So a lot’s riding on the game in Tucson on Saturday as the four schools joust for the chance to replace USC at the top of the Pac-10. I’m just not sold on Arizona as a viable conference championship contender. They’ve already gotten to play Washington State and UCLA, the bottom two of this league. They still have the road games ahead of them, meaning their schedule has been heavy on home cooking so far. And I don’t believe their defense is really championship caliber. I like Nic Foles at quarterback, but he’s not supported by enough help. He’s a less visible version of Jimmy Clausen. Whereas Oregon is a complete football team whose only losses are at Boise State and another at Stanford where they were caught in a post-USC letdown. The Ducks can run the ball with LaMichael James and Jeremiah Masoli can make plays if you key on the ground game. Homefield will keep this game competitive and worth watching, but I see Oregon keeping the hosts at arm’s length and winning by something akin to 34-20.
Oregon State should keep on their rivals’ heels with an easy road game at Washington State. The other big one in this league Saturday will be the renewal of the Cal-Stanford rivalry, this time in Palo Alto. Cal stepped up and beat Arizona last week to partially redeem what’s been a disappointing season and knocking their hated rival out of Rose Bowl contention would constitute the fullness of redemption. I feel like Cal has turned a corner and as much as I like and respect Stanford, I think they drop a heartbreaker here in their Pac-10 finale, say 21-17.
The ACC is another chaotic league coming close to some finality. Clemson need only defeat Virginia at home to secure the Atlantic Division and set up a December showdown with Georgia Tech. Like the Pac-10, if Clemson should fail, things become very interesting. Boston College has two games left, including this Saturday’s home date with North Carolina, and would suddenly control their own destiny for a third straight division title.
There are two problems with the Eagles’ scenario. The first is that Clemson is peaking right now. Running back C.J. Spiller is getting the media attention, but don’t forget that Kyle Parker is playing very consistent and steady football at quarterback. Virginia, on the other hand, seems to be completing a sandwich season. A horrible start and a horrible finish sandwiched around a decent middle run. Unfortunately for BC fans, we’re at the wrong end of the sandwich, and the Cavaliers should fall in Death Valley without a fight. The other problem with the scenario is BC themselves. They are not as good as North Carolina and even homefield advantage won’t save them on Saturday. And if they do get through that game, they’ve been inconsistent enough to make the subsequent trip to Maryland far from a real thing. The betting here is that Clemson locks it up with a win on Saturday and at worse, backs in either this week or next.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Virginia Tech & Miami are still angling for bowl positioning and even an outside shot at the BCS. (Long story, which we’ll touch on a little more tomorrow). Both have home games that should be a walk in the park. The Hokies have N.C. State, while the Hurricanes welcome Duke to town. Both take care of their business with little or no difficulty.
The other game in the ACC is Maryland-Florida State in Tallahassee. I recall August of 1987. As a senior in high school, I read my Street & Smith’s, along with several other preseason mags and made what was then a bold prediction—Florida State would win the national championship. Prior to that, FSU had been a mostly respectable middle-class program, save for Orange Bowl years in 1979-80. They didn’t quite get the title, coming up a point short against Miami and finishing #2 in the final polls. But it began an incredible run of dominating seasons that didn’t stop until 2000. In that fourteen-year period, the ‘Noles played in thirteen major bowl games and won ten of them. They were voted #1 in the final AP poll twice. I bring this up, because the architect of that run, Bobby Bowden, may coach his final home game on Saturday and after some tough years, relatively speaking, he hasn’t been able to get the mojo back. But no one should forget what he did at a school that was ready to throw in the towel on football before he got there.