" 'Ass' is okay providing you're riding into town on a religious feast day."
With so much on the line in Saturday night's game between top–ranked Notre Dame and unranked Southern California, I suppose churches can be forgiven for getting into the act.
It's a big rivalry, anyway, but with a trip to the national championship game hanging in the balance for one — and the desire to deprive the first of that honor motivating the second — I suppose the stakes were just too great.
Well, Notre Dame won the game and, presumably, will be in the title game.
But it remains to be seen who will play against the Irish in January.
Logic says it will be the winner of the SEC Championship game between #2 Alabama and #3 Georgia tomorrow. And I would tend to agree with that — if Alabama wins the game. But if Georgia wins, I think a compelling case could be made for #5 Florida even though Georgia will almost certainly wind up facing Notre Dame if the Bulldogs defeat Alabama (who, it is worth noting, went on to play for and win the national championship last season even though the Crimson Tide did not play for the SEC title).
The Gators are 11–1, same as Georgia and Alabama. They did lose their head–to–head matchup with Georgia a month ago (17–9), but they hammered a South Carolina team that had hammered Georgia two weeks before.
And the Gators did something Alabama couldn't do. They beat Texas A&M on the road. Alabama couldn't beat the Aggies at home.
The stakes are high in the SEC Championship game. The winner, of course, is widely expected to face Notre Dame in the championship game.
But the loser?
Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal–Constitution contends that the loser of Saturday's game will take a considerable tumble in the bowl picture even though it will only be the second loss for whichever team comes up short.
Idle: #1 Notre Dame, #4 Ohio State, #5 Florida, #6 Oregon, #9 LSU, #10 Texas A&M, #11 South Carolina, #15 Clemson, #16 Oregon, #20 Utah State, #21 Michigan, #22 Northwestern
- MAC Championship: #19 Northern Illinois at #18 Kent State, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Neither of these 11–1 teams has lost since early September.
Kent State has a 10–game winning streak on the line, and Northern Illinois has an 11–game winning streak at risk.
They didn't play each other this season so there is no head–to–head outcome to give us guidance.
Historically, the series belongs to Northern Illinois, which has never lost to Kent State on its home turf (10–0). Unfortunately for the Huskies, the game is being played at Kent State. Northern Illinois has been very successful there, too — 6–3 — but not quite as successful.
The teams don't play every year, but Northern Illinois has only lost at Kent once in 30 years. And Northern Illinois has only lost once to Kent State — no matter where the game has been played — in their last 10 meetings.
That doesn't bode well for the Golden Flashes although the game should be quite a conference showcase.
Half a dozen backs racked up 1,000 yards or more this season, and three (Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch and Kent State's Dri Archer and Trayion Durham) will be suiting up for the championship.
Lynch was also the MAC's fifth–best passer — which would be expected, I guess, from the nation's 16th–best offense (Kent was 63rd).
Northern Illinois also has the better defense (ranked #7 in the nation compared to Kent's #73 ranking).
I pick Northern Illinois.
- Pac–12 Championship: #17 UCLA at #8 Stanford, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These teams have been playing each other every year since the end of World War II.
And it's tempting, given the fact that these teams played each other last weekend, to predict a repeat of what happened in Los Angeles last Saturday.
To refresh your memory, Stanford won that game, 35–17. It was Stanford's second consecutive win on UCLA's home turf.
Now the scene shifts to the north, to Stanford's home turf — where UCLA has won only twice in the last 15 years.
UCLA might have the offense to get the job done. The Bruins ranked 21st in the nation (Stanford ranked 83rd). And if the game turns into a shootout, one would expect UCLA to have the upper hand. After all, offense — not defense — has long been the conference's strength.
But if it turns out to be a defensive struggle, Stanford has the advantage. Stanford ranks 19th in the nation; UCLA is 77th.
The weather may dictate which it is.
The forecast for tonight is temperatures in the 50s with an 80% chance of rain (after a day in which the probability of rain is 100%). That suggests that defense may dominate on a sloppy field.
It's awfully hard for one football team to beat another twice in one year, but I will pick Stanford to pull it off.
- SEC Championship: #3 Georgia vs. #2 Alabama, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Playing in the SEC Championship game is not a new experience for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide has played in seven since the conference title game made its debut in 1992 — more appearances than any other SEC West team and all against Florida.
Georgia is no stranger to the SEC Championship game, either. The Bulldogs will be playing in their fifth.
