The holiday weekend featured plenty of exciting finishes and brought even more drama to the final year of the BCS era. No game did both more so last Saturday than the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium. A missed field goal by Alabama in the last second of regulation was returned by Auburn cornerback Chris Davis for 109 yards and an SEC West-clinching touchdown. The miraculous finish has pushed Florida State and Ohio State atop of the BCS standings, likely stopped the Tide’s attempt for a national championship three-peat, and may have ended the Southeastern Conference’s run for an eighth straight national title all together. Three times in the last five years, the SEC Championship Game has been a de-facto play-in game for the BCS National Championship Game. In 2008 and 2009, the game was played between top ranked Florida and second ranked Alabama, while last year’s edition was played between Alabama and Georgia, who were ranked second and third respectively going in to the matchup.
Auburn or Missouri won’t be guaranteed of a spot in the national title game, by simply winning at the Georgia Dome this weekend. More BCS chaos will have to occur for either of those Tigers to get to Pasadena. A loss from Ohio State and/or Florida State would all but guarantee the SEC of chance for the conference’s eight-peat, while losses from both schools could even open up the possibility for a West Coast Iron Bowl. Michigan State is more likely to pull off the upset on Saturday than Duke, but this season has shown once again in the BCS era, that just when things seem to get sorted out, is when most of the drama seems to occur. There will be a lot of attention this weekend surrounding the results of the SEC and Big Ten Championships, but several other matchups on schedule will also have a big factor in sorting out the entire BCS picture. In all there will be six matchups this weekend between top-25 teams.
10. Utah State vs. #23 Fresno State (-3.5) (10pm, CBS): Fresno State’s hopes for their first BCS bowl in program history ended on Black Friday, losing a 62-52 shootout to San Jose State. Both quarterbacks combined for over 1,000 passing yards in the game and 12 first-half touchdown passes. Derek Carr won’t leave school with a perfect record or major bowl win in his senior year, but he can still help his team win the most games in program history.
9. #19 Louisville (-3.5) at Cincinnati (7:30pm, Thursday, ESPN): Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville quickly fell of the national radar this season, after their 38-35 loss to Central Florida on October 18th. The outcome ended Bridgewater’s bid for the Heisman and the Cardinals chances for a national championship, but Charlie Strong’s squad can still go out on a high note in their final football game in the American Athletic Conference.
8. Bowling Green vs. #14 Northern Illinois (-4) (8pm, Friday, ESPN2): Jordan Lynch’s success on the field this season has the Huskies in position for their second straight trip to a BCS Bowl. Lynch ran for an FBS quarterback record of 321 rushing yards last week against Western Michigan. He has accumulated over 300 total offensive yards in ten of Northern Illinois’s twelve regular seasons games this year. Another big game could book the Huskies for another trip to Miami and send him to New York for the Heisman ceremony next weekend.
7. #16 Central Florida (-10) at SMU (12pm, ESPN): The Knights are on the verge of winning the AAC, in its first and only season as an BCS conference. Central Florida already has a share of the conference title and can win it out right, with a victory in Dallas this weekend. If the Knights fall to the Mustangs on Saturday afternoon and Cincinnati can hand Louisville its second loss of the season on Thursday, the winner of the AAC will be the team with the highest ranking in the BCS standings on Sunday night.
6. #20 Duke vs. #1 Florida State (-28.5) (8pm, ABC): David Cutcliffe is a strong candidate for national coach of the year, after leading the Blue Devils to the most wins in program history. Duke has benefited from a down year for the ACC (outside of Florida State and Clemson), but few would have expected this team to beat Miami, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina at the start of the year. Beating a Florida State squad, that has won all of their games by at least two touchdowns, is a whole nother story. The Blue Devils will be near 30 points underdogs against the Seminoles and will need to pull off the upset of all upsets to get to their first Orange Bowl since 1958. Regardless of the score of this game, it will still be a historic season for Duke football.
5. #17 Oklahoma at #6 Oklahoma State (-10) (12pm, ABC): The Cowboys are in the driver’s seat for their second Big 12 title in three years, as well as their fourth conference crown in program history. A win on Saturday will punch their ticket to the Fiesta Bowl and likely end any hopes of a Texas school from the conference playing in a BCS bowl this season. Oklahoma triumphed 51-48 in last year’s overtime matchup and will reach double digit wins for the 12th time in the Bob Stoops era, with a victory on Saturday.
4. #25 Texas at #9 Baylor (-14) (3:30pm, Fox): If the Sooners are victors once again in the Bedlam Series, this Waco showdown will become the de-facto Big 12 Championship Game. Baylor’s national title hopes came to an end, after getting blown out 49-17 in Stillwater last month, but they may still be playing for their first conference title since 1980. Although Mack Brown has seemingly been on the hot seat for the entire season, the Longhorns could earn their first Big 12 title since 2009, despite already having three losses in 2013.
3. #7 Stanford at #11 Arizona State (-3) (7:45pm, ESPN): Arizona State has not won their conference outright since 1996 (Jake Plummer’s senior year) and can end the Oregon/Stanford steak of BCS appearances for the Pac-10/12. No teams aside from the Ducks or Cardinal have represented the league in a major bowl game, since the 2008 USC Trojans. That streak could end this year with both programs already having two losses. A win for the Sun Devils on Saturday night would get them in to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 17 years.
2. #10 Michigan Sate vs. #2 Ohio State (-5.5) (8:17pm, Fox): Auburn, Missouri, and SEC fans will be just as interested in the game going on in Indianapolis this weekend, as the one in Atlanta. Ohio State has posted a 12-0 regular season record for the second straight year and can end any doubt about its status as one of the two best teams in the country, with a dominant win over the Spartans. The Buckeyes are coming off of a 42-41 squeaker over Michigan and have been challenged all year by the upper-echelon of the Big Ten. Michigan State’s only loss this season, 17-13, came on the road against Notre Dame. The Spartans have won eight straight since then and boast one of the nation’s top defenses. A win would send them to their first Rose Bowl in 26 years and give the Southeastern Conference a chance, for one of its schools to win a national title for an eighth straight year.
1. #5 Missouri vs. #3 Auburn (-2) (4pm, CBS): The 22nd SEC Championship Game maybe the most unlikely matchup ever for a conference title. Auburn and Missouri were expected to finish in the bottom half of their divisions. Auburn was coming off its worst season in six decades, after a 3-9 season and was beginning a new era under Guz Malzahn. Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat in Columbia, coming off a 5-7 debut season in the SEC and leading a program without a conference title since 1969. Bowl games may have been reasonable expectations for these programs back in August, few would have imagined both Tigers making it all the away to the Georgia Dome in December, with national title hopes also hanging in the balance.
While the winner of this game will at least be assured of a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, both fanbases still have their hopes set on playing in Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game. Auburn looks like a team of destiny, after pulling off back-to-back miracles on their way to Atlanta, courtesy of Ricardo Louis and Chris Davis. The biggest miracle of all may not have come yet, if a one-loss SEC champion can surpass an unbeaten team from a power conference in the BCS standings. Despite their successful turnaround in 2013, Missouri may be the most under-the-radar SEC team ranked in the top five in recent years. Most of the hype surrounding the build up to the game has been about the other Tigers. A conference championship and a trip to the national title game is still a possibility, for a squad that ranks in the top 15 for both scoring offense and defense.