loses in the 4th on a 7 yard epic Tebow touchdown run.
RJ: You know, the last time these two met with the SEC on the line (1999) it was an all-purpose threat by the name of Freddie Milons (Alabama) who delivered the knockout punch with a direct snap touchdown run. If you haven't met him by now, you'll know exactly who Gator redshirt freshman Jeff Demps is by the end of the third quarter. Gators head to Miami thanks to a 34-17 win.
Big 12 Championship: Missouri vs. Oklahoma (in Kansas City) 8 PM EST on ABC
BP: What? There's a game this week? Everybody has been so locked up on the the Oklahoma-Texas BCS talk that there hasn't been much chatter about the Big 12 Championship game. Texas fans get over it. Oklahoma is in. Every President and Athletic Director in the Big 12 signed off on this tiebreaker years ago. Quit blaming each other and blame the Big 12 for being stupid. Okay, on to the game. Oklahoma comes in scoring 60+ points a game in four straight games. I don't want to hear about how Oklahoma has run the score up on anybody. They are averaging 6 fourth quarter points a game. They aren't running up the score. Their offense is smoother than a freshly washed Black Mercedes. Loads of talent all over the offensive side of the football for the Sooners.
However, the defensive side of the ball has been there problem. If you ask me I will say it all starts at MLB. Ryan Reynolds went down in the Texas game and the Longhorns picked on the backups the rest of the day. Austin Box then filled and had played very well but he was lost to an injury in the Oklahoma State game. In steps juco transfer Mike Balogun. He better be ready because Mizzou, although they have had a slightly disappointing season, still has a load of offensive talent. The Tigers should be able to score in this game but the key to the game is playing perfect and hoping for Oklahoma turnovers which most likely won't happen.
RJ: One thing working in the Tigers' favor is that they played on this exact same field last weekend. Unfortunately for them, their defense reared its ugly (ranking eighth in the conference in total defense and 12th in pass defense) head in that loss to Kansas. How anyone could expect the Tigers to slow down Oklahoma's offensive attack, led by Sam Bradford, a plethora of pass catchers and the second- and third-ranked rushers in the Big 12 is beyond me. Not to mention the fact that the Sooners may be eager to let the nation know that they indeed have nothing to apologize for in regards to the BCS. Poor, poor Missouri.
But last I checked, they still have QB Chase Daniel, RB Derrick Washington, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman in that locker room. Rest assured: these guys won't walk onto that field and lay down, especially when you remember that in last year's conference title game it was OU that crushed Missouri's dream of a national title. Have they been the national title contender that many expected them to be when the season began? No, but this game offers the perfect opportunity to redefine their season. So to think that Mizzou is playing simply to avoid getting embarassed is incorrect; they've got quite a bit riding on this game as well.
Key to the Game
BP: Missouri winning the turnover battle
RJ: Missouri's defensive execution
BP: I'm not going to sugarcoat this. I simply think Oklahoma still feels like they have to prove they deserve to be in the conference championship game. Tha being said they roll to another big win 59-27.
RJ: For all the talk above from me that Missouri will show up, I have to admit that it won't matter. Oklahoma goes for the "Barry Switzer Special" in this one, hanging "half a hundred" on the Tigers. OU wins big 56-17.
Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao
BP: For those fight fans out there we have a gem on Saturday. I will personally be watching the Big 12 game but I will be recording this fight on my DVR to watch later that night.
If you follow boxing, you know the story lines to this fight. (if you don't go check out ESPN's story on it). This fight is very very personal to both fighters. De La Hoya's Golden Boy Productions had originally signed Pacquiao to a 7-fight contract. Basically Pacquiao backed out of the contract and never fought for De La Hoya's promotion company.
So with all this drama, both fighters are fighting at a weight they've never fought at before. Pacquiao will be fighting up a few pounds and De La Hoya down a few pounds. I think this fight could be one of the all time greats. I think I maybe one of the few but I'm going to pick Manny Pacquiao to TKO Oscar De La Hoya in the 10th round. Pacquiao just has too much speed for Oscar. I'm willing to bet Raphielle picks De La Hoya!
RJ: That piece by Dan Rafael was pretty good, and thankfully for fight fans Golden Boy and Top Rank were able to remember the bottom line (making money) instead of taking their respective toys and going home. Viewers have benefitted with matchups like this one here, but you bet incorrectly with my pick. If the weight were a one-way deal, with Pacquiao moving up with Oscar staying at his regular weight I'd pick the gold medalist.
But they're both making the adjustment, and like you said Manny's just too quick for De La Hoya. Maybe he thinks the repeated talking about the promotional issue will force Pacquiao to resort to trash talking along the lines of what Ricardo Mayorga did, but it hasn't happened. Manny takes him out in eight.