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Fearless predictions: Week 14

MAC Championship
No. 25 Northern Illinois vs. Miami (Ohio) (+17.5) at Ford Field in Detroit:
The winner gets the MAC’s automatic bid to the Little Caesars Bowl. Miami (Ohio) has been a nice story this season after going 2-10 in 2008 and 1-11 in 2009. Northern Illinois is on a nine-game winning streak and has been on a serious roll lately, scoring 65, 59 and 71 points in its last three games. The Huskies have the seventh-best rushing offense in the nation (279 yards per game), with Chad Spann 17th in individual rushing (1,239 yards and 20 touchdowns). Miami (Ohio) is 24th nationally in rushing defense (124 yards per game). Northern Illinois hasn’t been stopped by any MAC team this season so it’s hard to pick against the Huskies.
The pick: Northern Illinois 34, Miami (Ohio) 20

Rutgers at No. 24 West Virginia (-20.5):
West Virginia needs to win and Connecticut needs to lose for the Mountaineers to win the Big East title. Rutgers has lost five straight and has allowed 109 points in it last two games. The West Virginia offensive combination of Geno Smith, Noel Devine and Tavon Austin could make this game ugly early. Also, West Virginia’s defense is only allowing 13 points per game.
The pick: West Virginia 42, Rutgers 10

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-2): Pittsburgh still has an outside shot of winning the Big East. The Panthers need to win and then hope for losses by Connecticut and West Virginia. If that scenario plays out, the Panthers would be heading to a BCS bowl at just 7-5. It’s going to be interesting to see which Panthers team shows up for this game. Will it be the team still hurting from last week’s 35-10 loss to West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl? Or will it be the team playing for a Big East title? Cincinnati has some good offensive players, led by quarterback Zach Collaros (2,793 yards, 25 touchdowns). I expect a high-scoring game. I just don’t expect Pittsburgh to be over last week.
The pick: Cincinnati 41, Pittsburgh 38

Conference USA Championship
SMU vs. Central Florida (-9) at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando:
The winner gets a bid to the Liberty Bowl. Central Florida has been the best team in Conference USA all season, losing just once to Southern Mississippi. The Knights have won seven of eight. Central Florida is averaging 35 points and 197 rushing yards per game. SMU is 20th in the nation in passing yards (278 per game). Kyle Padron has thrown for 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns. The Knights will also need to stop Conference USA rushing leader Zach Line (1,297 yards, 10 touchdowns). Central Florida has the best defense in the conference, allowing just 318 yards of total offense per game.
The pick: Central Florida 34, SMU 17

No. 2 Oregon at Oregon State (+16.5): The Civil War has extra meaning for the Ducks this season. Oregon has already clinched the Pac-10. A win over Oregon State puts the Ducks in the BCS national title game. Rivalry games are tricky because anything can happen. Think back a few years ago to when Pittsburgh upset West Virginia and kept the Mountaineers out of the national title game. That won’t happen here. Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in total offense (542 yards per game). Oregon State gives up over 400 yards per game. Oregon may start slow, like it did last week against Arizona, but once Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and the offense get going, watch out.
The pick: Oregon 44, Oregon State 17

SEC Championship
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 19 South Carolina (+5.5) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta:
First, let’s toss out the Cam Newton off the field issues and NCAA ruling from this week. Newton is eligible and will play in this game. Auburn needs to win this game to earn a spot in the BCS national title game. This won’t be an easy game. South Carolina played Auburn tough earlier in the season, losing 35-27. The Gamecocks are physical and have a balanced offense with quarterback Stephen Garcia, star freshman running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Plus, South Carolina’s defense doesn’t get a lot of hype, but it’s a pretty good group. Auburn dug out of a 24-0 hole and beat Alabama, 28-27, in an epic comeback win in Tuscaloosa last Friday. At this point, it’s hard to go against Newton and the Tigers. Teams have come close to beating Auburn, but haven’t done it. But expect Steve Spurrier to have South Carolina ready for this game. Garcia could be the big key since Spurrier will likely want to attack Auburn’s weak secondary (ranked 106th nationally).  The real key here is stopping Newton. If the Gamecocks can do that, we’ll have an upset. The problem is that Newton hasn’t been stopped. Newton brought the Tigers back against Alabama. Enough said. While I anticipate a very close game and strong showing from South Carolina, Newton and Auburn are on a magical ride this season.
The pick: Auburn 30, South Carolina 27

ACC Championship
No. 21 Florida State vs. No. 15 Virginia Tech (-4) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte:
Virginia Tech comes into the game on a 10-game winning streak. But Hokies head coach Frank Beamer is 1-8 against Florida State in his career. This, however, will be his first game against Jimbo Fisher, who replaced Bobby Bowden this season. In 2005, Florida State upset Virginia Tech to win the ACC title and gain the automatic BCS bid. The winner of this game is headed to the Orange Bowl. Florida State has been very streaky this season. After getting blown out at Oklahoma, the Seminoles won five straight, including a big win over Miami (Fla.). Florida State then lost two straight and is now on a three-game winning streak, including a win 31-7 over Florida last week. Both teams have pretty balanced offenses and very good quarterbacks – Tyrod Taylor for Virginia Tech and Christian Ponder for Florida State. The key matchup comes down to the Hokies’ ability to run the football. Virginia Tech averages 211 rushing yards per game, while Florida State has been very good this season at stopping the run. Both teams are playing well, but it’s hard to ignore the roll Virginia Tech is on.
The pick: Virginia Tech 27, Florida 24

Big 12 Championship
No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Nebraska (+6) at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington:
It’s fitting that in Nebraska’s final season in the Big 12 the two longtime rivals meet for the conference title. Even before the Big 12, Nebraska and Oklahoma were heated rivals in the old Big Eight Conference. The winner heads to the Fiesta Bowl. The key to this game will be Nebraska star quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is still battling an ankle injury. It’s not even a sure thing that Martinez plays. If Martinez does play, he probably won’t be 100 percent. That will be huge for Nebraska, which will struggle on offense without Martinez. Oklahoma has a ton of talent on offense with Landry Jones, who has thrown for nearly 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns, leading the way. Oklahoma could be without star running back DeMarco Murray, who injured his knee last week against Oklahoma State. Nebraska would like nothing better than to avenge last year’s Big 12 title game loss to Texas and leave the conference with a championship. But the Sooners probably have just enough offense to pull this out against a stout Nebraska defense.
The pick: Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 17

Connecticut at South Florida (-1.5): Connecticut wins the Big East title and gets the conference’s automatic BCS bid with a win over the Bulls. The Huskies were 3-4 at one point this season before going on a four-game winning streak, including wins over West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Connecticut’s Jordan Todman is second in the nation, averaging 148 rushing yards per game. South Florida has been a tricky team to figure out this season. But one thing I do know: the offense isn’t very explosive, averaging around 310 total yards per game. Starting quarterback B.J. Daniels is questionable with a leg injury.
The pick: Connecticut 24, South Florida 20

USC at UCLA (+6.5): This is still a big rivalry game. The stakes, however, are significantly lower these days. Neither team will play in an actual bowl game so this becomes a de facto bowl game for the Trojans and Bruins. USC quarterback Matt Barkley is expected to start, despite a sprained ankle. How effective Barkley is will be a key part of this game. Still, USC should have the talent advantage all over the field.
The pick: USC 27, UCLA 17

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