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November 28, 2011

Monday with Mike: It's championship week

For the first time in FBS history, more than half of the 11 leagues have conference title games.

Two occur Friday - the MAC's in Detroit and the Pac-12's first in Eugene, Ore. - and the other four are scheduled for Saturday - the ACC's in Charlotte, the Big Ten's first in Indianapolis, Conference USA's in Houston and the SEC's in Atlanta.

Here's a quick look at each, listed alphabetically.

The game: Clemson (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (11-1) in Charlotte, Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN
The buzz: One of two title games that is a rematch. About a month ago, a strong case could be made that rabid Clemson fans would have shown up in droves. Now? Not so much. The Tigers - as is their wont - have hit the skids and come in having lost three of four. The offense was prolific early on, but has faded down the stretch, and a defense that wasn't that good to begin with has wilted. Virginia Tech has won seven in a row since losing at home to Clemson on Oct. 1. The Hokies have relied heavily on TB David Wilson, who had his third-worst outing of the season against Clemson - but that still was a 123-yard performance. Virginia Tech is coming off arguably its best game of the season, a 38-0 blasting of archrival Virginia. Clemson was shut down by South Carolina in losing 34-13 on Saturday. The winner will go to the Orange Bowl, while the loser seems likely to head to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The game: Michigan State (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (10-2) in Indianapolis, Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox
The buzz: This is the other title-game rematch; Michigan State stunned Wisconsin 37-31 on Oct. 22 on a last-play "Hail Mary." The Badgers lost again the next week to Ohio State in similarly excruciating circumstances, but will arrive in Indy on a four-game winning streak in which they outscored foes 177-54. Michigan State threw for 290 yards and three TDs on the Badgers in the first meeting, and their secondary did a solid job against the Badgers' passing attack. Both facets have to come through again for the Spartans, who also arrive with a four-game winning streak in which they have outscored their opponents 154-65. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl, while the loser seems destined for either the Capital One or Outback bowl.

The game: Southern Miss (10-2) at Houston (12-0), Saturday, noon, ABC
The buzz: A BCS berth is on the line for Houston. Southern Miss, meanwhile, seems likely to go to the Liberty Bowl regardless. A loss likely would drop Houston to the TicketCity or Armed Forces bowl. Southern Miss is second in the league in total defense, scoring defense and rush defense. But the Golden Eagles are fourth in the league - and 55th nationally - against the pass, and that bodes ill against Case Keenum and the Cougars. Houston comes in off a 48-16 thumping of Tulsa, and the Cougars have been held below 48 points just once since mid-September; that was in a 37-7 win over SMU two weeks ago. Southern Miss' two losses came to league foes Marshall and UAB - teams that Houston beat by 35 and 43, respectively.

The game: Northern Illinois (9-3) vs. Ohio (9-3) in Detroit, Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
The buzz: NIU comes in on a seven-game winning streak, and Ohio has won five in a row. NIU is ninth nationally in total offense and 11th in scoring offense; the Huskies have scored have least 40 points in nine games and have reached the 500-yard plateau in seven games, the 600-yard plateau three times and the 700-yard mark once. The flipside: Their defense is bad, allowing 421.7 yards and 32.0 points per game. Ohio is much better defensively and has a strong rushing attack. Two of the nation's better dual-threat quarterbacks will be on view in NIU's Chandler Harnish and Ohio's Tyler Tettleton, the son of former major-league catcher Mickey Tettleton. It's the second MAC title game appearance in a row for NIU, which is led by first-year coach Dave Doeren, who had been defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. Both are assured of bowl bids; the MAC has three tie-ins: the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit; the GoDaddy.Com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.; and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.

The game: UCLA (6-6) at Oregon (10-2), Friday, 8 p.m., Fox.
The buzz: Yawn. The league's first title game is a huge letdown. UCLA is coming off a 50-point beatdown at the hands of USC - which two weeks ago beat Oregon, too. If they lose, the Bruins would need a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl because they would have a losing record. Yeah, that's a good sign for the Pac-12. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel also seems to have a foot (and most of his torso) out the door, leading to an even more embarrassing storyline: The Pac-12 South winner's program is in such disarray that the coach is being fired. If Oregon shows up fully engaged, this should be at least a four-TD rout by the Ducks. A Rose Bowl berth goes to the winner. Oregon likely would go to the Alamo Bowl if it loses.

The game: Georgia (10-2) vs. LSU (12-0) in Atlanta, Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
The buzz: LSU seems assured of a berth in the national title game regardless, but Tigers coach Les Miles said Friday after LSU routed Arkansas that his team would be focused against the Bulldogs. Georgia's defense is a good one - just three rushing TDs allowed in the past five games - but can the Bulldogs run it well enough? LSU feasts on one-dimensional offenses. Georgia has only one rushing TD in its past three games, and it would help the Bulldogs' cause if starting TB Isaiah Crowell - who has missed two of the past four games and played very little in another - is healthy and can go. Georgia gets a BCS bid with a win and seems headed to the Cotton, Capital One or Outback if it loses.

Worth noting is that while the Big 12 doesn't have a true conference title game, Oklahoma's game at Oklahoma State basically will serve as a de facto championship contest. The winner gets a BCS bid, and Oklahoma State - but not the Sooners - could snag a BCS at-large bid if it loses.

The Mountain West (TCU), Sun Belt (Arkansas State) and WAC (Louisiana Tech) races already are decided.

