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December 3, 2008

Five to Watch: Championship Saturday

Championship week will have a familiar look, but the stakes Saturday will be a little different from years past.

In the SEC, Alabama and Florida meet for the sixth time in the conference championship game; for the fourth time, the game has national championship implications.

The Big 12 and ACC will have rematches in their conference title games. Virginia Tech and Boston College meet in the ACC game, while a potential national championship game participant will play in the Big 12 game. This time, though, it's Oklahoma and not Missouri with the most to lose.

All times Eastern.

FIVE TO WATCH
C-USA title game: East Carolina at Tulsa

When: Noon
TV: ESPN2
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Andre Ware analyst
Line: Tulsa by 13.5
Why you should watch: At one point this season, both teams were considered potential BCS-busters. ECU started the season with wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, but the Pirates didn't beat a team with a winning record the rest of the way and come in with four losses. Tulsa won its first eight games, then dropped two in a row and needed help on the last day of the season to win the West Division. Tulsa can move the ball; it leads the nation in total offense at 578.9 yards per game and has scored at least 49 points in each of its six home games this season. ECU is Conference USA's top defensive team, leading the league in total defense and scoring defense. But the Pirates have topped 20 points only once in the past five games, so keeping Tulsa's high-tempo offense off the field will be critical.

ACC title game in Tampa, Fla.: Boston College vs. Virginia Tech

When: 1 p.m.
TV: ABC
Broadcasters: Brad Nessler play-by-play, Bob Griese and Paul Maguire analysts
Line: Boston College by 1
Why you should watch: If you thought the Big East's additions to the ACC would cause a changing of the guard at the top of the league, this probably isn't what you had in mind. The Hokies and Eagles meet in the championship game for the second consecutive season. Virginia Tech is here for the third time. BC beat the Hokies earlier this season at home. The Eagles also beat the Hokies in the regular season last year, but Tech rebounded to win the ACC title. This game will have considerably less fanfare than a year ago. Neither team is in the top 15; both were last season. Neither team has a Matt Ryan at quarterback not even close. Boston College is down to a backup making his second career start, and Virginia Tech is grasping for anything under center from Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon.

SEC title game in Atlanta: Alabama vs. Florida

When: 4 p.m.
TV: CBS
Broadcasters: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Gary Danielson analyst
Line: Florida by 10
Why you should watch: The stakes in this one are enormous, with the winner almost certainly headed to the BCS Championship Game. Six SEC title game winners have gone on to win the national championship, including the past two. Florida leads the league in most offensive categories; Alabama leads in most defensive categories. This will be the best offense Alabama has faced and the best defense Florida has faced. Florida leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-21.

USC at UCLA

When: 4:30 p.m.
TV: ABC
Broadcasters: Mike Patrick play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst
Line: USC by 30
Why you should watch: Laugh at the point spread and scoff at the game's inclusion among the top games of the week if you're so inclined. But this is the kind of game USC has lost over the past few years. The Trojans are on the road as a massive favorite in a game that probably doesn't mean much in terms of the national championship race. The last time these teams met at the Rose Bowl, in 2006, UCLA stunned USC 13-9 to knock the Trojans out of the national championship race. This UCLA team isn't as good as that one, though, especially on offense. An interesting sideshow will be the first meeting between Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel. UCLA ran an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times in August stating, "The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles is Officially Over." Not quite. USC is still Boardwalk and UCLA is Baltic Avenue.

Big 12 title game in Kansas City, Mo.: Missouri vs. Oklahoma

When: 8 p.m.
TV: ABC
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
Line: Oklahoma by 16.5
Why you should watch: Missouri's biggest fans will be in Austin, but history doesn't appear to be on the Tigers' or Longhorns' side. Oklahoma swept the Tigers last season Missouri's only two losses and has lost to Missouri only once since 1984. Mizzou QB Chase Daniel has thrown one touchdown pass and six interceptions in three games against Oklahoma. Still, the Big 12 Championship Game has been interesting when it comes to the BCS. In 2003, Kansas State upset Oklahoma, which went on to lose in the national title game anyway. In 2001, Colorado beat Texas, but North Division runner-up Nebraska went on to lose in the national championship game. Two other times, a team blew a chance to go to the national championship game with a loss in the Big 12 title game Missouri in 2007 and Kansas State in 1998.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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