This had to be what the powers that be in the ACC expected when they gave the all clear for expansion a few years ago. The only way this match up could be more underwhelming for the TV execs would be if Wake was taking on Duke. As it stand, either Wake or Georgia Tech will earn an Orange Bowl bid sometime Saturday afternoon. While neither is likely the best team in the ACC (than honor belongs to the Hokies who have turned their season completely around since the stunning pasting at the hands of Boston College.), the Deacons or Jackets will not be an embarrassment to the BCS like Pitt was 2 seasons ago.
While Riley Skinner has been the story for the Demon Deacons, their turnaround from 4-7 to 10-2 also has a lot to do with the improved defense. With the exception of the Clemson and Maryland games, Wake has done an excellent job of stopping the run, allowing a shade more than 3 yards per rush. They have also been opportunistic, picking off 20 passes and forcing 23 fumbles. They have actually been a little unlucky when it come to fumble recoveries, only falling on the ball 7 of those 23 times (the average is about 50%).
For Georgia Tech, the story is the same as it has been for the past few seasons. The Jackets are carried by their defense (always in the top quartile in the NCAA under Jon Tenuta), but are held back by inconsistency at the quarterback position. Reggie Ball has played better in this his senior year, throwing a career high 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. However, he is completing only 46% of his passes. The Jackets do have an improved running game led by Tashard Choice and his 1200+ yards.
Prediction: In their recent history, Georgia Tech has proven they can beat anyone (except Georgia) and lose to anyone. In what should be a closely contested battle, Wake will edge Georgia Tech and win their first conference championship since 1970. Skinner’s number of pass attempts in the Sunday morning box score will tell the story of this game. In Wake’s losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech, and their near (should have) loss to Duke, Skinner threw 82 passes (27.3 per game). In the other 8 games he has thrown 119 passes (14.9 per game). If Skinner’s pass total climbs very much above 20, the game will probably not have gone the Deacons way.
With so much drama in the SEC, it’s kinda hard being Run DMC. Great nickname for a great player (courtesy of Mark May). Darren McFadden and Felix Jones should be poised for a big game on the turf of the Georgia Dome. McFadden and Jones will get their yards, but the question remains: Can the Razorbacks throw the ball (besides the throws from the ‘Wildcat’ formation by McFadden)? Prior to the calamity against LSU (3 for 17 for 29 yards a pick and a touchdown), Casey Dick had actually played well since taking over for Mitch Mustain against South Carolina. In the 3 games leading up to the LSU loss, against South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi State (3 pretty good defenses), Dick had completed 57% of his passes for 494 yards (9.7 per pass) with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. While no one will confuse him with Colt Brennan or Brady Quinn, Dick is a competent D-I quarterback.
On the other sideline, the Florida Gators have been carried by their defense and a good bit of luck. Despite the fact that in Meyer’s two previous stops, the offense dramatically improved in his second season, the Gators appear to have actually regressed. Last season, the Gators averaged 28.6 points per game. This season they are averaging 28.1 points per game. The difference is more pronounced in conference play. Last season the Gators averaged 25.6 points in conference play. This season that number is down to 22.3 points per game. This season the Gators are 5-1 in close games (decided by 8 or less). I’m counting the Auburn game in this analysis since it was close until the final play. The Gators seem to have been living on borrowed time for a few weeks now, winning 4 of their last 5 by a touchdown or less.
Prediction: Arkansas gets back into the good graces of the AP voters and helps the nation avoid a small controversy by beating Florida. Even if the Gators win, they won’t deserve a spot over So Cal or Michigan in the BCS title game.
Believe it or not, it’s been 7 years since Nebraska last appeared in the Big12 Championship Game. That 1999 Huskers squad dominated the Texas Longhorns 22-6 to game a measure of revenge for two separate losses that probably cost the Huskers two chances for a national championship (in 1996 and earlier in 1999). This season, the Huskers are slight underdogs against an Oklahoma team that if not for a bad call against Oregon may have a case for the #2 spot in the BCS.
Nebraska is completely made over from their last North Division title team. Long gone are the option, run-first Huskers. In their place is a dynamic passing attack, coupled with a still strong running game. Senior quarterback Zac Taylor has 6 times as many touchdown passes (24) as interceptions. If only he’d start throwing sidearm, yell at his receivers after every play, and throw 5 picks in the biggest game of his life, he’d be the reincarnation of Rich Gannon.
The Oklahoma Sooners return to the title game after a one year absence. They are making their 5 title game appearance in 7 years. To say Bob Stoops has owned the Big 12 South is an understatement. Don’t be fooled though, this Sooners squad is not quite as strong as the one that ran roughshod over the Big 12 from 2000-2004. During that span, Oklahoma outscored its opponents by nearly 22 points per game. This season Oklahoma has won its games by a little over 14 per contest. Still a good figure to be sure, just not the juggernaut they were a few years ago.
When Adrian Peterson went down in the sixth game of the season, Oklahoma stood at 4-2 with 4 games left against teams with winning records, including 3 on the road. To say the Sooners have circled the wagons is an understatement. Since Peterson got hurt at the end of the sixth game, that makes it very easy to analyze the Sooners rush attack with and without him. In the 6 games A.P. played in the Sooners averaged 4.66 yards per rush. In the six games since his injury, the Sonners have averaged 4.57 yards per rush. Is A.P. a great player? Yes. But is he indispensable to the Sooners offense? No.
Prediction: The Sooners are not the dominant force they were just two years ago. The primary reason is they lack the superstar quarterback they featured in Jason White and Josh Heupel. Paul Thompson is steady, but not in their league. Still, the Sooners are a well-coached, defensive-minded team. They’ll beat the Huskers rather easily.