The Big East race has come down to Louisville (whose season is over), Cincinnati and West Virginia. WVU finishes the regular season Thursday at USF, while Cincy finishes Saturday at home against Connecticut. If WVU loses Thursday, Cincinnati (8-3) gets the Big East's automatic bid as long as it beats UConn. If WVU (8-3) wins and Cincinnati loses, Louisville (7-5) gets the bid. If WVU and Cincy lose, Louisville gets the bid. If WVU and Cincinnati win, the tiebreaker is such that the bid would go to the team that is the highest-placed in the final BCS standings, which likely would be WVU.

Coaching carousel begins to spin

Illinois jettisoning Ron Zook and UAB doing the same to Neil Callaway are understandable coaching moves. Likely moves by UCLA with Rick Neuheisel and Arizona State with Dennis Erickson also make sense.

Those coaches have been in those jobs for a while, and they aren't getting things done - at least not to the extent expected.

But Akron and Memphis getting rid of second-year coaches? Are you serious? Akron and Memphis?

Those are bottom-rung programs in their respective leagues, and to expect a quick turnaround is ludicrous. There's a reason Akron hired Rob Ianello and Memphis hired Larry Porter: Both are good recruiters, and both were taking over programs with an alarming lack of good players. (Hey, if those programs had good players, the former coaches wouldn't have been fired.) You cannot turn around talent-shy programs in two years, especially considering that the first recruiting class for each was put together in about a month.

(Another thing that should make prospective coaches pause when considering Akron: Ianello was fired by phone - and reportedly while on the way to his mother's funeral in New York.)

Another coach who seems likely to lose his job is Washington State's Paul Wulff. If he, Erickson and Neuheisel join Arizona's Mike Stoops on the unemployment line, half of the Pac-12's teams next season will have coaches in their first or second years on the job and nine of the league's coaches will have been on the job for four or fewer seasons.

Grid bits

Wisconsin TB Montee Ball scored four TDs as the Badgers bludgeoned Penn State 45-7; Penn State had allowed just nine rushing TDs all season before Saturday. Ball has 34 touchdowns this season, which is second on the NCAA's single-season list, behind only former Oklahoma State TB Barry Sanders' 39 in 1988. Ball, a junior, conceivably could pass Sanders; he has scored at least two touchdowns in each game this season and has five games with at least three scores. The Badgers have two games left.

There were four ACC-SEC matchups over the weekend - three traditional season-ending in-state rivalries (Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech) plus Vanderbilt-Wake Forest. The SEC went 3-1, with FSU the only ACC winner. The SEC defenses did a great job clamping down on the ACC offenses. The four ACC teams managed a combined 932 yards of offense, or 233 yards per game. That quartet of ACC teams averages a combined 412.3 yards per game. Georgia Tech was held a bit more than 100 yards under its average, Clemson almost 290, Florida State almost 280 and Wake almost 50.

USC WRs Marqise Lee, a true freshman, and Robert Woods, a sophomore, combined to make 184 receptions for 2,435 yards and 26 TDs this season. Woods had seven 100-yard games and six games with at least two TD catches; Lee had four 100-yard games and two games with multiple-TD receptions. You think they will be in the ear of QB Matt Barkley, imploring him to stay one more season? Lee and Woods are used to working well with each other, as both attended Gardena (Calif.) Serra.

Among the usual suspects not going bowling this season: Boston College (streak of 12 bowls in a row is snapped), East Carolina (five bowls in a row), Navy (eight bowls in a row), Tennessee (just the fourth time in 30 seasons that Vols are bowl-less) and Texas Tech (11 bowls in a row).

Fresno State lost for the first time ever this season to New Mexico State. Saturday, Fresno State lost for just the second time in the past 18 meetings to San Jose State to finish 4-8. It's just the third losing record in coach Pat Hill's 15-season tenure, and the Bulldogs have won at least eight games eight times in the past 11 seasons. Still, rumors continue to swirl about his days being numbered in Fresno. He could serve as the poster boy for using jobs such as Fresno as springboards. Why didn't he get out while he could?

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt announced Nov. 7 that he would be "resigning" at the end of the season. Ole Miss was 2-7 at the time. The Rebels finished 2-10 - the first 10-loss season in school history - and were outscored 111-13 in their final three games.

Rutgers was in the mix for the Big East title until it was throttled 40-22 by Connecticut on Saturday. How in the world do you give up 40 points to UConn, whose previous season-high was 35 against Fordham on Sept. 3?

Miami announced it had given Al Golden a four-year contract extension, through the 2019 season. The announcement came during UM's loss to Boston College on Friday - a loss that dropped the Hurricanes to 6-6 one season after they finished 7-5. "We're going to flush it and move on and build a program," Golden told reporters about this season.

Auburn finished the regular season 7-5. In the BCS era, which started in the 1998 season, the defending champ with the most losses in the following season has been the 2008 LSU team, which went 8-5 with a bowl win after winning the title in '07.

Former Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson died last Sunday night; he had turned 89 in September. As we wrote in September, go to larrymunson.com and revel in his greatness, hobnailed boot and broken furniture and all.

Fox is televising the Pac-12 title game Friday night and the Big Ten title game Saturday night. The network will use the same crew for each game: Gus Johnson on play-by-play and Charles Davis as the analyst.

North Texas senior TB Lance Dunbar needs 89 rushing yards in his final college game Saturday against Middle Tennessee to become only the sixth player in NCAA history to have 4,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. The others: Stanford's Darrin Nelson (1978-81), Colorado State's Steve Bartalo (1983-86), Miami of Ohio's George Swarn (1983-86), Boise State's Brock Forsey (1999-2002) and Tulane's Mewelde Moore (2000-03).

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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