News, thoughts and more from the world of college sports across the nation and Long Island.
College Football: Games to watch
ACC Championship game
No. 20 Duke (10-2) vs. No. 1 Florida State (12-0), 8:00: This certainly isn’t the matchup most people expected this season. But Duke fans will take it. The Blue Devils surged into the ACC title game thanks to an eight-game winning streak that included victories over Virginia Tech, Miami and rival North Carolina. How did Duke do it? They did it with heady quarterback play from Anthony Boone. Boone, who has thrown for 530 yards, 5 TDs and no interceptions his last two games, could make Florida State sweat a little. Duke’s rushing attack has been balanced, with Jela Duncan and Josh Snead combining for 1,076 yards. Backup quarterback Brandon Connette, who started four games this season, is an excellent runner (329 yds, 13 TDs) could also be a factor for Duke.
Defensively, Duke has done just enough to win games, surrendering 20 or more points in five of their last six games. The Blue Devils will need to get to Jameis Winston and force a few early turnovers to keep it close. That won’t be easy to do against a Florida State team that can run as well as it can pass.
For those who might believe Winston will succumb to all the emotion and negative press surrounding his sexual assault case, think again. If anything, Winston and the Seminoles have been more focused than ever. It’s difficult to envision Florida State, which has accumulated 6,313 yards in total offense, having any problems scoring on Duke. This isn’t to say Winston is invincible. The redshirt freshman, despite throwing for 325 yards and a TD in a win over Miami, struggled a bit as he threw two interceptions. The Hurricanes got to the Seminoles with some early pressure.
Whether Duke can do the same remains to be seem, especially if the Seminoles decide to run the ball early. Between Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr., there isn’t a team in the country Florida State can’t run on. If Duke stacks the box, Winston will have a choice of receivers to throw to. Rashad Greene (914 yds, 9 TDs), Kenny Shaw (855 yds, 5 TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (838 yds, 12 TDs) is arguably the top WR trio in the country. Pick your poison Duke.
BIG Ten Championship game
No. 2 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No. 10 Michigan State (11-1), 8:17: For Ohio State, this game is all about Braxton Miller. Michigan State (11.8 scoring D) is fourth in the country nationally in scoring defense. It’s no fluke. The Spartans are tough up front and have enough talent to stay with most teams on the outside. That notwithstanding, Michigan State hasn’t faced a quarterback of Miller’s caliber. That means Spartans DE Shilique Calhoun (7 sacks) and linebacker Denicos Allen (5.5 sacks) will need to put the pressure on Miller early and often.
Michigan State’s offense is another story. The Spartans have shown they can score, but the consistency has been lacking. Michigan State’s offense managed just 324 yards in a 14-3 win over Minnesota last week. An argument can be made the Spartans, who had a spot in the Big Ten title claim clinched before the Minnesota game, were just going through the motions. They can’t do that against an Ohio State offense that averages 48 points per game. Miller has 1,759 yards passing, 21 TDs and just 5 INTs. He’s been equally as impressive on the ground with 891 yards and 8 scores.
Can the Spartans slow down his running? Yes. Michigan State has a stout front seven. But Miller won’t just run all day. He’ll hit either Devin Smith or Philly Brown if the Michigan State secondary gets caught looking in the backfield. There is also Jeff Heuerman to throw two. With a trip to the BCS title game on the line, expect Ohio State to be supremely focused.
SEC Championship game
No. 5 Missouri (11-1) vs. No. 3 Auburn (11-1), 4:00 p.m.: There’s no doubt these teams will play like a trip to the national championship game is on the line. And they just might be. An Ohio State loss could open the door for either of these squads. Auburn got a ton of credit for beating Alabama. An argument can be made that Missouri might be better. Missouri’s one loss –in double OT to South Carolina (27-24)– came without its starting quarterback James Franklin. After that the Tigers blew out Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and then beat Texas A&M.
Missouri also crushed Georgia and Florida (when Florida was still decent). Get the picture? Many people have already put Auburn in the BCS title game. Not so fast. Missouri’s offense has operated like a machine this year, even without Franklin (1,953 16 TDs, 4 INT), who missed four games with a bad shoulder. The Tigers’ offense (252 passing, 236 rushing) is about as balanced as you’ll see anywhere in the country. Their top three rushers have combined for 2,139 yards and 26 TDs, while Franklin has 412 yards on the ground and three scores.
Auburn’s rushing attack is second to none. And the Tigers proved etched that statement in stone after running all over Alabama for 296 yards. And don’t think Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall can’t make a play in the passing game. His 39-yard scoring pass to Sammie Coates that tied the score at 28 set up Chris Davis’ 100-yard return. Marshall completed 11 of 16 passes in the win.
Auburn’s defense, which struggled at times early in the season, will need to fix any holes very quickly. As uplifting as the Tigers’ win over Alabama was, they still allowed a 99-yard TD pass. They also gave up 532 total yards in a 43-38 win over Georgia. Granted Georgia QB Aaron Murray is one o the best, he ripped Auburn’s defense for 415 yards and 2 TDs.
PAC-12 Championship game: No. 7 Stanford (10-2) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (10-2), 7:45: Arizona State, one of the hottest teams in the country, hasn’t been this good since Jake Plummer was quarterback. There are no national title hopes on the line for Stanford, but a trip to the Rose Bowl will suffice.
No. 17 Oklahoma @ No. 6 Oklahoma State, Noon: The scenario for Oklahoma State is simple: win and the Cowboys go to a BCS Bowl game. Lose and you’re off to a bowl game no one will remember. The best Oklahoma can do is play spoiler.
No. 25 Texas (8-3) @ No. 9 Baylor (10-1), 3:30: Both teams have a chance at the Big 12 title and automatic BCS Bowl game bid if Oklahoma State loses. The Baylor’s defense has faltered recently, expect a high scoring affair. Definitely take the over in this one.