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College Football Saturday Preview: Conf. Championship Weekend

With one big game on Friday night, here are the five college football games you should be watching this weekend, conference championship or not.

UCLA vs. Stanford (Friday, 8pm ET, FOX)

The Cardinal and Bruins will be playing for the second time in six days and this time there’s a Rose Bowl berth on the line. 

If this game isn’t already intriguing enough then you should watch the Bruins post-game press conference after their 35-17 loss to Stanford on Saturday. An L.A. Times reporter blasted head coach Jim Mora Jr., accusing him of essentially tanking the game in order to avoid playing Oregon this week, opting for a rematch against Stanford instead.  All of that aside, it’s undoubtedly a tough task to beat the same opponent twice in six days so Stanford has their work cut out for them. 

The game plan for both teams is fairly straight forward.  For UCLA, protecting QB Brett Hundley is monumental.  Hundley was sacked seven times by the Cardinal defense on Saturday.  That is seven too many.  If the offensive line can do their job then Hundley can do what he does best and make plays both through the air while also feeding the ball to standout back Johnathan Franklin. 

For Stanford, continuing their recent hot streak means getting to the QB again.  If Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov and co. are able to maintain pressure on the Bruins signal-caller then it allows running back Stepfan Taylor to take more control of the game. 

UCLA’s last trip to the Rose Bowl was in 1998 and Stanford’s last trip was in 1999. A win for either could do wonders for their football program for years to come.

 

Alabama vs. Georgia (Saturday, 4pm ET, CBS)

There is no bigger conference championship game this week than the SEC championship in Atlanta.  The ultimate prize is up for grabs – a trip to Miami and the BCS National Championship game. 

Both of these teams are extremely well balanced and both defenses play as tough as any in the country.  With the amount of talent spread out all over the field between these two schools the key should lie with the quarterbacks.  However, there isn’t much separation between the two in this respect either as Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray and Tide QB A.J. McCarron currently rank first and second, respectively, in the country in passer rating.  The two have a combined 55 touchdown passes to just nine interceptions this year so efficiency should be high and mistakes should be held to a minimum.  Murray will have more to prove though as he has had a habit for being slightly rusty in big games the last couple of years. 

Mistakes or no mistakes, we’re in for a good one here.

 

Louisville vs. Rutgers (Thursday, 7:30pm ET, ESPN)

We can call this game a de-facto Big East championship as the winner here will be headed to the Orange Bowl in January. 

Louisville has been the best team in the Big East all year long, led by terrific signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater (3,189 yards passing, 23 TD), but has also lost two straight and has been plagued by a couple of big injuries lately. 

Rutgers ranks fourth nationally, allowing only 13.7 points per game on defense this year and is led by do-it-all senior linebacker Khaseem Greene (115 TKL, 10 TFL, 5.5 SK, 6 FF), but they’ve also looked miserable recently and are coming off of a 27-6 shellacking at the hands of Pittsburgh last weekend. 

So which 9-2 team will show up for the big game?  That’s why they play the games and that’s why we watch.

 

Texas vs. Kansas State (Saturday, 8pm ET, ABC)

There’s quite a lot on the line in the last week of the Big 12 season for the Longhorns and the Wildcats, believe it or not. 

For the Wildcats a win could mean just their third Big 12 conference championship in the school’s history while Texas is attempting not to end a second consecutive season on a low note.  It is safe to say that both of these teams were thoroughly embarrassed in their most recent outings so this game should see much-improved performances from both sides. 

Texas is coming off of a loss to TCU on Thanksgiving in which QB David Ash committed three turnovers in the first half.  The Longhorns have also allowed over 49 points per game to the top three offenses in the Big 12 this season.

Kansas State is fourth in the Big 12, averaging over 40 points per game so it isn’t looking good for the Longhorns this weekend.  Add to that the rib injury to QB David Ash, which will not allow him to play in this game and it could be a recipe for disaster.  Kansas State, meanwhile, will be looking to rebound from a humiliating loss at the hands of Baylor in Waco a couple of weeks back.  The Bears put up 52 points on the Wildcats, so Arthur Brown and the rest of the defense will have something to prove Saturday against the Longhorns. 

Kansas State’s Heisman hopeful QB Collin Klein put it best: “As a senior, for all of us as seniors, being able to finish strong is what we want, no doubt”.

 

Northern Illinois vs. Kent State (Friday, 7pm ET, ESPN2)

Will someone please recognize how great these two MAC teams have been this year?  Emerging from virtually nowhere this season, the MAC’s NIU Huskies and Kent State Golden Flashes now have a legitimate chance to crash the BCS party. 

To understand how this is possible you must first know about the play of possibly the two most dynamic playmakers in the entire country – NIU junior QB Jordan Lynch and Kent State junior RB Dri Archer. 

Lynch has set the football world afire this season, ranking second in the country in total offense with 4,361 yards of offense.  He has also set an FBS record for a QB by rushing for 100 or more yards in 10 consecutive games and NIU’s only loss of the entire season came in the opening weekend to Iowa by one point in Chicago. 

For the Kent State Golden Flashes it’s all about the running game.  They have a pair of 1,000-yards rushers this season and the most vital of that pair is junior RB Dri Archer.  Archer has been clocked at running a legitimate sub-4.3-second forty yard dash and his play this season reveals that in spades as he ranks fourth in the FBS in all-purpose running with 2,364 yards.  Archer leads his team in both rushing and receiving yards and averages almost 10 yards per carry on the ground (9.69).  Those are high school-type numbers in major collegiate football, folks.  He is hands-down the most explosive running threat in the country and NFL scouts will confirm this as they have attended many of KSU’s games this season for the sole purpose of watching Archer. 

Both of these teams ran the table in their respective MAC divisions this season and now both are looking to run head-first into the BCS picture.

 
Brian Vornberg is the lead college football writer for CraveOnline Sports. Follow Brian on Twitter @briberg14 or subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.

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