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November 24, 2008

Monday with Mike: Title pictures clearing up

» RELATED: Week 13: What We Learned | Dienhart's Week 13 Awards

Saturday's action cleared up title pictures in the Big Ten, Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences, and put title races in the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Conference USA, Pac-10 and Sun Belt in clearer focus.

Here's a look at all 11 league races, focusing first on the "Big Six" conferences:

ACC: The Atlantic Division is down to Boston College and Florida State. If BC beats Maryland this Saturday, the Eagles repeat as division champs. If Maryland wins, FSU wins the division. The Coastal Division is down to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. If the Hokies beat Virginia this week, they repeat as division champs. If the Cavaliers win, the Yellow Jackets win the division tiebreaker.

Big East: Cincinnati clinches the Big East's automatic BCS berth with a win this Saturday over Syracuse. If the Bearcats lose, West Virginia would win the title with wins over Pittsburgh and USF. Pitt and Rutgers also have a chance at tying for the title, depending on the outcome of their remaining games.

Big Ten: Penn State and Ohio State tied for the title, but the Nittany Lions earned the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth by virtue of their victory over the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Big 12: Missouri has won the North. The South still has myriad title possibilities. If Oklahoma (over Oklahoma State), Texas (over Texas A&M) and Texas Tech (over Baylor) win this week, there will be a three-way tie. The tiebreaker would come down to the team that is highest in the BCS standings next Sunday, which likely would be Oklahoma. If Texas and Oklahoma end up in a tie, Texas wins the tiebreaker. If Texas and Texas Tech are tied, Tech wins the tiebreaker. And if Oklahoma and Tech are tied, OU wins the tiebreaker.

Pac-10: If Oregon State beats Oregon this Saturday, the Beavers clinch the Pac-10's Rose Bowl berth. USC still has a chance to share the title if it beats UCLA on Dec. 6 and the Beavers beat the Ducks. But if Oregon wins and USC beats the Bruins, the Trojans get the title and the resultant BCS berth.

SEC: Alabama already has won the West and Florida already has won the East. They meet for the league title Dec. 6 in Atlanta.

The non-"Big Six" leagues:

Conference USA: East Carolina has won the East Division. Houston is in control in the West. A win this Saturday over Rice would give the Cougars the division title. If Rice wins, Tulsa wins the division if its beats Marshall. If Rice beats Houston and Marshall beats Tulsa, Rice wins the West.

Mid-American: Buffalo has won the East Division. Ball State wins the West if it beats Western Michigan on Tuesday night. If Western beats Ball State and Central Michigan beats Eastern Michigan this Saturday, Central would win the division via tiebreaker because its cross-divisional opponents have a better record than Ball State's. If Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan win, Western wins the division by tiebreaker by virtue of its win over Ball State.

Mountain West: Utah has clinched the conference title.

Sun Belt: Troy is in the driver's seat. If the Trojans beat Arkansas State on Dec. 6, they win the title outright. But if Louisiana-Lafayette loses to Middle Tennessee on Dec. 3 and Arkansas State beats North Texas this Saturday and Troy on Dec. 6, Arkansas State would win the tiebreaker. If ULL beats Middle Tennessee, it's possible it could be a three-way tie. In that scenario, the New Orleans Bowl chooses the team it wants from the league for its game.

Western Athletic: Boise State has clinched the regular-season title.

BC has shot at BCS

Boston College went into the season having to replace its star quarterback, its top four rushers, a key receiver, its best defensive player, a top linebacker and its best cornerback. Plus, its coach was entering just his second season. A 6-6 or worse season looked likely.

Instead, the Eagles are one win away from repeating as ACC Atlantic Division champs. Yes, that partly is an indictment of the rest of the division – and the league – but it's also a testament to the coaching abilities of Jeff Jagodzinski and his staff, most notably defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani and offensive coordinator Steve Logan.

If BC wins at home this Saturday against Maryland, the Eagles will head to the ACC Championship Game in Tampa, where the most likely opponent will be – surprise, surprise – Virginia Tech, who beat BC in the ACC title game last season. The Hokies will get to Tampa if they beat visiting Virginia this Saturday.

But there's one more obstacle for BC to overcome: Starting quarterback Chris Crane, a fifth-year senior, broke his collarbone in Saturday's win at Wake Forest and will miss the game. That means redshirt freshman Dominique Davis will get the start.