You would think that these schools would be natural border rivals, but the truth is they haven't faced each other since 2008.
And even if they faced each other every year, there are at least three other schools that Alabama has long–standing rivalries with — LSU, Auburn and Florida.
Alabama is one of those schools that is everyone's rival when the Crimson Tide appears on the schedule.
Georgia's been good this season, but Alabama has the nation's best defense. And the SEC has always been a bastion for great defense. Georgia's offense is ranked 24th, which is pretty good, but how effective can it be against the best defense in the land?
Alabama's offense is ranked 43rd, which isn't bad, but Georgia's defense is ranked 22nd in the nation — all of which suggests a low–scoring contest.
And I'm going to predict that, in an upset, Georgia will win.
- #23 Texas at #7 Kansas State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: There aren't many schools that can claim to have the upper hand in a series with Texas.
But Kansas State can. The Wildcats are 7–5 against the Longhorns, and they're 6–2 against UT since the formation of the Big 12 in the mid–'90s.
K–State might still be mentioned — probably would be — in the national championship conversation if not for the 52–24 loss that Baylor hung on the Wildcats last weekend. That, alone, should provide plenty of motivation for the Wildcats.
When Texas has the ball, the Longhorns' #33 offense should be evenly matched with K–State's #40 defense. When Kansas State has the ball, it seems likely the Wildcats will have the edge. Their offense is ranked only #55, but Texas' woeful defense is ranked #79.
I think Kansas State will win the game.
- #12 Oklahoma at TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is the first time these teams have faced each other as members of the same conference, but they are hardly strangers.
They have played 11 times in the past, and Oklahoma leads the series, 7–4.
TCU has a good team, but I'm not sure the Frogs have what it takes to beat OU, even at home.
The marquee matchup should occur when OU has the ball. The Sooners' offense is ninth in the nation, but it should be adequately tested by TCU's defense, which is ranked 14th.
The Sooner' #44 defense should be evenly matched with TCU's offense (#55), which leads me to believe the Sooners will have the upper hand.
I pick Oklahoma.
- ACC Championship: #13 Florida State at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is kind of an odd series.
From 1955 to 1975, Georgia Tech was 6–0–1 against Florida State, but then the Seminoles reeled off 12 straight wins from 1992 to 2003.
The teams didn't play again until 2008, but Tech won that year and again in 2009. They haven't played since.
Georgia Tech lost its leading rusher, Orwin Smith, to a sprained ankle against Georgia last Saturday, but he hopes to be back in the lineup for the ACC Championship game.
That would be good news for Tech fans, whose 28th–ranked offense likely will struggle with Florida State's second–ranked defense even with Smith in the lineup. Tech's 59th–ranked defense, meanwhile, can be expected to have a hard time containing Florida State's 19th–ranked offense.
I think Florida State will win the game.
- Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin at #14 Nebraska, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: If you're a fan of defense, this might be the game for you.
Both defenses rank in the Top 15 nationally (Wisconsin is #11, Nebraska is #15). Nebraska's offense (#24) seems much better equipped to handle that challenge than Wisconsin's (#84).
As a result, I have to pick Nebraska to win.
- #24 Oklahoma State at Baylor, 11 a.m. (Central) on FX: Oklahoma State has only lost to Baylor once since 1994, and the Cowboys currently have a six–game winning streak against the Bears.
The teams combined for 83 points in each of their last two meetings, but, if anything, their offenses appear to be capable of doing even better than that this time. Baylor is ranked second in the nation, OSU is ranked fifth.
But Baylor has the next–to–worst defense in the nation. The Bears were able to overcome that in their game with Kansas State next week, but I don't see how they can manage that two weeks in a row.
I pick Oklahoma State.
- #25 Boise State at Nevada, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It's really hard for me to see how Boise State can lose this game.
Historically, Boise dominates the series, leading 11–4. Boise has only lost to Nevada once since 1999.
Nevada, however, has the #10 offense in the land, which should make for some intriguing clashes when Boise's eighth–ranked defense is on the field.
Boise State's offense is only #79 in the country — a considerable tumble from recent years — but that should produce another even match since Nevada's defense is ranked 86th.
There's a natural inclination within me (as there is within many people) to pull for the underdog, and, if I watch this game on Saturday, I'll probably pull for Nevada since the Wolf Pack are almost certain to be the underdogs (given their history against Boise State).
But logic tells me Boise State will win.