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November 21, 2011

Huguenin: Breaking down the league races

This past weekend was a wild one, with losses by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Clemson throwing the BCS top 10 into chaos.

But while everyone is focusing on the BCS, the conference title races have some intrigue as well. The SEC race, of course, has a huge impact on the BCS.

Here's a breakdown of each of the 11 conference races.

ACC
Clemson (9-2) already has clinched the Atlantic Division title and will be in Charlotte for the league's title game on Dec. 3. Virginia (8-3) plays host to Virginia Tech (10-1) next Saturday for the Coastal Division crown. The Hokies have won 11 of the past 12 in the series.

BIG EAST
Man, what a mess. Five of the league's eight teams have two league losses. USF is out of the running, but the Bulls still will have a huge say in who wins. USF, which is 5-5, still needs one more win for bowl eligibility, and the Bulls finish the regular season with home games against Louisville and West Virginia, two of the teams with two league losses. Rutgers (which finishes with Connecticut), Cincinnati (which finishes with Syracuse and UConn) and Pittsburgh (which finishes with West Virginia and Syracuse) are the others with two conference setbacks. As for who beat whom among the two loss-teams, take a breath: West Virginia beat Rutgers and Cincinnati; Louisville beat Rutgers and West Virginia; Rutgers beat Cincinnati and Pitt; Cincinnati beat Louisville and Pitt; and Pitt beat Louisville. The tiebreaker scenarios are too plentiful to discuss yet.

BIG TEN
As with the ACC, this one is straightforward. Michigan State (9-2) will be the Legends Division representative Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. The Leaders Division representative will be decided Saturday, when Penn State (9-2) travels to Wisconsin (9-2).

BIG 12
Oklahoma (9-2) plays at Oklahoma State (10-1) on Dec. 3 for the title. Losses by both this past weekend mean the "Bedlam" showdown has been downsized greatly. Still, the winner gets a BCS bid - just not for the national title game.

PAC-12
Both divisions remain up for grabs. Oregon (9-2) plays host to Oregon State (3-8) on Saturday, and the Ducks will nab the North Division spot in the Dec. 2 league title game with a victory. If Oregon State pulls the upset, Stanford wins the division. The North Division winner is going to be the host for the title game. In the South, Arizona State (6-5), UCLA (6-5) and Utah (7-4) are in the mix. UCLA currently has a one-game lead in the division, but the Bruins close at USC. Utah finishes up the regular season with a home game against a rancid Colorado team, while reeling Arizona State welcomes California. If all three finish with 5-4 conference records, Arizona State wins the tiebreaker. As for the head-to-head tiebreakers: UCLA beat Arizona State, Arizona State beat Utah and Utah beat UCLA.

SEC
Georgia (9-2) already has clinched the East Division title and will be in Atlanta on Dec. 3. The West Division title will be on the line Friday, when LSU (11-0) plays host to Arkansas (10-1). LSU advances to the title game with a victory. An Arkansas win, though, complicates matters - not to mention further complicating the BCS. Because Alabama, Arkansas and LSU each would be 7-1 in the division and 1-1 against each other, the tie eventually would be broken by the BCS standings. But there's a caveat: If the highest and second-highest team among the trio are within five spots of each other in the BCS standings - that's about as big a certainty as there can be in college football these days - the tiebreaker goes to the team that won the head-to-head meeting between those two. In other words, there's no way to tell yet.

[ Related: Huguenin: Breaking down the BCS standings ]

As for the other leagues:

CONFERENCE USA
Neither division has been decided. Southern Miss (9-2) wins the East with a victory over Memphis (2-9) or with a Marshall (5-6) loss to East Carolina (5-6) in a game with a bowl bid on the line. In the West, Houston (11-0) and Tulsa (8-3) are unbeaten in league play and meet Friday in Tulsa. The winner of that one plays host to the Dec. 3 league championship game. Houston, of course, remains in the BCS at-large hunt, as well.