Davis has played in just three games this season, but he rallied BC past Wake, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 1:12 left. Davis threw for 103 yards and led BC on the decisive nine-play, 70-yard drive to the winning score. He hit two big passes on the drive, including a 36-yard completion on third-and-13 to Wake's 22.

In a classic bit of understatement, Davis told reporters afterward that the winning drive "was a sense-of-urgency possession."

But Davis also kept Wake in the game; the Demon Deacons returned two of his fumbles for touchdowns.

Davis should have extra incentive against Maryland: He is from Lakeland, Fla., about 40 miles west of Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, where the ACC Championship Game will be played.

BC beat Virginia Tech 28-23 on Oct. 18. BC also beat the Hokies in the regular season last year, only to fall in the rematch in the ACC title game.

Former BC coach Tom O'Brien left the program in good shape, but the work done by Jagodzinski and his staff this season has been excellent – good enough that Jagodzinski should get some national acclaim if BC gets to the ACC title game.

It also further solidifies Spaziani's place among the nation's best defensive coordinators. He doesn't get enough credit – even inside the ACC – for the work he does. BC always is hard-nosed against the run, and in Ron Brace and B.J. Raji, the Eagles may have the nation's best duo of run-stuffing tackles this season. Spaziani is a master of getting the most from his players, and though BC never seems to reel in the truly elite prospects, Spaziani's unit often outperforms units made up of supposedly better talent.

Weis in trouble

OK, can someone explain how Notre Dame lost to Syracuse at home?

Hey, there's a reason Syracuse coach Greg Robinson officially was fired early last week. The reason is his team is bad—awful, even. Yet the Orange still won in South Bend. That puts the spotlight on Charlie Weis, the coach who was on the other sideline Saturday.

The Irish fell to 6-5 with the loss, and it's not as if they've played a monster schedule. The only team they've beaten with a winning record is Navy, and they've lost four of their past six after a 4-1 start. The only win other than over Navy in that span is against winless Washington.

The Irish close the season with a game at USC this Saturday. Unless there is an unbelievable turnaround in one week, the Irish are going to get paddled, finish 6-6 and head to the Sun Bowl. They would play a Pac-10 team that likely would be favored by 10 or so points. All that would put enormous pressure on Weis heading into next season.

You have to figure Weis is going to make some coaching changes this offseason. Offensive coordinator/running backs coach Mike Haywood would seem to be on his way out; the same goes for offensive line coach John Latina. Wide receiver coach/recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello's name has come up in conjunction with some coaching vacancies.

Next season's schedule looks to be about as difficult as this season's – which obviously may not be a good thing. There are six teams on the '09 schedule – Nevada, Michigan State, USC, Navy, Pitt and Boston College – who appear to be going bowling this season. There are six teams on this season's schedule who will be in the postseason.

When Notre Dame struggled last season, many Weis backers blamed it on weak recruiting classes at the end of predecessor Tyrone Willingham's tenure. Well, this is Weis' fourth season at Notre Dame, meaning the vast majority of the players on this team are his recruits. Considering Weis took teams made up mostly of Willingham recruits to BCS bowls in 2005 and '06, maybe the talent on hand when he took over wasn't as bad as many suggested. And maybe Weis just isn't that good a college coach.

Remember, he was not Notre Dame's first choice. The first choice was Urban Meyer – whose Florida team has a shot at playing for its second national title in three seasons. When Florida played for the title in 2006, that team had a lot of players left over from Ron Zook's recruiting classes. But the vast majority of key players on this season's Florida team are Meyer recruits. In other words, Meyer has been able to win with what he inherited plus he has been able to win with what he has recruited. Weis hasn't been able to do the latter.

Rutgers turns it around

Admit it: When Rutgers was scuffling along at 1-5 this season, with just a win over Morgan State on the plus side of the ledger, you were thinking to yourself, "Man, if Michigan really did make a run at Greg Schiano, he sure was an idiot for staying at Rutgers."

Well, actually, you may still be saying the same thing today – after all, it's Michigan and he's at Rutgers – but Schiano's team has turned it around on the field. Rutgers is 6-5 after trouncing Army on Saturday for its fifth consecutive victory, and the Scarlet Knights close the season on Dec. 4 against a reeling Louisville team.

That means Rutgers has a good shot at finishing 7-5, which would lock up a fourth consecutive bowl bid. Consider that Rutgers had gone to just one bowl in its history – and consider that Rutgers first played college football in 1869 – before this streak, and you realize what Schiano has done.

