Championship Week Previews and Picks
The champions of the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, and Big Ten will all be crowned this weekend. Rather than cover one game in-depth, here are quick previews and picks for each game. (Note that the MAC Championship will be held this weekend as well, but since we don’t get many MAC games on tv in New England, I’ve only seen highlights of each team and don’t feel I know nearly enough to write an intelligent preview. I’m hopeful that that will change in the next few years with UMass joining the conference).
Pac-12: #16 UCLA at #8 Stanford
In a rematch of a game played just six days ago, Stanford’s goal is to do what it did the first time: stop the run and get to the quarterback. UCLA redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley was sacked seven times, and leading rusher Johnathan Franklin racked up a mere 65 yards. Presumably the Bruins will change their blocking schemes, maybe chipping a RB or a TE, to keep Hundley upright. Stanford, too, will have to concern themselves with sacks; UCLA ranks fifth in the country in that category. The Cardinal have the far better run defense, as well as an excellent runner in Stepfan Taylor and I think that will figure into the result in a big way. It’s tough to beat the same opponent twice in a season, but I’ve got Stanford 27, UCLA 20.
SEC: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Georgia (played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta)
The Crimson Tide are playing in their third SEC Title game since 2008, and could be headed to their third BCS Title game in four years. Georgia won a weak SEC East division in 2011 and was blown out by LSU in the SEC Title game. Anyone who stopped watching Georgia games in October might expect a similar result this year, but don’t be fooled- this is a far stronger version of the Bulldogs than we saw in 2011 or even early in the 2012 season. As far as the matchup with Alabama goes, both teams have outstanding players at the skill positions. This game is going to come down to line play. Alabama has arguably the best offensive line in the country, but Georgia’s defensive line has been dominant as well. As cliche as it is, both teams need to stay out of third-and-long situations, and the defenses need to stop the run. I like Alabama mainly because of their big-game experience. Alabama 24, Georgia 17
Big Ten: #12 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin (played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis)
7-5 Wisconsin finished third in the Leaders Division, and is in the Big Ten Title game courtesy of NCAA sanctions to Ohio State (12-0) and Penn State (8-4). One of those losses came as the Badgers blew a 27-10 lead and lost 30-27 to the Huskers. Wide receiver Jared Abbredaris is expected to be healthy for the game, which is good news for the Badgers. On the other hand, QB Curt Phillips, a fifth-year senior, has only been a starter for the last three weeks. If Nebraska shuts down stud RB Montee Ball, will Phillips be able to get the ball to Abbredaris? MLB Chris Borland is also expected to return for the Badgers on Saturday. The Huskers have also had injury issues of late; RB Rex Burkhead returned last week against Iowa after a four-game absence, while starting C Justin Jackson and DT Baker Steinkuhler left with injuries in the same game and are not expected to play Saturday. I could see this game going either way, but I think the experience of Taylor Martinez could come into play. Nebraska 20, Wisconsin 17
ACC: #13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech (played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte)
Both teams are coming off losses in rivalry games, with the Seminoles losing to Florida and the Yellow Jackets being embarrassed by Georgia. (Georgia Tech, in fact, finished third in the ACC Coastal Division, and is only in the Title game because of North Carolina’s NCAA sanctions and Miami’s self-imposed postseason ban for NCAA violations). Tech’s passing game is inconsistent at best, so if Florida State can stop the run- not always easy with the Jackets’ triple option- and force third-and-long situations, they should be able to win the game. Florida State 31, Georgia Tech 10
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