MID-AMERICAN
Ohio University (8-3) has clinched the East Division title and will be in Detroit for the Dec. 2 league championship game. The West Division champ will be either Northern Illinois (8-3) or Toledo (7-4). NIU plays host to Eastern Michigan (6-5) on Friday, and a win (or a loss by Toledo) gives the Huskies the crown because they own the tiebreaker over the Rockets. Toledo plays at Ball State (6-5) on Friday; they must win and have EMU upset NIU.

MOUNTAIN WEST
TCU (9-2) has clinched the title in its final season in the conference.

SUN BELT
Arkansas State (9-2) has clinched the title, its first since 2005.

WESTERN ATHLETIC
Louisiana Tech (7-4) clinches the championship with a win Saturday over New Mexico State (4-7) or a loss by Nevada (6-4) to Utah State (5-6) on Saturday or to Idaho (2-9) on Dec. 3. Louisiana Tech owns the tiebreaker over Nevada.


Storm brewing for 'Canes?
Miami self-imposed a bowl ban Sunday, meaning the Hurricanes (6-5) won't be playing in the postseason. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst said coach Al Golden wasn't involved in the decision.

The decision is understandable, in light of the likely NCAA sanctions Miami faces; why not start paying the price right now, especially when you're bypassing something like the Music City or Independence bowls?

At the same time, for Golden not to be involved in the decision is mind-boggling. Remember, Golden wasn't exactly pleased with the way Miami administrators kept their mouths shut about the Nevin Shapiro situation in the hiring process. This just might be the capper, which means Golden's final game as Miami's coach could be Friday against Boston College.


Let's review
Tennessee's 27-21 overtime win over visiting Vanderbilt came with some controversy.

The Vols won when CB Eric Gordon returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown on Vandy's first possession of overtime.

Originally, an official blew his whistle and ruled that Gordon's knee touched the ground after he picked off the pass. But a replay review indicated that Gordon remained upright, and the TD counted.

Then, about 90 minutes after the game came a statement from Steve Shaw, the SEC's coordinator of officials. In the statement, Shaw said, "the head linesman incorrectly ruled that the Tennessee player's knee was down when he intercepted the pass by blowing his whistle and giving the dead-ball signal. The play was reviewed as if there was no whistle on the field and, as a result, overturned the incorrect ruling. By rule, if there was a whistle blown, the play is not reviewable."

Basically, then, the right outcome occurred, even though, by rule, the call shouldn't have been reviewed.

Vandy is 5-6 and each of its past four losses have come by six or fewer points. The Vols now have beaten the Commodores in 28 of the past 29 meetings.


Having a ball
Wisconsin TB Montee Ball had a huge game in helping the Badgers rally past Illinois 28-17, which was the Illini's fifth consecutive loss. Ball ran for 224 yards and three touchdown on 38 carries.

That gives him 30 total touchdowns this season, making him just the fifth player in FBS history to reach that plateau. He joins Oklahoma State TB Barry Sanders (39 in 1988), Boise State RB Brock Forsey (32 in 2002), Louisiana Tech WR Troy Edwards (31 in 1998) and UCF TB Kevin Smith (30 in 2007) in reaching the mark.

Ball seems a good bet to finish at least second on the list. Wisconsin has at least two games left and could have three if it beats Penn State next week to clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game. Ball, a junior from Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland, about 45 miles from St. Louis, has scored at least two touchdowns in each game this season and has four games with at least three scores.


Grid bits
Kansas State edged Texas 17-13, the Wildcats' fourth consecutive victory over the Longhorns. K-State managed only 121 total yards, and QB Collin Klein rushed 26 times for just 4 yards because he was sacked five times. Texas committed two turnovers and K-State turned those into 10 points. K-State also scored a TD on a 54-yard drive that started after Texas was called for a 15-yard penalty on a punt. "They just beat the tar out of us," K-State coach Bill Snyder said of Texas' defense. But Texas managed just 310 total yards Saturday and has scored 18 points in its past two games, losses to Missouri and K-State. The Longhorns play Texas A&M on Thanksgiving and the Aggies' defense has had its issues this season. Still, A&M's defense has better numbers than Missouri's and Kansas State's.

