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by Larry Ness - 12/02/2010
Raise your hand if anyone even remotely understands the current ruling handed down by the NCAA regarding Cam Newton’s eligibility. Here’s how the story unfolded this week. Auburn declared Newton ineligible on Monday (who heard about it?) but also immediately applied to the NCAA to have him reinstated. Being the benevolent institution that it is, the NCAA ruled that while Newton’s father violated NCAA rules, there was no evidence that either Cam or Auburn had done so. This development had to come as quite a surprise to USC.
You may just remember that in late summer, USC was hit with some of the harshest NCAA sanctions in history, in no small part due to the fact that Reggie Bush’s parents were found to have accepted “benefits” from agents and would-be sports marketers. As my niece loves to say, go figure? Anyway, this clears the way for Newton to win the Heisman in what should be a landslide and it also keeps Auburn in line to grab one of two cherished spots in the BCS national championship game. The fact that TCU is ‘looming’ at No. 3 in the BCS standings, ready to grab one of those spots if Auburn or Oregon were to lose on Saturday, likely had nothing to do with the NCAA’s current ruling. That’s at least as believable as Cam Newton knowing absolutely nothing about his father’s “dealings.”
While the debate rages, as sport bettors, we move one. Before getting to this weekend’s contests, let me comment on the Heisman. I will present my Heisman ballot next Wednesday (12/8) but I can’t imagine anyone seriously considering anyone other than Newton. While I don’t know what did or did not go on regarding this current ‘mess,’ Newton has been declared eligible for now, so why penalize him. He’s clearly been CFB’s most outstanding and most valuable performer. Auburn’s trailed in eight of its 12 games this year, four times by at least 13 points, yet enter Saturday’s SEC championship game 12-0.
One could blame Alabama's lack of a killer instinct for allowing Auburn to stay within striking distance last Saturday (Alabama had outgained Auburn 314-2 in yards at one point) but Newton bringing the Tigers back from a 24-0 deficit at Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl is the stuff of which legend’s are made and Heisman’s won. Newton was sacked four times in the first half but threw a TD pass late in the second quarter to bring Auburn within 24-7 at the half. He added two more TD passes and a TD run in the second half as the much-maligned Auburn defense rebounded from its dismal start to hold Alabama to six points over the final three quarters.
Newton continues to extend his single-season SEC rushing record for a QB (1,336 yards / 5.9 YPC / 18 TDs) while he’s thrown for 2,254 yards (67.9 percent) with 24 TDs and just six INTs (QB rating of 185.6 is second to only Kellen Moore). He alos owns a TD catch, giving him 43 TDs accounted for this season. Oregon’s LaMichael James leads the nation with 154.8 YPG on the ground and in scoring (12.0 PPG) with 20 TDs but he hardly seems capable of challenging Newton for the top spot. Kellen Moore, Boise State’s “near-perfect” signal-caller, lost his long-shot chance when Kyle Brotzman, the leading active FBS career scorer, missed a 26-yard FG at the end of regulation (which would have given the Broncos the win) and a 29-yarder in overtime, as Boise’s 24-game winning streak came to end at Nevada last Friday night. Again, I present my detailed Heisman ballot on December 8.
CFB’s final regular season weekend gets underway Thursday night with a fairly meaningless game in the Pac 10 between Arizona St and Arizona. However, ASU can become bowl-eligible with a win and the Pac 10 probably would like to see that, as currently the conference which Jeff Sagarin has had at the top of his power ratings most of the year, has just four bowl-eligible teams. Oregon St will have to upset Oregon on Saturday to get to 6-6 and Washington needs to win the 103rd edition of the Apple Cup at Pullman vs Washington State to also reach 6-6 (it would be Washington’s first bowl appearance since 2002). The first of five conference title games this weekend will be contested on Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit. Miami-Ohio, coming off back-to-back seasons of 2-10 and 1-11 (2-14 in MAC play) comes in 8-4, including a 7-1 record in the MAC. The RedHawks will take on Northern Illinois, 10-2 (8-0 in the MAC) and ranked 24th in the AP, its first top-25 ranking since 2003. The Huskies are favored by 17 1/2-points.