"I am proud of these kids because they learned some important lessons about sticking together and playing," Schiano told reporters after Saturday's victory.

Grid Bits

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAMES
At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot more interesting.
Miami at N.C. State, noon: Miami is out of the running for the ACC Coastal Division title, while North Carolina State is playing for bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack have won three in a row, including a 31-point demolition of host North Carolina last Saturday.
Nevada at Louisiana Tech, 2:30 p.m.: Second place in the WAC will be on the line, and the winner locks up one of the WAC's three bowl tie-ins. The loser still has a shot at a bid, too - especially if it's Louisiana Tech.
Houston at Rice, 3:30 p.m.: If Houston wins, it wins the West Division of Conference USA and would host the league's championship game. Rice still can win the division, too, but must beat the Cougars and have Tulsa lose at Marshall. The Cougars and the Owls have high-powered offenses and questionable defenses.
Before Saturday, Michigan never before had lost nine games in a season and never before had the Wolverines lost five in a row to Ohio State. You have to figure the Wolverines' linemen, receivers and running backs will be much more comfortable in the spread offense next season. The big question, though: Will there be a quarterback on campus who can adequately run the attack?

Tim Brewster. Skip Holtz. Bobby Johnson. Think about those guys for a second, then realize they all have something in common: They were hot coaching commodities until their teams cooled off down the stretch. Brewster's Minnesota team started 7-1 but finished 7-5. Holtz's East Carolina team started 3-0 but now is 7-4. Johnson's Vanderbilt team started 5-0 but now is 6-5. Each of those guys might move on, but introducing them as a new coach to a fan base sure would be easier if their teams had won nine or 10 games, wouldn't it?

Joe Tiller's final season at Purdue was not a good one. The Boilermakers finished 4-8 overall and tied for ninth in the Big Ten at 2-6. But his finale was fitting for the offense-minded Tiller. The Boilermakers mauled rival Indiana 62-10. Purdue had seven first-half possessions and scored on all of them (five touchdowns, two field goals) in getting out to a 41-3 lead. Though his final few seasons weren't sterling, it should be remembered that Tiller made Purdue relevant in football. For that reason, Purdue fans should have fond memories of Tiller.

Florida had no problems in trouncing The Citadel 70-19, but the Gators may have suffered a big blow anyway. Lawrence Marsh, who has been the Gators' best interior defensive lineman, was injured on the first play of the game – a sprained MCL – and may miss this week's game at Florida State. His absence would leave a large void in the middle of the line. Injury-plagued Brandon Antwine would be his likely replacement, but because backup tackle Matt Patchan also was hurt, the Gators would have little depth. The Gators can move some ends inside on passing downs, but because Florida State must run effectively if it is going to win, Florida's play at tackle is important.

Clemson got its sixth victory Saturday, but don't forget that because the Tigers have two wins over FCS (i.e., Division I-AA) teams, they must get to seven victories to become bowl eligible. Only one of those FCS wins counts toward bowl eligibility.

Houston kept its Conference USA title hopes alive by rallying past UTEP 42-37 in one of Saturday's best games. UTEP led 28-9 late in the third quarter before Houston rallied. But the Cougars had to sweat it out. After they scored for a 36-35 lead, the Cougars decided to go for two. But Case Keenum's two-point conversion pass was picked off and returned for a score by UTEP's Josh Ferguson, which gave the Miners a 37-36 lead with 4:54 left. But Houston rallied again, with the game-winner coming with 41 seconds left on a 1-yard sneak by Keenum. Houston had 700 yards of offense, and UTEP had 464.

Some numbers from Saturday: TCU finished the regular season 10-2. It's the Horned Frogs' third 10-win season in four years and their fifth in seven seasons. … Despite BYU's loss to Utah, Cougars WR Austin Collie had his 10th consecutive 100-yard receiving day. The NCAA record is 11 in a row, by Pacific's Aaron Turner in 1991. Collie will get a chance to tie the mark in a bowl game. … After rallying past Arizona in Tucson, Oregon State has won nine of its past 10 against the Wildcats - including four in a row in Tucson. … UNLV has dropped 19 consecutive Mountain West Conference road games after getting upset by San Diego State. … Idaho has lost 14 in a row on the road after falling at Hawaii.

» RELATED: Week 13: What We Learned | Dienhart's Week 13 Awards

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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