Ohio State is 118th in the nation in pass offense, ahead of only Army and Navy, both of whom run the triple option. The Buckeyes average 114.0 passing yards per game and are completing just 47.5 percent of their passing attempts. They've thrown for just 1,254 yards and 23 percent of that - 293 - came in the opener against FCS member Youngstown State. The second-highest total was 189 yards, in the second game, against Toledo; that means that almost 40 percent of their season passing total came in the first two games. The Buckeyes have reached their per-game average just once in the past six games, and they've thrown for fewer than 100 yards in five of the past six games and six times total this season. Ohio State has completed 34 passes combined in the past six games. An offense that one-dimensional is not going to be enough to beat Michigan next week, which means the Wolverines look to be in excellent shape to snap their seven-game losing streak in the series.

A sort of surreal occurrence Saturday at Ole Miss when LSU took a knee rather than score another touchdown - and it happened with more than five minutes left in the game. LSU led 52-3 and had a first-and-goal from Ole Miss' 1 with 5:10 left. The Tigers then took a knee on four consecutive snaps. Ole Miss took over on its 10 and was able to run out the final 3:03. "Victory was assured," LSU coach Les Miles said. "There was no reason to take snaps at that point." Frankly, victory was assured when LSU CB Ron Brooks intercepted Ole Miss' first pass of the day and returned it for a TD less than a minute into the game, but we get Miles' point. Ole Miss (2-9) closes out its season - and coach Houston Nutt's tenure - at Mississippi State next Saturday. The Rebels are trying to avoid the first 10-loss season in school history.

Arkansas State (to the GoDaddy.Com Bowl) and BYU (to the Armed Forces Bowl) officially accepted bowl invitations Saturday. BYU's invitation was assured as soon as the Cougars won their sixth game. Arkansas State clinched at least a tie for the Sun Belt title with its victory over Middle Tennessee, and the Red Wolves will be making just their second bowl appearance; the first was in 2005 in the New Orleans Bowl. Their acceptance of the GoDaddy.com bid means Louisiana-Lafayette will be the Sun Belt's representative in the New Orleans Bowl. It will be ULL's first-ever bowl appearance.

There were four FBS-FCS matchups Saturday, all involving SEC teams. Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina each beat a FCS opponent; that makes FBS teams 91-6 against FCS competition. The losers are Minnesota (to North Dakota State), UNLV (to Southern Utah), New Mexico (to Sam Houston State in overtime), Western Kentucky (to Indiana State), Duke (to Richmond) and Oregon State (to Sacramento State). Western Kentucky is the only FBS team that lost to an FCS opponent that is bowl-eligible. The others have combined for 11 total victories.

Staying with FCS, Sam Houston State is the No. 1 seed in the 20-team FCS playoff field, which was announced Sunday. Sam Houston State (11-0) is the only unbeaten team in the division. North Dakota State is seeded second, with Georgia Southern third, Montana fourth and Northern Iowa fifth. The first round is Saturday, with four games; the winners of those four contests move on to take on the top 12 seeds in the field (though the NCAA seeds only through fifth). The final is Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas - which is three weeks after the semifinals are played on Dec. 16 and 17. The Colonial received the most bids, with five. But the league has none of the top five seeds, and Towson - the equivalent of the No. 7 seed - is the best. The Missouri Valley got two bids, and both are seeded in the top five (North Dakota State and Northern Iowa). The Southern, Southland, Big Sky and Ohio Valley also received two bids. Defending champ Eastern Washington finished tied for third in the Big Sky and did not get a bid.

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

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