The Big East title has yet to be decided but UConn is the only team which controls its own destiny. If the Huskies win at South Florida (Bulls are favored by two points), UConn will claim its first-ever BCS bowl bid. Randay Edsall has done a terrific job at Storrs (four bowl bids since 2004, including three in a row) but winning the Big East and playing in a BCS bowl opens a whole new era for UConn football (moved up to FBS status in only 2000 and joined the Big East in 2004). A UConn loss opens the door for West Va, which hosts Rutgers (Mountaineers are favored by 20 1/2-points). UConn and West Va losses would clear the way for Pitt, which plays at Cincinnati (Bearcats are favored by two points). If all three schools lose, UConn gets the BCS bid. That scenario would send a 7-5 UConn to either the Fiesta or Orange Bowls, while 11-1 Michigan State and 11-1 Boise State (I’m assuming the Broncos can edge Utah St on Saturday) get left out. Doesn’t quite seem right, does it?
Four conference championship games are set for Saturday, none bigger than the SEC, featuring Auburn (No. 1 in the BCS standings) vs South Carolina. While Auburn comes in 12-0, South Carolina is just 9-3. An Auburn win and the Tigers are off to the BCS title game but a South Carolina win means we’ll have a very interesting Sunday when the final BCS standings get released. Remember, back in 2003 Oklahoma lost the Big 12 championship game 35-7, yet still qualified for the BCS title game (vs LSU), while USC, No. 1 in both human polls got left out. Could that happen again? Back on September 25, South Carolina led Auburn (at Auburn) 27-21 in the 4th quarter before four turnovers led to a 35-27 Tigers win. Auburn is favored by 5 1/2-points.
The Big 12 championship games features Nebraska and Oklahoma, meeting for the 86th time but for the final time as Big 12 members (Nebraska is off to the Big 10 next year). Nebraska lost the Big 12 title game last year 13-12 to Texas, when the Longhorns were fortunately allowed to kick a FG on the game’s final play. While the Sooners are seeking a record 8th Big 12 championship, the Cornhuskers are looking for their first since 1999. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez is doubtful and the Sooners are favored by 4 1/2-points.
The ACC championship game features Florida State and Va Tech. Few could have imagined Va Tech is this spot after it lost its first two games of 2010, to Boise St on Labor Day night and then shockingly the following Saturday at home to James Madison. However, the Hokies have won 10 straight (9-1 ATS), since. FSU didn’t qualify for this game until last Saturday, when Maryland beat NC State. It’s FSU’s first season of the post-Bobby Bowden era. History notes that he Seminoles have won 13 of the last 14 meetings between the two schools, including the inaugural ACC championship game, 27-22 in 2005. However, Va Tech is favored by four points.
The first game out of the gate on Saturday morning is C-USA’s title game, the lone one being played on campus. UCF will host SMU and the Knights are favored by nine points. UCF enters 9-3 and can match a school-record for wins a season with a victory, which set in 2007, the last time the school played (and won) in C-USA’s championship game (beat Tulsa 44-25). As for the 7-5 June Jones-led Mustangs, they will be vying for the school’s first league crown since 1984 when SMU was co-champs of the now-defunct Southwest Conference. No BCS bowl bid awaits the winner of this game.
This marks the sixth consecutive year in which there will be five conference title games but change is on the way. Both the Big 10 (now with 12 teams due to the addition of Nebraska) and the newly-coined Pac-12 (which adds Colorado and Utah) will conduct conference championship games next year. However, the Big 12 , which will have just 10 teams in 2011 fure to the defections of Colorado and Nebraska, will suspend its title game (one would guess two new members will be added but who knows?). Enjoy your saturday.